Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Stuff

Are you ready to make a new you this year?

Becoming more fit and healthy is one of the most personally rewarding things we can do for ourselves.

You feel great, your brain works better, you're less likely to get sick, cancer risk reduces significantly, and you live longer. Study   Study  Study  Study 

But new years resolutions are often more contrived and misguided with strict regimes rather than well thought out and sincere; after all, what is suddenly so important about getting fit next week that wasn't important last week?

It's easy to convince ourselves that the new year resolution is uniquely important, but that is a simple misdirection that most often doesn't work. Of course if a person happens to make some healthy commitments to themselves at this time of year and follows through for the rest of their lives I think that's great, but the stats say that nearly everyone who get's excited about personal change this time of year will fail in their pursuit before six months passes, often before even a few weeks pass, because of unrealistic goals and expectations.

With Canadians becoming less physically active and more overweight every year from 1981 to 2009, the annual rush for healthy resolutions is clearly not panning out, despite the best of intentions.

Is that a bit of a downer?

Boot camps, crash diets, fad diets, and really hard workouts are the soup de jour, but soon these contrived fancies go sour and back come the old habits.

That's the reality.

So how do we overcome that?

Although only a very small percentage of the population is successful in making the transition to living a healthier lifestyle, the answer is simple.. do what those who succeed are doing.

Research has shown the following are the key ingredients to making it work, and I can personally attest to these values as I have made the transition myself, and over a couple decades of coaching I've seen these traits turn couch potato's into the lean and fit..

Eat a healthy breakfast every day, and don't skip meals.  Skipping meals makes you more hungry and you are more likely to overeat later.  Also, food is not your enemy, it's not something you want to avoid. Learn to feel rewarded by healthy eating.

Learn how many calories you need to consume and stick to it.  Eat less on days you move your body less, eat more when you move more.  Go here to learn about how much food you need in a day.

Start with a conservative exercise program; you don't need to get fit fast, you just need to get fit.  With regular exercise you're going to get fit anyway so you may as well do it right and get better long term results. Gradually build an exercise routine that you like.  Make sure there is a mix of cardiovascular and strength training exercises. We need both. If you're not sure what to do consult a professional.. it's easy to do exercises wrong and limit your results, or worse, get hurt.

Weigh yourself every week, whether or not you're trying to gain or lose weight.  Where did those extra pounds come from?  Gradual weight gain can go unnoticed for a long time.  If you're losing weight keep it safe and avoid losing more than 2 pounds per week as that is a sign of losing muscle and becoming dehydrated.  If you notice a weight trend going the wrong way the sooner you catch it the sooner you can correct it. You keep track of your bank account to keep it balanced, same thing goes for your body.. keep track of your weight, and waist girth.  If your waist girth is more than 36 in for men and 32 in for woman, the research shows you are in a higher risk category for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

Be honest with yourself; take an inventory of your current value and reward system and ask yourself if it's compatible with healthy living objectives.  If it isn't, then practice unlearning feeling rewarded by unhealthy choices, and learning to feel good about healthy choices.  We're often trapped by the idea that overeating is fantastic reward, and that exercise is a stupid chore that we labour at.  But really, it's being out of energy, weak, inflexible, and overweight that traps us.  It really does feel great to be fit and healthy, make it a goal.

How much exercise?  That really does depend on the individual. Generally, unless you're already a fit athlete, doing light to moderate activity that doesn't make you feel sore or exhausted is the way to go when starting out.  Even one time per week will benefit. Research shows those who exercise around 4-5 days per week have about 40% fewer colds than those who don't exercise.

Keep these basics in mind:


One time per week for 30 to 60 minutes will provide a small benefit.  Four times per week will provide much more benefit when you can handle it.  Walking is a good place to start but walking won't make you fit. Go too hard too soon and you're likely to burn out.  Intensity should be high enough to increase breathing rate, but not so high that you're out of breath.  Interval training is very effective, but build some base fitness before you add hard or moderate intervals.  Each person has their own limits, but it will typically take a couple months of gradually increased intensity during steady state cardio before you're really ready for intervals.  You can start with intervals earlier if you have no health risks for high intensity exercise, but more often than not front end loading high intensity into exercise programs causes short term bliss, but also short lived results as people tend to burn out.

Learn to use heart rate monitoring.

Weight training

Again, one time per week will benefit.  Two times is better than one, and three can be better than two, but adding a fourth session doesn't seem to provide more benefit than three well done sessions.  Three days off between weight training sessions has been shown to be optimal.

Set's and rep's.. One set will provide great benefit when you're starting out.  Once technique is good and you're accustom to regular weight training, research shows doing two set's is about 40% better than doing one set.  Doing three set's might net you another 5-10% gains greater than with two set's.. but you can get very, very strong with two set's done at a high intensity, once you're ready for the intensity. The common mistake is going too hard too soon.  Starting out with light weights you can easily lift 20 to 30 times without feeling exhausted or sore is best (you should feel like you can keep lifting when you stop).  As tolerance to weight training increases, push yourself harder.. use a weight heavy enough that you can't lift it more than 20 to 30 times.  There are many variations of set's and rep's that work, but typically lighter weight with more reps is a better place to start.


Stretching is very important.  Tight muscles cause many biomechanical problems that can lead to poor technique, limit gains, and lead to repetitive strain injury.  Stretching after every workout when you're still warm is best.  Hold each stretch until you feel 2 - 5 releases (tightness feels like it reduces slightly).  Stretching works best if you can have a silent mind, breath slow, and relax.

Self massage/ professional massage 

Go here to learn about trigger point massage therapy and you can learn work out those tight spots yourself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Using The Internet To Improve Nutrition


Click on that link above to take you the Dietitians of Canada website diet analyzing tool.

The EATracker is a web based food analyzer that allows you find out if eating too much or too little of anything.. calories, vitamins, minerals. check it out, it's a great tool, and it's free!

Other favorite sites of mine

Worlds Healthiest Foods

Can Sport Science Fitness Testing Help You?

Chris Reid, who has hosted the Weekend Wakeup Show on CJOB am radio for the past one and a half years was subjected to some sport science fitness testing: blood lactate testing while exercising on a stationary bike.

I amended the test by deleting the maximal exertion portion of the test.  How do you test someones fitness if they don't go as hard as they can?

Fitness testing has come a long way.  We now test according to what information we need, instead of using generalized tests or formulas.  If we're looking for suitable intensity levels for base conditioning we no longer have to push a person to their limit then extrapolate their appropriate levels of intensity for quality exercise.

By sampling Chris's blood lactate we we're able to monitor how his muscle metabolism was responding to exercise, then accurately determine what heart rate he should exercise at.  For more details on lactate testing go here.

So how fit is Chris?  He's more fit than the average sedentary Canadian (insert sound of crickets).  OK so that's not exactly fit. Those cyclists we see riding their bikes in Winnipeg snow storms?  Not that fit. Chris achieved the correct level of intensity for an easy steady pace that would make his muscles, heart, and lungs function better (that's what fitness is), but without the intensity feeling like you're going cough up a lung, and won't leave you feeling sore the next day.

The heart rate Chris should exercise at is 120 -125 beats per minute, where Chris's legs produce enough power to run a 100W light bulb.  By comparison the average avid bicycle commuter will reach this level of exertion at about 160W, the average weekend warrior skier, runner, cyclist, will reach this level around 170-200W, amateur athletes 200-220W, and pro athletes about 280W (these numbers are greatly influenced by the size of the person; smaller more svelte people put out lower numbers, and larger more muscular people put out higher numbers).

Incase you were wondering, the worlds top cyclists when going all out for an hour will hold around 500 watts.  Try 500W on a stationary bike at your local gym to get sense of how much power a pro can hold for an hour.  Top sprinters will peak out at 1700-2200 Watts for about 5 seconds.

