5 Practical Ideas to Improve Health and Fitness by Michael Wood, CSCS

“Mens sana in corpore sano” (Latin)  – a healthy mind in a healthy body.

There were almost 82 million Americans who were completely inactive in 2015. We know that exercise on a regular basis can be a very difficult task since most people do not even like to exercise. More than 30% of the population will not workout at all this year and only 5% will exercise at a level that is considered vigorous. Compounding the problem, the average American sits more than 9 hours a day; sitting is now considered the new smoking. We have become a society where inactivity is fast becoming the new norm. If this resonates at all with you then you may want to try to incorporate the following practical tips into your lifestyle.

There have been many things that I have learned and continue to learn during my three decades in the fitness industry and I can honestly tell you, in addition to some nutritional advice, these five particular items should be on your radar. It would be prudent for you to make sure these five components (5M’s) find their way and get ingrained into your lifestyle.

  • Measurement

Athletes at the collegiate and professional level continue to improve because they work with the best strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionist. They have a well thought out plan and get tested periodically. This is the one component that offers the most bang for the buck yet most individuals find reason to neglect it. Find the time to take some type of measurement(s) and periodically test yourself in order to (1) hold yourself more accountable, (2) determine if your exercise plan is actually working and (3) to help keep you motivated. This applies to not just exercise and your workouts but also on the nutritional side of things. Are you eating, for example, too much added sugar? Checking your body weight is OK but go beyond just checking your weight. What percentage of muscle and body fat make up that overall weight of yours? What is your waist measurement? Can you run a mile? Can you run up a flight of stairs without feeling winded? These types of measurements offer more value than jumping on a bathroom scale.

Credit: http://www.azquotes.com

A few (measurement) ideas for you:

  • Determine your Waist-to-hip ratio
  • Monitor your % body fat and/or lean muscle mass
  • Record your daily grams of added sugar (<35 grams/day/men and <25 grams/day/women). Use the MyFitnessPal app.
  • Determine your best 500 or 2000 meter row time
  • Vertical jump measurement
  • Plank challenge (can you hold position for 2:00 or 3:00?)
  • Are you getting 8,500-10,000 steps/day

Finally, remember another great quote from Peter Drucker, “what’s measured improves.”

Suggested Reading

Koning L et al., Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio as predictors of cardiovascular events: meta-regression analysis of prospective studies. European Heart Journal (2008). 28, 850–856 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehm026

  • Mindfulness

Once your measurements are taken and documented you’ll then have a baseline and you’re ready to begin. A good first step, is to work towards becoming more mindful, this will help you not only with exercise and diet but in all aspects of your life. The net result will be a significant improvement in the “quality” of your exercise and the way  you fuel your body. As we become more in tune with mindfulness, we become more aware of the relationship between a stimulus and response. You can think of mindfulness as a tool that can help you develop that gap between the stimulus and the response to that stimulus.

Mindfulness is “the ability to stay focused, while being aware of your thoughts and surroundings and being able to recognize and move past distractions as they arise.” Harvard Business Review

Researchers looked at subjects who had the opportunity to choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. Their study showed that respondents, on average, reported their minds were wandering 47% of time, and no less than 30% of the time during every activity except making love. Becoming more mindful in regard to exercise and diet is extremely important. Learn to become truly present when you’re involved in these activities otherwise your mind and body are not taking in 100% of the benefit.

One way to help you get moving down this road of mindfulness is with daily meditation. A typical session involving meditation could range from two minutes up to sixty minutes. I have used the popular Headspace app to help me get started which is excellent and I highly recommend you start with this free, simple to use, app. More than 4 million people have used the app to date. According to a Tim Ferris, podcast, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, more than 80% of the world-class performers who he interviews use some form of daily meditation and he’s a big proponent of the free Headspace Take 10 program.

There is a great deal of research that demonstrates mediation creates positive changes in our brains. Harvard University neuroscientist Sara Lazar told the Washington Post, “long-term meditators have an increased amount of grey matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex.”

In a 2014 study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Australian researchers looked at the relationship between various personality traits and exercise and other health-related habits. The researchers found that people who thought they had control over their lives were more likely to exercise and adopt other healthy steps than those who felt that luck or fate largely dictated their lives. Daily meditation offers that sense of control.

With everything we have going on in our daily lives like raising children, marriage issues, social media, political upheaval, and all the demands at work, we need to find more time to focus on ourselves. The goal should be to work on eliminating all the distractions and “noise” that surrounds us. Becoming more mindful will enable us to have better control in all aspects of our lives especially with what we’re focusing on here, improving your lifestyle especially with regard to diet and exercise.

You can take this assessment to see where you currently rate when it comes to mindfulness. Try taking the assessment before and then after completing ten sessions using the Headspace app.

  • Mobility

Mobility, or joint mobility, in general, is one of the most misunderstood terms. The first thing you need to understand about mobility is that it does not start this week and then end in a day or two. If you want to improve mobility then it needs to be part of your every day life and one of the components of each workout you do. You will receive the most benefit when regular mobility work becomes part of your lifestyle.

Let’s first look at a good definition of mobility. According to physical therapist Joe Vega, M.S.P.T., CSCS,. “a person with great mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns with no restrictions in the range of motion of those movements.”

