Get a good workout in bed

No…not that kind of workout!

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

People who can’t sleep come up with all sorts of crazy ideas — and some great ones, too. For instance, how about a workout that you can do right in your bed? I’m not talking about a gentle routine involving wiggling one toe and then another and taking deep breaths in between… or even an interlude of vigorous romance… but rather a real exercise program that gets your blood circulating, builds muscle and strengthens your core — all without getting out of your bed!

The “Get Fit in Bed” workout is the brainchild of Ted Kavanau, the founding senior producer of CNN. Having a difficult time falling asleep, he did what comes naturally to insomniacs — he tried to find an activity that would make him tired enough to sleep. He began exercising… in bed. An avid fitness enthusiast with a background in martial arts and boxing, Kavanau adapted some of the exercises he did at the gym for the soft surface of a mattress and then added a few yoga and Pilates moves. Before long, he noticed that he had more endurance, his muscle mass was increasing, his mood was good — and, yes, he was sleeping like a baby.

Adjusted By a Chiropractor

Kavanau took his routine to Genie Tartell, DC, RN, a registered nurse and practicing chiropractor, and asked her to fine-tune the routine for safety. Working with patients of different ages and a variety of health issues, Dr. Tartell tweaked the exercise plan, eliminating moves that might cause any injuries and refining many of the others to accomplish practical efficiency.

According to Dr. Tartell, the new workout plan was a hit. “My arthritic patients found that they were getting out of bed in the morning without feeling stiff, while others who hated exercise were now exercising in bed while watching the news,” she said.

Kavanau and Dr. Tartell collaborated on a book, appropriately entitled Get Fit In Bed, which provides instruction on 42 different exercises for a variety of abilities. For readers of Daily Health News, Dr. Tartell offered to share the beginner level program. The routine is organized into exercises to do on your back… on your stomach… on your left side… and on your right side. There are modifications for people with particular physical challenges. The exercises can be done at your own pace and, as you get stronger and fitter, you can increase the number of reps and the speed at which they’re performed.

The Starter Program

Always begin your “Get Fit in Bed” routine with a basic gentle stretch. Lie on your back, arms down by your sides. Open and close your hands several times. Then extend your arms above your head, stretching like a cat… and lengthen your legs, one at a time, extending each from the hip. Fan your toes, one foot at a time, and then point your feet (together) toward your head and then away from it several times. This stretching should feel good, like you’re waking up your muscles.

Minimal crunch: Lie on your back, arms at your sides, and then tighten your stomach muscles while inhaling. Slowly raise your head and shoulders very slightly (maybe an inch) off the bed, exhaling as you do so. Hold this position for a second or two and then slowly drop your head and shoulders to the bed. Repeat five times.

The bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed, arms at your sides. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks while slowly lifting your pelvis toward the ceiling. Aim to bring your pelvis and thighs into a straight line, at about a 45-degree angle to your knees. Hold this position for a slow count of 10 (about 20 seconds) and then gently drop back to the bed. Repeat five times.

Crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed, arms at your sides. Using your abdominal muscles, bring your knees up toward your chest and extend your arms so that your hands reach toward your knees, continuing to bring your upper body closer to your knees. Note: Do not pull up with your neck! Lower your upper body halfway down toward the bed. Hold for a slow count of 10 (about 20 seconds). Now repeat five times before lowering your upper body all the way back down to the prone position.

Elbow-knee piston: Lie on your back. Put your hands underneath your head, fingers laced, and bend your knees so that your feet rest flat on the mattress. Raise your bent legs in alternating motions, bringing your left elbow and right knee toward each other — then, as you bring them back down, bring your right elbow and left knee toward each other, raising your upper body to bring knee and elbow as close together as you can. As you get more proficient, increase your speed so that it becomes a pumping motion. Repeat each left/right combination three to six times.

Bicycle with crunches: Similar to the previous exercise, for this one you again lie on your back, arms at your sides. Start with your legs flat on the bed, then raise them and begin moving them as if you were pedaling a bicycle. At the same time, raise your body in a crunchlike position (using your abdominal muscles) and begin “throwing punches” at your feet in sync with your leg movements. Repeat the cycle of left/right punches with corresponding pedaling five times — your goal is to do a total of 10 punches, five with each hand.

For these next two exercises, turn over onto your stomach…

Forearm-supported body lift: Lie on your stomach, palms flat and under your shoulders, elbows bent in an acute angle. Push off your hands and lift your upper body off the bed, eyes facing forward. Hold this position for two seconds then return to the original position. Repeat five more times.

Cobra: Lie on your stomach, elbows bent, and hands placed flat on the bed in line with your shoulders. Straighten your arms to lift your upper body while curving it back like a cobra — if you’re unable to straighten your arms fully, just push up as far as you can. (A soft mattress may limit your ability to get full extension of the arms.) Hold this “up” position for a slow count of 10 and then slowly return to starting position. Repeat just twice for a total of three. Tip: Try this exercise with deeper breathing to improve relaxation.

The beauty of this exercise program is that it can be adapted in a variety of ways to fit into your life and can be done as an early morning and/or evening workout. It provides an easy way to work out while traveling, for instance, or (as in Kavanau’s case) a good way to put your awake time in the middle of the night to good use.

Personally, I’m an early riser, and the winter mornings are cold up here in Connecticut — so I’m finding that these exercises are a wonderful way to start my day!


Genie Tartell, DC, RN, a sports chiropractor based in Kingston, New York, who was team chiropractor for the New York Reebok aerobic team. She has been a guest on The View, CNBC, Fox News, WOR radio and various national radio shows.

