All posts by Administrator

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

Getting Back To The Gym

COVID-19 is something none of us will ever forget. It’s had an impact on every facet of our lives. My industry particularly took a big hit despite the fact that exercise and staying healthy is one of the top combatants to this dreadful pandemic. Facilities big and small were forced to close doors temporarily or worse, permanently, leaving consumers lost and looking for fitness alternatives. The good news is that within the past six months some facilities have reopened albeit limited to offerings and capacity. Now that we are about a year into this nightmare, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and “normalcy”, whatever that may be, will be returning. So if going to the gym is your thing, rest assured, you’ll be going back shortly if you haven’t already. Here are some tips to think about when heading back to the gym.

Understand The Inherent Risks

When weighing your options, it is important to consider both the risks associated with exercising at an indoor gym and steps you can take to keep yourself safe. The recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to maintain social distancing of at least six feet from other individuals to avoid inhalation of virus-containing respiratory droplets. When someone is exercising, they breathe with more force than while at rest. Therefore, heavier breathing during exercise can result in an increased concentration of air droplets traveling farther, thus increasing the risk for COVID-19 transmission. While many fitness facilities are following guidelines by spacing out equipment and encouraging social distancing, you may find yourself in a situation where another member decides to exercise on the cardio machine next to you or several members are having a conversation right next to where you are completing your set of bench presses. Even with limits to facility numbers, weight rooms and cardio areas can get crowded, making it more difficult to maintain social distancing throughout the facility. Some fitness and wellness centers may not have ventilation systems that can adequately remove viral droplets and particles from the air, thus increasing members’ risk of infection, especially in smaller indoor spaces. With regards to using shared fitness equipment, even though COVID-19 is most commonly spread through close contact with an individual who has the virus, it is possible to become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Therefore, using shared equipment such as weight and cardio machines, mats, or dumbbells that are not cleaned before and after each use may increase your risk for COVID-19.

One Day, One Step At a Time

  • Choose a gym where you feel comfortable and safe: Fitness and wellness facilities must follow state guidelines; however, some may take more precautions than others, such as implementing additional temperature and symptom assessments, cleaning and mask-wearing protocols and limited fitness class sizes. Therefore, visit a few different facilities and join the one where you will feel safe and comfortable to exercise. 
  • It may be beneficial to choose a facility that also offers online personal training, virtual fitness classes, and/or outdoor classes so that you can create a weekly exercise routine that includes workouts that take place at the gym, outside and at home to limit the number of times per week that you are exercising at an indoor gym. 
  • Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose while exercising: Although it may be uncomfortable to exercise with a mask, it can help keep you and others safe from COVID-19. Also, a recent study found that heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation were not adversely impacted in healthy individuals who performed aerobic exercise while wearing a mask.
  • Remember to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet to avoid close contact with other facility members or employees. Work out in areas of the gym that are less crowded and avoid attending the gym during peak hours.
  • Bring your own equipment. When possible, bring your own equipment such as mats, dumbbells or bands to use during your workout or when attending fitness classes.
  • Bring your own water bottle. Some fitness facilities may not allow access to water fountains. Therefore, bring your own water bottle to make sure you have safe access to water.
  • Clean each piece of equipment before and after you use it, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes throughout your workout.
  • Wash your hands before and immediately after your workout with soap and water.
  • Limit indoor high-intensity exercise. When possible, perform high-intensity activities outdoors. If performing high-intensity exercise indoors, increase distance.

Bottom line: the precautions to protect yourself from a COVID infection are the exact same precautions one should use to prevent infections from the flu. With a conscientious and consistent effort, we can all bring an end to this madness. Beginning or maintaining an exercise routine is paramount for both physical and mental health and it is especially important during this health crisis. Make sure you choose a place and format that will best support your health-related goals and level of comfort for safely starting or returning to an active lifestyle.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

The Stability (Exercise) Ball

This time of year, I find it amusing with all of the fitness and exercise tricks that are released and pushed on to consumers. Particularly, the fitness equipment that “you can’t be fit without”! When it comes to exercise equipment, the error is never in the product itself, but rather how it is sold and used. No product in and of itself is never a solution, just perhaps a creative, ingenious way to accomplish the task. Case in point, let me tell you about a simple exercise tool that on the surface looks like something kids would play with (they do and they love ‘em; so do the dogs) and is part of 90% of my fitness programming: the stability or exercise ball, aka the fitness orb.

