Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why People Eat Too Much

We all know that eating too much food, and particularly unhealthy food, is bad for us.    At the same time so many people find it very difficult to stop.    At the end of the day hunger is much more complicated than it might seem, and hunger is all about your brain.   Most importantly learning how hunger is controlled by your brain can help you take back control!

Behind all your decision making there are physiological forces at work.     Let’s take a look at how our brains drive food choices and how this leads to weight gain.

There are two types of hunger and associated eating:

Physiological hunger aka homeostatic eating – this is hunger and eating to provide our body the energy it needs and to stay in balance aka homeostasis.

Hedonic craving and eating – this is eating for pleasure or to deal with our emotional state

Most of the time we eat there is a contribution from both areas in that there are physiological mechanisms driving our hunger while at the same time we crave certain foods.  There are many factors that drive hunger including but not limited to:

Our genetic background
Time of Day
            Social Cues
            Emotional state
            Environmental Factors
            Macronutrient Ratios of our meals
Hunger can be very complex and science is just starting to figure it out.  What we do know a lot more about is why we stop eating.      One reason is satiation – that feeling of being full from eating, and another reason is satiety (not the same thing!).   Satiety is your feeling of satisfaction associated with a reduced interest in food.

When we eat there are two big physiological factors that tell us to stop eating:

Gastric Distension – which is your stomach telling your brain it is being stretched.   This signal is sent to your brain via the vagus nerve which goes from your core to your brain.   This is why eating higher fiber foods and foods with more bulk but less calories can help to control physiological hunger by signaling the brain through the distension of the stomach.

Hormones – when you eat your gut communicates with your brain using hormones including:

Cholecystokinin or CCK for short – when you consume protein and fat your gut releases CCK (again through the vagus nerve) to tell your brain to stop eating.

GLP-1 and Amylin – GLP-1 simulates the production and release of insulin which is very important for hunger.   It also slows down food moving from the stomach into the small intestine.   Amylin is another hormone proven to help reduce food intake.

Insulin – is secreted in response to protein and non-fiber carbohydrates including all sugars and starches but not by fat.    When the body is in proper balance it also tells us to stop eating.   HOWEVER, if we do not exercise at all and overeat (particularly if our diet is very high in sugar and starches and low in fiber) our cells become resistant to insulin.     This can snowball into full-blow Adult Onset Diabetes with serious health consequences.

Leptin – helps manage your long-term energy and nutrient needs through a feedback loop.   Leptin is released by fat tissue and how much excess energy (in the form of fat) we have stored.     The more bodyfat we have the more leptin that gets dumped into our blood.

When things work properly and leptin signals go up, it signals the brain that we have plenty of energy and brings hunger down.    Conversely as fat stores get lower (particularly if they get very low) the lack of leptin tells the brain we need to eat.  

The brain also responds to lower leptin levels by limiting our movement.   We literally move less – we tend to sit instead of stand and stop fidgeting.     The couch calls to us!   So we burn fewer calories through activity and our metabolic rate slows down through a process called metabolic adaptation.      This is what allowed humans to survive long periods with low food intake and periods of famine.

The leptin feedback loop works well for most people, but there are genetic differences in how our body secretes and responds to Leptin.   In addition, the food choices we make can seriously derail this important control mechanism!

Super palatable foods that are heavily processed can overwhelm the leptin feedback loop resulting in a lot of overeating.    This includes foods with high levels of sugar, salt, and certain additives such as MSG which are hyper-stimulating to our entire digestive system.    If these are the foods you eat regularly, your brain can become resistant to Leptin much in the same way that too much sugar and starch and no activity can make your cells resistant to the effects of insulin.

There are also certain foods that a generate a strong reward response in the brain such as coffee and alcoholic beverages.   While we initially may hate the taste of these items, our brains learn to crave them which can completely disrupt the leptin and insulin feedback loops that normally work to control our appetite.

So What Should You Do? 

