May 30, 2014

Exercise - when is too much?

Most of us worry about not getting enough exercise and the health consequences that go with inactivity, but the other extreme, over exercise also can interfere with health and quality of life. In fact, exercising too much can sometimes be dangerous, as it is often associated with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and perfectionism.

But when is it too much? There is no consensus in the mental health field of what level of exercise is too much, but there is agreement that an unhealthy preoccupation with exercise and extreme discomfort experienced when unable to exercise, referred to as exercise “craving,” indicates a problem.

Specialists who treat eating disorders refer to a tendency to over exercise as Activity Disorder or Compulsive Exercise. It bears similarity to an addiction in that people continue to engage in exercise despite adverse consequences. They may depend on physical activity for self-definition and mood stabilization. People who are preoccupied with exercise may find that it interferes with their work, their relationships and other valued aspects of life.

Lately, eating disorders specialists are recognizing that these disorders are an increasing problem and health risk for younger, preadolescent children and for women in midlife. The highest risk factor for developing an eating disorder is genetics, and this genetic vulnerability is often triggered by the all-too-common practice of dieting and excessive exercise that many of us engage in to try to attain the unrealistic ideals of beauty and attractiveness in our culture.

There is an intense, driven quality to the activity that becomes self-perpetuating and resistant to change. People who over-exercise may report that they feel a lack of ability to control or to stop the behavior. However, many people who over exercise do not think they are overdoing it. They tend to experience a sense of moral obligation to exercise and may feel guilty if they do not complete their regimen.

Here are some typical comments from people who over exercise:

  • “My whole day is planned around exercise.”
  • “If I am supposed to do 100 sit-ups and I do 99, I feel like a failure. I have to start over.”

Despite their lack of concern, other people in their life may notice that they cancel other obligations in order to exercise, become very irritable or upset if their regimen is challenged and risk their health and safety to maintain their program.

Activity disorder goes hand in hand with eating disorders and is a common symptom of anorexia nervosa. Symptomatic exercise often plays a central role in the progression of the disorder and is equally dangerous to food restriction. One study showed that 78 percent of patients with anorexia nervosa engaged in over-exercise. Like under-eating, excessive exercise is a biologically driven symptom.

Medical dangers from excessive exercise vary for males and females. Males tend to abuse steroids, take special vitamins, and weight gain powders that are not carefully monitored or controlled by the FDA and may be unsafe. They tend to develop torn muscles and ligaments, sometimes to the point where they may be unable to walk. Steroids can be lethal. Females who exercise too much may stop menstruating and ovulating, develop osteoporosis, stress fractures and dehydration.

Excessive exercise can also interfere with school and career, and disrupt relationships. People with these tendencies may avoid social situations because they are self-conscious about their appearance. Basically, they are unable to relax and enjoy life.

People who have been chronically abusing exercise may develop fatigue, reduction in performance, decreased concentration, inhibited lactic acid response, loss of emotional vigor, increased compulsivity, soreness, stiffness, (encouraged by saying ‘no pain, no gain’), and decreased heart rate response to exercise. The only cure is complete rest, which may take weeks to months.

If you are concerned about someone you know and think they may have a problem with excessive exercise, it is recommended that you talk to them about it in a supportive, non-judgmental way. When you express concern, try to assess if the person feels unable to voluntarily control or decrease activity. You may need to discuss the issue multiple times, because they are likely to deny a problem. They may also get a lot of positive reinforcement for their activity from coaches, or others who praise their activity and appearance. Point out how exercise is interfering with other aspects of their life or health and provide evidence.
Treatment for excessive exercise includes cognitive behavioral therapy and sometimes, medication. With treatment and support, it is possible to regain a healthy relationship with exercise.

May 23, 2014

Watermelon could lower blood pressure, study suggests

Watermelon could significantly reduce blood pressure in overweight individuals both at rest and while under stress. “The pressure on the aorta and on the heart decreased after consuming watermelon extract,” the small study concludes.

Be sure to pick up a watermelon - or two - at your local grocery store. It could save your life.

A new study by Florida State University Associate Professor Arturo Figueroa,found that watermelon could significantly reduce blood pressure in overweight individuals both at rest and while under stress. “The pressure on the aorta and on the heart decreased after consuming watermelon extract,” Figueroa said.

The study started with a simple concept. More people die of heart attacks in cold weather because the stress of the cold temperatures causes blood pressure to increase and the heart has to work harder to pump blood into the aorta. That often leads to less blood flow to the heart.

Thus, people with obesity and high blood pressure face a higher risk for stroke or heart attack when exposed to the cold either during the winter or in rooms with low temperatures.

So, what might help their hearts?

It turned out that watermelon may be part of the answer.

Figueroa’s 12-week study focused on 13 middle-aged, obese men and women who also suffered from high blood pressure. To simulate cold weather conditions, one hand of the subject was dipped into 39 degree water (or 4 degrees Celsius) while Figueroa’s team took their blood pressure and other vital measurements.

