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!

Workout on the Go

As we get busy with holiday travels and plans, it can become difficult to find or get to a gym to workout. Luckily, there are many exercises you can easily do anywhere with no equipment. Below is a video example of a well balanced total body workout with some opportunities for variations. I try to do a few sets of this twice a week when I'm traveling with no access to a gym.

Upper body: Push ups
Wall shoulder external rotations

Lower body: Squats -- Squat jumps
Lunges -- Lunge jumps
Core: Knee to opposite elbow
Toe touch crunches

Liquid Sugar Keeps on Flowing

As the dangers of drinking too much soda (diabetes, obesity, etc.) become increasingly known to the public, sales continue to drop, but it seems we are simply replacing one nutrition villain with another. According to the marking firm Packaged Facts, sales of sports and energy drinks are rocketing upward--hitting an estimated $25 billion in 2016 with an annual growth rate of 7%.

Unlike soda, these beverages are marketed as having performance benefits, but in the end, they are often just another delivery system for high amounts of sugar to people who don't need more. Teens and young adult males seem particularly susceptible to the sales pitch. Bottom line: Unless you're exercising vigorously for 90 minutes or more, you can ditch the sports drink in favor of standard, sugar-free water.

What are some other food and drink products that blur the line between junky option and healthy option?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Spicing up Veggies

Vegetable consumption is notoriously low: Just 13% of adults and 5% of children eat the recommended servings of vegetables per day. Studies have pointed to one way to get kids to eat more veggies: giving vegetables cool names like "x-ray vision carrots" and "power punch broccoli." A recent study found that the tactic was equally effective in adults when vegetables were given "indulgent" descriptions such as "dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets" or "sweet sizzlin' green beans and crispy shallots."

In this study, a large university cafeteria participated in a 46-day experiment in which researchers randomly labeled one vegetable per day with one of four types of labels. The actual vegetable was identical; only the descriptors changed.
  • Basic: Zucchini
  • Healthy restrictive: Lighter-choice zucchini
  • Healthy positive: Nutritious green zucchini
  • Indulgent: Slow-roasted caramelized zucchini bites
Each day, researchers recorded the number of people who selected the vegetable and weighed the mass of the vegetable taken. A significantly larger number of diners chose the indulgently labeled vegetables--and ate more of them.

Interestingly, the vegetables promoted for their healthiness were rejected as often as those with dull descriptions. This may have been at least in part because healthy foods were perceived to be less tasty.

Which choice would you have made?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How to handle exercise related muscle cramps

We've all experienced muscle cramps at one point or another. While theories abound, there is limited consensus on why exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC) develop and how to get rid of them.

Etiology: The most widely held beliefs for why people develop cramps are (a) dehydration and electrolyte imbalance and (b) altered neuromuscular control. Science favors the latter explanation. In a non-cramped state, there is a balance between the activity of muscle spindles and the activity of golgi tendon organs. Muscular overload or fatigue, as well as other factors, causes an imbalance in the activity of these local receptors. The result is an overall increase in alpha motor neuron activity, which ultimately produces a cramp.

Risk factors: Some hypotheses as to why people might experience EAMC include age, body size, exercise intensity and duration, previous or current injury, gender, family history, genetics, and a history of EAMC. The strongest risk factors are a history of EAMC, male gender, and prolonged and relatively vigorous endurance exercise. Cramps may affect men more than women because men possess more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which fatigue more quickly than slow-twitch fibers. Also, women oxidize more fat and less carbohydrate than men, which may make them less prone to overload compared with men. These are merely theories, however.

Treatment: Common treatment practices include electrical cramp induction, kinesiotaping and compression garments, massage therapy, electrolyte supplementation and hydration, corrective exercise, stretching, quinine, pickle juice, and hyperventilation strategies. Stretching seemed to offer the greatest relief.
Prevention of EAMCD should attempt to offset muscular overload and fatigue. Strategies might include foam rolling or massage, scheduling adequate rest, and placing special emphasis on muscular balance in resistance training. Stretching still appears to be the best treatment for an acute bout of EAMC.

Full Article

Monday, September 4, 2017

Don't give frozen foods the cold shoulder

People tend to frown on frozen vegetables and fruits, but fresh isn't always best. In a paper published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, researchers measured the nutritional content (vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate) of three types of produce--fresh, frozen, and fresh-stored (purchased fresh and then refrigerated for 5 days)--over a 2 year span. Items examined were broccoli, green beans, blueberries, and strawberries.

In the majority of cases, vitamin content did not vary among the three categories, but when there were significant differences, frozen fruits and veggies bested fresh-stored versions more often than not. While fresh produce is typically most nutrient-dense at harvest, nutrients degrade during shipping, while foods sit on store shelves and until we retrieve the items from our refrigerators. On the flipside, the frozen counterparts are flash-frozen almost immediately after harvest, which locks in nutrients and keeps them from degrading.

The takeaway? Buying fresh fruits and veggies from local sources and eating them immediately is probably still best, but convenient and budget-friendly subzero produce is a nutritious fallback. Besides, people who work subzero fruits and vegetables into their diets have been shown to benefit from higher produce intakes overall than those who shun them, and the former also have higher intakes of essential nutrients like potassium and calcium.

Full Article