Thursday, April 30, 2009

Proven Swine Flu Protection!

Looking for an easy way to worry less about the Swine Flu infection?

Look no further. It's called regular, moderate intensity exercise!

While no one is completely immune, with the H1N1 virus circulating, it's a good time to point out that regular moderate exercise improves your body's ability to fight off disease and infection!

Even better, you don't need to train intensely for those benefits. Because while you do need to work a bit harder to improve strength, and you do need to work a bit longer to improve your endurance, and you do need to work a bit faster to improve your cardiovascular fitness levels, regular moderate exercise is all that's needed to improve your immune systems.

Why is that?

Well, a few theories exist.
  • First, the more rapid breathing associated with moderate exercise helps flush the lungs of airborne illnesses.
  • Second, increased sweat and urine production helps rid the body of carcinogens.
  • Third, an elevated heart rate more quickly circulates antibodies and white blood cells to fight off infections.
  • Fourth, increased body temperatures have been found to help prevent the growth of bacteria.
  • Lastly, and as we've mentioned for a few weeks in a row now (insulin and calories; insulin and sugar; insulin and sleep), hormones are related in no small way. But this time, it isn't insulin we're blaming, it's cortisol.
For while cortisol is required to handle stress and other stressful events, prolonged periods of elevated cortisol levels are quite detrimental to your health, and your immune system.

Moderate, regular exercise, however, helps inhibit the production of cortisol, thereby enabling the immune system to operate efficiently.

So, what's moderate? It all boils down your a Long Slow Cardio Event as was described back in February. I'll need to update that posting for today's frost less landscape, but that should get you started!

And what is regular? Well, that's most days of the week (4 or more with the new math). Sorry, there are no short cuts on frequency.

Need a bonus tip for fighting off the pig flu? Don't forget to get enough rest! For while adequate sleep will help with your job performance, it also improves your immune system!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reduced Calorie Diets Make you Smarter

Wednesday was Earth Day! And, in Crazy California style, The LA Times decides that that's a good time to correlate obesity with global warming. Wow. Talk about ridiculous. Now, I'm all in favor of blaming high fat content foods, or for blaming high sugar content drinks on how 65% of America has become overweight, but actually blaming fat people for a global problem is simply nonsense.

Plus, with so many positive things to emphasis about regular exercise and healthy eating, it's categorically absurd to write negatively about the lack of either.

Earth day or not, I did get out for a ride on Wednesday, and got a huge push, pull, and minor dose of suffering from a small handful of racers who adopted me on the way back home. Indeed, since most of your fitness grade is just showing up ... making the commitment to create time to exercise ... I was glad I did make time to mount the steed on Wednesday.

Because, it Apparently also Makes you Smarter!

A few years ago I blogged about how maintaining a healthy fitness regimen can help enhance your career. Last April, I wrote a few things about how organizations can boost morale and improve productivity with a corporate fitness culture.

But what the National Academy of Sciences published in January shows is that not only does being fit help you look more capable and smarter (Cialdini, Influence), but the reduced calories in an associated diet may actually help you be smarter.

Indeed, women aged 50 to 80 improved their memory scores by 20% when their calories were reduced by 30% according to this research. What's going on here? Well, what the German scholars found was that women with reduced calorie diets were linked to increase brain functionality. And, as the Journal of Medicine reported last week around sweetened beverages, the culprit turns out to be ... Insulin.

Allegedly, reduced calorie diets encourage a constant low level of stress within the body's cellular tissues that makes the body more sensitive to insulin.

Moderately reduced calorie stress, the researchers believe, encourages a positive insulin sensitivity similar to that of moderate exercise stress.

The exact opposite of insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance, is regularly blamed for diabetes and obesity. Additionally, experts contend that insulin resistance "... may help explain why obesity and type 2 diabetes have been linked to worse mental performance and a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease."

But if all this chemistry is creating confusion, just remember, as CNN reported " ... adults who cut down on the amount of calories they consume get a two-for-one special: weight loss and better memory."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fat Tax Out; Sugar Tax In

I overheard a conversation between two woman on the elliptical equipment @ the gym earlier this week about pizza. "I scrape most of the toppings off of my pizza to get rid of the excess fat. It's the fat in pizza that makes you fat, you know" said one woman.

The other woman responded "Are you crazy!? It's the carbs that make you fat! I eat ONLY the toppings and give the crust to my dog!"

So, is it the fats or is it the carbs that make you fat?

I wanted to jump in and explain that they're both right in a way - too much fat and too many carbohydrates can both be problems leading to weight gain. But ... they were also both wrong.

Because, at the end of the day, it's really all about total calories that matter:
Calories consumed = Calories spent + fat gained.

And because no good Minnesotan would explain the errors of their ways to strangers, I kept my mind-my-own-business mouth shut. But, I probably should have at least warned them about the latest conversations around sugar. In particular, Beverage Sugar.

For what The New England Journal Medicine published last week about sugared beverages' effect on obesity was nothing short of shocking. Because their report, published on April 8th, quite literally blamed obesity on Excess Beverage SUGAR.

