Sunday, April 8, 2018

Creating Healthy Habits

Creating and sustaining new habits can be difficult. Let's look into the anatomy of a habit and some strategies to create new behaviors.

Anatomy of a Habit
A habit is more than just a repetitive behavior, but rather a construction of three sequential components that make up the habit loop: the cue, the behavior, and the reward.

Cue: an environmental or internal trigger that provokes us to learn a behavior. An example of an environmental trigger is placing a foam roller next to your shoes, which triggers you to do self-massage prior to running.

Behavior: the actual routine we commonly associate with the habit.

Reward: makes the behavior stick. The "high" runners feel after a 6-mile run is enough to make them want to repeat the experience.

Establishing New Habits
1. Establish goals and milestones: Habit formation varies greatly from person to person and can take as long as 66 days. It's a long process that requires consistent implementation. If you have an ambitious goal like losing 60 pounds, it's important to divide it into smaller, less daunting and more realistic outcomes.

2. Identify motivational factors: Intrinsic motivation involves doing an activity for the inherent satisfaction rather than for a separable consequence. For example, losing weight for long term health outcomes rather than an upcoming wedding. Focusing on your intrinsic motivation tends to lead to results which last longer.

3. Pick a goal-oriented behavior: While it might seem appealing to make a lot of changes at once, focusing on one habit at a time may lead to greater success.

4. Create the cue and reward: Once you've selected a behavior, choose a cue that will trigger it. For example, if you opt to drink 2 cups of water before every meal, consider setting a reminder alarm or keeping a water bottle next to the computer screen. Then select a reward to reinforce the behavior.

5. Eliminate disruptors: If you can identify disruptors, you can overcome pitfalls before they occur. For example, if not having water readily available disrupts the behavior of drinking 2 cups before every meal, purchase a water bottle that's easy to fill and transport.

6. Follow up: Hold yourself accountable to the new behavior.
--The Power of Habit: Charles Duhigg

Have you had success with creating new habits? What strategies worked for you?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

New Blood Pressure Guidelines

New guidelines on high blood pressure made headlines late last year because they suggest that nearly half of all Americans have hypertension--up from about one-third under previous guidelines. The guidelines were updated because so many authoritative studies show a strong association between high blood pressure and serious health risks, such as high cholesterol, kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease. More than half of deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke happen to people with hypertension.

Blood Pressure and Aging
High blood pressure tends to worsen with age. Aging populations are more prone to "isolated high systolic blood pressure," where systolic pressure is elevated but diastolic pressure is not.

How Exercise Affects Blood Pressure
Increasing physical activity and fitness--even by small amounts--reduces blood pressure and hypertension. Both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training can reduce blood pressure. The guidelines recommend cardio (90-150 minutes/week) plus resistance training (90-150 minutes/week).

Diet and Hypertension
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help reduce blood pressure. DASH encourages people to consume less sodium, saturated fat, total fat, and alcohol and eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

Full Article

What blood pressure category are you in? Have you had success in decreasing your blood pressure with exercise or diet?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fruit and Vegetable Storage Tips

A common difficulty in eating and preparing more fruits and vegetables is that vegetables and fruits tend to spoil quickly. I'd like to share some tips on how to keep them fresher longer. I'll use my CSA box as an example.

The vegetables when they first arrive:


I remove the greens and line several large containers with paper towels.

Then, I store bulbs and greens in separate containers or bags with another paper towel over top.













My CSA subscription is through Farm Fresh to You. You can customise your box and control the delivery frequency. I receive a box every other week and it is $33/box. I like getting vegetables this way because it increases their diversity and holds me accountable to consume the box before the next one arrives. There are also recipes on their website if you need help cooking things like celery root. If you'd like to sign up, use my promo code VIKT2992 and save $15 off your first box.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Accuracy of Activity Trackers

Millions of people wear some kind of wristband activity tracker and use the device to monitor their own exercise and health, often sharing the data with their physician. But is the data accurate?

A Stanford inquiry evaluated the accuracy of seven devices: Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn and the Samsung Gear S2. Six out of the seven devices measured heart rate within 5 percent. In contrast, none of the seven devices measured energy expenditure accurately. Even the most accurate device was off by an average of 27 percent. And the least accurate was off by 93 percent.

