Blogs > Simply Fit

Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Putting on the Breaks without Derailing

Go ahead, take the day off from exercise. Just as you plan vacation days from work to reenergize, you need to schedule regular breaks from exercise to give your body a chance to re-coup. Although regular exercise is important for your health, so is rest.

Why Rest?
  • Exercise places great physiological demands on your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. Rest gives your body a chance to adapt to these stresses and rebuild.
  • Proper recovery improves your performance during exercise as well as during day-to-day tasks because it allows your body to replenish its energy stores.
  • Rest leads to an increase in your strength and endurance by giving your body a chance to repair the microscopic damage that occurs to your muscles from physical activity.
  • Taking a break periodically will prevent boredom and mental fatigue.
  • Rest days help to decrease the risk of injury and illness.
  • Days off help to prevent burnout and the overtraining syndrome (see my 05-12-09 post, "When Going for the "Burn" Leads to Burnout").
How Many Days During The Week Should Be Rest Days?
  • 1-2 days off per week, preferably on non-consecutive days, is acceptable for the average active individual.
  • Serious recreational or elite athletes may need to schedule more days off after competitions or if signs of overtraining are present.
  • Extended rest periods (approaching 1-2 weeks) can lead to detraining effects (the principle of reversibility - "use it, or lose it").
Recovery Day Tips:
  • Designate one day a week as your day off or cycle your day off, such as every 3rd or 4th day take a break.
  • Get a massage. This has been purported to improve blood flow and oxygen supply to, as well as reduce inflammation and swelling in, the exercised muscles.
  • Ensure that you get at least 8 hours of restorative sleep (uninterrupted).
Can't Let Yourself Take A Day Completely Off From Exercise?
  • Plan a day of chores around the house, such as light yard work.
  • Substitute a day of aerobic exercise or strength training with yoga or calisthenics at a low-intensity.
Appropriately scheduling regular rest days into your exercise program will maximize your performance and health. Care should be taken to avoid extended rest periods which can lead to detraining and loss of health benefits.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hit The Mark With These Gifts For Fitness Lovers

There is no better way to show someone that you care than to support their interests. So why not demonstrate your admiration this holiday season by giving the fitness lover in your life a gift that promotes their health. When deciding upon the best fitness gift, consider your loved one's exercise goals, fitness level, and sport interests.

Here are some gift ideas that will keep your active friends, family, and colleagues on the move:
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Capture their hearts with this one. A heart rate monitor will help your loved one exercise at the right intensity. Over-training increases risk of injury and heart attack. Under-training won't provide the desirable disease prevention health benefits. Your loved one can program their personal training heart rate range and will be alerted when they fall out of that zone when using a heart rate monitor.
  • GPS Watch: A great gift for a wide range of sport enthusiasts, such as walkers, runners, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and even hunters and active vacationers. These watches not only provide a navigation system to map out your route, but keep track of your pace, distance, and calories burned, among other things, depending on the make and model of the watch.
  • Fruit Basket or Arrangement: This will make a wonderful healthy and tasty present for the physically active employee or employer.
  • Fitness DVDs, Books and Magazine Subscriptions: This gift will offer exercise how-to's, inspirational stories, and new exercises to try.
  • Gift Certificate to a Local Fitness Center, Exercise Class, or Home Exercise Equipment Store: In these poor economic times, this will be a greatly appreciated present.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let The Mall Be Your Gym On Black Friday

Get the most out of your holiday shopping spree by sneaking in some fitness while you are out-and-about this holiday weekend. Black Friday shopping, with its demands of walking from store to store while carrying loaded bags, can be a fun way to challenge your cardiovascular system, strengthen your upper body, and target your core stabilizers. Here are some tips on how to make the mall your workout center for the day:

Before you head out -
  • Dress in comfortable active wear that is lightweight and breathable to help regulate your body temperature. Dressing in layers will allow you to remove extra clothing when your body starts to heat up from walking (and from the increasing crowds as the day goes on).
  • Wear well-cushioned footwear, such as running or walking shoes.
  • Bring a water bottle that can be filled at drinking fountains.
  • Eat a balanced breakfast and/or pack a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, or granola/breakfast bars to keep your blood sugar levels in check.
At the mall -
  • Park in the furthest space from the mall and use the extra walking distance as a "warm-up" before shopping begins and as a "cool-down" at the end of your trip.
  • Loosen-up your body by performing some light stretches prior to entering the mall.
  • Take the stairs instead of the mall's escalators or elevators.
  • Alternate light walking with power walking while going from store to store.
  • Perform heal raises while waiting in line. This not only will strengthen your calf muscles, but it will keep your blood circulating, warding off a possible fainting spell.
  • Put those heavy shopping bags to use and perform a few sets of biceps curls or squats while you are waiting to check-out.
  • Balance the shopping bags so that one-side of your body is not carrying more weight. When the load gets too great, take the bags to your car or put in a mall locker.
  • When lifting your shopping bags, lift with your legs - not your back (see my 06-03-09 post, "Tips for a Healthy Back).
  • While carrying your shopping bags, keep your back straight and abdominal muscles taught. Avoid slouching or leaning to one-side.
  • Remember to stay hydrated. You may be tempted to avoid drinking to limit the number of trips to the mall restroom, but this is not a good idea as it could lead to dehydration.
  • If you will be spending the day at the mall, eat a sensible, well-balanced lunch that will replenish your energy stores without causing a subsequent blood sugar low.
  • At the end of your shopping trip, perform stretching exercises.
Keep in mind that shopping is physical activity. Do not overdue it. Make use of the benches and sitting areas located throughout the mall to take rest breaks. Drink plenty of water and eat sensibly. If your purchases become too difficult to carry, drop them off at the car or place in a mall locker. When done wisely, your shopping trip can be a fun alternative to your regular exercise program. So, when Black Friday comes, get on your mark, get set, and shop!

