Is fitness creating a problem for you?

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strength-is-not-just-physical

So here’s the thing I really like about people who work in the fitness industry – they don’t make a lot of money, they often need to supplement their working hours and income with another career, but they are in it because they’re passionate about what they do. Many of them experienced something really positive within their own fitness and exercise experiences, and they want to share that with others. It’s admirable!

And here’s the thing I love about the fitness industry and people who participate in it – generally speaking, they are all about self-improvement. Nobody joins a gym unless they are looking to become a better version of themselves. Growth and development are among my highest personal values so I really appreciate this about the fitness world.

Yes, I know that if you read my last blog post you could be forgiven for thinking I’m anti-fitness right now, but as I wrote in that piece I really do love the fitness industry – I just find the competitive and comparative side of it quite cringe-worthy. And while some people would argue with me on this one, I think that the advent of “fitspiration” type social media over the past decade has deepened the issues we have around body image and self-worth.

Anyway, I’m actually wanting to discuss another industry today – that of mental health, psychology and counselling. Why have I started off by talking fitness then? There’s a link or two – read on.

While studying my diploma in positive psychology last year, it was pointed out through our history topic that the application of psychology after the Second World War took a turn towards focusing on what’s wrong with people. Before that it had been a field of study focusing on questions like “what motivates people?”, “how are relationships built and nurtured?” and “how do people find meaning in life?”, and was more closely associated with philosophy than it is now. However, after the wide-reaching trauma of war there were so many people affected by mental and emotional turmoil that the main question in psychology became “how do we help suffering people cope better?”. The subsequent focus on trauma management, mental illness and psychological pathology left us with a legacy that has carried over until today – that psychology has negative connotations. Hence there is stigma and shame around seeing a psychologist, an assumption that there must be something ‘wrong’ with you to be having cognitive therapy, and probably worst of all, that once you’re “back on your feet” (ie coping again) you don’t need any more support.

So our reality is that psychology has become focused on problems, rather than self-improvement. The positive psychology movement has been working to change the feel of psychology since 1999, with a focus on what’s right and great and wonderful about people and how they can make the most of that, rather than focusing on what’s wrong with them. Despite what some people assume, positive psychology has nothing to do with positive thinking or creating false hope – it’s about taking us beyond coping and towards flourishing.

This is where we loop back to fitness – with this historical context, all of a sudden I realized where the fitness industry is being led astray! Just like post-war psychology, fitness has become all about what’s wrong with people, and how to fix it! Fitness products and services are all being sold as solutions to problems. But while the problems of war were quite real and unescapable, the “problems” we have now have largely been manufactured by the marketers and racketeers! Problems like you’re still too fat, you’re too thin, you’re not strong enough, you’re not toned enough, you don’t look like her, you don’t press as much as him, blah blah blah… anything to make us feel diminished and inferior enough that we’ll buy the “solution”.

So the question that I have is this – what would the fitness industry look like if we took a leaf out of the positive psychology book, and focused on what’s right with people? What if we celebrated and welcomed anyone who was interested in self-improvement? What if our role in the fitness industry was to identify what kinds of movement people are good at, what they enjoy, what their personal strengths are and how they can apply them to their well-being? What would people achieve if we empowered them rather than flog them into submission? Gave them choice rather than acting as authority figures? What if everyone who walked into a gym was given the opportunity to become an educated, enlightened and knowledgeable authority on their own health, rather than a puppet at the mercy of his/her trainer or instructor?

Yes, there are the people whose lives become enriched through the fitness industry – but I have to say for every one of those, there are a handful who are made to feel ashamed, guilty, ‘not enough’, who will turn away from exercise and movement because they haven’t been properly guided, and are (directly or indirectly) told that it’s their own fault. That they’re not motivated or dedicated enough. (But since that’s a problem for them, they can always pay more for a personal trainer to help motivate them… *cue problem/solution rant here.)

I know that most people in the fitness industry have hearts of gold and are not intentionally setting people up to fail. What I am saying is that the machine of industry is bigger than we are, and many of us have been caught up in it. On the plus side, together we make up and control the machine. So, if each of us decided to get conscious and intentional about the messages we’re giving people, we could have an enormous positive impact on the fitness industry, and the world at large. Fitness centres could become the go-to places for movement innovation and self-development, rather than places of torture, competition and the “war on obesity”. (Why does every worthwhile pursuit have to be turned into a war on something anyway?)