Meanwhile, the group was divided into two. For the first six weeks, one group was given four grams of the amino acid L-citrulline and two grams of L-arginine per day, both from watermelon extract. The other group was given a placebo for 6 weeks.

Then, they switched for the second six weeks.

Participants also had to refrain from taking any medication for blood pressure or making any significant changes in their lifestyle, particularly related to diet and exercise, during the study. The results showed that consuming watermelon had a positive impact on aortic blood pressure and other vascular parameters. Notably, study participants showed improvements in blood pressure and cardiac stress while both at rest and while they were exposed to the cold water. “That means less overload to the heart, so the heart is going to work easily during a stressful situation such as cold exposure,” Figueroa said. Figueroa has conducted multiple studies on the benefits of watermelon. In the past, he examined how it impacts post-menopausal women’s arterial function and the blood pressure readings of adults with pre-hypertension.

May 16, 2014

Which Cardio is Best for You?

Some say steady state, some says HIT, and some say none at all. There are literally dozens of different cardio methods that have been proposed by the experts throughout the last half century. To say that there’s a one size fits all cardiovascular program for each person is quite a big stretch to say the least. However, you should consider several key factors that can help design a routine that best suits your body and daily needs.

Before we even get to what your goals are it’s important to look at your body and does it have any limitations. For example, if you have knee, ankle, or hip problems then biking, sprinting, or steep stair climbing might be out of the question. Or, if you have shoulder issues then distance or sprint swimming might be too hard on the joints. For me, shorter walks or high intensity intervals on a bike give me a reprieve from my joint pain.

After you access if you have any physical ailments that might need to be factored in, I would then look at your diet. Anyone on a moderate to high carbohydrate meal plan should consider putting in a high intensity cardio workout 2-3 times per week. In my experience, very few people will burn off all of their dietary carbs during weight lifting alone to not necessitate adding it into a good routine. Those of you on low carb diets should obviously lean more towards steady-state cardio, but if you’re like me that just might mean that you do shorter sessions, but more frequently. It seems the status quo has always been to do at the max, two, 45 minute sessions. One in the morning and one before bed, but there’s no rule that says you can’t break that up into 3 half hour sessions if it is going to be less impactful on your body. Remember, if you can’t sustain doing something over the long haul, what good is it?

From there we have to look at your goals. Even you permabulkers out there need to do your cardio. Even if it’s just 3, 30 minute sessions while you walk your dog around your neighborhood. The health benefits are enormous, as are the superficial benefits you’ll notice in the gym. Minimal, low intensity cardio will increase your metabolism, lower blood pressure, and stimulate your appetite – things we all need while we’re growing.

If you’re seriously overweight, over 35% body fat, I would recommend steady-state cardio, 30 minute sessions, 6 days per week. The odds that you don’t have bad joints at that level of obesity is slim to none and any high intensity training will either have you feeling terrible or in severe pain. That isn’t to say it can’t be added once some of the fat is lost, but it needs to be monitored closely so you can make the right adjustments.

For average body fat or those looking to lose the arbitrary 10-15lb of fat you can never go wrong with doing cardio after your last meal before bed. Your body naturally slows down all of its processes before we go to sleep, but a quick 25-30 minute walk, an hour after your last meal can make a huge difference in your long term fat loss goals. Plus, it’s a lot better than having to wake up early before work or school to bang out a half asleep workout when you’d rather be eating breakfast or still in bed.
Now, that’s not to say that early in the morning cardio isn’t good for you early risers out there. If it’s the only time of the day you can squeeze it in then that’s great. However, I do feel early morning cardio needs to be well-planned or you can find yourself in a catabolic state very quick and as we all know, that’s not good.

If you insist on doing cardio upon waking up, then I do recommend doing HIT cardio. The reason for doing HIT instead of steady-state at this time of the day is for a few reasons. First, you’ve just fasted for 6-8 hours depending on how long you sleep. By the time you wake up and begin your workout and sit back down to eat breakfast it could be anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes after you’ve already been awake – that’s catabolic. First, when you do high intensity cardio sessions first thing in the morning it’s only going to last 15 to 20 minutes. Second, I recommended sipping on BCAA’s during your routine instead of plain water. Third, you’ll be home quicker after your workout to eat a real breakfast. And 4th, and quite possibly the most important, HIT cardio boosts your metabolism longer throughout the morning and afternoon compared to doing a longer, steady-state, low intensity cardio session.

As far as doing cardio before or after a workout, I’m not a huge fan of either. If you have a busy schedule and absolutely insist on doing it along with your weight lifting then I’d suggest doing it after your workout and post workout protein drink. If you do it before it’ll cut into your energy needed for lifting and that’s just a bad idea. Lifting should always be the most important part of your training regimen. As a side note, if you can structure your cardio inside of your weight training, for a “general physical preparedness” or GPP for short, routine, I think it’s an excellent option during a de-loading phase of training where you aren’t lifting heavy weights in the gym. It will really fuel your metabolism, but also keep injury risk at bay as opposed to doing it when you’re hitting heavy poundage’s.