A Little History

The stability ball was developed in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. It had first been called a Swiss ball after American physical therapists saw techniques used in Switzerland with great successes. Since its introduction here in the States, the stability ball became a stalwart piece of equipment used in physical and athletic therapy settings before it became popular in the fitness realm. Now, every gym, studio, or anywhere where fitness is conducted at least one of these balls can be found. But are the worth it?

The Science

Despite its popularity and wide spread use across the fitness continuum, very little research has ever been conducted. What’s more, most of the purported benefits such as greater core strength, balance training and increased strength have never been proved. Furthermore, the benefits of just sitting on the ball have never been proven either unless used in conjunction with other exercises which I will further explain. So what gives? Remember what I said previously? The error is never in the piece of equipment but rather how it is used. I will stand by and fully endorse the use of the stability ball so allow me to explain.

The Benefits

Due to its round nature, the stability ball is unstable; it moves and rolls. Instability will always recruit more muscles than just the primary muscles. EMG (electromyographic) studies have proven that. Stabilizing or secondary muscles are more highly recruited aiding in more total muscle activation. This “stabilizing” is what separates the stability ball from a lot of other unstable training devices. They can safely be used from the very young to the very old. The balls come in a variety of sizes from 45 – 85 cm and are generally prescribed based on the height of the individual but can easily be adapted to any size regardless of the individual’s height. So while just sitting on the ball will do very little, adding a movement or exercise to that seated position will yield results. Taking it a step further by adding more advance type movements like push ups off of the top of the ball or abdominal movements done with the both feet on the ball and even the most basic looking exercise can be that much tougher.

The stability ball is just a tool, an option or way to add more variety to your current workout routine. The possibilities are endless and with some creativity, safe and effective exercises can be accomplished with the stability ball. Just ask anyone of my hundreds of clients who have used them through the years. Never under estimate its use and when utilized properly, it can be just what you’re missing.

Til next time. Train smart, eat well, and be better

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 12 – Three Reasons Why Physical Activity Should Be a Family Routine

(This is part 12 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans was released in late 2018. The new guidelines reiterate best practices for physical activity and shed light on new research findings related to physical activity’s impact on growth and development, sleep quality, brain health and much more. Here’s the bottom line: Physical activity improves health during all stages of life and is good for the entire family. Read on for three reasons why physical activity should be a family routine.

Family Physical Activity Models Positive Health Behaviors for Children.

Developing positive physical activity habits is like any other behavior—we learn by observing. Parents are children’s first role models and have the ability to shape attitudes about physical activity. When children adopt healthy physical-activity habits, they benefit not only in youth, but as teenagers and adults. A 21-year tracking study found that high levels of physical activity between the ages of nine and 18 predicted higher levels of physical activity in adulthood. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that parents not only participate in physical activity with their children but also facilitate environments that encourage self-directed physical activity. For example, parents can place equipment such as balls and jump ropes near doors and play areas. Additionally, parents can help kids to form healthy habits by limiting screen time, focusing on enjoyment (rather than competition) and by working with school officials and other caregivers to ensure that active playtime is encouraged even when children are not at home.

Families That Move Together Build Stronger Social Bonds.

Social bonds describe the level of closeness we have with our family members, friends and other people we interact with every day such as coworkers and schoolmates. Our social ties impact several dimensions of our personal wellness, such as physical, emotional and mental well-being. Strong social ties not only affect the quality of our lives, they are linked to longer life expectancy as well. Healthy social bonds develop over time. Making physical activity a family affair can provide protected time for family members to share joys and frustrations about their day, which is important in building trust and a sense of closeness. Furthermore, when families complete an exercise or physical-activity goal together—whether running a 5K or simply taking a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood—they get to enjoy a shared sense of accomplishment. These shared experiences strengthen family social bonds.  

