Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take care of your body

In my first post about college, I hinted a lot at the question "Can your body handle dancing (in college, as a career, for life)?" This post will be expanding on that topic, but deviating from my posts about majoring in dance in college.

Can your body handle dancing? This is the age-old question that, when answered negatively, will stop many promising or flourishing careers and break hearts.  If you were a singer, you'd take care of your vocal cords. If you were a computer programmer, you'd take care of your beloved computer, gadgets, and gizmos. Of course, being a dancer, you need to take special care of your instrument: your body. There's just a few things that every dancer should do in order to stay healthy (and some go without saying, but I thought I'd repeat them anyway):

DO: Drink Water
When you're dancing, it's so easy to forget that you need water, and then you stop an hour and a half later and wonder why your throat is parched. Have a bottle with you and keep drinking water in small sips: don't chug. It's also best if the water is room temperature - cold water may feel like a relief, but it is a shock on your body and will cause your muscles to involuntarily tense up.

DO: Stock up on healthy snacks
After dance on a long day, you might feel like drinking that second can of soda or eating another bowl of potato chips. It's comfort food, and it's what you enjoy winding down with (I know I do. Heh). But it could feel so much better to eat an apple, a handful of almonds (the least greasy and most protein-filled nut), or a stick of string cheese. On that note, here's some snacks you can throw in your dance bag and munch on that won't ruin your health:
  • fruits - just about any fruit will work. As for the "throw in the bag" part, put grapes, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, or peeled oranges in a plastic tupperware container. Bring along a banana or apple in a plastic baggie.
  • nuts - I said it above, and I'll say it again. Nuts are filled with proteins and good fats that will keep you going. Best not be peanuts though - that's not the best fat you could have. Almonds!
  • trail mix (loose or in bars) - dried fruits, nuts, maybe some chocolate bits or M&M's as a treat, it's a good bet and it's easy and not messy. Just make sure the mix doesn't have too much added sugar or sodium. Check the label before you buy.
  • celery/carrot/veggie sticks - wash, cut, and stick in a bag! I brought whole Persian cucumbers to rehearsal once (kind of like a pickle cucumber, but smaller) - everyone thought I was really weird, but there were good points: no one wanted me to share (everyone was eating the bag of flaming hot Cheetos one girl brought) and it was both satisfying and refreshing!
  • applesauce or yogurt - slightly messier, as you'll need a spoon, but they're healthy and will keep you for a while if you're hungry.
  • pretzel sticks - a much healthier snack food compared to potato chips. They're not messy, and you can bring along a small tub of peanut butter or almond butter or even Nutella if you're looking for something tasty (but messier).
  • rice cakes/crackers - crunchy, maybe messy, but somehow filling and satisfying without being heavy.
  • dry cereal - be careful with this one. Many cereals have a ton of sugar (Froot Loops? Frosted Flakes? Cocoa Puffs anyone?) which will cause you to crash soon, so choose a healthier option like regular cornflakes or puffed rice for a better snack.
  • Wheat Thins - I'm not particularly a fan, but they're healthy and some people love them! Give it a try.
  • bagel (with cream cheese?) - will definitely keep you for a while
  • beef or turkey jerky - I don't actually know many people who eat jerky, and it's sad! Unless you're vegetarian or vegan (more power to you), jerky is a smart way to get protein if carbs don't do it for you.
  • shelled hard-boiled eggs - I've had dancer friends who bring whole eggs to class because they don't eat dinner before. You can put the egg in a baggie and just eat it at room temperature.
  • air-popped popcorn - you don't want that greasy, buttery, salted type of popcorn for your dance snack. In this case, go with a plain popcorn (or sprinkle a little salt in the bag and shake it up). Be careful not to crush it though!
  • muffin - beware! Some muffins have a ton of sugar! But if you have a sweet tooth or enjoy baking, you can make your own low-sugar muffins (that may have chopped almonds or walnuts!) that will keep you going!
DO: Sit out or at least take it easy if you have an injury
You're a dancer, injury is a part of what you do. No matter how careful or strong you are, something could happen. When you feel pain, you're feeling it for a reason: your body is telling you to stop doing something. Don't just push through the pain! You'll do more damage! Most teachers are understanding of injuries, so make sure you let them know what's wrong. They may even have advice to help fix the problem or at least stop the pain. But on that note...

DON'T: use Heat, Ice, or joint braces/tape unless you have to
Everyone's got sore spots and injuries. Unless you are directed by a doctor to use a warming pad or cold pack for your specific injury, try to avoid heating, icing, or using braces. All of these things could actually do more damage to your already strained body if you're not careful

DON'T: overuse Icy Hot or Advil
Ah, Icy Hot. It burns so good. But have you thought about what those chemicals are doing to your delicate body? It's a mix of chemicals seeping into your muscles to stop the pain signals from being sent to your brain (it's a "topical pain reliever"). Now you've got a bunch of chemicals running rampant in your body so that you don't feel the pain. So you keep dancing and pushing yourself? If you use Icy Hot, take it easy - you're already feeling pain, and just because Icy Hot makes the pain go away doesn't mean there's no injury. You can actually hurt yourself even worse this way. With Advil, it's nice to get pain relief within 20 minutes or so, but don't overuse it or pop too many pills at once (I know a dancer who is underweight for her height and takes 3 at a time. Probably not healthy.), because over using can hurt your stomach and intestines.

DON'T: forget to shower!
Showering right after exercising will clean your skin and detoxify your body. After all, you sweat for hours in dance and leave all the toxins that you sweated out on your skin. If you don't hurry up and shower after you dance, all those toxins get reabsorbed into the body. Showering right after dancing (or any exercise) will help your skin look better and your body to be healthier. 

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