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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.

Exercise: Risk Vs. Reward

Exercise has become very complex over the years, so much that even Webster’s definition of the word has so many meanings.  For the discussion of this post, I’m of course referring to exercise as a means of physical exertion, or as one of the many definitions of the word Webster’s describes as “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness”.  Today, there are literally thousands of ways to get exercise yet we still find just as many excuses as to why we don’t. With physical fitness being one of, if not the top way of having some control over our health, perhaps it’s more a question of our preconceived notions of exercise are all wrong.

No Longer A Leader

According to a report from the World Health Organization back in January 2013, the U.S. ranks last among 17 countries in terms of health and are not based on longevity of life, but across the lifespan. We excel at the number of preventable deaths: heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, obesity; and tragically there is little competition with regards to deaths by homicide or accidents. Life happens, accidents happen, but neither is an excuse for throwing caution into the wind when something as simple as moving can go a long, long way towards improving your health. With today’s knowledge and resources, there is really no excusable reason for us not to be exercising. So the next question is, are we even doing the right exercise?

The Quick And Easy Answer

The right exercise is any exercise.  Any physical movement above and beyond what you do on a daily basis can be considered exercise. Where some of the confusion permeates is from self proclaimed gurus who have the “one and only end all to end all exercise” programs or cult-ish driven exercise beliefs that brainwash its followers as if they are the only ones who know what they are doing. The truth is there is no such thing as a bad exercise.  There are however exercises applied improperly and with bad technique or instruction.

Risk vs. Reward

The only two questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) what is the reward/goal/outcome of my chosen activity (exercise), and 2) what are the risks? Pretty simple, yet with all of the choices at your discretion, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what’s cool versus what’s safe and effective.  Sure, there are exercises that are better for a specific goal (i.e. weight lifting to build strength), but in the end the only thing that really matters is that you keep your body moving, doing something you hopefully enjoy, and thus consistently. Try new programs; experience other disciplines; step out of your comfort zone. No matter what you do, the reward certainly outweighs any risk of not doing anything.


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

Aspartame Unplugged

I am a confessed lover of sweets.  Not a sugar-holic but I have an affinity for sugar – in my coffee, tea, and of course the occasional dessert.  I know my limits and I understand how sugar is not so good for us, but one thing I will not succumb to is using artificial sweeteners.  I have just learned to use less real sugar over the years, or eliminate all together, before even thinking about using artificial sweeteners.  Call it intuition or having enough nutritional science background to appreciate, but I think after you read today’s post on artificial sweeteners, you too will think twice about using artificial sweeteners yourself, especially those containing aspartame.

Don’t Sprinkle This

Back in 2001, an urban nutritional legend was born. The EPA released a report citing evidence of an epidemic of multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. While it’s certainly difficult to determine exactly what specific toxin could be causing these two diseases to be so rampant, one of the possible causes cited was the widespread use and availability of aspartame in our food supply. Aspartame, sold under the common brand names Equal and Nutra-Sweet, is a low calorie sweetener replacement 200 times sweeter than sugar made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are amino acids and methanol is wood alcohol. Its use can be found in diet soft drinks, sugar free candies/desserts, and most notably the little color packets found on dining room tables in restaurants. It is also fortified in many diet/health related packaged foods as an alternative to sugar and as a preservative. But what about the aspartame legend makes it so dangerous?

Don’t Sprinkle That

When the temperature of aspartame is heated to 86 degrees F, either through external heating or your internal body temperature (98.6 degrees), the methanol (wood alcohol) converts to formaldehyde (a deadly neurotoxin) and then to formic acid. Formaldehyde is an absolute toxin and is used primarily to preserve tissue specimens. Our bodies treat it as a toxin and store it in the fat cells as such, particularly in the hips and thighs. Formic acid is the poison found in the sting of fire ants. Over time, the body can develop what is known as methanol toxicity, which can mimic and/or is misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. Although both conditions are generally not a death sentence, methanol toxicity is! Thus, the legend was born as it was concluded that aspartame ingestion possibly leads to multiple sclerosis and/or lupus.

The Great Diet Dupe

Diet products are NOT diet products at all! They are chemically altered, multiple ingredient crap that in the end is worse for you than any promise and hope of weight loss you might think you are buying. In fact, there is a ton of research to show that “diet” food items that contain aspartame and other sugar substitutes actually make you crave carbohydrates thus making it more likely that you are going to GAIN weight!

Not Any Sweeter 

Aspartame is especially dangerous for diabetics. Retinopathy, a complication of diabetics where the blood vessels of the eye become damaged possibly leading to blindness, has in fact been linked to causes of aspartame toxicity and its effects of driving the blood sugar out of control. Although more common in diabetics, these same conditions can occur in non-diabetics as well. The neuro toxic effect of aspartame has also been suspected in the case of Gulf War Syndrome, a condition suffered by many of the men and women who fought in the Gulf War and consumed thousands of pallets of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. Documentation and observation also reveal that thousands of children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD have had complete turnarounds in their behavior when these chemicals have been removed from their diet. Coincidence? The list of things linked to aspartame can go on.

And why is this allowed to go on despite what we know? Because it has been deemed safe by the FDA. That’s for another discussion that I’m not qualified to comment. Bottom line, artificial sweeteners, aspartame in particular, should be avoided. They are chemically altered substances, not natural, that the body treats and reacts to as if it was a poison and in time, the body will get tired of fighting the battle, FDA approved or not. When it comes to sweet things, especially real sugar, just consume in smaller doses and in moderation.  The payoff is much sweeter.

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