The take home message is that super tasty and super rewarding foods are a dangerous combination!   These types of foods are not found in nature and are a product of our modern food industry and culture.   By making foods salty, sweet, starch and fatty then adding in special flavors and scents food companies are designing foods to make us overeat.

At the end of the day you have to cut these foods out and go through a short-period of withdrawal to allow your body’s innate regulatory mechanisms to kick back into place. 

By making proper food choice and exercising we can gain a high level of control of these physiological mechanisms and our physiological hunger.   Here at the keys:

Eat more whole, fresh, unprocessed foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.

Eat more fruits and vegetables!  Strive for at least 5 servings per day!

Eat more slow digesting, high fiber foods such as whole grains, potatoes and yams, beans, asparagus, broccoli, etc.

Eat more nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, and fatty fish for your fats.

Eat slowly and mindfully to give you brain time to get the right messages from your gut.

Eat less processed foods

If you stick to these food choices for a month or more you will start to notice your hunger and craving for certain unhealthy foods starts to go down as your body’s regulatory processes get back on track!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Wonderful Watermelon

Watermelon is a summertime favorite across America, but it does not just taste great – it is great for you!  It is a cousin of cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash.   

One of the reasons watermelon is beneficial is that it contains a high quantity of lycopene which is a powerful plant chemical that gives watermelon its red color like tomatoes (another source of lycopene).     Lycopene is a potent antioxidant, and watermelon contains 1.5 times more lycopene than tomato which is the more commonly known source of lycopene.

Lycopene is a carotenoid, similar in structure to beta-carotene associated with carrots.   However, lycopene is much more potent than beta-carotene and provides many unique benefits.   In one study, men with the highest plasma levels of lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.

Lycopene Fights Cancer
Scientists at the University of Portsmouth showed that lycopene slows the growth of breast and prostate cancer by interfering with signaling pathways that facilitate tumor growth.    Lycopene also slows the growth of renal cell cancer and helps prevent the cancer from occurring in the first place.   Lycopene has also been shown to work to combat the negative effects of HPV infection (Human Papilloma Virus) which is the cause of cervical cancers, uterine cancer, and certain throat cancers.    

Lycopene and Eye Health
Lycopene protects eyes from oxidative stress which causes many eye diseases.   Lycopene is one of the strongest eye nutrients you can consume.     It may even have the capacity to delay or even prevent cataracts.  Through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, lycopene can help slow or stop processes that lead to macular degeneration.

Lycopene Reduces Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain is pain from nerve damage often accompanied by tissue damage.   It has many causes including diabetes and injuries.   Pain can be severe and difficult to treat.     Lycopene has been shown to safely reduce diabetic neuropathy in a study published in the European Journal of Pain.

Lycopene and Heart Health
Lycopene can help prevent high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.

In addition to lycopene watermelon contains l-citrulline – particularly if you eat/juice the rind that has the highest amounts.      L-citrulline is an amino acid that is converted into l-arginine in the kidneys.   Through this process it helps boost levels of Nitric Oxide (NO) which is very important for circulation and through this process can help reduce blood pressure and treat erectile dysfunction.   In fact, citrulline supplementation has been shown to improve erectile function in men.   

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Power of Keystone Habits

Everyone has habits, and understanding them is key to changing bad habits to good ones (see this previous blogpost to understand how habits are formed and the ONLY way to change them: )   

All good habits are not equal – certain habits have a much bigger positive effects than others.     These “super” habits are called Keystone Habits, and if you are looking to adopt a single habit that will have the biggest positive impact on your life consider one of the keystone habits described below.

Although on the surface keystone habits share a lot with any other habits the difference is that keystone habits tend to have a domino effect and act as a positive catalyst for change in other areas of your life.   Keystone habits help create and maintain other good habits.

So what makes a habit a keystone habit?    Charles Duhigg, author of the definitive book on habits – The Power of Habit, says that keystone habits actually change how we see ourselves – “When researchers look at how people change their habitual behaviors, they find when some changes occur, it seems to set off a chain reaction that causes other patterns to change as well.     The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to change your self-image.”