Keep in mind Chris's levels aren't peak levels, 100W is the intensity Chris would exercise at for 30 to 60 minutes and have it feel easy.  Once he adapts to the easy exercise Chris will start doing more intensive interval training, but starting off with an intensity that won't feel too terribly demanding.  Once Chris get's through the base conditioning phase, his body will be more tolerant to hard exercise.  Exercise too hard too soon and adaptation is not very effective, and risk of excess soreness and injury is greater.  When Chris is ready, which won't be long from now, he'll go hard and turn his body into lean, mean fighting machine!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Light At Night May Be Linked To Depression

A new study on hamsters shows that a small amount of light while sleeping increased depressive symptoms. The light, equivalent to a what might be emitted by a small TV, affected the hippocampus region of the brain, which were thought to be the cause of the observed increased depressive symptoms.

Light entering closed eyelids at night alters melatonin production, which is an important hormone that regulates our sleep cycle, and now believed to effect the hippocampus as well.

Other sleep studies have shown that light exposure at night, such as from a night light, outside street lamps, or other sources, can negatively effect the quality of our sleep.

It's best to use black out curtains and ensure your room is dark enough that you can't clearly see your own hand held at arms length in front of your face.  If you can see your hand, you room is too light for quality sleep.

Light at night causes changes in brain linked to depression

Compassionate Coaching Better Than Negative Coaching

One of these phrases will activate regions of brain associated with positive imagery and being open to possibilities.  The other will shut down brain circuits that allow you to perceive a positive future.

"You're doing that all wrong.  Don't do it wrong, do it right.  Do it like this."

"If you do it this way it will make you stronger."

A news release from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio highlights a study where compassionate coaching and a typical traditional method of coaching where compared.

The researchers used functional MRI to see which parts of the brain would be "lit up" when study subjects were exposed to different coaching methods.

The results showed how coaching that focused on future benefits affected the brain differently than coaching that focussed mainly mistakes.

Read here for more details.

From sports coaching to managing and training employees, "compassionate coaching" has a much higher potential of netting a better result.  Researchers maintained that "everyone has to look at their weaknesses and take them on", but that focusing on doing that which creates a positive outcome is more important overall.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Creams To Treat Eczema May Make It Worse

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS).  I'm familiar with avoiding this additive found in many soaps and skin products as it irritates my girlfriends skin.  Because of this we only buy soaps/ shampoo's without this compound.

A study has shown that if creams used to treat the skin condition eczema contain SLS, it could make the eczema worse.

There is a thin layer of lipids on our skin that protects it, retains moisture, and helps to reduce the absorption of chemicals into the skin.

SLS reduces the thickness of this protective layer.  People with eczema already have compromised skin, and SLS could irritate their skin further.

Effect of Aqueous Cream BP on human stratum corneum in vivo - Tsang - 2010 - British Journal of Dermatology - Wiley Online Library

How Chocolate May Reduce Blood Pressure

I love chocolate.  Of course if I show it a little too much love the extra calories will cause weight gain, and with significant weight gain comes all the health problems that extra body fat brings, including high blood pressure.

Studies have shown though, that in small amounts, dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) appears to have positive health effects.

A new chocolate study from Sweden (where else) has discovered a specific mechanism of dark chocolate that over the long term may result in reducing blood pressure.

The study looked at the effects of 75 grams of dark chocolate (72% cocoa) on ACE activity. 

ACE inhibitor drugs are a common treatment for high blood pressure.  The dark chocolate caused an 18% reduction in ACE activity, comparable to the effect of ACE inhibitor drugs.

Reduced ACE activity over time will reduce blood pressure.  The duration of this study was not long enough to observe reduced blood pressure, that will need another study.

Effects of Cocoa Extract and Dark Chocolate on Angiotensin-C... : Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Electric Jolt To The Brain Improves Math Abilities/ Fit Kids Are Smarter

Read this interesting story on how researchers found that applying a small electric current to the brain had lasting effects on increasing math skills. NewsDaily: Electric brain stimulation can improve maths: study

Although I find that fascinating, I'm more interested in how exercise and being fit increases learning ability and cognition.  Students' physical fitness associated with academic achievement; organized physical activity

Students in 5th through 7th grades were followed, measuring academic performance as the students progressed through the grades.  Fit students scored higher than less fit students.

Students who were less fit in grade 5 but then more fit by grade 7 improved academically.  Those who were more fit in grade five but lost fitness by grade 7 showed a decrease in academic scores.  Students who maintained their fitness also maintained their higher academic prowess.

Stay fit and we can be as smart as a 5th grader.

More Exercise/ Fitness = Fewer Colds

You can cut the number of colds you get per year, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms and duration of a cold by nearly 50%.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has shown that being fit and exercising 5 days per week can significantly reduce the duration of colds and the severity of cold symptoms by between 32 and 43%, compared to those who exercise one or fewer days per week.

Caution is headed though, as previous studies have shown an increase risk of colds if one exercises too hard too often, referred to as overtraining, as well as increasing risk of repetitive strain injury and injuries in general.

Damed if you do, damed if you don't?

Hardly :-)

Exercise frequently and within your means.. don't overdo it and you'll be healthier and more fit.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Healthy Halloween: An Oxymoron?

Don't eat too much junk on Halloween.

"You're a buzzkill Cris!"

"It's only once per year, lighten up!"

"Everything in moderation"

The average Halloween haul can easily be well over 1000 calories.  One serving of Hershey's Kisses (9 pieces) is 200 calories.  Is that bad?

Not really.  Trick-or-treaters are likely to burn off several hundred calories walking door to door to gather loot, add a few more calories burned if the haul gets heavy.

So if we did a straight calories in - calories out comparison using a moderate consumption of candies versus the calories blown off collecting those candies, you may see no excess intake of calories, but probably too many of the days calories coming from processed surgery candies.

Does that really happen?  Or are kids, and adults for that matter eating more calories in candies than they burned off getting the candies?

Yes.  It doesn't end on Halloween day though.. we usually sneak a few candies prior to Halloween, you know.. to warm up a little.  The days following the big haul we gradually chip away at the pile of sugar, fat, and sodium (and artificial colours/ flavours) that make up the tasty treats.

For the naysayers out there who like to make extreme interpretations of what I say, I am not suggesting that we all lock ourselves in a room with treadmill on Halloween and completely abstain from eating any candies at all.  I'm saying let's be a little more cerebral and less blinded by tradition.  Enjoy Halloween, but maybe put less into thinking that all the reward is in the over-consumption of crap.

Think about this.. is there any day of the year that places as much commercial and personal emphasis on promoting, anticipating, and feeling rewarded from eating healthy or simply living healthy?

Nope.  Not one day.. ever.

All we have are holidays and festive times that celebrate overeating, and always overeating things are not that healthy to begin with, even in moderate amounts.

So where's the "everything in moderation" there?  The "buzzkill" is obesity, type two diabetes, coronary artery disease and cancer.

No, you don't drop dead of cancer from eating some candy on Halloween.  I didn't say that.

Over the years we're alive though, the repeated celebration of overeating and emphasis on feeling rewarded via pigging out adds up.  That's why more of our population is overweight every year, and those who are overweight are more overweight.

What can be done?

Collect less loot on Halloween.  Celebrate getting together with friends and family, doing the costume thing, and trick or treating.

If your loot pile is really big, throw out half or more.  That's right.. throw it in the garbage. It isn't wasteful to throw out the junk food, it's WAIST-FULL to eat it.

Associate non-rewarding ill-health effects with over-doing it, but don't totally freakout about it, it won't harm us to eat some candy treats.

Selection:  Lot's of words in the ingredients label? Give stronger consideration to tossing it.

See if you can have some fun guessing the calorie content of the candies.  Go online to the candy makers website and see what the number really is.  Use the actual calorie count to help establish how quickly the calories add up and where to draw the line.

