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. 

Friday, April 30, 2010

Now is the Time to Hit the Gym!

During the week of May 3-9, 2010, join health clubs across the nation in celebrating the 7th annual Get Active America! health initiative promoted by The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).  This year's theme is "Take Back Your Health" and it plays an instrumental role in IHRSA's grassroots project, "Campaign for a Healthier America."  The goal, as outlined by Joe Moore, IHRSA President & CEO in his written address to IHRSA members, is "to make healthy lifestyles a priority, and a possibility, for all Americans."

What can you expect from the Get Active America! program?

  •  May 3-6, 2010:  Participating health facilities will invite club members to bring a friend, co-worker, or family member to exercise with them.
  • May 7-9, 2010:  Participating health clubs across America will open their doors to the public, free of charge, so that citizens can learn how to adopt a physically active and healthy lifestyle.
Why is an initiative like Get Active America! needed?
    • Two-thirds of American adults are currently overweight or obese.  Physical inactivity is one of the main contributors to this epidemic.  The current health state of Americans is probably not a result of a lack of awareness of the risks associated with sedentary living, but a lack of knowledge as to the best way to go about increasing daily activity.
    • Only 16% of Americans currently have a membership at a health and fitness club.  These facilities are an excellent venue to get more active.  In addition to providing various forms of aerobic and strength training equipment and classes, quality health clubs can offer personal programs with fitness professionals who can help you devise an exercise plan that meets your individual needs and goals.  Furthermore, the social atmosphere that these facilities can help with motivation and improve adherence to a healthy and fit lifestyle.
    Points to consider when looking for a health club to join:
      • Does the facility provide a variety of endurance and weight training equipment to meet your fitness needs?
      • Are there qualified and credentialed fitness professionals on staff and are they readily available to answer questions and assist with exercises?
      • Does the club offer personal training as part of membership services?
      • Does the club provide classes and programs geared toward your age group and/or fitness condition and medical history?
      • Are fitness assessments available and are they conducted by experienced and credentialed employees?
      • Does the facility have a protocol that can be put into place in the event of a medical emergency?
      • Will special needs, such as physical limitations, be addressed to promote ease of use of facility amenities?
      • Ensure that you read and fully understand the membership contract and the policies of the health center before signing the contract.
      If you have been contemplating acquiring a gym membership, now is the time for you to take advantage of next week's Get Active America! health initiative by IHRSA.  To find a participating club in your area, visit

      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.

      The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association "Take Back Your Health: Feel Better. Look Better. Live Better. Program Guide, 2010.

      Labels: , , , , , , , ,

      Wednesday, April 28, 2010

      National Walk@Lunch Day

      Today is National Walk@Lunch Day, an initiative sponsored by The Blue Cross Blue Shield Companies as an extension of their WalkingWorks program.  The goal is to increase the awareness of the health benefits of physical activity and the role exercise plays in reducing medical costs associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

      Missed your opportunity to walk at lunch?  You still can sneak in a little bit of physical activity with these suggestions:

      • Walk to a colleague's office to personally discuss a project rather than sending an email.
      • Turn your mid- to late-afternoon meeting into a walking conference.  Take to the halls or step outdoors to discuss business matters.
      • Take a 15 minute break and climb up and down the stairwell in your office building.
      • Go for an after-dinner stroll around the neighborhood before tackling the dinner dishes.
      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, April 26, 2010

      Getting to the Core of the Issue

      Traditionally, exercises devoted to strengthening and toning the abdominal muscles were performed using high repetitions (50-100+).  A few months back, I read an interesting article, "The Science and Evolution of Abdominal Muscle Training," written by Phil Campbell and published in OnFitness, which challenged this concept.  Campbell purports that we rethink our approach to developing this muscle group.

      To lay the foundation for his argument, Campbell refers to the physiological process involved in building muscle tissue.  He explains that micro-fiber tears have to occur in the muscle in order for it to adapt, and thus, rebuild and get stronger.  This process begins when you perform an exercise that taxes the targeted muscle group(s).