Seriously people, let’s move beyond wars and battles. Let’s realise that strength is more than physical. Let’s recognise that inner strength goes beyond discipline and deprivation. Let’s celebrate what makes each of us unique and wonderful, and help each other do more of that!

Get intentional – what do you want for the world? More Instagram models? Or more fun, kindness, compassion, connection and celebration?

 

Bek is a fitness instructor and physiotherapist with a background in psychology. She enjoys spending time in the pool and on the dance floor, and welcomes other fitness professionals to join her in a quest to inject inspiration back into exercise!

You can follow Bek on her Facebook page Smith & Wellness, or request to join the group “Permanently Inspired” for health and fitness professionals.

Dear Fitness Industry…

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Dear Fitness Industry,

It’s time to resolve this love-hate relationship I have with you.

You see, I actually love and care about you deeply. We go way back, and I feel like I owe you a lot. You came along at a point in my life where I was really low, and you did more than just pick me up. You showed me that there was more to life than I had been living, and that there was more to me than I had ever realised before. You helped me have fun, you taught me how much my body is capable of, and you connected me with some of the most amazing friends I have ever met.

But you know I have hated you at times too. You can be arrogant, superficial and fickle. You change your mind like people change clothes, flipping between different trends and approaches on a whim. You churn people through your doors without understanding who they are or why they are really visiting you. You don’t seem to care about the people who drop off your radar, and – this one really hurts – you seem to care more and more about how people look instead of how they feel.

I don’t know if you were always this way? Maybe you were and I just didn’t notice. Maybe you showed me your best face and drew me in, leaving me feeling betrayed and confused when I saw the real you. Or maybe what I see now isn’t the real you at all. Maybe you’ve been running with a bad crowd and have just let yourself be influenced over time.

Whatever the case, I still believe in you. You’re almost like a wayward child that I cannot help but love and support – except I didn’t raise you, you raised me. The time has come for me to remind you of all those things you taught me during my fitness upbringing. Values like health, vitality, kindness, connection and compassion. Ideals of a better world, a place where people can express themselves, where they not only value movement but also value the body that allows them to move. A place where personal growth and self-care are not only by-products, but the aim of the game.

I’m not going to beg you, but I ask – sincerely – that you make an effort for me and all the other people who care about you. I know you can step up to the plate and be the driving force behind well-being that I fell in love with. I ask, more for the sake of others than myself, that you stop this preoccupation with social media images that are nothing more than sweat-dripped soft porn. I ask that you stop comparing people to each other and start celebrating our differences, our diversity and our divinity! I ask that you let go of your ridiculous perfectionistic standards and stop demanding more, more, more of us. That you stop provoking anxiety in people by telling them they’re not strong / small / big / ripped / good enough yet.

Please let us move at our own pace again, steady and content. Please let us be happy in our own skin, without making us feel that we need to look like somebody else. Please bring the laughter and fun back to movement instead of making it a chore. And please help us see exercise as a joy instead of a punishment.

I know you, Fitness Industry – I know who you are, and I also know who you can be. You are far more amazing than you give yourself credit for, and the potential you have for positively impacting this world is enormous. Let me help you get back on your path again, because together we can be stronger and happier than ever. More than that – together we can make the world stronger and happier than ever.

Love always,

~Bek

Health, Fitness and Wellbeing – Back To Balance

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From the outset here today I would like to put forth a concept of integrated health that encompasses four areas: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. If you don’t like where this is going, tune out now and head on over to YouTube for some aimless video browsing. Because the discussion that follows is an in-depth one that you might want to be switched on for.

Below is my concept of how our physical, mental and emotional health cross over to determine our spiritual well-being. There is a brief and wonderful overview of eight different areas of wellness at the University of California Davis campus website (https://shcs.ucdavis.edu/wellness) which discusses the dimensions of occupational, emotional, intellectual, environmental, financial, spiritual, physical and social wellness, defining wellness as “an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life”. They go on to say “wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth… Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness”. I have simplified these eight areas down to four, as you can see below, as I feel my abbreviated model summarises those things intrinsic to us as human beings that a health practitioner can have some kind of influence on. I cannot directly facilitate the environmental, occupational, financial or social changes my clients may need or desire, although these certainly have an influence on us and will in turn be affected by our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. My motivation is to help people understand how they can positively alter their internal environment in order to have a positive effect on their external environment.

