Posts Tagged 'health'

Variety Shows

Courtesy of MyScienceProject.org

Switching things up is a key to peak performance in any arena — sports or entertainment, business or life.

The benefits of changing an established routine are manifold. When it comes to fitness, doing so is a necessity. The body is always searching for the most efficient way to perform a given activity.

In order to reach the sort of elite level we all seek (if only deep down), we have to unlock ourselves from the chains of a memorized — and therefore easier — program.

I have a hard time doing this.

I enjoy running. I get some miles in six days most weeks, testing my cardiorespiratory system and relieving stress, to a lesser extent. As much as I hate to admit it, such repetition can eventually do more harm than good.

I’ll get bored.

I’ll get injured.

Thankfully, I know better.

Yesterday, my brother, sister-in-law and I did our monthly measurements. This includes weight and waist-to-hip ratios, as usual, but I added another wrinkle for myself:

I decided to perform an experiment over the next four weeks and abandon distance running.

Early in the evening, I ran 1.56 miles in 9:38. Using math to project this across the traditional 2.4km test, I covered the appropriate distance in 9:12, averaging 6:08 per mile.

Why did I do this, you ask?

This set a baseline for me in terms of Maximal Aerobic Speed and VO2 max, a pair of intertwined indicators of a person’s ability to take in and distribute oxygen during exercise. Generally speaking, higher ratings equate to the ability go farther and faster.

I’m curious about improving fitness with less traditional endurance workouts, a concept I’ve read about but have yet to really attempt myself. I plan to use regiments based on building agility and speed while putting the heart to work. The idea is to create an all-around program built on the intervals I already use, substituting other exercises for out-and-out running to get the desired effect.

In short, I’m going to get back to basics.

Squats.

Mountain climbers.

Lunges.

T-sprints.

On April 10th, I’ll retest and see what variety shows.

So Easy a Caveman Can Diet

Courtesy of FoxNews.com

“What does Paleo mean?”

When I discuss the changes I’ve made to the way I eat or when I post pictures of my culinary efforts on Facebook, this is typically the first question.

The premise is pretty straightforward, our DNA has only undergone minor changes in the last 10,000 years — or, put another way, our genes have been essentially the same for anywhere from 200,000 to 4 million years — and our bodies are best suited to operate on foods present before few millenia.

I try to be brief, but often wander into an explanation of evolution and human physiology.

I love discussing the simple mechanisms built in to the body and how we can use them for our greatest benefit. My hands move around constantly, grabbing and stacking and transporting imaginary packets of nutrients in front of my audience. I jump from topic to topic in an effort to create a full, coherent picture of the elegant symphony governing our lives and making this hunk of meat a worthwhile host for our magnificent souls.

In the end, people want to know something basic:

“What did you change?”

“Everything” seems an appropriate, if intimidating, reply.

That said, it’s also inaccurate.

Redefining a lifestyle often seems more colossal than it really is, whether in the way we eat or how we move or what we think. Monumental change is the result of basic choices magnified by the effect of repetition over time.

If someone is giving up cigarettes, they decide against lighting up for an extended period. That’s it. Eventually, the desire goes away. There are some physical and emotional challenges in the process, of course, but they are overcome as long as the individual refrains from reaching for a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.

With that in mind, eating like a caveman is built on three simple principles:

1. Shift sugar
Candy and other substances loaded with refined sugar are put aside, obviously, as well as grains (read: bread, rice, pasta) and high-starch vegetables like potatoes and corn join them. In addition, fruits take on less importance. These foods spike blood sugar and unbalance the complex harmony of our endocrine system.

The idea is to consume carbohydrates which have a diminished effect on insulin — a hormone that wreaks all sorts of havoc when unregulated. By managing glycemic load (the amount of glucose in our blood after a meal) better, biochemical processes for fat storage and inflammation are blocked, decreasing the likelihood of a range of cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.

2. Lean protein
Our ancestors were, generally, hunters dining on whatever creatures they managed to track down. Though this has predominantly meant fish for a large portion of human history, the prized portions of land-based animals were organ meats — the heart and liver, for example. These tissues have a fairly low fat content and deliver necessary amino acids into our system with little difficulty.

