Health and Fitness Q and A's
Here are some of the most popular questions I have received over the last couple years.
If you don't see one that addresses a subject you would like to see covered feel free to give us a call at (757) 599-5999.
THE ALL-TIME CHAMPION QUESTION
What is the best diet plan for me to lose weight? (Translation: Are there any shortcuts to weight loss?)
This is not complicated stuff. It becomes complicated because we look for shortcuts and gimmicks—and diets. Diets don’t work. The last one didn’t keep the weight off and the next one won’t either. Diets sell books.
Assuming your priorities are your health and energy first, with appearance as a benefit, plan to eat for your health, not for weight loss. Heart disease is by far the number one cause of death and disease in this country. So, what you should eat is what the American Heart Association’s research (www.americanheart.org) recommends. If you need additional assurance, this eating plan is now also endorsed by the American Cancer Society, The National Institutes of Health, The American Dietetic Association, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and The American Academy of Pediatrics. And none of them are trying to sell you a diet book.
Add activity, daily exercise, and lean muscle tissue. Again, do this for your health and energy level, not with your focus on weight loss alone. You’ll be less vulnerable to discouragement. The fact is, you can be heavy and healthy. Studies by the Kenneth Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research (of 22,000 people/8 years) showed the unfit lean person twice as likely to die as the cardiovascular-fit overweight person. We think survival is a valid motivator. Your goal should be a 30-60 minute brisk walk. Every day. Even if you don’t lose weight.
Now, about building new lean muscle tissue. Why? Muscle is energy. Healthy calories give us potential energy; muscle enables us to use it. How do we build it? Through safe progressive weight resistance training. We’re not talking here about bulking up; we’re talking about building lean tissue that’s preferable to fat. And it makes you feel better; ask anyone who does it.
OK, OK, some of you say, “I agree. I do want to keep living and having more energy, but I’m still concerned about my weight and my appearance.” I understand. So balance your heart healthy calories with total daily calories burned. You’ve heard that before I know. How? We’re not hard line on this—everyone is different with different body types and different challenges. The common goal is to burn more than you eat. Find workable strategies to replace bad habits with better ones. We can help, but you have to bring commitment, self-discipline, and will power. Don’t have those? You lose (and unfortunately I don’t mean body fat). Find those in yourself, set realistic goals, and you can reach them.
I read something a while ago about measuring the difference between waist and hip to determine something but don't remember the details. Do you know what that's about?
Yes, but I'll simplify a bit. Instead of calculating waist-to-hip ratios, just measure the waist just above your navel. Above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women indicates high risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other related conditions. An additional note of caution: that's "high risk" so even close to that means above average risk and time to do something about it.
I started exercising a few months ago and I was making consistent progress, but it's like I've hit a wall. I guess it's one of those "plateaus" I've heard about. Any suggestions?
I'd have to know more about your background, workout routine, goals, etc., before commenting specifically, but I can offer some general comments that may be helpful.
Our bodies become more efficient at executing a task when it is consistently repeated. So we use less energy to do things. For survival or sports performance, that's a good trait. But to challenge our bodies and muscles to continue developing, we must constantly vary the approaches. A good exercise program should always be in a state of change. It should adapt to you as you improve.
Also, when people start an exercise program, they usually improve their eating/drinking habits too. They make major changes. So they tend to get major results. Makes sense, right? Then, at some point, there are no major changes for you to make and your progress reflects that.
That's OK. This is lifetime stuff, and even minor improvement adds up. Just stick with it. I know you feel better and that's what it's about.
I’m currently using a spinning class for my cardiovascular work. Do you recommend adding something else or is that enough?
I like cycling as a complementary, but not primary, focus of cardio work. Two reasons: First, because our 21st century lifestyles involve so much forward flexion (seated)—to eat, in our cars, at work all day, at our computers, watching entertainments and sports, etc., the muscles that shorten and weaken should be lengthened and strengthened during exercise. Cycling in any form obviously doesn’t do that.
Second, studies of competitive cyclists show lower bone density than non-cyclists, suggesting weight-bearing exercise would be beneficial to bone health.
I really want to add some muscle. I want to bulk up. Any nutritional advice?
Make sure you’re getting enough healthy (not red meat, whole milk and cheese) protein to enable you to build new lean muscle when you work out. (That’s at least half your body weight in protein grams.) Other than that, you should eat and drink like the rest of us—follow the research of the American Heart Association (americanheart.org) to stay healthy while you pursue your goals. NO FOOD OR SUPPLEMENT CAN ADD MUSCLE. You have to work hard and build it.