Avoid dipping into the bag while out trick or treating.  Save all the junk to the end, dump it all on a table to take a look at what you have, and pick out a few of your favorites and enjoy those.  Save a few for the next few days, but don't try to lengthen out the rations.. why prolong over consuming junk food?  Give yourself 3 days or so of picking at leftovers, then trash the rest.

Thinking of what to hand out at the door?  Why not hand out toys? A study that looked at kids sense of reward from receiving a toy or candy on Halloween showed that when given a choice kids were just as likely to choose toys as candies.  Cut down the junk, add some toys.

Choose healthier snacks like low fat granola bars and pure chocolates.

Overeating doesn't have to be the main focus of reward on Halloween.  Enjoy the festivities, eat a little less..

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gut Bacteria Help Cancer Fighting Properties Of Broccoli

A new study shows that gut bacteria in the lower intestine can help release sulforaphane, the active ingredient in broccoli that has a protective effect effect against prostate cancer.

Just 3 to 5 servings per week of broccoli have measurable anti cancer affects.

Eat your broccoli :-)

Glucoraphanin hydrolysis by microbiota in the rat cecum results in sulforaphane absorption - Food & Function (RSC Publishing)

Use Nutrition Labels To Make Healthy Choices

A new campaign by Health Canada intends on helping Canadians get more utility from food nutrition fact boxes on packaged foods.

If a nutrient is 5% or less of its %Daily Value, it's "a little".  If the value is 15% or above, it's "a lot".

I would shoot for a standard that's higher than that though.  Although the cumulative value of many foods throughout the day certainly adds up, you may not achieve the value you need 15% at a time.

Keep saturated fats, sodium, and trans fats %DV low, and important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, fibre, vitamin C, and vitamin A high.

Go to Health Canada's new website to learn more.  Use the interactive tools.

% Daily Value

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eating The Right Foods Protects Against Disease

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have demonstrated that diet "high in antioxidants, low-GI foods (i.e. slow release carbohydrates), omega fatty acids, wholegrain products, probiotics and viscous dietary fibre", reduced cholesterol by 33%, blood lipids by 14%, high blood pressure by 8%, and a risk marker for blood clots by 26%.  Memory and cognitive function were also increased.

"Examples of foods eaten were oily fish, barley, soy protein, blueberries, almonds, cinnamon, vinegar and a certain type of wholegrain bread"

Researchers stressed that a combination of healthy foods is better than focussing on one food to deliver health benefits.  The idea is that the variety of plant chemicals from several foods is more protective than nutrients from specific foods in isolation. 

Right foods aid memory and protect against disease - Lund University

More Muscle Mass Means Longer Life For Kidney Disease Patients

A new study finds that dialysis patients with more muscle mass in their upper arm were 37% less likely to die during the 5 year study (792 subjects).  Study authors suggest more research to discover exactly what role more muscle mass has in preserving life of kidney disease patients.

Those with more muscle mass also scored higher on mental health tests.

Possible future recommendations may be to include mass building resistance training or drugs to preserve and increase lean muscle in kidney disease patients, and to decrease the risk of sarcopenia (loss of lean muscle mass).  Physical inactivity and poor nutrition are causes of sarcopenia.

Mid-Arm Muscle Circumference and Quality of Life a... [Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010] - PubMed result

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting to the heart of holiday eating

Overeating just one time, like at Thanksgiving dinner, alters hormonal balance that leads to more overeating.

Ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone produced in the stomach, is increased when our stomach is emptied, and decreases after eating, but when we overeat, the next time ghrelin is released it's released in greater quantities.   This makes us feel more hungry than we usually do.

Leptin, an appetite suppressing hormone produced primarily by fat cells, increases as we eat letting us feel satiated (full and satisfied).  Blood levels of leptin are proportional to body fat; more body fat = more leptin.

How does that work?  If leptin decreases appetite, and the more fat we store the more leptin we have, shouldn't we feel less hungry as we gain weight, and automatically feel like eating less?

That makes perfect sense and is why researchers wanted to create a leptin based obesity drug.  Didn't work.

Turns out the brains leptin receptors become desensitized to loads of leptin being released.

Ghrelin and leptin counter act each other well so long as we don't become overweight.  Being overweight alters the way these hormones work causing us to feel more hungry and feel less satisfied from eating, prompting us to eat more to get that satisfied feeling.

OK, but I'm not going to become overweight from eating one meal, so this doesn't affect me.

In addition to the chronic effect on these hormones from being overweight, the same effect occurs short term after just one high calorie meal.

For up to 72 hours after one high calorie meal the two hormones gang up on your brain causing you to feel unusually hungry the next day. Overeating stimulates us to continue overeating.


Short on sleep?  Less than 6 hours sleep causes more ghrelin to be produced: not getting enough sleep makes you feel more hungry than you actually are.

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving dinner?

Eating a large meal in the evening interferes with sleep quality and decreases sleep time.  Now there are two known influences on increased ghrelin production occurring simultaneously: Overeating and not getting enough sleep.

Can't deny it tastes great while we eat it.  I know I'll enjoy the family Thanksgiving dinner tonight.

So how do we have our cake and eat it too?

The most difficult challenge is not generating the short term will power to eat a little less, it's a long term project that involves a lot of cognitive practice.

It's important to teach ourselves to feel satisfied from eating portions that are healthy.  When we attach a huge reward association with mega overeating we will of course feel deprived when that reward is taken away.

OK.. long term change for how I look at food and feel rewarded from it.  Got it.

So what about tonight? I don't have the luxury of completing that long term goal in the next 8 hours.

  • Drink a couple cups of water within 15 to 20 minutes before dinner.  This will result in needing less food to feel full.
  • One heaping plate of Thanksgiving food is between 1000 and 2000 calories. The average person only needs 500 calories at a meal.  Keep total calories in mind.
  • Fill your plate less.  Hmm.. maybe "fill" is the wrong word here.  Whatever you put on your plate, make sure you can still see the plate.
  • Most veggies are low calorie but have bulk, and excellent nutrient density.  Put more veggies on the plate; go ahead.. make half your plate all veggies!
  • Careful with the calorie dense veggies like potatoes, only a 1/4 plate here.
  • And yes, the turkey and ham only need occupy about 1/4 of the plate, and no, making that 1/4 plate 5 cm high doesn't count.
  • Serve buffet style.  Studies show when we have large serving dishes on the table we eat at, we tend to serve ourselves more.
  • Use smaller plates.  Simple, and it works.
  • Careful with dessert.  The calories in dessert can often be as much as one plate of dinner. Sure tastes great, but does cause us physical harm, and you know the next day you'll regret eating so much.  So have desert, but teach yourself to be satisfied with a healthy amount.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Noise at work hammers heart

"Get a hearing aid!".. "Hugh?.. Get marmalade?  What are you saying?"

We normally associate too much exposure to noise with hearing loss.. add cardiovascular disease to that.

Studies are now showing a clear relationship between chronic exposure to noise in the workplace and  increased risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pain, and heart attack.

The response is greater in smokers.

How does noise do this?  Research did not find increases in fats or cholesterol in the blood, but did find chronic noise exposure increased blood pressure, specifically diastolic blood pressure without increased systolic pressure, called independent diastolic hypertension (IDH).  Systolic pressure is measured when the heart pumps, diastolic is between beats when the heart relaxes.

It's thought that chronic noise exposure is stressful, resulting in constricting blood vessels.

Noise study

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sports Drinks Associated With Healthy Living, But Not Differentiated From Pop

Physically active people are more likely to consume sports drinks, and in general sports drinks are perceived as being "healthy".

In fact most sports drinks are not very nutrient dense, and aren't meant to be.  Sports drinks are meant to be used during prolonged physical activity, but I'm sure the manufacturers don't mind if you consume them casually, and not just during prolonged exercise.  It's easier to sip a sports drink from a water bottle than eat a banana while playing hockey, jogging or cycling, and the sports drinks that have around 6% carbohydrate solution have been shown to be absorbed the best (energy gets to your muscles quickly).