      The problem with the traditional approach to improve abdominal fitness, explains Campbell, is that, by nature, the abdominal muscles are designed to be efficient and to endure the repeated demands placed on them throughout the day (even while sitting your abdominal muscles are recruited to keep your torso upright).  The "row" configuration of the abdominal muscle group allows for some of the rows to rest while others are contracting, hence, contributing to the high endurance capacity and efficiency of this muscle group.  Campbell points out that you would have to do several sets of 100 repetitions back-to-back to create the micro-fiber tears needed to start the adaptation process required to increase strength.  He argues that this could subsequently lead to a "wearing-out" of your spine in the long-run, resulting in back problems and discomfort.

      Campbell's solution is to work the abdominal muscles in a "less efficient" way.  That is, separate the training exercises into upper and lower abdominal workouts.  He suggests that you work your upper abdominal muscles first by performing 4 sets of 20 repetitions of upper-body quarter crunches followed by working your lower abdominal muscles through completing 2 sets of 20 repetitions of leg raises.  The idea is to exhaust the upper abdominal muscles so that they cannot be engaged to assist the lower abdominal muscle group.

      When performing the upper abdominal muscle group exercises, Campbell suggest either using a weight machine that only allows you to perform upper-body quarter crunches or to place a free weight on your chest while you lie on your back with your feet elevated on a bench.  He suggests you choose a weight that will be difficult, yet doable for the recommended number of sets and repetitions.  Campbell recommends that this abdominal program be performed 3-4 times per week.

      Developing strong abdominal muscles not only has an aesthetic appeal, but is necessary to improve your ability to perform day-to-day activities.  A strong core will lower your risk for back discomfort and injury.  It will also improve your quality of life and increase your years of independent living.

      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.

      OnFitness, January/February 2010, pp. 40-45, "The Science and Evolution of Abdominal Muscle Training," Campbell, P.

      Labels: , , , , , ,

      Friday, April 23, 2010

      Can a Personal Fitness Contract Improve Exercise Adherence?

      At one point or another, even the most internally motivated individual needs some type of an external incentive when it comes to exercise adherence.  Many of us probably can admit that there are days when we spend more time coming up with excuses as to why we can't exercise than it would have taken us to actually do the exercise in the first place.  Social support is a great external motivator to get you to hop on that bike and go for a ride or take that walk around the neighborhood.  Formalizing that support through a written personal fitness contract solidifies your commitment even more.  This is an intervention tool known as behavioral contracting and its effectiveness has been backed by research.

      What is a personal fitness contract?
      • A written document drafted by yourself that outlines your exercise goals and that is signed and dated by you and a friend or family member who will hold you accountable.
      What should go into a personal fitness contract?
      • Short, tangible goals (e.g., I will walk 3 days/week for at least 30 minutes/session).
      • Timeline: Give yourself a target date by which you achieve your goals (e.g., I will be walking 3 days/week for at least 30 minutes/session every week by June 1, 2010).
      • Reward for achieving your goal (e.g., I will allow myself 15 extra minutes on Saturday morning to read the newspaper before I do housework).
      • Consequence for not achieving your goal (e.g., I will skip reading my favorite book so that I can go for my walk).
      • Plan for achieving your goal (e.g., I will go for a walk during my lunch break).
      A successful contract is one that is flexible and outlines realistic goals.  New contracts can be drafted as goals are achieved or your circumstances change.

      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, pp. 700-701.

      Labels: , , , ,

      Wednesday, April 21, 2010

      Serenity Not Only Calms The Heart - It Heals It!

