Trying new activities. We are all guilty of taking the easy way and doing what we know. Muscle confusion and doing new things increases neural synaptic activities which are healthy for the brain body connection. Making it a point to do different exercises can get your body in better shape and open up your mind.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karena Wu. Karena is a native of Los Angeles, California. She has been practicing Physical Therapy for 15 years in New York City after she graduated from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University. Karena is a dedicated practitioner who takes a holistic approach to her practice, ActiveCare Physical Therapy. She actively networks with a team of physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Her patient population consists of professional athletes, dancers, celebrity chefs, TV media stars, high-end business professionals, and NYPD/FDNY. Karena is used as a healthcare expert on CBS, NY1, Fox News and Dr. Oz. She is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. She is published in Physical Therapy and restaurant industry publications and maintains her professional memberships in the American Physical Therapy Association and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Thank you so much for joining us, Karena! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
My father has a below the knee amputation and we have a family history of cancer and hyperthyroidism. I was the lucky one that didn’t get afflicted with either (my sister was the unlucky recipient) and I definitely was more aesthetically oriented in high school and college. However, growing up and volunteering in college with my dad’s recreationally disabled sports group opened my eyes to helping those that are less able bodied. I was always interested in medicine but after this experience and working as a receptionist in a physical therapy office, recovery to provide a return to quality of life intrigued me. Fitness and wellness are a natural extension of that. As I gained more years of work in PT and collaboration with other disciplines, I saw how interconnected all therapies, behaviors and thought processes are and that is how I started and continued on this journey.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Lately, I have been thinking of, speaking about and connecting on a much deeper level with patients and peers. The most interesting thing that has happened to me would be thinking about a patient that I had cared for, just wondering how they were doing because I was a part of their life for whatever their needs were and having them land on my doorstep immediately after. I firmly believe that there is a depth of connection built between us as providers to the patients and it can be so deep that on a universal and energetic level, if you put the feelers out, things can come around. So, oftentimes I am pleasantly surprised to see old patients I had just thought about. Unfortunately for them, it is because they need care again…but for me, I love seeing them, catching up and reconnecting with them, and am honored that they chose me again to help them get back in the game of life. So, a lot of return business can interestingly be because I think about my old patients…!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
The most humorous lesson I learned, which was not at all humorous at the time was learning the skill of graded palpation. I went in to treat a patient in my very first job. My boss told me to find out where it hurt on the patient. She was already face down on the table. I came in, introduced myself and said, ‘Where does it hurt?’, at the same time as I went to press on her spinal muscles with a fairly moderate force. Fast and strong. She practically flew off the table and yelled, ‘Are you crazy? You can’t touch me like that!’. I cowered in fear, apologized incessantly and had to essentially ‘scrape her off the ceiling with a spatula’, figuratively speaking. The lesson I learned was to be more gentle and graded with any application of pressure because you never know how tissue sensitive someone is! Which is also why I also teach all of my peers to be sensitive to that.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I have almost 20 years of experience in outpatient orthopedics and I am a continual student in my field, and in life really. I actually went back to school in 2015 and added a few more certifications to keep myself up to date, after 15 years of practice (Clinical Doctor of Physical Therapy-the entry level degree those just graduating are getting, orthopedic clinical specialist, certificate AND fellowship (took 3 years!) in orthopaedic manual therapy and presently studying for the sports clinical specialist exam right now).
I have always been an independent and solo provider on almost every job I have ever had which taught me discipline, independence and self-reliance. I have found that the standard of care is not so standard unfortunately. So, to do your job well means staying consistent. and even in just doing the basics. I cannot tell you how many patients have told me how thorough I was in an evaluation because I just asked many questions, listened to the details and ran the special tests you are supposed to do in an orthopaedic examination. Many experts become specialists in pattern recognition but they can skip doing the exams or sometimes listening as attentively because when the patient complains of signs and symptoms of a certain diagnosis, they can be quick to label them with that. I literally just had a patient state this experience with a physician.