Spirituality venn diagram cropped

My last blog post attracted a lot of (excuse the pun) healthy discussion regarding the use of the terms “health”, “fitness” and “wellness”. Many of your ideas aligned with my own and have helped me refine and shape a new theoretical model of health care with some corresponding terminology to move forwards with. I thank you all for your contributions! (Including Anita who conceptualised the venn diagram idea. 🙂 )

So what do “health”, “fitness” and “wellness” mean to you? Of course for each of us, the meaning we read into something will depend on its context. In today’s world the term “gay” means something completely different to what it did 100 years ago. So based on where you are, who you are, what you have experienced, who you are with, how you perceive things and when, language is adaptable. And because language is vital in communicating messages between each other (particularly when body language and vocal tone can’t be used) we need to be adaptable also.

I would like to discuss each of these terms one at a time, considering their formal meanings as well as my own interpretations.

First – HEALTH, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary online, is:

“the state of being free from illness or injury” or “a person’s mental or physical condition”.

Wikipedia goes a little further to explain that health is “the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism” and that “in humans it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental or social challenges”.

If we subscribe to these definitions and ideas, then we are to believe that health is a disease-free state relating to physical and mental adaptability, with particular regard to function and one’s metabolism. This concept does not consider a person’s emotional or spiritual state, and there is a focus on the absence of (or ability to cope with) illness, injury and other various challenges. This reflects how focussed we are (at least in Australia) on reactive health care, responding to  one’s state of health only when it becomes problematic.  I personally do not like this type of definition or approach, and prefer the World Health Organisation’s concept of health being “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. It is interesting to note here that again there is no mention of emotional or spiritual health, although one might argue that these could be referred to under the umbrella of “social well-being”. I feel that health care in Australia has not caught up yet with the idea of health being a state of complete well-being, hence why the two terms remain separate. This reflects how “health” is possibly seen as an institutionalised or medicalised term, not incorporating the bigger picture of a person’s existence.

Secondly – FITNESS. Health and fitness, hand-in-hand? Maybe not. Let’s first explore the term “fit”, which the Oxford dictionary defines in two ways:

“Of a suitable quality, standard or type to meet the required purpose”, or

“in good health, especially because of regular physical exercise”.

“Fitness” itself is described in three ways:

“The condition of being physically fit and healthy”, or

“an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment”, or

“the quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task”.

On one hand, it appears that fitness relates to health at least as far as the physical component goes, while on the other hand it describes a utilitarian purpose, the ability to carry out a given task. The third concept of evolutionary fitness (one’s ability to survive and reproduce) may not be considered a huge amount outside of the science world, and the ability of a fitness fanatic to successfully survive and reproduce is sometimes questionable (possible increase in sexual desirability off-set by decrease in menstruation regularity for highly active women, for instance).

My own definition that I have used for fitness is “the ability to meet the physical demands of a particular activity”, which aligns pretty closely with the utilitarian definitions above. I certainly believe that even amongst the very fit there are multiple types of “fitness” – in fact as many types as there are activities. I can be a very fit swimmer, for instance, but a very unfit runner. Someone who manages to attain a high level of fitness in swimming, running AND cycling can be a very fit triathlete, but note that the triathlete does not train with only one particular exercise type leading up to competition – they need to be proficient at each of them, and therefore need to train all three modalities together. Notice also that despite the common use of the word “fit”, for example “you look really fit”, it actually has nothing to do with appearance, body weight or size. If you consider the ability of a sumo wrestler to meet the physical demands of his activity, the smaller he is the less fit he may be for his sport. So while we are considering the delineation between health and fitness, let’s also realise that while one’s body fat percentage can have implications on their health, it is not a measure synonymous with fitness (or health either, for that matter). Furthermore, the focus on body weight for many people can lead to serious detriment for their overall health. Consider the following excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD.

“Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Health at Every Size is the new peace movement. Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviours.”

Thank you to Tabitha for pointing me in the direction of the HAES website at http://www.haescommunity.org/ . I think it’s a wonderful movement with a wholistic view of health that can help many people move past the Western obsession with physical size and look a little deeper. 🙂

Now finally, onto the concept of well-being, or wellness (terms which I use interchangeably, although I really like the sound of wellbeing ever since I grasped the concept of people being human beings rather than human doings – thank you Eckhart Tolle!) The Oxford definitions are separate ones:

WELLNESS – “the state or condition of being in good physical and mental health”.