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Get Your House Exercise-Ready

Exercising at home is convenient and a time-saver. But, the home exercise environment can actually hamper your motivation to be active; thus, becoming a barrier to exercise if the atmosphere is not conducive for getting physically fit. Take a minute to think about the current location of your exercise equipment. Is it shoved in the corner of your bedroom where it is hard for the air to circulate? Or, is it located down in the dark and dreary basement? How about up in the hot and stuffy attic? None of these scenarios are very inviting for exercise, let alone spending any specified amount of time.

The area of your home in which you choose to exercise should be appealing to your senses. It should embrace your fitness style and support your exercise goals. Furthermore, the designated area should fit into the flow of family life, inviting activity, not thwarting it.

Here are some tips to consider when setting up a home exercise room:

Location, Location, Location:
  • Choose a room with a view. Positioning your treadmill or stationary bike such that you are able to look out the window while you exercise can help to keep your mind engaged and boredom at bay. A window will also allow natural light to come in, brightening up your surroundings.
  • The room should be well-ventilated. The air should be able to circulate to prevent a stuffy environment. Consider putting a fan in the room if needed.
  • If able, choose a room that is the center of family life. Can it be part of the family room or the children's playroom? You will want it to be a place that family members can congregate and get fit together. In addition, if the home exercise gym is centrally located, it will be a visual cue that you need to get in your physical activity for the day.
Clear the Clutter:
  • It isn't any fun exercising if you are looking at a big mess. Pick up newspapers, dirty clothes, and whatever else is lying around your exercise equipment. Not only will it prevent the risk of a trip-and-fall accident, but, it will help to clear your mind so that you can concentrate on your fitness goals, not the laundry that is waiting to be folded.
  • Invest in a storage unit for exercise gear such as resistance bands, jump ropes, etc,. Keeping equipment organized will facilitate your fitness routine, avoiding waisted time spent looking for needed fitness gadgets.
Control the Temperature:
  • The ideal fitness room temperature is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, many individuals prefer it lower, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Decorate to Embrace Fitness:
  • Paint your home fitness room in bright, energizing colors, such as yellow or orange.
  • Frame and hang motivating pictures of athletes or inspirational quotes.
  • Install a dimmer switch to adjust lighting to meet your mode of exercise. That way you can dim the lights if it is your day to do stress-relieving yoga activities or increase the brightness for an invigorating run on the treadmill.
  • Install wall mirrors. Adding a mirror to your fitness room will serve a dual purpose: 1) you can keep a visual tab on your form during weight training to ensure proper body mechanics; and, 2) the mirror will reflect light, brightening the room and providing a sense of spaciousness.
  • Consider using self-adhesive carpet squares for flooring. This allows sections of the flooring to be easily replaced if it becomes damaged or worn. Carpeting will also provide padding while performing calisthenics and flexibility exercises.
  • Use non-skid pads under your fitness equipment. This will allow for an easy clean-up of sweat.
Bring in the Entertainment:
  • Mount your television on the wall or place on a table for entertainment while exercising.
  • Include a DVD player if following exercise videos is your physical activity of choice.
  • Set-up a stereo system or CD player to listen to music that gets your heart pumping and feet moving.
Other Features to Consider:
  • Towel rack
  • Mini-refrigerator to replace fluids during exercise
  • Shelving system to store extra towels, fitness clothes, exercise how-to books/magazines, fitness machine manuals, and cleaning supplies for equipment maintenance.
Creating a home fitness room that is inviting and spirit-lifting will help you get a step closer to achieving your wellness goals.

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Do You Need a Wellness Coach?

Everyday it seems as though a different diet plan or exercise routine is being touted as the solution to acquiring better health and well-being. Each of these protocols has its own group of followers that swear by its effectiveness. Determining the correct path to take to master a healthy lifestyle can be confusing to say the least. How are you to know which is the best?

There is not a "one-size-fits-all" plan for wellness. Optimal well-being isn't just a product of being physically fit or eating the right foods, and wellness has a different meaning to different people. Many of us know what we need to do, but fail to get there. This partly occurs because traditionally, the emphasis has been on making physical changes. Cognitive changes, such as recognizing your values and how they align with your behaviors, need to occur in order to achieve long-term adherence to a healthy lifestyle. This is where contact with a Wellness Coach can be of benefit.