      Peace, calm, tranquil, untroubled - these are just a few of the terms used to define serenity.  They also describe a state of being, one which encompasses and transcends the mind-body-spirit connection, that a unique and innovative program, Heal Your Heart, Free Your Soul, attempts to create within its participants.  The Heal Your Heart, Free Your Soul program was created by William Beaumont Hospital cardiologists, Kavitha Chinnaiyan, M.D., F.A.C.C., Program Director of Advanced Cardiac Imaging Education; and, Ginette Gomez, D.O., F.A.C.C..  Both cardiologists are certified in Cardiac Yoga, a method that incorporates yogic principles into modern day medical treatment, management, and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

      Dr. Chinnaiyan states that the Heal Your Heart Program is designed to heal your heart on multiple levels.  It addresses the complexity of the human being, attempting to bring balance between the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of who we are.  Our modern culture, explains Dr Chinnaiyan, "tends to treat just the 'condition' [that ails the patient], but not the person as a whole."  She elaborates, "if someone has high cholesterol, they are prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication.  [The focus] is placed on the physical heart, not the person as a whole.  We are much more than our bodies," states Dr. Chinnaiyan.  "We are mind, intellect, emotion, spirituality - you cannot treat one without the other."

      The Heal Your Heart program is designed to dissipate stress, a cardiovascular disease risk factor - and one that affects many in our current fast paced society.  Although modern day medicine is of great value in preventing and treating heart disease, it cannot offset the ill effects of chronic, unmanaged stress.  Stress creates disharmony within the individual.  Research has indicated that yoga can reduce stress, as well as, reverse and prevent heart disease.

      The Heal Your Heart, Free Your Soul program addresses the prevention and management of heart disease using a seven-prong approach that entails the following:
      • Cardiac Risk and Compliance:  This prong is devoted to increasing your awareness of your cardiac risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure, overweight, diabetes, etc.,) and to assume personal responsibility for their management by making healthy lifestyle changes and following any physician instructions given to control their effects.
      • Heal Your Heart Diet Program: This prong promotes a plant-based diet, which is the only diet that has been consistently proven through research to treat and reverse heart disease.
      • Heal Your Heart Exercise Program: This prong incorporates the use of various asanas (yoga postures) chosen to meet your individual needs based on your risk for cardiovascular disease (low, moderate, or high).  The protocol also promotes adherence to a regular exercise regimen that entails at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day, such as walking or swimming.
      • Breathing Techniques (pranayama): This prong is devoted to helping you develop a breathing pattern that consists of deep, slow, and regular breathing which has been shown to have a calming effect, which in turn, reduces cortisol levels.  Chronic elevated levels of cortisol can damage internal organs, including the heart.
      • Meditation: This prong helps you to "quiet your mind, helping you to become calm and centered even in the midst of chaos," explains Dr. Chinnaiyan.
      • Service: This prong entails engaging in "selfless service."  That is, performing acts without the expectation of getting recognition in return, by so doing it will foster internal joy.
      • Conscious Living:  This prong is devoted to increasing your awareness of your environment and the impact your actions and behaviors have on it.  Our daily acts should help to create a sustainable planet.  "Taking care of the environment will help us to heal our hearts," states Dr. Chinnaiyan.
      The Heal Your Heart, Free Your Soul program is designed to be a supplement to, not a replacement of, modern medicine.  By reuniting the "whole being" by creating a balance between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, the Heal Your Heart program helps you to achieve optimal well-being and lifelong happiness.  For more information regarding the Heal Your Heart, Free Your Soul program visit the website at

      Labels: ,

      Monday, April 19, 2010

      Do You Want to Live Longer? Become a Volunteer!

      During this week, April 18-24, 2010, the nation will be "Celebrating People in Action" - the theme for this year's annual National Volunteer Week, an observance promoted by the Points of Light Institute and the HandsOn Network.  Established in 1974,  National Volunteer Week is devoted to encouraging Americans to reach out and help others in the community.  It is also a time to give special recognition to those who have already made an impact by voluntarily serving others.

      Whether walking dogs for the local Humane Society or providing aid to those half-way around the globe who have lost homes and/or loved ones from a natural disaster, the acts of volunteers help to make the world a better place.  Individual lives have been changed for the better and whole communities have become strengthened through volunteerism.  Benefits derived from civic engagement not only occur for those who receive, but for those who give as well.  In 2007, The Corporation for National & Community Service released a document, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research.  This publication presented findings from a review of more than 30 studies that investigated the relationship between volunteering and health.

