| 5 times a squat can show you what’s wrong with your body

Many pros use the squat to assess a client’s body before a workout. “It reveals practically everything,” says personal training manager Kyle Dobbs.

“Everything” includes your physical history (traumas, chronic pains), current daily routine (how often you sit, stand, walk, stretch, run and exercise) and strengths and weaknesses (muscular imbalances). Drop into a basic body-weight squat and check your own form for these common concerns.

1. Knees collapse in

Once you’ve lowered into position, your knees cave in so they align closer to your big toes than the middle of your feet. It’s a condition called valgus. It can be both the cause and effect of knee pain and is sometimes linked to ligament sprains or tears.

The cause: Some experts blame tight hips – from too much sitting, running(without stretching) or both. But some research suggests that stiff ankles may also be responsible. Limited ankle dorsiflexion (a fancy term for how well you can point your foot up) causes your feet to turn in as you squat, which rotates your legs, knees included, inward.

The fix: Reduce sitting hours as much as possible and spend at least three minutes stretching your hips with lunges and pigeon pose or happy-baby pose when you wake up, after a workout and before bed. Strengthening hamstrings and glutes will also help lessen stress on your hips – try three sets of 20 glute bridges four days a week. To improve ankle mobility, trace lowercase Ts for a minute every day.

Read more: Why you need to stop ignoring this body part during your workouts

2. Asymmetrical legs

You put more weight on one side as you settle into your squat, so your body looks a bit off-balance. You may only notice by looking in a mirror.

The cause: You’ve probably suffered some type of aggravation or injury on the side you lean away from, whether recently (in this case, you’ll feel some discomfort) or in the past (you likely developed a muscular imbalance, where your healthier side became stronger than the other to pick up the slack). Pain or not, you’ll want to fix imbalances: your better side will only continue to get stronger until it can no longer overcompensate, which could result in injury to, sorry, either side.

The fix: See a physiotherapist to figure out what’s causing you to favour one side. When you have your diagnosis, the physio can help you treat it.

3. Lower-back rounds

As you approach the bottom of your squat, your tail bone tucks under, creating a curve in your spine. Experts have dubbed it “butt wink” (funny) and over time, it can lead to a disk herniation (not so funny).

The cause: Tight hip flexors prevent your pelvis from lowering into a deep squat, so your spine steps in to help tilt it backward. Another culprit: sucking in rather than bracing your abs, which throws your back into a flexed position.

The fix: Stretch your hip flexors at least twice a day. Stand and hold one knee, then the other, into your chest for one minute. To develop abdominal stability, practise bracing your abs (tightening them like someone is about to punch you) and breathingfrom your diaphragm (your belly will expand and contract) through plank variations, like forearm or side plank.

Read more: 4 minor tweaks that’ll give you major workout gains

4. Knees pass toes

At the bottom of your squat, your knees aren’t lining up with your toes but extending past them, so your body leans slightly forward. Your heels are actually lifting off the ground, shifting your centre of gravity forward. Not only are you missing the full butt-toning benefits of the squat, but you could also fall.

The cause: The issue usually traces back to poor glute activation. In other words, your quads initiate the sit-back movement instead of your glutes and hamstrings. You might also have tight calves and ankles – perhaps from daily jogs or that stiletto habit you just can’t kick – which prevent you from grounding your heels.

The fix: Train your glutes to switch on during exercise by doing deadlifts and donkey kicks and stretch your lower legs by bending alternate knees in downward dog.

5. Lower-back arches

As you deepen into your squat, your spine looks more like half of a U than a V – well beyond a natural curve in your back. The stress on your spine in this position (especially if you add weight) may also increase your risk of disk injuries.

The cause: Ugh, tight hips strike again! But this time it’s combined with tense lats, the muscles around the sides of your back. The two issues produce anterior pelvic tilt, in which your hips rotate forward, jutting out your belly and curving your spine.

The fix: At least twice a week, strengthen your core with planks and foam-roll your lats – lying on your side with a roller under your armpit, roll your body up and down.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | The hidden risk of being a healthy cyclist

Vicki Barclay was feeling off. The PhD, 34, a research scientist and mountain bike racer for Stan’s Notubes Elite Women’s team recalls that “for about a week I just didn’t feel right. I felt like I had bad indigestion and discomfort on my left side.”