In modern days, we are more accustomed to turkey breast than deer innards (which may be our loss). Regardless, the optimal proteins improve tissue strength and rebuilding, whether in muscle, bone or elsewhere.

3. Finding fat
Though lipids have been demonized over the last few decades, they act as the building blocks for much more than the excess weight we carry around our waists and thighs. The key is to take them in with proper measures of omega-6 and omega-3 varieties. Some of this will come from fish, as is often seen in the news, yet other products — oils (olive, flax, e.g.) and nuts (almonds and walnuts), mainly — help us to achieve the kind of balance we seek.

In the short term, this creates a feeling of satisfaction lasting much longer after mealtime. Further, as days eating like this become weeks, energy is used with greater efficiency, producing a cascade of wide-ranging positive effects — everything from a slimmer waist to better sleep and quicker recovery from exercise.

Better food fuels peak performance.

Why do we put gasoline in our cars instead of coal?

Because it’s what the engines are designed to run on.

Doesn’t it make sense to do the same with our bodies?

Once you understand, it’s easy to be like a caveman.

Feeding the Horse

Courtesy of MentalFloss.com

Here’s a startling fact: exercise won’t help you lose weight.

Though we’ve been told otherwise for years by doctors and fitness professionals alike, it’s unfortunately a fallacy. It is logical to assume moving more and eating less will help us shave off pounds — the simplicity is difficult to argue with.

Our bodies just don’t work that way.

Sure, in the short term, we get a benefit from this unbalanced equation. The initial shock of extra activity without a matching rise in food intake causes the body to grab fuel from the most reliable source it has: excess body fat.

The quick disappearance of five or ten pounds is more from physiological surprise than the effectiveness of the new regimen, though.

Once the body recovers from the scramble to provide energy, it will adjust within (at most) a few weeks.

The endocrine system is finely-tuned to ensure survival however possible. By acting to accommodate varying conditions, stuffed or starved, it keeps the body going — whether we do so at an optimal level is a question for another day.

When push comes to shove, we either increase our intake or decrease our movement.

The body is designed with fail-safe mechanisms to make sure the calories in is as close as possible to calories used.

As a result, choosing to decrease portion sizes or skip meals altogether leaves us lethargic and groggy. As time wears on, we lack the pep to tackle our regular daily tasks, let alone hit the gym and slam some weights around. We naturally downshift to conserve energy for vital processes — the workings of the brain, heart and lungs, for example.

On the other hand, if we run 15 miles a day, we make sure to ingest enough to do so. The chemical signals for appetite ramp up our drive to find food. Regardless of how much we try to stay away from the fridge, we end up tearing through a buffet like the Tazmanian Devil.

This is unavoidable.

If we work like horses, we can (and will) get hungry like them, too.

This is Healthier

Four Weeks' Difference: 1/16 (l) and 2/13 (r)

Some things we have to see to believe.

Four weeks ago, I wrote a revealing post about my desire to shift my body composition in subtle ways by paying more attention to what I eat.

I gave up sweets and focused on eating more meat, seeds, nuts and leafy vegetables.

I decided to work out again — in the way I always told myself would be ideal.

The change is evident.

First and foremost — because I know you’re wondering — I did lose a fair amount of weight. I was 170 pounds when my brother, sister-in-law and I did “before” measurements on January 16th, four days into adopting the Paleo lifestyle.

I clocked in at 155 on February 13th, fifteen pounds lighter — a misleading number, for the record. A nasty case of stomach flu tore me apart that weekend, leaving me either in bed or on the toilet for the better part of 30 hours. After a snack early Saturday afternoon, I was unable to eat or drink anything until Monday morning.

It was Tuesday before I returned to full strength.

Dehydrated and starved, my weight skewed downward.

The next evening, after eating three meals more like my normal intake, the scale hovered at 160 — what I played soccer at in college. I consider this “unofficial,” as I stepped on the scale merely to reassure myself (as I said before, my intent is to be lean, not emaciated) and skipped taking other measurements.

Looking at the pictures, you’ll notice the differences in two spots, primarily: the face and abdomen.

A comparison of the jawline highlights the change: it is far more apparent on the right than left. Though it would be unfair to say I was chubby before, a distinct streamlining has occurred in a highly-noticeable area. This is why I advise anyone tracking weight loss to take up-close-and-personal facial photos — when the rest of the body seems to lag behind, those pictures tell the (encouraging) truth.

