Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Health Benefits of Watermelon

Summer is almost here, and watermelon is a great tasting summer treat. The great news is that watermelon has some powerful health benefits.  It is a cousin to cucumbers, squash and pumpkins.

Watermelon contains more lycopene than tomatoes
Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables a pink or red color.       It has been proven to be excellent for cardiovascular health, prostate health, and breast health.   A half cup contains 6.5 mg.  
One study showed that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene where 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.

A 2014 meta-analysis showed the lycopene may protect against ovarian cancer in post-menopausal woman.

Watermelon contains high levels of l-citrulline which is an amino acid.

L-Citrulline can help prevent muscle pain, boost Nitric Oxide Levels better than L-arginine and through this action can lower blood pressure and help treat erectile dysfunction.   In fact, watermelon is sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Viagra”. The rind contains even more citrulline than the pink flesh so you can grind it in a blender and add some lime for a healthy refreshing drink.

So - eat your watermelon while it is available!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Benefits of Safe Sun Exposure

As with a lot of health advice the media tends to be very polarized when it comes to sun exposure.    While Ultraviolet (UV) exposure can cause sunburn which can lead to the development of skin cancer - proper safe, sun exposure is critical for optimal health and wellness.   

In addition proper UV exposure is critical for Vitamin D production which is by far the best way to optimize the many benefits of Vitamin D (See these previous blog posts on how to get safe sun exposure and supplement vitamin D in the winter: and )  Also, sunlight delivers more than UV light!

Sunlight exposure has many has many other proven benefits beyond Vitamin D production including:

Sunlight kills bad bacteria on the skin and is proven to improve psoriasis, acne, eczema and fungal infections of the skin.

UVA exposure from the sun causes skin to release stores of nitric oxide which is a potent signaling molecule with many benefits including vasodilation of blood vessels that can lower blood pressure and improve erectile function.     Nitric Oxide is also critical for proper immune function.

UVA and UVB exposure cause endorphin release which is relaxing and produces a strong analgesic effect helping to reduce pain.   Endorphins also act as a potent anti-depressant. 

Sunlight exposure early in the day is critical for proper sleep/wake cycle – sunlight signals received through the yes signal the master timekeeper in the brain, the suprachiasmic nucleus, that it is daytime and this keep time in all the peripheral “clocks” in the body so they function properly.   All cells express genes that keep cellular time and regular gene expression and activity.     For example skin cells exposed to UV light they expressed higher levels of two “clock” genes that control cellular circadian activity.  

Decreased sunlight exposure during daytime negatively affects circadian rhythms and night-time melatonin production so while night-time exposure to light (and blue light in particular) decreases melatonin secretion – daytime exposure (particularly early morning after first waking up) increases it later in the night!

The infrared rays of the sun penetrate the skin deeply producing many benefits including:

Increased Circulation

Helps reduce blood pressure

Helps prevent sunburns – so early morning sun exposure (when there is a high percentage of Infrared and reduced UV) can paradoxically help prevent sunburn later in the day.

Reduces pain and stiffness – this a very real benefit which is why you see animals like cats sit in the sun and stretch!

So enjoy safe sun exposure every day to reap these many benefits.   The key is pre-burn exposure.       Morning sun exposure (prior to 11am is very safe in most locations) and will greatly improve circadian rhythms and sleep while mid-day exposure is key for Vitamin D production.      To learn how to get safe sun exposure read the two previous blog posts mentioned above.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding for Core Strength, Balance and Total Body Fitness!

Stand-up Paddle Boarding (SUP) is a fun activity that almost anyone can learn, and it is one of the best workouts available!   Stand-up Paddle Boarding is low impact and provides a combination of balance, core, strength, and endurance.     Since you are standing you have to use everything from your feet (wow do you use your feet!) all the way up through your entire shoulder girdle.    

Because you are standing your arms never have to go above shoulder height which means that there is much less stress on the rotator cuff muscles than kayaking.    You use your shoulders heavily but your shoulders are stressed in the position where they are naturally most stable and strong so much better than kayaking for those with shoulder and neck issues!

Just standing on a Paddle Board forces you to stabilize your entire body and core, and it is one of the best activities available to develop balance.   Best of all if you do fall you land in the water and getting back on the board is very easy!  

SUP Technique Breakdown
Learning to SUP is easy but mastering the stroke and maximizing your speed takes lot of practice.   The first thing to focus on is NOT pulling the water!     Instead you want to plant the blade in the water and pull yourself and the board up to the paddle blade.   Imagine that you are stabbing the paddle firmly into soft sand then pulling yourself and the board up to the paddle.     If you can clearly visualize the difference here it will go a long way to getting your stroke where it needs to be for optimum speed.   Think about grabbing the water NOT pulling the water by you!