Use “Powerful Rest” to Improve Your Life

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Anytime I think about rest, I picture myself sleeping or just relaxing on my bed with its nice fluffy pillows — but, according to Matthew Edlund, MD, author of the book The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, this restricted vision of rest limits the benefits that we get from it. Dr. Edlund is a proponent of what he calls “powerful resting,” which involves a lot more than snoozing, reading or watching TV. “Rest doesn’t mean just immobility,” he explains. “It is anything we do with the intention of regenerating the body.” There are other ways of resting, he says, that can help you increase productivity and improve your mood, health and pleasure — and even help you maintain a healthy weight.

In Dr. Edlund’s view, lying around on the couch or sleeping are classic examples of passive rest — which has value, of course. However, Dr. Edlund’s primary focus is something else — the pursuit of active rest. This includes activities and exercises that he describes as “restorative in that they rebuild and rewire body and mind… let you retune and reset… and consciously direct your body and brain to be more capable of doing whatever you want to do.”

A common mistake people make is to consider active rest as little more than engaging in “fun activities,” such as the things we all tend to do on vacations. But that view is incomplete, he says. In fact, active rest is not just fun — it contributes to longevity and health by creating a better mood and balance in your life as well as reducing stress. In Dr. Edlund’s mind, that is why it should be a regular part of our lives.

Exercises for Active Rest

Dr. Edlund has identified four life areas that provide opportunities for active rest and offered a specific exercise to experience and enhance each of them…

  • Physical rest. Sleep is just one part of physical rest, Dr. Edlund points out. He suggests that we all can benefit from performing simple physiological tasks while we are awake to bring a calm, relaxed state and mental alertness — without taking a nap.

Suggested activity: “Paradoxical Relaxation.” Close your eyes and feel the motion of your eyeballs, which will automatically continue to move under your closed lids. Target any area of your body where you can feel muscle tension — if you can’t think of one, try your left eye (or the right one if you are left-handed, since it is easier to focus on the body part that you don’t automatically use). Keep your mental focus there, and experience the intensity of tension as the muscle moves — without trying to modify or change it in any way. Do this for several minutes, then shift your focus to another area of tension in a different body part, such as your neck, shoulder or hand, where you will repeat the same activity.

Benefit: The paradoxical aspect of this exercise is that paying attention to one specific area of tension, in this case your eye, relaxes muscles throughout the entire body. This can be a good trick to help you get to sleep as well.

  • Mental rest. Actively resting your mind quickly produces relaxation and focus that can bring greater awareness, concentration and achievement.

Suggested activity: “Walking to Music.” Find a place where you have enough space to walk around comfortably for about one minute, such as a long hallway, a parking lot or, better yet, a park. But before walking, use a portable music player or just your imagination to “listen to” one fast tune and a slow one for about 30 seconds as you stand without moving. Then replay (on your device or in your head) the fast song and walk with its rhythm, getting your whole body into the beat. After you really start to feel it in your body (for most people, that’s about 20 seconds), switch to the slow song for the same period of time and adjust your gait accordingly. Notice how different your muscles feel and how each tune affects your mood. If you’re feeling good, you can continue this exercise longer and feel even more enlivened.

Benefit: Walking to music takes you away from your current thoughts and worries while also focusing your brain and engaging your muscles simultaneously. This in turn produces a quick boost of energy and activates the pleasure center of the brain (like dancing does). It will improve your mood!

  • Social rest. The power of social rest comes from connecting with others, thus creating feelings of belonging and togetherness, both of which promote good health.

Suggested activity: Walk to lunch with a colleague, friend or neighbor. To do this, consider who in your life you would like to know better and spend more time with — say a coworker who is really in the know about your workplace, a neighbor who is full of good cheer, a friend who has long been special to you. Every few weeks, invite one of them to lunch. Here is the catch — you are to choose a place for lunch that takes about 10 minutes to walk to. As you walk to and from the restaurant with your companion, let him or her do most of the chatting initially while you pay close attention not only to the words but also to his or her carriage and posture, facial expressions and emotions.

Benefit: Focusing on someone else can take you deeper into the dynamics and flow of your relationships and at the same time remove you from a focus on your own life, producing a relaxing and enriching break.

  • Spiritual rest. This type of rest connects you to larger and greater aspects of life (such as a higher power) while also promoting a sense of internal balance.

Suggested activity: “Moving through Time and Space.” This is a journey of the imagination that will take three to five minutes. As you sit at your table or desk, close your eyes and picture life as it was in that specific location one year ago… 10 years ago… 100 years… 1,000 years… and finally reaching all the way back to prehistoric times and then beyond, to the time before everything began. Stay in each time period for a few seconds before reversing the pattern and, just as quickly, moving forward. Then take another mental “trip,” but this time, focus on internal space, beginning by picturing your heart… then zooming in to the left side of it and the valves there… then the arteries… the blood vessel branches… the cells… the molecules… and, finally, the atoms. Once again, reverse the pattern — now quickly imagining your internal structure from the tiniest elements and zooming out to your heart in the present.

Benefit: This provides perspective and a sense of awe about the vastness of the universe as you take yourself backward and then hurtle forward through time and space.

Each of these activities — and others that Dr. Edlund describes in his book — takes only a few minutes to accomplish. They are easy to fit into your day whenever you feel the need to “power up,” as he puts it. You can catch your breath by calming down, bringing the focus back to who you are — all truly regenerative and restorative, just as he says.


Matthew Edlund, MD, sleep, biological clocks, performance and rest expert, and author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough (HarperOne). He is director of the Center for Circadian Medicine, Sarasota, Florida.