Wellness coaching is a profession which is increasing in popularity and has been ranked as #13 in the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Worldwide Survey of Health and Fitness Trends for 2010. According to Karl Weiss, a Wellcoaches Support Coach based out of Sacramento, California, a Wellness Coach helps you to create your own vision of wellness. He states that "most of us can clearly tell what is wrong with us, but [very few] are able to depict wellness [and what wellness feels like and what the process of achieving wellness would feel like]."

Wellness coaching is about fostering self-empowerment. A Wellness Coach helps you to realize why you engage in your current behaviors and the steps that you need to take to change those habits to ones that promote health. It is a proactive process that involves self-discovery. Weiss describes wellness coaching as a layering of cognitive and psychological change with physical change. The goal of the wellness coach is for you to take control of, and responsibility for, your own health.

What can you expect to get out of a relationship with a Wellness Coach?
  • An understanding of what is currently going well in your life and what attributes you have that made it so. Knowledge of your strengths will allow you to draw upon them to help you tackle the challenges in your life.
  • The development of a personal vision of wellness. That is, an understanding of what you want to become, how you think you will feel when you acquire that status, and what you want to achieve by accomplishing that goal.
  • A list of short-term and long-term goals and a plan of action that will allow you to progress from your present situation to that of your vision.
  • A partner in your journey to well-being that will provide motivation and accountability.
"The initial consultation with a Wellness Coach lasts about 90 minutes and begins to build a vision, [setting] short-term and long-term goals, and [the creation of the] start of a plan," states Weiss. After that, "subsequent sessions tend to be in the 30 minute range, longer if issues arise or shorter if you are on task," he explains. Because there are still relatively few Wellness Coaches available, and one may not be in your area, many of the sessions take place via telephone conversations and email contact. Cost varies, but you can expect to pay around $100 for the initial session, with subsequent sessions ranging from $50-$100.

If you would like to learn more about wellness coaching and if you think you could benefit from the services of a Wellness Coach, visit or


Karl Weiss - CWC, Wellcoaches Support Coach,

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, November/December 2009, Volume 13, Number 6, pp. 9-16, "Worldwide Survey Reveals Fitness Trends for 2010."

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Low-Cost Fitness Gadgets No Home Should Be Without

Jump Rope:
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Increase power
Cost: $10 and up

What to look for when buying:
  • Choose a rope length that allows you to lift the handles to armpit level when you are standing in the center of the rope. Many jump ropes are adjustable.
  • Foam handles will allow for a more comfortable grip.
  • Handles with ball bearings aid in rotation of the rope, creating a smoother and faster swivel.
Care and Safety Precautions:
  • Frequently check the rope for signs of wear, particularly where rope strikes the ground and at the handles. Replace if wear is evident.
  • Use the jump rope in an open space, free of objects on which the rope can become hooked or tangled. If using indoors, the ceiling of the room in which you are jumping should be high enough that the rope will not strike it.
  • To increase longevity of the rope, avoid frequent use on cement or other rough surfaces.

Stability Ball:
  • build your core strength (abdominal, back, and hip muscles).
  • improve your balance.
  • enhance/maintain your functional movement (ability to perform daily tasks such as lifting grocery bags).
  • a tool for Yoga and Pilates activities.
Cost: $25 and up

What to look for when buying:
  • Stability ball should be made from burst resistant materials.
  • Choose a size that allows you to sit on the ball with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your back straight. Sizes range from 30-85 cm, with 55 cm and 65 cm sizes being the most common.
Care and Safety Precautions:
  • Use the stability ball on surfaces that are smooth, clean, and free of debris or sharp objects.
  • Frequently check the ball for signs of wear and discontinue use and replace if areas of wear are evident.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions for proper inflation of the stability ball.
  • When cleaning the stability ball, do not use harsh chemicals that could compromise the integrity of the ball's material.

Resistance Tubing:
  • Improve muscular strength and endurance
Cost: $10 and up

What to look for when buying:
  • Tubing from natural rubber latex is more durable due to its strength and elasticity.
  • Choose tubing with handles for ease of grip during use.
  • Choose tubing that offers the proper resistance for your chosen exercise. You should be able to move your joint freely and smoothly through its range of motion while still noting a challenge to your muscles. Leg exercises typically will require a heavier, thicker band, than would arm exercises.
  • Most manufacturers color code their resistance tubing, with the lighter resistance bands being of a light-color and the bands offering greater resistance, colored dark.
Care and Safety Precautions:
  • Frequently check resistance tubing for signs of wear. Discontinue use and replace if tubing is cracked, split, or paler in color in some areas than others.
  • Keep out of sunlight and away from weather exposure/temperature extremes (e.g., cold), which could compromise the integrity of the band.
Handheld Weights:
  • Build muscular strength, endurance, and power.
  • Improve body composition.
  • Body building (increase size of muscle).
  • Increase caloric expenditure during walks.
  • Enhance/maintain functional movement (see Stability Ball uses above).

