Category Archives: Wellness

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 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 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

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 2 – Sleep Facts That May Surprise You

(This is part 2 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending an online seminar about sleep. Prepare to have your mind blown. Science keeps shining a light on the unknown to illuminate things we don’t know. The undeniable value of sleep has led to a recent expansion of the body of science around sleep. New understandings of sleep may be pleasantly surprising—and a welcome relief to those feeling pressured to adopt the mythical “early bird” lifestyle dogma so commonly promoted in health circles.

The Early Bird Myth

There seems to be society-wide pressure to get up early and “crush the day.” This is especially rampant in the health and fitness space. This flawed idea has no basis in science or the historical human experience. Instead it is a byproduct of an attempt to fit all of us into the “workday” boxes laid out by the work and school schedules of modern society. In sleep research, there are different “chronotypes” that refer to genetically predisposed best times to wake up and best hours of focus. An “early chronotype” (commonly referred to as an “early bird”) refers to someone who likes to rise very early, usually before sunrise. A “normal chronotype” typically rises around sunrise or just after. A “late chronotype” refers to what we commonly call a “night owl”. (that’s me..most of the time) Most people fall naturally into one of the three types. For example, the Hadza people of Tanzania are hunter-gatherers whose lifestyle remains similar to early humans. At any given time during the night, no fewer than eight of the tribe members are awake. This is in line with the “sentinel theory” first proposed in the 1960s. In essence, it says that somebody needs to be awake to keep watch for animal or human predators during any of the 24 hours in a day. As a result, there are genes for staying up late, getting up super early and everything in between bred into us and health is optimized when you follow what works for you rather than what you “should” do. In other words, if you’re not in the “early bird” group, it’s best for you if you stop trying to be one.

Polyphasic Sleep

The idea of getting all our sleep in one uninterrupted session is a given in modern life. Surprisingly, many people instead follow a “biphasic” sleep pattern where they sleep in two separate chunks, or a “polyphasic” sleep pattern where they sleep in many chunks during a 24-hour period. It was very common in preindustrial times (before lighting and modern work schedules) to follow a biphasic sleep schedule. The most common form is to sleep for several hours, get up for an hour or two, and then return to sleep for several more hours to achieve the total amount of sleep needed to be well-rested. Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla stuck to almost impossibly strenuous polyphasic sleep cycles. Da Vinci reportedly slept 15 minutes every four hours, while Tesla never slept more than two hours in any 24-hour period (it is probably worth noting that Tesla had a nervous breakdown at age 25). These men were undoubtedly prolific and intelligent, yet their anecdotal examples are not a model to follow for most people. It can be as harmful to health to spend too many consecutive hours awake as it is to get less than your body’s required number of optimal hours of sleep. Our natural, historical tendency toward biphasic sleep warrants the acceptance of napping as a suitable method for being well-rested, especially if schedules or preferences make it impossible to get all your sleep in a single session.

Brain Flushing

When you are asleep, your body may be resting, but your brain is busy taking out the trash. The network that drains waste from the brain is called the glymphatic system. It works by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and flushing any resulting waste into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the liver for detoxification. Brain cells even shrink when we sleep, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to enter and flush out the brain. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are believed to be caused by inflammation and the accumulation of cellular waste products from energy production. These waste products are cleared out of the brain more effectively and more rapidly during sleep. Thus, in addition to the already familiar immediate effect of sleep quality and quantity on your mental function and mood the next day, there are apparently significant long-term brain health benefits to getting proper rest.

Bottom line: Don’t under value the importance of sleep. It could be your undoing.

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

See you tomorrow for Day 3 of the 12 Days of Fitness

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

Day  #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever

Make It a Healthy Thanksgiving

Despite the current pandemic, the biggest meal of the year is about to occur. Whether your plans are a lot smaller than in years past or not, the question is, are you ready? The average Thanksgiving dinner has over 2,000 calories. You don’t have to starve yourself or exercise excessively to counteract this monstrous meal. With some smarts and a little willpower, you can eat, drink, and still button your pants when it’s over. Follow these tips to the dinner table and have a healthier Thanksgiving …

Plan Ahead

Before you get to cooking, schedule a workout prior to your big meal. Even a short workout may reduce appetite. Some studies monitored the brain activity associated with appetite. They found a decrease in food interest immediately after exercise.  Don’t take a holiday from your health. Exercise is usually the first thing people won’t make time for. You owe it to make time for yourself. You probably want to spend the day with family and football games and the excessive amount of sitting that occurs with it so make your exercise time count. Be sure to eat a complete breakfast and make time for lunch. Even a light lunch is better than “saving up room.” Always remember to slow down when eating too. When hungry, we often eat faster and dish out larger portions. By eating fast, more food is consumed before the brain registers the stomach’s fullness. Also, alcohol absorbs more quickly into the bloodstream on an empty stomach so drink responsibly.

