The Right Training To Improve Flexibility

Filed under :Exercise

In the history of sports and physical activity, it has been believed that improvement of flexibility via stretching reduced the risk of exercise related injuries. Nowadays, there is very limited evidence from research to support the concept that stretching will prevent injuries. In some sports, high degree of flexibility can even induce the likelihood of an injury. One example is in contact sports where less flexibility increases shoulder stability, hence less likelihood to get injured.

Although, improving ones flexibility may not decrease the chance of exercise-induced injury, it is still important to be able to move joints through a full range of motion in some sports. For example, having good hip flexibility will increase the range of motion for Muay Thai kicks and other martial arts.

There are two types of stretching; static and dynamic. As their names imply, static stretching is continuously holding of a stretch position, where dynamic stretching is when movements are not controlled. Both techniques can result in improvement in flexibility, although static stretching is considered to be the superior one. The reason for that is simple; less chance for injury, less muscle spindle activity, and there is less chance of muscle soreness.
Research has shown that thirty minutes of static stretching exercises, twice per week, improve flexibility in about five weeks.
It is recommended that the stretch position is held for 10 seconds at the beginning of a flexibility program and increased to 60 seconds after several training sessions. Each stretch position should be repeated about 3-5 times and progress up to 10 repetitions.

In general, stretching is good for the body for many additional reasons, such as: reduce muscle tension, increase blood circulation, increase energy levels, and most important, it feels very good!

Don’t forget to enjoy your stretching!


Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

Stress… Some may feel it occasionally, while others may become chronically stressed out.

Most people turn to medications or psychological therapy when it comes to chronic stress, anxiety and depression.
Medications may be the first solution to such problems, which I am highly against for most cases. While I do believe that some counseling may be beneficial to relieve stress and it may involve a friend, a family member, or a professional.

I believe that most of stress, anxiety, and depression can be treated or at least alleviated by performing some kind of physical activity. About two decades ago, such a statement would not be well recognized by the public and most physicians, while today there is much research that supports this.
Still, today, when you go to the doctor with one of the above issues the most likely treatment would not be exercise. Not because the doctor does not believe in its powers, but because of the health system industry, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. There is too much money involved, and exercise can be obtained practically free.

For example, take the natural evolutionary response that we have developed over millions of years which helped us survive thus far: the “fight-or-flight” response. Severe stress activates the emergency phase which mobilizes the body and the brain. The main point is to mobilize the body to relive the consequence on the response; run, jump, basically “move”. For example, when a lion attacks a zebra, the zebra will not stand in place and stress out what should it do next. The zebra responds physically by running away. While in the modern world, we do not get to run away from a stressful situation, instead we dwell on it. Imagine you are at work and your boss approaches you in regards to a mistake you have made. You may start feeling the natural stress response, but you can’t act on it. By acting on it, you could have slapped your boss and start running away. Instead, you listen, stress out and dwell on it. This response if left untreated will convert to biological stress and express its damaging effects on the body.

Therefore when we exercise in response to stress, we do what human beings have evolved to do – it’s that simple! In certain situations we may not be able to respond immediately to the stressor, as in the above work place example, however we can relieve that response by exercising afterwards. It’s a great idea to exercise after a work day.

By exercising regularly, stress will not accumulate. Additionally, exercising regularly will also resolve the chronic stress problems that so many people experience.

For sudden immediate stress or frustrations I would suggest performing outburst of physical activity, such as jumping jacks, short brisk walk, or anything else you can come up with.

Basically, my main “Rx” for stress would be physical, not verbal, or chemical (i.e. medications).
Try this next time – you will see how much this can actually help you!

“Music is like a legal drug for athletes”

Filed under :Exercise

I can’t imagine life without music. Many would agree that the world would be a dull and sad place without its contribution. As much as it’s hard for one to imagine a celebration, or any other occasion without music, I can’t imagine exercising without my favorite tunes! From personal experience, my favorite songs make my workouts more productive and enjoyable.

Some reasons to how music can positively benefit your workout (besides making it more fun) may be: moving with the beat of the music tends to keep you going synchronously, music tends to increase your desire to move rather than sit or rest, and music tends to distract you from feeling exercise exertion-this way you keep on going rather than give up.

Three similar studies by Schwartzmiller (2003), Johnson (2004), and Kapingst (2010) compared groups that listened to music while exercising to groups that didn’t listen to music. “Combined data illustrated that as the beat of the music increased, power output and resultant exercise intensity increased.” Another study by Prieboy (2009) which examined the effect of music and exercise exertion concluded; “Ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were lowest when subjects listened to self-selected music, despite a constant exercise workload.” Many other studies suggest similar results to the positive effect of music on exercise!

