It seems that everywhere we turn, we are reminded to take our vitamins. We use them to hopefully fight off disease, feel our best, even assist our children's growth. But what are the real benefits of multivitamins/vitamins, and should they really be used in all cases?
Let's attack this issue both philosophically and then scientifically.
Multivitamins are a type of supplement. The first key point is the nature of the word 'supplement.' To 'supplement' is to supply something in order to address a deficiency. This seems to bring to mind the immediate question:
1. Why should we assume we are deficient?
2. Must we have a synthetic compound to address this deficiency?
Per these questions, I like to humorously quote one of my favorite speakers and thinkers on the topic, Paul Chek, who asks, "Have you ever seen a crocodile taking Fred Flintstone's vitamins (Chek, 2011)?"
Of course not. Indeed, we have arrived at this point in history as a species precisely because we have everything we need to survive and flourish in our surroundings! We cannot forget that the primary, and original source of vitamins and minerals is FOOD. Hence, vitamins should 'supplement' food, if they are working correctly.
Then, are they working correctly? This brings us to some of the research.
We want to keep in mind that many of the benefits of vitamins and minerals in food come from combinations of substances in the food that work together to produce health. A previous blog on 'phytochemicals' further examines this notion.
Antioxidant properties are often not found in one chemical or substance, like Vitamin C alone. Indeed, studies comparing Vitamin C supplementation find that even ingesting it in the form of orange juice produces much greater health benefits than taking a supplement.
Often we take antioxidant/vitamin supplements in order to stave off one of the lead killers, cardiovascular disease. However, some evidence suggests that supplementation may not be the most effective way to go, and may even increase risk if higher doses are taken!
How could this be? Don't we need these compounds to survive? Yes and no.
What we need to keep in mind is that, in nature, vitamins simply do not exist as these isolated substrates. For example, while some food companies provide ascorbic acid supplements (vitamin C) in pill form or sprayed on food, ascorbic acid is difficult to isolate in nature and this is not how it is typically processed nor received by the body.
Instead, vitamins tend to exist in vitamin 'complexes (Cangialosi, 2009),' which include not only the vitamin but everything needed to help process it and make it work (things like coenzymes, catalysts).
Also, the natural form of vitamins found in food are more 'alive,' or biologically active, relative to the laboratory-synthesized compounds found in the typical multivitamin pill.
Thus, if we take a vitamin C supplement, for instance, and it does not include all the naturally occurring cofactors, the body seems to do one of two things:
1. It does not recognize the vitamin as ingestable, and either mounts an immune response or flushes it out.
2. It takes from the body's stores of cofactors to re-build what should be the original vitamin complex, thus robbing areas of the body to assist a 'supplement.'
Thus, a multivitamin may actually deplete your resources, not add to them.
Therefore, we should attempt to get our vitamin/mineral intake how nature intended, through fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. Here is a table of foods containing high levels of each vitamin or mineral.
On a side note, many of the vitamin manufacturers are now big pharmaceutical companies, and isn't it 'strange' how every human simply must take a multivitamin supplement since this takeover?
So, conspiracy theories aside, unless directed specifically by a doctor in order to treat a medical condition, try to get your vitamins from the real food that contains them. The food that got us here.
If you have a bad day, nutrionally, perhaps look into 'whole food vitamins,' which come in vitamin complexes as opposed to isolated foundational chemicals.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
Cangialosi, Beverly (2009) Synthetic vs. whole food vitamins: What you need to know. Retrieved from http://www.wholefood-nutrition.com/pdf%20Documents/vitamininfo.pdf
Chek, Paul (2011). Underground Wellness. Podcast.
|Posted: 2011-09-21T10:53:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|"That's What She Said!" - Part II (final)|
From last week, we have been discussing a fundamental principle of exercise, the SAID principle, or 'Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.' Part one of our article focused on the letter 'S,' unpacking the concept of specificity.
We learned that the body adapts specifically to the demands we place upon it not only from a muscular and cardiovascular standpoint, but from a learning standpoint. Thus we must use exercises that help us 'practice' for whatever our life demands are or will be.
In this second part of this article we will look at the second letter of the acronym - adaptation.
One of the wonderful things about our bodies and our brains is that they adapt to whatever stress we place upon it. Without this we couldn't learn anything, nor could we build muscle, develop a tan, or grow calluses.
Unfortunately, this capacity can work against us in exercise, at times.
This is particularly true in exercise for weight loss. As we 'learn' a certain workout or exercise, we become more efficient at it, which means it is less of a stress on our muscles and/or cardiovascular system. Typically becoming more efficient is good, but if your goal is weight loss, the goal is to burn more calories, not less. Although against typical wisdom, the goal of exercise for weight loss is to be energy INefficient.
So, if we get 'stuck in a rut' doing the same exercises, at the same speed, or the same amount of time, for weeks and weeks, we are actually benefitting our bodies less and less.
Another example is involved in the goal of increasing strength or muscle mass. As our muscles get stronger and stiffer, we can lift more weight and become stronger. So we should lift more weight, or make some other change in the variables to stress the body once again. Typically you should not do a particular program for longer than two months.
To make it 'new' for the body once again, the following other changes can be made in a weight or resistance exercise program:
-Speed of movement (progress from slow to fast)
-Stable to unstable (machines to free weights to balance tools, such as BOSU balls)
-Number of repetitions
-Length of rest period
So there are several options besides just piling on more weight.
So, when planning an exercise routine, remember the SAID principle. Your exercises should be as specific to your goals as possible, and you should change your workout every 1-2 months in order to keep the benefits coming.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-09-14T15:53:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|That's what she 'SAID.' Part one|
With the oncoming rush of fall and end of many vacations, a good number of individuals will be signing up for gym memberships and/or beginning exercise routines. It is important to maximize our exercise time relative to our goals, and not waste effort at an exercise that will not be beneficial to what we want to accomplish.
But isn't any exercise good for weight loss and health? Yes and no.
'Yes,' any type of exercise can burn extra calories and assist with your weight loss, but 'no,' certain exercises do not contribute to our being efficient, injury free, human machines.
Hence, we introduce the 'SAID principle.' This stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. Sounds fancy and complex. It isn't, scientists just like to sound smart.
This is, literally, the most important exercise rule you can learn and implement, in the opinion of this kinesiologist. What does it mean?
Essentially, it is exemplified by the adage "We are what we repeatedly do."
Let's look at this acronym a little more closely. There is a specific adaptation, or change, in the body relative to whatever demand (exercise) we place upon it. Intuitively, we kind of know this. If I run, I get better at running.
But what is interesting is are two main ideas:
A) How specific the adaptation becomes.
B) How the adaptation can decrease results.
With regard to specificity, our nervous system is the master of all movement. It learns to fire muscles in a precise pattern, in a precise order, and with rather precise conditions. This is why the champion deadlifter is not also the champion at the clean and jerk, necessarily. Two different movement patterns have been practiced. No one would say that this deadlift champion is not strong, he is just not as strong at a particular movement. This applies to us as well.
This also applicable to energy systems. A winner of the marathon cannot then go and win a sprint, or even a 500m run, typically. Why? Because the marathon is lower intensity and more aerobic, and the sprint is anaerobic (without oxygen) and high intensity. The body is efficient at a specific pattern, long distance running, but not another of the same pattern, running at a sprint.
So whatever we train, we get better at.
Thus, much of our exercise program should be practice for life. Just as a baseball player practices his/her swing to get more efficient at the complex interplay of joints and muscles involved in that motion, so should we practice our movements.
- Squatting down to look under your car or change a tire.
- Bending to lift a bag of groceries
- Pushing a loaded shopping cart or pushing yourself off of the floor
- Walking the dog
- Running as the same dog pulls you down the street
- Performing a one -legged squat to get into your car
- Climbing stairs.
- Pulling open a heavy door
- Twisting in car seat to reach behind you or check blind spot, or twisting to throw an object
Now take a look at your average gym-goer, or your own exercise program. How many of your exercises even involve these movements? How many of these fancy machines even perform these patterns?
So, with regard to specificity, attempt to use much of your time practicing the following fundamental movement patterns (ironically often done by infants with no problem or thought) on your own two feet, without the help of a machine bolted to the floor:
- Bend (Deadlift)
- Twist (of torso)
David Younkins, M.S., CES
Two p. 25
|Posted: 2011-09-07T13:55:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|"Just Breathe" - Part II|
Now let's look at how to ensure that one is breathing properly and is receiving all the digestive, cardiovascular, mental, and orthopedic benefits as discussed in part one. As we recall, the prime mover of inspiration, or inhalation, is the diaphragm. So let's look at how one can practice breathing normally with this muscle.
