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. 

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Step Into The New Year With One Of These Walking Routines

If you are looking for a simple, inexpensive physical activity that can be done pretty much anywhere and anytime to help you stay true to your New Year's Resolution to get fit, try walking. All it takes is a total of 30 minutes of walking per day to reap health benefits. Walking is convenient. You can walk alone, with a partner, outside, in the mall, at the gym, even around the inside of your own home.

The gear needed for walking is minimal. You just need comfortable clothes and a good pair of walking shoes that provide good arch support and have a flexible sole and a cushioned heel. Walking poles are optional, but can increase the amount of calories you burn as well as provide stability (balance). A pedometer is a good motivational tool and can help you to track your progress, but it isn't necessary.

What is the best walking routine for you?*

Novice Walker
  • Aim for a 2-3 mph pace for your workout walk.
  • Warm-up for 5 minutes by walking at a 1-2 mph pace, gradually increasing the intensity of your walk throughout the warm-up until you reach your workout pace.
  • Depending on your tolerance, walk at your workout pace for 10-30 minutes. If you have never exercised before, you may find it easier to start with 10 minute segments, 3 times a day. You can then gradually increase the the duration of your walking sessions by 10-20% every two weeks until you achieve your goal.
  • Cool-down for 5 minutes by gradually decreasing the pace of your walk until your heart rate returns to its resting level.
Intermediate Walker
  • Aim for a 3-4 mph pace for your workout walk.
  • Warm-up for 5 minutes by walking at a 2-3 mph pace, gradually increasing the intensity of your walk throughout your warm-up until you reach your workout pace.
  • For a total of 30 minutes, perform 6 sets that consist of walking for 3 minutes at a 4 mph pace followed by walking for 2 minutes at a 3 mph pace.
  • Cool-down for 5-10 minutes by gradually decreasing the pace of your walk until your heart rate returns to its resting level.
Advanced Walker
  • Aim for a 3.5-5 mph pace for your workout walk.
  • Warm-up for 5 minutes by walking at a 2-3 mph pace, gradually increasing the intensity of your walk throughout your warm-up until you reach your workout pace.
  • For a total of 30-40 minutes, perform 6-8 sets that consist of walking for 3 minutes at a 5 mph pace followed by walking for 2 minutes at a 3.5 mph pace.
  • Cool-down for 5-10 minutes by gradually decreasing the pace of your walk until your heart rate returns to its resting level.
*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.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fitting In Exercise When You Are Caring For Children

Child-rearing is rewarding, but demanding - leaving little time for you to do anything else, especially exercise. I agree that finding the time, and the energy, for a workout under these circumstances is far from easy, but it can be done. As a parent, I have had to be very creative to remain physically active with kids underfoot, particularly during the newborn through kindergarten years. In addition to reducing your risk for chronic disease, being physically fit while caring for children provides you with many health benefits. These include:
  • Increased stamina
  • Weight management, particularly for post-partum mothers
  • Reduces post-partum depression
  • Stress management/emotional outlet
  • Increases muscular strength and endurance
Exercise Options:
  • Join a fitness facility that offers childcare services while you exercise. This option not only provides you with access to exercise equipment and your choice of fitness classes, but can provide you with an hour or so of much needed "me time." Furthermore, working out at a gym renders a social outlet as you interact with staff and other gym members.
  • Join or create your own parent fitness group/circle. Many cities, fitness facilities, and even fitness stores offer exercise programs specifically for parents of young children. The range of formality of these groups can vary greatly with something as laid back as a group of friends going for daily walks with their kids in strollers to an instructor led "mommy and me" class.
  • Exercise DVDs/video tapes. A great option for parents who cannot, or choose not to, spend money on a gym membership or a"mommy and me" exercise class. An advantage of using exercise media for your workout is that it gives you the flexibility to "sneak" in activity while your child naps or is preoccupied with another activity. Renting from your local library will allow you to discover which DVD/tape gives you the best workout. Then, you can buy the one you like from the store.
  • Hire a sitter. Make "date night" a fitness adventure. Instead of going to a dinner and a movie, plan a long walk in the park.
  • Exchange childcare. Tell a family member, friend or neighbor with kids that you will watch their children while they exercise if they will do the same for you.
  • Alternate exercise days with your significant other. I have a friend who would alternate days of exercise with her husband. While one went out for a run, the other would stay home with the baby. This agreement guaranteed each of them 3-4 days of exercise per week.
  • Make exercise part of playtime with the kids. For example, during the winter months, I would bundle up my young children, put them in a sled, and walk the perimeter of my backyard while towing them behind me. To keep their interest, I would have them count how many steps it took me to walk one lap or count how many seconds it took for us to reach the opposite side of the yard. Afterwards, we would all go inside and drink hot chocolate.
  • Make exercise time family time. During the warmer months you can go on family bike rides. The older kids can ride their bikes next to you and younger ones can ride in seats or carriages behind you. During winter months, consider family ski weekends or a day of ice skating at your local ice arena.
Achieving and maintaining physical fitness is sure to be a challenge when you have to care for young children. However, with a little research into programs that may be available to you in your community and a little creativity, it can be acquired. Don't get discouraged if your workouts are not as intense or as long as they were prior to children. What is important is that you get in as much as you can for what your circumstances allow. Eventually, the demands of child-rearing will lessen, increasing your opportunities for longer workout sessions.

