The 5 Common Exercise Myths and the Truths That Prevail

For many, the thought of exercise makes us cringe; conjuring up negative images of being sweaty, out of breath and feeling completely out of shape.  You may also be thinking, I’m too old to be active now or too busy to find the time.  Whatever your barrier is, below are five of the biggest myths that people often cite as a reason to avoid exercise:

Myth #l – Exercise makes you tired.

Truth – As their bodies get more in shape, most people feel exercising gives them more energy than before. Regular exercise can also help fight fatigue, improve your sleep, and manage your stress.

Myth #2 – Exercising takes too much time.

Truth – To maintain a healthy weight, it can take as little as 30-40 minutes per day, most days of the week.  If your goal is to lose weight, it’s advised that you aim for about 45-60 minutes each day.  But here’s the best part; it doesn’t have to be done all at one time.  Most of us can find 5-10 minutes to spare at different points in the day.  Using these spare minutes a couple times throughout the day adds up quickly and becomes a routine part of your healthy lifestyle.    

Myth #3 – All exercise will give you similar benefits.

Truth – Not all physical activities are created equal.  Each type (cardiovascular, strength, flexibility) offer unique advantages and benefits.  A good routine incorporates all 3 types and rotates through different exercises every few weeks to prevent your muscles from becoming accustomed to the same movement.  This ensures that you’ll gain the most benefit from your program.

Myth #4 –You need less exercise as you age.

Truth – We become less active as we get older and as a result should strive to ensure that we get some physical activity into our daily routine.  Everyone benefits from exercise regardless of age.  The important thing is to find the appropriate activities and intensity level based on your physical capabilities.

Myth #5 – If I focus my exercise on certain trouble spots, I will be able to lose fat from those specific areas.

Truth – The type of exercise you do does not affect the number of fat cells in a specific area.  There is no such thing as spot reduction.  Therefore 100 sit ups a day is not going to bring about a flat stomach.  It will help develop your muscles in that respective area but this doesn’t equate to fat loss.  When the body loses fat, it does so in a systemic fashion or all throughout the body at the same time.  There is no way to direct or influence the elimination of fat from specific areas outside the use of surgical liposuction procedures. 

More Truths About Exercise

A number of studies have been conducted on people who have lost weight and kept it off for extended periods of time.  Examining their behaviors, researchers found that one of the common features is the fact that most lead active lives.  Some participate in formal exercise such as classes or regular visits to the gym, while others choose to incorporate activity into their lifestyle. 

Once you’ve made the decision that exercise is no longer a task but a part of your life, consider what exercises you may enjoy.  You are much more likely to stick to a regular activity if you enjoy it.   Whichever method you choose, it’s important to talk to your doctor first before beginning any exercise routine.

With Liberty and Fitness for All

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step”     – Confucius

The journey to becoming healthier can seem like a thousand miles away.  But as Confucius emphasized, any seemingly insurmountable task starts with the first step.  Your road to fitness involves the same notion.  By simply taking that first step, you’ll find that it doesn’t require any special equipment or skill; just a bit of determination to reach your goals.

Where Do I Begin?

Walking is probably the simplest and most practical form of exercise.  It can be done just about anywhere, requires no equipment, money or skill, and yet reaps all the benefits of any other cardiovascular-type activity such as:

  • Reducing LDL cholesterol (“the bad cholesterol”)
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving flexibility and coordination
  • Decreasing body fat
  • Relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Strengthening bones
  • Decreasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers

Participation in some form of regular activity may not only improve your quality of life, but may also add quantity to your years.  The life expectancy of individuals who engage in activities like walking are believed to be significantly higher than those who tend to lead more sedentary lives.

Rounding Out Your Existing Routine

Besides walking which is a cardiovascular activity, there are two other main categories which include resistance (strength training), and flexibility.  Whereas cardiovascular exercises focuses on moving larger muscle groups and heart rate elevation over a period of time such as in running, swimming, or bicycling, both strength and flexibility training have a different focus. 