Cost: typically $1 per pound (e.g., 2-pound weight costs about $2 and 10-pound weight costs about $10)

What to look for when buying:
  • The handle should fit comfortably in your hand and be constructed in such a way as to provide friction for a better grip.
  • Practice various weight-lifting exercises in the store to ensure the purchase of an appropriate weight for your ability. The weight chosen should allow you to complete a set of 8-12 repetitions without straining, but should be challenging.
Care and Safety Precautions:
  • Consider purchasing a dumbbell rack for storage of weights when not in use.
  • Do not drop weights after sets.
  • Remember to breath during exercises (exhale when you exert the force).

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Making Friends with Fat

Fat - is it friend or foe to the active individual? In the past, fat has been demonized by nutritionists and health care professionals alike because of its link to an increased risk for chronic disease. A high-fat diet (more than 70% of total caloric intake) does not bode well for the competitive athlete and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), along with the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Dietitians of Canada (DC), in their Joint Position Stand on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, recommend against it. But, a certain amount of fat, and from the right source, is necessary for proper functioning of your body, whether you are physically active or not. The ACSM, ADA, and DC state in their joint position stand that consuming less than 20% of your total caloric intake from fat does not enhance athletic performance. Fat should be a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Why do you need fat in your diet?
  • Fat is a constituent of cell membranes.
  • Fat is needed in the production of hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.
  • Fat is needed for the storage of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K.
  • It is a source of essential fatty-acids.
  • It is a source of energy/fuel for your body.
What are the different types of fat?
  • Saturated fats are fatty acids whose carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature (lard, butter, etc.,). They can be categorized as long- or medium-chain saturated fats and are metabolized differently by your body. Long-chain saturated fats, found in foods such as bacon, are linked with higher LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels. Medium-chain saturated fats, such as found in coconut oil, are metabolized by the liver to provide energy for the body and are not linked with increased LDL values. They are associated with health-promoting characteristics, such as protection against heart disease and aiding in weight loss. Some even purport that medium-chain saturated fatty acids may improve athletic performance because of the means by which they are metabolized by your body. Food sources of medium-chain saturated fats should be chosen over those with long-chain saturated fatty acids.
  • Monounsaturated fats are fatty acids that have one carbon molecule that isn't bound to hydrogen. They are typically liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated, start to solidify. Olive and canola oils are examples of monounsaturated fats. When the diet is low in saturated fat, monounsaturated fats can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and lower your LDL levels.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are fatty acids that have more than one carbon molecule that are not bound to hydrogen. These fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated. They include such oils as sesame and sunflower. Polyunsaturated fats have been linked with improved cholesterol levels.
  • Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been altered by adding hydrogen atoms so that they remain solid at room temperature. These include your hydrogenated vegetable oils that are found in margarine. Trans fats raise both total and LDL cholesterol levels while lowering your HDL ("good" cholesterol) values.
How much fat should you consume per day?
  • Total fat consumption should not exceed 20-35% of your total energy intake, which is dependent upon your age, activity level, and body weight goals. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that if you are overweight, you should not consume more than 30% of your total daily caloric intake from fat.
  • The AHA recommends that your intake of saturated fats should not exceed 7 percent of your total daily caloric intake.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that intake of unsaturated fatty acids should comprise approximately 10% each from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources of your total daily energy intake.
  • Consumption of trans fats is strongly discouraged and should not exceed more than 1% of your total daily calories.
Healthy sources of fat:
  • Olive, soybean, canola, sunflower, and coconut oils
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Fish, such as salmon and tuna
  • Seeds, such as sunflower and flaxseed
  • Nuts, such as almonds

Sensibly including fat in your diet can help you to achieve optimal health. Diets extremely low in fat have been linked to depression, nutrient deficiencies, low energy levels, poor concentration, and even weight gain. Fat can be the active individual's friend when consumed from healthy sources and in the right proportions.


Food for Fitness, Eat Right to Train Right, 2004, Carmichael, C.

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M.

OnFitness, November/December 2009, pp.68-69, "Fat Science."

Joint Position Statement Nutrition and Athletic Performance, The American College of Sports Medicine, The American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Diet and Mood: Which is Better - Low-Carb or Low-Fat?

In regards to weight loss, both low-carb and low-fat diets seem to tip the scale the same after a year; but, to feel as if a load has been lifted from your shoulders, you may want to follow a low-fat diet, according to a new study published in the November 9, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. After studying 106 overweight and obese individuals for one year, researchers found that those who followed a low-fat diet versus a low-carbohydrate diet experienced greater improvements on measures of mood, despite a similar net weight loss between the two groups. There was no difference between the two diet plans for effects on working memory and speed of processing measures of cognitive function.

During the year of study, investigators measured body weight, mood, and cognitive function of participants at weeks 8, 24, 40, and 52. Each participant met with a dietitian every two weeks for the first eight weeks and then once a month. During these meetings, dietary recommendations were given regarding meal plans and recipe information related to the diet (low-fat or low-carb) that the participant was to follow.

