Is there a higher risk of dying even if you’re active?

We all know that being physically active reduces the risk of dying. Being physically active or exercising lowers the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. But can our risk or mortality be high even if we get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) daily? YES! It’s not all about exercise or activity, but also about how sedentary you are.

A study by Matthews et al., (2012) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (if you want to look it up), showed that even people who engaged in >7 hours/week of MVPA were at increased risk of all-cause mortality (death from all causes) IF they also spent > 7 hours/day sedentary, basically watching TV or surfing the computer. People at the highest risk if all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality were those who were sedentary > 7 hours/day compared to those who were sedentary for < 1 hour/day. So what does all this mean? It means if you are sedentary, meaning sitting your ass on the couch a lot, you’re at higher risk of getting diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer compared to people who are less sedentary. Being sedentary IS a risk factor. This doesn’t mean you have to exercise hour upon hour, day after day. What it means is move around more. Do something, anything, that gets you off your butt even if it’s just light activity. Go for a walk, clean the house, paint your fence, Don’t just sit there reading this blog. Get moving!!

Women and weight lifting. What you should know!

I was trying to add a little culture and refinement to my life so I went to the symphony. Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, but that’s beside the point. After the concert I was talking with a young lady about weight lifting. She said she didn’t lift weights because she didn’t want big muscles. Okay, I get that, but here’s the truth of the matter. Women rarely get big from lifting weights. Now we can all cite exceptions to that rule, but hear me out.

First, women as a rule, have less muscle mass than men and It’s distributed differently than men. From the hips down men and women are pretty equal when it comes to muscle mass. But from the hips up it’s a different story. Building something from less is more challenging than building something from a lot. So men start with an advantage because they have more muscle mass to begin with.

Second, and most importantly, women do not have the hormonal make up needed for dramatic muscular hypertrophy. That doesn’t mean they can take “supplements” that help them get big, but as a rule they don’t have the natural chemicals to make it happen. There are three main hormones that cause muscular hypertrophy: testosterone (T), growth hormone (HGH), and insulin or insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Women produce all of these just as men do, but in differing amounts. Testosterone in men is produced in abundance by the testes, but in women it’s produced by the adrenal glands in small amounts. So the primary stimulant for protein transcription within muscle is super low in women. Growth hormone is secreted from the anterior pituitary and is actually higher in women than in men. Growth hormone is what helps keep us lean and both men and women start to gain fat with age partly because GH begins to decline.  GH is also responsible for stimulating IGF-1. So why then aren’t women more muscular? Because they don’t have the T.

Now we all have a female friend who defies the rules and if they lift they get big. And yes, they are out there. But as a rule if you are a woman, especially a thin woman, you don’t have to worry about the huge factor. It’s not going to happen. So don’t be afraid to lift some weight and get strong and even put a little muscle on. Trust me, you won’t rip out of your blouse.

What’s most important for achieving fitness success?

I was recently asked by one of my clients what the most important factors are for being successful at meeting your fitness goals. My response was this, ‘In general, exercise and watch your diet.’ No brainer, huh? My client followed up with, ‘What are the three most important factors for exercise and diet?’

My response was this – In order to get the absolute best results through exercise you need these three things: 1) consistency, 2) appropriate volume and 3) appropriate exercise regimen.

Let’s discuss consistency first. If you cannot or will not stay consistent with your workout from week to week you don’t expect to reach your goal(s), given your goals are realistic to begin with. Of all my clients that I train the ones that get the best results, by far, are the ones that rarely miss a workout. Without getting into a lot of training philosophy and physiology, the best workouts are consistent ones.

As for appropriate volume I like the American College of Sports Medicine’s mantra…some activity is good and more is better. When a new client comes to me and tells me their goals, I ask how many days a week they have to train. If someone tells me they can train one hour two days a week my response is generally this: Don’t expect to see a lot of results, but you will feel better. In order to start seeing good results a minimum of three days a week is needed in my opinion. Some people can respond with less, but as a rule most people need to train 3 or more days a week. No one should train seven days a week in my opinion unless they are a competitive athlete, and even then they should take days off. Best bang for your time…four days a week for at least 40 minutes each time. But make it count, meaning bust your ass.

What’s the best exercise regimen for your goals? The one that gets you there the fastest without injury. I could write forever about this topic because there are many programs to be had. Here’s an example, if someone comes to me and tells me they want to get strong I ask them to be more specific. Strong like you just want to lift some weights and look more toned? Or the true definition of strength, meaning the ability to lift as much weight as possible one time? There’s a huge difference in the type of program I would make for each of these goals. That goes for any other goal you might have. This is why hiring a competent, knowledgeable trainer is important.

When it comes to diet I keep things a little more simple. FIrst, stop drinking sweet things including juices. Orange juice, apple juice, etc. is liquid sugar. If you want some orange juice eat an orange. The closer to the raw source your food is the better. Processing even fruits into juice changes the way our bodies process them. Second, don’t eat fast food. I get tired of hearing people say, ‘I just don’t have time in my busy day to make food.’ Well you know what? We’re all busy so plan ahead. It’s not that difficult. If you can’t make yourself a healthy meal a day ahead of time then you’re not putting any effort into eating better. You want a better life? Then make some changes! Lastly, I see this one mistake with nearly everyone I counsel about nutrition. They are eating too many carbs and not enough protein. Here’s a guideline for protein: about 0.8-0.9 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. How do you figure out how many kilograms you weigh? Well, you could google it or divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and you get kilos. As for carbs, no more than 40% of all calories. Pretty simple. Now get off your butts and exercise more and start eating right!

New Year’s Resolutions

With a New Year upon us, many of us are committing to healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking or beginning an exercise program. Yet New Year’s fitness resolutions are often a point of humor because they often don’t work. In fact, research by Richard Wiseman at the University of Bristol showed 3000 “resolutioners” were successful only 12% of the time.

The challenges we face when we decide to begin an exercise program are: time-commitments, it’s painful, and motivation to stick with it. Your concerns are justified; if you hope to succeed you will to need to develop “fitness habits”.

Lasting behavioral changes, like engaging in regular exercise or quitting smoking, has been an important area of study by psychologists. A relatively recent model known as the “Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change” (TTM) describes several stages on the path toward developing a permanent habit: precontemplation – contemplation – preparation – action – maintenance – termination. Ideally, one stage leads to the next but, in fact, the process can end at any stage, just as many New Year’s resolutions do.

One of the most important aspects of TTM from the perspective of beginning and continuing regular exercise is to understand the reason approximately 50% of people who start exercising on January 1 quit within a short period is because the action stage is the least stable stage. In other words, it is extremely easy to return to previous behavior patterns during the action stage because the new habit has not fully formed.

Many people believe it takes three weeks to develop a habit. Research shows it takes close to six months to reliably change behavior. Naturally, the longer you engage in a new behavior, the better the odds that you will continue to do so.

The primary challenge is to figure out how to engage in regular exercise for at least six months. Hiring a trainer not only makes you accountable to someone, a good trainer makes workouts fun and safe. Exercising with a trainer can also provide a regular routine to ensure you can enter the maintenance phase of TTM and prevent falling back into old habits.

The termination stage is reached at the five year point. Here, individuals have almost no temptation and 100% self-efficacy and healthy behaviors are now a permanent part of one’s lifestyle.

Understanding TTM puts you in a great position to make New Years’ resolutions that really work. Commitment to engage in regular exercise at the start of a the new year with the help or a trainer or group class that is fun and helps you to make it to the maintenance stage of TTM. Once achieved, your life will truly change…for the best.

 

What you need to know about using calorie counting apps

After Christmas I was in need of a little physical activity due to all the cookies, candy and pie I had eaten. I was in Northern California in the Sierra foothills so my friend Jerry and I decided to go for a hike. While he and I were talking he explained he was the heaviest he has ever been topping the scales at 190 pounds. He also explained that he had been using an app on his phone to track his calories in order to lose weight. He just enters his current weight and the app tells him how many calories he needs in order to lose weight.

Now I’m the least technologically sophisticated person there is. I still live in the late 20th Century and refuse to get rid of my flip phone. I have to confess I don’t even know how apps work because I’ve never used one. But while Jerry and I were talking it dawned on me that if he entered his current weight the app would calculate the number of calories needed to maintain that weight, not lose weight. Ah ha! Now I could be wrong depending on how your app works so you may need to look into it further.

I explained to Jerry that in order to use this app effectively he probably needed to enter his goal weight, or the weight at which he was hoping to get down to. The rationale for this is that fat is very metabolically inactive. This means that fat doesn’t burn many calories. So if you’re trying to lose weight you have to determine the number of calories you need for the weight that you are striving for. Instead of entering in the amount of calories you needs based on your current weight you should be entering your goal weight. Jerry’s weight is 190 pounds, but his goal weight is 165 pounds. He should enter 165 pounds into his app in order to calculate the proper number of calories. If you’ve been using an app and it hasn’t been effective readjust your weight to your goal weight and give it a few months. Good luck!

Strength Training after Bariatric Surgery

When one starts a resistance training program the gains in strength in the early phases are the result of neurological adaptations without a change in the size of the muscle. Later, through increased protein turnover, the size of the muscle increases resulting in further gains in strength. However, strength can increase dramatically without a large increase in muscle size. After bariatric surgery it should be the goal of patients to increase both muscle size (hypertrophy) and strength. To do this very different approaches are used in regards to resistance training program design.

 

My approach to program design for the post-op bariatric patients is based on classical methods for gaining muscle and then transitioning into a strength program. It is well understood by body builders, personal trainers and exercise physiologists that high volume resistance training that focuses on large muscle groups builds the most muscle (see my earlier blog post). High volume means lots of sets with higher repetitions or reps, typically 8-15reps with moderate weight. This high-volume has maximal benefits for stimulating hormonal responses and muscle protein growth. The other component of muscle growth that is critical is having enough calories to fuel the work required to finish a workout and carry out the metabolic processes needed to grow muscle. This is where the post-op bariatric patient is at a disadvantage, but all is not lost.

We know from studies done on people who lose weight through dieting, that exercise can spare or increase muscle mass. Because little research has been done on bariatric patients in this area we are unsure how muscle will respond to a strenuous weight lifting program. However, I believe from my research, that muscle growth is possible shortly after surgery, even when eating may be challenging.

Strength, especially lower body strength, is important for mobility, accomplishing activities of daily living such as going up stairs, picking things up off the floor or getting out of a chair. Low strength is associated with higher mortality rates and lower quality of life. Weight lifting programming to build strength is different than what is used to gain muscle. The definition of strength is the ability to lift a maximal load one time. To test strength we typically have someone lift as much as they can one time. But for some people that’s not safe or practical. A typical strength routine would consist of heavier loads and fewer repetitions, generally 1-6 reps at moderately high to high loads. But before you begin with this type of program you want to build a base for you muscles by starting with lighter loads and more reps like what I talked about above.

Many of you will be asking, ‘how do I know when I’m ready to move into a strength routine?’. Here’s a general rule, let’s say your goal is to lift 100 pound 10 times when doing a squat. If you can lift that 100 pounds 12 times on two different days, you’re ready to increase the weight and drop your reps down. The other method is to increase the load and reduce the reps gradually over time. I like to work with someone doing higher reps for 2-4 months before I begin a strength phase, but there are may variations of this plan.

So the take away message is to build a base using higher reps and moderate loads and then progress yourself. But one last piece of advice, if you haven’t exercised for a long time start real light. When I start exercising after a lay-off I might spend 20 minutes lifting for my whole body and I’ll generally only do one exercise per body part for the first week and a half then slowly increase. This reduces the amount of muscle soreness. Now get after it!

 

Healthier Eating

One of the most common questions people ask me is, “What kind of diet do I need to go on to lose weight?”. My answer is this, “There isn’t a diet that will help you. Changing your eating habits is what will allow you to succeed.”

What I mean is this, changing the way you eat, what you eat and how you view eating combined are what you have to look at.

CHANGING THE WAY YOU EAT

We’ve all been in the situation where we only have a few minutes to grab something quick to eat.  Fast food is , well, fast. So we choose fast food, the most unhealthy option as far as I’m concerned. So what can you do to not fall into this trap? First is to plan ahead.

If you know you have a crazy schedule and limited time to eat the next day you should make a healthy meal the evening before or purchase something healthy the night before or morning of that day. Quick, healthy options are abundant. You must seek them out. I personally like build your own take out. Places like Barbacoa and Chipotle allow you to build your meal. By making healthier choices such as chicken or chopped steak instead of ground beef, you’ll reduce a lot of calories from fat. You can also forgo things like sour cream that is 100% fat, or ask them add less of it. This way you are taking control of the way you eat instead of hunger controlling how you eat.

CHANGING WHAT YOU EAT

Second is changing what you eat. I’ve already recommended avoiding fast food. The second thing I also recommend against is drinking soda. Soda is extremely high in sugar and diet soda with artificial sweetener makes you crave foods that have a higher sugar index. This can lead to over consumption of sugar (The explanation for this is too lengthy to go into here). Some people have trouble with sugar and processed foods. Their bodies react differently than other peoples and they put on weight as a result. Avoiding or experimenting with changes to your existing eating habits can be beneficial if this is the case. I know many people who exclude wheat and processed foods and found that they feel better and lost a great deal of weight.

Another component that I feel is very important to changing what you eat is to be able to read a food label. It takes a little practice, but after a while you can look at a label and know weather you want to buy the product or not. Here is how you do it: First look at the number of calories per serving. This is on the upper left of the label. This is how many calories you eat per size of the serving. The next bit of information the label gives you is how many calories from fat are in each serving. This is just to the right of calories. You can calculate the percentage of calories from fat you’re getting I each serving. What is recommended is less than 30%. If you take you calculator and enter the number of calories from fat and divide those by the total calories you get the percentage. Let’s do a real example: Ground beef that is 97% lean or 7% fat is not actually 7% fat. Mind blown! Here’s why. 97% ground beef is 170 calories per serving size. Seventy of those calories come from fat. 70/170 = .41 or 40%. Ground beef that is 7% fat is actually 41% fat by calories. Eleven percent higher than is recommended. It’s because the labeling is by weight. Seven percent of the weight is fat. But fat has over twice the number of calories for the same weight of either carbohydrate or protein. 1 gram of fat = 9 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories and 1 gram of protein is also 4 calories. If you include alcohol it is 7 calories per gram, also high in calories. so you must look at the label and do the math in order to determine how many calories your eating from fat, protein or carbs. To calculate carbs or protein you must first find the number of grams of carbohydrate on the label. A bag of tortilla chips might have 19 grams of carbs. So 19 x 4 = 76 calories from carbs. Calories per serving is 140 so 76/140 = .54 or 54% of the calories in tortilla chips is from carbs. A little high in my personal opinion, but within recommendations. So you get my point. Try this with milk and see how many calories of fat is in the milk you drink. You’ll be surprised, except for skim milk.

CHANGING HOW YOU VIEW EATING

How do you view eating? In most societies eating is done to ease hunger, to celebrate events and to just have the pleasure of eating tasty foods. Unfortunately many people use eating as a coping mechanism for their lives. One woman I worked with when I was conducting my research at the University of Utah told me that food was her go to for everything. She ate when she was stressed, happy, sad, angry, whatever. Every emotion revolved around eating. As a result she weighed nearly 350 pounds. She did two things to manage her weight and the diseases that came with obesity. First, she went to counseling to find out why she coped by eating and to learn what her triggers were. This allowed her to recognize when she might be most vulnerable and use coping strategies to avoid over eating behavior. Second, she had the type of bariatric weight loss surgery that would make her violently ill if she over ate. She said she felt she needed a strong negative stimulus to help her avoid over eating. Many, many people are I the same boat. I personally eat when I’m bored, even when I’m not hungry. Recognizing how you view eating will help you down the path to healthier eating.

Lastly, most people cannot successfully change their entire diet over night from unhealthy to healthy. Don’t try unless you have serious medical conditions and then seek help from a physician and dietitian. Start by making small changes. Here are some examples; If you eat sausage for breakfast change to bacon and trim some of the fat. If you put mayonnaise on everything put less, eat whole grain rice instead of white rice, try sorbet over ice cream, juice over cola. Learning to eat healthier is a journey. Remember that.

 

Recovery Breathing

There have been a couple times in my life when I was directed to breathe through my nose after heavy exercise. Once was by a football coach who oversaw physical training during the police academy I was enrolled in. The second time was when I was involved in self-defense training at a MMA studio. As an Exercise Physiologist nose breathing never made a lot of sense to me.

First, let me talk about what drives breathing. If you were to ask 10 people what makes us breathe those 10 people would say it is the need for oxygen. That is wrong. You heard me right. We do not breathe because we need oxygen. Or should I say oxygen is not the driving mechanism behind breathing.

If we hold our breathe we get an uncomfortable sensation that eventually makes us gasp for air. But if we were to measure the oxygen in the blood, we would find that we are at nearly 100% saturation. If our blood is 100% saturated with oxygen, we obviously don’t need anymore. So why do we feel the need to breathe? Simple. CO2 and hydrogen.

Breathing is regulated by both chemical and neurological stimulus. Both hydrogen and CO2 act to stimulated centers in the brain during rest. But during exercise, sensors in the carotid arteries and the aorta are especially sensitive to these chemicals. When we exercise our muscles produce CO2 and hydrogen that enters the blood and lowers the pH making out blood acidic. It is these changes that stimulate the centers in the brain to increase breathing.

As you already know one of the benefits to breathing is to bring oxygen into the body in order to make energy. But the second reason we breathe is to get rid of the waste products that are being produced by the cells: carbon dioxide and hydrogen. As I said earlier these chemicals will change the pH of the blood and cells. One of the reasons we fatigue at high intensity exercise is due to a build up of these chemicals. They interfere with the ability of the cell to make energy. If the pH gets too low, our cells don’t function properly. So breathing during exercise gets rid of the excess CO2 and hydrogen, which helps keep the blood pH right where we like it.

So what does this have to do with nose breathing? If we breathe through our nose it is a much smaller tube than the mouth, so we can’t get as much air in or out of our lungs as fast.  We limit the amount of waste products that we can get rid of, so to speak. Secondly, due to the size difference between the nose and mouth the resistance to air flow becomes much greater when nose breathing making the muscles involved in breathing have to work much harder. If they’re working harder then they are making more CO2 and hydrogen. See where I’m going with this?

So next time someone tells you to breath through your nose during or after exercise, I recommend you don’t.

Paul Daniels, M.A., CSCS

Chiropractics

If you read the title you might be wondering what an Exercise Physiologist is doing talking about chiropractics. I would have thought the same thing just yesterday.

A few days ago I hurt my back pretty badly. I’ve had back issues on and off for many years. I attribute it partly to genetics, partly to having been a cop and sitting in a patrol car all day long  wearing 25 pounds of gear, as well as working years of construction. All add up to trouble on occasion, and Saturday was one of those occasions.

I was lifting, doing back squats to be precise. I was getting ready to do my third set and merely lifted the bar off the rack. While I was standing with the weight on my shoulders, I went through my mental routine, ‘Pull the pelvis under you and brace the abdomen,’ I said to myself. Then my entire low back went into spasm.

I barely got the bar back on the rack and could hardly walk back into the house. I was in a lot of pain and to make a long boring story short, I was in a lot of pain for several days. I finally saw a Sports Medicine physician on Wednesday morning to try to get to the root cause and fix it. After all, this had happened before and has been happening more frequently with age. After the doc examined me, she said my hips were out of alignment and that I could go to physical therapy or see a chiropractor. For some reason I chose to see a chiropractor.

Now I’ve had a bad experience with a chiropractor so I’m not sure what I was thinking. I’ve never been a proponent of the field, but I guess this old dog is willing to try a new trick. I found one close by; the price was right, and I cold get in that hour. I was a little skeptical, but after he assessed me, this was his conclusion: my right hip was rotated posteriorly and my left hip anteriorly causing binding of the hip and diminished kyphosis of the thoracic region of my spine. Having taught kinesiology, all that made sense to me. He adjusted both my back and neck, which is a mess too. My spine could be a model for Six Flags. And when he was done, I felt better.

So after all that blabber if you’re still reading, you’re probably asking yourself what the hell is the point of this pointless article? To promote chiropractics? Well, maybe. And here’s why.

That night I was feeling pretty good. So I decided to throw fuel on the fire and do a leg workout starting with squats. Right now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Paul is an idiot”. That may be, but it’s beside the point. I started by doing front squats. This takes some of the load off the back and transfers the weight to the front of the body and more into the quads. I also started by squatting just the bar. Then I added weight. Here’s why I’m talking up chiropractics: I’m five days out from a very painful low back injury, yet after my chiropractic visit I ended up front squatting more than I have ever done before. That’s not all. I also never go past parallel. This night I did full competition style front squats, meaning my butt was below my knees, and I felt great. I also did RDLs (Romanian dead lifts) with the most weight I had ever done. Much to my surprise I felt the hamstrings far more than I had previously.

So what’s the moral to this long, drawn out, boring tale of pathetic mid-life man misery? The point is this: if you feel your workouts are lacking, it’s time to try something new. Maybe a new routine, a new trainer, or maybe even a visit to the chiropractor.

Paul Daniels, M.A., CSCS

Training to Run Faster

I was recently asked to make a program for a runner who wanted to improve his 5k time. As usual, I asked this client to outline his current training regimen. I was surprised to find that what he was doing essentially wrong.

The first noticeable error was the gym training. The runner thought that getting in the gym during the racing season was beneficial. While it is to some degree, you really want to do your strength training in the off and pre-season. This builds a base of strength that carries into the race season. The second error I noticed was that the longest run this person was doing was only 3 miles. Since the race is a 5k (3.1 miles), one needs to train beyond that to build up the endurance base and the physiological mechanisms that go along with it. I recommended that the person do at least one longer run (6 miles) a week. I also suggested that the weekly mileage be around 25-30 miles.

If you want to improve speed, you will also need to do some type of interval training. Specificity of exercise is important. This means if you want to run faster, you need to run faster. Here’s a story I use when I’m teaching that illustrates this principle. Roger Bannister is the first person to break the 4 minute mile. If you follow the specificity principle, you might say he needs to run a lot of mile intervals as fast as possible in order to break the 4 minute mile. That would be pretty specific. But he needed to run faster than the 4 minute mile. Here’s what he did. Roger ran twenty 400-yard intervals at a sub 4 minute pace. Each 400 yard interval was less than a minute. You can run 400 yards a lot faster than you can run a mile. So he specifically trained at that sub-four minute pace.

This is the same thing you need to do once a week when training for a race. I recommend starting about 8-10 weeks before the race and running 800-1000 yards at a faster pace than you normally would in a race, without killing yourself. That will come later. Each week, run shorter distances faster until the week before the race you’re running 200-400 yards sprints. Maybe 10 to 12 of them with about 1 minute rest in between. The longer the interval, the longer the rest period. The week of the race, you train very little. This is where everyone goes wrong. Everyone thinks they have to train the week of the race or they’ll somehow become deconditioned. If you train just a little at the beginning of the week, you’ll be more rested. If you race is on Saturday, train on Monday and Tuesday at moderate to light intensity; take Thursday and  Friday off. Warm up for a real easy mile before the race, and you should improve your time.

Paul Daniels, M.A., CSCS