Sit or stand as tall as possible, with good posture. Put one hand on your upper stomach, just below your ribcage. Take a breath. Does your hand rise up, being pushed out by your stomach? If not, you may be 'chest breathing,' or breathing with the accessory muscles of the neck and shoulders.
One can see examples of proper breathing by simply watching a baby or toddler (who has not been traumatized) breathe while relaxed or asleep. But this does not equate to learning how to do it for ourselves, of course.
Breathing is a motor pattern of coordinated muscle activity that can be practiced and made automatic, just like any skill. Here is how one can practice it: Lie on your back, and place a light, flat object (e.g. a book or magazine) on your upper stomach - on or just above the navel. When breathing in, try to lift the object with your upper stomach. Once you can do this you are breathing with the diaphragm!
After this becomes relatively easy, transition to a sitting position and continue to 'lift the book' though not literally. Sitting in D.C. traffic can be a terrific time to practice this technique. Then practice from a standing position. Throughout your day, when feeling stressed or getting tense, attempt to 'lift the book' a few times. In this way one can practice proper breathing technique until it becomes automatic! The stress benefits alone can be a terrific help given our area's notoriously high stress rates, being in the top ten most stressful in 2009!
The second link in the breathing chain is the passage by which the air reaches the lung. The optimal passage for normal breathing is the nasal airway. Breathing through the nose allows all those wonderful nose hairs, that tend to stick out at inopportune times, to warm and filter the air that is passing into the lungs. The air that reaches the lungs is therefore more pure and contain less excess dust particles, allergens, etc.
In addition, mouth breathing is an indication of many postural problems. It is very difficult to breathe through one's mouth while maintaining proper posture, just as it is difficult to breathe nasally while slouched. Mouth breathing tends to be coupled with forward head posture, a common problem today. It can be a cause or an effect of forward head posture, so corrections should be based upon both correcting breathing and cervical (neck) alignment. Here are a few other issues that can be can be caused by forward head posture or mouth breathing:
1) Dry mouth/bad breath (for obvious reasons).
2) TMJ or jaw disorders
3) Malocclusion (teeth do not line up correctly) , particularly amongst children
4) Premature facial aging signs
If it is found that one cannot breathe through the nose due to obstruction such as deviated septum or due to malocclusion disorders, it would be beneficial to seek medical or orthodontic assistance for it's potential correction.
In summary of Part II, the proper. breath should occur with an expansion of the stomach first and foremost, and with air entering through the nasal airways. Practice in 'lifting the book,' maintaining tall posture, and keeping mouth closed while breathing will ensure that you are receiving all the benefits of proper breathing.
David Younkins, M.S. , CES
|Posted: 2011-08-31T18:07:00.000-07:00 - Link|
Events like Tuesday's earthquake remind us that life can get stressful, very quickly. In fact, many of us walk around in a state of chronic stress due to deadlines, family issues, traffic, and poor diet with not enough exercise.
One way to combat such stress and provide many other beneficial effects is proper breathing. This is something we do around twelve times per minute, simply take air into our lungs and breathe it back out again. Easy, right? It would seem so ...
However, improper breathing patterns are quite prevalent, and can create a host of issues - from neck tension, headaches, poor digestion, chronic stress and anxiety, shoulder pain, and poor abdominal function.
How can breathing cause all these varied problems? How can we prevent these issues with proper breathing mechanics? The following two articles will examine these very issues.
First, a very quick anatomy review. When taking a breath in, the prime mover (or primary muscle) is the diaphragm, pictured here.
A proper breath involves the diaphragm contracting, along with muscles within the ribs, and creating a negative pressure in the chest, allowing air to flow into the lungs. The diaphragm descends downward, expanding the ribcage down and outward. You should see your belly get bigger.
However, many people do not use the diaphragm as the prime mover. Many people, due to stress, posture, and other factors breathe with the secondary muscles of respiration.
As seen in the image of a few of these accessory, or secondary muscles of respiration, many of them originate in the neck. This means that, instead of the diaphragm's pulling the ribcage down and out, expanding it, these muscles pull up on the ribcage, pulling it up and out.
So what's the big deal? At least we're breathing, right? Sure, but the problem is that these muscles were not meant to work so hard for so long. Look at the size of them compared to the diaphragm! When a person is out of breath for a minute or so during a workout, or has a breathing disorder, these neck muscles are vital and necessary.
However, when breathing normally they should only be used minimally, if at all. It is easy to see how muscular tension may develop in the neck, and these muscles may become excessively stiff and strong, pulling the head forward into bad posture. Since there is good evidence to suggest that neck dysfunction is a cause of headaches, there is a correlation here as well:
Finally, the diaphragm serves a purpose with regard to the viscera. When the diaphragm descends, it essentially 'massages' the organs of the stomach, or at least mobilizes them. This can aid digestion and blood flow to the organs (Liebenson, 2006). Even the heart benefits from such motion, as the pressure changes assist with the return of blood flow to the heart.
There is no need to get a physiology degree here, but we can begin to see three basic things about improper breathing:
a) It prevents maximum oxygen exchange. Decreased oxygen equates to increased rate of breathing, which feeds into a pattern of anxiety and stress via biofeedback (do you typically breathe faster or slower when stressed?).
b) It uses the muscles not designed to bear the brunt of respiration, which will overuse these muscles (poor posture, neck tension, shoulder dysfunction). Poor posture of the neck creates a myriad other problems, but that is for another article.
c) It decreases blood flow to the heart and abdominal organs.
How many individuals have been given medications, expensive treatments, and surgery for a problem that could have been prevented by simply...breathing right?
In part two of this article we will look at some practical applications and exercises to ensure we are breathing correctly! Stay tuned...
David Younkins, M.S., CES
Liebenson, Craig (2006). Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner's Manual. Philadelphia: Lippencott, Williams, and Wilkins.
|Posted: 2011-08-24T12:49:00.001-07:00 - Link|
|Sites to see!|
'Your Wellness Advocate' is currently on vacation, but I wanted to quickly pass on a few resources that may be helpful to you in our shared quest for health and happiness.
Check out this 'exercise prescription site,' which has a particularly neat calculator where you can figure out approximately how many calories you should eat every day by entering your age, weight, height, and number of hours spent doing different levels of activity.
That site has many other terrific tools, including a listing of major muscles and exercises for each.
Finally, a growing area of nutrition is that of 'Metabolic Typing,' whereby one can figure out what proportions of carbohydrate and protein that should be eaten by determining if one is a 'Protein type' or a 'Carb Type.'
If you have a few minutes, check out the following questionairre and consider making changes based on the results. You might be surprised at how much better you feel!
Until next week!
David Younkins, MS, CES
|Posted: 2011-08-17T19:09:00.001-07:00 - Link|
|Pains and RICE|
Inevitably, we all experience some injury or physical pains, particularly if we are living an active lifestyle. Pain is unpleasant, of course, and it can also make us feel ineffectual. It helps to be able to take proactive steps to manage our own pain, and that is the subject of this article.
Whether we have a strain (muscle/tendon injury) or sprain (ligament injury), there are some steps we can perform to take charge of our own pain.
The thing to keep in mind is that, given nutrition, the body will heal itself unless we somehow mess it up. So appropriate action will often have to do with allowing healing to take place by not exacerbating the issue, and reducing inflammation in the injured area.
Although acute inflammation following an injury is a good thing, as it mobilizes blood flow and antibodies to a given area, we can often prolong the process by adding to the normal hallmarks of inflammation: heat, redness (blood flow), and swelling (area 'cordoned off' by body and fluids collect).
In order to reduce inflammation, in conjunction with any medical advice or prescription, the following four steps will assist, arranged in the acronym RICE. If you RICE, you help reduce the effects of inflammation by not antagonizing normal healing. So, the next time you get an 'ouch,:'
R – Rest
Try to move the body part as little as possible, or at least attempt to avoid causing pain. This can be accomplished by modifying the movement as well as simple bed-rest. For instance, if it hurts to lift your arm overhead, then reach into the cupboard with your other arm for a while.
I – Ice
Since inflammation can lead to uncomfortable swelling, the application of ice can help fight these painful effects, reducing inflammation. While the doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories, which provide a chemical means of combating inflammation, ice is another method to which we all have access, and it does not have negative digestive side-effects.
C – Compression
Pressure on the inflamed area helps push blood out of the area and reduce swelling, while stabilizing the joint/affected area. This can be accomplished by a bandage, with a brace, or by taping the area.
E – Elevation
Raising the affected area above the level of the heart helps improve venous return, or the rate at which blood returns to the heart, allowing gravity to 'drain' the injured area. This may or may not be possible, but it can be helpful for injuries to the extremities.
Therefore, have some control over your own healing process and RICE. Of course, any injury should be referred to an MD, DO, or PT, depending on it's nature.