Strength training focuses on the repeated movement of isolated muscle groups using either external weights or one’s own body weight as resistance.  It’s extremely helpful by preventing muscle loss through the aging or weight reduction process.  It’s also a great tool to drive vital minerals back into the bone to minimize bone loss; which by the way affects both men and women.  But here’s the best part, your body composition is largely responsible for your metabolic rate.  The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism.  Teenage boys are a prime example of this.  But what does this really mean to us?  Simply that if your goal is to lose weight, it’s going to be less of an uphill battle to not only lose but maintain your loss if you are able to keep as much muscle mass as possible in the process.   

Finally, the last category of exercise is flexibility.  The first thing we usually think of here is yoga.  And yes, yoga is certainly a flexibility exercise which can be done with little equipment other than a good mat.  However, there are other simple stretches that one can do each day to help with flexibility.  The biggest advantage in flexibility exercises has to do with injury prevention.  The more flexible you are, the less likely you’ll be to injure yourself from over pulled or strained muscles which can (and usually does) derail any fitness routine. 

Remember to warm up no matter what the exercise, never stretch a cold muscle, and repeat the motions smoothly.  And, if you’ve been working out for a while, you undoubtedly know the importance of changing up your routine to get the maximum benefit.  One of the most common things I see as a personal trainer is a concentration on one or two “favorite” exercises.  Avid runners are a good example.  Those who run on a regular basis often report not feeling like they’ve had a good enough workout unless they run.  Therefore, they tend to run (an obvious cardiovascular activity) most of the time while avoiding activities that involve the other two fitness categories namely strength and flexibility.

Go On- Take a Chance

It’s natural to gravitate towards things that you feel skilled in doing.  It gives us a sense of accomplishment and pride.  By the same token, we often avoid activities that challenge us or perhaps make us feel clumsy or awkward.  But if you step out of your comfort zone so to speak and take that first step, you just may find that a little variety can make a big impact on your overall health goals.

Proper Hydration: For Summertime and Beyond

Getting the proper amount of hydration is not only important in the summer months, but throughout the year as well.  Water is one of the single most important elements in our body.  It regulates our body temperature, helps our digestion and even provides a cushiony barrier around our organs.  Those who participate in regular exercise know how vital it is to be properly hydrated for performance purposes as well.   At the microscopic level, water helps get nutrients in and out of our cells and after just several days without it, we would cease to survive.Therefore it’s important to understand the correct amount of water to have onboard, the signs of dehydration, and a few strategies to ensure you are properly hydrated in any weather.

How Much?

Hydration can come from the beverages we drink (80%) as well as the food we eat (20%).  It is recommended in total that women consume 2.7 liters (91oz) of fluid through a combination of beverages and food and men 3.7 liters (125 oz) in the same manner.  If you are exercising, especially in hot weather, your needs are even greater.  In just an hour of exercise, you could potentially lose around a quart of water!  At that rate, it’s easy to understand how dehydration can creep in.  Here are some exercise hydration tips:  

  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise.
  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
  • Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise

Of course, these are just recommendations. Other factors influence your fluid loss during exercise such as higher temperatures or workout intensity. Additionally, men sweat more than women and larger people sweat more than those who are smaller.  Also, would you believe that the well-trained athlete sweats more than the average person? It’s because the body of an athlete is very efficient at cooling itself down and sweats more as a result.

Swimming in the summertime can be great way to cool down.  However, a common misconception is that swimmers are kept cool by the water and as a result don’t require as much hydration.  The truth is that swimmers as well as children splashing around in the pool sweat more and are also in danger of dehydration.  So ensure you keep drinking water even if you are cooling off in the water.

Signs of Dehydration

How do you know if you or someone else is in danger of dehydration? In the beginning there is simple thirst.  Most of the time we could easily ignore this sign which eventually turns into flushed skin, higher body temperatures, exhaustion, and increased difficulty to perform simple exercises.  If you don’t get water soon after these symptoms, you will experience increased weakness, dizziness, heavy breathing and finally pass out. 