How do you know if the sports drink you choose has about 6% carbs?  Easy.. there will be around 6 grams of carbohydrate for every 100ml of sports drink; this information will be on the nutrition label. 

The association of health with sports drinks has lead to a concern that many will opt for a sports drink instead of a pop thinking that they're making a healthy choice.  While many sports drinks are less calorie dense than pop (but some are the same), consuming extra sugar calories unnecessarily is not a great choice.

Once physical activity is longer than 45 to 60 minutes carbohydrate replacement becomes important in order to continue performing.. otherwise you'll run out of gas.

If you're not exercising for long periods then sports drinks have no real purpose.  If you're looking for a healthy snack, you're better off with an orange, apple, banana etc (which are also far cheaper!).

There are no studies showing consuming vitamin water is superior to good nutrition, or is of any added benefit with good nutrition.  There are studies showing that vitamins are absorbed better from foods than from pills.  

It seems strange to look towards vitamin water to try and get vitamins, when eating a single carrot (super cheap) will provide far more absorbable vitamin A than vitamin water will, ditto for vitamin C from an orange. 

Use sports drinks for sports, avoid consuming extra the sugar calories when you're not active enough to require the extra calories.

Social Rejection Slows Heart Rate

You've been dissed, and for a few moments you feel like there's a weight on your chest.  You're feeling the physiological response of how the body deals with being rejected.  

In a study where subjects were shown pictures of people they don't know, then asked to guess whether or not that person may or may not reject them, the heart rate of subjects decreased when rejected, and decreased even more when unexpectedly rejected.. that is.. when subjects guessed that a person would not reject them, but then did, heart rate decreased more and took longer to recover to normal.

In related research it was found that those with low self esteem experienced higher levels of "social pain" and those with high self esteem consistently overestimated the number of times they would be accepted.  Additionally those with high self esteem had less change in the areas of the brain that process acceptance and rejection, showing that if you have high self esteem you'll have a positive outlook that helps protect you from feeling the social pain from rejection.

How do we use this info to help us?

Exercise the old axiom, "don't worry, be happy", and for sure, think positive things about yourself :-)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do we need the government to tell us what to eat?

Whenever the government regulation argument is made there is the juxtaposition of big brother control versus freedom to choose.  For the most part this deliberation might be moot.

Whenever salmonella or E. coli gets into our commercially supplied food we the people become angst and demand government regulators do more to hold food manufacturers and suppliers to higher standards.  In this light we typically see big corporations being demonized by people, portrayed as only caring about profits and not about the safety of their customers.

Talk about reducing the gargantuan 1000, 1500 calorie plus meals, and limiting the mind boggling severe sodium levels of 1000 mg per serving though... well now those same corporations that were charged with greed and insensitivity are now public hero's serving up great tasting meals that the government has no business sticking their nose in.

We hope that the food handlers training and certification regulations provides some level of assurance that food is prepared under sanitary conditions and if it isn't, there better be a price to pay, and this will be tightly regulated.. to protect the health and safety of consumers. 

We have, and demand to have, tough government regulations in all manner of food products from listing when a food is expected to spoil (best before date), and that no products should be allowed to be on shelf after this date, to the temperature that fridges and freezers are at (to maintain food quality).

So in fact we already have regulations that serve to ensure a certain level of food safety and these regulations had to be put in place because there were enough problems occurring that we could not be assured that all businesses knew about and followed the same standards.. that is to say.. when business was left to self regulate there were enough that did't play fair that an even playing field had to be regulated.

Would anyone like to see the regulations concerning safe food handling be revoked? Should we have the right to choose to eat E. coli contaminated food?

"Fair point Cris.. but that's food safety.. regulating food taste is different."

It's an interesting counter point because fat, sugar, and salt are the main targets to be regulated, and it's these three ingredients that contribute a great deal to the flavour and ultimately the gratification that accompanies that flavour.

But what if that flavour reward is the result of an over stimulus our bodies were not designed to cope with?

What if chasing that gratification clouds our otherwise good judgment and in pursuit of those tasty morsels, we cause ourselves high blood pressure, high levels of circulating fats in our blood?

We now understand that high concentrations of fat, sugar, and salt cause an above normal heightened sense of pleasure from eating: pleasure centres in the brain are more active than with normal proportions of these ingredients.

High fat-high calories meals also alter hormones that regulate how full you feel and hungry you feel, making you feel more hungry and less full.

This results in experiencing the sensation of hunger when you're not actually physically hungry or exaggerates these feelings, and increases the amount of food you need to eat to feel full.

We can taste extra salt but we can't feel blood pressure rising.  We sense the immediate gratification from eating but don't necessarily make the connection that we're reducing our quality of life and indeed our life span.

I think it's interesting we'll demand government regulations for some things, yet proclaim the "nanny state" argument for government intervention in other things.

I've said it before.. in my opinion the best solution is that we the customers ask for healthier food choices from restaurants and food manufacturers.  Right now consumer demand helps drive the cycle of ever increasing portion sizes and keeps the eat lots = reward association going.

The ignition source for many government regulations though is the refusal or lack of recognition for the need of individuals or corporations to regulate themselves, and this may end up being the case for the genesis for regulating proportions of fat, salt, and sugar in foods we buy.  Obviously as a population we're not regulating ourselves all that well as obesity and overweight stats continue to climb,  and clearly if restaurants heavily promote "all you can eat" deals; we're not really doing much to reverse our obsession with overeating.

So many have told me that they can't stand the idea of big brother taking away their right to choose to be satisfied from a simple pleasure like eating cake.  I don't get this though, as the outcome of outlawing cake has never been part of any regulation proposal I've seen.. that's simply an extreme juxtaposition that's used to try to make things sound worse than they really are.

What may be regulated are extreme levels of fat, salt, and sugar in that cake..  We can still bake and sell great tasting cakes and such.. but the composition of those cakes should not exceed levels of ingrediants that are known to cause serious long term health problems.

We're in love with fat, sugar, and salt, and we hate the idea of this being taken away.


It's about  regulating risk of harm, not about eliminating cakes and burgers.

Health: OECD says governments must fight fat

Check this out.. a study from George Washington University shows obesity adds a few thousand dollars to annual living expenses.. being overweight adds a few hundred dollars..

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Junk Food Cheaper Than Healthy Food? MYTH!

As heard this morning on CJOB with Chris Reid on the Weekend Wakeup Show

Looking through this mornings supermarket flyers I converted sale prices of various foods to $ per kilogram or Litre to get a straight price comparison..

Oatmeal                                  $2.59/ kg
Name brand potato chips        $9.84/ kg
No Name potato chips            $6.66/ kg
Yams                                      $1.50/ kg
Tortilla chips                          $10.70/ kg
Apples                                    $1.46 - $2.18/ kg
Oranges                                  $0.61/ kg
Sugary cereal                          $6.82/ kg
Whole wheat cereal                $4.01/ kg
Chocolate bars                        $12.71/ kg
Brand name grain/ nut bars     $16.66/ kg
No name Granola bars           $7.37/ kg
Salad in bag                            $5.48/ kg
Bakery cake                            $5.03/ kg
Cookies                                   $7.73/ kg
Packaged cakes and rolls        $8.83/ kg
Whole wheat bread                 $2.92/ kg
Specialty "healthy" bread        $4.83/ kg
Canned beans and pasta          $1.93/ kg
Quick rice packages                $7.10/ kg
Fruit Yogurt                             $1.92/ kg
Canned tuna                             $7.35/ kg
Frozen Pizza                            $5.55/ kg
Orange juice                            $1.50/ Litre/ kg
No Name cola                          $0.45/ Litre/ kg
Skim milk                                 $1.16/ Litre/ kg
Banana's                                   $1.52/ kg
Blueberries                                $8.28/kg
Broccoli                                    $3.29/kg

Nearly all the healthier choices here are either significantly cheaper than the less healthy choices, or very similar in price.