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.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Divide and Conquer": Tips to Maintain your Fitness and Health Resolutions Throughout the New Year

To "divide and conquer" is a strategy of which the premise is to overcome an entity by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable components. The key to successfully achieving your goals for the New Year lies in the utilization of this approach. Too often a good intention to improve overall health is abandoned because the initial goal was set too high.

When making a New Year's resolution to improve your fitness and health, break it down into both short- and long-term goals. Each goal should be challenging, yet attainable. Setting goals in this manner increases your chances of success and, therefore, leads to enhanced self-esteem. Achieving your smaller, short-term goals will motivate you to strive toward reaching your long-term goal.

Principles to follow when making a New Year's resolution to improve your fitness and health include:
  • Be specific: Instead of saying "I want to become more active," say "I will add 10 minutes of exercise to each day of the week for the first week."
  • Set goals that can be measured: Monitor your progress by writing down on your calendar the days on which you actually were able to exercise for 10 minutes. This will help you to troubleshoot if there are days that you consistently fall short of your goal. For instance, if you are always missing your workout on Tuesday's because of a weekly meeting, either designate that day as a day off or add an additional 5 minutes of exercise to Mondays and Wednesdays.
  • Be realistic: Zeal and enthusiasm are important mentalities to have when it comes to compliance with exercise or, for that matter, any healthy habit. However, starting out too hard and too fast will lead to burnout, nipping in the bud any motivation you may have about enhancing your health and well-being. If weight loss is your long-term goal, then a good short-term goal may not be to lose weight initially, but rather, to adopt healthier eating habits. For instance, if 3 of your meals in a week are from a restaurant, set your short-term goal to be that you will only eat out once a week for the first month.
  • Create definite deadlines: Achievement of your goals should be date-specific. For example, if your goal is to run 3 miles then say "I want to be able to run 3 miles by March 31, 2010." Then create a series of date-specific short-term goals to help you achieve this goal.
Other factors to keep in mind when creating a New Year's resolution to improve your fitness and overall health include:
  • View a setback as a time of discovery. Figure out what went wrong and devise a strategy to overcome the problem.
  • Set a date to reevaluate your short- and long-term goals. Instilling regular progress checks will help to either confirm that you are heading in the right direction, or give you an opportunity to make appropriate changes to your plan to avoid getting discouraged in the long run.
  • Elicit support. Don't just limit this network to family and friends, seek the services of professionals whose expertise can help you stay on track, such as a personal trainer, exercise physiologist, nutritionist, physician, etc.
Maintaining your New Year's resolution will require daily effort. Following a healthy lifestyle is an endeavor that may not always be easy, but is one that is sure to bring benefits.

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.

ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Sixth Edition, p. 700.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The ABC's of a Healthy and Fit Life

For the holidays, my in-laws gave us a plaque on which "The ABC's of Life" are inscribed. The plaque's sentiment inspired me to develop a set of ABC's for a life full of health and fitness. These little lessons are great reminders that we need to assume responsibility for our own well-being by actively incorporating healthy habits into our lives daily.

As a child I assumed that adulthood meant an end to learning and evolving as an individual. As an adult, I realize that personal growth has no end. As you embark on a new year, resolve to adopt a life strategy that boasts a healthful return.