Families That Move Together are More Likely to Meet Physical-Activity Guidelines

Only 24% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, and less than 23% of adults meet the physical-activity guidelines for aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activities. Social support, however, has been recognized as a determinant of physical activity for decades, and can be measured in several different ways:

  • Emotional support is the act of offering empathy, concern or encouragement. This type of social support lets other people know that they are valued and that their efforts toward becoming more physically active, whether big or small, matter.
  • Tangible support occurs when goods or services are provided for another person, such as providing free childcare services for an hour so that a friend can go to the gym.
  • Informational support is the provision of guidance, advice or some other form of useful information. A qualified health and exercise professional providing a free 30-minute fitness consultation is an example of informational support.
  • Companionship support is seen when two or more individuals participate in shared social activities.

All forms of social support are beneficial in health behavior change, but a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology revealed that companionship and emotional support are key in encouraging exercise participation. Subjects in the study who exercised with at least one partner who could provide emotional support increased both self-efficacy for exercise and frequency of exercise sessions.

If you are at the beginning of your family health and fitness journey, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Try to keep family fitness activities simple. Select activities that everyone will enjoy and ones that do not require advanced sport skills.
  • Get outside. Hiking, walking and biking are all great ideas.
  • Get behind a cause. Consider training for a local 5K or some other event tied to a cause important to your family.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Best Wishes to You and Your Families for a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season and New Year!

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery
Day #9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries
Day #10 – 5 Bodyweight Exercises That You Can Do Right Now
Day #11 – How Exercise May Fight Aging

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 11 – How Exercise May Fight Aging

(This is part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

According to an interesting new study, regular exercise throughout adulthood may protect our muscles against age-related loss and damage later. The study finds that active older men’s muscles resemble, at a cellular level, those of 25-year-olds and weather inflammatory damage much better than the muscles of sedentary older people. The study also raises some cautionary questions about whether waiting until middle age or later to start exercising might prove to be challenging for the lifelong health of our muscles.

Why Wait?

Physical aging is a complicated process, as any of us who are living and experiencing it know. Precipitated by little-understood changes in the workings of our cells and physiological systems, it proceeds in stuttering fits and starts, affecting some people and body parts earlier or more noticeably than others. Muscles are among the body parts most vulnerable to time. Almost all of us begin losing some muscle mass and strength by early middle age, with the process accelerating as the decades pass. While the full causes for this decline remain unknown, most aging researchers agree that a subtle, age-related rise in inflammation throughout our bodies plays a role. “A lot of studies show that higher circulating inflammatory factors in people are associated with greater loss of muscle mass,” says Todd Trappe, a professor of exercise science at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., who oversaw the new study. Since it was already widely accepted that physically fit people tend to have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than inactive people. So, the researchers wondered, would active, older people also have more and healthier muscle mass than other older people? And if so, what might that tell us about how human muscles can optimally age?

Some Profound Results

In the study, it was noted immediately that the men’s thigh circumference reflected their ages and lifestyles, with the young athletes sporting the burliest legs, the elderly athletes slightly smaller ones, and the inactive elderly men the spindliest. The researchers found that inflammatory responses differed in the men. The young athletes displayed the least amount of inflammation in their blood and muscles at the start of the study and continued to do so after the workout. While their muscles flared briefly after exercise with inflammatory cells and related gene activity, the microscopic examination found that countervailing anti-inflammatory signals were also increasing and should soon cool the inflammation. A similar response occurred inside the muscles of the elderly athletes, although their inflammatory markers were slightly higher and their anti-inflammatory reactions a bit lower. But in the untrained elderly men, inflammation was much more of a bushfire, spiking higher than among the other men and showing fewer cellular signs of resolving any time soon. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that long-term exercise may help aging muscles remain healthy in part by readying them to dissipate inflammation. But on the flip side, sedentary living seems to set up muscles to overreact to strain and remain inflamed, potentially leading to fewer muscular gains when someone does exercise. More important, the findings should not discourage middle-aged or older people who have been inactive from starting to visit the gym. Even if inflammation gets in the way a bit at first, your muscles will respond and grow and eventually should start to resemble those of people who have been exercising lifelong.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for the conclusion of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery
Day #9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries
Day #10 – 5 Bodyweight Exercises That You Can Do Right Now

