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Monday, April 23, 2007

Five healthy, pain-free changes you need to make today!

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So you're convinced you need to do something, but you're not ready to commit to any drastic changes. Here are a few things you can do to start moving in the right direction. Are you going to drop 20 pounds overnight? No, but I'd like you to consider these effective weight management strategies to help you start moving in a positive direction.

Switch to lowfat or fat-free dairy products

Slowly transition from full fat dairy products to lower fat versions. If you drink whole milk, try 2% until you become accustomed to it, then switch to 1%, etc. Switching directly to skim is not an easy transition so ease into it. By the way whole fat milk is 3.25% milkfat so even switching to 2% is a 40% decrease in fat. The reasoning behind the switch is two-fold. First, you'll cut a small, but significant source of calories that you won't miss. Second, and most importantly, whole dairy products contain loads of saturated fat. Reducing dietary saturated fat is a big step in reducing your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. It's even more effective than reducing your dietary cholesterol!

Drink more water

Besides being necessary for all bodily functions, water can reduce hunger cravings. By drinking lots of water, you can reduce hunger by keeping your stomach filled. Aim to drink a gallon of water a day. Is that a lot? Yes. Here's a water drinking tip: Get yourself a 16 oz. or larger cup. Fill it with water. Drink the water. When you need to go to the bathroom, refill the cup. Repeat throughout the day.

Eat more slowly

By eating slowly you give your brain time to process the fact that you have eaten food and are less likely to overeat.

Eat smaller, more frequent meals

OK, so you want to make a dietary change, but you are not quite ready to give up the Big Macs or enchiladas. Like I’ve said in the past ANY foods can be a part of a healthy diet, in moderation. A great strategy for eating in moderation is to eat smaller, more frequent meals…5-7 meals per day. By splitting up your normal meals into 2 meals, eating one at mealtime and one 2-3 hours later you will get more satiety for the calories consumed and are less likely to overeat later in the day or during the evening. If you take your lunch to work, simply package the meal into 2 smaller meals. If you go out for lunch, get a to go box and put half of the meal in the box BEFORE YOU START EATING. Then take the rest back to work and eat it as an afternoon snack. If you don’t make any of the other changes listed here, make this one. It works.

When snacking, don't multitask

Feel like you’ve just got to sit down and have a snack. Try not to plop down in front of the television to do it. If you want potato chips, you’re much more likely to over consume if you are concentrating on something else and not being mindful of what you are eating. Who hasn’t plopped down in front of the television with a bag of chips only to realize that the bag is now empty. What happened to the chips? You won’t have any doubts the next time you step on the scale. Eat the food you enjoy, but be mindful of how much.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Strength Training: What you need to know.

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Most people who want to be fitter or look better start by “going on a diet”. Some might even begin to do some cardio occasionally, but most people don’t strength train. As a result, many people don’t get the benefits that strength training provides.

Injury prevention

A balanced, strength training program can strengthen weak muscles and result in a stronger, more fit, physique. Notice I said a BALANCED program. That means strengthening all major muscle groups not just the "beach" muscles. A ripped six-pack with bulging biceps is nice, but not if you’re so weak that your 5 year old has to open the jar of peanut butter for you. Strength training is more than crunches, bench press, and bicep curls. Focus on strengthening weaker muscle groups to minimize injury potential.

Increase lean muscle mass = Increased metabolism = Decreased body fat

Every pound of muscle in your body burns approximately 30-50 calories per day. By adding more muscle, your resting metabolism will get higher allowing you to burn more body fat, even while at rest. Most people beginning a strength training program will gain weight…this is a good thing. The weight is mostly muscle which will increase your metabolism and begin to burn fat. Don't be discouraged by a 3 - 5 pound weight gain. Muscle takes up a lot less room than fat so even this small gain won't make you much bigger...and it's only temporary. Strength training is the number one thing that you can do to start making positive changes in your body composition. Everyone says they could stand to lose a few pounds, but make sure those pounds are fat, not metabolically active muscle. Hit those weights!

Increased bone density

Older adults and women of all ages are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Any weight-bearing exercise decreases this risk and strength training is no exception. By stressing your bones, strength training reduces the risk of getting osteoporosis and lessens the impact if you already have it.