Comparing the nutrient density of baked yam and plain potato chips and you can see that both are fairly nutritious, with the potato chips beating out the yam on several nutrients.  Woo hoo! Let's get at those potato chips and forget about those damn yams!  Ok.. But the potato chips are also a lot higher in a couple other factors.. sodium: Chips- 525 mg/ 100g.. Yam 8mg/ 100g.  Calories: Chips- 547/ 100g.. Yam 116/ 100/ g.  So why do potato chips have more vitamins and minerals compared to yams?  What gives?

Actually, per gram of dry weight, the yams are better, hugely significantly better, by about 300%.  Read the nutritional break down.  100 grams of baked yam has 70.1g of water.  Potato chips have 2.3g of water per 100 gram serving.  The process of making chips is more dehydrating than baking a yam (or potato).

Hmmm.. so if almost all the water is dehydrated making potato chips, but the nutrient density is still similar, how does that work?  An important question you might not think to ask.  Taking away all that water should result in the grams of nutrients being around 300% more in the chips, if all you did was bake potato slices until mostly dry, but chips are 20 to 50% (not 300%) more nutrient dense when looking at vitamin C, potassium and the like.

The missing grams of nutrients are replaced by fat, sugar, and salt, that's why the calories and sodium are so high in the chips.  Chips are made essentially by dehydrating potato slices and adding a lot of fat, salt and other flavouring.

The calorie cost of potato chips is far higher than from a potato.. you have to eat over 300% more calories and 700% more sodium to get at those vitamins.. not worth the trade off.

No name cola is a little less than 1/3 the cost of orange juice, but the orange juice is significantly more nutrient dense.. you get absolutely no vitamins and minerals with cola (ok I'm exaggerating a bit there, you get a trace amount), but the orange juice has lot's of vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

The grain and nut bars marketed as being uber healthy were more costly than chocolate bars, but the chocolate bars were amongst the most expensive items here. No name granola bars where cheaper than chocolate bars.  Read the labels for sure, but wise shopping will find granola bars are more nutrient dense than chocolate bars.. but do read the label.. easy to get a fatty granola bar.

Think that specialty "healthy" bread is way too costly because it's 2X the cost of regular whole wheat bread?  "I'm not buying that!  That's a rip off!  Hmmm... where's them potato chips."

Those potato chips are 35 to 50% more costly than that specialty health bread.

The potato chips are justified as inexpensive, quick, great tasting food.

The healthy bread is perceived as a rip off.

I don't know.. kinda looks the other way around to me.. according to the actual price and the amount of vitamins and minerals you get out of each.

Someone is buying this healthy stuff though, otherwise it wouldn't be on the shelf.  Yeah, heh, heh.. it's those granola hippies.. they'll buy anything... weird.  Maybe, but looking at the actual cost and nutrient density comparisons, it might seem a little weird to buy food that costs twice as much and has less than half the vitamins and minerals.

If we can get passed the urban myth that junk food is cheaper than healthy food, and that junk food is more tasty, it's easy to instantly realize that fruit yogurt at $1.92/ kg is far cheaper than cookies at $7.73/ kg.. both taste good, and one is better for you.

So tell me.. after eating something that we know isn't the greatest for us.. how do we feel?  How many either try to either ignore it, or find themselves feeling regretful?

And when we eat something that tastes great and is healthy, do people feel the same regret?

... healthy food, most of the time, is cheaper than junk food, is accessible, and easy to prepare/ consume, and you don't feel buyers remorse afterwards.

Get passed the old stereotypes and get into healthy eating, it's cheaper, tastes great, can make you healthier and feel better.  You brain will work better, you'll sleep better, and you'll have more energy.

Almost seems to good to be true, but.. it is true :-)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I only gained a few pounds.. no problem.. Or is it?

Although the majority of our population is overweight, most who are overweight report themselves as less overweight than they are, and many also believe that the health problems associated with being overweight will not happen to them, but probably will to other people who are overweight.

We tend to have fairly wide spread social acceptance for temporary weight gain being a right of passage of sorts where holidays, academic pursuits, and time away from seasonal physical activity leads to short term modest weight gain.

We know that weight gain is connected to developing future health problems, but how much weight gain is needed to start causing problems?  Are those holiday pounds really a concern; or do we only have to start worrying when gain 20 or 30 pounds?

9 pounds is enough to cause 'endothelial dysfunction'.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota shows that young (age 29) healthy men and woman who don't smoke that gain 9 pounds of fat will develop an artery stiffening problem known as endothelial dysfunction.

The distribution of stored fat was very important.  Those who's waist lines expanded the most had the largest impairment of artery function.  Abdominal fat, also referred to as visceral fat, has been proven to have the greatest negative influence on health, even greater than total weight gain or BMI.

In this study blood pressure remained in the healthy range for all subjects, even those with the greatest endothelial disfunction.  So you can have healthy blood pressure, but still have impaired artery function.

Stiffening arteries isn't something you can feel.  You're not going wake up in the morning, yawn, stretch your arms up and say, "ooohhaa... arteries a little stiff today".

In fact cardiovascular disease is often referred to as the silent killer, as the first sign when chronic and left unchecked, is often a heart attack or stroke.  

According to this research, and prior research showing the same results, if your waist line increases, your arteries will get stiffer, even if your blood pressure is in the healthy range.

So don't be too proud of sporting a modest "buddha belly" and healthy blood pressure ("Yeah I got a bit of a gut, but my blood pressure is fine, my cholesterol is good.. it's not a problem for me").. expanding waist line, even a moderate amount = health problem.

The solution?  A bit of a no-brainer.. don't let your belly get bigger, and if it does, losing belly fat to a healthy level will reverse the endothelial dysfunction. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lifting lighter weights can make muscles bigger

Yo!  You want to grow big muscles? You have to lift heavy.. there is no other way!

So goes the myth.  True, lifting heavy weights is great for increasing muscle mass, but it's a myth that this is the only way.

Nick Burd and his peers from the Exercise Metabolism Research Group at McMaster University, Ontario, recently published a study that looks beneath the skin and beyond boisterous gym talk claims to see exactly what happens to muscles when a person lifts weights, more specifically, how people respond to lifting heavy weights and light weights.. Which protocol makes your muscles bigger?


The really interesting part is how proteins in muscles respond after training is done.

Always keep in mind that exercise is a cellular stimulus.  No matter what is going on on the outside, no matter what sport or activity, you are imparting a stimulus to cells in your body.  If there isn't enough stimulus cell response will be small or nothing.  Doing more only goes so far as well.. there is a biological limit to the amount of stimulus you can respond to.  Sure.. you can continue to exercise beyond this point, but no further fitness gains will be made and risk of injury and excess fatigue increases.

So what about stimulating muscles to get bigger?

Lifting heavy weights to failure, where your last repetition cannot be completed, is a proven method of increasing strength and muscle size.  Typically somewhere between 60% and 90% of a persons 1RM is lifted until failure, with 70% to 80% of 1RM being the most popular.

1RM is the heaviest weight you can lift 1 time.

There's some trouble using 1RM to set training values.  To find 1 RM you have to lift the heaviest weight you can possibly lift.  No problem for well trained people, could mean injury for those just starting out or with modest experience, and for the uninitiated, really hard lifting can be intimidating or simply seem like too much effort.

Turns out that finding the weight that causes you to reach failure between 8 and 12 repetitions gets you into that 70% to 80% of 1RM range.. so no need to test 1RM, just do trial and error to find the weight you can't lift more than 8 to 12 times.

What about a weight that is much lighter.. light enough that you don't reach failure until around 30 repetitions?