Mood was determined from the results of 3 questionnaires (Profile of Mood States, Beck Depression Inventory, and Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory). Both groups had similar scores on the questionnaires at baseline and both showed improvements in mood after the first 8 weeks of the study. As the investigation continued over the year, the mood scores of subjects following the low-fat diet continued to progress and stabilize, whereas the scores of those consuming the low-carb diet started to return back toward baseline.

The investigators offer the following explanations for the different effect on mood between the two diets:
  • Subjects were randomly assigned to either the low-fat or low-carb diet groups without consideration of individual food preferences. Because the traditional dietary recommendations for the Western society is a high-carbohydrate diet, those delegated to the low-carb group may have found it to be more "isolating" to follow the dietary recommendations which would have negatively affected mood state.
  • The low-carb diet could have resulted in negative physiological changes in serotonin and neurotrophic factors. Findings of other studies have established a link between low serotonin levels and the presence of depression and anxiety. The researchers explain that while a high intake of carbohydrates can increase serotonin levels, high intakes of fat and protein can decrease concentrations. Investigators also point to the exponential link between brain-derived neurotrophic levels and mood, noting that high-fat diets decrease brain-derived neurotrophic levels.
The authors of the study conclude that further investigation into the effects of the two diets on a wider range of cognitive function (e.g., attention, executive function, and short- and long-term memory) is needed.

Arch Intern Med. 2009:169(20):1873-1880

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Integrating Mind and Body for Optimal Well-being

Performing the Brain Gym exercise, the Cross Crawl, led by Kelly Hale (center, left), founder and director of Inspired Wellness, Birmingham, Michigan.

Do you feel overwhelmed? Are you having a hard time focusing? Are your thoughts scattered? Is stress paralyzing you? Do you feel that your performance on a day-to-day basis, whether it be at work or in recreational pursuits, can be enhanced? Brain Gym*, a movement-based learning program developed by Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., educator and co-founder of Brain Gym International with wife Gail E. Dennison, has been touted as a means by which individuals can optimize their functional ability.

The Brain Gym program originated as a set of activities used to help children overcome their learning disabilities and since has expanded into a method by which individuals of all ages and walks-of-life can improve upon a wide variety of abilities such as comprehension, organization, communication, and athletic skills. Brain Gym courses are offered in schools, senior centers, and wellness facilities throughout the United States and world-wide in over 90 countries. This last weekend, I had the opportunity to experience a basic course of Brain Gym at Inspired Wellness in Birmingham, Michigan, as part of their "Staying Connected to Peace and Optimism in Uncertain Times" gift course offering.

Kelly Hale MS, OTR, IMTp, founder and director of Inspired Wellness, led the class. Hale states that the premise of the Brain Gym exercises, a set of 26 simple physical activities, is that "movement facilitates learning ...[the program] organizes and integrates the mind and body." This "enhanced learning through movement" has been coined as Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K) by the founders of Brain Gym. They claim that these specific body movements stimulate your brain, optimizing its ability to store and recall information, which in turn enhances your day-to-day performance.

Advocates of the Brain Gym program believe that it helps to provide "balance" within oneself and with the world around you. Hale describes it as "the art and science of noticing. It helps you to feel, connect, integrate, and process emotions." The Edu-K process, led by a trained Brain Gym instructor, requires you to identify a goal - a task that you wish to accomplish or an area in your life that you feel can be improved. The instructor will then devise an individual program utilizing a variety of the 26 exercises to help you develop the mental and physical framework needed to achieve your goal. The exercises are fairly simple to perform and can be easily modified for those individuals with physical limitations. They can be performed in the morning, on your lunch break, at work, or incorporated into the warm-up or cool-down phase of your exercise session.

An example of a Brain Gym exercise is the Cross Crawl in which you are required to alternate bringing your right wrist to your left knee with bringing your left wrist to your right knee. The purpose of this activity is to simultaneously stimulate both the right and left hemispheres of your brain, which is thought to optimize your learning potential. Addendum 11/11/09: The creators of the Brain Gym program believe that by crossing your body's midline during the Cross Crawl exercise, you integrate the right and left hemispheres of your brain. And, that this integration enhances the network of communication and flow of information between the two sides, thus improving your ability to learn.

Another Brain Gym activity is Brain Buttons. This exercise involves placing one hand over your navel while, with your other hand, press your index finger and thumb just below your collar bone on either side of your sternum. The creators of Brain Gym claim that this activity increases the blood flow and oxygen supply to your brain which, in turn, enhances your concentration skills.

If Brain Gym sounds like a program that will work for you, or if you would like more information on the topic, contact Inspired Wellness at (248) 988-8098 or visit them at They will be offering an Integrated Mat class that will combine Brain Gym with Pilates on Friday, November 27, 2009. Inspired Wellness is located at 1185 South Adams, Birmingham, Michigan, 48009.

Note: Although my one-time personal experience with the Brain Gym program was beneficial and productive, my research of the literature regarding Brain Gym found that more studies investigating the effectiveness of this program need to be conducted, so individual results may vary.

*Brain Gym is a registered trademark of Brain Gym International/Educational Kinesiology Foundation, Ventura, CA.