      The Health Benefits of Volunteering review found that by helping others you can directly impact your own health for the better.  Volunteering does not just provide a heartwarming experience, but a heart protecting one too.  In other words, doing good for your community does good for your body.  The data from the review support that there is a firm association between volunteering and health.  The health benefits derived from volunteering include:
      • Longer lifespan/decreased mortality rates
      • Improved functional ability
      • Lower risk for heart disease
      • Decreased rates of depression
      The key findings from The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research are as follows:
      • Adults 60 years of age and older who volunteer reap greater benefits, such as improved mental and physical health and greater life satisfaction, than their volunteering younger counterparts. 
      • There is a "volunteering threshold."  That is, in order to gain health benefits you need to volunteer approximately 2 hours per week (about 100 hours per year).  The review found that volunteering more hours than this does not provide additional health benefits.
      • The younger you are when you begin volunteering, the lower your risk will be for poor health in the future.
      • States that have the greatest volunteer rates experience better health and have the lowest rates of mortality and incidences of heart disease; whereas, states with the lowest rates of volunteers have the poorest health.
      Meeting the 2 hours per week "volunteering threshold" in order to gain associated health benefits may seem like a lot to ask, especially if your schedule is already so full it is hard to find time to even exercise. A good option to fit both of these into your day is to find a volunteering opportunity that also provides you with physical activity.  Volunteer experiences such as community gardening, walking dogs for your local Human Society, and visiting and walking with residents in nursing/group homes are all wonderful ways to to give back to your community while also getting in some physical activity.

      Celebrate National Volunteer Week and become a volunteer, by so doing, you will get "paid" in good health.

      Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007

      Labels: , , , , ,

      Saturday, April 17, 2010

      Cultivating Health and Fitness: The Benefits of a Community Garden

      Bittersweet Farm in Clarkston, Michigan - home of the Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden.

      The community garden, a growing trend that has taken root and is quickly branching out, proves to yield bountiful rewards for all involved.  These sustainable green spaces provide fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables for the locale in which they are cultivated and they are sprouting up throughout the nation (and worldwide) in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike.  The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) defines a community garden as "any piece of land gardened by a group of people." The community garden requires a collaborative effort by all sectors of the public.  It is a means by which members of society learn to work together in order to meet the health and nourishment needs of the community.

      The concept of the community garden is not new.  Historically in the United States, community gardens (in one form or another) have been around since at least the 1800's (some sources date their existence back to the 1700's).  Modern day community gardens typically place an emphasis on sustainable living and locally grown produce. Their design serves to foster a healthy lifestyle by planting the "seeds" of nutrition and fitness into the surrounding community.

      The benefits reaped from community gardens are as varied as the crops that are sown and harvested from them.  These include:
      • Community and neighborhood development
      • Neighborhood beautification
      • Social networking/camaraderie
      • Connection to nature/food source
      • Increased awareness of the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption
      • A means by which physical activity is increased
      • Increased accessibility to nutritious food
      • Improved health and well-being
      • Preservation of green space
      • Reduced family grocery bills
      • Decreased crime rates
      • Spiritual "connectedness"
      • Enhanced mood
      The yield from community gardens can serve various populations.  Some sectors opt to sell the produce at farmer's markets; others allow individual citizens to "rent" plots on which they grow their own crops; while yet other communities choose to donate the entire harvest to the those in need.  Typically, community gardens are mostly maintained by volunteers from all walks of life, such as faith-based organizations, schools, scout groups, and those involved with horticulture community education programs such as the Michigan Master Gardener Volunteer Program offered by the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE).

      Last week, I had the opportunity to witness volunteers from the MSUE Master Gardener Volunteer Program in action at Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clarkston, Michigan.  I learned about the program from a friend, Kim Penokie of Earth Groomers Inc. - a landscape and home improvement company - who went through MSUE's program last fall.  She and others worked to prepare the land for planting this year's seeds and starts.
      Kim Penokie, Master Gardener Volunteer.