Your Best Strategy

It’s easy to avoid the threat of dehydration by simply sipping water throughout the day.  Remember that our hydration comes from the foods we eat as well so choosing foods with higher water content such as melons, soups, leafy greens, and even tomatoes is a great idea.

Flavored waters and other beverages such as sports drinks can contribute needed fluids but if weight loss is your goal, beware of the hidden calories some of these contain.  Also, if you are drinking beverages that contain caffeine and/or alcohol, know that these are both diuretics meaning that they cause the body to lose more fluids which can undermine your hydration efforts.

Being aware of your fluid intake will not only keep you well hydrated, but may also give you a sense of fullness which will certainly help your weight loss efforts.

Food Safety: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

A foodborne illness (more commonly called food poisoning) can occur when we eat contaminated food that contains pathogenic bacteria, viruses or actual parasites.  The statistics of occurrence are overwhelming.  According to the FDA, foodborne pathogens are responsible for 76 million gastrointestinal illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5000 deaths each year in the United States.  Summertime picnics and family gatherings are common this time of year so it’s important that we understand the basics of food safety and how we can protect ourselves.

When we hear the word “bacteria” it often conjures up negative images.  But not all bacteria are pathogenic or have the ability to cause illness.  For instance, yogurt is little more than flavored milk with bacteria added.  This kind of bacteria is known as probiotic meaning that it’s introduced intentionally to the body as a means of bringing good bacteria into the gut.  This so called “good bacteria” helps keep the bad (or pathogenic) bacteria in check by using up some of the bad bacteria’s resources they need to stay alive.

In general, ideal growing conditions for bacteria are moist environments with temperatures between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit.   Food safety experts call this the “Danger Zone” meaning that if you hold foods for periods of time between those temperatures, you are more likely to propagate the growth of bacterial colonies.  Think about your recent 4th of July barbeque feast.  Moist foods such as potato and pasta salads are particularly susceptible to bacterial growth because they are either left out on the table for long periods of time at room temperature as people serve themselves, subjected to insects, or become contaminated through serving utensils and handling.  Here’s another example- have you ever thawed a piece of frozen chicken in warm water?  As that chicken sits there in a comfy warm water bath (well within danger zone temperatures), millions of bacteria have the opportunity to begin emerging which could potentially make us sick.  And if you think cooking it immediately will kill off all the germs, you’d be wrong.    

Because bacteria can be introduced into food from hands, soiled utensils, or via insects such as flies, the best defense is to wash your hands frequently-especially before handling food.  It’s a simple concept that we’ve all heard time and time again that can’t be stressed enough.  We also want to ensure that food is protected from insects by covering the dish when not in use.  Likewise, serving utensils should not be handled in the area that comes in contact with the food.  At the end of a meal, it’s best to cool your foods quickly in shallow pans in order to decrease the amount of time in those danger zone temperatures.

The symptoms of food poisoning vary greatly depending on the pathogen.  Some have a quick onset meaning you’ll begin to notice symptoms such as nausea and/or vomiting within 30 minutes after eating, while others may take as long as 2 days to emerge.  Some will produce fever and chills while others only cause gastric distress.  Foodborne illness is not only very serious but can leave a person vulnerable to dehydration which can have deadly consequences.  So if you suspect food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. However, an easier answer is to decrease your chances of contracting it in the first place by taking the right steps to protect your food this summer and throughout the year.

Weight Loss is a Journey, Not a Destination

Over 70 million people in the United States attempt to lose weight each year and spend more than $30 billion in the process.  Many will be successful at losing the initial weight; however sadly most will be unable to keep it off for very long.   Why is this the case?

I believe part of the problem lies within the fact that most people who set out to lose weight do so without anticipating (or perhaps wanting to anticipate) that their weight issues will continue beyond the point of their initial weight loss phase.  We have a sort of euphoric belief that somehow anything and everything will be better once we lose weight- and the issues and/or behaviors throughout our life that brought us to our heaviest weight will kindly go away.  Sounds great doesn’t it? Then sooner or later, the nasty truth begins to emerge, “You mean I have to watch what I eat for the rest of my life if I want to keep it off?”