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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pass the Chicken Noodle Soup, Please!

Chicken noodle soup has been purported to alleviate symptoms of the common cold and to improve digestion. Deemed as a comfort food by many, it is even said to "warm the soul." But did you know that it may help you stay hydrated during exercise? The results of a study published in the November 2009 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicate that it might.

Nineteen college-age subjects underwent three testing sessions, each separated by at least one week, during which a different liquid, (chicken noodle soup, water, and a commercially-prepared carbohydrate-electrolyte drink) was consumed 45 minutes prior to exercise (90 minutes of steady-state exercise followed by a 5 minute rest and then participation in a physical performance task). Fluid balance during the exercise was improved after 355 ml (1 1/2 cups) of chicken noodle soup was consumed in comparison to the trials during which either water or the carbohydrate-electrolyte drink was consumed. The enhanced fluid balance associated with the soup consumption was achieved through an increased rate of water intake ad libitum (i.e., as one so wishes) during exercise and a decreased amount of water lost in urine.

The investigators noted that a higher plasma osmolality occurred with the consumption of the chicken noodle soup, which has a greater electrolyte concentration (sodium content) compared to water. They state that the higher plasma osmolality was the driving force behind the greater water intake ad libitum, which in turn, led to the improved fluid balance. In addition, the researchers sited findings of previous research that indicate when fluids with high electrolyte concentrations (such as chicken noodle soup) are consumed before exercise, the body conserves the ingested water during the physical activity. This fluid retention contributes to improved fluid balance.

The investigators of the current study did not note an effect on physical performance when chicken noodle soup was consumed compared to the water and carbohydrate-electrolyte drink trials. However, they suggest that the greater water intake and subsequent improved fluid balance may postpone the onset of exercise-induced dehydration during an extended exercise session and/or physical activity in a hot and humid environment. The researchers conclude that chicken noodle soup is an acceptable alternative for improving hydration status during aerobic exercise.

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 41, Number 11, November 2009, pp .2017-2025, "Effect of Preexercise Electrolyte Ingestion on Fluid Balance in Men and Women," Johannsen, N.M. et al,.

Nourishing Traditions, 2001, Fallon, S.

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kitchen Staple Essentials for the Physically Active

A well-stocked kitchen can help you to meet your weight management and exercise training goals. Packing your cupboards and icebox full of healthy food staples will provide you with the needed ingredients to prepare well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals. A sufficiently prepared pantry can also aid in the creation of quick meals and snacks for those hectic, on-the-go days.

Regular exercise taxes your metabolic system, increasing your nutritional requirements. There are certain "fitness foods" that no kitchen of the physically active should be without. These healthy pantry staples provide the essential building blocks for fueling and repairing your physically active body and should serve as the base of your meals. Below is a list of "fitness foods" that you should keep on hand.

Healthy Pantry Staples
  • Dried Beans: These supply your body with protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Furthermore, they are relatively low in fat and contain no cholesterol. A diet that is abundant in this healthy staple can help to decrease cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar values in diabetics, and lower the risk of certain cancers. Dried lentils are a good choice if you are short on time because they do not require soaking overnight before cooking.
  • Whole Grains: The fiber content of this "fitness food" group can help with weight management by providing a sensation of fullness with a consumption of fewer calories. Whole grains are a low-fat source of the protein and complex carbohydrates that are needed for repairing muscle tissue and replenishing glycogen stores after a training session. Quinoa is a good choice because it is a complete protein (contains all eight essential amino acids) and is a good source of iron.
  • Healthy Oils: Although you should not consume a high-fat diet, your body does require a certain amount of fat to carry out numerous metabolic processes. The type of fat you consume is of importance in regard to your health. You will want to stock your pantry with an oil that is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. Extra-virgin olive oil is a good choice because it has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and has a protective effect against heart disease.
  • Spices: Cinnamon has been linked with improved fasting blood sugar levels of diabetics. Sprinkle it over your morning oatmeal or use it as a flavoring for roasted nuts. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Use it to flavor brown rice or other whole grain dishes.
  • Canned Tuna: Albacore tuna fish is an excellent source of protein and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Mix a can of tuna fish with whole-grain pasta for a post-exercise meal.
  • Canned Tomatoes: This "fitness food" pantry staple can be used to make salsas, sauces, and soups. Thanks to the lycopene content, tomatoes offer protection against certain cancers (lung, colon, breast, prostate, and skin) and reduce the risk for heart disease.
  • Nut and Seed Butters: A great source of protein, nut and seed butters can be spread on whole grain bread, mixed with hot cereal, or used in sauces to top whole grain noodles or rice.
Healthy Icebox Staples
  • Soybeans (Edamame): Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber. They are also high in carbohydrate. Edamame can be tossed in a mixed-greens salad or eaten alone as a healthy snack.
  • Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: These icebox staples are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They also help with weight management due to their fiber content. Frozen fruit can be used to make smoothies and frozen vegetables can be added to soups and sauces.
Useful Kitchen Appliances for Healthy Meal Preparation
  • Blender: This kitchen appliance assists in making on-the-go meals and snacks, such as fruit smoothies. Vegetable purees for soups and sauces can be made with a blender as well.
  • Crock Pot: A friend of the "short-of-time" individual, the crock pot allows you to toss in healthy ingredients in the morning for a delicious meal that will be cooked and ready by the time you get home from work.