Additionally, while I've been on the soap box in the past for advocating a Fat Tax (taxing highly saturated and trans fat foods), these guys took it one step further and are now suggesting a Sugared Beverages Tax.

And while there's plenty of room in Obama's budget for BOTH (fat and sugar) taxes, the sugared beverages tax makes good sense. Excess sugar intake from beverages is "... associated with increased body weight, poor nutrition, and displacement of more healthful beverages; increasing consumption (of sugared beverages) increases risk for obesity and diabetes ..." the Journal reports.

What to do? Withstanding the tax (which, in my opinion could take years to legislate), simply recognize that that Coke could be costing you a lot more than the 2 bucks you dropped into to the vending machine. It could be costing you your health.

One simple suggestion: simply reduce or replace that Pepsi with good old fashioned water, unsweetened green tea, or unsweetened, low sugar content juices like grapefruit, cranberry, or tomato. You won't get the unwanted excess sugar, and you will get healthy nutrients in your drink.

What to go one better yet?

Buy a juicer and start making your own juice! The Health benefits of juicing are innumerable. Fruits and vegetables are anti oxidant rich, and boost your immune system. Additionally, fruit and vegetable juices provide a wide array of phytonutrients ... non essential nutrients proven to improve health.

Here are a couple of great places to get started with juicing:

Drink up!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sleep Your Way To The Top

CBS News ran a story with this smirking title earlier in the week. And while the winks, nudges, and grins relate primarily to NOT sleeping, the correlation between adequate sleep and job performance was effectively made.

Especially during a recession, it is critical to your job performance to get adequate sleep. "You're worried and anxious about your job. Maybe you're working even harder. And now you're also worried about your portfolio losses,"says CBS's Jill Schlesinger. "What happens? You can't sleep at night. And this is self-perpetuating, because the lack of sleep can cause some really significant damage to you on the job."

Researchers have found, in fact, that getting only 6 hours of sleep per night reduces your cognitive ability to a level comparable to someone who is legally drunk!

What's more is that Medical News today found, years ago, that sleep deprivation can also make it more difficult to loose weight. Hormones appear to be the culprit. Without sufficient sleep, cortisol levels become irregular during the daytime, negatively affecting metabolism (and the body's ability to use carbs as an energy source instead of turning them into body fat).

Additionally,a chronic condition called insulin resistance has been linked to insufficient sleep. The higher levels of cortisol appear to be also raising insulin levels. Insulin normally instructs muscles to adsorb nutrients, but with insulin resistance, the nutrients aren't adsorbed and are thus more easily converted to fat.

And if that wasn't enough to convince you that you really should be sleeping to get to the top, the Centers For Advanced Medicine And Clinical Research found that adequate sleep can help reduce your risk of cancer!

So, what's the best medicine for getting sufficient sleep? Well, you guessed it, it's our prescription for just about everything: regular exercise. The positive benefits of how regular exercise contributes to regular sleep is well documented and widely recognized.

What's regular? Most days of the week (that's 4 or more with the new math).

One thing though, exercising immediately before bed isn't necessarily a good idea either. The elevated metabolism levels can create alertness and increased energy levels for a lot of people. So, if you're having trouble sleeping at night, the best time to exercise is in the morning.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Fitness Lessons From Asian Math Students

Why are Asian students so good at math?

This question has intrigued US educators and politicians for decades as engineering schools around the world are increasingly dominated by Asian students.

Is it the more creative teaching methods used in Asia? Is it family work ethic, and academic achievement expectations from their cultures? Or is it that while (soapbox here) American parents are altogether too busy doting over their youth hockey players, the Asian parents are, instead, pandering to their academic superstars?

While none of these factors can be ignored, the answer is actually more simple than that. Indeed, it is much more simple than that. A huge fan of Malcom Gladwell (The Tipping Point and Blink), I recently read Outliers, The Story of Success. And what Gladwell argues is quite remarkable, if not startling.

Asian Math success, Gladwell contends, is in large part due to the more simplified constructs of the Asian numbering system. Asian students are better at math simply because their numbering system makes incomparably more sense than the English numbering system.

Multiple villains exist within the English language numbering system. For starters, no single digit (the ones) Chinese number has more than one syllable. Seven, in English however, has two syllables. This, of course, won't make any difference to an engineering student, but it does matter ... and it matters enormously ... to a 2 or 3 year old with their very 1st math lesson ... learning how to count to ten. All students, English or Chinese, can in fact only remember a certain number of syllables, typically between 6 and 10. The number Seven hurts English speaking students a bit because they have to hang onto that second syllable when remembering number sequences. Strike one.

Chinese students perform somewhat better than English students with their very 1st math lesson ... counting to 10.

From there, things go downhill.
The English speaking ankle biters next need to grapple with the irregularity of how eleven and twelve fit into the otherwise orderly teen numbers. Chinese toddlers, on the other hand, simply add ten plus the ones digit for all of those numbers. Eleven is phonetically just "ten and one" for the Chinese. Twelve is just "ten and two", and so on ... all the way to twenty.