Exercise – The KING of Keystone Habits!

For many people exercise is THE keystone habit because when they develop the habit of exercising consistently they tend to naturally make better easting choices, stop procrastinating, etc.    This happens because exercising regularly helps you create a positive self-image – which is that of someone who is healthy!

By adopting habits, like exercise, that create a positive self-image, we begin to subconsciously encourage ourselves to reinforce that new self-image by adopting other positive behaviors.   This is VERY powerful!

Other Keystone Habits

Meditation – there are many forms of meditation but people who make meditation a habit often find that it is catalyst for overall positive change in their life.   Research supports this belief – there is a huge body of scientific research showing all sorts of physical and mental benefits from the simple practice of meditation!

Reading – if you adopt a regular habit of reading you constantly learn and grow and help maintain mental flexibility while aging along with having the ability to travel to distant worlds, escape to a better place, and in general have access to endless entertainment and fun!   Many people describe the action of developing a reading habit as being the single most important factor in their later success and happiness!

Writing – as a means of self- expression and creativity - writing is amazing.   A regular writing practice helps order your thoughts and mind and share ideas with others!   Like the other keystone habits this practice often faciitates positive and lasting change!

Socializing – Humans are social animals and we need and crave social contact.     This is particularly true as we age.      Developing a social group/habit is absolutely key to happiness for most people.      And who you socialize with has huge impact on your opinions and habits – be they good or bad.

There are many other habits that can become keystone habits for you.  To identify keystone habits, look for habits that have that domino effect in your life, and help change your self-image for the better by participating in the habit.    Pay attention to how you feel as you perform regular actions and activities in your life and when you notice you feel better about yourself when you do something it is quite likely that this is keystone habit for you!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

How to Use Stress to Improve Health and Fitness

Yes - you heard that right - stress is actually critical to health and fitness!    The body is specifically designed to be responsive and adjust to stressors both short and long term - the key is understanding this process so you can use stress to help you reach your goals.

You are constantly being exposed to stressors all the time such as changes in temperature, having to increase activity level when going from sitting to standing or laying down to sitting up, etc.   Each of these stressors creates a demand on your body which the body must respond to in the short-term.    Stress is anything that creates a demand and there are many situations which demand a response from the body.

The body must maintain tight control of many factors including temperature, pH, and energy production in order to survive.  This process is known as homeostasis which is a fancy way of saying auto--regulation to maintain the internal environment in a stable state.

The body responds to short-term stressors like those listed above by making short-term adjustments such as shivering in response to cold and increasing cellular energy production when going from a lower energy state to a higher energy state.     

In the case of long term stress exposure the body will try to adapt to the more constant stressor by adapting itself to be better able to handle the stress.   This is what exercise is all about - exercise is a stressor that creates significant demands on the body.    The key to getting good results from exercise (or any other stressor!) is exactly how the stress is applied in terms of frequency, intensity and duration of the stressor.     

Frequency is how often you are exposed to a stressor.    Intensity is how strong the stressor is such as light exercise versus heavy exercise.   Duration is how long you are exposed to the stressor such as how long you exercise.   By adjusting one or more of these factors over time you can optimize the body's adaptation to stressors. 

This does not just apply to exercise - it applies to many stressors including temperature and even mental stressor such as taking tests.    For example if you gradually start spending time in colder environments (such as ending your showers with a short period of colder water) and gradually increase the frequency, intensity, duration of exposure your body will adapt to cold water exposure by making longer term physiological changes to the point that you can handle colder water for longer periods of time more frequently without falling apart.     In fact we know that this type of exposure can dramatically boost brown fat levels with a corresponding big increase in calorie burning!

There are many other examples of positive adaptation to stress including tolerance to toxins such as alcohol - we all know that if you regularly drink alcoholic beverages you tend to develop a tolerance to them as the body ramps up the production of enzymes for the breakdown of alcohol.   In fact it applies to ALL stressors to some extent.