My unique contribution to the world of wellness is to elevate each individual in our profession and to keep them as highly specialized and attentive to the details of the basics in doing their job. On top of that, they should be utilizing all other advanced skills they have learned. This is what I am trying to spread across the world because in some regions, even the basics are lacking.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Japanese mother. She fostered an environment of continual learning and achievement at the highest level. It pushed me to be where I am and supported me during my education. The financial support during education was key as it helped me focus on my studies and I saw how difficult it could be if you had to support yourself at the same time. She was also a tough cookie who didn’t compliment as it was just expected that you achieve, which really made me resilient in my quest to be the best and I was never reliant on seeking that recognition from others. She also taught me the lesson that hard work pays off and when it is hard, the lessons that can come from them are truly life lessons that make your grow as a person as well as professionally.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
1. Making the mental change. It takes work to incorporate any new habits or patterns into your regular routine and I think mental energy to make the choice can be supremely difficult. The mind is what will power your physical actions but forming new neural patterns of change can be difficult. It is up to yourself.
2. Time. People are so rushed doing their daily routine (110% me!) that even the small amount of time it takes to build a new habit can be a blockage. Change requires time to put into practice as it is practice. Sometimes people think they don’t have the time to spend on this change but they do need to carve it out.
3. Prioritizing yourself. Families, partners, jobs, pets can take precedence over you. Putting yourself first so that you can be strong and healthy to take care of everything you choose to do is necessary. It is extremely common to tend to those around you instead of yourself.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
1. Drinking Water. I often have to tell my patients that hydration comes from within. Our bodies are like the globe, ~70% water. So, when I see very dry skin or hear about their healing times not being as optimal as they should be, I do a check on whether they are taking in enough water to facilitate the healing process and normal processes of the body.
2. Not dieting. When people are healing, it can take more energy to recovery so now is not the time to restrict calories. It will facilitate healing. Also, when increasing your fitness, you are burning calories, but if you restrict the caloric intake, you might not have enough in your tank to have a great workout. You need to be smart about the type of calories you are taking in.
3. Stretching. People think that exercise, health and wellness is all about energy output which includes cardiovascular activities and weight lifting to get strong and lose weight. They always want the ‘sweat factor’. Flexibility is necessary to avoid injury but to also optimize soft tissue performance. Muscles have an optimal resting length and they need to be in this position to be able to do their job correctly for your workouts as well as for daily function.
4. Trying new activities. We are all guilty of taking the easy way and doing what we know. Muscle confusion and doing new things increases neural synaptic activities which are healthy for the brain body connection. Making it a point to do different exercises can get your body in better shape and open up your mind.
5. Increasing the intensity of your workouts. If you are short on time, you can increase the intensity of the exercise and you can get the same benefits as a longer, slower session. Also, working the muscles faster can increase the neuromuscular activation and get the muscles to fire better and get them stronger faster. This also feeds into the time restriction above and the new activities component. It wakes up the mind and body better that can increase your health and wellness.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
1. Stress Management. Expending energy and focusing on yourself helps to center the mind on you and allow you to decompress. It is a way to release tension from stresses in life.
2. Heart health. The heart is a muscle and a pump which requires exercise to keep it strong and work over the length of your lifetime. It contracts and relaxes to push blood throughout the entire body. Daily exercise makes the heart more efficient which in turns lowers the work involved in pumping the blood, lowers your blood pressure and facilitates fluid circulation. This muscle is necessary for a long and healthy life!
3. Gastrointestinal health. Daily exercise contracts and relaxes skeletal muscle. It can also promote smooth muscle contraction which occurs during digestion. Exercises that incorporate the core help with the digestive process when the abdominals get worked which can promote healthy bowel movements.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
1. Down Dog. It’s a major stretch for your entire backside. It also decompresses the spine and is an overhead press for the shoulders. So, you get the benefit of a stretch of the legs, a strengthening of the shoulder girdles and a decompression to the spinal joints.
2. Bridges. We sit and sit with poor posture a large part of the day and that leads to an overstretching of the low back and glutes. This exercise turns on the glutes, hamstrings and low back along with the deep abdominals which helps with postural control, core control and strengthens the posterior chain which is necessary for standing, walking, and any running.
3. Planks. This exercise turns on your core and both upper and lower extremities. All four abdominal muscles get worked, the shoulders have to stabilize when supporting your upper body weight, the quads get activated keeping the knees straight and the calves turn on to stay on your toes.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
It is imperative that they stretch afterward and stay well hydrated. Stretching elongates the muscle tissue so that they don’t shorten as much after the exercise, leading to that stiff feeling. It also increases fluid mobility so that lactic acid doesn’t get trapped in your tissues, which is the main reason why people experience soreness. Flexibility is necessary for full range of motion and proper muscle contractions during sports and activities of daily living which helps avoid injuries.