Until next week!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-08-10T18:52:00.000-07:00 - Link|
Anytime you want to liven up a party, just start talking about your bowels. It's funny, and quickly clears away the appetizer table. But seriously, in the world of health, there is really little more important than the health of one's digestive system. Of particular importance is ensuring adequate presence of bacteria.
Yes, just like a previous article on hand sanitizers and 'good' bacteria on skin, so does our digestive system require certain levels of good bacteria to ensure proper health of your body. In fact, in the healthy digestive system there are more good bacteria than there are cells in our entire body
Upon decreasing the ratio of good to bad bacteria in our colon, digestive symptoms like diarrhea, bloating and abdominal discomfort can arise, as well as the potential for more serious medical conditions.
Most 'good' bacteria exist in our large intestines, predominately, and produce such healthy substances as vitamin K, folate, and biotin (good for blood clotting and energy metabolism, while likely playing a role in obesity). Of course, they also help limit the growth of bad bacteria, which is incredibly important.
So it seems we need our hitchhiking colonic friends. But where do we get them and/or can we do damage to them?
Most of our our bacteria, or 'gut flora,' as they are often called, are initially received as a baby from our parents and then they continue to reproduce our entire lives, living off of us even as they support our life and health.
And then came antibiotics. Of course, antibiotics are not in themselves evil, but they have the nasty habit of killing living things within a human body rather indiscriminately, even our 'colon compadres.'
Therefore, never take antibiotics. Just kidding. That's a bit much.
What we can do, however, is replenish our 'good guys' by eating foods rich in them. If you have recently completed a course of antibiotics, and/or are experiencing some digestive dysfunction like diarrhea or discomfort after eating, try to increase your intake of:
Certain milk containing strains of bacteria
Other probiotic enriched foods
If one is lactose intolerant (in part due to a decrease in these bacteria, ironically enough) there are probiotic supplements that can be taken for a month to replenish specifically the bacteria needed for colon health.
On a side note, we should not find ourselves taking probiotic supplements the rest of our lives, as these 'communities' of bacteria should sustain themselves, barring a fatal stimulus on our part.
So, for maximum digestive health, and particularly if one is experiencing digestive dysfunction, let's not forget about our good friends who labor away tirelessly so that we may go the bathroom in comfort.
See you next week!
David Younkins, M.S.
|Posted: 2011-08-04T00:06:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Cholesterol: What it is, what it means, what to do: Part two|
In part one of this two-part article, we reviewed the basics of cholesterol, learning that cholesterol is actually a vital contributor to health and function, but that it should not be floating around in our bloodstream in large amounts.
This is particularly true for LDL cholesterol, which is correlated with heart disease along with inflammation in the body. We also learned that the cholesterol police, HDL, should be increased in many instances.
So how do we lower our LDL and raise our HDL, while simultaneously decreasing inflammation?
One way in which we can increase our HDL cholesterol, in order to remove LDL cholesterol, is aerobic exercise. This can be accomplished by walking regularly or riding a bicycle for 30 – 50 minutes, three times a week. From a dietary standpoint, the following foods are considered beneficial by lowering LDL and reducing inflammation in the body:
1. High fiber foods – fiber can help flush out cholesterol before it can be absorbed, along with it's weight loss and other health benefits.
2. Omega 3 - Flashback! This was covered in a previous blog, but this fatty acid lowers LDL and reduces inflammation throughout the body. It can be found in fish, amongst other foods, or via supplementation of fish oil, krill oil, or flaxseed oil.
3. Almonds – they help keep blood vessels healthy, lowers HDL, and reduces inflammation.
4. Olive Oil – helps push cholesterol out of the body by stimulating digestive enzymes.
5. Plant sterols – found in most vegetables, they help block cholesterol absorption, amongst their myriad other benefits (phytochemicals).
While consuming more of the above foods, we should also try to avoid sugary foods, in particular, which can raise LDL cholesterol, via the release of insulin and it's increase in LDL production in the liver. Conversely, hormones released during exercise antagonize insulin and thereby inhibit cholesterol production in the liver, so perhaps after dinner is the ideal time to go for your walk if you have high cholesterol.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is actually a poor correlation between cholesterol ingested and cholesterol levels in the blood, particularly in eggs (which are often demonized).
So, in closing, be sure to stay active, watch out for sugar, and eat vegetables, nuts, fiber, and fish.
David Younkins, M.S., CES.
|Posted: 2011-07-27T19:37:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Cholesterol: What it is, what it means, what to do: Part one|
One in every three Americans has unhealthy levels of cholesterol in their blood. We hear regularly how we must lower our cholesterol levels, often through statin drugs such as Lipitor, as well as diet and exercise.
But what is cholesterol and what do the numbers mean? What causes high cholesterol, according to the latest research, and how do we lower it?
Cholesterol is a group of lipoproteins, or fat with protein bonded together. Although we think of this substance as some kind of poison, our liver actually produces it, and it composes every single one of our cell membranes!
In addition, cholesterol is used to bind to Vitamin D and allow it to function, as well as to compose important steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
So cholesterol is actually an important contributor to health and life. The problem is not so much that we have cholesterol, but that it is floating around our bloodstream in large amounts!
There are a few kinds of cholesterol. HDL, LDL, and VLDL. These stand for high density, low density, and very low density lipoprotein.
HDL is considered the 'good' cholesterol, as it shuttles LDL out of the bloodstream and back to the liver for processing/breakdown/removal. It is sort of the 'cholesterol police.'
LDL and VLDL are the numbers to really watch, as they are the 'criminal' element. There are at least two theories as to why. One theory that has been the more traditional view is that the LDL more easily sticks to' the walls of our arteries. When this happens, the diameter of the blood vessel decreases, blood pressure increases, and the load on the heart also increases (ever closed off part of the end of a hose?). This can lead to heart problems.
There are other views on this however, which point to general inflammation as the cause of heart disease, and high levels of LDL cholesterol as an indication of this inflammation. Some research has even connected markers of inflammation in the blood with future development of high cholesterol.
So which causes heart disease? Inflammation or cholesterol? Both? The debate continues.
There are some natural ways in which we can address both effects, so there's no need to worry about it, necessarily, unless you are a researcher.
But enough theory and background. What should be our levels of cholesterol?
The following is a complete breakdown of the cholesterol recommendations. There are no symptoms that one can feel for high cholesterol, these levels are discovered only through a blood test with your MD.
Total cholesterol < 240 mg/dl
*LDL cholesterol < 130 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol > 60 mg /dl
*VLDL levels are often not reported, but can be calculated by subtracting HDL cholesterol from total cholesterol and LDL levels, if possible. What remains is VLDL.
So, if we can make a general summary of the recommendations combined with a mnemonic device - make the 'high' higher and the 'low' lower!
Stay tuned for part two of this article, as we will look into some natural ways to both increase HDL levels and lower LDL levels both directly and through a decrease in inflammation!
See you then, and if you have not had your levels checked, please do so!
David Younkins, M.S., CES.
|Posted: 2011-07-20T18:56:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|"Will you go already??"|
Let's face it, this place is crazy with traffic. In fact, we were recently tied with Chicago in the area of traffic congestion, first in the nation. Every year we spend days in our cars, staring at the backs of cars and/or pounding the steering wheel.
However, this kind of stress is not good for our bodies or our minds. Stress has negative effects on blood pressure, the heart, blood sugar levels, and may cause pain and prevent weight loss.
So, instead of just having to see what that person LOOKS like, try these tips to keep your cool and minimize the stress inherent to this kind of stimulus:
1. Turn off the news - The constant time updates and mayhem reports do little to reduce stress levels. Try relaxing music, or use the time to learn something new via an audio book or class.
Singing has even been shown to reduce tension, so belt out a few Andy Gibb tunes while you wait.
2. Do your stretches - You can knock out some neck stretches, to help reduce/prevent
headaches, neck and shoulder pain, while in a seated position. Stretching also helps reduce tension and stress. Here are a few that can be performed, hold each for at least 20 seconds, and you can use your hand to lightly pull the head into these positions as well.
3. Breathe deeply - Diaphragmatic breathing, as discussed in a previous blog, can help reduce stress by increasing oxygen levels and militating against our natural urge to breathe more rapidly when under stress.
4. Go to the gym. - You can wait out the traffic by finding a fitness center and stopping by after work, avoiding the traffic and stress while doing what needs to be done, anyway.
5. Take care of yourself – When not sleeping 7-8 hours, and not eating properly and regularly, any situation becomes more stressful.
6. Plan ahead – Nothing makes a commute more stressful than running late while being in traffic. Try to estimate for traffic, checking a local news website can help with this as well.
7. Relax – It sounds like a joke, but our minds really do respond to our bodies, and vice versa. Consciously relaxing your muscles tells the body that it is time to relax, and this brings stress levels down.
