Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: cardiovascular

Winter Circulation Woes

Most musicians know of the woes of winter- cold fingers, numbness, a hunched spine to shield the wind, and an inability to keep warm.  Aside from wearing warmer clothes, what else can you do to improve circulation, and what is actually happening in your blood vessels?

Most of us think of the heart as the sole mover of blood, but what about our muscle movement?  Katy Bowman suggests that the heart is not the only mover of oxygenated blood in the body!  (Image from Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Most of us think of the heart as the sole mover of blood, but what about our muscle movement?  Katy Bowman suggests that the heart is not the only mover of oxygenated blood in the body!  (Image from Encyclopedia Brittanica)

In cold weather, your circulatory system pulls blood away from your appendages to keep your torso and organs warm and supplied with blood.  Thus, your hands and feet get cold first.    While the heart is a primary mover of oxygenated blood to the body, your skeletal muscle movements also assist in this process, especially given the dense network of tiny capillaries in the body.  In Katy Bowman's book, "Move Your DNA," she talks about how the musculoskeletal system is essential for getting blood from the arteries to the capillaries, something that few people talk about in health and circulation wellness. 

"The mechanical stimulation of a muscle working causes the smooth muscle wall of the arterioles to relax and open...causing a drop in pressure that pulls blood from the arteries to the capillaries...In reality, working muscles pull your blood to the tissues that need it...Within a sedentary culture, the heart becomes the sole mover of blood." (Move Your DNA, page 58-read it!)

You know this because when you don't move, you have poor circulation, and when you move more (not just exercise), you improve blood blow and deliver oxygen to tissues.  It's not just about your heart! With this in mind, moving more (not just exercising), but changing the frequency of sitting and static positions, and taking movement breaks can help improve overall circulation, which makes sense.

These are great for extreme weather conditions, auditions, etc., but I do wish they weren't single use only and trash worthy.

These are great for extreme weather conditions, auditions, etc., but I do wish they weren't single use only and trash worthy.

In the end, cold weather is only one of many contributors of poor circulation, which include peripheral artery disease, diabetes, and Raynaud's disease.  With peripheral artery disease, the blood vessels and arteries narrow, and can eventually fill with plaque, which will reduce blood flow and can lead to tingling and numbness as well as eventual tissue damage and long term circulatory/cardiovascular issues.  Diabetes can severely affect circulation and awareness of the body, and many people have neuropathy as well as poor circulation.  Raynaud's disease is a circulatory disease which causes the arteries in the hands and feet to narrow, which therefore moves less blood through the body.  Some people only experience Raynaud's disease in parts of the hand or fingers, rather than as a whole, and others develop symptoms as a young adult.  It is essentially idiopathic (without a clear cause) and there aren't helpful cures for it as a whole.

So what can you do to improve circulation? 

The combination of coffee, cigarettes, and cold weather can really diminish blood flow! 

The combination of coffee, cigarettes, and cold weather can really diminish blood flow! 

First thing, move more before playing- take the stairs before practicing, do some mobilizing movements, or even jumping jacks on a cold day.  When we stay in a static playing position for a long time or play in cold circumstances, it is essential to keep blood flowing to the hands and feet and overall movement can help that.  Secondly, everyone knows that cigarette smoking isn't great for the lungs and overall health, but nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it narrows the blood vessels, which in turn diminishes circulation and blood flow.   Lastly, other vasoconstrictors include caffeine, pseudoephedrine, and nasal decongestants.  What that means is that you don't necessarily want to drink caffeine all day long on a chilly day, but instead switch to herbal teas, hot water with lemon, and other warming drinks.  In both Chinese medicine and ayurveda, there is an emphasis on warming foods such as foods flavored with ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, as well as cooked foods specific to the season of winter and fall, such as sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, etc.  (This is a wildly simplified explanation of ayurvedic principles regarding warming foods.)  On a simple practical level, I love the handwarmers that you can buy at drugstores that are single use, although I wish there was a more eco friendly option.  (There are reusable ones you can microwave or dunk in hot water, but you can't bring a microwave to an audition or performance!) I'm also a big fan of wearing wrist warmers in cold climates, at least until you feel warmed up.  You can also DIY a set of wrist warmers with a pair of socks if you don't feel the need to buy a pair.