Now, notice the beltline. My waist slimmed by two inches, a portion of which must be attributed to my inability to take (or even sniff, really) a bite of food at the time. Still, the visual is telling: an increase in tone and decrease in, ahem, “softness” at the area most men stealthily begin packing on pounds after college.

Despite being very pleased, I have to admit the pictures tell a small part of the story:

  • Sleep feels deeper and more refreshing
  • Energy levels are more stable throughout the day
  • Meals satisfy appetite longer
  • Exercise recovery seems faster

This weekend, we decided to incorporate some of our old favorites back in. I had some pizza, a couple beers and some of the desserts I used to enjoy again.

The fast food was bland.

The fries turned my stomach.

The cookies were unbearably sweet.

I look forward to my next slab of meat and handful of baby spinach more all the time.

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Life-saving Experience

Go to a busy hospital if you want to live.

According to a study published in New England Journal of Medicine, your chances of surviving the big three–a heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia–increase appreciably when you walk (or are carried) through the doors of an active emergency room. Your likelihood of living beyond the 30-day mark in some cases jumps 10%. At the brink of life and death, that’s a big deal. There’s more, though:

Patient satisfaction rates are higher, too.

It seems the knack for nailing the diagnosis and carrying out treatment becomes smoother as visit numbers go up. The staff delivers the correct medications, finds the appropriate specialists and moves the patient to the proper areas swiftly. Administrative hiccups are minimized and the delicate ballet of a hospital stay briskly passes from admission to release.

Why?

In a word, “experience.” Seeing hundreds of cases with a similar presentation helps doctors and nurses identify issues quickly. When every moment counts, the collective memory of successes and failures guides efficient action. A veteran professional spots the nuances on the fine line between “critical” and “stable” to prevent a “turn for the worse” and produce a “pull through.”

There’s a reason it’s called “medical practice.”

From the beginning, practitioners in every discipline are exposed to laundry lists of signs and symptoms for every condition on the planet. After that, it’s time to confront defeat. Everybody dies. Managing the emotions of losing out  and understanding what was missed is the core of working in healthcare. Without the wisdom of hindsight, the next patient’s odds of making it plateau at best.

If everything went perfectly, you’d never improve.

The mental torment of falling short, when it spurs thoughtful consideration of performance, is the chisel of your greatness. Each disappointment is a hammer stroke, chipping away piece after piece, until you are the phenomenal work of art you were made to be.

Each event, regardless of the outcome, shapes your future.

You learn based on punishment and reward.When you apply information gained through hardship, you determine the value of the happenings of a day. Utilizing that knowledge to identify similarities and avoid the missteps you’ve made before is what leads to success, whether at a bedside or in a boardroom.

You’ll recognize opportunities and threats easily. You’ll select a path faster than before. You’ll move confidently in the face of crisis, then act to prevent recurrence. You’ll feel assured, galvanized by the education you’ve received on the sharp edge of your mistakes. You’ll make better choices.

Before you know it, you’ll save your own life.

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On The Road Again

It’s been four months since I went for a run.

Well, it had been until yesterday. Inspired by the fascinating book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and the story of the Tarahumara (tah-rah-oo-MA-rah) people of northern Mexico, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and began training furiously last November.

I’d set a goal of eclipsing my personal record of 5:15 in the mile on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve been an athlete all my life and enjoy exercise. I relish the feeling of pushing myself to the limits physically and mentally. I’ve had more than a handful of moments where I asked myself if I was going to die so, just as I always had, I went out and did what felt natural. My body would tell me when to stop.

The thing is, there’s a lot of learning that goes with running barefoot.

From the get-go, my body was completely in shock. I found out very quickly how undeveloped the stabilizing muscles in my feet and lower legs were. I shuffled around like an old man for a couple of weeks as they became acclimated to being used and eventually found a groove. My mileage pushed up and I began to feel like I was getting back into the kind of cardiovascular shape I’d been in before.

Then I injured my foot.

Yes, I’m a man.

No, I did not read the directions.