Some psychological studies even show that consciously smiling can make one feel happy. Ever stayed mad while smiling?
8. Slow down - Assuming a constant rate of speed, driving 10mph faster than the speed limit (of 65) over a 20 mile trip saves us a whopping...2.5 minutes. It may not be worth the possible tickets and danger, as well as the increased stress inherent in driving faster anyway!
9. Avoid 'lane envy' - some research shows that we are not too adept at discerning which lane is actually moving faster, so don't be so quick to change lanes at the first sign of slowing.
Try some of these tips the next time you are sitting and enjoying the shape and heft of the ubiquitous orange cone, and you will be taking big steps to stay calm and cool, while helping to accomplish your health goals!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-07-13T19:34:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|"Teach a man to fish"|
We spend much of our lives trying to keep from getting fat. Which leads many of us to think that we need to avoid eating fat. Although this seems reasonable at first, simply taking in fat does not mean that our body will store it as fat, as fat is a terrific energy source.
Along with the energy benefits of fats, some fats in particular are required for normal function, and are not themselves manufactured by our bodies. We literally must ingest them from an outside source. These are called essential fatty acids (EFA's). These EFA's can be used for the creation of steroid hormones, the 'insulation' of nerves, and much more. In fact, these fatty acids are so essential that they help compose almost every one of our cell membranes!
Two such EFA's are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These can be found primarily in fish, krill and flaxseed.
A lot of research supports the fact that Omega 3's and Omega 6's reduce inflammation in the body, such as that found in arthritis and joint pain, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease As we age, pro-inflammatory chemicals tend to increase in the body, so consumption of Omega3/6 may prevent some aspects of the aging process. Omega 3's, in particular, have been shown to have positive effects on the heart and blood vessels in the prevention of heart attack and stroke. Further reviews of research have shown beneficial effects of Omega 3/6 on brain function, and even cholesterol levels.
If eating fish, one need not worry about ratios, but if taking supplements the ratio of Omega 3's to Omega 6's is vital. Indeed, Omega-6 on it's own actually produces inflammation, so it is important that the Omega-3 intake be a least equal to that of Omega-6. Unfortunately, the typical American diet provides an abundance of Omega-6 but not of Omega-3. Such diets, beyond the aforementioned benefits they would lack, have even been associated with depression. Although the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake can vary depending on condition of the individual, the optimal ratio generally speaking is around 1:1 or lower.
Since Americans tend to already obtain plenty of Omega-6 in current diets, an Omega-3 supplement alone may be in order, or a regular consumption of fish.
So, if you are experiencing joint pain, poor memory, cardiovascular problems, or other inflammatory condition, consider a natural solution in fish, krill, or flaxseed, or their respective oils. Unlike many NSAID pain medications, these will not damage your liver or stomach, and do not have negative side effects.
If under the care of a doctor, always follow their direction in conjunction with any of these dietary changes. Stay healthy, and see you next week!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-07-06T21:13:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Postural stretches for seated workers - Part two|
In part one of our article, we introduced the concept that spending hours in a seated position puts us at the mercy of Davis' law, which teaches us that when muscles are held in a shorted position they tend to get stay short and stiff, while the opposing muscles get simultaneously weak and 'relaxed.
This leads to muscular imbalances, which tend to pull joints out of proper alignment and cause injury over time.
In part two, we will now look at how this law plays out in the lower body, and how we can address generally occurring problems.
Given the typical seated position, where are our legs? Typically our hips are flexed (knees are up, about level with the belt line), the knees are flexed (bent), and the feet are flat on the floor, or our toes our pointed down.
Beginning with the hip, what happens when our hips are held in a fixed position for 6-8 hours? Typically, these muscles will get tight. Once these muscles become stiff, we tend to get posture 'a,' pictured here. This leads to low back problems, accentuates all of our spinal curves, and causes a bulging stomach. How many of us have seen this posture?
In order to help fight against or correct this imbalance, try this stretch for the hip flexors As with other stretches hold for 20-30 seconds, perhaps while putting hands on your hips and slowly looking at each co-worker's face around the office. A stretch should be felt in front of the thigh and/or hip.
In the seated, flexed position, the muscles on the outside of the hip tend to get short and stiff as well, pictured here. Tightness here can cause lower back pain, hip pain, even sciatic pain. To attack this stiffness, try this stretch. Take note of any left/right asymmetry, and spend more time on the tight side. It should be felt on the outer hip and/or inner thigh.
Finally, the calves and other muscles muscles on the back of the lower leg tend to get tight, partly due to disuse and partly due to the often-pointed position of the foot. No wait, they're shown here. Stiffness here can create knee pain, and can affect posture as a whole. In order to prevent/treat tightness here, give this stretch a try. It should be felt behind the lower leg.
At thirty seconds per stretch per side, this entire routine should take three minutes thus far. Remember to breathe slowly during each stretch.
Of course, nothing should produce sharp pain.
In order to strengthen opposing muscles in the leg that tend to be weak, two words: Squats and lunges. Since these likely cannot be done in the office, unless one wants a promotion, you may have to wait until you get home or the gym for these. Try to do 8-12 repetitions, reaching fatigue within that range. If not tired within that range, add a couple of pounds of weight.
Also, you should address the lower abdominals. This exercise can help fight the poor posture brought about by tight hip flexors and calves, just be sure that your lower back stays flat on the floor throughout. If you back comes up, it's working the wrong muscles!
In closing, Davis' law is a great one given that muscles do respond and adapt to whatever stimulus we give them. It helps us get stronger and stiffer after weight training and makes our muscles stronger springs. But, like plaster, if we hold a position for too long we can begin to 'become' that position. So again, along with these stretches and exercises, try to take a 'move around' break every hour or so...a good time to knock out a stretch or two. Just remember to yell 'Stretching!' so that everyone knows what's going on.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-06-29T19:30:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Postural stretches for seated workers - Part one|
Today it seems we spend our lives in the seated position. We get up, sit at the breakfast table...walk to the car, sit in the car...get to work, sit at the desk for 7-8 hours...get back in the car...go home and sit to watch TV to 'unwind...go back to bed. Now, we may not be able to quit our jobs and join the circus, so we should try to keep in mind the effect that the seated position has on our bodies and how we can work against any changes that promote injury potential or bodily dysfunction. The next two articles will focus on just that.
First, how does the seated position affect the body in general? We should keep in mind a scientific law called Davis' Law. Not David's law...yet. But wheels are turning...
It states that when a muscles ends are brought closer together, the (tone) of the muscle tends to increase and the muscle will shorten. When a muscle's ends are brought further apart (beyond normal), the muscle will tend to atrophy and lengthen/weaken.
While in the seated position, certain muscles are held in the shortened position for extended periods of time. As per Davis' Law, this means that these muscles will, over time, become short and stiff, literally pulling our bones into poor posture over time.
This article will focus on the upper body, and part two will address lower body maintenance. In the upper body, this poor posture leads to some nasty things like shoulder pain, neck pain, and headaches in the upper body, among other issues.
In the seated position, while typing on the computer for instance, these muscles, among others, tend to get tight, which pull the shoulders into this posture.
The muscles which oppose these shortened muscles, subsequently, become weak and inhibited, sort of like losing a tug of war. This creates what is called 'upper crossed syndrome,' pictured here. Many of us exhibit this very posture!
The question is, then, how do we address this situation, besides the aforementioned career change?
One way to address the propensity for these muscular imbalances is to be aware of one's upper body sitting posture, and try to consciously correct it.
But this may not be enough, nor can we be so self-conscious all day and still be productive employees. We also need to stretch out those muscles which tend to become shortened, and strengthen those muscles which tend to become weak or inhibited.
For the often-shortened chest muscles due to the forward, slouched position try this stretch. It can be done anywhere where there is a doorjamb, perhaps while waiting for the photocopy machine to finish breaking. As with all stretches, try to hold it for 20-30 seconds. During the stretch, you may feel the muscles (of the chest and front of the shoulders) relax a bit. Just go a little further into the stretch (lean further more) and enjoy the increased range of motion.
The ultimate exercise for both stretching these same muscles while strengthening the opposite, often weak muscles of the upper back is the 'wall slide.'These are handy if you have walls installed in your office. Try keep the lower back (using your stomach muscles), elbow, and hand in contact with the wall throughout. During this exercise, you should begin to feel fatigue in the upper back, behind the shoulders, and behind the neck.
Shoot for doing around 10 repetitions (slides up and down) of this exercise to start, but try to increase to ~25 when tolerable. Also, start with just one set, but try to increase to two, then three. Remember, all you need is a wall and as many onlookers as possible, as you will look cool doing these.