That's for wimps! Or is it?  Failure at 30 reps feels about the same as failure at 8 reps so you still have to be focussed and motivated to push yourself.  And Nick Burds study clearly shows that protein synthesis, the actual biological process of building muscle, is greater the day after lifting 30% of 1RM to failure than lifting 90% of 1RM to failure.  24 hours after the workout the high rep/ low weight groups muscles were still responding, but the low rep group?.. Not so much..

In this study 90% of 1RM resulted in about 5 reps to failure, where 30% of 1RM gave 24 reps to failure.

In a follow up study to be published soon,  Burd et al will show how those completing an actual training program either following around 30% of 1RM or 80% of 1RM to failure both gained the same amount of muscle.  Stay tuned for more details on that study..

Interestingly when about the same amount of work done in the 90% 1RM to failure group was work matched to the load in the 30% 1RM to failure group, very little (comparatively) protein synthesis occurred.


Lifting 10 pounds 10 times equals a volume load of 100 pounds- 10 reps X 10 lbs.

Lifting 5 pounds 20 times also equals a volume load of 100 pounds, the same total amount of work done by the muscles doing the lifting.. but does the same amount of total work with a lighter weight cause the same muscle adaptation?


But wait a minute.. isn't this study about proving how lifting lighter weights lots of times can equal lifting heavier weights fewer times?

Yes, and it does.

The difference is going to failure.

If the workload is divided up in such a way that it can be easily completed, that is, without experiencing the struggle associated with lifting until you can't lift anymore, then the muscles don't receive the stimulus that is best for provoking them to get bigger.


If you need more strength then lifting lighter weights lots of times will still work.  So you can get bigger and stronger muscles with lighter weights.  But if you wan't to maximize the strength needed to lift heavy loads, you won't be able to do that without lifting heavy.

Great now I'm more confused than ever!  How the heck does this info help me?

First, never look for one special routine to be THE workout that does everything in less time with less effort.  That concept is a great marketing gimmick, but is.. a bunch of BS.

Here's the summary:

To gain muscle mass, whatever weight you lift, you have to repeat lifting it until you can't lift it anymore. Do 2 to 4 sets of this with a few minutes rest between.  Consume a protein source immediately after your workout.  500ml of skim milk works great.  So does 1% chocolate milk.  A chicken sandwich works too.  Ditto for rice and beans.  The milk source might be one of the better choices, but not everyone drinks milk.

The repetition range that studies show work well for gaining muscle mass is anywhere between 5 and 30 repetitions, so long as when you get there, you can't complete another repetition.

It's possible that even more reps will still work, so long as you go to failure.  More studies needed to confirm what is best, and best for what purpose (are you a linebacker or marathon runner?).

Heavy weights have a better chance of causing injury, but lifting heavy weights is needed for gaining maximum strength, so proper preparation is the caveat for heavy lifting.  This study does not suggest those needing or wanting maximum strength can swap out heavy weights for light weights.

Lifting lighter weights is a better option for beginners and for seniors trying to gain or sustain muscle strength and size.

Do you really have to go to failure every time? Is that what this means?

No. That's absolutism.

One would lift weights to failure only once they have completed a physical preparation period of easier exercises to build exercise tolerance, learn technique, and take care of existing posture and strength imbalances.

During any one workout, you should only push your limits when you are recovered enough to do so.  Pushing limits when fatigued increases injury risk and more often than not just makes you more fatigued instead of more fit, bigger, faster, or whatever you're tying to train.

Had a great hour long conversation with the study lead author (Nick Burd).  He had a great tip related to building lean muscle:  Studies show that taking NSAIDs like Advil/ Ibuprofen after weight training interferes with the biochemical process of building lean muscle; so you train, but your muscles ability to adapt to that training is impaired by the drug.

So if you're thinking NSAID's will help reduce muscle soreness you may have, that may be true, but it is also true that doing so will prevent your muscles from getting bigger- from that workout anyway.

The biggest take home from this?

What you know can help you.  We may be fairly far removed from the world of a researcher, but what the researcher discovers can help us in our day to day living, and in this case, maximizing our ability to gain muscle mass.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Slow Walking No Good For Fat Loss, More Cycling = More Fat Loss

We probably already know this, but when study confirms what we already know and fine tunes our knowledge it gives us (or me anyway) an excuse to talk about it more.

A large study done on 18, 414 premenopausal woman followed over 16 years showed that more cycling = less weight gain and more weight loss, specifically cycling more than four hours per week.  Even two to three hours per week had a significant positive effect on overweight and obese woman.

Walking also provided decreased weight gain or weight loss, so long as it wasn't too slow.  Walking less than 3 mph, even if more time was added, had no weight loss benefit.

The researchers conclude that the more cycling woman do, the less weight they will gain, especially for overweight and obese woman.  Most research is done on male subjects so it's good to see studies focusing on the response of woman.

So.. ride to work, ride for recreation, ride for fitness, ride for weight loss.

Just get out and ride :-)

Arch Intern Med -- Abstract: Bicycle Riding, Walking, and Weight Gain in Premenopausal Women, June 28, 2010, Lusk et al. 170 (12): 1050

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Internet Versus Face To Face Counselling For Weight Loss

So long as you stick with the program you will succeed in weight loss getting help from a weight loss pro with one on one face time, or doing it yourself via the internet.

Both use the same strategies of educating, motivating, assessing, cognitive therapy, goal setting, and keeping records.

One study referenced a 12 lb weight loss after 6 months with internet intervention, and a 19 lb weight loss with face to face intervention.. both successful strategies.

One on one pro's

More weight loss likely
A pro is more likely able to respond to unique personal circumstances
More personal; can talk to you about how you feel, answer specific questions, develop rapport


Higher cost
Might have to try a few people before you find someone that clicks with you
Have to travel

Internet pro's

Lose significant weight
Lower cost
Available anywhere you have a computer or phone


Not as personal
Might give up sooner

The effect of a motivational intervention on weight loss is moderated by level of baseline controlled motivation

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coffee Merely Reverses Withdrawal From Caffeine: No Alertness benefit

Researcher Dr. Peter Rogers, a professor at the University of Bristol, England, has published several papers showing that caffeine does not increase alertness.. unless you are deprived of caffeine.

In one study, Rogers et all studied how caffeine research is done and found that in order to correct for confounding variables, such as decreased alertness and cognitive performance from caffeine withdrawal, only long term prior withdrawal from caffeine could provide accurate results.  Most studies on the cognitive effects of caffeine had been done on subjects who were in acute caffeine withdrawal, resulting in an apparent increase in alertness after consuming coffee or a caffeine pill.

In fact, It has now been shown that people were merely retuned to a more normal state; that is more coffee blunted the affect of caffeine withdrawal, it did not actually increase alertness above baseline levels.

So really caffeine withdrawal decreases alertness and more caffeine can mask the withdrawal.

Think your java is helping you?

Nope.  It's hurting you.  And once you're hooked it's hard to stop because along with cognitive impairment comes headaches.  Caffeine withdrawal is not pleasant for most, and more caffeine makes you feel pleasant again.  Well, not really.. a drug is masking its withdrawal symptoms.. you're not actually improving.

So if caffeine is a bust for alertness; is there anything that does work?

Of course!

You guessed it, diet and exercise.  Not enough sleep is fantastic for causing decreased alertness and cognitive performance and feeling "brain fog", so consistently getting a good nights sleep is the best preventative medicine.

Alertness and cognition rise above baseline levels after exercise.  A study on school children suggests that a single 20 minute bout of moderate walking is enough to improve academic performance.  The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive... [Neuroscience. 2009] - PubMed result

A very large study with 1,221,727 subjects concluded that cardiovascular fitness at age 18 predicted educational achievements later in life. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognitio... [Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009] - PubMed result

This study demonstrated that exercise increases brain volume in areas implicated with in executive processing. Exercise is brain food: the effects of physical ac... [Dev Neurorehabil. 2008] - PubMed result

Caffeine studies..