Staying hydrated also helps with flushing the system so that your system is efficiently processing any metabolic by-products. This is necessary for cellular recovery after an exercise so that you don’t feel the post workout discomfort. If you feel workout soreness and try to workout, you could possibly activate compensatory muscles because the primary muscles are sending the message to the brain about the ‘pain’ which can lead to injury because of the adaptive movement patterns.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I initially declined reading it because when I skimmed it, I thought, ‘I’m already kind of doing most of those things’. Then, I read it a while ago but actually forgot that I did (not because it was forgettable but because again, I think I already had been demonstrating most of the qualities and actions in it) and I was so busy with other schooling that I had to really focus on that. I recently received it back from my office manager (I gave it to him to read) and decided to read it again. It resonated so loudly this second time around because I could see those exact components happening presently, in the past, in what I wanted going forward and where I happen to be going in the future. It all kind of meshed together. As a solo female business owner for over a decade, I had been reliant on doing things myself. I was independent. Everything was always on my shoulders but as I expanded I realized I could not shoulder it all. I had just started down the path of allowing myself to trust others more to help my business grow because I had to. It happened to be going on anyway but when I read his book and the last habit about about the exponential growth ability when you elevated others to help, it truly hit home. I saw myself through all of his ‘Habits’.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My biggest passion is trying to help people by increasing the education and foundational knowledge of my peers. I started a clinic in India for the reason of trying to bring in higher quality physiotherapy so that people in that region could see that physios are highly capable of diagnosis and treatment (over there, they do not do so much independently, it is still more under a physician’s directive) and collaboration with the patients and other providers. I enjoy inspiring those around me to be at their very best.
My movement would be based on establishing foundational relationships. Which means thinking back on your decisions, collecting all the data, actively listening with your heart and mind, and open communication. I find that these elements can be lacking and therefore the depth of your relationship will be challenged. I think it would open the minds and hearts of everyone in every aspect of their relationships, which would make communication, collaboration, decision making and growth more smooth and efficient. We are all schooled in our respective professions but no one really teaches about establishing relationships to add further value into the care of a patient.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Be humble. From my mother. I come from a very rich city (Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills High School). I grew up with a lot of rich kids with not a lot of parental discipline. I experienced things that people do in college or even in adulthood in grade school and in high school. My family was comfortable but my parents were immigrants and we were the minority as Asians, back in the late 80’s. My parents are extremely hard-working and were able to pay the bills easily. But, my family would take care of my friend when we would go out even though her step dad was a famous screen writer. We jokingly referred to her as my mom’s third daughter.
What I have experienced in schools, cities and different countries as I grew is that money buys comfort, but it does not buy happiness. And it does not change who you are. So the phrase my mother always said resonates with me because I always remember my upbringing and the fact that I am just another human being who was lucky enough to never have to worry about money. It doesn’t make me a different person to be successful and comfortable. I see others who have fame, fortune and things on the exterior and I sometimes see an elevated attitude because of their new status and they lose the depth of their person when it comes to interacting with others, especially anyone not at their level. A previous patient of mine, the ex-CEO of Philip Morris Companies (back in the day, now Altria) was the one who solidified this lesson. He would always say hello to the girl in the laundry room in the gym in the corporate office and he knew her name specifically. As the CEO, she was far below him but he always remembered those who he worked with or those who worked for him.
No matter how much you have in life, you are still just another human who can be afflicted by disease, trauma, or misfortune and no amount of money can buy your health back when it is your time to go. So, remember your existence in this place as just that. Existing with others as best we can, no matter what our differences.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oprah Winfrey. As a female and one of color, she was a minority in a white, male dominant business world. I appreciate what she has done for others, for her audience and for herself. She has brought about so much for those around her for entertainment, growth and happiness. I just recently saw that she opened up about a bout of pneumonia and I thought, even at that level (Whoopi Goldberg too!) the stresses of life and business will still get you and send you the message to slow the f* down, take a moment to breathe and just enjoy the present.
Thank you for all of these great insights!