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 10 – 5 Bodyweight Exercises That You Can Do Right Now

(This is part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

If there’s been a positive spin on this pandemic, it’s that people have discovered that you don’t need to belong to a gym to workout. Home gyms, online programs, and virtual training have become increasingly popular. But the one thing that has always been there and never needed any real specific instructions is using your own body as an exercise apparatus, better known as bodyweight training. Whether you find yourself on vacation without any exercise equipment or you’re working out at home, bodyweight exercises can help you stay on track. Here are five bodyweight exercises you can add to your routine right now and get your whole body moving.

  • Moving Squat to Balance

Begin with your feet directly under your hips and your core engaged to support your low back. Bend your knees as you move your hips back, keeping your torso as upright as possible; keep your weight on your heels to perform a narrow squat. Stay in this narrow squat position and step out into a wide squat. Return to the narrow squat. Rise up to standing and focus on contracting your abdominal muscles as you bring your knee up to hip height; aim to keep the hips level. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

  • Lunge With Rotation

Begin with your feet directly under your hips and your core engaged to support your low back. Step forward with your right leg and bend both knees to sink into a lunge. As you lower down, simultaneously hinge at the hips and reach the left hand to the instep of your front foot and the right arm up toward the sky for the rotation. Be sure to keep your weight in the heel of the front foot and your spine long during the lunge with rotation. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Once you feel confident with the exercise, aim to fluidly connect the lunge with the rotation.

  • Deadlift With Hip Flexion and Extension

Stand tall with your best posture and slowly sweep one leg forward while keeping the hips level. Pass through center and extend the same leg backward with the hips remaining level. With the back foot lifted or lightly touching the ground (like a kickstand), hinge forward at your hips to slowly lower your chest toward the floor. With the hips level and the spine long, the goal is to lower yourself as far as you can to feel the hamstrings of the standing leg contract. Return to an upright position, place the foot on the floor and repeat on the other side.

  • Double Push-up to Downward-facing Dog

Start in a plank position with either your knees or your toes on the floor. Scoop your belly away from the floor to set your core. Walk your hands out wide and bend your elbows to perform a wide push-up. At the top of the push-up, walk your hands back under your shoulders and perform a narrow push-up. At the top of the push-up, lift your tailbone to the sky and gently press your chest toward your thighs and move into downward-facing dog, gently pressing your heels toward the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat.

  • Table Top with Lift and Reach

Begin seated with the knees bent, feet hip-distance apart and positioned close to the hips. Place your hands behind your hips; your fingertips should face your heels or be slightly turned out. As you press through the heels and begin to lift your hips toward the ceiling for the tabletop (with knees directly over the heels and shoulders directly over the hands), lift your right leg and simultaneously reach toward your foot with the opposite hand. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

Give one or give them all a try. Always best to keep moving.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery
Day #9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries

(This is part 9 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

While the world finds itself in the midst of a public health crisis with the COVID-19 virus, there are still many things Americans can learn from the health and wellness habits of those­­ who live in the healthiest countries in the world. Each year, the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index ranks 169 nations on several factors to determine their overall health. They evaluate countries on measures such as life expectancy, incidence of obesity and tobacco use as well as environmental considerations such as access to clean water and sanitation. Topping the list in 2019 was Spain, with an average lifespan of 83.5 years. Rounding out the top five on the list were Italy, Iceland, Japan and Switzerland. Unfortunately, the United States. didn’t break into the top 30 on the index last year, primarily because of the obesity epidemic that continues to plague the country. While Americans are exercising more than ever (up from 18.2% in 2008 to 24.3% by 2017), more than 42% of are still considered to have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, what can the U.S. learn from these global leaders in wellness and life expectancy?