It never occurred to her that it could be a serious blood clotting condition, called Deep Vein Thrombosis; instead, she chalked it up to previous injuries, travel and stress. But then, things got much worse. “I raced that Saturday and had a pounding headache.

I tried to ride the next day and was insanely breathless. Then I drove ten hours to do a ride I’d planned in Pisgah, North Carolina, but I was so weak I couldn’t even get on my bike. I ended up blacking out and going to the hospital.”

Read more: 7 things paramedics wish you knew about bike crashes

The diagnosis was multiple blood clots (pulmonary emboli) in her lungs and a large clot (deep vein thrombosis) in her right leg. Barclay was admitted to the hospital, put on blood thinners and forbidden from mountain biking for the foreseeable future. “I can’t believe it happened to me. I should recover, albeit with a few bits of dead lung, but I went from easily completing multiple workouts a day to struggling to walk without help. The lesson I learned from this experience is not to always push through pain; sometimes stopping and listening to your body can save your life.”

So can knowledge of your risks, adds Barclay, which she wants more riders—especially women—to have.

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | 8 symptoms that can mean you have low testosterone levels

Testosterone is crucial for building muscle and fuelling your sex drive.

But receptors for the hormone actually exist throughout your body, from your brain to your bones to your blood vessels.

So if you’re low on T, the health consequences could extend far beyond the gym and the bedroom, says University of Washington endocrinologist Bradley Anawalt, M.D., a spokesperson for the Endocrine Society.

The following eight symptoms aren’t proof of low testosterone on their own. You’ll need two blood tests showing low levels – usually around 300 nanograms per decilitre (ng/dL) or lower, depending on the lab – before your doctor makes an official low testosterone diagnosis, Dr Anawalt says.

The good news is, if low T is truly to blame, many of the health side effects of low testosterone can be reversed, or at least improved, with testosterone therapy.

Read more: Here’s how to boost your testosterone naturally

1. Your sex drive disappears 

Perhaps the best-known, quickest, and most common effect of low T is low libido, says urologist Philip Werthman, M.D., director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles.

In fact, nearly every patient who comes to his office with known or suspected low T complains of a lack of sexual appetite. Besides wanting less sex, men with low T may also masturbate less and report fewer fantasies and erotic dreams.

Brain areas involved with sexual desire, including the amygdala, are packed with testosterone receptors, says S. Adam Ramin, M.D., urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.

The hormone fits inside them like a key inside a lock, lighting them up to arouse you. Without it, you’re missing a critical step in the turn-on process.

This lack of desire to have sex can cause problems with erections, though low T doesn’t directly affect the plumbing involved in getting or staying hard, Dr Ramin says.

Read more: 8 ways to protect your erection

2. Your muscles shrink 

Ample testosterone puts your body in an anabolic, or muscle-building, state by helping your body produce and assemble proteins that form the building blocks of lean mass.

When your testosterone levels drop, your body turns catabolic instead, breaking down muscle tissue instead of building it up, Dr Werthman says.

At first, you might notice that it’s tougher to push as much weight at the gym or build muscle, he notes.
And after a few weeks of low T, you can expect to lose muscle mass, Dr Anawalt says.

In fact, in one Japanese study, men with low free testosterone levels – a measure of the amount of hormone available to bind to receptors – had double to triple the risk of muscle loss with ageing compared to those with normal levels.


3. Your penis may also get smaller

Without a steady flow of testosterone, the tissues in your penis, scrotum, and testicles can atrophy, or shrivel, says Dr Ramin.

As a result, your penis might lose length and girth. You may notice your balls shrink, too – they often shrivel to half the size and turn squishy instead of firm, he says.

Though testosterone replacement therapy won’t bring back your testicular volume, when it comes to your penis, the treatment “has a good chance of restoring its glory”, Dr. Ramin says. (In fact, testosterone therapy in boys with a micropenis can increase their size by up to an inch and a half, according to a study in the Indian Journal of Urology.)

Read more: How to please a woman: secrets from a guy with a small penis and hot wife

4. Your belly grows

Even as you lose size where it counts, you gain it where it hurts, Dr Anawalt says. In one Australian study, men with prostate cancer gained 14% more body fat and 22% more visceral fat after one year of androgen deprivation therapy, a treatment which turns off testosterone’s effects.

Read more: 10 easy ways to lose weight without starving

Visceral fat is the deep abdominal fat that forms around your organs and increases your risk for diabetes and heart disease.

