Sit ups are bad for you

If you had a wire coat hanger, and you wanted to break it, one way would be to bend it back and forth continuously. With each cycle of load, the stress strain reversal, you would fatigue the metal and eventually break it.

The same can happen to the intervertebral discs in your back. You only have so many bending cycles in these structures, and when you perform traditional sit ups, you will be approaching a level of fatigue in the discs that will eventually cause them to break.

The number of cycles you have is determined by many factors. In particular, your genetics will determine the quality of your discs. You could think of different gene pools like you would the difference between a BMW and a Toyota. Some genes just make better quality anatomical structures than others.

Other factors include alcohol, smoking, occupation and probably more. Both increased alcohol in the diet and smoking will effectively dry out the discs thus rendering them less able to perform their function. Depending on whether your occupation involves prolonged sitting, or a more physical role, how you use your body in terms of posture during the day will also influence the lifespan of these structures.

Just why are you doing sit ups anyway? If it is to lose weight and show your six pack, then you are not utilising your time effectively. You will burn calories by doing sit ups, but their are more efficient ways – running for example.

Is it to get strong abdominals? Sits ups will exercise your abdominals thus making them stronger, but it will be at the expense of disrupting the integrity of your lumbar spine. There are better ways to strengthen your abdominals.

Consider what athletes really use for performance (other than banned drugs). Try to think of an activity where someone tries to take their torso through the full range of flexion under load, in the same way you would when doing a traditional sit up. There are very few, particularly in sport.

Think of an MMA fighter about to throw a punch. The fighter will load the abdominal wall with a “pulse” and a “spring” to create a stiffness around the belly and torso. Following this, the power is generated by activating the hips. The “pulse” of energy is transmitted through the core which has been turned into a very stiff “spring”. There is a storage and recovery of elastic energy but the core is not flexed, it remains neutral. From here, more power is added through the shoulders etcetera.

The point is that when you measure most athletes in high performance situations, they are using the abdominal wall as a spring, or a medium through which the force generated from the hips or shoulders is transmitted. They are not using what would be trained when doing a sit up. Why then would you train it, damage the disc, and not get performance? The spine should remain neutral and you should train the stiffening “pulses” in the abdominal wall. This reduces the risk of injury and enhances performance.

On a more practical level, the average Joe can train their abdominals, together with the rest of the core musculature, with a series of safe and scientifically proven exercises. Watch the video in the article Core Strength for some suggestions.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

Better Sleep and how to Stop Snoring

Better Sleep and how to Stop Snoring

Does your wife’s snoring keep you awake at night? Or are you concerned for your husband’s inability to get a good nights rest? In an interview with sleep expert, Dr Jonathan Wiser PhD, he reveals some information on how to improve your sleep quality.

Dr Wisor says, “nothing in our biology allows us to overcome our need for sleep”, and highlights some important points through his research about sleep.

1. Are you sleep deprived?

Sleep deprivation is getting an insufficient amount of sleep to maintain wakefulness during the day. You can find out if you are sleep deprived by doing a psychomotor vigilance task [PVT]. A PVT test is a very boring task and thus apparently extremely good at detecting sleep deprivation.

Research on numerous individuals taking the PVT test has shown that each individual has their own minimum required number of hours of sleep. Two people might perform identically in the PVT test but one person may have only had six hours of sleep the night before, whilst the other had eight hours.

Whilst maintaining consistent sleeping hours during the week might sound obvious, knowing your own basic sleep requirements is not. You will need to experiment with the number of hours you sleep at night and observe how you score on the PVT test.

Eventually, you should work out the minimum number of hours of sleep you require per night to function properly. Hereafter, the challenge will be ensuring you achieve this number each and every night.

Note that if you keep to this minimum number of hours per night, in the future you will be able to shorten this time by up to 30 minutes. The observable effects noticed here are that you will fall to sleep more quickly, and spend a longer amount of time in the deeper phases of sleep.

2. Have a regular sleep schedule

Humans tend to sleep at night, this is due to our sensitivity to light in our environment. Further to this, each individual has a circadian rhythm, or biological clock, that dictates a preference for sleeping at a certain time of day. Some people are morning people, whilst others prefer to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning. This is an endogenous or genetically based preference.

Sleep research shows that people who keep to a schedule whereby they go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day, and use the power of their individual circadian rhythm, have a more efficient sleep process. To a small degree, they may also learn to spend less time asleep.

It should be noted that whilst the general population has a preference to sleep during the night, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest efficient sleep is relative to the light and dark cycle. If a certain work schedule requires one to deviate their sleep cycle from normal night sleeping hours, one can do this so long as these hours remain consistent.

The point to take home is that one must always remain sensitive to their internal sleeping rhythm. It essentially makes no difference to sleep efficiency whether you sleep during daylight or night.

3. Take regular breaks

Whether it be completing work at your desk, reading a book or anything that requires prolonged concentration, ensure that you mix in periods of rest from these tasks. Sleep research has shown that when you use a particular portion of your cerebral cortex (a part of your brain) intensively for a short period of time, that portion of the brain will actually go to sleep whilst you are trying to use it.

Even though the rest of your body will be awake, your efficiency in that task declines because the brain is shutting off in subtle ways that you can”t even detect. By taking a break, you allow this portion of the brain to go through its “mini sleep cycle” and thereafter, experience an improving effect.

We could thus infer that activities like reading a book before bedtime might help slowly switch off your brain section by section, nudging you off to sleep.

4. Exercise

When we exercise, we experience an increase in our body temperature. As a reaction to this, later on you will experience a decline in body temperature. That decline is a natural trigger for sleep onset and quality sleep.

Assuming you sleep at night, you should not exercise late into the evening as the surge in body temperature will continue for a few hours and cut into the time when your temperature should be declining and promoting sleep.

Exercising in the morning, midday or late afternoon will consolidate your circadian rhythm. This habit will prove to be more beneficial because the surge in body temperature will later feed back onto a decline that will promote sleep.

5. Diet

There’s an enormous amount chemistry and physiology to cover in showing how good nutrition will promote sleep. Essentially, junk foods containing bad fats may inflame the gut linings to some degree, which has shown to disturb sleep. Also, sugary and caffeine containing drinks can be over stimulatory and perturb the natural cues for sleep.

You can perform a quick scan of your diet to check if your eating habits are in line with promoting good sleep.

6. Stop snoring

You should breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Your nose has an inherent filtering system. Fine hairs inside the nose trap foreign particles found in the air preventing any obstruction to your airways.

Many people find themselves breathing through their mouth whilst sleeping at night. As they drift off to sleep, they relax their jaw muscles and their mouth flops open. As you suck air in through your mouth, the soft tissues at the back of your throat start to flap, causing that “pig snorting” noise – snoring.

In the mornings, the mouth is very dry and the voice is often deep and croaky. Whilst it might sound dangerous at first, taping your mouth shut at night can correct this problem over time. You can read more about mouth taping and how it can help you here.

In summing up, there are numerous health benefits associated with good sleep, too many to list in this article. Try your hardest not to short-change yourself in this area of life. Employ some of the aforementioned tips, and reap the benefits of beautiful sleep.

Sweet dreams!

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.