      Bittersweet Farm owner, and Master Gardener himself, Bob McGowan states that this community garden is in its 19th year and is part of the Garden Writers Association (GWA) Plant-A-Row for the Hungry initiative that calls upon gardeners to "plant a little extra and donate the produce" to entities that serve those in need.  Over the last several years, the Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden has donated over thousands of organically grown fruit and vegetables to Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, with more that 4,200 pounds donated from the 2008 season alone.
      Plot to be cultivated at Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clarkston, Michigan.

      As the nation attempts to combat the current overweight and obesity epidemic it faces, a greater emphasis is being placed on increasing the awareness of the important role fruits and vegetables play in promoting health and preventing disease.  Action is also being taken to provide easy access to fresh produce, particularly in areas that the government has classified as "food deserts." McGowan notes that there is a growing emphasis being placed on "the amount of nutrition being delivered to the community, not just the amount of food."  Attempts are being made by food banks and other sectors of the public to increase the percentage of food delivered to those in need that comes from fresh produce rather than from prepackaged items that tend to be of a higher caloric content and lower in nutrients.  Community gardens can help to meet this need.

      If you would like to volunteer at the Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden or would like to learn more about community gardening, you can contact Bob McGowan at (248) 620-0111.

      Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clakston, Michigan

      Earth Groomers Inc. (248) 299-0883;


      Garden Writers Association

      American Community Gardening Association

      The Michigan Master Gardener Volunteer Program Michigan State University Extension

        Labels: , , , , , , , ,

        Tuesday, April 13, 2010

        It's in the Beat: Slower is Better for Resting Heart Rates

        Faster is not always better, especially in regard to your resting heart rate.  When you think of risk factors for heart disease, conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol profiles readily come to mind.  But, did you know that having an elevated heart rate at rest can increase your risk too?  A Norwegian study published online earlier this year in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that a faster resting heart rate was associated with a greater risk of death from a heart attack, especially for women.

        The study followed over 50,000 apparently healthy adults (24,999 men and 25,089 women) for approximately 18 years (onset of the study occurred between 1984-1986 with the investigation ending in 2004).  For women under the age of 70 years, data indicated that the risk of death from heart disease increased by 18% for every 10 beat increase in resting heart rate.  There was no such relationship in women over the age of 70 years.  Men of all ages experienced an approximate 10% increase of risk (for death from a heart attack with every 10 beat rise in resting heart rate values.

        The results of the investigation also indicated that participation in physical activity was associated with a lower risk of death from a heart attack in women who had high resting heart rates, but not for men with elevated resting heart rate values.  The researchers state that this discrepancy could be related to the fact that the subjects' exercise levels were self-reported, and that men are more likely to overestimate their levels of physical activity than are women.

        What is a normal resting heart rate?  For most apparently healthy adults, a range of 60-80 beats per minute is typical.  Highly-trained individuals, such as marathon runners, may have resting heart rates that range from 40-60 beats per minute.  Resting heart rate values that are 100 beats per minute and above are classified as tachycardia; and, in the present study, these resting heart rates were associated with a 73% greater risk of death from a heart attack in men.  For women subjects under the age of 70 years with tachycardia, the risk of death from heart disease more than doubled.

        What factors can influence resting heart rate values?
        • Physical activity/fitness level
        • Certain medications
        • Environmental conditions (altitude, air temperature, humidity, etc.,)
        • Stress/emotions
        • Illness
        How can you check (measure) your resting heart rate? Two common sites for locating your heart rate (pulse) are your wrist (radial pulse) and your neck (carotid pulse).