Association of the Anxiogenic and Alerting Effects... [Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010] - PubMed result

Absence of reinforcing, mood and psychomotor perfo... [Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2003] - PubMed result

Effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on moo... [Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2005] - PubMed result

Effects of caffeine on performance and mood: withd... [Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2005] - PubMed result

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Losing Muscle Mass Associated With Type II Diabetes Risk

We've all heard about the risk of developing type II diabetes from being very overweight or obese.  It has been speculated that too little muscle mass carries a similar risk.

A study done at UCLA found a correlation between sarcopenia (loss of lean muscle mass) and insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is a key variable that is involved in the development of type II diabetes.

In a cross sectional analysis of over 14,000 study participants reduced muscle mass was associated with both the obese and non-obese. 

The researchers say that both obesity and sarcopenia are independently associated with adverse glucose metabolism; being either too skinny or too fat can negatively affect glucose metabolism.

When dieting to lose body fat, many dieters don't do enough (or any) strength training and as a consequence many lose fat (which is good), but also lose lean muscle mass.  

Bone density and muscle mass are correlated to a large degree as the physical exercise required to stimulate muscle growth can also increase bone density. Avoiding exercise will cause a decrease in lean muscle mass, and also decrease bone density. However, the exercise has to be fairly challenging to get the bone density and muscle mass benefits.  To increase bone density exercises that load bones along the length of the bone appear to make a bigger difference to bone density compared to exercises that place force across the bone.

To clarify, lifting weights with your legs while standing (squats, lunges) would place a compression force along the length of your leg bones from your hips to your heals.  Doing a seated knee extension exercise places a force across the width of only your lower leg bones and does not stimulate bones to increase density.  A seated leg press will load your leg bones the same way the standing leg exercises does.

Gaining muscle mass requires some effort, but going too hard too soon will increase risk of injury so it's best to start slow and easy, and gradually increase your muscles ability to tolerate more challenging loads.

There are numerous benefits to increasing and maintaing muscle mass:

  • Increased strength.  This makes any daily task much easier to complete, and increases your options to participate in many physical activities
  • Maintain and increase mobility while ageing.  Much of the reduced mobility as we age is associated with sarcopenia from disuse.  This is a use it or lose it thing.  Many seniors would be able to retain full mobility or a greater portion of their mobility by continuing with regular exercise, including challenging strength training exercises designed to increase lean muscle.
  • Neurogenesis.  All exercise stimulates brain cell development.
  • Increased cognition.  All exercise increases cognitive function. 
  • Reduces risk of slip and fall.  Important for seniors who are at increased risk of bone fracture, but this benefit also benefits younger populations.. who likes falling down?
  • Increased muscle mass and bone density

Studies show that those in their 60's, 70's, and even 80's and 90's still respond to and benefit from strength training, increasing both muscular strength and size, along with physical mobility.

Important to know.. between ages 65 to 75 our ability to maintain muscle mass after injury and disuse decreases.  After a muscle injury, the healed muscle usually retains most or all of it's contractile fibres.  However the ability to repair muscles reduces between ages 65 to 75 and a much larger portion of the injured muscle after healing will become non-contractile fibre tissue.  This is another reason to place a great deal of importance to regular strength training as we age.  It's best to enter our 60's and 70's with as much muscle mass as possible.  I'm not suggesting everyone become bodybuilders or go extreme as this isn't necessary for the health benefits I'm talking about here, just once or twice week of challenging strength training is enough.  Having said that, if you've decided to get into bodybuilding, keep it up;  it's not just about getting big muscles, it's about health.

Once a person has graduated though the process of starting easy, learning proper technique, and building tolerance to more difficult weight training there are many options, but a safe start is gradually building up to doing 1 to 3 sets of around 30 repetitions using a weight heavy enough to make 30ish repetitions feel like that's all you can do.  Don't start out this hard though, start with fewer repetitions and stop lifting before it feels like fatigue forces you to stop.

Starting too hard doesn't make gains come any faster in the long run because going too hard can cause extra fatigue, soreness, and injury that prevents you from doing regular exercise.  The old standard of 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps is valid for increasing muscle mass and strength, but recent research has shown that high reps also increase muscle mass to the same degree, but the lighter weight is safer to lift for those starting out.

When thinking about weight training, think about the health benefits.  This really is something we need to do on a regular basis.  When focussed too much on getting bigger or stronger we can lose our way and subject ourselves to unhealthy amounts of exercise; going too hard to chase unrealistic goals.

If you're overweight and losing weight with good nutrition practices, it's very important to add strength training to overcome the risk of sarcopenia that is associated with dieting to lose fat.

If you're conscientious about losing weight and thinking about reducing your risk to type II diabetes, unless you have sufficient muscle mass, the diet alone may not offer the protection you're looking for.

New to weight training? It's a good idea to have an assessment done by a qualified trainer and get some instruction on proper technique.

PLoS ONE: Sarcopenia Exacerbates Obesity-Associated Insulin Resistance and Dysglycemia: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Detox and Cleansing Diets

I'll try to keep this one short.

Detox and cleansing diets are a scam.

The end.

Too bad that's not enough info to keep people from trying these silly diets.  Not that going into detail why they are a scam or don't work is going to make a dent in the popularity of detox diets, but I'll give it a shot.

The claims:

There are toxins in your body that only special detox/ cleans diets can get rid of.

These toxins make you tired, give you "brain fog", cause arthritis, and whatever long list of medical maladies the purveyor of the special diet makes for the day.

Is it true?

Can't be.  Could it be that a constantly lousy diet devoid of all the essential vitamins and minerals, as well as too many calories, poor fitness, and poor sleep cause people to feel tired and worn out?

Adress these variables (you know, eat right and exercise, get a good nights sleep), and.. don't be shocked here.. a person will instantly start feeling better.  No whacked out short term diet needed.

If a person was having an actual medical crisis where toxic levels of metabolic waste products were accumulating in the body it would mean a trip to the emergency, not going on a detox diet.

Frequently these diets also claim that the body will be too acidic and will need to be brought back into a less acidic state through eliminating fruits, nuts, grains, proteins and whatever else the scam artists arbitrarily decides to add to the list.. although they will try to make "scientific" rationalizations for these recommendations.

Trouble is there is no research that shows these diets have any detoxification affect, or any positive health affect of any kind.

Some of these diet take another approach and don't recommend a severe restriction of any normally healthy foods such as fruits and grains, but rather suggest you cut coffee, excessive alcohol, refined foods, and decrease portion sizes, and eat more veggies, nuts, grains.  This "special" diet (which is really a simple healthy diet) will "detoxify" your body and make you feel good.

No, a healthy diet will make you feel good because you are shifting from not meeting basic dietary needs to meeting dietary needs, not because of a "detox" effect.

Detox is taken care of largely by the kidneys, liver, and lungs.  If these organs were not working properly you would need a doctor, not diet, although of course anyone with an unhealthy diet will benefit from switching to a healthy diet.

These diets are short term and extremely restrictive.  They usually attract those who believe that since nothing they have tried has worked for them yet, maybe this will help.  It's the promise of hope; the hope to feel good, the hope to rid the body of these claimed toxins, the hope of something better in return for a short term effort.

The reality is most who feel they "have tried everything", have either only tried other fad diets that can't work anyway, or have not stuck to healthy habits long term.

Wikipedia has some good notes on these diets and what acidosis really is..


Master Cleanse

Sunday, May 23, 2010

2 Grams Of Ginger Per Day Reduces Muscle Pain

Previous research has shown that consuming around 500ml of tart cherry juice a few days prior to and after strenuous exercise like running a marathon or hard weight training can decrease recovery time, reduce the amount of acute strength loss normally found after fatiguing exercise, and reduce post exercise muscle soreness.

New research suggests that consuming 2 grams of raw ginger per day for 11 days will reduce post exercise muscle soreness by 25%, about the same result one may get from aspirin.