The ABC's of a Healthy and Fit Life:
  • Always strive to be healthy
  • Balance your workouts to include aerobic endurance, strength, and flexibility exercises
  • Cardiovascular fitness protects against many chronic diseases
  • Dare to challenge yourself
  • Eat a varied, nutrient-dense diet
  • Find ways to make exercise fun
  • Give yourself a day off to allow your body to repair and rebuild
  • Health is not just a physical state, but a frame of mind
  • Intake of calories should equal energy expended
  • Justify taking time to exercise
  • Keep focused on your short- and long-term goals
  • Listen to your body
  • Manage stress
  • Never give up
  • Overcome life's obstacles with a strong social network/support system
  • Plan for contingencies
  • Question healthcare products that sound "too good to be true"
  • Respect yourself for who you are
  • Schedule physical activity into your daily routine
  • Take one day at a time
  • Understand that change is a process
  • Visit your doctor annually
  • Walking is the simplest and easiest form of exercise for most individuals
  • X is the Roman numeral for 10 - as little as 10 minutes of exercise, 3 times a day will bring health benefits
  • Yesterday's obstacle can become today's springing board
  • Zero excuses to not increase your physical activity

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Holiday Number Crunch

Holiday celebrations and feasts should be a time when you can indulge yourself a little. Enjoying the rich foods of the season is acceptable as long as it is done in moderation. Before you reach for that second (or third or fourth) helping of seasonal delights, consider the additional physical activity required to burn off the extra calories.*
  • 1 gingerbread cookie (1 oz., refrigerated cookie dough - 140 calories) requires 15 minutes of snow shoeing
  • 1 slice of roasted regular boneless ham (3 oz. - 151 calories) requires 23 minutes of ice skating
  • 1 slice of homemade cornbread (65 g - 173 calories) requires 21 minutes of cross country skiing
  • 1 cup of homemade mashed potatoes (with whole milk and butter - 223 calories) requires 34 minutes of ice skating
  • 1 cup of eggnog (regular - 343 calories) requires 41 minutes of cross country skiing
  • 1 slice of homemade pecan pie (1/6 of an 8" pie - 452 calories) requires 54 minutes of cross country skiing
*Estimates are for a 150 pound individual under the assumption that snow shoeing is performed at an 8 MET capacity, cross country skiing done at a 7.0 MET capacity, and ice skating executed at a 5.5 MET capacity.

The Diet Detective's Count Down, 2007, Platkin, C.S.

Bowes & Churches Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 18th edition, 2005, Pennington, J.A.T. and Douglass, J.S.

Compendium of Physical Activities

ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 8th edition

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

5 Quick Fitness Fixes for Stress During the Holiday Celebration

Irritability, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles, headache, upset stomach - we all have experienced at least one of these symptoms when under stress. The best approach in managing stress is to take measures to avoid or prevent the triggers. But, sometimes that just is not possible, especially during a holiday celebration when family and friends are gathered in close quarters. For these situations, you need to arm yourself with "in-the-moment" coping techniques that offer a break in the stress cycle. Below you will find 5 stress-reducing moves that will help you to "blow off steam" (and get a little exercise) so that the only thing you will notice bubbling over this holiday season is the champagne.
  • Stretch It Out: When muscles are tense, a good stretch will work wonders. For tight neck muscles, place your arms behind your back and slowly tilt your head to the right until you feel the stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold the stretch for a count of 10. Repeat the exercise to the left. Next bring your chin toward your chest and hold for a count of 10 (you should feel the stretch in the back of your neck). If you are experiencing tension in your shoulders and upper back, then cross your arms in front of your body while bending forward at the hips. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Mountain Climber's Oasis: Have a little extra energy that needs to be burned off before everyone arrives? Take it to the stairs. Climb up and down the staircase for 5 minutes. No staircase? A porch stoop or raised hearth works just as well.
  • The Kitchen Is Your Gym: Is Aunt Mildred frowning upon the taste of your holiday feast? Excuse yourself from the table and perform 3 sets of 10 countertop push-ups in the kitchen. Need to get that serving tray from the top shelf of the cupboard? Perform 1 set of 10 heel raises before you do, then perform an additional 2 sets of 10 with it in your hands.
  • Fighter's Reprieve: Sometimes nothing would feel better than being able to give the ol' 1, 2, punch. Try this exercise to relieve the tension - while out of the way of others, assume a boxing position (feet staggered with knees slightly flexed and elbows bent at your sides with hands formed into fists). Into the air (or mattress or pillow - please not another person!), jab your right fist to the left, then your left fist to the right. Repeat this sequence until you have completed 10 punches per fist. Perform 3 sets. To increase your energy release, and to sneak in a little core strengthening, tighten your core stabilizers while performing this activity.
  • Laugh: While laughter is not often thought of as exercise, it really is. It requires contraction of your core stabilizers and facial muscles (and, if you are an animated laugher, even your arm and leg muscles). Intense laughter raises your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow during the episode. After a bout of laughter, your muscles relax - this can last up to 45 minutes. Your blood pressure may be lower after laughing as well.
Stress doesn't have to put a damper on the holiday spirit. With a little planning to minimize triggers, and the development of a coping strategy, you should be able to enjoy the festivities of the season to the fullest.

Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCam, posted 06/26/2008, "Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes," Bennett, M.P. and Lengacher, C.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Magnesium Connection

Are you at risk for a magnesium deficiency? You could be if you are active, especially if you engage in intense exercise. Magnesium is lost through your sweat as you exercise. An increase in urinary output from vigorous physical activity also results in magnesium loss. According to the results of the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a large number of the general population fail to meet the Dietary Reference Intake (310-420 mg/day based on age and gender). This insufficient intake, in combination with intense exercise, increases your risk for developing a deficiency.

Magnesium has many roles in your body. It is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions according to The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Some of these include:
  • Nerve conduction
  • Muscle function
  • Regulation of heart rhythm and blood pressure
  • Energy metabolism
  • Protein synthesis
  • Regulation of insulin and blood sugar levels
  • Maintenance of a healthy immune system

Data from several studies have shown that athletes, particularly those involved in weight-class and body-conscious sports such as skating, gymnastics, ballet, wrestling, and tennis, have suboptimal levels of magnesium. Although more research needs to be conducted, there is some evidence to indicate that exercise endurance is affected by low levels of magnesium, with a deficiency increasing the body's need for oxygen at submaximal workloads.

Insufficient intake of magnesium is associated with an increased risk for chronic health conditions such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Researchers are investigating the role of magnesium in the prevention and management of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Factors that can lead to magnesium deficiency:
  • Insufficient intake
  • Older age - older adults tend to have a lower intake of magnesium compared to younger individuals, regardless of race and gender
  • Intense exercise
  • Exercising in hot and humid environments which promote greater sweating rates
  • Poor health of the digestive and kidney systems (magnesium is absorbed via the small intestines and excreted by the kidneys)
  • Certain medications can increase urinary excretion of magnesium, such as diuretics
  • Poorly-managed diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Stress
Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Feelings of stress are worsened
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Muscle spasms/cramps
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Depression/change in personality
The signs and symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency are general and can be the result of other medical conditions. Contact your physician if you are experiencing any of the above conditions. He or she will give you a thorough examination and may perform blood tests. You may also receive a referral to a nutritionist or registered dietitian who may give suggestions on how you can increase your intake of magnesium.

Some of the literature suggests that active individuals, especially those involved in intense exercise regimens, may benefit from an increase in magnesium intake by 10-20% above values recommended for the general population. Good food sources of magnesium include dark-green, leafy vegetables (spinach), legumes, nuts (almonds and cashews), and whole grains (oatmeal and wheat bran/germ).

The Coaches' Guide to Sports Nutrition, 2007, Benardot, D. and Thompson, W.R.

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, January/February 2008, Volume 12, Number 1, pp. 33-35, "Magnesium and Athletic Performance," Volpe, S.L.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"

ACSM, ADA, DC Joint Position Stand "Nutrition and Athletic Performance," 2009 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Build A Stronger Upper Back

A strong upper back will help you to perform your day-to-day tasks with greater ease. The muscles of your upper back, neck, shoulder, and scapular region are recruited when you have to perform home maintenance tasks (e.g., shoveling the snow and mopping the floors), child care activities (e.g., giving your baby or grandchild a bath), and other daily responsibilities (e.g., walking the dog). Even driving a car requires recruitment of these muscle groups.

Pictured below are some simple exercises devoted to strengthening and stretching your upper back muscles. No gym required. These exercises can be performed in your own home. All you need is a resistance band and a backless chair or bench.