The bottom line is that by increasing the beat frequency you will tend to go faster or work harder. By listening to music, you will tend to enjoy exercise more while focus less on your breathing and perceive it to be less exhausting. And most importantly you get to enjoy your workout with your favorite songs!

“The Conclusion”

Filed under :Chicago vs. Suburbs

Here is the conclusion of a year long research project that i have conducted for the University of Illinois at Chicago…
Thank you to all that participated and contributed to this study… 🙂

“Health Related Lifestyle Trends of Close Proximity Populations;
With Focus on Young Adults of the North Side and the North/North West Chicago Suburbs”

Young adults (ages 18-25), residents of either the North City of Chicago or North/North West Chicago suburbs were surveyed about the physiological, psychological, and environmental attitude of their general lifestyle trends. Based on the results, a greater level of physical activity exists in the North Chicago area; lower rates of “eating out” in the North/North West Chicago Suburbs location; and both populations agreed for City of Chicago being the overall healthier location.

The North Chicago location has demonstrated higher levels of general physical activity and exercise when compared to the North/North West Chicago suburbs area, due to the use of other modes of transportation besides the automobile (e.g. public transportation, bicycle, and walking), as well as more planned regular physical activity weekly. On the other hand, the North Chicago location demonstrated “eating out” more frequently than the North/North West Chicago location due to the proximity of restaurants and fast food places. Both, the North Chicago and North/North West Chicago suburbs population had the same attitude towards diet awareness and body image, which indicated that location, does not seem to play a role in diet awareness and body image when the locations are in such close proximity. Finally, both populations came to the agreement that the City of Chicago has a “healthier lifestyle in terms of diet and physical activity”. This may be due to the common belief that urban settings pay more attention to “health, lifestyle, body shape, and appearance”.

While both locations demonstrated some positives and negatives, overall Chicago seems to be attracting more young adults due to its characteristic lifestyle. This trend can be seen by the higher percentage of young adults in the Chicago area compared to the suburbs. Although, the location may play a role, all individuals should develop healthy lifestyle trends (healthy diet and regular physical activity) from a young age to make it a life long commitment and to prevent some of the chronic diseases that are correlated with inactive lifestyle and a bad diet.

Further study of close proximity populations in urban and rural areas with a greater number of subjects may be necessary to validate the trends observed in the current study of the Chicago-land area, as well as to find more conclusive explanations to these trends.

Modes of Transportation Related to Physical Health…

Filed under :Chicago vs. Suburbs, Health promoting

Regular physical activity has many benefits, including: reducing the risk of obesity and helping people live longer healthier lives. Yet, studies show that less then 10% of adults in the U.S. get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day (2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Walking and bicycling for daily transportation are important sources of physical activity, but they have dramatically declined over the last few decades.

Here are some key research findings, supporting the benefits of: walking, bicycling, and using public transportation as important physical activities:

  • People who used public transportation, (i.e. subway, bus, commuter rail, etc.) for any reason, were less likely to be sedentary, or obese – than the adults who did not use public transportation.  Those who use public transportation on average walk 30 minutes or more each day to and from public transportation stops.  Conversely, reliance on the automobile for all travel was associated with higher obesity rates (Environment and Behavior, 2007).
  • Proximity to public transportation stops is linked to higher transit use and, therefore, higher levels of physical activity among adults (American Journal of Health Promotion, 2007).
  • Walking as a form of transportation can have beneficial consequences for communities. Less driving helps relieve congestion. Also, the well-designed landscape and residential density will improve air quality more than the additional roadways. Regulatory and design strategies, including: traffic-calming measures, sidewalks, bike paths, and tunnels – help make communities safer for pedestrians and bicyclists (Public Works & Natural Resources, 2002).

Consider incorporating walking or public transportation into your everyday life!  Building-in these habits will help you keep active, burn calories, and maintain overall health.

The main two reasons that people report for not exercising are lack of energy and time. Well, physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous, nor does it have to consume a long amount of time to be beneficial.  It should be fairly easy to fit in at least 30 minutes of brisk walking, about five times a week, along with small lifestyle changes such as: parking the car in a farther spot, taking the stairs, or using public transportation – instead of the automobile.

I believe that once you start walking, you become physically active and may start doing additional physical activity, such as: running, or cycling – and you will be on your way to a healthier, happier, and more energetic “you”! 🙂

Diet and Personal Identity…

Filed under :Health promoting

“Food habits” refers to the way how we: use, select, obtain, prepare, serve, and of course, eat food.

Today, this can be divided to further complicated psychological concepts regarding eating and personality.