        Radial Pulse Taking

        Carotid Pulse Taking
        • Radial Pulse:  Locate your pulse on your wrist at the base of your thumb by using your index and middle finger.  Count the number of beats for 15 seconds by counting the first pulse as zero (then 1, 2, and so on).  Multiply the total number of beats felt by 4 (for a 15 second period) to determine your heart rate in beats per minute.
        • Carotid Pulse:  Locate your pulse on your neck to the side of your windpipe by using your index and middle finger.  Take care to not press on the other side of your windpipe at the same time, this can decrease blood flow to your brain.  Count the number of beats felt in a 15 second time period and multiply that value by 4 (as described above) to determine the total number of beats per minute. 
        If you are concerned about your resting heart rate and/or you experience symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, palpitations, and/or shortness of breath, etc., contact your physician for an evaluation.

        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.

        J Epidemiol Community Health 2010;64:175-181, "Combined effect of resting heart rate and physical activity on ischaemic heart disease:mortality follow-up in a population study (the HUNT study, Norway)," Nauman, J. et al.

        Reuters Health, "In women, exercise may keep high pulse in check," Joelving, F.

        ACSM Fitness Book: A proven step-by-step program from the experts, third edition.

        Labels: , ,

        Sunday, April 11, 2010

        The Fitness Label

        Have you ever wondered what the label would read if fitness could come in a package?  Here is a possibility:

        Fitness Facts
        Serving Size:  30-60 minutes*
        Number of servings per week:  5-7 days
        Calories burned:**           143-286
        Stress levels:                   reduced
        Mood:                               elevated 
        Body weight:                   decreased or maintained
        Blood pressure:               improved/controlled
        Cholesterol:                     improved/controlled
        Blood sugar:                    improved/controlled
        Ingredients:  All-natural***
        *The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults acquire at least 150 minutes (preferably 300 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity exercise.
        **values are per serving and are calculated based on a body weight of 150 pounds and a walking speed of 4.0 miles per hour.
        ***As part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, walking at least 30 minutes a day may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, improve cholesterol levels, and/or help to maintain a healthy body weight.

        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.

        The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

        ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, sixth edition

        Labels: , , , , ,

        Saturday, April 10, 2010

        Stress Awareness

        April is Stress Awareness Month.  Uncontrolled stress can reek havoc on your mind and body, weakening your immune system and predisposing you to a number of ailments, including cardiovascular disease.  Regardless of the type of stress - whether good (eustress) which is associated with the positive events in your life; or, bad (distress) which depicts negative circumstances experienced, such as a death in the family - your body responds the same.  It is unable to discern the difference; therefore, the effects on respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure are the same - they go up.  When your body is under a chronic, persistent state of stress, health problems begin.  Although you are not able to completely rid your life of stressors, you can change your approach to them which, in turn, will minimize the toll they place on your mind and body.

        My approach to the stressors in my life changed during the last semester of my undergraduate education after taking a "Stress and Health" course required to complete my major.  Up until that point, I was aware of the stressful situations and events in my life, but I was not mindful of them.  I addressed stress with a "look ahead" attitude, trying to rush time just to get the stressor "over with" and behind me.  Interestingly, what I learned in the course was that I actually needed to look back, not forward, to tackle the stresses in the present and the future.

        The key to managing stress is perception.  Your perceptions of the events in your life are affected by the outcome of your earlier experiences.  The instructor of my college "Stress and Health" course stated that each one of us has experienced at least 3 or 4 major turning points in our lives which define who we are in the present; and, that we evaluate the potential impact of current stressors based on these defining moments.  This can lead to a distortion of the present reality.  My instructor stated that by identifying and evaluating the circumstances around our own life's turning points, we could then begin to "reshape" our perceptions of, and reactions to, current and future stressors.

        An in-class assignment required us to "take a look back" at those moments in our lives.  The reflection involved a problem-solving process devoted to redefining the meaning of those events toward a more positive outlook.  We were to "let go" of the emotions associated with events out of our control, and learn from those situations that were within our control.  The premise of the activity was that by becoming mindful of the stressors and the circumstances that surround them, you are able to explore your abilities to cope; thus, minimizing your body's physiologic response.

        You cannot eliminate stress, but you can change your reaction to it.  For those situations out of your control, practice relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing, yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise, etc.) to modify your physiologic response.  For those events within your control, identify the steps that you need to take to alter the outcome toward the positive.  And, don't be afraid to take a look back in order to proceed forward.

