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Article posted: 1/7/2013 6:00 AM

Your Health: Planks now the gold standard

By

Skip the sit-ups

Sit-ups once ruled as the way to tighter abs and a slimmer waistline, while "planks" were merely flooring.

Now planks -- exercises in which you assume a position and hold it -- are the gold standard for working out your core, while classic sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favor, according to Harvard Medical School. Why the shift?

One reason is that sit-ups are hard on your back -- by pushing your curved spine against the floor and by working your hip flexors, the muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar spine of the lower back. When hip flexors are too strong or too tight, they tug on the lower spine, which can be a source of lower back discomfort.

Second, planks recruit a better balance of muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body during exercise than sit-ups, which target just a few muscles. Remember, your core goes far beyond your abdominal muscles.

Finally, activities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not in isolation. Sit-ups or crunches strengthen just a few muscle groups. Through dynamic patterns of movement, a good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles -- the muscles you rely on for daily activities as well as sports and recreational activities.

Care for caregivers

When caring for others, it's all too easy to lose track of caring for ourselves. We might turn to fast food, lose sleep and forgo moments of relaxation in favor of making sure our loved ones are as comfortable as possible, says The Washington Post.

But experts say managing stress, which is a key aspect of staying healthy, is especially important for caregivers. AARP the Magazine, December-January issue, has six tips for caregivers:

1. Cook all-in-one meals, such as stews, in large batches, and stash them in the freezer.

2. Take time out to meditate daily; even 12 minutes a day has been shown to dramatically improve mental health, the magazine says.

3. Stockpile healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, a handful of almonds or a peanut butter sandwich.

4. Don't rush: By slowing down while doing basic tasks such as showering or cooking, you can reduce distractions and avoid injuries.

5. Volunteer. You're already giving your time to help a family member, but supporting a different cause in a different setting can be therapeutic.

6. Sleep! Sleep deprivation depletes energy and increases anxiety, the last thing you need when dealing with the demands of caregiving.

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