Sixty volunteers, 31 women and 29 men, wore the seven devices while walking or running on treadmills or using stationary bicycles. Each volunteer’s heart was measured with a medical-grade electrocardiograph. Metabolic rate was estimated with an instrument for measuring the oxygen and carbon dioxide in breath — a good proxy for metabolism and energy expenditure. Results from the wearable devices were then compared to the measurements from the two “gold standard” instruments.

“The heart rate measurements performed far better than we expected,” said Ashley, “but the energy expenditure measures were way off the mark. The magnitude of just how bad they were surprised me.”

Neither Ashley nor Shcherbina could be sure why energy-expenditure measures were so far off. Each device uses its own proprietary algorithm for calculating energy expenditure and it’s likely the algorithms are making assumptions that don’t fit individuals very well. “All we can do is see how the devices perform against the gold-standard clinical measures,” she said. “My take on this is that it’s very hard to train an algorithm that would be accurate across a wide variety of people because energy expenditure is variable based on someone’s fitness level, height and weight, etc.” Heart rate is measured directly, whereas energy expenditure must be measured indirectly through proxy calculations.

Have you noticed similar inconsistencies in your own activity tracker? If wearing an activity tracker motivates you to move and exercise more often, then keep using it. However, try not to base your calorie consumption on the caloric expenditure measurement.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Changing your Home Food Environment

In a Drexel University study published this week, researchers found that an intervention that focused on changing the external food environment, rather than internal willpower, actually boosted participants' cognitive restraint and led to greater long-term weight loss.

Three weight loss interventions were compared for effectiveness with 262 overweight individuals over a three-year period:
Behavior therapy: the current "gold standard" in weight loss treatment: involves group support, regular weight-ins, exercise, explicit goal setting and monitoring food intake
Behavior therapy plus meal replacements: also replacing breakfast and lunch with calorie-controlled shakes or nutrition bars
A condition focused on getting people to change foods in their home food environments: HFE

Behavior therapy is aimed at bolstering someone's internal sense of self-regulation over food intake and exercise. Research has unfortunately shown that increases in self-control are not sustainable. Treatments need to also ensure that foods kept in the home are permanently changed in ways that make self-control more feasible.

Modifying the home food environment (or HFE) was the most effective strategy for losing and maintaining weight loss. Participants in this group were given homework assignments to identify and make numerous changes to specific foods that were still satisfying but less calorically damaging.

"Asking people to make healthy decisions, when there are thousands of food choices available, is emotionally challenging and complicated. HFE treatment is about mechanically trying to ensure that these changes are made, so the level of chronic temptation generated by foods in their homes is reduced."

This study highlights the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive environment to reach your weight and fitness goals. If you'd like to exercise more, spend more time around like minded people. If weight loss is your goal, keep less binge-provoking foods in the house. In a previous email, I gave some tips on how to give your fridge a makeover in order to make healthier foods more accessible.

What are some other steps you've taken or would take to create a better home food environment?

Monday, December 18, 2017

8 Secrets to Staying Fit During the Holidays

From now until New Year's Day, your schedule will likely be filled with family obligations, traveling and festive outings with all sorts of tempting treats. It's no surprise that many of us see our waistlines expand during the holiday season. Even the most disciplined people can find it difficult to stick to their health and fitness routines.

But this year can be different.

To help keep us on track, I've enlisted the aid of several colleagues – leading experts in health, sports medicine, behavioral psychology, fitness and nutrition – for some much-needed advice. Here are their secrets to staying fit during the season of overindulgence:

1. Keep moving
"In addition to staying active, try to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time, such as when watching football games or eating. Remember: Too much sitting is hazardous to your health. Research shows that getting up for just five minutes every 30 to 60 minutes and performing light activity (say, pacing around the house or performing simple squat exercises) reduces the risk of diabetes and other heart disease risk factors."
– Lance Dalleck, assistant professor of exercise and sport science at Western State Colorado University

2. Track your food and hydrate
"The holidays can be a real land mine in terms of disrupting your best exercise and weight-control intentions. Start each day with a game plan: First, track your food intake and activity level. Doing so makes you aware of the amount of calories in certain foods. Even if you decide to eat higher-calorie options, you will probably eat smaller portions and make other adjustments to stay within your daily caloric goals.
"Also, stay hydrated. Your brain can sometimes confuse thirst with hunger. A large glass of water before a meal (and especially before considering seconds) can help lessen the amount of food you consume. Drink six to eight glasses of water per day, and be sure to have two big glasses of water before the big, calorie-rich meals."
– Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, clinical assistant professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