        Labels: , , ,

        Wednesday, April 7, 2010

        5 Tips for a Better Workout

        Are you finding it difficult to keep the same pace during your workouts as you had in the past?  Have you lost your motivation to continue your exercise program?  If so, you may be in a fitness "slump."  Below you will find some tips to help you out of the "rut" and on your way again to better health.

        1. Fuel Up!  A lack of energy to finish your workout session may be an indication that you are not properly fueling up before you begin.  This can be especially true if you exercise first thing in the morning or right after work when you have gone an extended length of time without eating.  Try a light snack, like a piece of fruit and a stick of cheese before you begin.  Also, make sure you are adequately hydrated.  Dehydration can decrease your exercise endurance.
        2. Sleep Tight to Exercise Right!  Your body restores itself while you sleep.  Your goal should be to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night.  If you are involved in heavy training, such as with preparation for a marathon, you may need closer to 10 hours of sleep each night in order for your body to adequately recover from the demands of your sessions.
        3. Get Rid of Distractions!  Use your exercise time to clear your mind and to de-stress.  Turn off your cell phone, pager, etc., so that you can concentrate on your workout and fitness goals.
        4. Change it Up!  Break the boredom and try alternative forms of exercise such as hula hooping, archery, Gliding, and skateboarding using a RipStik.
        5. Wear the Right Clothes and/or Use the Right Gear!  I have heard many tradesmen say "There is nothing that can make a job a little easier than using the right set of tools."  That holds true for your fitness workouts too.  Replacing your worn sneakers for a new pair of athletic shoes can help to put a "spring" into your step.  Electronic exercise aids such as heartrate monitors, global positioning systems, and pedometers can make your sessions more enjoyable.
        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, April 5, 2010

          On your Mark, Get Set, Start! Walking on Wednesday, April 7

          Start anew or renew your commitment to better health and help the fight against the nation's No. 1 killer - heart disease - this Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by walking for at least 30 minutes in honor of the American Heart Association's National Start! Walking Day.  This event occurs annually on the first Wednesday in April. On this day the American Heart Association (AHA) encourages all Americans to lace up your sneakers and get moving to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

          A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.  Time spent on the job and the nature of work for many Americans today has made getting and staying active difficult. Did you know that Americans are working 164 more hours per year than they did 20 years ago?  And, that the number of sedentary jobs has increased by 83% since 1950?

          The American Heart Association is offering a free toolkit for those in the workplace who want to celebrate National Start! Walking Day office-wide.  To register, visit the American Heart Association's website.  Once you have registered, the AHA will immediately email you a how-to guide, a six week walking program, heart-healthy recipes, downloads, and tips on how to improve your cardiovascular health.

          Celebrating National Start! Walking Day doesn't have to be limited to just the workplace, it can be recognized in the schools and/or community wide.  Over the next six weeks and beyond, the AHA wants you to step toward better health and a better tomorrow.  For more information on how you can participate and spread the word about National Start! Walking Day visit their website or call (248) 827-4214.

          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.

          American Heart Association

          Labels: , , , , , , ,

          Saturday, April 3, 2010

          The Spectrum of Exercise: Which is Better - Vigorous- or Moderate-Intensity Activity?

          For years now, research findings have indicated that an inactive lifestyle can lead to heart problems.  More recently, study data has highlighted the ill effects of overtraining.   Where on the spectrum of intensity is it best to exercise for protection against heart disease?

          During last month's annual scientific conference of the American Heart Association, which is sponsored by the Council on Epidemiology and Prevention and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism, researchers presented findings that vigorous-intensity exercise is associated with a slightly greater protective effect against cardiovascular disease when compared to physical activities performed at a moderate-intensity.  The investigation was part of the on-going Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) initiated in 1986 with the purpose of determining the relationship between health-related behaviors and the incidence of disease in men.  To determine the role of vigorous exercise in preventing cardiovascular disease, researchers examined data collected on 43, 646 men, ages 40-75 years, enrolled in HPFS from 1986-2006.