Did you ever hear of the term “You are what you eat”?

Would you agree with this concept regarding your diet, personality, and lifestyle?

Some cultures believe that because milk is a food for infants it will weaken adults, some consume gelatin to improve their bone strength (gelatin is made from animal bones), while others may eat walnuts to improve their brain health (walnuts resemble the brain in appearance).

The correlation between what people eat, how they are perceived by others, and how they characterize themselves is very interesting.

In one study, researchers listed foods typical of five diets: Vegetarian, gourmet, health food, fast food, and synthetic food. It was found that each category was associated with a certain personality type.  Vegetarians were considered to be pacifists and likely to drive foreign cars. Gourmets were believed to be liberal and sophisticated.  Health food fans were described as antinuclear activists and democrats. Fast food and synthetic food eaters were believed to be religious, conservative, and wearers of polyester clothing.  These stereotypes were confirmed by self description and personality tests completed by people whose diets fell into the five categories (Kittler, Sucher, Food and Culture).

Another study asked college students to rate profiles of people based on their diets.  The persons who ate “good” foods were judged thinner, fitter, and more active than persons with the identical physical characteristics and exercise habits who ate “bad” foods (Kittler, Sucher, Food and Culture).

My opinion is that the food choice is, in fact, influenced by self identity, and self expression.  I believe that you have to have a certain personality to be a: vegetarian, vegan, an omnivore, to love fast food, or prefer to be a health food fan!

“The Morning After a Workout”

Filed under :Uncategorized

When you start a new workout routine, or simply increase the intensity of your usual workout… you may feel great initially! But when you wake up the next morning that great feeling may subside, and all you can focus on is the constant ache and pain of your muscles.

This acute muscle pain is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.  It typically occurs several hours (or even 24-74) hours after an exercise.  It is usually experienced as muscular pain and tenderness.

It was once considered that the presence of lactic acid caused such pain in the muscles, but today it is known that lactic acid is removed from the muscle within an hour of intense exercise, and can’t therefore cause the delayed onset muscle soreness which normally begins about a day later.  It is now hypothesized that small ruptures in the muscle fibers (microfilaments of the muscle fibers) as well as ion leakage is the cause of the delayed onset of the muscle soreness.

One study examined the effect of massage on alleviating the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness.  This study had found that massage was effective in alleviating delayed onset muscle soreness by approximately 30% and reducing swelling (Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, 2006).  Another hypothesis, which is very popular and known to many, is that light exercise may alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness, and enhance recovery from muscle damage.  A study looked at this hypothesis and found that light exercise performed daily after maximal exercise inducing muscle damage has a temporarily analgesic (pain relief) effect on muscle soreness and tenderness; however, no beneficial effects on alleviating delayed onset muscle soreness and enhancing recovery of muscle function were found (Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism, 2006). Further study is necessary to investigate how the analgesic (pain relief) effect is produced and the extent of its duration.

Another interesting study that I found looked at the affect of warm up and cool down during an exercise routine.  Fifty-two healthy adults (23 men and 29 women aged 17 to 40 years) were examined and the study found that warm-up reduced perceived muscle soreness 48 hours after exercise; however cool-down had no apparent effect. In conclusion, warm-up performed immediately prior to exercise produces small reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down performed after exercise does not (Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 2007).  Again further study is needed to demonstrate these results and their mechanisms of action.

Delayed onset muscle soreness is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that you have damaged a muscle or have an injury.  There is some evidence that shows a reduction in pain with massage, light exercise, as well as a warm up prior to exercise may reduce the perceived muscle soreness.  Continued use of the sore muscle also has no adverse effect on recovery from delayed onset muscle soreness and does not increase muscle damage. It is also important to determine the optimum strategies for rest and/or activity in aiding recovery from exercise induced muscle damage.

You can prevent delayed muscle soreness by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program.  If the damage has been done, it usually disappears by itself 72 hours to several days after the exercise.  And the next time you work out your muscles will be “ready” and you will probably not be sore again…

What is Vinegar?

Filed under :Uncategorized

This post is dedicated to a special person that is confused over vinegar … 😉

Vinegar is prepared by the process of fermentation to cause sugars to break down into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  During a second fermentation, bacteria assist the alcohol to react with oxygen in the air to form acetic acid (which is the vinegar).  Vinegars range from different percentages of acetic acid (4-9%).  This level of acidity makes vinegar useful in preserving food, as bacteria cannot grow in such strong acid.  The acidity also enhances the flavor of food.  The most popular vinegars are made form grapes, apples, barley, maize, and rice.