WELL-BEING – “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”.

Wikipedia describes well-being as “a general term for the condition of an individual or group, for example their social, economic, psychological, spiritual or medical state; high well-being means that, in some sense, the individual or group’s experience is positive, while low well-being is associated with negative happenings”. If you search “wellness” in Wikipedia there is no longer a separate entry, but you are redirected to their “health” page, suggesting that both the Oxford dictionary and Wikipedia consider that wellness relates more directly to health, while well-being encompasses something broader. Note the use of the terms “social, economic, psychological, spiritual or medical” in relation to wellbeing. Now it seems like we are getting towards a term that describes the full gamut of human experience.

Or are we?

Unfortunately because of the broad and general nature of the term “well-being”, there are many concepts that have snuck in here that are less than legitimate. I’m talking about the health hoaxes and quick-fix alternative therapists that promote their products and services under the banner of well-being or wellness, because the medical / health industry wouldn’t have a bar of them. Please let me clarify that I do not categorise all alternative therapies as hoaxes; far from it. I am a huge advocate for the use of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Ayurvedic techniques, yoga, meditation and all sorts of other complementary therapies as ways of improving overall health where medical science may not have a solution, and am thrilled by all the new research showing their effectiveness. You’ll hear me talk about the concept of people’s energy flow almost every day, and you’ll see me get excited when I talk about how science is finally catching up to explain all the “weird hippie stuff” that has been practiced for thousands of years. At the foundation of my viewpoint though, is an education including a certificate in fitness, a science degree, a Master’s in physiotherapy, a very decent grade point average in these academic pursuits, and generally a whole lot of critical thinking. While I firmly embrace an evidence-based approach, I also embrace the idea that the evidence isn’t there – YET – for certain things, and so I float in limbo. Not quite medicalised enough to have my feet planted firmly in science, far too curious and critically-minded to subscribe only to a health viewpoint, more open-minded than the typical allied health professional… yet way too evidence-motivated to believe just anything, more technical than your average Jo and with more clinical and research expertise than most alternative therapists or yoga teachers.

So where does this leave me? Somewhere in the middle of being a health professional and a wellness consultant…. which in actual fact is quite exciting, because I’m hearing that a lot of people are disappointed with their experiences of both the medical and alternative worlds. I was quite inspired to hear of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association, whose aim is to integrate complementary and mainstream medicine to provide whole-person medical care (see http://www.aima.net.au). I plan on joining the association at some stage, but again I’m in limbo, as their focus is on the medical doctor being at the centre of the approach and drawing on the expertise of others as needed. Short of getting another (medical) degree, this leaves me little choice but to define and launch a different type of health care – an approach based on multidisciplinary allied health care, encompassing evidence-based practice which is proactive, wholistic and client-centred.

I call it INTEGRATED HEALTH.

While people in the medical and fitness areas most often wait until there is an injury or illness to deal with before seeking help, an integrated health approach will encourage the proactive behaviours more commonly practiced in the wellness industry, but without any of the quackery. Instead of merely focusing on the physical and mental aspects of health, an integrated health system takes into account the emotional and spiritual factors of one’s well-being also. And instead of dismissing the existing medical, health, fitness and well-being industries, integrated health combines the best of them all to provide a client with an optimised approach for all facets of their personal development.

Health venn diagram cropped

Are you as inspired by this concept as I am? Do you think the world needs it? Do you think Australia is ready for it? Any thoughts, opinions, and points of feedback are most welcome.

In the meantime, for more information please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-future-of-health-a-new-approach/ and visit me on Facebook as well at http://www.facebook.com/BalanceWithBek – my page is called ‘Balance With Bek’, because I truly believe that moderation and finding one’s own balance is the key to a fulfilling life.

🙂

Health, fitness, wellness…. what do you want?

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The terms “health” and “fitness” are used together so often they have become synonymous in many people’s minds. However, this is a trap that can lead us down a slippery path – thinking that unless we are super fit like all the shiny muscled people on the motivational posters, we must be falling short of the mark.

Which I’m sure makes some of us think “why bother trying at all?”