In men, low testosterone may increase the activity of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, the study authors suspect. This compound drives circulating building blocks called lipids into visceral fat cells, plumping them up.


5. Your memory falters 

Trouble with thinking and memory often occurs in men with low T, Dr Werthman says.

In 2015 study from Australia, men whose testosterone levels declined over 5 years also experienced a drop in scores on tests of their mental function and memory.

Besides the amygdala, areas of the brain important for memory and attention – such as the cerebrum – also have testosterone receptors.

When there’s not enough of the hormone pumping in to those receptors, your brain cells may not be able to function as well, the study authors note.

6. Your mood tanks

Some of the side effects of low testosterone – such as sexual dysfunction and weight gain – can bring on the blues. But there’s also evidence of a more direct effect of low testosterone on mood.

According to research in the Endocrine Journal, 23% of young men with newly diagnosed low testosterone met the criteria for depression, compared to only 5% of young guys with normal levels of the hormone.

Empty testosterone receptors in brain areas linked to mood are likely responsible for your depressed state, Dr Ramin says.

What’s more, mood disorders like depression or anxiety can kick off a vicious cycle, he notes – depression can suppress your testicles’ ability to produce testosterone, worsening the problem.

7. Your bones weaken 

Bone is actually living tissue, constantly broken down and rebuilt, Dr Ramin says.

Read more: 6 secrets for strong knees

When testosterone levels fall, your bone breaks down faster than your body can build it back up.
As a result, you’re at a higher risk of low bone density, osteoporosis, and fractures, Dr Anawalt says.

8. Your heart might be at risk

The effect of testosterone levels on the risk of heart problems has stoked controversy among experts, according to Dr Anawalt.

On one side, low levels of testosterone may be linked to heart problems. In fact, one study from the UK found men with low T had a greater risk of dying from heart disease than men with normal levels.

This may be because testosterone can help open up blood vessels to the heart, allowing blood to flow more freely.


Read more:The healthy habit that triples your chances of a heart attack

But on the flip side, some studies have suggested that testosterone therapy – especially in older men or those with existing heart conditions – might increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Experts think it may thicken the blood, making a clot more likely.

It seems that the extra testosterone might be raising levels too high, Dr Anawalt says.

So if you’re a candidate for testosterone therapy, make sure you talk to your doctor about the benefits and the risks, Dr Werthman says.

Your doctor may test your testosterone levels after you first start therapy or change dosages – or sometimes between shots, if you’re receiving treatment by injection– to make sure your levels aren’t surging too high, Dr Anawalt says. 

Image credits: iStock

This article was originally published on | Here’s why it can be dangerous to work overtime

The South African Department of Labour clearly stipulates that a maximum workweek consists of one to five days a week, nine hours a day and 45 hours per week.

Yet, many South Africans clock far more hours than this. 

A 40-hour work week may seem normal to some and like a vacation to others. But a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine shows that consistently surpassing this standard can be detrimental to your health.

Increased risk of heart disease

Researchers found that working 61 to 70 hours a week increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 42%, and working 71 to 80 hours increased it by 63%.

That’s an important finding because heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with more than half a million deaths each year in the United States alone, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Higher risk of stroke

A separate study, published in The Lancet, found that people who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours.

All this overtime may not even lead to increased productivity because long hours can actually decrease your efficiency. Germany boasts the largest economy in Europe, yet the average worker only spends 35.6 hours per week on the job.

Other health problems

Working overtime doesn’t only have a negative effect on your heart health. According to a previous Health24 article, there are more negatives linked to overtime, especially if a person has limited job satisfaction:

  • Sleep problems
  • A higher risk for other chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and chronic lung disease
  • Poorer eating habits
  • Greater risk for mental health problems

Take stock

If you feel that your work life is taking its toll on your health, there are some things you can do. Working fewer hours may not seem realistic at first, but there are steps you can take to help make it a reality.

1. Get some shuteye

First, get more sleep at night. This will give you the energy to be more productive during the day and get you out of the office sooner.

2. Plan ahead

Next, create an organised list of tasks for each day. Check off each item when completed to give yourself the motivation to get through your day more efficiently.

3. See the bigger picture

Then remind yourself that working fewer hours will give you more free time in the short term and decrease health threats to give you a higher quality of life in the long term.

Image credit: iStock