A more in-depth look at what happens when you perform specific mobility exercises is given here by fitness expert, Steven Maxwell. “Joint mobility exercise stimulates and circulates the synovial fluid in the bursa, which ‘washes’ the joint. The joints have no direct blood supply and are nourished by this synovial fluid, which simultaneously removes waste products. Joint salts, or calcium deposits, are dissolved and dispersed with the same gentle, high-repetition movement patterns. Properly learned, joint mobility can restore complete freedom of motion to the ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck and hands.”

Remember, you should take a proactive approach when it comes to mobility, not a reactive one. In other words, don’t wait for problems to arise before you address them.

A great tool to help you get started is a foam roller (see below) which can be used for self-myofascial release. It has been shown to help increase joint range of motion and with delayed-onset muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS. For more information check out MWOD.

Suggested Reading

Supple Leopard, Dr. Kelly Starrett, Victory Belt Publishing, 2013.

Foam rolling and self-myofascial release, Strength & Conditioning Research.

Mobility Training May Be the Most Important Factor in Musculoskeletal Health, Steve Maxwell.

Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissue, Schleip R., Muller DG., J. Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 2012.

  • Movement

Hippocrates once said, “walking is a man’s best medicine.” To find out if his 2,400 year-old remark was actually valid, two scientists from University College London performed a meta-analysis of research published between 1970 and 2007 in peer-reviewed journals. After studying more than 4,000 research papers, they identified 18 studies that met their high standards for quality. The studies evaluated 459,833 test-subjects who were absent of cardiovascular disease at the start of the investigation. The subjects were followed for an average of 11.3 years, during which cardiovascular events (i.e. heart attacks and deaths) were recorded. Their meta-analysis makes a strong case for the benefits of good old walking. The group of studies showed that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent, and decreased the risk of dying during the time of the study by 32 percent.

More movement of any kind is obviously a good thing. One tool you can use to monitor your exercise and especially walking is a pedometer. It can be valuable because it (1) can hold you more accountable, (2) it can help to build up to a desired step total for a daily/weekly/monthly total and (3) it can be a useful motivational tool along the way. Research out of Stanford University has shown that individuals who use a pedometer take an additional 2,000 steps each day, compared to nonusers, and their overall physical activity level increases by 27%. Another study showed participants who increased their steps to average more than 9,500 a day for 32 weeks lost 5 pounds, 1.9% body fat and 1.9 centimeters from their hips. They also increased their HDL cholesterol by 3 mg/dl and lowered their BMI by nearly 2 points. The participants in the study increased their steps by an average of 4,000 steps a day from the start of the study.

The goal with trying to add in more daily movement is consistency. If you have a crazy week at work and can’t get to the gym as much during the week then be sure you check it off during the weekend. The key is to do something. Research by Krogh-Madsen and colleagues showed the dramatic changes that can take place after just two weeks of decreasing your activity. The subjects were young, lean, healthy men who decreased their daily steps from 10,000 steps a day to 1,300 steps a day. They experienced an increase in body weight, 7% decline in VO2 max, a 2.8% loss of lean muscle in their legs, and a 17% drop in insulin sensitivity after just two weeks of decreasing their activity by 8,700 steps a day.

A few thoughts to keep in mind when it comes to movement. More movement, like walking, and other forms of exercise (like strength training), translates into an elevated metabolism. There are many external as well as internal forces that can have an effect on your metabolism and exercise is the most variable. Sedentary individuals may add only 10-30% to their total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) while very active individuals can increase that number above 50-75%. TDEE is the total amount of calories the human body burns (or expends) in one day. When you’re more active throughout the day you get the added bonus of what scientist refer to as NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than exercise. NEAT can vary by up to 2000 kcal per day between people of similar size in part because of the substantial variation in the amount of activity that they perform. Obesity is associated with low NEAT; obese individuals “appear to exhibit an innate tendency to be seated for 2.5 hours per day more than sedentary lean counterparts.” When you exercise at higher intensity levels you increase your body’s ability to burn calories post exercise, known as exercise post oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is one of the by-products of high-intensity interval training.

TDEE = BMR + TEF + NEAT + EPOC + Exercise

Finally, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, subjects who were least active during this particular study were five times more likely to die than the most active people and three times more likely than those in the middle range in terms of daily activity. The data was taken from approximately 3,000 people aged 50 to 79 that were part of the University of Pennsylvania Population Study. When in doubt, always remember the old saying “use it or lose it.”

Suggested Reading

Movement: Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook, Lotus, 2011.

The One-Minute Exercise, Martin Gibala, PhD, Avery, 2017.

The Inner Runner, Jason Karp, PhD, Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.

How to Think About Exercise, Damon Young, The School of Life, 2015.

Better Movement, Todd Hargrove, Amazon Digital, 2014.

Born to Walk, James Earle, Lotus Publishing, 2014.

  • Muscle

The ability to maintain muscle mass as you age is considered by many as the closest thing to the fountain of youth. There is still hope for you even if you’ve been inconsistent or unable to exercise at all. That hope comes in the form of regular strength training. Research has shown that approximately three decades of age-related strength loss and two decades of age-related muscle mass loss can be recovered or reversed within the first couple of months of starting a strength training program. Research from a 2016 meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did regular strength training and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in lean muscle mass.

There are a few additional items you need to focus on consistently beyond your strength training. When it comes to maintaining or building muscle, sleep and recovery are critical and good nutrition is a must. When I say nutrition I’m talking a surplus of good calories especially in the form of high quality protein. If your body is not continually in an anabolic state you will not be building any new muscle.

A recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests a daily intake of 1 to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is needed for older adults who do resistance training. For example, a 175-pound man would need about 79 to 103 grams a day. If possible, divide your protein equally among your daily meals to maximize muscle protein synthesis.

There is a strong association between strength training and muscle mass but as you continue to age the key is working smarter. You can do that by making sure you include these primary lifts or movements as part of your strength program: squat, dead lift, pulling and pushing movements, and some type of loaded carry.

In a recent comprehensive research review, Donnelly and colleagues note that the majority of peer-reviewed resistance training studies (lasting 8–52 weeks) show increases of 2.2–4.5 pounds of muscle mass. These researchers suggest that an increase of 4.5 pounds of muscle mass would probably increase resting metabolic rate by about 50 kcal per day. Although this small change is not nearly as much as some advertisers may suggest, it does help close the gap between energy intake and energy expenditure.

There you have it – my five practical tips that will help take your health and fitness to the next level. The choice is now yours.

Suggested Reading

Biochemical Adaptations in Muscle. J. Biol. Chemistry 424(9): 2278-2282, 1967.

Dynamic exercise performance in Masters athletes: insight into the effects of primary human aging on physiological functional capacity. J Applied Physiol 95: 2152-2162, 2003.

Core Performance, Mark Verstegen, Rodale Books, 2005

Athletic Body in Balance, Gray Cook, Human Kinetics, 2003

Functional Training for Sport, M. Boyle, Human Kinetics, 2003

Never Let Go, Dan John, On Target, 2011

References

Schneider PL, Bassett DR, Thompson DL, Pronl NP, and Bielak KM (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. Am J Health Promotion 21(2): 85-89.

Donnelly, J.E., et al. Is resistance training effective for weight management? Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine, 1(1): 21–29, 2003.

Krogh-Madsen R, Thyfault JP, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Olsen RH, Mounier R, Plomgaard P, van Hall G, Booth FW, and Pedersen, BK (2010). A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. J. Applied Physiology, 108(5):1034-1040.

Wu BH, Lin J, (2006). Effects of exercise intensity on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and substrate use after resistance exercise. J Exerc Sci Fit, 4(2).

Abboud GJ, Greer BK, Campbell SC, Panton LB, (2012). Effects of Load-Volume on EPOC after Acute Bouts of Resistance Training in Resistance Trained Males. October.

Levine JA, et al. (2006). Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 26: 729-736.

Ivey, FM et al., (2000). The Effects of Age, Gender and Myostatin Genotype on the Hypertrophic Response to Heavy Resistance Strength Training. J. Gerontol: Med Sci 55A: M641-M848.

Ezra I. Fishman, Jeremy A. Steeves, Vadim Zipunnikov, Annemarie Koster, David Berrigan, Tamara A. Harris, Rachel Murphy. Association between Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Mortality in NHANES. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000885

Top 10 Body-Boosting Benefits of Wheatgrass

Many people nowadays are shifting to healthy living and healthy eating. They are trying to exercise more. They’re learning about the type of food they put in their mouths and try to look for healthier alternatives. People are slowly drifting away from eating fast food and processed food and are looking toward what’s organic and natural. They are turning to superfoods to address their nutritional needs. And one of the most popular and beneficial superfoods around is wheatgrass.

It’s actually the young grass of a common wheat plant. It comes in either liquid form (as a juice) or in solid form (as a powder concentrate). The most popular form in the market is the powder form.

Wheatgrass has been around for a while. It was highly promoted by Ann Wigmore in the 1970s. Wigmore was a raw food advocate and was always very vocal about the health benefits of raw food, specifically wheatgrass.

Just like most plants, wheatgrass is packed with plenty of nutrients the body needs. It is a potent source of over a hundred nutrients, making it one of the go-to ingredients for supplementary drinks. Wheatgrass contains amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and essential minerals. It has vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, I, and K. In addition, it has a high level of chlorophyll, which is an essential blood builder.

They might not look like much, but trust me, for such a tiny plant, wheatgrass definitely has a lot of benefits. Here are a few of them.

Boosts Immunity

Wheatgrass has the ability to improve the production of red blood cells (RBCs). These RBCs are both mechanical and biochemical barriers against bacteria, blood parasites, and infections. This means RBCs play a huge part in the body’s defense mechanism.

Wheatgrass also restores the electrical charge between the capillaries and the cell walls. This leads to a boost in the immune system. In addition, it also improves your body’s ability to prevent, fight, and recover from disease.

Saying goodbye to those pesky cough and colds has never been this easy. And as a bonus, a shot of wheatgrass juice has also been known to get rid of that nasty hangover.

Keeps Skin Healthy

Drinking wheatgrass is a great way to detoxify the body, so the skin is not as prone to breakouts. The antioxidants offset free radicals, and this prevents premature skin aging and cellular damage.

It can be used topically as well. When applied directly to the skin, wheatgrass juice calms down histamine that causes itching and soothes inflammation associated with rashes and sunburn. It can also treat skin diseases, such as psoriasis and eczema.

Many testimonials of home treatments say that wheatgrass does help remedy these skin issues.

Helps in Losing Weight

Many people will love wheatgrass even more because of this benefit. This superfood is particularly rich in selenium, which is important in the healthy functioning of the thyroid gland. Selenium improves irregular thyroid function. Take note that the thyroid is one of the body’s natural weight-loss tools.