Conversely, English numbers are (save the bastards 11 and 12) logically and phonetically constructed by appending something sounding like ten (teen), but not exactly ten behind the ones digit. Teen sounds something like like ten, but isn't exactly ten as it is in Chinese. Eighteen is "8 + something sounding like ten". Nineteen is "9 + something sounding like ten". Then there's 13 which is neither highly irregular like 11 and 12, nor somewhat regular like the rest of the teens (thir being used instead of three). And as if all of that weren't trouble enough, 11 and 17 are three syllable words. The Chinese need to know only 11 unique syllables to count to twenty, while English toddlers need to know 15.

As a result, the diapered Chinese find it much easier to complete math lesson #2 ... counting to twenty. And their counting advantage over the floor polishing English students widens even more. Strike 2.

Just like in a good horror flick, the problem doesn't end even there! For while Chinese simply go into numbering the twenties exactly as they numbered the teens ... adding two tens plus the ones digit, English babies encounter additional obstacles:
  1. we use something only sounding like two, but not exactly two to represent 20 (twen kinda like two); and, more significantly,
  2. We reverse the position of where the ones digit is placed. When we build the 20s we append the ones digit behind the sounding-something-like-two article ... in the reverse position of where we put it when we built (only most of) the teens!
21 is something-kinda-like "two tens + one". 22 is something-kinda-like "two tens + two". Counting to 30 at a younger age is strike three on the English, and most Minnesotans simply decide to start their kids skating instead of bothering with the forties. ;-)

Hence, by the time Chinese kids are potty trained, they are already a lot better at math than their English counterparts.
This early success creates a springboard for additional success. Being good at the 1st couple of math lessons, the Chinese kids take on more interesting problems and have early success with those too. The benefits of a simplified numbering system extrapolate, and the cycle continues. Chinese kids are initially better at math, then get a little better yet, and then get really, really good with math.

Math is intrinsically more approachable to Chinese toddlers. They like Math. It's easier for them. Significant attitude and effort (culture) is still required to excel, but hereunto is why they regularly clobber US kids in ACT and SAT math exams.

But hey, (soapbox again) maybe they can use this advantage to actually fix the FUBAR US & Global Financial markets math problem. Because apparently our esteemed business schools could use some help teaching students to count! Or maybe the Chinese will completely crush it with a new world order and currency? Stranger things have happened.

So just what the heck does this have to do with exercise and fitness Randy?

Well, since we suck so bad at counting, our trainers are going to get a lot better at it because we're going to have our clients do a lot more repetitions! ;-) And while that sparks at least a few good ideas for yet another April Fools Day spoof, the answer, in all seriousness, is actually easier and more basic than that.

For just as early math success provides fertile ground for additional mathematics interest and achievement, the same is true for fitness expectations. Early success with fitness efforts matter. And matters enormously. Early, initial success with making time to fit exercise into your life, and early initial success in getting the results you want defines exactly how successful you will ultimately be with your fitness lifestyle.

We occasionally acquire clients who want to get started just a couple days per week to see how things go. And just like the English toddler struggling through 11, 12, the teens and the twenties in an effort to count to thirty, a lot of well intended clients see early frustrations and stumble along the way with this approach.

It's really hard to see significant results training twice a weak. And without that positive reenforcement, your efforts can quickly drop to three times every two weeks (1.5 times per week). Dropping to once weekly, and twice monthly aren't huge steps from there ... and that's no way to achieve anything.

To be fair, exercising just a couple days per week can certainly be the right approach for seniors or for people without use of half of their body, or people maintaining their good health fitness levels. But it rarely produces the early tangible results needed to springboard you to safe, effective, permanent changes in your life ... like loosing weight, increasing your energy levels, reducing your blood pressure, sleeping better, or better sex.

The Chinese Math student Spring Fitness lesson then?
It's simple: You need to exercise most days of the week to make progress, particularly early in your fitness learning curve.

You need to know how to count to 30 as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Announcing the All New FT MSP R.E.S.T Program

It is with great pleasure that Fitness Together Minneapolis St Paul today announces an all new exercise similation program.

As you probably know, there is an important link between mind and body, and FT MSP has been doing a lot of research around how to leverage that hidden power.

What we came up with, and what we're announcing today is the Remembering Exercise Simulation Together (R.E.S.T) program.

"We've thought about it a lot, and it's a whole lot easier on trainers, clients, managers ... everyone ... if we simply thought about exercise rather than actually doing some exercise," Fitness Together Owner and Chief Fitness Officer Randy Zarecki explained.

With R.E.S.T, clients will still come to our studios and work 1 on 1 with a trainer, but instead of actually exercising, clients will simply think about exercising (R.E.S.T).

"Come in in regular street clothes and shoot the breeze with a trainer about the good old days when you were active and fit ... when you slept well, and had tons of energy ... all simulated without any actual physical effort!"

"And don't forget that we're in a recession here too. Just think of all of those calories saved by remaining sedentary for another hour or so each day. Not to mention the reduction in our carbon footprint found with reduced towel and showering needs, " Zarecki added.

Available immediately, R.E.S.T program packages are priced similar to the actual training program packages, though introductory pricing is available through April 1st, 2009!

An accompanying liquor license, buffalo wings, and multiple large screen plasma tvs are also being considered.