Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Free DEXA Scan!

I had a DEXA scan done this past Saturday at the UCSD Bone School. Dual-Energy X-ray Absoptiometry is the gold standard to measure body composition (including body fat) and bone mineral density. You can learn more about DEXA here: EPARC, UC San Diego - Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry

I'm looking forward to seeing my results and recommend you to get a scan if you're interested in finding out more about your bone health and body composition. Four different scans were performed: body composition, hip, lumbar, and forearm. The appointment is free through the DEXA school, as long as you have a letter of consent from your primary care physician. I was able to email the form to my doctor and pick it up from her receptionist. The appointments are only on the weekends and may take up to 90 minutes. You would receive your results 1-2 weeks after the scan. Call 858-822-7624 or email to schedule the free DEXA through the school. Please make sure to be there for this appointments as the school relies on your participation to assure graduation to the attending students!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Olympic Lifting Workout

If you're looking for a more advanced barbell workout, give this a try:

5 sets of 5 reps:
High pull
Front Squat
Back Squat

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sleep: The Only True "Fix-All" of Health and Performance

After my email 2 weeks ago summarising some of my favorite presentations at the Perform Better Functional Training Summit, a lot of you expressed interest in the Sleep presentation.

Brandon Marcello started the presentation by listing the order of operations to high performance:
1. Sleep
2. Nutrition
3. Movement
4. Performance
5. Skill

He then stressed the importance of sleep and how fatigue, resulting from inadequate sleep, has a direct and measurable impact on reaction time, recovery, overall performance, and career longevity. Not having enough sleep leads to increased risk of injury and reduced pain threshold, greater susceptibility to sickness, reduced physical and psychological performance, reduced motivation, learning ability and memory, increase in anxiety, irritability and mistakes, increase in body fat percentage, reverting to old habits, and poor judgement of distance, speed, and and/or time.

Sleep facilitates an optimal level of waking function through alertness and ability to maintain focus and attention, cognitive performance (learning, memory, and creativity), mood, energy and motivation, control, coordination, and impulsiveness.
Having enough sleep every night allows us to reach deep sleep for a longer period of time. As you can see in the chart, we sleep much deeper after four hours of sleep than before. Having enough sleep improves motivation, recovery of muscle strength, sprint speeds, muscle glycogen, cortisol (stress) regulation, motor skill development, and memory consolidation.

Sleep Debt
Sleep Debt occurs when we don't have enough sleep. For example, if you need 8 hours and only slept 7 hours, you have 1 hour of sleep debt and need 9 hours of sleep the following night to "repay" that debt. Drowsiness after lunch is a red alert that you have sleep debt. You can also monitor your drowsiness after lunch to determine exactly how much sleep you need. You'll no longer feel drowsy if you have slept your needed hours of sleep a night.

Sleep Studies
A number of studies have shown increases in performance for students and athletes after increasing sleeping time. For example, after extending time in bed to 10hrs/night for several weeks, collegiate basketball players showed a 9% improvement in free throw shooting accuracy and a 9.2% improvement in 3 pt field goal shooting accuracy. Grade point averages improved 11% when cadets' sleep opportunity was expanded to from 6hr/night to 8hr/night. Another study showed that 24 year old healthy men who slept less than 5hrs/night for a week registered a 15% drop in testosterone. Yet another study found that there was an increase in your chances of catching a cold when you're not sleeping enough: When sleeping more than 7 hours, chances of catching a cold were 17.2%. When sleeping 5-6 hours, chances of catching a cold were 30%.

Sleep and the Brain
During sleep, the brain "bathes" itself in cerebrospinal fluid to get rid of waste products. The brain will also clean out toxic proteins, which can impair healthy aging of the brain, and cause brain-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders.

Sleep/Nutrition Interaction
Your sleep can influence what you eat and vice versa. Sleep deprivation alters the ability of the body to metabolize and store carbohydrates for recovery, as well as use them later. Individuals who are sleep deprived tend to crave carbohydrates.