The study also looked at whether cooking the ginger would have an affect on the outcome; it didn't.

What wasn't investigated is whether or not this response is blunted over time, that is, does a person become resistant to the affect if ginger is consumed for longer periods (months instead of days).

ScienceDirect - The Journal of Pain : Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Reduces Muscle Pain Caused by Eccentric Exercise

1000 Calorie High Fat Meal Bad Idea For Those With Asthma

Actually a high fat, high calorie meal is a bad idea for anyone.  Previous studies have shown that just one high fat, high calorie meal increases artery stiffness, the level of oxidants in blood plasma, and increases the feeling of being hungry while decreasing the feeling of being full.

New research adds further understanding to the immediate deleterious affects of eating high calorie, high fat meals.

Asthma patients who ate a 1000 calorie meal (about 52% fat) consisting of fast food burgers and hash browns, had increased airway inflammation up to 4 hours after the meal.  To make this problem worse, the usefulness of Ventolin, a standard drug administered by puffer to relieve asthma symptoms did not work as well after the high fat meal.

Research from the University of Newcastle Australia was presented at the 2010 AGM for the American Thoracic Society

5 Minutes Of Exercise In The Bushes Good For The Psyche

An analysis of 10 studies involving 1252 people suggests that short periods of "green exercise" (in the presence of nature) has a positive affect on self esteem and mood.

Just 5 minutes of getting in touch with nature, even if in an urban park setting, had the highest payback in terms of time invested and the degree of benefit.  More benefit resulted from more green exposure, but the return diminished over time.  This doesn't mean that longer exercise periods in the bushes have no benefit; it means that in terms of eliciting an immediate positive response in self esteem and mood, 5 minutes will provide a great benefit.

For fitness and other health benefits, exercise lasting much longer than 5 minutes is needed.

If you're feeling a little pressure at work or wherever, you might choose to take a walk in a local park at lunch to reduce the stress.  Other research has shown that moderate to intensive exercise reduces stress (regardless of the environment), so if there is no green space park close by getting out for exercise on your lunch break will still have a very positive impact on your mental, and physical health.

What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis - Environmental Science & Technology (ACS Publications)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Emotional Eating: Undermining Success In Weight Loss

We know significantly more about the connection between the brain, our emotions, and food than we did just five years ago.

The key to weight loss is consuming fewer calories than are burned off.  Success when doing so is 100%, there are no people in any population that could possibly fail.  That's a bold statement, since of course the failure rate for long term successful weight loss is near 90 - 95%.

So is it not true then?  Is there some other variable?  Metabolism?  "I can't lose weight because of my slow metabolism".  "I'm big boned."

No, no, and no.  It is a certainty; eat less than you burn off, and fat loss will occur.

The only way fat loss could not be successful is if a person does not consume less than they burn off.

That's it.. End of story.

Or is it?

My references so far are missing something.  I've been making fact based logically derived statements. I can admit to liking the Spock character from Star Trek.. And yes I have even been accused of being a little "Spock like" myself.. is that a compliment?

Like Spock this article has thus far missed the emotional component.  To torture the Vulcan analogy, everyone knows that Spock does have emotions, buried deep below his logic front, and similarly our emotions, deep, patterned emotions that we are not always completely cognizant of, guide our eating decisions.

It's said that many will eat when happy, sad, bored, frustrated etc.  Eating can be very gratifying, and that instant gratification can seem to placate feeling a little blue.

There's more to emotional eating to simply eating to sooth the way we feel.  Research has shown our self confidence can undermine our decisions between healthy food and unhealthy food.  Those who are less confident about their knowledge of food, and less secure in their ability to make good decisions choose unhealthy more than healthy.

There are also social pressures that we abide by, also anchored in emotions.  When you serve up dinner for guests you don't want to feel that you're letting anyone down, so you're more likely to go big or go home.

Ditto for eating as a guest.  Many will feel that if they don't eat a lot of food, their host might get the impression their food isn't good enough, and you don't want to hurt your hosts feelings, so you overeat, which means hurting yourself instead.

For men more than woman, there is often more "manliness" associated with eating more.  Eat light amongst the "guys" and you will likely face ridicule. How does that make you feel?  While men are pressured to eat more, woman are pressured to eat less.  There are emotions attached to these social norms.

Comfort food.  I know all about comfort food.  You eat food because it buries some emotion.  After you're done you feel guilty.  Might as well eat more then, since you've already overdone it, overdoing it a little more isn't going to be much worse.

And what the hell, there's always tomorrow to repent and eat less.

There is one key state of perception that can unwind all of this: how we view the reward and risk values associated with food.

No matter what environmental or historical circumstances, a large part of overcoming emotional eating is to first recognize how we value food now, and work cognitively on changing this for the better.

If we see an unhealthy serving size or unhealthy food as rewarding and satisfying, a diet that restricts this food will leave a person seeing the healthy "diet" food as something that interferes with the reward of the unhealthy food.  Chances are it won't be long before one returns to the old way of eating, since the new way is seen as punishment, or at least restrictive, and the old way of eating is very rewarding.

Turns out it could take around 20 weeks of practicing associating new values to food choices before our brain begins to normalize the modifided emotional response to food choices.

Two weeks on a diet?  Just enough time to get frustrated and give in to the old established and comfortable eating patterns.  Really what we need to do is work diligently for many, many weeks, with the idea that we are making a permanent change in the way we eat, and the way we feel about eating.

We need to recognize what triggers us to eat too much, then cognitively process that we have the power to put down (or not pick up) the food we don't need.  Succeeding at this makes us feel really good.

How our emotions affect our eating decisions is often a taboo subject and most focus on the numbers: calories in/ out.  If the underlying emotions that guide our eating decisions are not addressed and worked on, we'll always return to old eating habits.

Ask yourself this when you are about to eat:  Will this help me live? (is the food nutritious)

And this:  Am I wanting this food to satisfy and emotional need?

If we can change our unbalanced reward/ satisfaction associations with food we'll be in a better position to make permanent changes to our weight.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Public Health Agency of Canada recommends 3 modes of exercise

What do the experts say? - Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living - Public Health Agency of Canada

"There are 3 types of activities you need to do to keep your body healthy: endurance activitiesflexibility activities, and strength activities. Do a variety from each group to get the most health benefits."

Although the info provided is still basic in nature, this is a lot better than what most are used to hearing or reading from Health Canada which amounts to "exercise most days of the week".

That's great, but what exercise, how much of each, and why?  While this info, to the credit of Health Canada, has been published in one way or another by Health Canada, one usually has to dig for it through a plethora of really boring and totally vague literature and link after confusing link.

If you're new to exercise the links I've put hear are worth a read.  If you're ready to add a little more intensity then consider that studies continue to show that once you have a good base smaller doses of intense exercise are very beneficial. 

Take note that most go too hard too soon, eager to capture the reward from high intensity training. The outcome?  Quick fitness gains initially followed by repetitive strain injury and fitness plateau. 

The less fit you are the less exercise you need to get your body to respond so if this is you relax.. you don't need to bust a gut to improve, like many boot camp style fitness gurus would have you believe. 

Start easy, don't make it hurt, and don't do so much it makes you tired.  Yes, this will be enough to make your body get more fit.. it's also a safer and more enjoyable way to start, and no, you don't have to do it every day.  I don't "workout" every day, though I do "move" every day (walking, cycling (commuting).

For those of you looking to maximize your exercise adding intensity is often better, but not always better than adding more time.

Only two times per week weight training is needed to make significant muscle mass and strength gains, and one could easily become recreationally competitive in any sport with only 3 to 6 hours per week of sport specific exercise sessions, and yes this include endurance athletes like those looking at marathon and half marathon.

Whatever you're doing though, make sure you have a mix of flexibility, strength, and endurance activities.  We need this combination to properly maintain and improve balanced fitness.