Its chlorophyll content is also a big help as it increases your overall energy, which helps you work out longer and harder. This leads to you burning more calories. Also, the intake of wheatgrass juice can help reduce food cravings. One serving of this drink can keep you full for a while, making sure you won’t go looking for snacks in between meals.

Wheatgrass itself is low in calories and contains no sugar, cholesterol, or fat.

Improves Fertility

If you think that you’re ready for a baby and want to make sure your baby-making attempts won’t go to waste, try adding a shot of wheatgrass juice to your daily diet. It’s alkaline and can balance your body’s pH levels. This leads to better receptivity for eggs and sperm. Also, this provides better conditions for implantation as well.  

In addition, wheatgrass has the compound P4D1. This impacts sperm cells as well as DNA. This increases fertility. Its high antioxidant content can also protect sperm from free radical damage due to environmental factors.

Fortifies Digestive System

Wheatgrass has elements that promote healthy digestion. These include a high amount of fiber and B complex vitamins. These boost the function of the muscles in the digestive system.

Wheatgrass juice gets rid of digestive issues, such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. The high amount of helpful enzymes it contains aids the body in properly breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.

Chlorophyll plays a part as well as it supports good liver function and helps in cleansing your bowels. Clean bowels means they work better, and the effect is less gas, bloating, and discomfort after eating.

Fights Anemia

The chlorophyll that is found in wheatgrass is similar to hemoglobin. This improves the overall oxygenation in the body. Next, red blood cell production in the body also improves. The increase of RBC count treats anemia. Anemia caused by a decrease in the supply of oxygen to vital organs and body tissues.

Battles Cancer

The amino acids, vitamins, and minerals found in wheatgrass get rid of the free radicals that cause tissue damage and increase the risk of cancer.

In addition, the high alkaline content of wheatgrass maintains the delicate pH balance the body needs. Maintaining optimal pH balance is essential in protecting the body against cancer. The high chlorophyll content in wheatgrass is a positive addition in maintaining normal cells and in preventing the growth of cancer cells.

This superfood also induces apoptosis, which is the self-destruction of cancerous cells. It also regulates immunological activity and fights against oxidative stress, which contributes to cell mutations.

And lastly, chlorophyll plays a part in cancer prevention. It has been known to increase hemoglobin production. This means the body is able to produce more oxygen. Cancer cells thrive in low-oxygen environments, so the more oxygen there is, the more defense available against cancer cells.

Purifies the Liver

The liver is one of the most important organs in your body. If your liver becomes overworked or gets a disease because of fatty buildup or some kind of damage, then a daily shot of wheatgrass is the way to go. This superfood reduces the buildup of lipid fats in the liver. This then greatly improves liver function.

Promotes Brain Health

This superfood possesses essential nutrients for a healthy brain. For example, its vitamin K content supports brain cell growth and also makes sure that cells are working normally. Vitamin C and folate assist in producing neurotransmitters. The job of these neurotransmitters is to contribute to the brain’s level of alertness, concentration, memory, and motivation.

Pumps Up Circulation

For those who want to get the most out of their workouts, wheatgrass juice will help you achieve your fitness goals. This drink has the ability to increase the amount of oxygen found in the blood. This then stimulates circulation in your system. This way, you get a higher amount of overall energy, making sure you exercise longer and give more to your workouts. In other words, wheatgrass can help you unleash your inner gym beast.

Kate B. Forsyth is a writer for Be Healthy Today, who specializes in health and nutrition. Her passion is to help people get an overall transformation of health that lasts a lifetime. In her blog posts, she goes beyond research by providing health-concerned citizens doable and simple tricks to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Exercise and Asthma – Workout to Breathe Better

There’s a widespread fear of introducing a sports activity into the lives of children and adults with asthma, which is typically caused by a simple lack of understanding. Although asthma is one of the more common health issues, and even though it’s incurable, it can be managed, and it shouldn’t prevent anyone from regular physical activity.

Just like with any other condition, exercising in a controlled environment and following a set of simple guidelines can benefit anyone, and people with asthma are no exception. Let’s do some myth-busting!

Understanding Asthma

First of all, asthma is a chronic condition that causes an inflammation of airways, making them more susceptible to allergic reactions. The bronchial tubes become narrow and swollen, causing difficulty breathing, chest tightness, more mucus, wheezing and coughing, especially at night and in the morning.

Credit: https://tucsonallergyasthma.com

Naturally, this can make it more difficult for a person to take part in an activity, especially if it requires a high level of continuous endurance, such as running or cycling, which are more likely to cause an asthma attack. On the other hand, stop-and-go activities that allow regular breaks without compromising the difficulty of the exercise adapted to your needs can improve not only your overall fitness, but also strengthen your lungs and reduce asthma symptoms.

This means that sports such as moderate weightlifting that gradually increases in difficulty, martial arts, lighter activities like yoga, or team sports like baseball and volleyball can all be safely practiced by anyone with well-managed asthma. In fact, physical activity is highly recommended, because it will strengthen your immune system, improve your cardiovascular health and oxygen intake.

Prevent Exercise-Induced Asthma

Due to a large number of asthma attacks caused by intense workouts, people tend to get even more reluctant to go back to their training routine, or simply adapt it, believing that any amount of exercise can cause issues.

