Health and Wellness Tips

Time to get in shape?

Becoming a member of the YMCA is a great way to commit to a fitness program.

In addition, there are tips and tricks you should know to make the most of your healthy lifestyle.

Beat the Heat...

Tips for staying healthy in the summer

  • Drink before, during and after you exercise. It is essential. Adults should drink 12 cups of water a day, children 5-8 cups a day. Don't wait until you feel thirsty.
  • Start slowly. It takes about a week to get used to exercising in the heat.
  • Workout when it's cooler - morning or evening. If you plan to exercise outdoors, avoid the hours between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Be sure to exercise with a friend and apply sunscreen while in the sun.
  • Try indoor exercises during the summer, invest in a couple of good exercise videos and equipment, and go to the YMCA or walk in the mall.
  • Wear light coloured, loose fitting, clothes with "wicking" material, avoid dark colour clothes. Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect you from the sun.
  • Be especially careful on humid days, when your body's natural air-conditioner - sweat evaporation doesn't work nearly as well. If the heat index (combination of temperature and humidity) is especially high, don't risk exercising outside.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals.
  • Know when to STOP. If you start to feel dizzy exhausted or disoriented. STOP!! Find shade, drink water, breathe deeply and cool down.

Know the symptoms of heat-related problems

  • Heat cramps (muscle cramps, twitching, spasms)
  • Heat exhaustion (headaches, dizziness, weakness, goose bumps, shortness of breath)
  • Heatstroke (all of the above plus disorientation, confusion or loss of consciousness)

If despite these precautions, you or someone you know develops heatstroke, call for emergency help immediately. Move the victim into shade or air conditioning, pour water over him and, if he is alert, encourage.


Falls in the Elderly

Fall injury represents a common, potentially preventable cause of injury and death among older adults. Reports indicate that falls account for about 12% of deaths for people over the age of 65 and 30% of those over this age sustain a fall each year. The question is why do these falls occur and how can falls be prevented? Many risk factors exist, both within the individual and their environment. The following information provided by the YMCA Active Centre for Therapy may help you or someone you know who is at risk prevent a fall related injury.

Physical Risk Factors for Older Adults

  • Changes in strength and flexibility
  • Vision problem
  • Poor balance
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Heart problems
  • Medications
  • Previous history of falls

Environmental Risk Factors for Older Adults

  • Poor lighting
  • Clutter
  • Scatter rugs
  • Pets
  • Lack of handrails
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Mother nature (ice, snow, rain etc.)

Now that you have realized where the risks are what can you do to protect yourself or a loved one?

Tips for Safety

EXERCISE - Individuals who have experienced a fall often reduce their activity because of a fear of falling again. It is extremely important to keep active. Regular exercise involving strength training, aerobic exercise and flexibility training will not only reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen bones but will also help reduce your risk of falling. Regular exercise will also increase muscle strength and flexibility, improve balance, help you sleep better and give you more energy.

VISION - Have a regular eye examination each year and wear the glasses that have been prescribed by your eye doctor.

CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS - High blood pressure and heart conditions can cause dizziness that may lead to a fall. It is not uncommon for falls to occur in the middle of the night when getting up out of bed to use the bathroom. Remember, always get up from a laying down position slowly. While walking, turn slowly and avoid twisting. Do this by focussing on a stationary object and slowly turning your feet while you move.

MEDICATIONS- Both prescription medications and over-the-counter medications may cause side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. Be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor about the side effects of any of the medications you take.

Tips for the home

LIGHTING - Use the brightest lighting possible. Night lights are great for those middle of the night trips to the bathroom or you could consider motion-sensitive lighting.

SCATTER/THROW RUGS - Be sure any scatter or throw rug has non-skid backing or better yet don't even have them in your home.

PETS - Pets can sometimes slip in under foot. Be aware of where your pet is and be careful when visiting friends that have pets.

HANDRAILS - Use handrails on all steps.