Choose Wisely

Know everything being offered before you serve yourself. Then, prioritize your favorites as a few splurge choices. You may prefer dark over white meat, yet decide on leaner white slices so you can save a splurge for something that matters more. Serve yourself with a table spoon instead of a serving spoon or ladle. This lets you sample the variety without overeating. Go for the healthiest options first– veggies, garden salads, and lean meats. There will be less room to pile on the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and creamy casseroles. Satisfying your hunger throughout the day prevents gorging on appetizers and pre-meal bread. Leftovers are permissible so stock up on plastic containers to share the wealth of leftovers. Everyone can enjoy a little slice of Thanksgiving in the days that follow. And, no one person is stuck with the burden of a week’s worth of overeating the same foods. 

Get Moving

Many use turkey as an excuse to laze around post-feast. Experts acknowledge turkey contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, popularly cited as a kind of dietary sedative. However, it is not likely the cause of Thanksgiving Day fatigue. Tryptophan‘s sleep effect only occurs on an empty stomach when eaten with no other protein sources. This same amino acid is found in other common foods, like eggs, yet no one claims they have a sedative effect. Perhaps the popular association between turkey and fatigue is a placebo effect. More likely, Thanksgiving fatigue is the outcome of overeating and that extra cocktail. A full stomach requires blood for digestion, which reduces blood flow elsewhere. Big meals, especially those high in carbs and sugar, naturally trigger sleepiness from the effort required to digest.

Seize the Quality Time

Holiday stress, particularly this year, induces fatigue. Instead of sleeping off the effects of food and family, take a walk. Get fresh air and perhaps a fresh perspective on the day, a tense situation, or the meaning of life. An invigorating walk burns off calories and allows time outside the confines of what is likely an over-crowded house. Practice mindfulness so your senses truly come alive this holiday season. Indulge in the moment, notice each breath, and savor every delicious bite.

Wishing all of you a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Note: See you all again on December 8th for another year of the 12 Days of Fitness

A Client Success Story

For those of you who have known me and followed me over the years know that not only am I fitness professional but a very passionate one. You see, fitness to me is a way of life. I’ve just been fortunate enough to make a career out of it. Most view fitness as a side activity, one that either fits into their lives or it doesn’t. I take a great deal of pride and education for myself in helping people to understand the positives that fitness can have on their lives. I don’t always have followers but that’s why I continue on. I want to share with you today a story of a client who has done all those things – made fitness a priority in her life; continued to follow my guidance; took all the positives along with the negatives and turned out to become the best version of herself.

How We Started

Tricia and I first met about 12 years ago when I worked at Pottstown Health Club. She had been working with one of my trainers and it was brought to my attention that I might be better suited to help her. Tricia had a “nagging” forearm issue of sorts that we later determined was the result of carrying heavy bags (computer, handbags). With a successful evaluation and treatment plan, Tricia’s arm got better and shall we say, the rest is history. Tricia has been a personal client since then and stuck with me through the gym closing and venturing out on my own. Stories like you’re about to hear are one of the many reasons why I do what I do, why I love what I do, and where my passion for all things fitness comes from. What better way than for you to hear this story other than from Tricia herself.

Her Story

I’ve always been athletic; a tomboy most of my life.  As a kid, I played baseball and football with the boys in the neighborhood.  I played field hockey and lacrosse in high school until knee issues sidelined me during my senior year.  Since then I’ve had a total of 5 surgeries on both of knees.  Ultimately, I will need a full knee replacement, so I have learned to manage the issues and pain since I was 17.  Having a chronic injury like that impacted my participation in sports, as well as working out.  This led to weight gain, which is not good for anyone, but for me with my knee issues, it was worse because I found it even harder to work out or even move.  That’s when I decided to take control and lose weight.  Another motivator was that I was engaged and wanted to look my best for the wedding. I joined Weight Watchers, as I knew I needed to be accountable to someone other than myself in the weight loss journey.  I lost 30 pounds and was very proud of myself.  I focused mostly on my nutrition but was working out a little as well. 

After the wedding, a few of my work friends started working out together at a gym close to the office.  Within a year, I was at my most fit and felt great.  I really enjoyed working out with my friends (never thought I would be a “gym rat” but I was there a lot). Then life happened.  I began traveling a lot with work and was not home a lot.  Because I was working out so much, I had a lot more “flexibility” in my diet.  When you stop working out consistently and continue to eat the same “flexible” way, a not-so-funny thing happens; you gain weight.  I did work out while I was traveling.  I found I had less excuses to NOT work out when I wasn’t home.  It helped that most of my work travel mates were working out in the hotel gyms, so if I brought my workout gear, and told my colleagues I was going to work out. I was accountable to them.  So, I tended to work out more when traveling then when I was home, but eating more than I should have, and maybe drinking more.  Because of my travel schedule, as well as losing most of my workout buddies (started families, changed jobs, moved) I canceled my gym membership. 

My husband and I decided to join Pottstown Health Club together.  I was using the cardio equipment and taking classes.  It had been a while since I spent time in a proper gym, so felt like I needed to work with a trainer; also felt like I needed someone to be accountable to again.  I had started working out with Cathy but then I met Jeff. He created a workout for me that allowed me to continue my momentum despite my injury.  I have continued to work with him since.