Eat Simply

A person’s overall health and wellness is determined largely by what he or she eats. In the U.S., average diets have grown in portion sizes, saturated fats and calories over the years and the desire for convenience has left many people eating more highly processed foods and beverages. According to a study by researchers at George Washington University, “The rising obesity epidemic in the U.S., as well as related chronic diseases, are correlated with a rise in ultra-processed food consumption.”

Conversely, many European nations have stayed true to their culinary traditions over the years and consume diets that include fewer processed foods, are lower in unhealthy fats and higher in vegetables, fiber and lean proteins. On Bloomberg’s list of healthiest countries, Spain and Italy’s populations typically follow a Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to be one of the most nutritious globally because it focuses on healthy fats, vegetables, legumes, fish and seafood, which promote heart health. In addition, Spain, as well as many other European countries, is known for tapas meals (small plates), which encourage right-sized portions. While they are thousands of miles from the Mediterranean region, the populations of Iceland and Japan also follow traditional diets that center on whole versus processed foods and include fish, seafood and vegetables. Japan’s style of eating encourages natural flavors in food rather than dousing it in sauces. Icelandic diets typically focus on lamb, seafood and dairy. Finally, while Switzerland may be known for its rich and decadent cheese and chocolate, they also base their diets on eating real, unprocessed foods that create satiety and prevent overeating.

Move More

In each of the top five healthiest countries on Bloomberg’s list, outdoor exercise reigns over indoor gyms. In Iceland, a country that moves more than any nation in Europe, outdoor hikes and swimming top the list of favorite workouts. Spain, Italy and Japan all have plenty of opportunities for walking, hiking and running outdoors, while Switzerland boasts some of the finest skiing in the world in the Swiss Alps. Overall, the healthiest countries have plenty of traditional indoor and outdoor exercise options, but they also maximize movement in the everyday activities of life, such as walking to the store or planting and working in a garden. In addition to the nutrition and fitness trends all these countries embrace—whole foods, smaller portions, regular exercise—they all have excellent air quality, fewer issues with opioid drug addictions and more walkable towns and cities, all of which contribute to a longer life expectancy according to the Bloomberg Index. Americans are exercising more than ever but we’re not making gains in the kitchen, which is so important to overall health.

Taking a cue from our healthier neighbors, Americans would do well to get back to eating whole, unprocessed foods that provide a balance of macro and micronutrients. Combined with regular exercise, a change in diet would undoubtedly help the U.S. rise in global rankings of health and, more importantly, increase both quality of life and life expectancy for all its citizens.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you Monday for Day 10 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery

(This is part 8 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

I will continue to say that age is just an excuse when it comes to fitness. For many men and women that continue to work out regardless of their age, a daily or weekly workout routine is one of the few escapes from everyday life, not to mention an opportunity for some alone time or socialization at the gym. Yet many workout enthusiast, pros and amateurs alike, are ignorant when it comes to how age affects recovery. So how exactly does one’s age impact their recovery period? Are older workout enthusiasts hopelessly doomed by the sands of time? As luck would have it, people of any age can still enjoy a healthy, structured workout routine—they just shouldn’t expect to bounce back instantly if they’ve reached a certain age.