Am I right? Can you relate to that? Have you found yourself in a black and white mindset of “I can’t ever look like that guy/girl, so I may as well just enjoy my beer, chips and burger on the couch tonight…”

Well, whether you can or can’t ever look like that guy or girl is really beside the point, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be looking more to be the optimal version of ourselves instead of striving to be someone else? And in that vein, shouldn’t we be focussed on the things that are important to us, ourselves, rather than getting swept up in fulfilling other people’s values?

That leads me to ask – what is important to you? What are you passionate about? And therefore, how can you attain it? Maybe your life goal is to be a professional athlete, so you need to be extremely fit. Perhaps your dream is to be an author, so you don’t need to reach a star level of fitness, but you want to maintain a certain level of health and wellness. Maybe you’re interested in sports, maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re interested in living a long life, or maybe it’s more important to you to party hard, live fast and die young! Nobody else can tell you what’s right for you.

What I’m trying to say is – don’t fall for the propaganda that will try to tell you that you have to be a fitness model or superstar athlete to be worthy, or even healthy! Spend some time discovering what you want from life, and go and get that instead! If that means being a fitness model is the most important thing, go for it! If not, that’s ok too! Let’s build a world full of people living their own truth, instead of being miserable trying to live up to society’s false expectations.

And let’s not fall into that trap of thinking that fit equals healthy. I have known many high-level athletes who are super fit and very unhealthy. I also know some pretty healthy people who don’t have a high level of fitness. There is a reason that “health” and “fitness” are two separate terms.

So what about the concept of “wellness”? Do you think that falls under the “health” category, or does it describe another area altogether? Feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts, and will respond back soon with another blog post – a summary of what the terms “fit”, “healthy” and “well” mean to me.

🙂

Online gaming – out of ctrl?

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This topic is controversial in some of my social circles. Mainly because some of the people close to me are avid gamers. They insist they are improving their cognitive abilities, their reflexes and their ability to focus, and they benefit from the relaxation and socialisation that multiplayer online gaming provides. However after watching how their online habits affect their quality of life, I decided to do a quick research review to see if my suspicions to the contrary were correct. I’m not sure whether they will be receptive to my summary, so I thought maybe I should put it out to the wider world in the hope that it will be helpful to somebody somewhere. 🙂

A summary of current literature on gaming, sleep patterns and quality of life

The effects of video and computer game use on cognition and behaviour was initially focussed on children, as this was the age group most readily identified as being impacted upon by the use of this media as it rose in popularity. The following is a summary of research performed between 2011 and 2014 which relates to adults and older adolescents, specifically regarding multiplayer online gaming.

  •  Number of hours spent gaming is related to problematic addictive behaviour.
  •  Gamers experience more quality of life problems than non-gamers.
  •  Internet gaming addiction is being considered as a stand-alone category to be used in psychopathological diagnosis.
  •  In children and young adults, use of video games involving violence leads to an increase in physiological arousal and aggression, and a decrease in prosocial behaviour. These issues have been correlated with the normalisation of and exposure to role-modelled violence.
  •  The research in adults suggest that quality of life problems do not stem directly from the exposure to violence in gaming, but rather from the impact of poor sleep and its resultant effects on mood, relationships and performance.
  •  The risk of experiencing poor sleep is 30% higher if gaming is undertaken for more than one hour per day.
  •  As gaming duration increases (in terms of hours per day), the following have been shown to occur proportionally:
    •  sleep quality decreases
    •  issues with insomnia and fatigue arise
    •  bedtime and rising time are significantly delayed
  •  Adult gamers experience significantly higher rates of problems:
    •  socially
    •  financially
    •  in their family and marital lives
    •  in their professional lives
  •  These quality of life problems for adult gamers have been shown to occur only after commencing online gaming, and were not attributable to pre-existing psychological or behavioural issues.
  •  In addition, gamers experience irritability, daytime sleepiness, sleep deprivation, low mood and emotional disturbances three times more than prior to their commencement of gaming.
  •  The underlying mechanisms for problems in adult gamers has been proposed to be due to screen exposure and cognitive/physiological arousal, which disturbs sleep patterns and subsequently leads to depressive symptoms.
  •  The motivators for becoming involved in online gaming have been shown to predict one’s likelihood for gaming addiction. Addictive use patterns were most highly correlated with using gaming for escapism, socialising and achievement.
  •  There is a tolerance phenomenon described in the literature, whereby over time (similar to drug use) gamers require increased use to obtain their desired effect. This is because on a molecular level, internet addiction leads to decreased dopaminergic activity resulting in overall reward deficiency.
  •  Neuroimaging studies have shown other similarities between drug and gaming problems. On the level of neural circuitry, online gaming leads to structural brain changes in areas associated with addiction.
  •  The research is being used to support the establishment of screening and prevention programs for online game overuse, as well as addiction treatment protocols.