Food for Fitness, Eat Right to Train Right, 2004, Carmichael, C.

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Are you Guilty of Making a Fitness Center Faux Pas?

Have you gotten a little too comfortable while exercising at the gym? Fitness centers are great places for developing and fostering relationships with those who share your enthusiasm for living a healthy lifestyle. If you are a regular attendee, the health club can feel like your "home-away-from-home," a place where you can go to release the day's stresses, relax, and just plain "veg-out" while you are in the "zone." But, sometimes you can get so comfortable that you forget you are in a public place, and that there is a code of exercise etiquette that you must follow.

Each fitness and health center will have its own rules to ensure the safety and enjoyment of its members. But, there are some general guidelines of which you should be aware.

An Exerciser's Code of Etiquette
  • Personal Hygiene: While you needn't feel you have to take a shower immediately prior to coming to workout, you should ensure your body odor is kept to a minimum by refreshing with deodorant or baby powder. Try to avoid heavily scented colognes and perfumes which may be bothersome to fellow exercisers, and even trigger asthma symptoms for some.
  • Be Quiet: Use your "indoor voice." Carrying on loud conversations or yelling to a buddy across the room can be annoying to those who are trying to focus on their workout. Grunting while lifting weights can be bothersome to others as well. Avoid slamming or dropping the weights. It is disruptive to those around you and can damage the exercise equipment or lead to injury (note: if you find it difficult to control the weight you are lifting, it means the load is too great and you need to decrease it).
  • Wipe the Sweat: Towel off the exercise equipment after you have used it. Make sure you wipe all areas where your sweat has fallen, such as seats, handles, and even the floor surrounding the machine to prevent slip-and-falls. Some facilities will provide disinfectant wipes to clean the equipment after use. Don't forget to periodically wipe the sweat off of yourself. Your fellow exerciser doesn't want your sweat to be accidently dripped on them.
  • Share the Equipment: Switch users between sets when weight training. That is, take a rest while another fitness center member lifts. If the next machine in your circuit is in use, patiently wait until the person has finished lifting, then ask if you can share. If you interrupt them in middle of a set, they could lose concentration which could lead to injury.
  • Respect Time Limits for Equipment Use: Most fitness centers have time limits for machines during peak hours. Typically the time limit ranges between 20-30 minutes. If you have reached the limit, be courteous and let another exerciser use the machine - you can always come back to it later.
  • Return Exercise Equipment to its Proper Place: Leaving equipment, such as free weights, on the ground can be a safety hazard. In addition, if the equipment is not put back where it belongs, others will not know where to find it when they want to use it.
  • Silence your Cell Phone: You are at the health center to get fit, not talk. Either turn off your portable phone or put it on the silent mode. Your yoga classmates and instructor will be appreciative!
  • Wear Proper Attire: For most facilities this means wear a shirt, shorts/pants, socks, and shoes. Female members should inquire if wearing an exercise bra counts as a shirt, or if they need to cover it with a t-shirt.
Other Etiquette Points to Consider
  • Avoid abusive or foul language
  • Do not bring food and drink (other than water) into the fitness center. Use spill-proof water bottles.
  • If you will be bringing your own towel from home to wipe the equipment after use, make sure it is clean.
  • Do not try to engage others in conversations if they are trying to focus on their routine.
Typically, your exercise facility will have a code of conduct posted throughout the center. If not, contact the gym's general manager for a list of rules. Be respectful and courteous to your fellow exercisers and avoid offensive behaviors. If another gym member is discourteous, kindly remind them to be respectful. If they do not respond to your tactful prompting, seek the aid of a staff member or the manager.

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

MSN Health & Fitness, "5 Rules of Gym Etiquette, learn how not to wear out your welcome," Kaiyala, K.

Every Day Health Network, "Health Club Etiquette 101, when working out at a health club or gym, keep in mind some basic rules of common courtesy," Rodriguez, D.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cold Weather Exercise Myths

As the temperature drops and the warm days of summer become a distant memory, winter sport enthusiasts are gearing up for another season of outdoor exercise. If you are one to relish cold weather fitness activities, there are a few myths on which you need to put the "deep freeze" before you head outdoors.

Myth #1: Dehydration is not a concern when exercising in cold weather.
  • Dehydration is as much of a concern during cold weather exercise as it is with warm weather exercise.
  • Large amounts of water are lost through respiration during exercise in a cold environment. Your body needs to warm and humidify the cold, dry air that you inhale. Water is lost as you exhale the warmed and humidified air.
  • If you wear heavy, impermeable clothing, large amounts of water can be lost through excessive sweating.
  • Your thirst response is blunted in cold weather, making it less likely for you to feel the need to drink during and after the exercise - even when your body has lost significant amounts of water from the activity.
  • There may be a tendency to purposely abstain from drinking fluids before heading outdoors in an attempt to avoid having to use the bathroom, and hence, needing to shed the many layers of clothing in order to do so. Therefore, your body is not adequately hydrated before you start the activity.
Solution: Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your exercise session. Drinking hot cocoa or spiced apple cider after you exercise is a good way to get both the fluid and carbohydrates that your body needs to replenish its stores.