BATHROOM - Many falls take place in the bathroom. Ensure non-slip mats are on the floor to absorb water and install grab-bars for the bathtub, shower and toilet area to improve safety.

CLUTTER - Be sure that all household items are put away in their place and ensure that furniture is arranged so cords and wires are not in the way.

KITCHEN - Reduce the need for unsafe climbing by locating frequently used items at or below waist level.

Ensure any mats in the kitchen are non-slip, especially those around the sink. 


Ideal Weight

Canadians seem to be in a constant battle to reach their ideal weight. One of the reasons for this battle of the bulge is often the huge difference between an ideal weight and a reasonable one. When asked to identify their ideal weight range, people state numbers that are often more fantasy than reality. Asked if they ever weighed their ideal weight and at what age, adolescent or high school weights are often quoted. As males and females continue to grow until they reach their twenties, trying to return to the waist size of an 18 year old can be a losing battle. The following information taken from the article "Reaching your right weight the right way" written by Ardelle Harrison, B.H.E., R.F.A. offers advise that may help you.

Does Thin Mean Healthy?

The body mass index is a good guide for establishing ideal weights because it demonstrates to many who feel they are overweight, that they are actually within an acceptable range. The down side to BMI is it can state up to a 20-pound range for each height. It also scores high not only for those who are overweight or over fat but also for those who are muscular. This means it fails to reflect the amount of lean body mass vs. fat, nor does it indicate the health status of an individual. Blood pressure, fitness level, nutritional status etc. are not reflected in the results of your BMI. It is possible for someone to have a healthy height to weight ratio, but be very unhealthy in other aspects of their lifestyle.

Those who are at an ideal weight may not be as healthy as they seem. The focus should be on maintaining that ideal weight while living a healthy lifestyle.

The trials of losing weight

The success of weight loss is not always what it seems. A person may have lost 50 pounds in one year, but upon closer observation it may prove to be the same 10 pounds lost five times. Following a low calorie diet will result in rapid water loss, which is most often misinterpreted as permanent weight loss. Meanwhile, our bodies try to protect against a sudden decrease in energy consumption by preserving energy. When the body starts to burn calories at a slower rate, weight gain becomes easier. This kind of yo-yo weight loss is not only discouraging it can also be stressful on the heart. Most people can restrict their diet and lost weight, but for a limited time only. Success should be measured by one's ability to maintain a healthy weight range while leading a healthy lifestyle.

You are what you eat

Examining your eating habits means taking a look not only at what you eat, but how much you eat and your attitude toward food. For example, there are children who eat nutritious meals daily, but are required to consume an adult quantity of food at each sitting. On the other hand, there are those who eat a reasonable quantity of food but make poor food choices and consume too much hidden fat. Even those who are strict diet watchers may be prone to an unhealthy compulsive attitude toward food.

Tips for maintaining a healthy weight

Following are a few healthy guidelines and suggestions that can help you maintain a healthy weight range.

  • Set realistic goals. Many people have an ideal image of a totally fat free body, which is neither attractive nor healthy.
    Eat less food, but eat more often. This prevents extreme hunger which can result in overeating.
  • Choose foods that sustain your energy. Good examples are proteins such as low fat cheese or complex carbohydrates such as pasta.
  • Measure your serving size. Food quantities are easily underestimated and we often exceed our daily food requirements.
  • Become more active - every day. Excess weight can be the result of a sedentary lifestyle, not just overeating.
    Plan ahead before you shop. Choose from the healthiest choices available at your favourite food store, restaurant or coffee shop.
  • Decrease the amount of fat you consume. A big slice of pizza topped with vegetable versus deli meats can save up to 450 calories or nearly 50 grams of fat.
  • Experiment with your favourite recipes and reduce the amount of fat and sugars in your diet. Buy a low fat cookbook and make some of their choices a part of your weekly diet.
  • Identify some of the ingredients with the highest fat content, like coconut, and find a healthier substitute - or omit them.
    Enjoy your food. Make healthy changes in your diet and lifestyle, but don't become obsessed with food, exercise or your health. Enjoy life, with an eye on becoming more fit both mentally and physically.