When making the changeover from Nikes to nothing, beginning on forgiving surfaces (i.e. not concrete) is highly recommended. In all my genius, I had been pounding pavement for six weeks and the little niggle in my left foot became a full-blown “hurting mother.” (Medical term.) I opted to lay off it for a while instead of pressing on to a stress fracture.

After fifteen or twenty days of healing, I was out of the habit and indulging in the holiday smorgasbord.

This brings us to yesterday. I decided to get back on the wagon when one of my best friends told me he’d dropped some weight. (No, we’re not competing for bikini season.) The long layoff had to end, as exercise may be the magic bullet to reduce the frustration of my day-to-day life.

I decided to try ChiRunning, having picked up the book at my local bookstore and read through it a few weeks ago. I will admit to some trepidation at the thought of changing my running style, focusing on moving my feet faster and landing differently.

I was mistaken.

The technique is built around “forms,” simple concentrations that aggregate to create an efficient and effortless stride for mile after mile. I chose to focus on cadence, the pick-them-up-and-put-them-down pace which is the constant in ChiRunning, a staggering 85-90 cycles (170-180 steps) per minute.

It was easier than I anticipated.

Using a simple beeping metronome MP3 I prepared using Audacity, I quickly got in sync with the proper rhythm and went for a few minutes. I took a breather for a couple, then began again, really absorbing the movement and programming it into my brain. I even switched over to my regular tunes for awhile and tested myself to see if I could maintain the “one-two-one-two” tempo.

It felt great.

Despite the fact my core must be strengthened, my legs seemed to melt away. I felt little in the way of knee or ankle pain I’ve had before. My muscles seemed more responsive and snappy with each step, like fatigue was a distant memory. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on this body again.

First time I’ve said that in way too long.

Sleep Dreams

I’ve been having trouble keeping my eyes open this morning.

Over the last two weeks, I have fought off a wicked illness (with a cough that’s just now going away), written a syllabus, planned three college-level class periods of at least three hours and generally hit the sack after midnight every day.

When I finally shut my laptop, my brain is ready to crash.

Ideally, it should take around 15 minutes for you to drift off. Anything less points to overwork and anything more points to over-analysis. In either case, it’s important to awaken feeling rested.

Sleep is for recuperation.
As everyone knows, the main function of sleep is so your body’s “third shift” can punch the clock and go about rebuilding tissues. The maintenance crew goes along sweeping up dead cells and fixing damaged ones. The muscles are lightly paralyzed during the resting cycle and their energy needs drop dramatically. This why you feel so sleepy when you’re sick, your body is begging you to shut down and allow your immune system (which burns a lot of glucose) to kill the infection.

Sleep is for memory consolidation.
When your body shuts down at the end of the day, your brain goes through a “system back-up” so thorough a supercomputer would blush. Basically, you redo everything. All of the electrochemical firing patterns of your waking hours (how you moved, what you learned, etc.) discharge again to solidify connections. During a period of intense change or developing positive new habits, this makes sleep crucial.

Here are a couple of tricks to set yourself up to make the most of your shut-eye, which inevitably is the launching pad for the kind of clear thought necessary for high productivity tomorrow:

1. Clear your mind

  • Take some time to meditate. By focusing your mind for a few minutes and encouraging the hum of thoughts to quiet, you settle your mind before you lay down.
  • Slow your breathing. Several deep breaths, focusing on pulling air in using your stomach, naturally calms the body.
  • Make a to-do list. Instead of worrying about what must be completed after you wake up, write it down and get it out of your head. You’ll find yourself finishing more stuff more efficiently.
  • Spend a little while journaling. This is an incredibly powerful tool to help you manage emotions and facilitate breakthroughs. Whether a couple hundred or several thousand words, a daily chronicle of your experience dampens the possibility you’ll be up until 4am wrestling with anxiety or anguish.

2. Exercise

  • Raise your heart rate during the day. This is one of the most effective stress reducers and obviously has benefits for the cardiovascular system, but did you know it also improves your mental function? Creating situations where it’s difficult to breathe causes the body to grow new blood vessels to support the brain the next time it needs oxygen.
  • Stretch before bed. The simplest way to reduce physical tension is to force your muscles to elongate. Whether using a structured yoga program or simply working the kinks out of the large groups in the legs and back, relaxing the whole body will make laying down for some rest much easier.

What else helps you get the rest you need?

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