Do you think you have an internet addiction? What about somebody close to you? There are many sources of help, such as the links below.

http://www.addictionrecov.org/Addictions/index.aspx?AID=43

http://netaddiction.com/

For more information, please see the titles and abstracts below which have served as references for this summary:

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games: comparing characteristics of addict vs non-addict online recruited gamers in a French adult population.
Achab S1, Nicolier M, Mauny F, Monnin J, Trojak B, Vandel P, Sechter D, Gorwood P, Haffen E.
BMC Psychiatry. 2011 Aug 26;11:144.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3176476/

Internet and Gaming Addiction: A Systematic Literature Review of Neuroimaging Studies
Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths
Brain Sciences, 2012, 2, 347-374.
http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/2/3/347/pdf

Sleep quality is negatively related to video gaming volume in adults
Liese Exelmans and Jan Van den Bulck
Journal of Sleep Research
Article first published online: 31 OCT 2014
© 2014 European Sleep Research Society
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25358428

Internet gaming addiction, problematic use of the internet, and sleep problems: a systematic review.
L.T. Lam
Current Psychiatry Reports. 2014 Apr;16(4):444.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24619594

Online gaming addiction? Motives predict addictive play behavior in massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
D.J. Kuss, J. Louws and R.W. Wiers
Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 2012 Sep;15(9):480-5.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22974351

Motivations to play specifically predict excessive involvement in massively multiplayer online role-playing games: evidence from an online survey.
Zanetta Dauriat F, Zermatten A, Billieux J, Thorens G, Bondolfi G, Zullino D, Khazaal Y.
European Addiction Research, 2011;17(4):185-9.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21494046

Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature
Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman
Psychological Science, September 2001, 12(5),353-359.
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/12/5/353.abstract

Great and grateful

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All things considered, things are pretty great for me! Sure, I have challenges and difficulties in my life, but who doesn’t? I’ve made it a regular practice over the last few months to pause and be conscious of the things I am grateful for, and have found that focussing on the positive things makes it easier to handle the difficult things.

This week has certainly served as a reminder to practice gratitude. If ever I needed some perspective, the Adelaide bushfires that started eight days ago have been devastating for so many people. Livestock, pets, businesses and homes have been lost, along with the routines, comforts and way of living that we often take for granted. I have seen the smoke in the skies and felt the grief and fear in the air. Now that the rain has come and the fires have been contained, there is a long process ahead for cleaning up and rebuilding. Considering that the suburb I live in was just inside the declared safe zone, and that friends and clients of mine have been directly affected, I feel so thankful that my family and I were safe when so many others had to evacuate, and that our home is still standing when others have burnt to the ground.

Even more hard hitting for me this week has been the loss of my partner’s friend, killed in a road accident the same day the bushfires began. I watched his wife and two young daughters say goodbye to him yesterday in the most heart-wrenching funeral I’ve ever attended. My grief was accompanied by a sense of awe at how his wife comforted their daughters and spoke so beautifully about him, and selfish relief that even through our tears, I was still standing side-by-side with my own partner. Even though I have still spent much of today crying, it is with an enormous sense of gratitude for everything that I have. The love of my family and friends, the company of my beloved pets, the satisfaction and support I receive through my work, and the roof over my head which houses running water, food and all means of creature comforts. I am one lucky lady.

So while this week has been a week of mourning, I do recognise that mourning means healing. It is also a process, and not a place in which to remain. I am allowing it to take me through to a deeper place of gratitude and appreciation, so that I may live my life fully and wholeheartedly. What are you grateful for? How do you remain conscious of your gratitude, and how do you express it?

Physio tips for office workers and students

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You may be sitting “correctly” at work or at home, but how long can you sit in one position before your body starts to suffer?

Today I’m taking a departure from my psychological and philosophical musings to share some (hopefully) useful information from a physiotherapy perspective.