Lat Pull-Down: Works upper back, scapular, and shoulder muscles. Strengthens neck stabilizers.
Step One: While holding the resistance band in both hands, extend your arms above your head, shoulder-width apart.
Step Two: Lower your arms behind your head, bringing your elbows toward your sides while you pull your hands apart. Hold for a count of 2. Return to starting position. Repeat. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Lateral Arm Raise: Works shoulder and arm muscles. Strengthens neck and scapula stabilizers.
Step One: Place your left arm behind your back, at hip level, with elbow bent. With the resistance band in both hands, extend your right arm about 6 inches away from your right hip.
Step Two: Raise your right arm to shoulder level, while maintaining the position of your left hand. Hold for a count of two. Return to the starting position. Repeat. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions per side.

Scapular Squeeze Stretch: Stretches upper back muscles.
Step One: Place your hands on your hips, with elbows bent and out to your sides.
Step Two: Pull your shoulders back, bringing your elbows toward each other while pushing your back forward. Hold for a count of 5. Return to the starting position. Repeat 3-4 times.

Lateral Stretch: Stretches neck, shoulder, and upper back (Latissimus Dorsi) muscles.
Technique: Bring your right arm up and behind your head. Hold your right elbow with your left hand. Bend to your left while you pull your right elbow to the left with your left hand. Hold for a count of 5. Relax. Repeat. Perform 3-4 exercises per side.

Another great upper back strengthening exercise is the seated horizontal row pictured in my July 17, 2009 post, "Sculpt your Upper Body in your Own Backyard: Session One." For information on proper lifting technique, refer to my June 3, 2009 post, "Tips for a Healthy Back."

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.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Foot Fitness 101

Few of us think about our feet when we envision obtaining stronger muscles. Many of us wish for bigger, stronger arm and leg muscles and a tighter stomach and buttocks. But, the muscles of your feet are just as important. Here are some interesting facts about your feet:
  • There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and 19 muscles in one foot.
  • Together, the bones in both feet account for about 1/4 of all the bones in your body.
  • The average individual takes approximately 8,000-10,000 steps per day, or about 3 million steps per year.
  • A force of 2-3 times your body weight is exerted on your feet with each step you take.
  • The results of a study by the American Podiatric Medical Association revealed that the feet of a 150 pound individual withstand a force of 63.5 tons per foot when walking just 1 mile.
  • It is estimated that 3 out of every 4 Americans will experience some type of foot problem in their lifetime.
Healthy, strong, and flexible feet can help you to achieve your fitness goals by reducing your risk of developing foot problems/discomfort. Below are some exercises that will help to prevent and alleviate foot ailments.

Golf Ball Roll: Alleviates arch discomfort, foot cramps, and plantar fasciitis (heel pain).
Technique: Place a golf ball (or other small ball) under the ball of one foot. Roll the ball front to back to massage the muscles on the bottom of your foot. Roll the ball for 2 minutes per foot.

Toe Curls: Alleviates toe cramps, discomfort in the ball of your foot, and symptoms of hammertoes.
Technique: Lay a small towel, such as a hand towel, on the floor. Place one foot on the towel. Slowly curl your toes, bringing the towel toward you (the towel should bunch beneath your foot). Relax your foot, straighten the towel and repeat the exercise. Perform 5-8 exercises per foot. Note: to increase the difficulty of this exercise, place a book on the end of the towel to increase the resistance.

Object Pick-Up: Alleviates toe cramps, discomfort in the ball of your foot, and symptoms of hammertoes.
Technique: Place a small object, such as a marble, in front of your foot. Pick it up between your toes. Place it in a bowl or to the side. Perform 10 exercises per foot.

Ankle Eversion (sole of your foot away from your midline) and Inversion (sole of your foot toward your midline) Resistance Exercise: Strengthens the muscles of your ankle and foot.
Technique: Place a resistance band under the ball of your foot. Next move your foot up and out. Hold for a count of 2. Return to the starting position. Then move your foot down and in. Hold for a count of 2. Return to the starting position. That is one set. Perform 5-8 sets per foot.

Foot Writing: Increases ankle range of motion.
Technique: Sit on the floor with one knee bent at 90 degrees and the other crossed over on top. With your foot of the leg on top, write your name (or perform ankle rotations clockwise, then counterclockwise). Relax. Perform 5-8 times per foot.