Taking Some Time for Recovery

Everyone, regardless of age, needs to take some time off for recovery every now and then. For older individuals, particularly those who are well past their 40s, this recovery period may be longer than they remember from when they were young. Yet those who maintain a healthy diet and a safe workout routine can expect to bounce back with little troubles, provided they’re exercising on a consistent basis. For the more experienced, age has often been found to have little impact on recovery times. This isn’t true for every fitness endeavor, however. Runners who have been honing their cardio craft for decades will find that age doesn’t necessarily slow the recovery process too much, but heavy weightlifters who have seen the years go by may be in a different boat. Pain from muscle fatigue, for instance, is often felt for a longer period when the individual in question has reached their 40s. No one can push back the sands of time, and older people will inevitably struggle at a higher level during their recoveries than they did when they were younger. Nonetheless, studies have confirmed that older individuals feel muscle fatigue for longer periods also determined that consistent exercise helps maintain performance levels and overall health, so keep at it. Our bodies, the muscles that move them, and the hormones and chemicals that power them inevitably change with time, but a determined human heart has many decades of exercising in it before it will give out.

Don’t Be Fooled by Appearances

People who hope to stay in shape well into retirement shouldn’t let themselves be fooled by appearances; fully grown adults and seniors regularly show the resilience and strength of the human body and mind. Similarly, older women shouldn’t fear that their beloved days of exercise are behind them, either. You don’t have to be a young, muscle-clad man to be healthy or successful in your fitness endeavors. Plenty of others haven’t let themselves be deterred by age. Wise people know they can’t always rely on spirit alone, however; so what are some practical, scientific ways to ensure you keep kicking for the foreseeable future?

How To Keep It UP

To start with, an incredibly protein-rich diet has been shown to be much more beneficial to older athletes and exercisers than traditional diets. Older people can’t quite expect the same levels of energy or spryness that they enjoyed in their youth, but smart habits like eating nutrient-packed foods and avoiding age-old hazards like smoking can go a surprisingly long way. It’s also important that older individuals don’t scare themselves into never taking a recovery day, for fear of “never getting back up” once they sit down. Alternating workouts, such as doing lower body workouts one day and upper body workouts the next, can also go a long way in maintaining your body’s physical prowess for years to come.

Staying strong and spirited well into your old-age is often a matter of maintenance. Putting in the right work, eating the right foods, and knowing when to take a break can go a long way toward keeping you in tip-top shape for the rest of your life.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 9 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

(This is part 7 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

When it comes to losing weight or reducing body fat, it’s generally accepted that one has to eat fewer calories than he or she burns each day. Many diets achieve this simple math equation for fat loss by applying strict rules on what types of foods to avoid. However, these diets often fail because the rigidity that characterizes these diets can make people feel deprived of their favorite foods or excluded from social events. Other diets focus on constantly measuring and counting portions, but few people have ever said their favorite part of eating or cooking was the math. Fortunately, there is a better way to take control of your eating habits without going to extremes. Try incorporating these behavior changes into your routine one at a time to create healthy eating habits that will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. These simple changes can help you improve your nutrition without the stress of math or constant deprivation.

1. Slow Down Your Eating

It can take 20 minutes or more for stretch receptors in your stomach and hormonal signals from your small intestines to signal to you that you are feeling full. Giving your body time to let you know that you are satisfied is an easy way to reduce how many calories you consume in a given meal. Stop racing through meal times by incorporating strategies that slow you down. You can try: Putting down your utensils between bites of food; creating a halfway point in your meal and taking a break from eating when you get to it; setting a timer or stopwatch so you have some feedback on how much time you’ve taken to eat.

2. Decrease Distractions

Multitasking while eating with activities such as watching television, working or scrolling social media can make it more difficult to recognize how much you’ve eaten. It can also reduce how full or satiated you feel from a meal. People who eat with distractions tend to feel hungrier and eat more later. Turning off distractions and focusing on enjoying your meal is a helpful way to reduce your caloric intake and still feel more satisfied. Getting rid of screens and other distractions during meals is an easy way to change your environment to better support your healthy eating.

3. Avoid Eating From Large Packages

Interestingly, when people eat out of large packages it makes it much more difficult to realize how much is actually being consumed. Instead of eating foods directly from large containers, try eating only from bowls and plates. This requires you to choose your portion size before you start eating. You can also prep your serving sizes in advance by portioning foods into single-serving containers immediately when you get home from purchasing them. These simple behavior changes make it much easier to avoid overeating certain types of foods.