Keep warm in these cold winter months and keep moving!




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Move More, Sit Less

If you read fitness and wellness articles as much as I do, you'll notice there's a new trend, with sensationalist headlines like:

Image and article from the August 2013 issue of Runner's World.  I don't necessarily know if sitting is the new smoking (I think high heels win for that title), but we could definitely do with sitting less often.

Image and article from the August 2013 issue of Runner's World.  I don't necessarily know if sitting is the new smoking (I think high heels win for that title), but we could definitely do with sitting less often.

"Sitting is the New Smoking"

Sitting Is Bad for You. So I Stopped. For a Whole Month.

Are You STILL Sitting?

And of course, Why Sitting Is Killing You

So what's the problem here?  Why all the fuss about sitting?  If you do your 45 minute workout and then sit at work (teaching, orchestra, etc.), then aren't you following healthy movement protocol?  Not so much, actually. 

First of all, sitting all day, standing all day, walking all day... any perpetual action isn't inherently good or bad-It's the quality of movement plus the elapsed time spent in that activity.  If you walk and stand a lot, but wear poor shoes and have dubious movement patterning, then you could easily be in pain.  (Hello waitressing, customer service, retail, nursing, and teaching !)  With sitting, most of us sit on our sacrums instead of our sitz bones (which by now, you have seen discussed frequently, from sitting for children to sitting on a bike...) and then we sit for 8-10 hours a day.  (Drive to work, sit to bike, sit to play, sit to eat, sit to hang out with friends, sit to type, write, etc.)   Try Katy Bowman's How Much Do I Sit Quiz for a good reality check on how much you're actually sitting.

So back to the task at hand.  What are some of the consequences of perpetual sitting?

Sitting looks pretty scary, eh?

Sitting looks pretty scary, eh?

1.  Musculoskeletal problems from poor alignment.  Ahh, repetitive stress injury, I know thee well.  We've mentioned some of these issues already, but here  are a few of these again:

Head Forward yielding Neck Issues

Sitting on the Sacrum and Not the Ischial Tuberosities

Slump in the Upper Body (excessive spinal flexion)

Let's not forget that our muscles and bones respond to the stress we put on them, so the musculature of your hips, back, core, shoulders, etc., will start to lose mobility if you're constantly sitting, especially in poor alignment.  Remember, when you bring these issues to your normal seated position, they follow you when you play in orchestra, chamber music, recitals, driving, etc.  They're a real pain (pun intended).

2.  Cardiovascular Issues.  Katy Bowman's blog is great for explaining this in more detail than I can, but short form summary, even if you lower your cholesterol and you "exercise" every day for an hour, you can't undo the effects of sitting.  Your blood cells pass through your arteries, hopefully smoothly, but sitting creates more of a maze like structure for cells to pass through.  It's like an obstacle course for your blood cells, and if you've already got thickened arteries from genetics and other factors, your body is more at risk for cardiovascular issues.  (She explains this so much better than I do because she is a science-y lady, not a violist.)  This makes sense though-you can be an ultra marathoner on the weekends and still have heart disease, even if you have high intensity workouts planned frequently. 

"You can’t undo 8 hours of wounding with a run or with bigger muscles. Fitness doesn’t touch the wound that has been created." - Katy Bowman

3.  There are various other studies that link computer use and sitting with an all over decrease in movement, which affects weight, lymphatic flow, blood flow, muscle strength, etc, and frankly, science hasn't made an all encompassing statement on all the bad things that happen to you when you sit all the time.  I think we can all agree that we should sit less though.

Ok.  So now what?  If you're a cellist or pianist, you're logging some serious sitting time, i.e., 8-10 hours a day sometimes, if you practice, teach, rehearse, drive, bike, and type.  That's more than most of us sleep, which is distressing.  Rather than try to undo that with intense cardio or weightlifting, let's move more.  Walk more often.  Take breaks and stretch every half hour or so.  Have meetings while walking.  Stand while typing.  Pay attention to how you sit in the car.  Make phone calls while walking rather than while sitting. 

More on that next time, but start noticing how much you sit every day.  Seriously. 






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