Credit: http://www.shulmanforcongress.com

The truth is that uncontrolled, fast breathing though your mouth is the main culprit of exercise-induced asthma, due to more dry, cold air travelling to your lungs and causing inflammation. Shortness of breath should not be mistaken for an asthma attack, so it’s important to learn the difference – the former will subside when you take a break and you’ll be able to resume your workout.

In order to prevent a potential asthma attack during your workout, there are several key steps you need to take. First and foremost, you should have your inhaler with you at all times. Warm up carefully before your routine, and make sure you control your breath as much as possible. This is crucial even for healthy athletes, to keep their heartrate healthy, and ensure proper core engagement, let alone for someone with asthma.

Use a timer to measure rest periods between your sets, to see how much time you need to regroup without losing intensity and the effect of your workout. Asthma is no excuse for making your training too easy. Challenging your current physical abilities is healthy, and it will be even more beneficial if you allow your body to overcome your limitations.

Managing Asthma

It would be ideal if all you needed was a weekly deadlift session to boost your body’s resilience. But once you have a solid workout plan down, there are several other steps you can take to ensure a healthy lifestyle that will alleviate your symptoms.

Since allergies are the most common cause of asthma, having the best air purifiers for allergies available in your home will allow you to breathe freely and expose your lungs to significantly less allergens, so make sure that you keep your living area clean of toxins and pollutants.

Keeping your home clean is crucial, so regular vacuuming, dusting and allowing the circulation of fresh air will make a huge difference in your life. Pay special attention to your mattress and wash your bedding on a regular basis (once a week will do the trick), and if possible, avoid unnecessary rugs, carpets and curtains that will attract dust. However, a house that is too clean can equally cause trouble, so find the right balance that will keep you healthy.

To Summarize

Although asthma is a pain in the neck, it doesn’t have to be a debilitating condition, so don’t allow it to become one, rather do your best to live a healthy life, don’t shy away from regular exercise and your body (especially your lungs) will be forever grateful.

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Follow him on Twitter.

There Is A Reason You Can’t Lose Weight

When a medical doctor sits across from an overweight person they are frequently dismayed by their patient’s blood work, their triglycerides, their fasting glucose numbers, their elevated insulin, the doctor doesn’t understand why, despite repeated conversations, their patients is coming back year after year, only heavier. When I sit across from an overweight person, what dismays me more is that a smart, capable, determined person has been tricked into thinking less of themselves—by their own brain.

Source: http://independentfemme.com

I’m a doctor of brain and cognitive science. More than that I’m a formerly obese person. And nothing makes me madder than the myth that people are overweight because they’re lazy, or lack willpower.  When I was overweight I wanted desperately to get thin. And I can honestly say that the only thing I worked harder at was getting my PhD. Trying to control my eating took an enormous amount of my energy and resources. I threw myself into each new diet attempt, convinced that THIS time it was going to work.  I wish I’d known then what I know now: that only 1% of people actively trying to lose weight hit their goal and maintain it. 1%.  Would you start college if you only had a 1% chance of finishing? And yet millions of Americans are making just such a proposition over and over and over again, year after year, and no one thinks it’s weird.  Well, I thought it was weird. So after I got thin I turned all my academic attention to figuring out what I had done this last time that was different than anything I had ever tried before. The difference was: brain science.

The fact is that a brain hijacked by a diet high in sugar and flour blocks weight loss. It does this in three ways.

First, sugar and flour raise baseline insulin levels far past what our bodies were designed to handle. The elevated insulin not only sets us up for diabetes, but it turns out its blocking the brain from recognizing a critical hormone: leptin. Leptin is the hormone that signals to the brain that you are full and need to get moving. Without it we sit on the couch and eat and never feel full.

Second, after eating the average American amount of sugar for just three weeks, 22 teaspoons, the brain’s pleasure receptors do something called “down-regulating.” Essentially, to cope with the excessive stimulation, the brain takes some of its receptors offline. Meaning, to feel the same amount of pleasure next time, you’ll need to eat more sugar. The brain responds by turning off more receptors. And soon you have exactly the same cycle that the brain moves through to cope with drugs or alcohol. In fact the brains of obese people are frequently more down-regulated than the brains of those addicted to cocaine.  So they aren’t eating to feel good, they’re eating to try to feel normal.

Source: @Alamy stock photo

Third, willpower isn’t a dimension of your personality, something some people are born with and others simply lack. Willpower is a cognitive function and we all have about the same amount, fifteen minutes, give or take. And every day activities, like focusing at work, and keeping your patience in carpool, all deplete it. Meaning any successful diet MUST expect that your willpower will fail AT LEAST once a day and work anyway.

For the last two years I’ve been working with people around the world, helping them lose weight, but, more importantly, helping them keep it off for life. And the best part, beyond hearing that they’re off their statins and their cholesterol drugs, is hearing how their self-perception has healed.  Because when your brain overrides your best intentions time and time again you start to believe the worst about yourself. But it’s not true. Once the brain heals making those choices you want to be making becomes effortless. And your intentions and actions come into alignment.

From there you can do anything.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people live Happy, Thin, and Free.

