What Is Cupping and Why Are Olympic Athletes Like Michael Phelps Doing it?
By Diana Vilibert
If you've been watching the Olympic games, you may have spotted the spots: large, red and purple circles on the backs, shoulders, chests, arms and legs of swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnast Alex Naddour and other top athletes.
So What's the Deal?
Those circles are the marks left behind by cupping, an ancient Chinese healing practice that involves placing special cups on the skin and using heat to create suction and promote blood flow. While some believe that the marks are a result of broken blood vessels, Joel Granik, co-founder and director of Floating Lotus, a holistic wellness and float center in New York City, is quick to point out that misconception.
"The red marks are due to stagnant blood and fluid that may have been stuck for a long time being brought up by the suction from deep inside the tissue so the body can flush it out," Granik explained.
Does It Hurt?
Those marks don't look pretty, but according to the International Cupping Therapy Association, cupping can actually be pretty relaxing. "The pulling action engages the parasympathetic nervous system, thus allowing a deep relaxation to move through the entire body," they write on their website. "It is not unusual to fall asleep when receiving this treatment."
Not Just for Athletes
Though many Olympians swear by it for recovery and injury prevention (Naddour told USA Today it's been keeping him healthy all year, stating "It's been better than any money I've spent on anything else"), you don't need to be an athlete to benefit from the therapy. "While cupping is particularly beneficial for athletes, we recommend it for anyone looking to balance their body," Granik said. At Floating Lotus, the therapy is meant to balance the entire body and mind. "Every treatment I perform, I keep that in mind, even if it's putting a cup on a painful spot. It helps balance out the full body, and when the body is balanced out, you're balancing out your life," he said.
That said, if you've got a specific problem area, expect to see major improvements there. The biggest benefit of cupping is to help relieve the stagnation of the natural flow of blood and energy throughout the body," Granik explained. "People feel the quickest relief when they suffer from acute pain in a muscle or joint or strains and tensions from sitting too long at work in front of the computer, hunching over a desk, from walking too long in uncomfortable shoes without support or not being able to keep a good posture during the day. All of that creates tension in the body and micro-injuries that cupping helps relieve as that tension creates stagnation."
In one 2012 study of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, those that underwent eight sessions of cupping within four weeks had less pain than those who didn't get cupping. Another study found that cupping therapy alleviated neck pain, too, though it's important to factor in the possibility of a placebo effect in both studies (not to discount the placebo effect—research shows that even when patients know they're taking a placebo, it's still 20 percent more effective than no treatment).
Inna Shamis Lapin, who's been getting cupping done since she was 3-years-old, swears by the therapy to shorten illness and give her immediate relief when she has a cough or chest congestion. "I was a child who suffered pretty bad bronchial issues and colds and so my parents used this in an effort to provide some relief to my coughing and colds," she said. "To this day, it's something I turn to when I'm not feeling well!"
Make It a Combo
To get an even bigger boost from cupping, Granik recommends pairing it with acupuncture. "Cupping and acupuncture go together like hand and glove. In fact, most of my patients who get cupping also get acupuncture alongside it," he said. "Acupuncture signals to the body that we're working on that area to increase the potency of cupping."
Kim Livengood, founder of The Eclipse Agency, started doing cupping when her acupuncturist recommended it. "Originally I had it done for knots in my neck from sitting at the computer but since I started running two years ago it also helps all my pain go away," she said. Now she goes monthly … and she's not likely to cut back anytime soon. "It's instant gratification," she said. "I would choose it over massage [and] pedicures."
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This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
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By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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