At the same time to much stress to soon and/or too often and the body cannot adapt and grow stronger and you go in the wrong direction.       This is often referred to as "hormesis" which refers to the fact that the response to a stressor tends to follow a biphasic curve - low doses result in stimulating an adaptive response while high doses/exposure can cause weakening of the system.

This is also true of many beneficial plant compounds which are in fact poisons that plants make to prevent being eaten.    In the relatively small doses we encounter when eating these plants these chemicals produce a hormetic effect and actually strengthen the body.    An example is horseradish and broccoli which both contain a class of plant chemicals that would be toxic in really large doses but in smaller doses actually stimulate the body to ramp up detoxification which results in many benefits including cancer prevention.

So when you think of stress - don't think good or bad - think how much, how often, and for how long.  Great coaches learn how to use appropriate stressors (both mental and physical) to help their clients adapt and become mentally and physically stronger and more resilient!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Much is Too Much HIIT Training?

High Intensity Interval Training is clearly highly effective for conditioning and fat loss.    However, like all exercise stimulus overdoing it can make people more prone to injury and overtraining.
A new study presented by Penn State Associate Professor Jinger Gottschall at the recent ACSM conference provides some specific clues as to how much HIIT is too much.    The research presented showed that the best results are obtained by spending 30 – 40 minutes of total time per week with the heart rate above 90% of maximum heart.      More time at this intensity makes participants more prone to injury.
All exercise acts as a stressor and as with all stressors to much stress to soon does not allow the body to recover and adapt from the stress and will always result in injury or illness.
Advanced exercisers may be able to tolerate short periods where they can use more time at 90% of their maximum heart rate, but for the majority of exercisers it would be wise to stay under 40 Total Minutes of HIIT Training with heart rate above 90% of Maximum.
This highlights the potential advantages of Coaches encouraging the use of chest strap heart rate monitors with one on one PT clients.      These monitors can be purchased from many sources.    To understand the three different methods of managing a client's work/rest ratio using a heart rate monitor read this previouis blogpost: 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Many Benefits of Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea has been around for a long time – and was used as a medicinal herb in Ancient Egypt and Rome.     Chamomile is the common name for several daisy plants like German Chamomile, and English Chamomile.   

In addition to being a natural, safe sedative, chamomile contains potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, in addition to antibacterial, antifungal, anticspasmodic, andtiulcer, and antiviral properties.    Perhaps most significantly consumption of chamomile tea has been shown to protect from thyroid disease including thyroid cancer!

Sleep Inducer
Chamomile has a long and successful history of treating insomnia and is well-known for its ability to calm and relax.    The sedative effects of chamomile are probably due to a particular flavonoid apigenin which binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.    Unlike benzodiazepines chamomile does NOT lead to any dependence of addiction!

Helps Gum Inflammation, Mouth Sores and Tooth Abscesses
Chamomile is also effective for reducing gum inflammation, mouth sores and abscesses, and has a long history of use for tooth pain that can assist while waiting to see a dentist.

Reduces Menstrual Cramps
Several studies have shown that chamomile tea helps reduce the severity of menstrual cramps in a safe way along with assisting in reducing the accompanying psychological symptoms.

Relief of Gastrointestinal Complaints
Chamomile is renowned for its ability to assist with just about any gastrointestinal symptom from gas, heartburn, cramps to ulcers.

Reduces the Risk of Thyroid Cancer
The more chamomile tea consumed the lower the risk of thyroid cancer.   In a 2015 study those who drank chamomile tea two to six times per week had a 70 percent lower risk of developing thyroid abnormalities and for those who drank it for 30 years there was an 80% reduction in risk.

Potential Side Effects
Chamomile is usually well tolerated, BUT if you have an allergy to ragweed of any other member of the daisy family avoid it.    Also avoid chamomile during pregnancy, and be careful if you are taking blood thinners like Warfarin, Coumadin, or other medications like this as chamomile has a slight blood thinning effect which can create problems when mixed with these prescription medications.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Highly Efficient Form of Resistance Band Training

Used properly resistance training bands can provide a unique overload that maximizes muscle fiber recruitment, muscle fatigue and thereby rapidly increases muscle strength and hypertrophy.    Flat, circular resistance bands provide increasing resistance the more they are stretched, and this protocol takes advantage of this fact.