If we can perform these self-maintenance measures, along with taking regular general 'move around' breaks every hour or so, we can fight against Davis' law and the related postural changes from extended periods of time in a seated position.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-06-22T21:31:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Out, Darn Spot!|
They’re everywhere. In our hospitals, gyms, places of work, our schools, and in our homes - the ubiquitous hand sanitizer. Certainly sanitizing the skin cannot be a bad thing, can it? That is exactly what we will examine this week!
Naturally, it makes sense that a product which kills harmful bacteria and viruses must be helpful in allowing us to prevent disease by killing any of them on the hands (our most ‘social’ body parts). Indeed some of the research supports this premise, with school age children reporting fewer gastrointestinal issues when using alcohol based hand sanitizers. Other studies report reduced student absenteeism when using hand sanitizers.
Hand washing, however, also reports similar positive results with regard to student absenteeism, and studies comparing the two sometimes find no significant differences. A relatively recent review of studies was not sure where to come down on this issue.
So now what? Yes, hand sanitizers or hand washing reduce germs on the hand, and also reduce infection. In addition, alcohol based sanitizers (if they include over 60% alcohol) can be effective in reducing germs.
However, this does not mean we need to scrub our hands with sanitizer every five minutes as if our job is ‘roadkill juggler.’ We need to keep in mind that there are GOOD bacteria as well as bad on our skin that actually help fight off disease and prevent infections. It seems that hand sanitizer in particular can kill the good along with the bad! This can lead to skin inflammation.
In addition, our immune systems, like most systems in our bodies have what are called ‘positive feedback cycles.’ The more we provide a stimulus, the more we get a response. This means that exposure to negative substances like bacteria (called ‘antigens’) actually strengthens our immune system and allow it to mount a better defense. We have cells called ‘memory B cells’ which actually REMEMBER a previous invader and how to defend against it! Pretty cool!
So, inhibiting a positive feedback cycle is a bit like never driving in traffic as a teenager because there are more cars. That is how you get better! Indeed, it seems that the young are particularly benefited by some ‘antigen’ exposure .
Let’s not suffer from paralysis by analysis. Clearly there is evidence both to support at least washing the hands, with some hand sanitizer use, and allowing some bacteria to “get past the guards,” as it were. So, let’s see what the Centers for Disease Control recommends given this information. Here are a few of the main recommendations, but the entire page can be viewed here. We should wash our hands with soap and water:
1. . Whenever dealing with food (Before eating / Before, during and after preparing)
2. . Before and after touching a wound
3. . After using toilet
4. . After touching animals or animals waste (sorry roadkill jugglers)4
5. . After blowing nose, sneezing coughing
6. . After touching garbage
7. . After changing diapers
In addition, you should hum the “Happy Birthday’ song while washing, as this is the approximate amount of time to wash (~20 seconds) in order to ensure the necessary thoroughness. Front, back, and between fingers should be covered.
Interestingly, the CDC recommends that hand sanitizers be used only if soap and water are not available. Also a Harvard Health Letter seems to put soap and water first as well, due to the fact that alcohol does not kill all bad bacteria, and usually sanitizer does not cover all of the hand.
So wash your hands regularly with soap and water, but not too obsessively. Hand sanitizer should be used as an adjunct. This advice is, of course, for the average citizen, and cannot speak to those in the health care/hospital industry or those with compromised immune systems.
'Happy birthday' to you all!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-06-15T18:49:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Drink, drink, drink!|
Shame on you for envisioning a bunch of your co-workers cheering you on as you guzzled a beer at work! Unacceptable. We are actually here to discuss water, as the title obviously suggests.
First of all, it is well known that water is one of the most vital nutrients for our body. We can go without food for a few weeks, even phytochemicals (per last week's blog), but we can only go without water for a few days.
This is due, in part, to the fact that our bodies are composed of around 60% water. Water is required to allow our blood to move through our bodies efficiently, it fills the discs in our spine, and is generally a vital part of every cell's processes and structure. However, we lose water every minute in the air that we exhale, the sweat we excrete, every time we go to the bathroom, and in the digestion process. If left unchecked, this will lead to dehydration, which can increase blood pressure, decrease cognition, and negatively impact joint lubrication and connective tissues like tendons .
Although our energy processes actually produce water as a part of energy metabolism, this is not enough to replenish what we lose during life, which is around 10 cups or two liters, not to mention that water lost during exercise. So we must drink.
So far nothing earth-shattering here. We all know that we need to drink water. Yet should we only drink when thirsty? How much water do we need?
Although our thirst mechanism is very sensitive, we also need an objective measure of fluid intake, given two points:
1) Our sense of thirst is not always accurate
2) Once thirst is felt, we are already somewhat dehydrated and could suffer the aforementioned decreases in performance.
Since our sense of thirst does at least tell us that we are dehydrated to some degree, we should avoid becoming thirsty. We do this by attempting to drink ~ 1/2 of your body weight in ounces every day. For instance, a 150 lb. person should shoot for 75 ounces per day. Simply drinking a 20 oz bottle of water along with all three meals (in lieu of calorie-drenched soda) would leave a simple 15 ounces throughout the rest of the day to drink for a 150 lb. person!
Keep in mind that if we ingest lots of fruits and vegetables we can decrease that requirement by a little due to the high water content of these foods.
Finally, what if we get tired of water - what about sports drinks and other popular beverages? Well, research does suggest that adding electrolytes to a beverage does improve retention of fluids and hydration. This does not mean we need to buy stock in Gatorade. Simply add a dash of sea salt (in lieu of table salt, which has more additives). Salt is an electrolyte, and works just as well as any special drink, though it has no sugar and will not taste as sweet. The sodium in salt can allow for greater hydration through more water retention - in small amounts of course.
This indicates to us that water and/or liquids with high water content and low electrolyte content (e.g. water plus pinch of sea salt or a sports drink) are best for hydration. As the number of particles, salt, and sugar increase in the drink, the hydration effect will likely decrease, as water is actually drawn out of the cells. Think about seawater. It is not the fact that salt is in the water that makes drinking seawater dehydrating and deadly, it is the amount of salinity that draws water from the cells.
Drinks containing some carbohydrate, or sugar, are not necessarily negative in all cases. During longer periods of exercise (> 1 hour), some intake of sports drinks and the sugar within them may be beneficial for performance and to replenish blood sugar, as this will provide energy for the activity. Any sport involving short bursts of activity (e.g. football), or lasting under one hour has not need for such drinks, however, as a healthy diet and plain water will supply all hydration and electrolyte requirements.
So, drink almost half your body weight in ounces while eating fruits and vegetables. Drink only watery beverages with the least amount of sugar, salt, and other additives as possible, unless the other ingredient(s) are small amounts of electrolytes.
'Water' you waiting for?
|Posted: 2011-06-08T21:34:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Eat your vegetables!|
When we consider our dietary needs, we often think in terms of vitamins and minerals. Thus, many people consider a multivitamin supplement as all that is required to maintain health. However, there are more benefits in eating healthy fruits and vegetables than just the maintenance of the bare minimum vitamin/mineral intake. This is only what is needed to maintain life, not to optimize health and fitness. One example of such 'above and beyond' benefits of eating fruits and vegetables is the intake of 'phytochemicals.'
Phytochemicals ('phyto' is Greek for 'plant') are present in all fruits and vegetables, and have important antioxidant and health enhancing properties. There are over 100 of them, and most are not present in the average multivitamin supplement (with the exception of the recently popular lycopene).
Examples of other phytochemicals (PC's) are flavonoids in fruits, which help prevent cancer, phytic acid, in whole grains and brown rice, which is helpful in combatting diabetes. Other more prevalent PC's like gallic acid, present in almost all plants, have powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some combinations of PC's, specifically resveratrol (found in grapes) when combined with grape seed extract produces the "suicide" of colon cancer cells!
So optimizing our health is as easy as eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. For specific information on which foods contain which phytochemicals, this site is a good resource for some of them.
But what about preparation of fruits and vegetables? Is there a preferred way to get the maximum access to these many life-promoting chemicals?
It would seem that eating fruits and vegetables raw is the way to go in many cases, as extensive reviews have shown. However, it is not completely settled, as other singular studies show increased absorption of beta carotene with carrots that are pureed rather than eaten raw.
Overall, the weight of the research seems to point to raw plant consumption for the prevention of cancers such as bladder cancer and breast cancer, though it is likely that some cooking does not destroy the nutrient content of most plants. What matters is the degree of heat and method of cooking.
Microwave cooking, for instance, seems to be one of the worst methods for heating vegetables or fruits with regard to phytochemical retention as seen here, here and here. The results of these studies may be due to the fact that microwaves tend to dehydrate food, and this combined with their effect on living cells (they essentially vibrate them at a high frequency), which kills much of the plant. Indeed, nurses will not microwave breast-milk anymore, if only for the easy potential to overheat the milk and kill enzymes. Faster is not always better!