How Runners Can improve Lower Leg Muscle Fitness Using the Foam Rolling Technique

Mostly suitable for runners, there is a popular exercise technique called foam rolling, which is also referred to as self-myofascial release training. It mostly involves exercise that improves the structural integrity of some of their leg muscles using a lacrosse ball or a foam roller. Even though popularly known as the foam roller for runners, the self-myofascial release tool is also used by athletes, therapists, and coaches as part of an everyday routine exercise. The technique itself involves applying pressure and massaging various parts of the fascial system, including the lower leg muscles to get rid of any stiffness and inflammation. Most professional runners do the exercise for 5-10 minutes before and after running, every 3-4 times weekly. During the exercise, the muscles are relieved of tightness and stiffness. Simply put, foam rolling is a highly important exercise technique for runners and athletes who want to improve their fitness levels, especially when it comes to lower leg muscle fitness.

foam-foller-1
Source: http://selfcarer.com

Benefits of Foam Rollers for Runners 

The most important benefit of foam rolling for runners is that it promotes fitness levels of some of their most important muscles involved in the sport. For starters, foam rolling is known to relieve and release tightness and muscular tension from lower leg muscles and the surrounding fascia. This tightness and tension are believed to originate from repetitive physical activities such as running, resistance training, and other kinds of repetitive sports or training activities. Foam rollers are also effective in improving muscular flexibility and fascial muscle range of movement, especially when combined with dynamic stretching. The technique can also help decrease the risk of muscular injury. As pressure is applied to some specific points of the lower leg muscles, runners can benefit from the rolling exercise as it helps in quick muscle recovery and improves muscle function. This technique can help runners maintain healthy, elastic, and highly functional muscles to keep them competition-ready.

Primary Lower Leg Muscles Top Target When Foam Rolling 

When using the foam roller there are various points that runners should target in order to improve lower leg muscle fitness. Some of these fascial muscle points include the tibialis anterior, the calves, the thighs, and the gluteus muscles.

1. Tibialis Anterior

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Source: https://www.theguardian.com

The outermost part of the front of the lower leg, which originates from the shinbone is scientifically known as the Tibialis Anterior. The main function of the tibialis anterior is to pull the toes up as the ankle is flexed, during motion activities such as running or walking. In other words, the tibialis anterior muscles stabilize the ankle. To work out the tibialis anterior using the foam roller, one should start at some point near the knee downwards and do the respective reps.

2. The Calf Muscles 

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Source: http://www.popsugar.com

The back part of the lower leg is referred to as the calf, which is composed of two major muscle groups. These include the Soleus and the gastrocnemius calf muscle.

• Soleus Calf Muscle: This is the bigger flat muscle found in the middle of the calf, which takes care of flexing movements from the ankle joint.
• Gastrocnemius Calf Muscles: These are found slightly on the side of the calf and a responsible for effectuating forceful movements such as jumping.

To exercise the soleus calf using a foam roller, a straight motion is required. However, a slightly inclined motion is needed when exercising the gastrocnemius calf muscle using a foam roller.

3. Vastus Medialis 

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Source: http://www.popsugar.com

Extending to the knee, at the inner part of your front thigh, there exists a muscle known as the Vastus Medialis, which is one among the most important lower leg muscles for runners. In order to work out this muscle using a foam roller, a movement similar to a plank is required. You can also rotate the thigh gradually until you feel some pressure on the said muscle.
The Vastus Lateralis is a large muscle located on the lateral side of the thigh. It is also another highly important lower leg muscle for runners, meaning that it needs to be well-developed and properly functioning. As a matter of fact, it is the most powerful and largest thigh muscle. To work this muscle out, you will need to lie on your side so that you do a side plank motion using the foam roller.

4. Vastus Lateralis

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Source: http://www.popsugar.com

The Vastus Lateralis is a large muscle located on the lateral side of the thigh. It is also another highly important lower leg muscle for runners, meaning that it needs to be well-developed and properly functioning. As a matter of fact, it is the most powerful and largest thigh muscle. To work this muscle out, you will need to lie on your side so that you do a side plank motion using the foam roller.

5. Gluteus Muscles 

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Source: http://www.popsugar.com

These are also known as the glutes, comprising of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus located in the thigh. The Gluteus are also among the most hard-working leg muscles when running or walking, even though they are barely noticed most of the times. Some people regard them as not part of the lower leg muscles. For athletes, however, these muscles also need some working out with the foam roller. To work out the glutes, you need to assume a position nearly similar to that used when working out the vastus lateralis, though your body will be required to assume a more inclined position in this case.

Emily is founder of BodyShape101.com, a blog where she and her associates talk about exercise, fitness, and yoga. Their aim is to help people like you to achieve perfect body. BodyShape101 is concentrated on exercise & fitness tips, and making the most out of it. She is also a mother of one and she tries to find balance between her passion and her biggest joy in life.

Examining the Link Between Diabetes, Autoimmunity and Heart Disease for American Heart Month

As medical science advances, we are learning more about the links between different individual diseases. In recognition of American Heart Month in February, I’d like to draw attention to some largely unknown facts about heart disease and its indirect link to autoimmune disease. In spite of pharmaceutical and technological medical advances, heart disease has continued to rank as the leading cause of death in the United States for several decades. Although we associate high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking as some of the most common factors leading to cardiovascular complications, there are actually hundreds of varying risk factors that can lead to heart disease, including an entirely different disease: diabetes.