Injury Prevention

Follow these suggestions to decrease the chances of injury:

  • Maintain good posture: Incorrect posture can easily lead to injuries. If you start to lose your posture, stop the exercise and reposition yourself.
  • Listen to your body: If anything hurts while you're training, stop the exercise.
  • Always warm up: The muscle groups should be warm before every strength training session.
  • Always stretch: It is important to finish your exercises with stretching.


Keeping a Healthy Back 

Reducing the Stress of Sitting

It may surprise you to know that sitting puts more strain on your back than standing or lifting. The stress of leaning over printouts and paperwork, slouching in an uncomfortable chair and spending long hours in one position leaves many office workers with aching, tired backs. But beating back stress is simple - and it's up to you.

Sitting Pretty

Good posture helps reduce the stress of sitting in one position for prolonged periods. The secret to good posture is in maintaining the balance of the three natural curves of your spine. These curves work together to distribute body weight evenly. If you slouch forward or hunch your shoulder, you not only look bad, you also sabotage the body's balance and stress your spine. Imagine an invisible line that starts at your ear and continues past your shoulder to your hip. When the line is straight, your curves are balanced.

How to Make it Work

In many cases your office set-up may not promote good posture. With a few modifications, you'll be sitting pretty.

  • Use a lumbar roll to support your lower back. You can buy a pre-made lumbar roll or roll up a towel and place it in the small of your back to provide support in this area.
  • Adjust your chair so that your arms are at desk level and your feet are on the floor. If your feet don't touch the floor, use a footrest.
  • Position yourself so that your weight is shifted forward (off your spine). A seat wedge or folded towel two to three inches thick may help.
  • Take short breaks at least once an hour to stretch your spine.
  • Avoid crossing your legs. This interferes with the circulation to your legs and throws your spine out of balance.

You Know It's Right

Although it may take some adjusting to get yourself comfortable, once you've established good habits you'll feel the results. Healthy work habits will help you maintain a healthy back for life.


Lost your keys?

(Is that a sign of normal aging?)

Because of the myths and stereotypes associated with the aging process, many people associate forgetfulness as a part of normal aging. Some physical changes are related to normal aging, but dementia, memory loss, and loss of intelligence are not considered characteristics of the aging process. Dementia is a cognitive impairment that only a small proportion of the older population suffers from and is caused usually by a disease process, such as Alzheimers or multiple strokes. Confusion can also be caused by over-medication or mixing alcohol with prescription or over the counter drugs. Memory loss is another popular myth of aging and there is no scientific proof that getting older involves losing your memory. Due to the fact that older adults have a much larger amount of stored data, the retrieval of the stored information from the brain may just take a little longer as we age! So remember, losing your keys does not mean that you are getting old... it just means that you are human.

Research also indicates that ones intelligence does not decrease as we age and tests show older individuals can learn information just as well as younger individuals. Older students may take a little longer to learn a new skill, but the skill will come with a little patience.

It is also the belief of some that loneliness is a characteristic of aging. The truth is that most older people actually experience increased life satisfaction because they take up new careers, engage in volunteer work, go back to school, experience less stress, and have more time to engage in activities they enjoy.

Some of the physical changes associated with normal aging may include negative changes in the functioning of the eyes and ears. The eyes can lose the ability to focus on objects, which make it difficult to see without prescription glasses. Due to the inability of the eye to quickly adapt from light to dark conditions, older adults may have difficulty seeing at night. For this reason, older drivers often avoid night driving. Another change to the eyes associated with aging is the yellowing of the white of the eye over time caused by exposure to direct sunlight. This discoloration may cause blurred vision and cataract replacement surgery can correct this impairment.