Give some of these suggestions a try in your own routines and I promise you’ll find success!

May 8, 2014

A cup of coffee a day may keep retinal damage away

Coffee drinkers, rejoice! Aside from java's energy jolt, food scientists say you may reap another health benefit from a daily cup of joe: prevention of deteriorating eyesight and possible blindness from retinal degeneration due to glaucoma, aging and diabetes.

Raw coffee is, on average, just 1 % caffeine, but it contains 7 to 9 % chlorogenic acid (CLA), a strong antioxidant that prevents retinal degeneration in mice, according to a Cornell study.

The retina is a thin tissue layer on the inside, back wall of the eye with millions of light-sensitive cells and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information. It is also one of the most metabolically active tissues, demanding high levels of oxygen and making it prone to oxidative stress. The lack of oxygen and production of free radicals leads to tissue damage and loss of sight.

In the study, mice eyes were treated with nitric oxide, which creates oxidative stress and free radicals, leading to retinal degeneration, but mice pretreated with CLA developed no retinal damage.

The study is "important in understanding functional foods, that is, natural foods that provide beneficial health effects," said Chang Y. Lee, professor of food science and the study's senior author. Holim Jang, a graduate student in Lee's lab, is the paper's lead author. Lee's lab has been working with Sang Hoon Jung, a researcher at the Functional Food Center of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. "Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, and we are understanding what benefit we can get from that," Lee said.
Previous studies have shown that coffee also cuts the risk of such chronic diseases as Parkinson's, prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and age-related cognitive declines.

Since scientists know that CLA and its metabolites are absorbed in the human digestive system, the next step for this research is to determine whether drinking coffee facilitates CLA to cross a membrane known as the blood-retinal barrier. If drinking coffee proves to deliver CLA directly into the retina, doctors may one day recommend an appropriate brew to prevent retinal damage. Also, if future studies further prove CLA's efficacy, then synthetic compounds could also be developed and delivered with eye drops.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology funded the study.

May 2, 2014

Walnuts: the perfect food for our brains

Walnuts are the large, single-seeded fruits of the walnut tree. Though different species of walnut exist, the English walnut, which originated in Persia, remains the most popular species. In fact, virtually all of today's commercially-produced walnuts are either English walnuts or hybrids thereof. Other species of walnut, such as the black walnut, are seldom cultivated due to their comparatively tough shells and poor hulling qualities.

Walnuts are highly nutritious, and their health benefits have been well-known in China and India for centuries. They are just as revered in the West, however, and a large number of studies confirm the allegations of the ancient healing systems.

Packed with brain-boosting fats

Walnuts are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, particularly the plant-based omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid. These beneficial fats, which are the same fats that comprise our brains and nervous systems, give walnuts considerable brain-boosting properties. For example, a recent study  discovered that rats that were fed walnuts for 28 days demonstrated a "significant improvement in learning and memory" compared to the control group. A second study showed that the fatty acids in walnut extracts could prevent age-related inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain's hippocampal cells.

Studies have also linked the regular consumption of walnuts to numerous other brain-related benefits, including the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and improved inferential reasoning, concentration spans and interneuronal signaling. Just like coconut oil, another food that boosts cognitive function, almost all of these benefits stem from walnuts' high concentrations of beneficial fats.

Cancer prevention

According to a study mice that were implanted with human breast cancers and fed a walnut-based diet experienced a gigantic 80 percent decrease in tumor growth rate compared to the control group. The study also found that walnuts slowed the growth of colon, prostate and renal cancers in mice, with whole walnuts providing the biggest benefits. The researchers attributed these results to certain antioxidant compounds in walnuts, such as tocopherols, beta-sitosterol and pedunculagin, which possess anti-cancer properties.

Strengthen the cardiovascular system

Foods rich in beneficial fats are known to improve our cardiovascular systems, and walnuts are no exception. A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition, for instance, discovered that walnuts have been shown to decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Consequently, the researchers recommend that people add more walnuts to their diets to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Emerging evidence also suggests that walnuts can boost endothelial function, making them a viable treatment for type II diabetes.

Good source of additional nutrients

Though walnuts' rich supplies of good fats will always be their biggest draw, we shouldn't overlook their surprisingly high concentrations of nutrients, which include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and most B vitamins. Walnuts are especially high in magnesium, an essential macromineral in which an estimated 50 to 80 percent of the United States population are deficient. Like most nuts, walnuts are also a good source of protein, though the protein is incomplete (i.e. it doesn't contain all eight essential amino acids).

Walnuts are best eaten raw and whole. While a lot of people dislike their bitter skins, these skins contain up to 90 percent of the fruit's main cancer-fighting antioxidants, so ensure that they're eaten too.