Let’s first look at a brief but noteworthy chronological history of diabetes and its classification as an immune-mediated disease:

  • The term diabete was first recorded in an English medical text written around 1425.
  • It wasn’t until over 300 years later, in 1776, that it was confirmed diabetes was an issue of an excess amount of a certain kind of sugar (in the urine).
  • Just over 100 years later, in 1889, the role of the pancreas in diabetes was discovered.
  • Shortly after, in 1910, it was found that diabetes resulted from a lack of insulin.
  • In 1922, the first person received an insulin injection for the treatment of diabetes.
  • Types 1 and 2 diabetes were differentiated in 1936.
  • Autoimmunity was discovered in the 1950s.
  • Not until the mid 1970s was it recognized that diabetes can have an autoimmune basis.

Medical research has linked several diseases as being immune-mediated years after the original discovery of such diseases. Although this discovery was made almost 40 years ago, many people are still unaware that all types of diabetes can have an autoimmune component.

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http://diabetesweightresources.pbworks.com

Now let’s look at how diabetes is linked to heart disease. Caused by a hardening of the arteries or a blocking of the blood vessels that go to your heart, people with diabetes are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than those without (American Diabetes Association). In fact, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke, also classified as cardiovascular disease. Perhaps even more alarming is the threat that diabetes can cause nerve damage, sometimes making heart attacks painless or silent.

Autoimmune diabetes is caused when the body’s immune system begins attacking the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. When insulin levels are down, the amount of glucose in the blood increases over time. High blood glucose levels can damage nerves and lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessels. Complications such as poor blood flow, decreased oxygen in the blood stream, and the clogging and hardening of blood vessels can ultimately lead to two types of cardiovascular disease: coronary artery disease, responsible for heart attacks or failure, and cerebral vascular disease, leading to strokes.

And there you have it – a three-way link between Diabetes, Autoimmune Disease and Heart Disease. So, are there preventative measures that diabetics can take to prevent heart attacks and control autoimmune reactivity? Prevention of heart attacks for diabetics is parallel to that of non-diabetics, but with one very important additional measure – monitoring and regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical lab that specializes in functional immunology and autoimmunity, offers the “Array 6” – Diabetes Autoimmune Reactivity Screen. Array 6 assists in the early detection of autoimmune processes of Type 1 Diabetes, impaired blood sugar metabolism and Metabolic Syndrome, and also monitors the effectiveness of related treatment protocols.

As is always the case, it is recommended to schedule regular visits with your medical practitioner and specialists. Proper administration of medications can be vital to prevention of heart disease. In addition to insulin injections for diabetics, there are medications to aid in regulating blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol, which could all be vital to prevention of heart disease.

Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.

What’s More Important: Diet or How Much You Exercise?

You have probably wondered at some point in your life, is diet more important than exercise or does exercise trump diet. I think the question that you first need to ask yourself is: “What is your main outcome or goal?” If your answer is strictly weight loss, both diet and exercise are important but the focus placed on diet is slightly higher. If you’re looking to just maintain a healthy lifestyle then you need to consistently monitor and focus on both. Remember, you can’t manage something if you don’t measure it. Finally, if you’re someone who has lost a significant amount of weight and your goal is to maintain that weight loss for the rest of your life then both diet and exercise are your best friends.

One of the best research-based organizations that looks at these types of questions and more is the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The NWCR is the brain-child of Rena Wing, PhD, from Brown University Medical School and James Hill, PhD, from the University of Colorado. The NWCR “provides information about the strategies used by successful weight loss maintainers to achieve and maintain long-term weight loss.” The NWCR is currently tracking over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and, most importantly, have kept it off for long periods of time.

NWCR members have lost an average of 72.6 pounds and maintained the loss for more than 5 years. “To maintain their weight loss, members report engaging in high levels of physical activity (≈1 h/day/walking), eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet, eating breakfast regularly, self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.”

What should help clear up this debate is the fact that only 1 percent of the huge NWCR database (>10,000 subjects) have been successful at keeping their weight off with exercise alone. About 10 percent of the subjects have been successful with weight-loss maintenance by focusing on diet alone. More than 89 percent of the subjects have been successful because of BOTH diet and exercise modifications.

Your best bet is to spend quality time at the gym a few times a week and remember to challenge yourself when you’re moving through your paces. Stay active throughout the week and especially during the weekends. Focus on eating clean, healthy foods, avoiding highly processed foods while watching the added sugar in everything you eat. Finally, know that diet and exercise are your best choices to help get you there and once you’ve reached your goals, will help keep you there!

References

Wing RR, Hill JO. Successful weight loss maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr 2001;21:323–41.

Wing RR, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82(1): 222S-225S.

Martial Arts and Strength Training – is there Common Ground?

Bodybuilders want to pump their muscles, while martial artists need speed, stability, and flexibility. Professional trainers from both worlds say that they have a hard time convincing the other to embark in their program, due to martial artists’ bad experiences with prior strength training. Bodybuilders really don’t know how learning fight moves can benefit their training goals.

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Source: http://quicktoptens.com

However, there is a common ground for martial arts and strength training, because strength as well as flexibility, mobility, stability, and speed are beneficial to all aspects of fitness. Bodybuilders who can achieve full range of motion are more likely to avoid injury, and will be able to execute their exercises with more efficiency and power. On the other hand, a weak body can’t sustain high-level martial arts practice for long. This doesn’t mean that one should follow a standard martial arts/bodybuilding program, but simply take what one needs from both.

What Kind of Strength Do Martial Artist Need?