Increased strength

Stronger muscles allow you to go through your day with less fatigue and just plain makes daily activities seem easier.

Prevents muscle loss that leads to creeping weight gain

As we get older, it seems that is becomes more and more difficult to maintain a reasonable weight. Losing weight seems impossible. The reason is that as we age, we begin to lose muscle tissue due to inactivity, and this causes a slow, steady drop in metabolism. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You don’t have to lift enormous weights to maintain muscle mass. Even a simple, easy to perform, strength program will do the trick.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

It is easier to find an excuse than to find a reason.

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What are the two best times to start an exercise program? Six months ago and right now. If you've been at it for six months, congratulations, you should be seeing some benefits for all of your hard work. If you aren't seeing results, it is definitely time to re-evaluate what you are doing and figure out why you are not making progress. In the beginning of an exercise program, almost any consistent exercise will create results, but no matter how good of a program you do, no program works forever. As your body adapts to the workload, you need to change things up to continue making progress. Don't continue a program that isn't working...change it up. Talk to your friendly, neighborhood fitness coordinator for suggestions on what to change in order to continue your progress. If you haven't yet started a program, there is no better time than right now. You say you can't. Let me guess...

You don't have the time

Here's a little secret, life isn't going to stop and wait for you to start an exercise program. Work will continue, children will need to be taken to soccer practice, the weather will always be beyond your control, grocery shopping and housekeeping won't ever end. Yet even with everything going on, we somehow make time to do the things that we deem important. It's all about priorities. Take a shower. Check. Brush teeth. Check. Get the kids to school. Check. Your health should be that important. According to A.C. Nielsen, the average American watches television for 4 hours per day. Resolve to watch one less Seinfeld rerun and go out for a walk. No one else can do it for you. Stop making excuses, and really, deep down, you know they are just excuses. Make your health a priority...TODAY!

You don't have the energy

There is a common misconception that a little exercise is going to take what spare energy you have, burn it fruitlessly, leaving you a pale, lifeless, shell of your former self. Not quite. In fact, exercise gives you energy. By moving and getting your blood flowing, you metabolism increases and stays at a higher level for hours after you are finished, leaving you feeling refreshed, vital, primed to devour PSRs. It is the lack of exercise which causes lethargy and an overall feeling of listlessness. Stop the cycle and get moving.

You don't have the money to join a gym

Who says you need to be a member of a gym to go for a walk, take a hike, or ride a bike? Have kids? Take them to a playground and play with them. Be a kid again...run, jump, climb, crawl, hop.

You are just not an "exercise" person

Yeah, me either. I used to think I was too smart to exercise. I wasn't going to waste my time doing something that worthless. Not having been an "exercise person", I didn't see the benefit. (Warning! Graphic content!) This happened->. Not a pretty sight...and you know what, I was wrong. I was too set in my ways to consider that the choices I was making resulted in that photo. The flip side of that is by doing something different, I could get a different result. I consider my time spent exercising an investment in feeling good, lower overall stress levels, and looking good. And like any investment, you can't expect an immediate return. It takes at least 4 weeks of consistent exercise to start seeing and feeling the benefits, so give yourself some time.

Remember... "If you always do what you always done, you'll always get what you always got."

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Six Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Myths Exposed

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OK, it's time to separate fitness fact from fiction. Here are 6 common health and fitness-related misconceptions and the reasons that they are wrong.

Spot reduction

Myth: 1000 crunches/sit-ups a day will result in a flat stomach.
Reality Check: If you do 1000 crunches a day you will have a ripped set of abs underneath the same layer of fat that you've always had. The only way to reduce fat is to create a calorie deficit (see Energy Balance post) and crunches/sit-ups are a very poor way to burn calories. Unfortunately, you can't choose which fat is going to be burned...your genetics control that. If you want that six pack, you need to strength train your abs, as well as all other muscles, do cardio to burn calories, and watch your caloric intake. To begin to see definition in your abs, men require a body fat level of 8-10%, women require a body fat level of 12-14%. Wondering about your body fat %? Your friendly, neighborhood fitness coordinator can figure it out for you.

