Monthly Archives: March 2017

Does Rolling Increase Blood Foam Flow?

One claim about the benefits of foam rolling is that it initiates an increase in blood flow to the treated area. But do those claims hold water? A study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2017; 31 [4], 893–900) aimed to find out.

Researchers recruited 21 adults aged 23–27 who were instructed to foam-roll the lateral surface of their thighs. Each subject underwent lateral-thigh arterial blood flow measures via spectral Doppler and power Doppler ultrasound on three occasions: before rolling, immediately after rolling and then again 30 minutes later.

According to the findings, claims of increased blood flow are correct. The researchers determined that arterial blood flow was significantly higher immediately after foam rolling than at baseline and was still elevated 30 minutes later.

“An increase of arterial blood flow suggests a role for the acute phase after foam rolling,” the researchers said. “Our data may contribute to the understanding of local physiological reactions of self-myofascial release. The advantages of enhanced blood flow might be important for warm up and recovery, and our data support the implementation of foam rolling in sports if tissue circulation is required.”

Latest Research on Cancer and Exercise

Cancer can be deadly. However, research is showing promising data on how physical activityhelps the body and mind heal—and prevent—this disease. A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Moore et al. 2016) indicates that physical activity lowers the risk of 13 types of cancer.

There’s more positive news about exercise and cancer. A report from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center states, “Multiple studies show that regular physical activity is linked to increased life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer, in many cases by decreasing the risk of cancer recurrence” (Grisham 2014). The American Cancer Society, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, American College of Sports Medicine, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are just some of the organizations that advocate physical activity for cancer patients and survivors (Grisham 2014). Thus, it is not a question of whether exercise helps, but rather of how much works—based on dosage, quality, conditioning and cancer type.

There are three ways to look at battling cancer. For those who don’t have it, lowering risk is the primary goal. For those who’ve had it, successfully recovering and of course reducing the chances of recurrence are of utmost importance. For those who currently have it, the priorities are getting rid of it and minimizing the harmful effects that both the disease and the treatment have on the body. Exercise has been shown to help with all three.

Cancer and Exercise Research: An Overview

Cancer is simply a collection of abnormal cells that are dividing without stopping; in other words, their growth is out of control. Most often (not always), the result is a tumor. Some tumors are benign and will stay localized, but cancerous tumors are malignant and may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

The immune system houses the forces that keep cancer at bay. In fact, we have a potent inflammatory agent called tumor necrosis factor that can be friend or foe, depending on the situation (Wang & Lin 2008). When our immune system is strong, we battle cancer successfully. When immunity is not strong, or if the cancer is potent, we may lose the battle and develop noticeable symptoms of cancerous growth.

Taking an “active approach” to fighting cancer is indeed the best choice. In a 2005 Harvard study, breast cancer patients who exercised at moderate intensities 3–5 hours per week (high volume) lowered the odds of dying from cancer by about half, compared with sedentary patients (Holmes et al. 2005). Even a little exercise improved patients’ odds, regardless of stage or diagnosis timing.

Studies have also shown that those who exercise early in life have a lower chance of breast cancer later in life. Chinese women who exercised an average of 70 minutes per week during their teens reduced their chances of dying from cancer by 16%, and those who kept exercising as adults had a 20% lower risk of premature death from all causes, compared with other women (Nechuta et al. 2015).

The amount of exercise to aim for, particularly during or just after dealing with a bout of cancer, is a delicate balance of getting enough to make a difference and not getting too much—an amount that could suppress immune function. The reason for this yin-yang relationship is linked to the endocrine system and the body’s perception of exercise as stress.

Epinephrine—released during exercise—helps to circulate natural killer cells in tumors. The NK cells move into the bloodstream and infiltrate tumor cells, causing them to shrink. Researchers confirmed this theory using several different methods, including using mice with no NK cells, blocking epinephrine flow and injecting mice with epinephrine. All studies led to the same conclusion: Epinephrine caused NK cell infiltration (Neiman et al. 1995). Further studies found that it was Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known inflammatory marker, that served as the immune cell signal. Only IL-6 sensitive NK cells showed this response, and IL-6 helped guide NK cells to the tumors.

Your Best Stretching Program?

In nearly 40 years as a fitness educator, I have never been sidelined by a significant injury, in spite of decades of high-impact classes, rigorous weight training, participation in competitive aerobics, and group exercise schedules that sometimes exceeded 25 hours per week. I attribute my longevity in this grueling business to one thing—cross-training all aspects of fitness, including flexibility.