Other physical changes associated with aging include:

Loss of hearing - hearing impairments can easily be remedied through use of a hearing aid.

Osteoporosis - occurs when bones become more brittle and as a result are more easily broken. This condition targets mostly women and can be prevented through regular, moderate exercise and eating high calcium foods such as milk, yogurt and broccoli.

Dryness of the skin - this characteristic of aging to the largest organ in our body occurs when the skin becomes thinner and drier as we age. To keep skin healthy drink lots of water and use lubricants such as soothing oils and hand lotions regularly.

All of these changes to the body do not put excessive limits on the capabilities of the aging population.

It is unfortunate that the many myths about aging make growing old appear to be a very negative process. The normal changes associated with the aging process are not significant enough to prevent older adults from enjoying the lifestyle that they have always enjoyed.


Make More Time

One of the most frequently used reasons for not exercising regularly is lack of time. If you are the average fitness participant, you work at least one job, are married (or have a significant other), have children and or a dog and enjoy getting together with friends and family. So where does fitness end up on that to do list? Unfortunately, exercise ends up at the bottom of the list all too often. So what can you do if you recognize the benefits of exercise, but you just can't seem to find the time? Here are 10 tips to squeeze more time out of the day.

Prioritize: If you leave the scheduling of exercise to the end of the list, it will often be the item that you decide to shift until the next day. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "tomorrow never comes" and you'll find yourself having lost yet another opportunity to become a better version of you. Schedule exercise just as you would an appointment or date. The difference is the person you are committing to is the most important person of all - yourself.

Go Group: The great thing about group exercise is there are at least a dozen other people who may also have a marginal attachment to exercise. But together you can find strength in numbers and get through a workout. As well, since group fitness classes are scheduled, you know that you have to get there on time and don't want to be late.

Keep it short and sweet: If you are pressed for time don't fall in to the trap of "if I can't get a workout in, what's the point". In reality, any workout is better than none at all and if you balance the intensity with the volume of work the results don't have to suffer.

Go with your co-workers: If you know your office mates are going, you're more likely to work more efficiently during the rest of your day so that you don't let them down. Don't forget to put the pressure on them as well and you can help them change their lives too.

Make the most of your TV time: Get a stationary bike or treadmill and put it in front of the television and promise yourself that the only way you get to watch TV is if you exercise (better yet, turn off the TV and go outside).

Get up earlier: Because of our circadian cycles, we have blocks of time that we are naturally in a deeper sleep than others. So if you find it impossible to get up in the morning to exercise, try getting up 30-45 minutes earlier. You might find it even easier than getting up when you do currently.

Save the Planet: If you have shower facilities at work or work around the corner from a gym, try walking or riding your bicycle to work. Not only will you get a great workout, you'll save the planet from smog and help ease traffic congestion.

Get on the ball: Try transitioning to a stability ball instead of an office chair at work. Start with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase it until you work most of the day on the ball. You will get a mild abdominal and stabilizer workout all day long and you won't even notice.

Get the kids involved: If you have kids, you can help yourself by helping them make exercise part of their day. Make a pact to go for a walk with your kids every evening after supper instead of plopping down in front of the television. Even if it doesn't have the same intensity as a traditional workout, you get the benefit of quality time.

Make it fun: When was the last time you looked forward to going to the dentist? We have a negative association with dental appointments and it shows with our reluctance to go. Don't make the same mistake with exercise. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it a habit. You will be more likely to start, more likely to keep at it, and less likely to notice that you are exercising. That usually translates into longer bouts of exercise and more results.

Remember...get more active wherever you are and enjoy it!


Portion Control

Portion control will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight!

Portion control is an important strategy for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. It allows you to gain control over your daily intake of food energy or calories. Smaller portion sizes result in fewer calories. Larger portion sizes result in more calories.