Since some of the aforementioned experiments have shown that cooking vegetables at lower temperatures (e.g. not pressure cooking or boiling for too long) seem to allow for similar nutrient retention, it is likely acceptable to cook vegetables occasionally as well. Just keep in mind that the higher the heat and the longer time exposed to heat, the more nutrients will be lost, likely into the surrounding water.
If this review of preparation does not to provide a single simple answer, it is likely because the research is also very mixed. But it would seem that you cannot go wrong with eating raw vegetables or lightly cooked vegetables.
So, in summary, eat your fruits and vegetables (even if you take a multivitamin) in order to take advantage of the scores of phytochemicals, and try to keep the plant as 'alive' as possible until consumption by not destroying it with excess heat or microwave radiation. Until next week!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-06-01T18:39:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|The Sun: Friend or Enemy?|
As summer fast approaches in our area, many of us will be outdoors, perhaps to the beach, enjoying the sunlight. But isn't sunlight bad for us, with the possibility of skin cancer? What about the health benefits of sunlight? In this article we will attempt to answer a few of these questions.
First of all, we should understand that a certain amount of sun exposure is a vital to health and fitness. This seems to be backed by a glance at evolutionary history, where all of life came about under the rays of the sun. Experimentally it is also understood that there are indeed specific responses within the body which occur when the skin receives sunlight.
One such response is the production of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that also acts a lot like a hormone in the body, with effects in many different areas. Research supports that most Americans are vitamin D deficient. This vitamin plays an important role in bone health and strength, , as well as proper digestion of calcium and other products, immune system regulation, and even in preventing the very cancer that many are afraid of getting from sun exposure.
Though some take vitamin D supplements, it seems that this is not as efficient as sunlight, and in some cases may even cause negative effects in the body. So it seems that nature has the right idea with regard to vitamin D and sunlight exposure.
Another benefit of sunlight is mood improvement. In fact, light itself is often used to treat depression or seasonal affective disorders
So all this establishes that we probably shouldn't have 'Bram Stoker's Summer.' But, like most variables, there is a happy medium. The relationship between too much sun and cancerous melanoma is also well established. We almost intuitively know that to become burned is an inflammatory response of the skin, it indicates that damage is done, and this is supported by research as well.
So, in order to avoid too much sun in places like the beach, ensure that you use shade wisely, allowing your skin to rest, and/or using protective clothing. Also, using sunscreen is a necessity if you plan on being out in the sun for long periods of sustained time.
Therefore, along with ensuring we get adequate sun exposure for health, we also want to avoid too much. Generally, we should shoot for around ten to fifteen minutes a day of midday (10am to 4pm) sun exposure. If outdoors earlier in the morning or later in the day, it may take more time to get our appropriate amount of sunlight exposure and vitamin d.
Or, if you'd like to be even more precise, take a moment and use this calculator designed to tell you the amount of time in the sun required to get the recommended daily value of 1000 IU. It takes into account your skin tone, location, elevation, time of day, and more!
So, in closing, find the balance in your sun exposure, as sunlight is a vital component to health in the form of bone health, immunity, and cancer prevention. However, watch out if you are out in the sun with exposed skin for periods of time longer than 15 minutes. Now let's get out there and start getting that free vitamin D!
|Posted: 2011-05-25T21:20:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Sleep Your Way to Fitness - Part 2 (final)|
As a quick review, we want to keep in mind that the goal is to obtain not only the appropriate amount of sleep (7-9 hours), but also the necessary quality. We ensure this quality by allowing deep sleep to occur, in which much of the repair of our muscle happens.
We learned that deep sleep is reliant upon certain hormone release, like melatonin, and any light that falls upon the eyes during sleep prevents melatonin release and, therefore, deep sleep. We also learned not to take in any caffeine within about 12-14 hours of bedtime, as caffeine can prevent deep sleep as well
Now what are some more practical ways in which we can put this science into action in our preparation for bed?
Since we know that light or other sleep interruptions can inhibit deep sleep by stopping melatonin, we must try to instead facilitate it's release by 'gearing up' for sleep before actual bedtime. We can do this by making the following changes:
1. Dimming lights an hour before sleep. Melatonin takes time to reach appropriate levels in the bloodstream, and it is one of the tools by which our body 'knows' what time it is, also called the 'circadian rhythm.' Our ancestors set these internal rhythms to the sunrise and sunset, but today we have a constant barrage of electric lights, TV screens, etc. We need to reset the clock by turning those lights off!
2. Sleep in a cooler room. Since or body temperature drops while asleep, some research shows that it is better to mimic this environment in our bedrooms as well
3. Make time invisible. Along with the aforementioned reasons involving light on our faces, we want to keep our clocks (or other plugged in, electrical devices) away from our heads in order to avoid the electromagnetic fields. On a practical note, the clock may only make us worry all night about the time ("I've gotta get up in four hours, I have to get to sleep!").
4. Establish a routine. Bedtime should be the same every night, as much as possible. Our body always tries to maintain the status quo, it doesn't like constant change. Our circadian rhythm should be as reliable as possible. Avoid large fluctuations in sleep times and patterns, and if crossing time zones or working shifts a melatonin supplement may be helpful.
5. Get to bed before 10:30pm Most physical repair happens between ~1030pm and 1am. Miss that time period and miss the repair!
Finally, let's look at sleep position. We should keep in mind that some research shows decreased oxygen intake while sleeping on one's back, along with greater levels of sleep disorders (snoring, apnea, etc.). So the back seems to be the worst choice. With that in mind, we should sleep partly on the stomach, as this is the best position for digestion, with some sleep on the side, for a majority of the night. If we sleep on the side, we should consider a pillow between the legs , as pictured here, as this keeps the hips level and prevents the development of muscle imbalances.
Of course, we are not aware of our sleep position for most of the night, but if we start in a certain position each time we are awake we will at least spend a good part of the night in something close to that position.
If you are a habitual back-sleeper consider a light but bulgy 'backpack' for the night in order to prevent this position to the greatest degree possible.
Try to just make one of the above changes at a time until you have a good quality and quantity sleep, and you will achieve better results from your exercise program, as well as enjoy life more fully!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-05-18T14:29:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Sleep Your Way to Fitness!|
Yoohoo...wake up. Not quite yet. We need to learn a bit about sleep first!
Although this title sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, there is good evidence that sleep deprivation is correlated with increased body fat and reduced health as well as the more obvious cognitive issues. Let's look at some of the ways in which lack of sleep can decrease one's fitness, health, and body composition.
First of all, how much sleep should we be getting? According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need to be getting 7-9 hours a night.
However, more is not necessarily better either. Other research shows that too little or too much sleep can lead to a higher mortality rate. This seems reasonable, as too little or too much of almost any health-related stimulus tends to be bad - be it exercise, sunlight, protein, or sleep. There is some room for individual variation, but the two hours allowed under 7-9 hours is a pretty good range for any genetic or environmental differences.
Of particular importance in our busy metropolitan area seems to be sleep debt, or lack of sleep. Studies show that sleep debt is associated with higher blood sugar, along with elevated cortisol levels (a hormone that is associated with muscle wasting and body fat deposition, particularly around the waistline). In fact, lack of sleep has been empirically connected with obesity as well. If that were not enough, lack of sleep tends to alter our endocrine system such that we want to eat more calories per day, and do. So, to lose body fat we need to get the proper amount of sleep.
Now that the amount of sleep is understood, what about the quality? After all, simply lying on a platform for eight hours will not make one feel rested. We understand that the body goes through five distinctive stages of sleep in a cycle, each phase with it's own focus of repair. Each complete cycle of stages lasts an average of 90 minutes, which is why it may feel better to get 7.5 hours of sleep (1.5 hours x 5 cycles) then 8 hours, as your body is just finishing a sleep cycle and is not in the midst of deep sleep. It may take some experimentation to discover your exact sleep cycle length.
Each of the cycles involve a trip through five stages of sleep, one being REM sleep (rapid eye movement) in which we tend to dream and the body is paralyzed. Stage 1 and 2 sleep are lighter sleep levels as well.
However, of greater importance for our current discussion are stages 3 and 4 sleep, or slow wave sleep. This is also called deep sleep, and it is during this phase that much of the muscular and tissue repair and growth occurs, in part due to an increase in HGH, or growth hormone, release. Since we know the benefits of HGH (just look at Sly Stallone), how do we make sure we are reaching a stage of deep sleep in order to maintain or build muscle?