Key movements for maximum strength and muscle size include:

                Squats with band

                Deadlift with band

                Overhead Press with band

                Chest Presses with band

                Upright Rows with band

                Bent Over Row with band

                Bicep Curl with band

                Tricep Pushdown with band

The key to this protocol is how you perform each set.   Since the resistance increases as the band stretches you start out by performing full range of motion exercise (short of lockout for squat, overhead press and deadlift) and perform smooth repetitions under control until you reach a level of fatigue where you cannot complete the full range. When you cannot complete the full range of motion immediately continue to perform repetitions to the farthest point possible (say 50 – 75% of the full range of motion) without any break.   Keep going until you cannot reach that point and are performing reps to 25 – 35% of the possible range of motion.   

The key is that you chose a level of resistance band that will challenge you to complete full range of motion repetitions after 4 – 6 reps due to fatigue.   What you are doing is maximizing force output and muscle fiber recruitment and fatigue at portion of the range of motion.

Done properly this is an incredible stimulus for increasing muscular strength and size.

Here is how you do each exercises.   

Squats with bands - there are several ways to hold the band:

You can step into the band with feet shoulder width apart and band looped over the top of your arms.   Bend both arms at the elbow with forearms crossed and hands on shoulder with band held over the top of both arms near the chest with elbows held high so that upper arms are parallel with the ground/foor.  Here is a great video demonstration:

Using two bands looped over shoulders – see video here:

Using bands with a bar and squat rack -

Using band with bar and weight -

Deadlift with bands:

Stand on band and put hands through both loops and peform a deadlift - - you can also use the handles that come with the resistance band training kit that comes with MX4 Equipment to enable you to use higher resistance bands without having undue pressure on your hands.

Using Bar and squat rack -

Overhead Press with bands:

                Standing on band -

   You can also attach the handles to both ends of the band standing in the center of the band        and press overhead using handles.

Chest Press with bands:

                Multiple variations with bar or handles -

High Pulls with bands:

                Standing on bands:       

Bicep Curls with bands:

Stand on flat, circular band and put both hands through the two loops on end and perform curls or attach band handles and perform

Overhead Tricep Press with bands:
                With flat circular band:

Start by practicing each exercise and set-up and organizing the bands you will need for each exercise in the sequence of exercises.    Once you are ready perform each set to failure at multiple points within the range of motion without stepping between each range for one giant set:

                Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                75% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                40 – 50% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                25 – 35% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Five Reasons Most People Can Benefit from Sprint Exercise

Sprints are mentally challenging because of the high effort required, but it is well worth it!  There are 5 key benefits that Sprint Training provides:

Faster Fat Loss

Research shows that regular sprint training produces significant fat loss in a very short period of time.   In a 1994 study, participants either did 20 weeks of steady aerobic training or 15 weeks of Sprints.   The interval group lost nine times more body at and 12 percent more visceral fat than the aerobic group!

Building Muscle and Targeting Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

Sprint training helps build muscle and increases the size and strength of fast-twitch muscle fibers.   Fast-twitch muscle fibers are exactly what you tend to lose as you age and the more you have the better! Loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers is linked to increased fall risk, and increased fast-twitch fibers give you the ability to move more rapidly and powerfully.

Sprint training also improves hormone profile during aging by increasing testosterone and growth hormone without increasing cortisol!

Increased Endurance and Work Capacity

Sprint training is more effective than steady aerobic training for improving endurance capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and time to fatigue.  

Improved Heart Health

Sprint training is more effective at improving cardiovascular health and increasing stroke volume than steady aerobic training.   Stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat so increased stroke volume means lower heart rates since the heart does not have to pump as often to provide blood and oxygen to tissues.   Sprint training can also be very effective for reducing blood pressure.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity is a big deal and loss of insulin sensitivity is the cause of adult onset diabetes and makes weight loss extremely challenging!     All exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity but Sprints do it much faster and with much less exercise time required.