Sleep Strategies
It is important to maintain the bedroom for sleep only. Be wary of "screen-time" an hour before going to bed, especially in the bedroom. Alertness is enhanced because the blight light emitted suppresses melatonin levels and also because the content presented is engaging and exciting. It helps to establish a bedtime routine. Here are some strategies: turn off all screens, take a hot shower, listen to relaxing music, stretch, lay out clothes for the next day, go to bed by 10:30pm, or read a relaxing book for 30-45 mins. A quiet and comfortable sleep environment is a dark room with temperature around 67F, unwanted sounds masked with a fan or other white-noise, and using ear plugs and sleep masks, if needed. Keep your biological clock in mind when you're planning your sleep:
Sleep Supplementation
There are many products on the market to help us sleep. It is generally not recommended to use any of these regularly, but they can help with sleep when used sporadically. Calcium, magnesium and zinc is one such mixture. Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. Melatonin can also be taken directly. However, since melatonin is a hormone, taking it regularly will down-regulate our own bodies' production of melatonin.

It seems the proof is there that sleep is an invaluable part of our health. I have been prioritizing my own sleep recently by modifying my work and exercise schedule to allow me enough time to wind down at the end of the day. Having enough sleep is difficult for me and something that I continue to put effort into. What sleep strategies have you found work for you?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Perform Better Functional Training Summit 2018

My first Functional Training Summit was in 2010. This year I decided to go back. The Summit is three days of lectures and hands-on opportunities in all aspects of training. This is a summary of some of the presentations I attended.

Odd Position Strength Training: Michol Dalcourt
Dalcourt presented on the difference between muscular strength training (developing muscle force in a single plane of motion: bench press) and movement strength training (variable loading positions during multi-directional movement: Turkish Get-Up). I use both types of training in my programming, but would like to increase my knowledge base of the movement strength training exercises.

Revamp Your Bootcamp: Marc Lebert
In this hands-on, I had an opportunity to use the Lebert Equalizer bars in many different ways. Some of you have already had a chance to try out some of the new moves.

Sleep: The only True "Fix-All" of Health and Perfomance: Brandon Marcello
Despite having a PhD in nutrition, Marcello insisted that sleep is the most important factor in health and wellness, followed by nutrition and movement. He went over the results of having vs not-having enough sleep, sleep debt and how to repay it, and sleep myths.

Unlocking Mobility: How to Create Flexibility that Lasts: Greg Rose
Greg Rose, a chiropractor, presented how to increase thoracic spine and hip mobility by combining pressure against a joint with deep breathing.

The Ketogenic Diet: Right or Wrong?: Robert Yang
The keto diet, as it's most often applied, has the following macronutrient breakdown: 65% fat, 10% carbohydrates, 25% protein. While studies have shown that this diet is safe for general health, Yang advised that body type, adrenal health, response to dairy, gender, and exercise activity need to be considered before recommending it.

Which of these topics are you most interested in? I plan to go into more detail in future posts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Taking a Break from Exercise?

It's officially August and high time for soaking up the best of what summer has to offer, including vacation, beach trips, and lazy summer days. The last thing many of us want to do when it's hot is work out, but an array of new research shows that reducing exercise due to circumstance or preference may have lasting negative effects on metabolism, insulin resistance, body composition, and much more.

Whether the effects last depends on your age, your level of activity before the exercise "break," and the length of time your break endures. One study recently published in the journal Diabetologia sought to find out what happens when active men and women suddenly stop their habitual daily movement. To assess, researchers found 45 healthy, active adults and took various measures of their health before starting the experiment, first after 14 days of drastically reduced activity and once more after 14 days of increasing their normal active routines. Body composition, X-rays, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (an imaging technology complementary to MRIs), and multi-organ insulin sensitivity tests were run at each 14-day juncture.

Before the study began, these people were walking more than their recommended 10,000 steps each day (though we know now that's variable in and of itself); during the restricted-movement phase, they took an average of 95 percent fewer steps and increased sedentary behavior by almost four hours daily. The bad news is that testing after the two-week sedentary phase revealed whole-body decreased insulin sensitivity; lower muscle mass; an increase in total body fat, liver fat, and "bad" LDL cholesterol; and lower cardiorespiratory levels of fitness across the board. The scientists who conducted the study called these "metabolic derangements"—yikes!