We place great emphasis on cross-training cardiovascular and resistance conditioning, but flexibility is still an afterthought on many schedules. Although most facilities provide some kind of flexibility-oriented programming, options are often limited. Yoga is popular, and participants enjoy various degrees of flexibility while practicing it. However, while yoga improves range of motion and some aspects of flexibility, cross-training this aspect of fitness would lead to greater gains.

Today’s workouts are dominated by high-intensity, physically challenging movements. The rise of these programs has led to more injuries. A more effective stretching regime could help to minimize damage from overuse. On the other end of the spectrum, sedentary people may be dealing with muscle dysfunction and atrophy, along with limited ROM in some areas of the body. A varied stretching routine may remedy many of their difficulties. Regardless of fitness level, flexibility training is vital. Fascia makes up as much as 30% of a muscle’s total mass, and accounts for about 41% of a muscle’s total resistance to movement (Rahman et al. 2015). Fascial restrictions contribute greatly to mobility limitations, so a comprehensive program that includes a variety of stretching techniques should be part of any fitness regimen.

Stretching Techniques

There are many different stretching options to choose from, and the right program depends on genetic makeup, personal preferences, injury history, age, gender, weight, body type and activity level. Because movement occurs through many planes, not just forward and backward, it’s beneficial to stretch in as many positions as possible. Not all techniques are right for everyone, and some stretches are contraindicated for people with specific injuries; however, mixing and matching leads to the best results. Here are some of the most popular choices:

    • Ballistic stretching uses a fast bounce to push the body beyond its normal ROM. While this practice may be beneficial for certain athletes, it can increase the risk of injury for average fitness enthusiasts.

    • Dynamic stretching employs active movements through full ROM to stretch and prepare muscles and joints for activity. It helps to increase blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion.

    • Active Isolated Stretching involves extending a muscle, holding that position for 2 seconds and then returning to the starting position. This targets and lengthens the muscle without triggering the protective stretch reflex and subsequent reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction, since the isolated muscle achieves a state of relaxation. If stressed too far too fast, however, the body will react. Therefore, AIS calls for multiple repetitions to build the body’s awareness.

    • Passive stretching uses outside assistance to achieve results. This “assistance” could be body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person or a stretching device. The key is to relax through the stretch while continuing to maintain pressure as the muscle lengthens.

    • Reciprocal inhibition involves stretching a muscle and then actively contracting the opposing muscle group. With this technique, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch, and you rely on the opposing muscle(s) to initiate the stretch.

    • Static stretching requires holding a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds.

    • Isometric static stretching involves no movement. The technique is based on tensing the muscles that are being stretched.

    • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training that involves stretching and contracting targeted muscles. It consists of a passive stretch, then a muscular force or contraction, and finally a second, deeper passive release.

  • Myofascial release uses stretching, compression, direct pressure and other techniques to release restricted areas of fascia, ideally creating a biochemical and mechanical change that allows for more efficient movement. Foam rollers and other niche products assist in targeting and releasing the tissue.

U.S. Yoga Injuries Increasing

Yoga injuries in the United States are on the rise, particularly among older adults, according to data from hospital emergency rooms nationwide. Researchers from the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), Alabama, examined data from 2001 to 2014 to establish the injury risk involved in yoga participation.

Data analysis revealed that the injury rate overall among adult participants increased from 10 for every 100,000 yoga practitioners in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 practitioners in 2014. However, when looking at specific age groups, the data told a more varied story. Among those aged 18–44, the injury rate rose from 10 per 100,000 to 12. For those 45–64, the rate jumped from 10 to 18. But for those aged 65 and older, the injury rate increased 8 times—from 7 per 100,000 in 2001 to 58 in 2014.

These figures do not capture all injuries. The data included only emergency- room incidents reported as yoga-related and did not count those classified under “sport or recreational activity not listed elsewhere.” Additionally, many other injuries may have been resolved by doctors or self-treated by individuals.

During the time frame examined, an estimated 29,590 yoga-related injuries led to emergency-room visits. Almost half were trunk injuries; 45% were sprains or strains. “The incidence of fracture was highest in the older population,” said lead study author Thomas Swain, MPH, in a UAB news release. “Yoga is harder and more demanding than some people believe,” said co-author Gerald McGwin, PhD, director of the Center for Injury Sciences, in the same news release. “You need a realistic view of your own abilities and you need to understand that some poses might be too challenging and inappropriate. A qualified, certified yoga instructor can help you with that assessment and is essential to a safe experience.”

Since injuries increased among all age groups, a lack of qualified instructors may have been a contributing factor, the researchers observed. They further proposed the creation of national standards for yoga instructor certification and urged more aggressive training in safety and injury prevention.

“There are many benefits to yoga, and overall our findings show it is relatively safe,” said McGwin. “But, there is an injury risk, especially for older populations, and that risk should not be ignored.”