Fattening foods

Myth: Some foods are particularly fattening and turn directly into fat when eaten, i.e. cheese, butter, carbs, etc.
Reality Check: Excess calories are fattening. Bodyfat is your body's way of storing excess energy that it can't use upon consumption. If you stop eating excess calories, you'll stop storing fat. Furthermore, if you use more calories than you consume and your body will use up existing fat stores. So why the myth? High fat foods get a bad rap because foods high in fat tend to be high in calories. It's the calories that make you fat, not the fat itself. Thanks to Dr. Atkins, carbs are the new evil macronutrient. They have gotten a bad rap because so many of the foods that we eat are filled with highly processed, low nutritional value carbs, mostly made with white flour and sugar. These simple carbohydrates contain no nutrients so they satisfy our hunger for only a short time before we are hungry again. There is nothing wrong with bread or pasta, but whole wheat bread and pasta are definitely better, more nutritious choices.

Fat free foods

Myth: Fat-free, or reduced-fat foods are always best.
Reality Check: Ah, yes, the Snackwell Syndrome.
If the cookies are fat-free, then I can inhale an entire box of them, guilt-free. Again, it's the calories, not the fat. One Snackwell Fat Free Devils Food Cookie has 49 calories compared to an Oreo cookie which has 53 calories. It's a very small difference between the two...which would you rather have, the Snackwell or the Oreo? Always compare the calories on the Nutrition Label. If the fat-free or reduced-fat product contains at least 10% fewer calories, I'll consider it. I'll also look at the ingredients and check if the fat was replaced by loads of things I can't pronounce. If it contains all sorts of things I can't pronounce, I'll go with the regular product. If the ingredient list doesn't baffle me, I'll get the low fat product. A good example is low fat or nonfat dairy products. They are almost always a better choice than regular dairy. Since the fat in dairy comes from the cream and it is easy separable, nothing else is typically added back in its place.

Toned muscles

Myth: You need to exercise a certain way to get "toned" muscles, i.e. light weights with a high number of repetitions.
Reality Check: Muscles can contract, expand, grow or shrink. That's it. You can't do anything to specifically "shape" or "tone" a particular muscle, only make it bigger. Whatever the shape of the muscle you were born with, you're stuck with it. What people consider "toned" is actually a combination of larger muscles which are more visible due to a lower body fat level. If you want to get "toned", train in a way that maximizes muscle growth and lower your body fat level by doing moderately intense cardio while watching caloric intake. That means strength training with a load that you can complete 8-12 repetitions of any particular exercise with good form, but no more. Perform 3-5 sets of the exercise and when you can do 3-5 sets of 12, increase the load. Repeat forever.

Women and strength training

Myth: Strength training will make women incredibly muscular.
Reality Check: Mention strength training and women immediately visualize pictures of enormous female bodybuilders. Women do not naturally have the hormones necessary to grow enormous muscles. Besides, saying that you don't want to strength train because you might get that big is like saying you don't want to run because you might qualify for the Olympics in the 100 meter dash...as if it were that easy to get those muscles. Strength training provides many benefits for women of all ages including increasing metabolism and increasing bone density, among other things. Try it...I think you'll like the results.

Fat burning zone

Myth: You will burn more fat if you do lower intensity exercise...in the "fat burning zone".
Reality Check: Your body has several "fuels" to choose from as you go about your daily activities. The two main fuels are glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates and the other is fat. Depending on the intensity of the activity, your body utilizes a "mix" of both fat and glycogen. Lower intensity activities burn a higher percentage of fat, while higher intensity activities favor the use of glycogen as fuel, thus the low intensity "fat-burning zone". The problem is that low intensity activities burn a much lower number of total calories than high intensity activities. Let’s say you go for a 30 minute walk. You might burn 100 calories, 75% or which would be fat for a total "fat" calorie expenditure of 75. Now let’s say you went for a 30 minute run. You would burn about 300 calories, 50% of which would be fat for a total "fat" calorie expenditure of 150...twice as much. So, is low intensity exercise bad? Of course not, but by incorporating bouts of higher intensity, you can burn even more calories and increase your fitness at a higher rate. Besides, exercising in any "zone" is better than sitting in front of the TV while two-fisting Cheez-Its. I like to call that level of intensity the Big Butt Creation Zone.

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