The good news is that after participants go back to their habitual levels of movement and activity, these metabolic derangements were reversed. Don't have the time to work out? One of the best and most underrated ways to squeeze in a "workout" is through the NEAT technique, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Taking the stairs, opting for a walking meeting, standing desks, or parking a little farther from the entrance of the grocery store are all good examples of NEAT.

While we each need a different amount of exercise, and there are certainly times when your body could benefit from a few days off, a prolonged period without getting your normal amount of activity could have negative health effects, a reminder that consistency is key.

Full Article

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Circadian Rhythms and the Right Times to Feed Ourselves

We expend much time and effort focusing on the quality and quantity of food consumed. There's no question that switching out processed foods for whole, organic foods is key to good nutrition. So is paying attention to how much one eats.

But we don't place enough emphasis on the frequency and circadian timing of meals. Recent research investigated the role that our evolutionary body clock has on when we should eat. For most of human history, our lifestyles have followed a natural light/dark rhythm with most of our activity and food consumption occurring during daylight and not much other than sleep during darkness.

Mouse Study
Two groups of mice were fed a poor-quality, high-fat diet (akin to the typical American diet). Both groups received the same number of calories. One group ate whenever they wanted in 24 hours, while the other ate only during an 8hr window in sync with a mouse's circadian rhythm. Results:
8hr feeding time: optimal body composition, motor coordination improved
24 hr feeding time: overweight, diabetic, hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels in the blood), fatty liver disease, inflammation

A follow up study found that the time-restricted mice remained lean and healthy, even when their feeding time was increased to a 9-12 hour window and they were allowed "weekend cheats." Halfway through the study, the unrestrained eaters were switched over to a 9-12hr feeding window and they began to shed the extra weight they had gained via non-time-restricted feeding.

Human Advice
Eating by our natural body clock means that consumption happens when the body is more efficient at breaking down foods. The metabolic system evolved to make fuel and energy available at specific times of the day. Once daylight fades into nighttime and feeding ends, we enter a unique alternative metabolic phase. In the nonfeeding state, the body's process of regeneration and repair begins. Cells recycle their contents to promote optimal health and prevent disease. Researchers found that 12- 16 hours of non-feeding reduces excess body fat while lowering levels of insulin and blood sugar. He also found that it's healthful for the body to impose the mild cellular stress of 12-16 hours of non-feeding, as it strengthens cells' ability to adapt and cope with more severe stresses like disease and aging.

The easiest and most basic plan is to feed within a 12 hour window, ideally in sync with the light/dark cycle. Increasing the nonfeeding time to anywhere between 12 and 16 hours enhances the health benefits of the regenerative period.

Full Article

What are some of your experiences with time restricted eating (sometimes called intermittent fasting)?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

IDEA Expo 2018

The IDEA (International Dance Exercise Association) had its World Convention this past weekend in San Diego. I attended the Expo, which showcases new products in fitness equipment, supplements, and programs. There was a lot of equipment that used instability to focus on balance.
For example, this is a bar with suspended balls on either side. The balls are filled with water, so that as Luis does overhead presses or squats, the exercise becomes much more difficult and awkward if he is off center. There was another piece of equipment with steel balls inside a bar. If you tilt to one side, the bar becomes much more weighted on one side than the other.
Resistance bands were also popular in a lot of the exercise equipment. I'm using a piece of equipment called Frog Fitness. It's basically two axles with wheels on either side and resistance bands connecting the two axles. The demo guy had me do a leg press movement, a shoulder press movement, and a pike-like movement, all while prone and suspended over the "Frog."

In the supplement area, protein was the most popular. There was protein fizzy water, protein chips, egg white chips, protein cookies, protein coffee, protein desserts, and of course protein bars.

The Expo was a good opportunity to see the latest and greatest in the fitness industry. Expo passes are usually free, so I encourage you to check it out if you're interested next year.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Weight Watchers Free Teen Program: Good or Bad?