If you are beginning to grapple with this harsh reality, congratulations!  You are among the minority of people who have discovered that weight management is a journey, not a destination.  People who are successful at losing and keeping off the weight forgo the so-called crash diets mostly because they realize that the faster they lose it, the faster they gain it back.  A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week.  If you are losing more than that, chances are you are losing more than fat-you’re probably losing muscle as well.  This drop in muscle mass is what contributes in part to the rapid regaining of weight during the maintenance phase, and it’s your muscle mass that is largely responsible for increasing your metabolic rate. 

But the real benefit to losing weight at a slower, healthier rate is something entirely different which has more to do with taking in the sights along the way.  You’ll discover your likes, dislikes, behaviors and habits, that may have contributed in some way to your weight gain in the first place and have an opportunity to address each in a way you wouldn’t normally had you plowed through the weight loss phase of your journey at 100 miles per hour. 

We all want to lose weight quickly.  But if you want this time to be the last time, you have to take the time.  Remember, it’s not about the speed of losing the weight, but about the journey.

Grillin’ Up Some Color

When we think of summer, we usually think backyard barbeques.  What a better way to gather friends and family to share up some good eats.  This year why not try grilling up more than just the standard fare of burgers and dogs-lets grill up some color.  Brightly colored fruits and veggies can be grilled up and turned into fantastic side dishes (or main dishes) which can add a beautiful touch to your backyard feast.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

Alternate sliced fresh peaches, strawberries and canned chunk pineapple on skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 15 minutes.  Lightly grill while brushing with a simple balsamic honey glaze.

Grilled Fruit Kabob Glaze

(makes enough for 8 kabobs)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of honey

______________________________________________________________________________

Firecracker Veggies

Alternate quartered onions, 1 inch slices of yellow squash and zucchini, as well as red and yellow bell pepper along the soaked skewers as above.  While grilling, brush with this tangy sweet sauce that packs a little peppery kick.

Firecracker Sauce

(makes enough for 8 kabobs)

1/4 cup(s) fresh lime juice

1/4 cup(s) honey

2 tablespoon(s) ketchup

2 tablespoon(s) olive oil

2 tablespoon(s) soy sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon(s) crushed red-pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

These are just a few suggestions, get creative!  Try other vegetables such as mushrooms, potatoes, and asparagus which are all delicious when grilled.  Think outside the box and color up your meals this summer.

To Snack or Not To Snack…That Isn’t The Question

The great snack debate is one that has embattled many of so-called “dieters” for decades.  It’s roots were planted at a time when doctors offered advice to their patients who wanted to shed a few pounds that sounded something like this, “If you want to lose weight, you need to cut out all your snacks in-between meals.”  This may have worked well at a time where most people sat down to three regular meals each day, possibly around a family table (think Ozzie and Harriet) to consume their food.  However, by today’s standard, it’s a rarity when a family has a single meal together, let alone three!  Family members always seem to be going in different directions with their schedules, and most tend to grab food on the run.  And often times what we grab isn’t what we would consider a meal, but rather a snack to hold us over until our next meal.   

New research released last week from the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting indicated that what we consider as snacks (including what we drink between meals), comprises more than 25 percent of our total calorie intake every day.  On average, this equals about 580 extra and usually unaccounted for calories each day.

Most people would probably say at this point, “So what?  500 or so extra calories isn’t that much and besides if I’m really concerned about it, I’ll just do a few more minutes on the treadmill and burn it off in no time.”  To test this theory, let’s apply a little math:

500 extra calories a day (above what you use) = 3,500 extra calories a week

Based on metabolic equations- 3,500 extra calories a week = 1 pound of weight gain/week or 52 pounds of potential weight gain each year!

Now you’re convinced that the extra few minutes on the treadmill everyday will take care of those pesky calories.  The average 150 pound person would have to be on that treadmill 1 full hour extra each day to burn off approximately 450 calories-not even reaching the target of 500.  Most already have difficulties finding a few minutes to sit down to a healthy meal- who realistically will make the commitment to an extra hour or more of exercise?