Many of us are carrying some extra weight. How can we tell if it’s really enough to be a health risk?
With over 30% of American adults classified as obese and just about every major health problem connected to obesity, that’s surely a valid question. Because the body mass index (BMI) method does not distinguish between body fat and muscle (it just evaluates “mass”), I think the simple waist measurement as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine is a more relevant wake-up call. 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women qualifies as obese. Measure. If you’re there, or if you’re close, do something about it. For your family, for your work...and for yourself.
I don’t feel as steady on my feet as I used to and am concerned. What can I do to avoid becoming more susceptible to falling?
To improve our balance we must put ourselves in a state of imbalance. Balance is a non-thinking activity. We need to exercise on unstable surfaces (balls, balance boards...) so we make subtle subconscious adjustments. Because good posture also directly affects our balance, strengthening our deep postural muscles with a combination of strength training, Yoga and Pilates have proven very beneficial.
What do you think about these new women-only quick workout centers?
I think they’re affordable and a relatively safe introduction to exercise for someone who’s been sedentary. Like short skis, they can get more people started and where exercise is concerned, that is what is needed. There are limitations to strength gain, bone density improvement, and building connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) due to the focus on hydraulic resistance machines. But they appear to be a fine way to begin.
How important is flexibility? Wasn’t there a major study last year that indicated stretching didn’t prevent injuries?
It’s good to see you’re doing your homework. It’s very important, and let’s clarify the information in that study. As is often the case, the headlines don’t really tell the story. The study involved thousands of healthy army recruits and concluded that pre-or post-event stretching did not prevent injury in that event. That is obviously not the same as saying muscles, connective tissue, and joint capsules are not more susceptible to injury if they are weak, short, tight, and restricted. Of course they are. When a joint (spine, shoulder, ankle...) is taken beyond its normal range, the result is tissue damage and pain. As adults, we don’t run—jump—reach—climb—play as we did as kids. Our joint range of motion becomes very limited which, of course, leaves us more susceptible to joint injury and discomfort. Our body’s self-defense system then tightens these areas to protect them and a cycle of reduced comfortable movement or stiffness has begun. It is gradual but relentless. We need to gently coax our joints out of their restriction. A significant part of our exercise routines should be devoted to training our joints to move freely, more comfortably, and to be stabilized by leaner, stronger, not bulkier, muscles. In this process we also improve our posture, our balance, our breathing, and our capacity to calm and focus our minds.
Is it possible that one of my favorite weight-lifting exercises may be bad for my shoulders? I’ve done this exercise for years without any injury and don’t understand why it’s bad.
Years ago the most common sports injuries were sprains and strains from weekend warrior abuse. Today the most common are overuse injuries from repetitive stress (shoulder impingements, stress fractures, etc.). With more people exercising over longer periods of time, study of weight resistance training movements has been able to isolate some traditional exercises that appear to be bio-mechanically unsound. They may be effective in developing the superficial muscles (those you see in the mirror) but do so at the expense of the deeper postural muscles and connective tissue. In other words, they may produce cosmetic gain with a cost to health and joint integrity. There are better ways. While I’m glad you’ve not felt injury due to what may be a dangerous exercise, the concern is repetitive stress, not immediate trauma. Remember, you can smoke cigarettes for quite a while before lung cancer kicks in.
What are the age limitations for vigorous exercise?
My sound-bite answer is: from eight until death. While there are modifications for young people and for specific conditions that may be present in seniors, the most exciting research in our field is in clear benefits for all ages. Improving strength, energy levels, balance, posture, joint range of motion, and a sense of well being are all attainable at any age. Conditions previously thought to be a byproduct of aging have been clearly proven to be a result of reduced use and activity. And they can be regained! We see it in from preteen clients to clients in their 80’s.
I’ve read your columns and I know you’re not crazy about diets, but aren’t there some that work? Help me here. The beach and swimsuits are near.
They all “work” because their purpose is to sell books or programs or supplements or...and they surely do sell ’em.
Seriously, if they’re healthy and effective, they should have 3 things in common: a balance of the food groups, control of calories (not necessarily reduction of calories), and they advocate EXERCISE. The best place to find responsible information is www.AmericanHeart.org. They’re not selling anything; they’re just sharing research. But they’re talking about how to eat year round, not for summer panic.
Other than that, I’ll suggest my version of an effective “diet.” I call it the Appalachian Trail Diet. Just walk the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and you can eat as much as you want—as long as you carry it. You’ll lose fat, add lean muscle, and definitely earn some lazy beach days.
Hope you have a fun summer.