As part of an effort to rebuild its brand as a health-and-wellness company rather than a diet brand (and to gain new loyal customers), Weight Watchers (WW) announced in February that it will start a free weight management program for teens this summer. Controversy erupted immediately among health professionals and the public.

On one side, the unabating epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity, with its related health risks, led some to applaud WW for filling a critical need. Others were alarmed at a "diet" targeting adolescents, a population vulnerable to disordered eating and body image concerns.

"Weight Watchers intends to be a powerful partner for families in establishing healthy habits. During the summer of 2018, WW will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of health habits at a critical life stage."

Media reports on the program suggest WW and its critics agree that focusing on lifestyle--rather than weight--is the best way to help teens address the health risks of obesity and eating disorders. Much of the dispute may stem from old notions of "dieting" and from the company's name (weight and diet focused) rather than the program itself.

When I was that age, I had an unhealthy relationship with food. After reading Nancy Clark's "Sports Nutrition," I created my own diet plan that was better (meaning less calories and zero fat) than that recommended in the book. My ideal eating day would consist of cereal for breakfast, followed by only eating fruits and vegetables the rest of the day. Of course this was ridiculous and unsustainable and I would often "binge" by not sticking to these unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. At the end of the day, my total calorie consumption must have been within an appropriate amount for me, but I didn't see it that way and would carry my guilt over "bingeing" into the rest of my teens.

Perhaps WW will educate teens about smarter nutrition choices, and perhaps some teens will use the information to develop healthy eating habits. If it had been available to me as a teenager, I would have only used it to create my own twisted and unhealthy diet with the support of WW as an enabler. I did not have the maturity to look at my eating habits objectively and I don't know if other teens will.

How do you feel about the WW teen program?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

High-Intensity or Low-Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

What is the Difference Between High and Low-Intensity Exercise?
  • Low-intensity cardiovascular exercise (40-50% VO2max) burns fewer total calories but a higher percentage of fat calories than high-intensity exercise performed for the same amount of time
  • High-intensity cardiovascular exercise (60-80% VO2max) burns more total calories in less time and a smaller percenmtage of fat calories than low-intensity exercise
  • With the goal of body fat loss, higher-intensity exercise yields the same results as lower-intensity exercise, but in a shorter period of time
Guidelines for Cardiovascular Intensity
  • Beginning exercisers should begin at approximately 50-60% of their maximum heart rate
  • Once you adapt to an exercise intensity level, it is beneficial to increase your workout intensity. Changing the intensity and/or duration of your aerobic workout every two weeks to helps you avoid plateaus.
  • A coach or trainer can work with you to design an aerobic routine that incorporates interval training to improve stamina, intensity, and ability to burn fat.

At extremely high intensities, less fat is burned during exercise than lower intensities, but because of the afterburn effect, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), more fat is burned as a result. Very little afterburn takes place following low-intensity exercise.

Bottom Line
If your goal is to lose body fat, higher-intensity exercise yields the same results as lower-intensity exercise, but in a shorter period of time. In order to keep progressing, you should switch up the mode and/or intensity of aerobic training every two to three weeks.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Putting Probiotics to the Test

Beneficial gut bacteria help digest and extract nutrients from everything we eat, and they can crowd out the bad-guy bacteria that make us sick. That's the big idea behind the shelf full of "probiotic" supplements at our local pharmacy or grocery store. Manufacturers claim that these products contain billions of live bacteria and they are often recommended for relief from gastrointestinal problems. But do the supplements actually contain what the labels promise, and how do they compare to fermented foods, like kombucha or miso soup, which are also teeming with microbes?

Researchers from my alma mater, Boston University, recently looked into just this question. After purchasing several drugstore probiotics, they cracked open the pills, diluted the bacterial powder stuffed inside, and dabbed the mix onto petri dishes to see what would grow. "The numbers from our methods have been a little lower than what's claimed on the box, but there are definitely living bacteria in there."
The researchers then tested the probiotic pills against popular fermented rinks that naturally contain good bacteria: miso soup, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha. The results looked very different from the over-the-counter probiotics. While the bacteria from the pills colonized tidy white circles, the dishes plated with fermented foods bloomed in colorful, disorderly splotches. It’s already clear that the foods have greater bacterial diversity than the over-the-counter probiotics.