It’s All About Choice

Asking people to stop eating snacks and begin sitting down to 3 meals a day at home is unrealistic.  The issue isn’t whether or not to partake in snacking, but rather look at making some smart choices that will work to stretch your calorie budget over the course of the day.  Moral of the story…choose wisely.  If you are among the many that find yourself eating on the run, opt for getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.  Choose grilled over fried, fresh over processed, and if weight control is one of your goals-make every effort to include low calorie/high fiber options like fruits, veggies, and whole grain products like oatmeal, popcorn, or whole wheat crackers.  The extra fiber will help keep you fuller longer thus making it less likely you’ll be tempted to grab another snack before your next meal.  Plus, it may also help prevent you from becoming overly hungry which can prove disastrous on a weight loss plan.

Beverage Calories

Make every attempt to avoid drinking your calories.  The calories we get from beverages can really pack a 1-2 punch.  They not only add up and contribute to our overall intake each day, but sweet beverages can spike blood sugar levels and often leave us hungrier in the end as those levels quickly take a dive in an attempt to return to normal.

Size Does Matter

Lastly and probably the most important, portion control.  Our best defense to guard against unwanted weight gain is to keep our portions in check.  A couple weeks ago, I covered information about the new USDA MyPlate educational materials.  One of the major objectives of this program is to help people understand appropriate portion sizes.  Because at the end of the day, all calories not used by the body regardless of whether they come from carbohydrates, protein or fat, will result in potential weight gain.

Is Your Fitness Routine Lapse More Like a Collapse?

Maintaining motivation to exercise is one of those topics that so many have written on because it’s a problem that affects everyone.  Motivation is not like a switch that we can readily be turned off and on.  Rather I see it more like a thermostat with degrees of motivation running along a constant slide.  Once at a predetermined temperature, your internal call to action kicks in and you find yourself willing to get out there and exercise. When we are super motivated, we don’t dread the thought of exercise.  We look at it as an opportunity to get healthier every day.  On the other hand, when we lack motivation, exercise can be the chore that manages quite nicely to get put onto the back burner.  It’s amazing how many things we’ll find to do to avoid exercise; clean the garage, wash the dog, organizing the junk drawer, pay bills, slop the hogs, etc.  And those things we don’t find to do, we’ll just make them up.  

We can joke about this because we’ve all been there.  The truth is motivation comes and goes.  You may find yourself on a roll for a little while then slowly the temperature drops in your thermostat and your exercise bouts begin to get fewer and farther between.  Here’s the key… recognition.  Recognize when your motivation is beginning to wane and guess what- stick it out baby.  Continue your fitness routine any way you can because eventually what goes down must come up.  I guarantee your motivation will pick back up eventually but those who let their exercise lapse turn into a collapse will not be around when the motivation thermostat starts to rise again.  Likewise, those who stuck it out and just continued along business as usual will be that much further down the path towards their goals.  

It’s easy to say, just stick it out and I certainly understand firsthand how difficult it is to actually put that into practice.  My motivation came and went a million times as I was losing my 172 pounds.  When my motivation was hovering somewhere between the dumps and the abyss, I used a number of things to get it going again like trying a different exercise activity, downloading some new music, etc.  I’ve even bought new workout outfits all in the name of motivation of course.  

Lastly, remember to cut yourself some slack.  We are all a “work in progress” and far from perfect.  If you don’t make it out there today, look at some of the motivation tactics and try again tomorrow.  By only concentrating on the things that we are not doing right, chances are we’ll miss the things we are doing right.

Move Over Food Pyramid: It’s Time To “Plate Up” Some New Education Tools.

 

Over the last 20 years, the food pyramid has served as a major nutritional icon.  On June 2, 2011, First Lady, Michelle Obama along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled in a press release the latest tool to aid in the battle of obesity, MyPlate (ChooseMyPlate.gov). 

MyPlate, the new symbol of appropriately balanced meals, will replace the iconic Food Pyramid.  The new graphics are designed to be consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January this year.