Walking is another great activity to promote foot health. It not only improves the blood flow to your feet, but it helps to manage body weight, reducing the load placed on your feet. A lack of proper foot care can lead to problems in the future. Keeping your feet healthy and strong is a step in the right direction for overall health.

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.


Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where are you on the Fitness Trail?

Yesterday, I received the program guide and registration form for ACSM's 14th Annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition to take place next April in Austin, Texas. The program cover presents a written challenge "Leave Your Fitness Footprint!". The inside cover inquires "What is your fitness footprint?". It expands upon this question by asking "Are you learning as much as you can and applying all the latest research... [in your life?]". They offer a further challenge to "expand... [and take it to the next level]".

These statements are directed toward the fitness professional in an attempt to motivate them to learn more in order to benefit their clients. However, these same challenges can be (and should be) presented to the general population. So I ask you "What has been your fitness footprint for the year 2009?" Did you start an exercise program? Did you expand upon an old routine? Did you challenge yourself by participating in a competition? Did you help others in need by running in a charity race? Did exercise help you to meet your weight loss goals, lower your blood pressure, or improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels?

Now I ask you how are you going to "expand...[and take it to the next level]" as you step into the year 2010? Perhaps you can engage in exercise more consistently. Or, maybe you can add weight training to your routine a few days a week. Better yet, you can enlist a currently inactive friend or family member to join you so that they can make their own fitness footprint in 2010.

Learn as much as you can about improving your health and fitness and apply that knowledge to your daily life. Doing so will allow you to leave a "fitness footprint" that reveals you are taking the proper "steps" on a path toward better health and well-being.

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.


Labels: ,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Take the "Ba, Humbug!" out of the Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time full of peace and good will. But, life is full of its ups and downs, regardless of the time of year. Normal demands of day-to-day living, as well as stress from the unexpected, don't wait for the season to pass, and can have a profound affect on your mood. If you are feeling a little bit like Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol these days, you don't need visits from ghosts to alter your state of mind, just a little exercise.

A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting last Spring in Seattle, Washington, found that participation in moderate-intensity exercise not only provides an immediate boost to your mood state, but that this positive frame of mind can last up to 12 hours post-exercise. This investigation from the University of Vermont, Burlington studied 48 healthy men and women whose ages ranged from 18-25 years. Participants were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a non-exercise group.

At the start of the study, all participants completed a standard questionnaire of mood, the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Those subjects who were in the exercise group pedaled on a stationary bike for 20 minutes at a workload that was 60% of their maximal effort. Subjects from both groups then completed the POMS again 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, & 24 hours later. Those individuals in the exercise group showed immediate improvements in mood state, with this enhancement lasting up to 12 hours post-exercise. No differences in positive affect were noted between genders or fitness levels.

What does this mean for you? If you need to mitigate the demands of the holidays, or stress from life in general, get active for at least 20 minutes. Remember, just 20 minutes can give you a mental boost that lasts longer than the average work day. To make the most of this positive frame of mind, exercise in the morning, when you can reap the benefits while you are awake during the day.

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.

Supplement to Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2009, Volume 41, Number 5, Section 1520, Board # 122 "Mood Enhancement Persists for up to 12 Hours Following Aerobic Exercise," Sibold, J.S. and Berg, K.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Improving Immunity Through Exercise

Give your immune system a boost this winter with a dose of exercise. The average individual can expect to experience 2-3 illnesses per year. A healthy immune system is needed to ward off invasions from pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, that you are exposed to on a daily basis.

Routinely engaging in moderate-intensity exercise can help to strengthen your body's defenses against infection and illness. Studies from the Appalachian State University in North Carolina have shown that walkers are up to 50% less likely to experience illnesses than their non-active counterparts. Moderate-intensity exercise has also been linked to less severe symptoms and faster recovery when an infection does take hold.