This brings us to one more hormone - melatonin, released from the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone is essentially the 'deep sleep hormone.' Melatonin creates deep sleep and deep sleep releases HGH. Thus we should not antagonize the release of melatonin. Unfortunately, some of our current lifestyle habits do just this. Specifically, the presence of light inhibits melatonin release, particularly light in the eyes. This means we must sleep in dark rooms, without a TV on and minimal nightlight. Also, ensure bright alarm clocks are not facing towards you.
Since that's a lot of information, let's try to first initiate these changes:
1. Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night
2. Sleep in a dark room
3. Do not take in caffeine later than around 10am, if possible.
Then in part two of this article we will look at even more practical strategies to help get the most out of a night's sleep, to include preparation and even body position.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-05-11T12:16:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Abdominal Secrets: 'Getting on the Ball!'|
As a quick review, in the previous blog we looked at the importance of tongue position for neck stabilization during the performance of exercise, specifically the crunch. Since the D.C. area is preparing for beach season, the crunch seems to be an exercise of choice, for better or worse. So let's delve a little deeper into another aspect of the execution of this movement: training surface.
The surface on which perform our abdominal exercises is a vital aspect of the crunch's efficacy. This is because the surface on which we crunch affects the range of motion (ROM) of the pattern. But how much motion should one allow for a particular crunch, you say? Wow, you ask such relevant questions!
We know that the abdominal muscles on which we are focusing, specifically the rectus abdominus, have multiple functions. Along with the normal spinal flexion the this muscle performs (curling into a ball, or the lifting motion in the crunch), we must also remember that whatever a muscles does, it also prevents the opposite. So, even though this muscle flexes the spine it also prevents the opposite motion, spinal extension/hyperextension (back bending). And it is in this position that many Americans are stuck chronically, (i.e. lumber lordosis) and also a position in which injury often occurs in sport or in life in general .
So it is important to exercise the abdominal muscles into extension. Indeed, we would not do half of an arm curl, or a leg extension, or other exercise (unless we are bodybuilders). So why do we treat the abs differently?
It therefore seems reasonable that a Swiss ball is a much more effective tool for the performance of crunches then simply using the floor, as it allows for the spine to reach into extension, and therefore trains the abs in that range of motion. Indeed, the rectus abdominus (with the help of the internal and external obliques) are the only muscles capable of pulling a person out of a position of spinal extension.
Also, research studies seem to support the notion that overall abdominal muscle activity is greater while doing abdominal exercises on the ball.
So, in closing, we can see how a curved surface should be used for crunches, to allow for strengthening of the abdominals through a full range of spinal motion, and that exercises on the ball create a greater degree of muscle activation in the abdominal muscles. So, the next time you think about doing a few crunches, think about getting 'on the ball!'
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-05-04T13:18:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Abdominal Secrets: 'Watch Your Tongue!'|
The DC/VA/MD area is replete with gyms and fitness centers, and in any given gym you will see at least 50% of the people either about to do crunches, finishing crunches, or thinking about doing crunches. Turn on the television and see advertisements for ab exercising tools to make crunches easier to do, and so forth. We, as a nation, and certainly in the D.C. area, are 'absessed.'
Certainly having a strong set of abdominal muscles is very gratifying aesthetically, and they absolutely help prevent injury and improve performance. This next series of articles will focus on abdominal training in the form of little known 'secrets.' These are little 'fun facts' that have been collected over the years that will help improve your abdominal training such that your body functions better as well as looks better. We will look at the proper way to perform common exercises, suggest better exercises, and critique some popular gimmicks and even more common 'wisdom.'
Crunches, done in moderation, can be one minor tool in a 'tool box' to help strengthen one particular set of muscles in the abdominals, the rectus abdominus. There are four different sets of abdominal muscles, of which the 'rectus' is only one, but this is the muscle on which we focus when performing a crunch. Like all exercises, there is an optimal technique for the crunch that allows the body to function as it should, and does not sacrifice function or injury prevention on the altar of vanity or comfort.
This article will focus on neck function during the crunch with a focus on tongue position. "David, what does the tongue have to do with crunches?" you may ask. Good question!
First of all, we must establish that the neck, or cervical spine, tends to work with the lumbar spine during human motion. This relationship is well established via reflexes which ties together the eye and head motion with pelvic motion. One key point of these reflexes is that looking down is associated with activation of the abdominals and front neck muscles, looking up with activation of the spinal muscles, which antagonize the abdominals (work in the opposite direction). For instance, imagine trying to lift a really heavy couch with your chin tucked into your chest, and looking down. You'd probably feel weaker. We tend to naturally look up and lift our chins when lifting with our lower back. And the opposite applies for abdominal recruitment
Why, then would we allow the neck to 'relax' on some pillow or head support (including your own hands) usually while looking up at the ceiling, as is so common in gimmicks and gyms today? We should, instead, allow the head to 'nod' and curl along with the rest of the spine, while looking down with our eyes in order to avoid antagonizing the movements of the spine.
Secondly, the muscles on the front of the neck have a tendency to lengthen and get weak. This allows the head to migrate forward into the ubiquitous 'forward head posture.' This posture allows the increased probability of neck pain, headaches, and shoulder dysfunction. Crunches, then, can also help train these muscles by forcing the neck to lift one's own head while during a crunch. In effect, we should think about 'nodding' as we crunch upward ('Yes, I love crunches'), then reversing the nod on the way back down. This will help promote neck stabilization and good posture. However, we want to avoid 'jutting out' the chin, but should instead focus on a pure nodding motion, tucking the chin into the neck. So what if your neck gets tired? Good. Let it catch up to the strength of your abdominals.
All of this being said, what about the tongue? Well, it is interesting to note that some of these front neck muscles, which help us 'nod' our head and look down, have an attachment at the tongue, specifically the supra and infrahyoid muscles. With that in mind, a 'loose' tongue, or a tongue that is hanging loose in the mouth, provides a poor foundation for this muscle attachment. This can be illustrated by protesters who go limp at demonstrations to make the police exert more force in moving them. A stable, or tense, foundation would be much easier to move!
Similarly, we want to have a solid base of motion for these all- important front neck muscles, making it easier for them to move the head. Research supports this notion as well.This begs the question as to proper tongue position.
First, try a simple test. Swallow...what happened to your tongue? If you have proper neurological function, it should have gone to the roof of your mouth.
This is called the physiological rest position of the tongue. It is here where you should secure your tongue during crunches, or any other motion in which you need a stable neck (shrugs, shoulder presses, etc.). Obviously, we should then breathe through the nose in order to maintain the natural tongue position.
So, in closing, don't support the head. Nod with every crunch. Note tongue position.
The next article in the series will go about the optimal technique for the performance of the crunch.
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-04-27T19:06:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Your best foot forward - part III (final)|
And now for the last edition of this 'foot-tastic' blog! We have looked at the foot function in part one, where it is important to allow the many joints of the foot to move and adapt to changing surfaces, a condition that a hard, solid sole attenuates. We have examined the importance of a sensory relationship between the sole of the foot and the surface upon which the foot sits, such that posture is heavily dependent upon it. And we have briefly looked at the muscles of the foot, which contract to stabilize the foot, a function that many shoe companies offer as their shoes' primary benefit of wear.
But what area of the body gets stronger while in a 'cast?' What other aspect of muscular development and fitness focuses on essentially splinting a given body part as an argument against injury and for proper function? So if we should not always wear running shoes, and toning shoes seem to be a marginally effective waste of money, what should be worn on the foot?
Answer: as little as possible.
Based upon my research, we should exercise in shoes that imitate a barefoot environment most proximally. If one can exercise completely barefoot, so much the better - though with most gym policies, concrete surfaces, and dog excrement this may be difficult. Therefore, we should begin to move more towards a 'foot covering' rather than a supportive shoe. Of course, if one has one's own fitness center or workout area perhaps a barefoot workout is possible.
Examples of such foot coverings are any number of 'barefoot shoes,' which are available for purchase. A foot covering that is rubbery, allowing some protection of sharp objects, but that makes the foot do the work for which is has evolved. Even a wrestling-type shoe with almost no support may be an appropriate starting point to allow the foot to adapt gradually.
However, one should not just leap into, pun intended, running three miles with no support, just as we would not begin our very first workout with a thousand bicep curls. No, we must build up the feet to handle the body weight. This can be assisted by the performance of certain exercises (see bottom of the page), - which can strengthen our foot's natural support system (the tendons, ligaments, and muscles).
Once three sets of 20 repetitions can be performed relatively easily, we can begin walking, then slow jogging. It is important to do this on the grass, dirt, or other softer surface, as opposed to concrete, in order to avoid the ground reaction forces, particularly until the foot adapts and gets stronger. You will notice that you do not 'want' to slam your heels down into the ground while jogging as you would while wearing shoes, and research shows a different foot-strike while running in barefoot conditions. Be prepared to humble yourself with regard to your typical time and/or distance.
On your first few walks, if and when the feet, ankles, or lower legs begin to feel greatly fatigued, stop and rest. Similarly, on your first few jogs, stop and walk with any foot fatigue. If you can resume jogging, do so. Always avoid pain, and never push through discomfort in the foot area. It will take time, perhaps months, to build up these muscles to hold your body weight and contract repetitively for long periods of time. Allow yourself one day of rest, at least, between jogs. We should think of this as weight training for the feet, at first, and one always allows at least 48 hours of rest between most weight training sessions to allow for repair of muscle. Muscles get more dense while resting, NOT while working out.
In this way one can build up to running a few miles under barefoot-like conditions, and experience the concomitant foot strength, stability, decreased ankle sprains , and whole body conditioning that this allows. Who knows? Perhaps you may soon be able to compete in these conditions. Indeed, some of the world's top competitive runners do so barefoot.
If you have orthotics or shoe inserts, wear those in all other activities of life outside of the house, except your exercise. This will allow your foot to be supported throughout the day while it recovers from this activity. However, you may find that your foot problems resolve. Some research shows flat-foot is a less-common foot issue amongst those grow and develop barefoot.
On a related note, little attention has been paid to weight training in this article but it should also be done barefoot for the same reason. This will likely be an easier transition since one has to the ability to sit and rest between sets.
So, in conclusion, there seems good evidence to indicate that the best approach to choosing footwear is one in which a barefoot condition is mimicked as closely as possible. As always, listen to your body. If you experience pain from running in this manner, switch back to your running shoes and resume your weight exercises for the feet.
This is a relatively young area of study, and there is not enough research to make a final, irrefutable conclusion about running barefoot for all populations so always allow for some individualized results, either good or bad.
Please comment on this article of you have any questions, and happy training!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-04-20T14:06:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|'Your Best Foot Forward!' - Part II|
As a quick review from part one, there are three things that the foot seems to 'need' to function in the most optimal manner, among others. These are:
1) A changing or flexible surface to allow for the mobility indicated by the structure of the foot and it's many joints.
2) A relatively unstable environment to allow for the contraction and strengthening of the foot's many muscles in a fine motor control environment.
3) A sensory relationship between the sole of the foot and surface upon which it sits to allow for specificity of training and postural reactions.
Now let's examine a couple of categories of shoes popular today in light of these requirements.
Shoes designed to provide 'stability' to the foot and cushion the foot strike seem counter-intuitive now, in light of the above facts about this part of the body. Granted, #1 is fulfilled in that the foot still must adapt somewhat while inside the shoe, but to what degree? Does not the shoe cushion the need for much mobility? Number two is certainly not met, since the shoe provides the stability, which is the job of the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. And #3 is definitely not fulfilled, since any sensory-motor feedback is dampened by the 1/2 inch thick piece of rubber between the sole of the foot and the ground. So this type of shoe seems sub-optimal.
Now, there are some types of feet that may require temporary stability in order to avoid or reduce pain, per the prescription of a podiatrist. People with over-pronation, or over flattening of the foot's arch, may need the support of a shoe along with an orthotic to avoid pain. But certainly such orthotics should not be a life-sentence! In what other area of therapy or life do we 'splint' a weak area for all eternity? Only in the foot. Someone with a knee injury may use a brace temporarily, but the knee is also exercised and strengthened such that the brace is not needed anymore. I would argue the same method for the foot.
One area in which we may allow running shoes, besides for those with foot dysfunction is for those who are running on hard surfaces, who may require more cushioning. But running on hard surfaces is not good anyway, due to increased ground reaction forces that your body must absorb (e.g. Newtons' third law of motion) through the joints!
If one is looking for a quick weight loss solution in toning shoes, one need look no further than a study performed by the American Council on Exercise in which they compared caloric expenditure between toning shoes and regular shoes and found no significant difference!
However, they may be good for toning/strengthening of the muscles of the foot and leg, perhaps even the hip/butt muscles. If, indeed, such shoes create an unstable environment, then they could very well increase the strength and endurance of the muscles of the foot and lower leg. But let's remember motor learning and SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). We are not changing shoes every day, and the shoe is not changing, so the body will eventually take this new foot position in stride and any muscular stabilization effect will be diminished.
For instance, until I mention it right now, do you feel the clothes on your body? Probably not, your brain learns to accommodate for them since there is no new stimulus. Something similar likely occurs for the foot muscles within such shoes. Now, in most activities this is a beneficial attribute because it allows us to become skilled at particular movements by adapting to the stimulus (practice) and becoming more efficient at them. But this is a death sentence for a static shoe, supposedly offering toning benefits over a long period of time. Benefits over the short term, however, remain to be seen.
Secondly, one of the most basic principles of muscle strengthening is the 'overload principle.' If one is not regularly overloading a muscle, or challenging to to a greater degree, then the benefits in the form of strength, 'toning,' or endurance simply cease. You cannot do arm curls with a ten pound weight your entire life at the same speed, the same leverage, etc., and expect continue improvement in strength or toning. You must change either the weight, mechanical advantage, speed of movement, type of weight, or other variable (more on this in an upcoming article). What does this tells us about a foot needing to stabilize one's unchanging body weight while going about the same activities of daily living? Certainly we are not changing much to overload the foot, ankle, or hip muscles since no variables are being altered.
This notion of forcing the foot to stabilize is a terrific one, this is used regularly in the personal training industry. However, it is used by varying the stimulus, or by changing variables such that the stabilization stimulus is 'new' and therefore still requires new adaptation.
Thus, these shoes just doesn't seem to work very effectively for long, particularly relative to the price-tag, but we can await any research to the contrary since they are relatively young.
So what should we wear on the foot during exercise? Since we are out of time and space, part three will conclude with the best strategies for shoes and the treatment of the foot, in my view. Thank you!
David Younkins, M.S., CES
|Posted: 2011-04-13T12:19:00.000-07:00 - Link|
|Your best foot forward! - Part I|
The outdoor hiking and running season approaches in the D.C. area. As the Cherry Blossom Festival get closer, along with the first day of spring, there are increasing numbers of people stepping out for that first hike and/or run of the year. Along with this natural increase in running/walking interest, it is incumbent upon us to take a look at the 'equipment' for such activity: shoes.
This is not as easy as it seems, for at this time in history there are almost as many shoes as there are feet! There are running shoes, trail shoes, 'butt toning' shoes, motion control shoes, Masai shoes, and barefoot shoes. Which are best? Which are most supported as effective by research, science, and even simple logic? This next series of articles will focus on exactly that. In order to understand what a covering for the foot should do, we must first understand how the foot was designed to work. Part one of this article will look at some of the science regarding how the feet function most optimally. In what environment do they thrive?
Let's take a look at a diagram of the foot. First of all, we notice that it has a great number of bones and joints (26 bones, 33 joints). In fact, it looks a lot like a hand with regard to it's structure. Now, one thing we learn in anatomy and physiology is that structure often defines function. For instance, a large, solid bone is not meant to promote much mobility (i.e. the skull), whereas a series of small bones and joints show that an area was meant to allow for motion to a greater degree.
Next, we can examine the muscles of the foot. There are over 100 affecting each foot directly, and many more that affect the feet indirectly in the hip and lower back. In addition, the muscles of the foot and hand, among others, have a larger number of motor units, or nerves, per gram of muscle tissue (MacinTosh, Gardiner, McComis, 2006, p.176). Since the nerve is akin the 'brain' of the muscle (it tells it when to turn off or on and to what degree), we can conclude that more motor units = more brains = more fine control of an area. The quadriceps of the thigh, by contrast, have a lower number of units per gram of muscle tissue since it is a large group of muscles used for gross movements like squatting and running.
Finally, the sole of the foot is highly important from a sensory standpoint with regard to muscle activation throughout the body, particularly in standing posture. So it seems best for the sole of the foot to have a sensory role in the surface upon which the foot rest, pushes from, and so forth, if we are to optimize muscular function and posture of the whole body while walking, running, or standing.
Armed with this information, we should take another look at the a potential 'perfect shoe.' Indeed, some research supports the idea that footwear alters muscle activation patterns. It seems that, if we are to allow the body to function as it was designed for survival, a shoe should: a) Allow for motion of the joints of the foot b) Maintain strength and stability in the muscles of the foot c) Avoid inhibiting the foot's ability to adapt to changing surfaces via fine motor control d) Elicit sensory feedback from the sole of the foot such that posture can be maintained properly.
In part II of this article we will examine some of the different models of shoes, the research supporting each, and try to figure out which best fulfills our requirements of the foot with an eye towards it's physiology and biomechanics.
Macintosh, B. R., Gardiner, P.F., McComas, A.J.(2006). Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
|Posted: 2011-04-04T18:34:00.000-07:00 - Link|