The basic messages contained in the new guidelines are as follows:

Balance Calories

• Enjoy your food, but in smaller amounts

• Avoid oversized meals

Foods to Increase

• Aim for half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) dairy products.

• Make at least half your grains the whole variety

Foods to Reduce

• Note the sodium (salt) in various foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and  choose those with lower numbers.

• Aim for drinking water as opposed to sugary beverages.

The idea of using a plate to help educate individuals on appropriate portion sizes is not a new concept.  The truth is that dietitians and nutritionists have been using education tools very similar to these new graphics for years with many of their clients.  The reason being is that a plate is something that everyone can relate to as it’s considerably less abstract than the food pyramids of the past.  It’s also quite adaptable so that no matter what kind of diet a person follows, the graphic can be utilized to illustrate portions in relation to the various food groups.

A major downfall of this new graphic has to do with the fact that it lacks the incorporation of exercise represented in the former Food Pyramid icon.  The figure climbing the side of the pyramid symbolized the need for physical activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

Just as the new icon shows the importance of balance in your meals, we also need to balance a healthy lifestyle with the incorporation of physical activity. 

It’s my hope that as this new campaign rolls out over the next several months, the importance of physical activity for weight management, improved health and ultimately disease prevention will be emphasized either through the initiatives set forth in the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign or through additional education tools that support the new MyPlate program.

Lighten Up! Your Meals That Is…

Summer is here and like it or not, it’s time to start thinking about warm weather clothes, getting back into that old bathing suit and possibly shedding a few pounds that seemed to have cropped up out of nowhere.  Whether weight loss is a goal or not, this time of year marks a need for fast, easy to prepare meals, that are light and nutritious with preferably no stove or oven required.

Time is of the Essence

If you find yourself short on time, salads can offer a great way to get you in and out of the kitchen in no time.  It’s now easier than ever to prepare tasty salads at home with the help of convenient offerings in the produce department at your local grocery store.  Salads can easily be prepared using pre-washed salad greens in various varieties and pre-cut items such as carrots, celery, or even jicama sticks.  Additional ingredients that are always helpful to have on hand are pre-shredded cheeses, dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, or raisins, and packaged nuts such as slivered toasted almonds or walnuts.  Adding meat to your salad can be a snap.  Pre-grilled chicken strips in the package or imitation crab meat are simple ways of getting in a protein punch. 

Leftover Surprise

For a unique twist on the plain old green salad, try adding that something extra with leftovers.  Yes, I said leftovers.  Now, before anyone crinkles up their nose in disgust, think about it.  Leftover beef or chicken can be easily sliced up and portioned into zip top bags before storing after a meal thereby making it readily available to add to the top of any salad at a later time. 

We eat a lot of stir-fry meals at our home for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, they are easy.  Who’s kidding who here…stir-fry is the original one pot meal!  They are quick, tasty and you have the opportunity of introducing a variety of veggies for plenty of color which equals plenty of nutrients.  Best of all, stir-fry meals can be very light in the calorie department which is always a plus!     And in case you were wondering, stir-fry leftovers on a salad? – Why not.  Been there, done it and it’s fabulous!

Ever hear the expression – Cook once, eat twice?  I live by those words.  Who has time to cook full meals every single day-I know I don’t.  I get out of cooking any way I can by planning all meals out at the beginning of the week.  This not only keeps my diet in check but also helps me map out strategies for precooking certain foods while the kitchen is still in an uproar and I’m still in cooking mode.

Variety is the Spice of Life

A sure fire way to lose momentum in a good eating plan is to become monotonous in your food selections.  Eating the same types of foods too often leads to boredom thereby making it more likely that we will abandon our healthy intentions.  Be open to trying out new foods.  Experiment with different or unusual spices that add new flavors as well as textures to your meals.  Remember that a good diet is one that can be followed for many years to come in order to maintain a desirable body weight and optimal health.  Eating is one of life’s pleasures and who wants to eat the same boring things over and over for the rest of their life?