To rediscover serving sizes, use Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. Compare portions you eat to serving sizes from Canada's Food Guide. All you need is a kitchen scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons.

Here are some examples from the Food Guide of the amount of food equal to 1 serving.

Grain Products

  • 1- 30 gram slice of whole grain bread
  • 1- 30 gram serving of cold cereal
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of pasta or rice

Vegetables and Fruit

  • 1 medium (140 gram) apple
  • 1 medium (200 grams) potato
  • ½ cup ( 125 mls) fruit or vegetable juice
  • ½ cup of vegetables

Milk Products

  • 1 cup (250 mls) of milk
  • ¾ cup (190 mls) of yogurt
  • 1.5 ounces (50 grams) of cheese

Meats and Alternatives

  • 3 ounces (90 grams of meat, fish or poultry)
  • 1 cup ( 250 mls) of beans
  • 2 Tbsp ( 30 mls) of peanut butter

Submitted by: Pat Elliott-Moyer, RD, City of Hamilton Public Health and Community Services Department.


Repetitive Strain Injury

Pain related to repetitive strain injuries seem to be more common place in today's computerized home and work environments.

What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

Repetitive strain injury is the label given to different categories of tendon and muscular injuries, including some of the more commonly known injuries such as: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or fatigue injuries associated with the neck and shoulder muscles.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • the carpal tunnel is located between the wrist and palm of the hand
  • signs and symptoms may include sensory changes (pins/needles/numbness) and/or weakness of the thumb and first two fingers to the wrist area. Symptoms are usually worse at night.
  • High-risk activities include computer keyboarding and string instruments.


  • most commonly affects the wrist, hand and shoulder
  • inflammation of the tendon tissue itself (a tendon attaches bone to muscle)
  • high risk activities include activities which will require excessive use of the thumb and fingers, often combined with twisting at the wrist

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

  • common injury of the shoulder which can occur when repetitive overhead shoulder movements are performed
  • tendons can inflame, thicken and become quite painful, especially with forward or sideways movements of the arm
  • baseball pitchers and swimmers are sometimes afflicted with this condition

Strain injuries of the neck and shoulders

  • results from chronically overloading postural and stabilizing muscles in the neck and shoulder
  • high risk activities include work activities requiring one or both arms to be elevated away from the body
  • signs and symptoms may include pain at rest, stiffness, headache, muscle tension and tightness

Risk Factors of Repetitive Strain Injury include:

  • the rate at which the work or movement is performed
  • the frequency of the movement
  • the force, speed and direction of the movement
  • the total number of movements
  • the work posture

Prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury

The incidence of Repetitive Strain Injury can be reduced by:

  • good workplace design
  • job rotation among employees who are able to do so
  • frequent resting of the involved muscle groups during the day
  • properly designed tools and equipment
  • frequent stretch breaks
  • modify your work and leisure activities to reduce the compounding stress effects on your tendons and muscles (e.g. if you are at a computer for 8 hours per day, knitting as a leisure activity would be a poor choice of hobbies!)

Treatment of Repetitive Strain Injury

Medical treatment can range from the prescription of rest, or may be as serious as to require surgical intervention. Often medication (anti-inflammatories, pain relievers), splinting, and physiotherapy can help to alleviate the signs and symptoms and regain function.

Early intervention is key to preventing permanent muscle, tissue or tendon damage and prevention is of course the best treatment of all!! The YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington's Active Centre for Therapy offers rehabilitation and therapy programs to help with your needs.


Staying Active can Help Keep Your Body Young

Only a few years ago many older adults believed it was normal to lose strength with age. Once firm muscles became soft; bones grew brittle; energy levels dropped.