When I finished my first degree and was working in a desk-based research job, I had all sorts of problems with my back and hips from sitting down most of the day. I actually decided to train as a physiotherapist after figuring out that I was much more comfortable when I was on my feet and moving around. In my work over the last few years I have seen many people in the same state I used to be in – low back pain and other problems from being in a static position for long periods. There really are good reasons for those recommendations that we take stretch breaks during our working day. While some people contest the value of stretching, I have found it extremely useful in the short term for relieving pain, as well as over the long term by increasing and maintaining my muscle flexibility to prevent injury. It doesn’t hurt (well, it shouldn’t if you’re doing it correctly!) so if you find yourself sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time, why not give it a go and see if it works for you too? At the very least it will give you a pause from your work to refresh your headspace.

First, a brief anatomy and physiology lesson. Your spine arises from your pelvis which gives you the foundation of your upright posture. The pelvis has many muscles that attach to it at various points, and when these muscles are tight, restricted or imbalanced it affects the position of the pelvis, and hence impacts on the movement and position of your spine. This answers the question “what do my tight hamstrings have to do with my back pain?”. Not only do we get sore from tight muscles, but if we sit for long periods without moving, we get less circulation into these muscles so metabolites (such as lactic acid) accumulate and make us achey.

The next question I will help you with is “what can I do about it?”. There are many ways of addressing muscle restriction, and we each respond differently to various methods. Some people respond well to massage, others to flexibility exercises, some to acupuncture and dry needling, or other less common approaches such as muscle energy technique. I am only presenting a few of my favourite flexibility exercises here as a way you can help yourself at home or at work, and if these don’t work for you please find a good practitioner that will help you with your specific questions and concerns.

Three of the most common muscle groups that give people problems with their back and pelvis are the hamstrings, hip flexors and piriformis muscles. If these are tight or uneven, it causes a “tug of war” between the tissues that places strain on the body and makes us more susceptible to injury. So here are some stretching ideas you can use to optimise your muscle lengths and give yourself an enjoyable work break!

Hamstrings

The hamstrings run from the sitting bone to behind the knee at the back of each thigh. When they are tight they pull on the sitting bones to restrict the movement of the pelvis and cause the lower back to slump. When our knees are constantly bent in sitting positions our hamstring suffer, so one way you can help them out is just to straighten your leg out while sitting in your chair. If you don’t mind getting on the floor, these options are great too:

Stretch both hamstrings by extending your legs out in front of you, and tip forward from the hips, folding at the hip crease rather than slumping the spine.

Stretches hamstrings double 2

To stretch one leg at a time, lie down and draw your thigh towards you. Your leg can be straight or softly bent, and the bottom leg can be extended out or bent with the foot flat on the floor.

Stretches hamstring single leg supine 2

Hip flexors

These run from deep inside the abdomen from the spine and over the hip to attach to the front of the thigh. Their job is to move and lift your leg in front of you and help you stay upright. When they are restricted they commonly cause overarching of the spine and limit our hip movement. If you are comfortable in a kneeling position put one knee on  the floor and lunge the other leg forward, squeezing your buttocks a little to enhance the stretch at the front of the hip.Stretches kneeling hip flexor

If kneeling or lunging isn’t your thing, try placing one foot up on a sturdy surface and then lean forward slightly until you feel the stretch at the front of the hip or thigh (I do not recommend doing this on a wheeled office chair!):

Stretches standing hip flexor

Piriformis

The piriformis runs from the tailbone to the hip and is one of the main muscles that helps rotate our thigh. It often becomes overactive when the core muscles are underactive, and can cause pain around the buttock area, into the back or even running down into the leg. Cross your foot over your opposite thigh and drop the knee down to where you can, then lean forward to enhance the stretch. I love this one!

Stretches piriformis sitting

When holding these stretches, take it to the ‘edge’ of discomfort but don’t push into pain. I find these stretches effective just from holding for 20 or 30 seconds, although some people advocate holding them for up to 5 minutes at a time to allow all the connective tissues to release. Go with what feels right for you. Remember that sometimes these muscles become tight and overactive not only because of prolonged positioning, but also because they are making up for other muscles that are weak or underactive. For many of us stretching is just one part of the picture, and other forms of exercise are required to strengthen and balance our bodies.

Acknowledgement and thanks to Visou and Nesa for the use of the pictures from http://www.physiotec.org.