Sprints can be done by almost anyone and can be done at any fitness level.   For deconditioned people a quick walk interval is a sprint, and sprints can be done with treadmills, rowers, stationary bicycles, while swimming, running, and using an elliptical machine.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Many Benefits of Green Tea

Green tea is from the same tea plant as black tea and white tea but harvested at a different time in the plant’s cycle.  All forms of tea have significant health benefits when grown in the correct soil properly, but green tea has some unique benefits.

Green tea is chock full of polyphenol antioxidants that include flavonoids and catechins.   The most notable catechin is Epigalocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG for short.   EGCG has many benefits for many different health and disease conditions.

Cardiovascular Benefits of Green Tea

Recent research from the University of Leeds and Lancaster University showed that EGCG can actually help dissolve arterial plaque which is the main cause of heart disease and stroke.     Other research has shown it can also help to inhibit the buildup of amyloid beta plaque in the brain which is the main culprit in Alzheimer’s disease.

Green tea can also help control blood pressure.   Drinking three to four cups of green tea daily has been proven to promote cardiovascular health and help prevent arteriosclerosis, cerebral thrombosis, heart attack and stroke while improving blood flow and protecting against blood clots.

Green Tea and Cancer

Green tea polyphenols also retard the growth of blood vessels to tumors and may help to improve tumor cell response to chemotherapy.

Green Tea and Weight Loss

EGCG increases fat oxidation for several hours after intake which can aid in weight loss.

Green Tea and Exercise Capacity

In a study, mice who were given green tea extract improved their endurance exercise time by up to 24%.

Best Type of Green Tea

Matcha Green Tea uses the entire ground tea leaf and contains much more EGCG than regular green tea.      The best Matcha comes from Japan is steamed rather than roasting or pan frying which retains much more nutrients.    The leaves are ground into a powder which is stired directly into hot water.    The tea is bright green.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Consequences of Too Little Sun Exposure

We are constantly reminded that sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancer.     However, there is WAY more to this story and the details matter!    First of all, many studies show that the deadliest form of skin cancer – Melanoma – is not associated with cumulative sun exposure.    In addition, skin cancer risk is mostly about avoiding sun burn, and everyone agrees this is an important goal.

Another important consideration is Vitamin D production – optimizing Vitamin D levels is incredibly important for disease prevention and the best way to do this is with safe, sensible sun exposure.    See this blogpost for information on how to optimize your sun exposure based on your genetics and where you live:

Negative implications of lack of sun exposure:

Increased dementia risk - People who completely avoid sun exposure have almost a 40% greater risk for dementia as they age.   

Increase Breast Cancer Risk – Woman who avoid sun exposure have a much greater risk of developing breast cancer.    In an analysis of women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Study, researchers found that the protective effects of sun-exposure on breast cancer was simply enormous. The risk reductions were highest for women who lived in United States regions of high solar radiation, with RRs ranging from 0.35-0.75. That means, sun-exposure reduced the risk of breast cancer by three-fold; for every 100 breast cancers in women practicing sun avoidance, the sun-loving women only had about 35 cancers, an enormous reduction.

Increased Bone Fracture Risk – Cumulative sun exposure decreases risk of breaking a hip.    Fractures are significantly lower in those with high lifetime sun exposure.   

Increased Risk of Multiple Sclerosis – Many studies show that both lifetime sun exposure and current sun exposure reduces the risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis.

Increased of Myopia (near sightedness) – according to studies, children who get a lot of sun exposure have a much-reduced risk of developing myopia.

Increase Mortality Risk – A Study that followed 29,000 Swedish women for up to 20 years showed that sun avoiders died much younger than sun lovers, and that the effect of sun avoidance on mortality was equivalent to the risks created through smoking!

CAUTION – As stated above getting sun-burned is a very bad idea for many reasons.      Like most things in life it is all about the right dose which is individual based on your skin and where you live.