3. Exercise early, sleep, and stay organized
"The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, but I recognize that it has the potential to be hard on my health. To alleviate the potential negative impacts of the season, I recommend making sure workouts are in the morning so you don't get distracted later in the day by parties, events or other holiday hoopla. I also recommend getting plenty of rest and maintaining lists to stay organized and stress-free."
– Chris Freytag, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor

4. Expect the unexpected
"We are glass half-full people, so we hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst. We always have an emergency bag of healthy food that requires no refrigeration and can be readily eaten as is – a health umbrella of sorts."
– Lee and Beth Jordan, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainers and health coaches

5. Be creative and get rid of 'all or nothing' mindsets
"The holidays are hectic, but do your best to avoid the 'all or nothing' mentality when it comes to healthful eating and physical activity. In reality, there is more than just one way to live healthfully and be active.
"During the holidays, get a bit creative with exercise and opt for fun ways that make physical activity a family affair. From exploring new group fitness classes to building physical activity into holiday traditions – like taking a family walk around the neighborhood before opening Christmas presents – think outside the box when it comes to ways to have quality time with family and friends while also prioritizing your health."
– Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College and American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor

6. Plan – and remember there is always time and opportunity for a workout
"Plan your workouts for the week and note them in your schedule to assure they are a part of your day. Also, remember that some exercise is better than none. Rather than skipping the gym altogether, make time for a quick workout. If my schedule keeps me from the gym, I find at least 15 minutes to do body-weight exercises or kettlebell swings in the evening. It may not be my normal weightlifting workout, but I do sweat and feel a lot better when I'm done."
– Pete McCall, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer

7. Indulge for a night, not a season
"It's easy to overindulge when the season of parties and leftovers – so many leftovers – is upon us. Avoid allowing 'treats' to become staples by not letting them linger in the house after the celebration has ended. When the party is over, it is time to dump the junk!"
– Sherry Pagoto, associate professor in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

8. Remember it's a single day
"Enjoy the holiday. If you worry about eating too much on this single day, the reality is that one day won't make or break your health plan. Unfortunately, most people start a pattern of daily 'treats' in some form or another or skip exercise due to visiting relatives. That routine then somehow continues from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Enjoy the holiday, but don't let it go from a day of indulgence to a month of indulgence that leads to unwanted habits that continue beyond the holiday season."
– Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer

Take a moment to look back on last year's fitness accomplishments. Congratulate yourself on your successes! Have a wonderful holiday, next year will be even better.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Four Foods to Fight Diabetes

Once a rarity, type 2 diabetes is becoming commonplace in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says more than 29 million people have diabetes and another 86 million have prediabetes (blood sugar levels high enough to indicate a risk of developing the disease in the near future). Modern research shows that these foods can help in the battle against diabetes:

AVOCADO: Eating the creamy fruit every day may help slow metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood glucose and obesity, and raises type 2 diabetes risk (April 2017 Phytotherapy). Avocado contains a powerful mix of health-boosting antioxidants, beneficial fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

LENTILS: People who eat more legumes, especially lentils, may be less likely to develop diabetes (Clinical Nutrition March 2017). Substituting lentils for some starchy carbs (bread, rice, potatoes) in the diet was especially effective at keeping diabetes at bay. Plant protein and lots of fiber in legumes likely keep blood sugar numbers in check.

STRAWBERRIES: A report in the Feb 2017 British Journal of Nutrition suggests that the abundance of polyphenols in strawberries and cranberries can improve insulin sensitivity, which could decrease diabetes risk in overweight people. Antioxidant polyphenols in berries may make cells more responsive to insulin, enabling better blood sugar control.

OATS: Fiber is very important in the battle against diabetes. Researchers (April 2017 Scientific Reports) found that a compound called indolepropionic acid, produced by bacteria in our guts in the presence of dietary fiber, can slow the development of diabetes presumably by improving the functioning of our insulin-producing beta-cells. Whole grans like oats, quinoa, and brown rice are reliable ways to bump up your daily fiber intake.

These foods, while healthy, must still be consumed with an awareness of your total caloric and macronutrient needs. Happy grocery shopping!