Factors that impair immune function:
  • Smoking
  • Sleep deprivation/fatigue
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Intense, exhaustive exercise/over-training
  • Advanced age

Effects of acute bouts of moderate-intensity exercise on immune function:
  • Boosts the activity of the "natural killer" (NK) cells (a type of white blood cell) which are your body's first line of defense against foreign bodies (germs). Without needing prior exposure to recognize foreign bodies, NK cells spontaneously inactivate pathogens that enter your body.
  • Increases the activity of macrophages (a type of white blood cell) that attack foreign bodies.
  • Effects from an acute bout of moderate-intensity exercise are temporary; but, when performed on a regular basis, will strengthen your immune function.
Effects of acute bouts of vigorous-intensity exercise on immune function:
  • Intense, prolonged, exhaustive exercise (90 minutes or more) is associated with an impairment of NK cell activity, suppressing your immune system for up to 72 hours post-exercise, making you more susceptible to infection during this time period (the "open window" hypothesis).
  • Increases stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which are thought to play a role in decreased NK cell activity, as well as suppressing the activity of other types of white blood cells (T- and B-cells).
Regular and consistent participation in moderate-intensity exercise can have an accumulative effect that builds a healthy immune system. To minimize the deleterious effects of prolonged, intense exercise on your immune system, take care to include sufficient rest and recovery days to give your body a chance to restore itself. Making lifestyle changes that minimize mental stress, promote consumption of a well-balanced diet, ensure sufficient sleep, and promote smoking cessation will also help to maximize your immune function.

ACSM Current Comment "Exercise and the Common Cold," Nieman, D.C., Weidner, T., and Dick, E.

Exercise Physiology Energy, Nutrition, & Human Performance, 6th edition, McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I., and Katch, V.L., pp. 459-461. Sports Medicine, "Exercise and Immunity Can too Much Exercise Make You Sick?", Quinn, E.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can Exercise Improve Digestive Health?

'Tis the season for indigestion, thanks to the surplus of rich foods and drinks available at this time of year, to which most of us are unaccustomed. For some, this gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort comes but once a year, for others it is an ongoing problem. The type of exercise in which you engage can either alleviate or exacerbate gastrointestinal conditions.

According to a review of the literature, published in the September 2009 issue of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, moderate-intensity exercise protects against:
  • diverticular disease
  • cholelithiasis (stones in the gallbladder or bile ducts)
  • constipation
  • colon cancer
  • inflammatory bowel disease
While on the contrary, bouts of vigorous-intensity physical activity have been associated with a greater incidence of:
  • heartburn
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • belching
  • abdominal discomfort
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • gastrointestinal bleeding

How does moderate-intensity exercise promote digestive health?
  • Facilitates the elimination of waste.
  • Helps to maintain a healthy body weight. Overweight and obese individuals are at a greater risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and colon cancer.
Factors related to vigorous-intensity exercise-induced gastrointestinal distress:
  • Blood-shunting - blood flow to your GI tract can be decreased by as much as 80% during intense exercise. The reduced blood flow can lead to cell injury and death and inflammation of the mucosal lining of your GI tract. This can result in diarrhea and/or GI bleeding.
  • Increased intra-abdominal pressure, especially in football players, weightlifters, and cyclists. This can cause GERD.
  • "Bouncing" of internal organs, especially in runners. Vibration from intense exercise can trigger diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Altered levels of hormones (neuroendocrine and gastrointestinal peptides) that regulate gastrointestinal homeostasis.
  • Dehydration
Tips to improve digestive health and alleviate GI symptoms:
  • Engage in regular exercise - routine training provides protection against vigorous-intensity exercise-induced gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Maintain adequate hydration to prevent the effects of dehydration.
  • Avoid sleeping or laying down within 4 hours after eating. Consider sleeping on two pillows to alleviate symptoms of GERD.
  • Avoid intense exercise immediately after a large meal.
  • Avoid consuming large quantities of high-fat foods, onions, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, and citrus-based foods.
Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 2009, 12:533-538, "The Impact of Physical Exercise on the Gastrointestinal Tract," de Oliveira, E.P. and Burini, R.C.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Healthy Tradition

The time of year is upon us in which seasonal customs are revisited and family traditions are carried out. My personal favorite is cutting down a Christmas tree. It is a tradition started by my parents when I was a child, and one that I have carried into adulthood and now share with my children. As a child, my focus of this tradition was on the presents that would soon be placed under the tree, but now my horizons have expanded and I recognize the health benefits that can be derived from this activity.

There is a great deal of physical activity involved with this holiday custom. First, there is the time spent walking around on uneven terrain trying to find the perfect tree. For some, this may only take 15 minutes, but I am guessing for most it is closer to 30 minutes or more. Then, you have the act of cutting down the tree which requires a great deal of upper body strength. And, finally, once down, you have the challenge of carrying the tree back to your vehicle - a feat which requires muscular strength, as well as, cardiovascular endurance.

