Weekend Challenge: Core-Strengthening “Snow Angels”
For Savers in many parts of the world, winter means snow. There’s nothing quite like a beautiful snowfall to make you feel like a kid again – building snowmen, sledding, and making snow angels.
That is one of the reasons why I chose this particular exercise for today’s weekly challenge. It turns back the clock in more than one way – it makes you feel like a child again (making snow angels), and it also contributes to the youthful effects of exercise, which have been proven time and again by decades of consistent research.
So I’m thrilled to share with you a fascinating study on the power of exercise to turn back the clock, and we’ll also take a look at why this exercise is excellent for your bones.
The expression “use it or lose it” is particularly true with regard to muscle and bone strength. When scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School applied this principle to the concept of exercise, the 20-year-old study participants underwent a stunning transformation. Here’s what happened.
Back in 1966, five young men volunteered for what must have sounded like a relaxing summer gig: they were asked to rest in bed for three weeks. But after those three weeks were over, the scientists discovered detrimental effects from the extensive bed rest.
Despite their young age, all of them experienced increased resting heart rate, more body fat, higher systolic blood pressure, decreased muscle strength, and a notable drop in the heart’s pumping capacity. It was as though the three weeks of bed rest had literally aged them.
The researchers then had the 20-year-olds undergo an eight-week exercise program consisting of intensive endurance training. The results were no less remarkable: the young men not only recovered their health, but they actually experienced improvement in all of the above areas, making them healthier than they were before the bed rest experiment.1
Thirty Years Later …
As time went on, the deleterious effects of little or no exercise were reiterated by research and experience. Space travel highlighted this issue as astronauts experienced bone loss and other health problems in the absence of earth’s gravity. The absolute necessity of exercise for health became more and more apparent.
As this truth continued to present itself, the Texas researchers decided to follow up with their original participants 30 years later, in 1996, when they were 50 years old. While the men were generally considered healthy, they were experiencing the effects of aging: on average, they were 50 pounds heavier, and body fat made up a greater percentage of their total body weight. Their heart’s capacity had dropped and their resting heart rate had risen. Still, they were better off than they were after three weeks of bed rest at age twenty!
Fearing disastrous consequences, the men were not asked to lie in bed for three weeks again. But they were asked to exercise daily for six months – cycling, swimming, and jogging rather than the tough endurance training they underwent 30 years prior.
While their average weight loss at the end of six months was a modest 10 pounds, the men’s heart rate, blood pressure, and blood pumping capacity were back to the baseline levels they had at the age of twenty.
“…3 weeks of bedrest in these same men at 20 years of age (1966) had a more profound impact on physical work capacity than did 3 decades of aging.”2
Today’s Exercise Helps Turn Back The Clock
This weekend’s challenge definitely has a place in recovering youthful stamina and, of course, in building bone. The following muscles and muscle groups are engaged in The Core-Strengthening “Snow Angels.”
- Core muscles, which include your abdominals (you will really feel these working!), pelvic floor muscles, obliques (along your sides), diaphragm, and the muscles along your spine. The core muscles work together to allow you to bend, twist, sit up, balance, and more. They stabilize your spine and hips and help you practice good posture and breathing.
- The quadriceps, located in the front of the thigh, get a good workout with this exercise. This four-part muscle runs from the knee to the hip, strengthening the femur and pelvis joints as they bring the legs forward and extend the knee.
- Shoulder mobility is enhanced with the arm motions involved in these “snow angels.” You’ll be bringing your arms up and over your head, using a significant range of motion.
So let’s look at how to do it.
- Get down on the floor and lie on your back. If you do not have carpet, then use an exercise mat.
- Draw your belly in toward your spine, flattening your back against the floor.
- Raise your head up off the floor. If this is too difficult, uncomfortable, or painful, use a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your head.
- Raise your arms and legs up off the floor as well.
- Now move your arms and legs in a “snow angel” motion, with your hands going up over your head while your feet come apart, and your hands going back down to your sides as your feet come together.
- Repeat this motion 10 times for one set, or as many times as you feel comfortable.
- Do not let your feet, hands, or head touch the floor until the set is complete.
It’s more difficult than it first appears!
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Have a great weekend!
1McGavock, Jonathan M., et al. “A Forty-Year Follow-Up of the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study: The Effect of Age on the Cardiovascular Response to Exercise in Men.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 64A. 2. (2009): 293-299. Web. December 15, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2655009/
2McGuire, Darren K., et al. “A 30-Year Follow-Up of the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study.” Circulation. 104. (2001): 1350-1357. Web. December 15, 2016. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/104/12/1350