          Beginning in 1986, the subjects' leisure-time physical activities were assessed every two years through a series of questions in regards to mode of physical activity performed and time spent per week exercising.  The investigators calculated the cumulative average of hours spent per week engaged in all types of vigorous activity (6+ METs - e.g., biking at a speed of approximately 10 miles per hour) and adjusted for all other activities that were less than 6 METS.  After controlling for age, risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, and other activities performed, researchers found that men who engaged in 6.5 to 7.9 hours of vigorous physical activity per week had a lower risk for the development of cardiovascular disease than men who did not engage in any vigorous exercise.  They also noted that this protective effect was slightly attenuated in men who engaged in more than 7.9 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

          The researchers caution, however, that this does not mean that previously sedentary individuals have to engage in vigorous-intensity exercise in order to get health benefits.  But, it does provide some insight for individuals who already engage in moderate-intensity exercise that if they increase their intensity, they will experience greater protective effects against cardiovascular disease.

          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.

          Heartwire, "Vigorous Physical Activity Modestly More Protective Than Moderate Activity," O'Riordan, M.

          Abstracts from the 2010 Joint Conference - Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism and 50th Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention: "Physical Activity and Incident Cardiovascular Disease: Investigation of the Effect of High Amounts of Vigorous-Intensity Activity," Chomistek, A.K.

          Labels: , , , , ,

          Friday, April 2, 2010

          Fibromyalgia: A Little Exercise Can Improve Symptoms

          Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that affects over 5 million Americans, is a rheumatic disorder that is characterized by widespread pain in the body's soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments).  Women are 8 times more likely to be affected than men.  Symptoms of fibromyalgia - which include body pain and tenderness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, altered mood states, and irritable bowel syndrome - can interfere with day-to-day functioning.  These debilitating symptoms make it difficult for affected individuals to consistently engage in physical activity levels that meet the government's 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for the general public (150-300 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise per week).  Because of this, alternative ways to increase daily activity levels without overtaxing the patient with fibromyalgia have been investigated.

          A recent study published in the March 30, 2010 online issue of Arthritis Research & Therapy found that patients with fibromyalgia benefited when they performed short bouts of self-selected lifestyle physical activity accumulating at least 30 minutes above their usual daily levels throughout the day.  The subject population consisted of 84 minimally active individuals with fibromyalgia.  They were randomly assigned to two groups: one cohort was encouraged to accumulate 30 minutes of self-selected moderate-intensity exercise throughout the day, 5-7 days per week; the second group received educational information and support, but were not given any specific exercise prescriptions or recommendations.  The investigators evaluated the following factors in both groups: results of a six-minute walk test, body mass index, perceived physical function, and symptoms of depression, fatigue, pain, and tenderness.  Eighty-seven percent (73 out of 84) of the participants completed the 12 week study.

          Self-selected lifestyle activities varied and included walking, yard care, household responsibilities, and recreational sports (e.g., swimming).  Data indicated that those subjects who were encouraged to increase their daily activity level by at least 30 minutes experienced a 54% increase in the average number of daily steps taken.  This cohort also reported experiencing statistically significant less pain and an improved perception of physical function.  No statistically significant differences were noted between the groups for the six-minute walk test, body mass index values, and symptoms of depression, fatigue, and tenderness.

          The researchers conclude that individuals with fibromyalgia should be encouraged to increase daily physical activity in short bouts throughout the day, accumulating a total of at least 30 minutes.  They also note, however, that the intervention only increased activity levels from a sedentary status to a low level of exercise.  Therefore, individuals with fibromyalgia should seek to become more active without engaging in activities that may worsen their symptoms and, subsequently, impede their progress in the long-run.

          Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:R55, "Effects of lifestyle physical activity on perceived symptoms and physical function in adults with fibromyalgia: results of a randomized trial," Fontaine, K.R., et al.

          Labels: , ,