4. Drink More Water

Drinking plenty of water not only improves our health and fitness, it can also be a useful tool for reducing the amount of calories consumed. Being thirsty can easily be confused with feelings of hunger. Drinking a glass of water before eating snacks or meals may help you realize that you aren’t as hungry as you may have thought. Additionally, drinking water with meals can also help slow down meals and stimulate the stretch receptors in the stomach, which help to signal that you are feeling full. Finally, if you are accustomed to drinking beverages with calories, swapping some or all of them with water can help decrease caloric intake.

5. Sleep More

Getting enough sleep doesn’t just improve recovery for workouts. It also helps regulate the hormones responsible for feelings of hunger and satiety. Leptin and ghrelin are both disrupted when you don’t get enough sleep, which may result in increased hunger and decreased feelings of satiety. You can improve your sleep habits by adopting specific times to go to bed and wake consistently each day. In the evening, create a specific routine to follow, including dimming the lights and turning off screens to help you wind down. Reducing caffeine consumption after noon can also help you get to sleep easier.

Focusing on behavior changes that help you sleep better can help you make better food decisions and feel more satisfied with your healthy eating each day. Improving nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t have to exclusively be about planning meals and counting calories. The most sustainable behavior changes help you to consistently control your intake and feel satisfied without creating additional stress or deprivation.

Try practicing one of these habits at a time to start improving your eating without constant calorie counting.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit

Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia

(This is part 6 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Most of you have probably never heard of fascia, or if you have, it may be in the context of “blasting” it to treat cellulite. But talking about fascia has become somewhat trendy recently, and not only in the context of looking better in your swimsuit. A Google search returns more than 79 million hits for the term, and there is even a conference that is entirely devoted to fascia research.

What is Fascia?

According to Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, fascia is “a sheet of fibrous tissue that envelops the body beneath the skin; it also encloses muscles and groups of muscles and separates their several layers or groups.” But this definition is incomplete. Fascia can actually be classified into four types, each with different properties, functions and characteristics. The superficial fascia surrounds the body and includes subcutaneous fat; the deep fascia surrounds the musculoskeletal system; the meningeal fascia surrounds the nervous system; the visceral fascia surrounds body cavities and organs. In mainstream medicine, fascia is rarely considered in isolation as the cause of chronic pain disorders. One exception is plantar fasciitis, a painful and relatively common condition in which the fascia that is responsible for maintaining the arch in your foot is inflamed. The inflammation is directly attributed to a stiffening and a decrease in the flexibility of the fascia. Fascia, like most connective tissue in the body, stiffens with age, overuse and injury. The direct role of fascial changes in causing pain and structural changes in conditions such as chronic lower back pain, headaches and cellulite is less clear. Some body work practitioners including massage therapists, osteopaths, Rolfers, craniosacral therapists and physical therapists claim that fascial restrictions (essentially tightening) — caused by injury, inflammation, trauma, disuse, overuse, misuse or abuse — play an important role in contributing to the pain associated with a wide array of conditions including migraines, fibromyalgia, headaches, lower back pain and women’s health issues. Fascia specialists claim that treating these fascial restrictions with a variety of methods, including proprietary bodywork methods and/or specialized tools, is an important aspect of overcoming these chronic and painful conditions. But what does the science say? Is fascia really that important, and if it is, is there anything we can do to “fix” the fascia and get rid of the pain?

Is Fascia Real Science?