Weight training is aimed towards an anaerobic metabolism, with emphasis on joint, bone, and muscle strength. Martial artists shouldn’t follow a standard bodybuilding program, because they need functional strength to improve their martial arts performance. A full bodybuilding program can make your martial arts techniques worse, because it leads to a decrease in activation of motor units. It can only provide a minimal boost in speed-strength (the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the biggest possible impulse in the shortest amount of time).

Martial artists always try to use their bodies in the most efficient way, so they need to pick strength training exercises that challenge the whole body as a unit. However, when it comes to physical training, it’s about optimizing one’s performance for any activity, and it’s more than just lifting heavy weights.

Strength Training and Lack of Mobility and Flexibility

Lack of mobility in bodybuilders usually manifests itself in large compound movements. Take squats for example – weight lifters often lack mobility in their hips and ankles, at the bottom of the squat, which forces their knees and toes outward and forward to create enough space for their hips to drop down, while shifting weight onto the toes at the same time. There’s a plethora of problems caused by this lack of mobility, because the body tries to compensate for the lack of strength due to the poorly leveraged squat position. Mobility is your body’s ability to move without restriction.

Flexibility, on the other hand, is the range of motion in a system of joints and the length of muscle(s) that crosses the joints involved. Range of motion (ROM) is the direction and distance the joint can move, and flexibility directly correlates with mobility and ROM, while indirectly with coordination, balance, and strength. If bodybuilders perform only strength exercises and don’t supplement their training routine with flexibility and mobility exercises, their ROM gets decreased.

Martial arts include exercises for improving flexibility and mobility, because the nature of the sport requires it, and weight lifters can benefit from it by “becoming a fighter” at least on one day per week. I was never a martial arts enthusiast, but when I was visiting a friend, he dragged me to a martial arts training in Sydney and when I got to try it for myself and realized all of its potential, I started incorporating that type of training into my own routines.

How to Practice Both and Achieve Maximum Effects

There are 3 specific planes of motion that divide the human body into right and left, top and bottom, and front and back halves – transverse (rotational movements), frontal (side to side movements), and sagittal (forward and backward movements). Why do you need to know this? For example, stability in the frontal plane is important in activities in which we try to create power forwards. When performing the stepping punch, hips often fall out because of weak hip abductors. This requires strength training exercises for strengthening this particular body part. The body thinks in terms of movement patterns, and doesn’t care about muscle groups, so you should base your training program on functional movements and perform core demanding exercises.

Suitable strength exercises for creating your own training program are:

Knee dominant – front squat, split squat, back squat, reverse lunge;
Hip dominant – deadlift, hip thrust, leg curl on a Swiss ball, stiff legged deadlift;
Horizontal pulling – dumbbell row, seated row, barbell row, face pull;
Vertical pulling – lat pull-down, pull-up/chin-up, reverse pull-up/chin-up;
Horizontal pushing – bench press, dumbbell incline bench press, weighted or regular pushup;
Vertical pushing – standing military press, half-kneeling overhead press, push press;
Anti-lateral/Anti-rotation – Russian twist, side plank, pallof press, full contact twist;
Anti-extension – body saw, ab wheel rollout, plank (with variations).

In order to become stronger, more flexible, and faster, both mentally and physically, you need a good strength training plan. The feeling of getting stronger can truly be a lifesaver in challenging martial arts, while improved functional strength, flexibility and mobility can reduce the risk of various injuries.

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Follow him on Twitter.

The One-Minute Workout

Researcher Martin Gibala, PhD, who along with Izumi Tabata, PhD, et al., have helped bring high-intensity interval training back to the forefront of training for both athlete and novice alike. I have had the pleasure of reading all of Dr. Gibala’s papers on high-intensity interval training (HIIT), so when I saw that his book, The One-Minute Workout, was going to be published this year (Avery Publishers, 2017, 263 pages), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. The first half of the book he goes into the importance and research history (his and other researchers) of interval-based training. The second half of the book has the actual HIIT workout protocols and “hits” on nutrition as well. As expected it was a great read. One of the training workouts featured in the book (pages 146-148), called the 10-20-30 protocol, is excellent, I have tried it myself and have previously written about it, see here.

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Source: Amazon.com

This particular protocol was published from 2012 research out of the University of Copenhagen and then written about, multiple times, by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times Well Blog.

The original research was completed on 16 male/female runners who ran 2-4x/week. Eight of the runners kept running as usual (covering about 17 miles in those 2-4 training sessions). The other group of eight runners reduced their training volume by 54 percent and worked out using the 10-20-30 sprint protocol. After a warm-up, the group ran for a minute that included an easy run for 30-seconds, followed by a faster run for 20-seconds and finally a sprint for 10-seconds. They completed this 1-minute run for 3 to 4 intervals with rest between each interval run. Both groups trained for seven weeks. Among other things, the sprint group experienced a 4 percent increase in their VO2 max. The sprint interval group also saw significant changes in performance despite cutting their volume by more than 50 percent.

Try adding this type of interval training into your training program if you’re a runner or maybe if you’re looking to get back into running like I was. After a period of time away from running, I started doing interval training indoors on a treadmill over the course of a month. My goal was to develop a good base with just 10-15 minutes of total running time/session during that first month (total workout time: 20-30 minute training sessions, every other day). As my aerobic capacity improved, I got more into the 10-20-30 jog to sprint protocol during the following month (as my body got use to the stress of running).  As the research demonstrated, and I too experienced, the protocol worked beyond expectation, experiencing great results with less time spent working out.