Here is a breakdown of the potential energy you can expend partaking in this holiday tradition:*
  • Trekking around the Christmas tree farm for 30 minutes trying to find that perfect tree - 125 to 180 calories depending on speed and terrain.
  • Sawing tree trunk for 15 minutes - 125 calories.
  • Carrying tree back to your car - 143-214 calories depending on the tree's weight and the speed and distance traveled.
*Values are estimated for an individual weighing 150 pounds.

Holiday traditions are a great way for families and friends to bond and a fun way to accumulate minutes of exercise toward the recommended 150 minutes per week. Some seasonal customs inherently involve being physically active, others require creative thinking to sneak in the exercise. For instance, when baking this season, give your mixer the holiday off and try stirring ingredients by hand.

Do you have a great holiday tradition that you would like to share? Leave a comment below.

Compendium of Physical Activities

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Twelve Days of Health

Give yourself the gift of health this holiday season and schedule time for you. Nourishing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self will allow you to tackle the busy days ahead with ease. A sustained self can get more out of life and can readily give back to others, fostering social growth and community. Changes to make a better you do not have to be grandiose. Small steps in the right direction can add up and be of better benefit in the long run. Take it one day at a time.

Day 1: Schedule a physical exam with your physician.
  • Even if you are not feeling ill, visiting your doctor on an annual basis is a good idea. Some chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, can be present initially without symptoms. By the time symptoms do arise, damage to your body can have already occurred. Your doctor will perform tests, such as blood work, to detect any underlying health conditions that should be addressed.

Day 2: Replace one "bad" habit with one "good" habit.
  • If skipping breakfast is your norm, find a way to make it a part of your regular morning routine. Yogurt smoothies are a good option for busy individuals or those who are not hungry for a big breakfast first thing in the morning.
Day 3: Designate at least one meeting at work as an "active conference."
  • Tired of sitting through business meetings all day? Tell your co-workers and clients to take a hike - with you that is! Take your meetings to the outdoors or the hallways of your office building. Great ideas can arise from discussion during a brisk walk. Take a mini tape recorder along for the jaunt to dictate and record concepts and solutions discussed.
Day 4: Turn your television off for the day.
  • Engage your mind in a good novel or how-to book. Don't like to read? Take up a new hobby such as photography. Challenging your mind with new tasks helps to improve and maintain brain health.
Day 5: Volunteer.
  • Give yourself an emotional boost and lift your spirit by helping others. It can be a simple gesture, such as helping a neighbor take his trash to the curb. Or, you can touch more than one life at a time by helping to serve meals at a shelter.
Day 6: Schedule your biannual dental appointment.
Day 7: Buy local.
  • Support the community within which you live and buy locally grown, produced, and manufactured products. For example, Michigan-grown Honeycrisp apples are in abundance at the market now!
Day 8: Eat at least one meal that consists only of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
  • Breakfast suggestion: Bowl of cooked farina with 1 TBS. of honey, 2 TBS. of chopped dates, and 1 TBS. of chopped pecans.
  • Lunch suggestion: Tomato and cucumber salad with 2 TBS. of white balsamic vinegar, 1/2 TBS. of sesame seeds, and 1/4 cup of lentils on toasted whole wheat pita bread.
  • Dinner suggestion: Half of a baked acorn squash, filled with cooked wild rice, 1/8 cup of golden raisins, 1/8 cup of dried cherries, and 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts.
Day 9: Engage in at least one stress management technique.
  • Take a yoga or Pilates class. Not enough time for a session? Turn off the lights and take 15 minutes to perform deep breathing or visualization exercises at your desk.
Day 10: Hand deliver holiday gifts to your neighbors.
  • Load up the wagon, cart, or sled with hand-made or store bought sentiments and hit the road walking. Trekking through your neighborhood to personally bring well-wishes to your neighbors will do wonders for your heart - physically and emotionally.
Day 11: Designate a house cleaning day.
  • Get in some exercise while preparing your home for the holidays. Vacuuming and scrubbing the bathroom can challenge your cardiovascular system and help strengthen your muscles.
Day 12: Brighten your room with eco-friendly light bulbs.
  • Save money and help to create a better environment for yourself and future generations by replacing mercury-powered light bulbs with a more earth-friendly option - compact fluorescent bulbs.

Labels: , , , , ,