Myth #2: I am not at risk for developing hyperthermia during cold weather exercise.
  • A common mistake of winter sport enthusiasts is to dress too warmly and to wear heavy, impermeable clothing. Improper attire can trap the heat produced by your exercising body, putting you at risk for developing a heat illness.
Solution: Dress in layers so that you can add or remove articles of clothing as needed to maintain your core body temperature. The base layer (closest to your body) should be made of a material that wicks away moisture from your body, such as polypropylene. The mid-layer material should provide insulation, as well as wick away moisture. Fleece is a good option for this. The outer layer should be breathable, but waterproof to protect against the elements. An outer layer that has venting features, such as armpit zippers, is a good choice.

Myth #3: I do not need sunscreen during cold weather outdoor activities.
  • Even during the cooler months of the year, you are at risk for developing a sunburn when exercising outdoors. This is especially true when the activities are performed in the snow, which reflects the sun back at you.
Solution: Wear a sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher. The sunscreen should block both UVA and UVB rays. Protect your lips by using a lip balm that contains sunscreen.

Keep your cold weather exercise routine safe this season. Stay hydrated, dress in layers, and wear sunscreen.

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

"Exercise and cold weather: Stay motivated, fit and safe" by Mayo Clinic staff

ACSM Fit Society Page, Winter 2005, p. 5-6, "Winter and Nutrition: Fueling for Cold Weather Exercise," Clark, N.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fiber for the Fit and Active

Naturally fiber-rich foods are not typically at the top of the list of choices for preparing and serving a meal that would be considered to be enticing to the palate. For a great number of individuals, the suggestion of increasing daily fiber intake triggers boring thoughts of eating a bowl full of tasteless bran flakes - to many, that is not a very exciting proposition. Perhaps that, along with the gastrointestinal discomfort that can be associated with consuming too much fiber or increasing its intake too quickly, can explain why most of us consume less than half of the recommended daily amount.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests that adults ages 50 years and younger consume 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams of fiber per day for men. As a result of eating fewer calories in general, women and men over the age of 50 years should eat 21 and 30 grams of fiber per day, respectively. Your goal should be to try to consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories ingested.

Fiber can be classified as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, whereas insoluble fiber does not. Foods rich in soluble fiber include oat bran, brown rice, barley, and certain fruits (e.g., plums) and vegetables (e.g., broccoli). Whole grain cereals and breads, wheat and corn bran, nuts, and seeds are examples of sources rich in insoluble fiber.

Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet offers many health benefits. These include:
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Better blood sugar control in diabetics
  • Improved digestive tract health
  • Decreased risk for certain cancers (e.g., colon)
  • Weight management
Eating foods rich in fiber can help to provide and boost energy levels. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. If you are an active individual, the source of fiber, as well as the timing of its consumption, can have an effect on your exercise performance. Consume fiber-rich carbohydrates such as barley, rolled oats, or whole grain brown rice and pasta before a training session. These sources will provide you with the sustained energy needed to complete your workout. Eating fiber-rich beans and lentils as part of a high-carbohydrate, post-exercise meal will provide you with the protein needed for repairing muscle tissue damaged during the physical activity.

To make your transition to a higher-fiber diet more tolerable, follow these tips:
  • Gradually increase your fiber intake - adding too much too soon can lead to symptoms of bloating, cramping, and flatulence
  • Increase fluid intake, particularly water, to avoid constipation (fiber absorbs water from you gastrointestinal tract)
A fiber-rich diet does not have to lack flavor. Try these meal suggestions for increasing your dietary fiber:

Quinoa-Stuffed Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 medium-size red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 TBS. chopped nuts
  • 2 TBS. reduced-fat feta cheese or parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 TBS. chopped green onion
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare quinoa according to directions on package. Mix quinoa, nuts, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in small bowl. Set aside. Remove stem and seeds from bell pepper. Cook bell pepper in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool about 2 minutes. In the meantime, add cheese to the quinoa mixture. Stuff the bell pepper with the quinoa mixture. Place on baking sheet and cook in oven for 10 minutes or until warm. Serve immediately.

Apricot Broccoli Pasta Salad
  • one 16 oz. box of favorite whole-grain pasta, cooked
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli, cooked
  • 1 cup chopped, dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (or chopped walnuts)
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 TBS shaved or shredded parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix orange juice and oil in small bowl. Set aside. Combine pasta, broccoli, apricots, and almonds in large bowl. Add oil/orange juice mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.

Food for Fitness, Eat Right to Train Right, 2004, Carmichael, C.

Bicycling, December 2009, p. 36, "Nature's Cleanser," Bastone, K.

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