Vinegar has no nutritional or caloric values.  Therefore often it is associated with weight loss and dieting.  Some studies even suggest that it can influence satiety! One study looked at the consumption of wheat bread served with vinegar vs. wheat bread served without vinegar by 15 healthy subjects.  The wheat bread with vinegar resulted in significantly higher satiety than the wheat bread meal without vinegar.  This may be explained by increased digestion after ingestion of the bread (Nutritional Journal, 2008). Another study indicates vinegar has the potential of reducing responses of blood glucose and insulin, and increasing the subjective rating of satiety (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005). In conclusion, consuming vinegar with food may increases satiety and reduces the amount of food consumed, hence help in weight loss.

Vinegar does not have any side effects, if consumed in reasonable amounts.  As indicated above it could help in weight management, and possibly help lower blood glucose (treatment for diabetics?).  Due to its acidity it can be used as a preservative, as well as an antibacterial solution.

Peanut Butter Goodness…

Filed under :Food Hypes, Health promoting

A food paste or spread made by grinding roasted peanuts (as the dictionary defines it). It is know to have a relatively high level of fat and consequently is a high calorie food. It’s important to remember though that it provides protein, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and other micronutrients!

I believe that every person has one food obsession (some may have more than one ;)) Peanut butter is my little secret. When I heard that one of my favorite trainers also has a small affair with this creamy (or chunky) treat, I had to dedicate a post to it.  In our workouts my trainer would tell us her stories and encounters with peanut butter which I find to be very amusing…

Even though it’s high content of saturated fats, peanut butter is considered to be a relatively healthy food.  There has been some research done on peanuts and peanut butter which I found to be very interesting and would like to share some of the information with you.

Numerous clinical trials suggest that nut consumption promotes little or no weight gain.  This has been replicated with peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts. This may be due to its strong satiety properties, and evoke strong energy compensation.

One study showed that there is limited bio-accessibility of the peanuts due to inefficient mastication and digestion.  This loss of energy likely contributes to the less than predicted effect of nut consumption on body weight (International Journal of Obesity, 2008).

Peanut butter contains fiber that helps regulate blood sugars levels (It is a low glycemic food), proteins are present in relatively high amounts (about 24% in weight), together with very important micro-nutrients such as Vitamin E – a powerful antioxidant, Vitamin B3 – helps in recovery of cell DNA damage, magnesium, and potassium.  Now about its fat content…Over 80% of the fat in peanut butter is unsaturated, which is heart healthy and, as with all plant foods, peanut butter contains no cholesterol!

The peanut butter that I’m talking about is the natural kind.  When you buy peanut butter at the grocery store look at the ingredients.  If it contains more than 2-3 ingredients you should rule it out. The more natural the peanut butter the more nutrients you will get out of it.  To get the most natural peanut butter I would suggest buying it in whole foods, or even making it at home.  All you need is peanuts and a food processor.

As with every food obsession, it is hard to control its consumption – It takes willpower for me to put away the container.  The recommended serving size for peanut butter is 2 tablespoons.  As with any other food, consuming too much is not “ok” because it’s considered a healthy food.  Moderating will give you a small indulgence with a lot of benefits!

The misconception of the B-complex vitamins and energy!

Filed under :Exercise, Food Hypes

The B-complex vitamins are very often associated with energy.  Any supplement or sports drink that contains the B-complex vitamins promises an increase in energy and performance, this is not quite true though!

The truth about the B vitamins is that they are cofactors in various enzymes in the metabolic pathways that produce energy from protein, carbohydrates, and/or fat.  That is the B vitamins are required by the body for the metabolism of these macronutrients for the body’s utilization for cell function.

This is why it is often mistaken (combined with the false claim on the bottles) as a supplement for energy!

Theoretically, exercise may increase or alter the need for B-complex vitamins in several ways.  Exercise stresses many of the metabolic pathways that require these micronutrients.  Exercise training may result in muscle biochemical adaptation that increase micronutrient need.  Exercise may also increase the turnover of these micronutrients, increasing their loss from the body.  Finally, higher intakes of micronutrients may be required to cover increased needs for the repair and maintenance of lean tissue.

So… do active people have higher need for the B-complex vitamins?

Exercise may slightly increase the need for some of the B-complex vitamins by one to two times the current RDA, but this increase need can generally be met by the higher energy intake required to maintain body weight!

Combining dieting for weight loss and exercise may increase the need for these vitamins.  Vitamins supplementation is recommended for active people who consume low energy diets or diets high in processed foods, or who restrict dietary intake of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.

Currently there is no data available to support improved exercise performance in people who supplement with B-complex vitamins!

If you are trying to get more energy or improve your exercise performance, you should eat a well balanced diet and get lots of sleep!