Once you get a little feel for it start looking at how far you are reaching forward to put your paddle in the water.   You want to reach as far as possible each time you stroke, BUT there is a limit based on your particular anatomy, shoulder strength and balance.    If you reach too far you can overstress your low back, shoulder or just be off balance which is counter-productive.

This is where the blade of the paddle enters the water.    Make sure the entire blade enters the water before you begin to pull.   The catch should be as smooth and clean as possible with no splashing.

Now you are ready to apply power to the paddle.   Use your entire body for this part of the stroke.   It is NOT about using your arms.   Rather your arms merely connect you to the paddle through your hands and you use the rotation of your torso, hips, and shoulders to drive your paddle!  Try to relax your arms as much as possible to perfect this technique. Do not pull too far back as this will actually slow you down.   Once the paddle passes your hips if you keep pull you are actually pulling the paddle up meaning you are pulling the paddle board down and this only slows you down.

After the pull you need to release the paddle from the water.    Like the catch you want this movement to be quick, smooth, and with zero splashing.   Feathering the blade of the paddle creates a smooth release and set-up for the next catch.   You feather by dropping your top shoulder, “breaking your wrist inward”, or a combination of both.  

Once you release the paddle you are ready to set-up for the next catch and pull.   Try to relax during this phase – the key to optimum paddle technique is learning to set a rhythm between tension and relaxation and ultimately getting your breathing into a rhythm with the stroke.  The first time you feel this come together it is amazing – really zen!  So stay relaxed and let go of the tension you produced in the catch and pull and smoothly swing the paddle forward to prepare to drive the blade fully into the water for the next pull!

How many calories can you burn Paddle Boarding?
Obviously your actual calorie burn will depend on the intensity of effort you are putting into to paddling along with your height, weight, and the wind and water conditions you are paddling in.     However here are some estimates based on people weighing between 165 and 200lbs :

            Casual Paddle Boarding – 300 – 430 calories per hour
Yoga on Paddle Board – 416 – 540 calories per hour
Touring on a Paddle Board – 615 – 708 calories per hour
Surfing on a Paddle Board – 623 – 735 calories per hour
Racing a Paddle Board – 715 – 1,125 calories per hour

So if you have not taken the plunge yet – google “Stand-up Paddle Board Rental” and find a rental location and give it a whirl.   Rentals including paddle, board, and lifejacket are generally $25 - $35 per hour so get out there and give it a go!   

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Muscle Increases Metabolic Rate and other Surprising Benefits of Resistance Training

Because the muscles function as the engines of our bodies they play a major role in maintaining our metabolic rate.    Even at rest, muscles account for almost 30% of the total calories burned because muscles require lots of caloric energy for muscle remodeling which happens 24 hours per day.    For those who do not perform resistance training exercise, each pound of their muscle uses approximately 6 calories per day.   However, for those of us who perform resistance exercise regularly each pound of our muscle uses approximately 9 calories per day because of higher levels of muscle remodeling and building stimulated by resistance training.

The key take home is that the resting energy requirements of strength trained muscles is 50% higher than the energy requirements of non-strength trained muscle!   In addition, stronger muscles allow you to perform physical activity at a higher level which increase the energy demands of exercise as well.    Actual overall resting metabolic rate increases approximately 7% for 3 full days following a strength training session!   Over the course of a year, this increase can add up to the energy contained in 10lbs of fat.   Put another way strength trained muscle can help you lose 10lbs of fat over the course of a year.

Strength training is also highly effective for regulating blood sugar.   Your muscles are your largest storage area for sugar, in the form of glycogen, so larger and stronger muscles help pull out more sugar from your blood.   Strength training also increases insulin sensitivity and glycemic control for enhanced sugar transport from your blood to your muscles.

Resistance training has also been shown to reduce resting blood pressure and decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.   In fact, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association both recommend regular resistance training to combat cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

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 Push-down 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.    Continue to perform repetitions to the farthest point possible (say 50 – 75% of the full range of motion) and 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 repetitions after 4 – 6 reps limiting your ability to go full-range.   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 exercise.   

For Squats best to use a flat, circular band – and 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 attach to the flat, circular resistance training band or use bands with handles.

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 -

Upright Rows 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.   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
              75% of Full Range of Motion
              40 – 50% of Full Range of Motion
              25 – 35% of Full Range of Motion

Buying Bands
A great source for these flat circular bands is either Amazon or and another great option is the X3 bar.