Now we know that much of that aging process is caused by lack of exercise. We can be rewarded with health benefits, if we continue to focus on being active. Here are some components of a well-rounded activity program for an older population:

  • Cardiovascular activity - Consider activities such as walking, cycling or aquafitness to maintain a healthy heart. A little every day or three to four times each week will keep you feeling good.
  • Strength training - Loss of strength over the years is considered one of the main reasons for loss of ability to complete simple, everyday functions in the elderly.
    Strength training can improve muscles and also improve bone density. People doing cardiovascular activity and strength training have greater bone density than those who perform only cardiovascular activity. This is important for menopausal women, since they lose bone mineral faster than men do.
  • Stretching - As we age, connective tissues in our joints, ligaments, and tendons shorten and stiffen. Tightness in the hamstring muscles and Achilles tendons, along with weak stomach muscles, can cause serious back problems. A good stretching program can lengthen these tissues and restore their flexibility. Just 10 minutes a day of stretching can help prevent injury.
    Before stretching, ensure you warm-up the muscles by walking for 2-5 minutes. When stretching, slowly stretch to the point where you feel a slight pull, hold position for 16-30 seconds and then release. Remember that you should never stretch to the point where you feel pain.
  • Relax - Add a little deep breathing at the end of your stretching component. We often think that as we age we no longer experience stress. The stresses may change but they're still present.

Research has proven time and again that investing in yourself at any age helps you live longer.


Strength Training can Improve Your Life

Strength training has often been perceived as an activity for extremely fit individuals and is often confused with weight lifting and the image of large, bulging muscles.

In fact strength training for function can help us perform everyday activities more easily, burn more calories and lose weight.

According to Wayne Westcott, fitness and research director at the South Shore YMCA, in Quincy, Mass., strength training is important for everyone. Children can start a sensible, modified strength-training program at eight years of age, without jeopardizing bone growth and development.

Seniors can perhaps benefit the most from increased muscular strength.

Weakness in the arms, legs and torso, cause many seniors to reduce their daily activity and become more dependent on others. Seniors, who train, live better, longer.

The goal of strength training is simply to improve your level of muscular fitness and functional strength.

Wescott's recommendations for safe, effective and efficient strength training include:

Exercise all major muscle groups.

Train the quadriceps (top front of the leg), hamstrings (top back of the leg), upper and lower back, neck, chest, abdominals, shoulders, biceps (top front of arm), triceps (top back of arms). Promote muscle balance and reduce the risk of over-use injuries by working both sides of a joint, while it's still warm.

Choose the appropriate amount of weight.

To increase strength, you must overload the muscle and cause it to fatigue.
Generally speaking, a muscle fails when it can no longer lift and lower the weight while maintaining proper form and technique. For greater and more efficient strength gains, choose a weight that will cause the muscle to fatigue within 60-90 seconds.

Perform the correct number of exercise repetitions.

For most people, the muscle should fatigue at 8-12 repetitions. If this is not the case, it is time to increase your weight, not the number of repetitions.

Perform the correct number of exercise sets.

One exercise set of 8-12 repetitions produces strength results similar to those found when doing multiple sets.

Progress slowly.

Start with lightweights and continually challenge the muscles by increasing the weight by five per cent once your set of 8-12 fails to fatigue the muscle.

Speed of movement.

Lift and lower the weight slowly, taking two full seconds to lift and four seconds to lower the weight. Use your strength to lift and lower the weight, not momentum.

Work each muscle group through a full range of motion.

Muscle strength can only be developed within the range you train it. Short, quick movements fail to achieve the best results.

Perform strength training a minimum of twice a week.

Once a week gives the muscles too much time to rest and not enough stimuli to build strength. Conversely, five strength training sessions a week gives the muscle too little time to recover.


Total Workout

For a total workout, include spirit, mind and body. The best workout, according to top trainers and fitness experts, is one that includes the mind and spirit as well as the body. Consider some alternatives to your regular weight and cardio training. For a change of pace, try yoga, Pilates or tai chi, all of which engage your spirit, mind and body. Include these alternative mind/body disciplines on a regular basis. Add them to your workout regime and feel the difference.