“A healthy collection of gut bacteria is not one type of bacteria. It’s many types of bacteria, so there could be potential health benefits of having more variety."

Ultimately, the hope is that the research will help doctors and consumers make more informed choices about over-the-counter and food-based probiotics. And while you should always talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement, especially if you’re seriously ill or have a weakened immune system, it typically can’t hurt to give probiotics a try. I would recommend the natural probiotics found in yogurt, kombucha, or apple cider vinegar, but the capsule variety are also good.

Full Article

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to Practice Intuitive Eating

The correlation between obesity and chronic disease is well established. For decades, efforts to fight chronic disease have focused primarily on obesity--encouraging dieting as the best way to lose weight. Despite a thriving weight loss industry, we haven't seen significant improvements in rates of chronic disease.

Weight-cycling, losing weight and later regaining it, is often see with many diets. Eating less that the body needs triggers endocrine system changes that promote weight regain, reducing satiety after eating and increasing hunger. In addition, dieters develop a lower resting energy expenditure.

An emerging paradigm in health promotion is putting more of a focus on weight neutrality. People who are classified as obese can improve their metabolic fitness and reduce their risk of chronic disease by eating more nutritious meals and increasing physical activity--independent of changes in weight. Research on this weight neutral approach to chronic-disease management actually shows substantially higher overall weight loss retention than dieting.

Intuitive eating encourages internal regulation of the eating experience. Try to apply these key concepts to encourage more mindfulness and enjoyment of your eating experience

Restore Body Trust
Dieting enforces strict rules based on external cues. In contrast, intuitive eating restores a sense of body trust. Respecting your internal hunger cues and fullness cues is key to intuitive eating. While diets say wait for the next planned mealtime, intuitive eating says show yourself compassion by feeding yourself when it feels physically necessary.

Make Peace with Food
Rather than labeling high-calorie, low-nutrition foods as "bad," intuitive eating encourages a neutral perspective on the moral value of foods. Letting go of self- and diet-imposed judgments of foods can help heal our relationships with food.

Address Emotional Eating
We often get temporary emotional relief from eating, followed by a realization that our problem remains. Intuitive eating encourages us to show ourselves compassion by entertaining a solution that is unrelated to food and that directly addresses our emotional challenges.

Full Article

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Green Exercise Benefits

Running through the forest. Cycling through your neighborhood park. Walk­ing alongside a river. To most people, “green exercise”—intentionally being physically active in natural environments—feels good, and growing research evidence confirms its benefits.

Defining Green Exercise
Green exercise is any form of physical activity that takes place in urban green spaces like city parks and campuses maintained by people or in natural green spaces with minimal human upkeep.

What the Research Says
Study findings on green exercise speak loudly: The advantages of exercising in healthy, natural environments go beyond the benefits of exercising in synthetic indoor locations. Green exercise delivers physical, mental and even spiritual rewards and has positive effects on health, well-being and athletic performance. Being active in nature has many advantages compared with doing the same activity inside or on city streets:
  • more stress relief
  • clearer thinking
  • improved attention and concentration
  • enhanced mood and more happiness
  • less anxiety
  • greater self-confidence
  • more vitality
  • more feelings of being refreshed
  • reduced pain sensations
  • less fatigue for the same amount of physical work
  • improved quantity and quality of nighttime sleep
  • enhanced mindfulness or present-moment awareness
Underlying Mechanisms
The theory that exposure to nature is in itself beneficial to people is bolstered by studies that show that viewing videos of nature scenes, having indoor foliage or flowers, seeing nature through a hospital room window, or simply having green classroom walls boosts mental and physical well-being and performance.

Ready to Take It Outdoors?
With an understanding of current green-exercise research, we’re reminded that being active in nature is restorative to brain, body and spirit. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul,” said environmentalist John Muir.
Perhaps it’s time to take some barefoot walks in the grass.

Full Article

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?