Fast forward a couple of years to the week I turned 40.  That seemed to be the year I hit the wall; it felt like I hit the wall, bounced off, then got run over by a truck, got up, and then fell face first into a vat of molasses.  I’ve felt stuck for the past 8 years. The week I turned 40 my back spasmed.  I never had any back issues until that week.  I spent most of that week in bed trying to recover from that until Jeff had recommended massage therapy.  In March of my 40th year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Luckily it was caught very early, but a lumpectomy and 7 weeks of radiation were necessary.  Oh, and you can’t forget the 5 years of Tamoxifen.  Through my recovery, it was difficult to bounce back into a healthy, fit lifestyle.  It’s been nearly 9 years, but I found my way.  My health journey has one consistent factor…accountability.  And today is no different.  I got a sinus infection in January and visited the local urgent care.  They take your temp, blood pressure and weigh you before seeing the doctor.  As you leave, they provide a synopsis of your visit, including an evaluation of your weight.  I rarely read that information, but for some reason I did after that visit.  Based on their information, I was considered OBESE.  I knew I was heavy, but to see that word in my “chart” was eye-opening. 

Jeff and I talk about accountability a lot, and why it is so hard for people to be accountable to themselves.  I think it took the word OBESE and the quarantine to finally get me to be accountable to myself.  I also know that I do not want to start my 50’s feeling the way I have for most of my 40’s. I’ve taken advantage of the time that I’m home to take care of ME.  I’ve been using my normal “commute” time to work out.  At 6:00AM I ride my Peloton for 20 minutes (that’s my normal commute time).  Again at 5:00PM, I’m on my bike for another 30-45 minutes.  I’m also eating clean and healthy; tracking everything I eat (using Weight Watchers again).  I am feeling great!  I have a lot more energy and just overall feel better.  My approach to the quarantine has been one of taking care of me.  Since I am not traveling (which has been a major excuse for not always eating healthy or working out) I really have no excuses to NOT take care of me.  If I’m not going to do it now, I’m never going to take responsibility for myself. 

My husband is benefitting from it as well.  His pants are a little looser too.  And I just hit 40 pounds lost!!  I am at the same weight I was when I got married 18 years ago.  The journey has not been easy.  As much as it is about eating healthy and implementing a fitness routine, it is also about psychology.  I’ve found that without feeling accountable to myself I would self-sabotage.  It was a viscous cycle.  It is a little crazy that it took the word obese and a quarantine to set me straight.

Tricia – a living example of what it means to train smart, eat well, and be better!

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

Why Sleep Should Be Taken Seriously

As we continue in these days of uncertainty, we must strive to stay positive and find a silver lining. For me, I had the unusual opportunity to attend not one, but two online seminars just over a week ago. And the best part? They were free! Unfortunately, both had been set up to be live events but due to the current situation made good on their promise to deliver and went online instead. Now to most people, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when you consider most multi day conferences run anywhere from $300-$500, I call that a win. I wanted to share with you though the one conference that I know you would find the most valuable and interesting and that was the one on sleep and recovery.

Sleep Needs a Bigger Priority

One thing I’m sure most would agree on is that we need more sleep. Our lives have become this constant state of go and while most would complain about being tired or drained, the cycle seems to repeat endlessly. Have you ever noticed the amount of “energy” products that exist in the marketplace? While it appears to be highly unlikely to return to a time when we awoke at sunrise and were asleep by dark, we have to adapt or it can certainly kill us. Insufficient sleep is a public health concern.

Sleep Loss and Deprivation

There are many factors that contribute to insufficient or poor sleep, such as hormones and psychological factors, but the reality is with some focus and concentration on making sleep a priority, we have the ability to improve it. Lifestyle changes such as choosing to go to bed at the same time everyday, turning off all electronics 1 hour before going to bed, and either adopting a meditation or breathing regime can go a long way. You simply can’t afford to not improve your sleep and following are 10 reasons why.

What Poor Sleep is Costing You

  1. Poor sleep is linked to higher body weight. People with short sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. In one extensive review study, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to develop obesity, respectively.
  2. Poor sleepers tend to eat more calories. Studies show that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation. Those who get adequate sleep tend to eat fewer calories than those who don’t.
  3. Poor sleep causes poor concentration and productivity. Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. All of these are negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
  4. Poor sleep can negatively affect athletic performance. Less sleep duration has been associated with poor exercise performance and functional limitation.
  5. Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.Sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risk factors.These are the factors believed to drive chronic diseases, including heart disease.
  6. Poor sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk. In a study in healthy young men, restricting sleep to 4 hours per night for 6 nights in a row caused symptoms of prediabetes. Poor sleep habits are also strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar in the general population.
  7. Poor sleep is linked to depression. Mental health issues, such as depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders. It’s been estimated that 90% of people with depression complain about sleep quality. Those with sleeping disorders like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without.
  8. Poor sleep decreases your immune function. Not the best thing to hear during these times. Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function.
  9. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation. Sleep can have a major effect on inflammation in your body. In fact, sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. Poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders known as inflammatory bowel disease.
  10. Poor sleep affects emotions and social interactions. Believe it or not, sleep loss reduces your ability to interact socially. Kind of like the reason for being a moody monkey. Researchers believe that poor sleep affects your ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information.

The bottom line: along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.

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