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new york times

When I am asked the, “What muscle does that exercise work?” question, hippocampusmy response is always the hippocampus. I am not joking. The big benefits of a consistent program of exercise are neural and hormonal. Muscle strength, flexibility, fat loss, and greater endurance are all good but the greatest impact on your health and quality of life is achieved by developing a finely tuned nervous system and a beneficial hormonal profile.

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One of the best reasons to develop the habit of fitness is that it can reduce your reliance on medications. It makes my day when fitness clients inform me that they have been able to discontinue a medication because of the improvement in their blood pressure, lipid, or sugar levels. Pain relief medications are no longer necessary when joints and muscles work more efficiently. Exercise has been shown to work as well or better for the treatment of depression. The quality of sleep is enhanced and brain neurochemistry improves when you exercise on a consistent basis. The habitual performance of exercise is the most effective method of reducing medications.

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In the physical therapy clinic, it is not uncommon to see the same person for the same problem after participating in the same event. The yearly spring gardening marathon creates the annual bloom of debilitating lower back pain. The never missed 10 mile “fun run” in August inflames the knee until mid-October. The recent popularity of “Adventure Runs” has created a migratory return of patients with recurrent pain problems. Gretchen Reynolds wrote a great article in the New York Times, “Forgetting the Pain of Exercise,” that offers some psychological insight into this phenomenon.

The physical therapy patients’ “selective amnesia” of prior pain provoking events is discussed in this article. It appears the emotional context of a painful event plays a role in our memory of pain. Our enjoyment of the pain provoking behavior reduces our memory of the pain that it created. The problem is that all of us have the capacity to suffer another injury, we just may no longer have the capacity to fully recover.

To read the article, click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

oreoI get the “How do I get rid of this?” question many times every month. The gym member then grabs the fat on the back of her arm, the front of his abdomen, and/or the side of her thigh. My answer is nearly always disappointing. Everyone wants a miracle, spot-reducing, metabolism- boosting exercise activity. They do not want to talk about food preparation, drinking less beer, eating more vegetables, or not buying Oreos.

If you have five minutes, take the time to read Dr. Aaron Carroll’s article from The New York Times, “To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important than Exercising More.“ A consistent program of exercise is a “miracle cure” for many life threatening problems, and it will make nearly every aspect of our existence better. Combine a proper program of exercise with some steady modifications of your diet and the fat loss magic happens.

To read the article, click on the link below:


 -Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS


I get questions from physical therapy patients about products they can rub in, glue on, and strap into to help decrease pain and promote healing.  These balms, braces, magnets, and tape, they hope, will make their recovery quicker and more convenient.  Athletes often ask about Kinesiotape (KT) – the colorful stripes of very sticky elastic tape visible on many competitors on television.  A recent New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, “Does Kinesiology Tape Really Work?” reviews the more recent information we have about Kiniesotape.

The research we presently have has demonstrated that the positive responses to taping are primarily due to the placebo effect.  This is not surprising as we get similar results with drug studies.  Some parameters produce a greater placebo response: the attention of a health care provider, a strong sensory input, two pills as opposed to one pill, and color all seem to have an effect.

Should You Use Kinesiology Tape?

I have written about KT in the past and my views have not changed.  If you have a minor ache or pain and no structural musculoskeletal damage, then go ahead.  The KT may make you feel better and this will make exercise and activities of daily living easier.  The tape can provide some control over the symptoms, and it has no side effects other than occasional skin irritation.

Remember that your body sends pain signals for a reason.  Any type of musculoskeletal damage should be dealt with more comprehensively than just KT.  It is a bad idea to use KT to reduce pain and then participate in activities that create even greater tissue trauma.  A small and easy to rehab rotator cuff inflammation can become a big ‘full-thickness tear/surgical repair with six months of recovery’ nightmare if you tape it up and practice your tennis serves.

The proper rehabilitation approach is to determine the cause of the problem and enact a treatment plan that resolves the pain and corrects the functional limitation.  Start with an evaluation by a qualified physical therapist.  Modification of activities, recovery modalities, manual therapy, and a prescribed program of exercise produce the best results.

To read Gretchen Reynolds’ article, click on the link below:


-Mike O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

The study of identical twins can produce some interesting information.  Two people with the same genetic make-up are raised in the same environment, so the nature and nurture variables are consistent.  You eliminate the “I got Dad’s fat genes” argument, and to a lesser extent, the “Mom liked you best” complaint.  So, if one twin maintains a habit of exercise and the other is sedentary, what happens?  A recent study from Finland has produced some surprising information.

As expected, nearly all physiological parameters– insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, body composition– were better in the active twin.  The part of the study that was most interesting for me was the difference in their brains.  The active twin had more grey matter than his sedentary counterpart, especially in the area of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.  A growing body of research has demonstrated that as our movement skills deteriorate our brains show equivalent signs of degeneration.  I believe the greatest benefit of a consistent habit of exercise is the development of better brain health.

The other take home message of the FinnTwin study is that genetics and environment are not destiny.  The habit of exercise taken up by one twin produced profound physiological changes.  Genetics and environment play a role, but exercise still has an enormous impact.

Please take the time to read the New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, “One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t.”

To read the article, click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

In chapter nine of his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey lays out the physiological effects exercise produces in the aging brain.  Everyone should read this chapter.  It will give you the motivation to get up and move more often.  Since this book was published in 2008, more studies have revealed that exercise is the best method we presently know of to preserve brain function.

A July 2, 2014 New York Times article, Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk written by Gretchen Reynolds, discusses a recent study on structural brain changes in people who have a genetic propensity for developing dementia.  The study was unique in that it used imaging tests to assess a brain structure called the hippocampus.  The hippocampus plays a big part in memory and is often shrunken in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Despite having the genetic propensity to develop degenerative changes, the subjects who participated in regular exercise showed significantly less hippocampus atrophy than their sedentary counterparts.  The subjects who exercised had hippocampi that looked normal.

Take the time to read the attached New York Times article and get Dr. Ratey’s book.  The primary reason we should be moving around more is to keep our brain healthy.

To read the article, click on the link below:


Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS