Friday, March 16, 2018

Upgrade Your Calories

When people want to lose weight, they often search for the latest and greatest diet. Eliminate fat!  Fast one day a week,! No carbs after noon! The list goes on and on. While we all have different health characteristics based on our unique makeup, losing weight might be more about the quality of what we eat rather than the type of diet. 

A recent study found that dieters following either a healthy low-fat diet or a healthy low-carb diet lost on average about the same weight. Dieters were not instructed to count or cut calories but were taught to maximize vegetables and minimize refined flours, sugars and trans fats while focusing on whole foods that are minimally processed, nutrient-dense and home-prepared.

The participants were not forced to follow a restrictive diet but were guided on how to eat healthy foods without feeling deprived. This focus on food choices and eating behaviors led participants to embrace a positive relationship with food and resulted in success.

The researchers found that the genetic differences in fat and carbohydrate metabolism did not predict success with low-fat and low-carb diets. This means that the diet quality seems to be more important for weight loss than any specific food restriction.

Here are six ways to build a high quality diet to help you feel healthy and shed some pounds without the fuss of counting calories:

1. Eat nutrient-dense nuts, nut butters, seeds and beans daily.

2. Choose whole fruit instead of juice and fruit drinks.

3. Consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, avocado, olives and olive oil.

4. Balance out your plate with complex carbohydrates from starchy vegetables like beets, carrots yams and winter squash.

5. Opt for pasture-raised and grass-fed animal products which have been found to have more omega-3 fatty acids and higher levels of anti-oxidants than conventional meat and dairy.

6. Plan ahead to prepare more meals at home using whole foods.

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Upgrade Your Calories with Whole Foods This Week

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Pros of Slow #2

Foam rolling can increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. But if we are in a hurry, we miss many of the benefits of this simple tool.

Exercise (or repetitive movements in daily life) causes your muscles to go through a constant process of breakdown and repair. Over time, this causes the muscles to become tight when the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, starts to thicken and shorten to protect the underlying muscle from further damage. Sometimes the fibers and fascia contract so much they form trigger points, which manifest as sore spots needing to be released. Fascia also has the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds. It responds to stress without your conscious command. When fascia becomes restricted, adhesions form causing soreness, restricted movement, gait change and potential injury.

Foam rolling can be painful. While it feels better to go fast, and it does circulate blood flow, releasing fascia takes time. Fascia is a thick, fibrous web of tissue. As such, it can’t be released with a quick pass of the foam roller. You need to be slow and deliberate in your movements. Once you find a sensitive area, slowly work back and forth over the spot. Be thoughtful and think of foam rolling like melting through the muscle and fascia.

A slow tempo allows the muscle to relax into the roller and release. Take a full ten seconds to roll up and down whatever muscle you're working on. Set a timer or watch the clock if you need to consciously slow yourself down. Pause for three counts on any spots that feel uncomfortable. That's actually the area you need to target most. This should make you wince a little - it should not be searing pain. (If you feel searing pain, stop foam rolling.) Breathe into the discomfort and consciously relax the tight muscle. Taking those few extra seconds will really get into the muscle.

For more on foam rolling, check out two of my previous blogs - Foam Rolling Basics and Recovery and Foam Rolling.

Foam roll in slow motion this week.

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy Your Food

Friday, March 2, 2018

Soup for Chilly Winter Evenings

Winter weather has finally come to Southern California and chilly evenings always make me think of soup. Everyone who knows me understands I do not like to cook but I do like to eat healthy food. I have two easy "go-to" soups that I like to make every couple of months. They are very similar - I just change up the seasonings - and I can freeze them to pull out for simple dinners and lunches.

I really do not like to follow a recipe. I guess I just feel like it takes too much time to measure everything. Here is how I make lentil or split pea soup.

1 bag gray green lentils OR split peas
1 potato - leave the peel on if you use organic
1 onion, sliced in chunks
Some chopped garlic
a handful of baby carrots
salt  - about a teaspoon

I fill the big pot about 3/4 full of water and dump everything in. I know the cooks out there are gasping in horror. But you like to cook and I don't and this actually does work.

I bring it to a boil and simmer it for about 40 minutes. You just want to make sure the vegetables and lentils are soft.

Then I add seasoning. Sometimes I want a curry flavor. Last time I had fresh savory. You could try sage or thyme. What flavor does your family like? I always add fresh ground pepper.

Put a couple of cups of the soup in a blender. Put the lid on, leave the center section off and cover with a clean cloth, then blend the soup. Pour into a second bowl or container. Do this until all the soup is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, use that.

Divide into BPA-free plastic containers according to how you will use it. I usually fill one large container for a dinner and then divide the rest into single servings for lunches. Label the container. It might not be recognizable in the freezer.

To use, take it out of the freezer the night before, thaw in refrigerator. Pour/dump the soup into a saucepan and heat on low. You can microwave, if you want. You might want to add more water if it seems too thick. Taste it to see if it needs more salt. Easy dinner prep! Serve with whole wheat pita, rolls or cornbread.

Vegan, no cholesterol, no oil, low sodium, gluten-free, dairy-free - and easy. What more could you ask?

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy your Food!

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Pros of Slow #1

In this series, I'm highlighting research on slowing down your workout. I'll focus on slow strength-training, slow cardio workouts and slow foam rolling for recovery. Check back each week to learn about the benefits of taking it slow.

Slow strength training is not a new concept. It's been around - and researched - for more than three decades. It's been gaining popularity, in part, thanks to many ex-boot campers and Cross-Fitters looking for an alternative that is gentler on the body.

The benefits of super slow toning are pretty remarkable. A 10 week study compared a group lifting weights at a regular speed to a group lifting super slow. The slo-mo lifters had improvements in strength 50% greater than the traditional lifters had. Astounding results!

What makes this training work so well? By slowing the process, you increase the amount of time there is tension on the muscle and you don't use any momentum to help you lift and lower, which makes the exercise more effective. As I always tell my clients and classes, "Slower is Harder!"

Try it! Next time you strength train, try the 5-5-5 system. Contract the muscle for a count of 5 and release for a count of 5. Use a weight with which you can only do 5 reps.

Twice weekly heavy strength training is just about right. Include recovery days in between your strength training days. Research shows it takes your body three days to recover between strength sessions. The recovery day is when your muscles repair and build so you are stronger and more defined. Adding in more heavy strength sessions will only break you down, not tone you up.

Slow down for bigger strength gains,

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy Your Food

Friday, February 16, 2018

Work Well

Your office space can impact your health in more ways than you know. Use these tips to work smarter and feel better at the end of the day.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting is greener but it can damage your skin. One study found that tiny cracks in CFL coatings allow the bulbs to emit UVC rays, which can damage epidermal cells at close range. In other words. overhead fluorescents are OK, but rethink your desk lamp. Choose LED for your personal space.

Lack of Privacy
Open floor plans are meant to encourage collaboration but they also generate a steady hum of chatter, pings and clacks that can be a significant distraction. Every time you're disturbed you must not only let go of the distraction but then reconnect with the original subject of your attention. This process adds extra stress to your day. See if you can expense some noise-cancelling headphones. In-ear design can drown out the din without making you seem unapproachable.

The Kitchen
Researchers found that a sick employee with likely contaminate the fridge door, microwave and coffeepot within two hours at work. Ugh! Hand sanitizers are OK but they are not as effective as soap and water. When you wash, take 20 - 30 solid seconds to jar all those germs loose.

We know that incorrect ergonomic posture at your desk can cause back, shoulder and neck pain. But slouching also slows digestion and circulation. Even your mental state can be compromised. A recent study found that those who slouch at their desks had more negative thoughts than those who sat up straight. Check yourself at work - is your butt at the back of the chair? Feet on the floor? Can you type without changing your posture? Try a lumbar support pillow or footstool if you need to make adjustments.

Take some time today to evaluate your office environment. 
Small changes can yield big dividends for your health.

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy Your Food

Friday, February 9, 2018

Evening Eaters Beware

We've heard the weight loss advice before: eat nothing but water after 6pm. Previous studies have found that if you restrict the time a person eats to just the daytime hours, it really does help reduce weight. New research demonstrates that melatonin, a hormone involved in the cycles of sleeping and waking, is an important factor in the reasons why.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published a study by nine sleep-medicine researchers working with college-aged participants. They found that the closer you eat to your melatonin onset, the more likely you are to have a higher percent body fat. The study showed that it did not matter what a person ate, how much they ate or how much they exercised when it came to predicting their body composition. All that mattered was the timing of the calories relative to melatonin onset. 

Determining the precise timing of melatonin onset can only be done in a laboratory setting but scientists think the the sleep hormone typically begins to rise about 2 hours prior to habitual bedtime. The best rule of thumb is to limit the number of calories you eat during that 2 hours, as they may "count" for more than just a calorie. 

Shifting eating time should take little effort to implement, and could pay off in very real, measurable success. If you normally head to bed at 10pm, for example, you should avoid eating anything after 8pm. Referencing my blog on controlling blood sugar, make sure to do some light movement after dinner and before winding down for the evening. Some clients have found it helpful to brush their teeth immediately after dinner to prevent indiscriminate snacking after their evening meal. Avoid eating anything in front of the TV.

This easy, evidence-based tip can help you "eat yourself lean" in 2018.

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy Your Food

Friday, February 2, 2018

Six Surpising Benefits of Strength Training #2

Last week, I shared three advantages of strength training and why it's an essential component of all-around good health. I share three more this week.

4. Strength training keeps you lean.

People think of strength training as a muscle-building activity: lift weights, pack on muscle. But research is finding that it's an effective fat burner as well. Muscle tissue is the engine that drives fat loss. You want to retain as much muscle mass as possible if you're trying to get leaner. The anaerobic effects of strength training contributes to fat burning through excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This increased oxygen use elevates the metabolism, burning more calories. Additionally, the muscle remains slightly contracted after your workout, which requires a higher calorie burn. The body burns fuel to repair muscles after lifting weights, as well.

5. Strength training tones your gray matter.

Research is showing that strength workouts can prevent, slow or even reverse the progress of many cognitive ailments. Many studies have shown that weight-lifting regimens have been life-changing for those with depression. A study of identical twins showed that leg strength was the best predictor of cognitive function in middle-age adults. In other words, stronger legs made for stronger brains. Another study showed that older women develop fewer brain lesions, often an indicator of dementia, when they performed basic, twice-weekly strength training.

Scientists don't understand why and how these changes occur. It's possible that lifting weights releases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a protein that promotes neural growth. Another theory suggests that systemic changes in the metabolic and cardiovascular systems create a healthy environment where the brain thrives. In other words, the exercise benefits the brain by reducing chronic conditions that negatively impact the brain.

6, Strength training can inspire you.

People explore the limits of their abilities and have an opportunity to express intensity when they strength train. Some sessions are personal triumphs: you lift a weight you've never lifted before or you pull off a move you've never done. Personal transformations can lead to new assertiveness in the workplace or confidence in inter-personal relationships. When you try something difficult and you prevail, you have a palpable experience that translates into your life.  

Sure, strength training makes you strong, but these six additional benefits create a convincing  case for making weightlifting a central element in your fitness routine.

Stay Active, Keep Moving and
Enjoy Your Food