Despite the growing interest, the science of fascia, its clinical relevance and how best to treat it (assuming it is clinically relevant) remains controversial, and there is very limited high-quality research to evaluate and support it. There are two major challenges to fascia research and scientific validation. First, there are major issues with the definition of fascia. Many in traditional medicine consider fascia as simply the tough, fibrous connective tissue surrounding muscle tissue and separating soft tissue areas (including fat) throughout the body. But those who focus on treating it have a broader definition that includes a more dynamic component of fascia (not just the less flexible fibrous tissue), called the extracellular matrix, which is made up of fluid, proteins and carbohydrates. Newly discovered features of the fluid filled spaces referred to as interstitium exists within and between all tissues in the body. Many researchers believe that interstitium is a component of fascia, and since it is fluid, it can be manipulated. Though many fascia manipulation advocates claim that lengthening the restricted fascia is the key to successful treatment.

Do Fascia Treatments Work?

Treating fascial restrictions evolved from the work of Ida Rolf, a pioneering female scientist in the 1920s who developed a method of treating fascia called Structural Integration (commonly referred to today as Rolfing.) According to the official Rolfing website, the method works “to release, realign and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain.” This type of treatment, performed over a number of sessions, improves the movement between layers of fascia surrounding structures including tendons, nerves, muscle and ligaments. The concept of modifying the fluid component of fascia better known as myofascial release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.” The major issue with putting so much emphasis on fascia and how to treat it effectively is that it is highly unlikely that fascia ever works or can be treated in isolation from other tissues. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves play an essential and more clearly established role in many chronic pain conditions. The complex interaction and interconnection of all the tissues involved presents a significant challenge to defining and isolating the relevance of fascia.

The bottom line is if a bodywork practitioner or specialized tool (myoballs, foam rollers, etc.) claim to be treating your fascia to relieve your chronic pain (or help you get rid of cellulite), you may indeed get the hoped-for results, but it’s a lot more complicated than just fixing the fascia.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 7 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit

(This is part 5 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

So, with a New year on the horizon and you’re ready to make a change and adopt a new habit. First, take a moment to check in with your mindset, as change begins here. It’s a common theme in our society that change is difficult and maintaining the status quo is easier, but is that true? Oftentimes, the thought of taking on a new habit appears to be daunting, but the actual habit itself isn’t that hard to do. Remind yourself of this. You can do this. Once you believe it, the actual adoption of the habit will become easier. Adopting a new habit, however big or small, comes down to one thing: consistent action.

To increase your chances of success when adopting a new habit, it’s helpful to break things down into the following six steps:

  • Decide

Decide what your new habit will be. This is the first step. Get specific here. Will it be working out? Eating healthier? Going to bed earlier? Waking up earlier? Figure out what it is you want to do and why you want to do it. The why is important as it can serve as extra motivation.

  • Write it Down

Write down your new habit to make it both tangible and visible. You may tell yourself that you are going to do something, but when it’s not written down, you can easily rationalize your way out of it or even forget you committed to it in the first place. Write down your habit and place it somewhere visible, such as your bathroom mirror, refrigerator or the background on your cell phone.

  • Create a SMART Goal

Develop a SMART goal—one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound—and write it down. For example, if you want to wake up earlier, your SMART goal would sound something like this: “I will set my alarm for 5:00 AM Monday through Friday and get out of bed at that time for the next four weeks.”

  • Plan 

Plan your schedule accordingly. When will you act on your new habit and implement your SMART goal? If your goal is to go to the gym more often, will you go in the morning before you start your day? Or will you go in the evening after work? Be specific and put it in your calendar as you would any other appointment. If your goal is a smaller task, such as going to bed earlier, set an alarm on your phone to remind you.

  • Act 

Act on your habit and perform the behavior you set out to do. As mentioned earlier, it’s often the thought of the action that is difficult—not the actual action itself. Remind yourself why you are adopting this new habit. Every day is a day to take action, so even when you slip up, don’t use it as an excuse to give up entirely. Just get right back to following your habit as soon as possible.

  • Assess 

Assess your progress and redesign your habit if necessary. Check in with yourself periodically to see how you’re doing. If things are going well, keep it up and consider introducing a new habit if there are more behaviors you hope to adopt. If things aren’t where you hoped they would be, simply make some adjustments. Figure out where you are encountering barriers and determine how you can overcome them or use them to your advantage.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 6 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise