Check Yourself to Protect Yourself

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Currently, 1 in 8 women in the US have breast cancer. It’s critical for women to do monthly exams and to go for regular screenings. Let’s discuss what breast cancer is and how early detection is key for survival.

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow and multiply abnormally. This can happen if the genes in a cell that control cell growth no longer work properly. As a result, the cell divides uncontrollably and may form a tumor. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Many breast lumps are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. That means they can’t spread and are not life-threatening. Malignant tumors are cancerous. If left untreated, the cancer can invade surrounding tissue and spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.

Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). There are also other types of breast cancer that are less common. A small number of cancers start in other tissues in the breast. These cancers are called sarcomas and lymphomas and are not really thought of as breast cancers. Although many types of breast cancer can cause a lump in the breast, not all do.  Many breast cancers are found on screening mammograms which can detect cancers at an earlier stage, often before they can be felt, and before symptoms develop.

You may notice symptoms on your own that could be suspicious. If you notice any of the following, consult your doctor immediately:

  • a lump or thickness in or near the breast or under the arm
  • unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, particularly on one side only
  • dimpling or puckering of the breast
  • nipple discharge (fluid) other than breast milk that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • breast skin changes, such as redness, flaking, thickening, or pitting that looks like the skin of an orange
  • a nipple that becomes sunken (inverted), red, thick, or scaly

Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will definitely get breast cancer. Many women with risk factors never do. Your risk for breast cancer rises as you get older. About 80% of breast cancers are found in women over age 50 — many of whom have no other known risk factors for the disease. Although you’re two to three times more likely to get breast cancer if you have a strong family history of the disease, only 5-10% of breast cancers are inherited, meaning that they are linked to gene mutations passed down in families, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Several other risk factors may slightly boost your chances of getting breast cancer. These include:

  • Gender: Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future.
  • Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Certain Genome Changes: Mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk for breast cancer. This is determined through a genetic test, which you may consider taking if you have a family history of breast cancer. Individuals with these gene mutations can pass the gene mutation onto their children.
  • Dense Breast Tissue: Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of having dense breasts are.

If you have breast cancer, knowing the stage helps guide your treatment plan. Breast cancer is typically staged with Roman numerals ranging from 0 (the earliest stage) to IV (the most advanced stage). The stages of breast cancer are used to describe the extent of your cancer at the time of diagnosis. Your doctor will base the stage of your cancer on a physical exam and other diagnostic tests. This is known as clinical stage. The final, or pathologic, stage is determined after surgery when the size of the cancer is measured under a microscope and it is definitely known if there is cancer in the lymph nodes. Cancer stages are based on:

  • whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive
  • the size of the tumor
  • whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to the lymph nodes, and if so, to how many of them
  • whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver

Your doctor will assign a stage to your cancer after your physical exam and the initial results from your mammogram or other diagnostic imaging test. The stage may be adjusted after lab reports from your breast biopsy or surgery. In determining the stage of your cancer, your doctor will take into account what is called the T-N-M scale: T meaning tumor size; N relating to the involvement of nearby lymph nodes; and M referring to whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) beyond the breast to other parts of your body.

In conclusion, early detection is key to beating this horrible disease. Millions of women each year celebrate survival. Self-exams should be performed along with regular check-ups with your doctor. Those with a family history or other risk factors, should be even more diligent. A little extra time out of your day can make all the difference in your tomorrow.

References:

American Cancer Society

Memorial Sloan Kettering

National Breast Cancer Foundation

BreastCancer.Org

By Gina Stallone

Bringing Awareness to an Invisible Illness

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels. 1 out of 10 women have this illness. Despite this ratio, experts believe that more than half of women with PCOS don’t even realize they have it. September is PCOS Awareness Month, where we shed some light on this invisible illness.

Women with PCOS have slightly higher levels of testosterone and androgen in the body than normal for the average woman. Despite the name, you may not necessarily have ovarian cysts. Symptoms can sometimes present themselves at the onset of a girl’s period; however, many won’t notice anything until they’ve gained a significant amount of weight or have trouble getting pregnant. In some cases, women don’t find out they have PCOS until after they have their first child. The most common symptoms are irregular periods, heavy bleeding, excess hair growth, acne, weight gain, male-pattern baldness, darkening of the skin, fatigue, and headaches. PCOS is also linked with chronic inflammation, which can leave you feeling achy, fatigued, and it contributes to weight gain.

Along with the myriad of symptoms, one of the biggest issues with PCOS is how it affects your ability to become and/or stay pregnant. In fact, it is the leading cause of female infertility. Between 70 and 80 percent of women with PCOS have fertility problems. This condition can also increase the risk of complication during pregnancy. Women with PCOS are twice as likely as women without the condition to deliver their baby prematurely. They’re also at greater risk for miscarriage, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. However, hope is not lost. Having PCOS does not mean you will be incapable of becoming pregnant naturally; it just may take longer than others. Losing weight and lowering blood sugar levels can improve your odds of having a healthy pregnancy. Women with PCOS can also get pregnant using fertility treatments that improve ovulation.

There is no cure for PCOS; however, there are several medications and treatments your doctor may suggest. Medications such as birth control & metformin are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and/or regulate your period. Fertility medicines may also be recommended for those trying to become pregnant. Your doctor may require regular tests and follow up visits to be sure that the treatment/medication is working properly and to adjust if necessary. Some doctors may also recommend supplements, including berberine, folate, B12, vitamin D, and inositol. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and weight control are also key treatments for PCOS. Unfortunately, it can be more challenging to lose weight and to maintain weight loss with PCOS. Some recommended foods to avoid are foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and muffins, sugary snacks and drinks, and inflammatory foods, such as processed and red meats. Many women with PCOS often have higher than normal insulin levels. Doctors advise that just a slight weight reduction and increase of exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help from your OB/GYN as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be on the path to feeling better!

By: Gina Stallone

Fit to be Fit

Break Out The Bands

This week we tackle an entire workout using bands. Bands are great to increase mobility & strength while helping you focus on your form. They are perfect for beginners and those recovering from an injury however, they are good at any point in your journey. Always start with a light band and progress to a heavier band as you get stronger. For more information about the bands used or for any questions you may have, email Gina@thearena.fit or visit www.thearenafitness.com

Why Bigger Classes are Not Always Better

Group exercise classes are an extremely popular method of exercising in our society. Fitness seekers enjoy the energy, music, and camaraderie of a group setting. Many people prefer this type of workout rather than working out alone. There seems to be a class for every population and every fitness level.  Due to this group class craze, there is now a range of individual studios that focus only on one specific group exercise, such as spin, yoga, boot camps, Pilates, Zumba, or running. While there can be benefits to group exercise classes, they often negatively impact your progress and prohibit you from reaching your goals.

Each one of us if different. We all have different bodies, comprised of different muscle fibers, strengths, cardiovascular conditioning, injuries, pains, flexibility, balance, lifestyles, and stresses.  So, how can one exercise class be right for everyone? One important goal of exercise is to make sure that you are making individual improvements in strength and weight loss, and to ensure you are performing the exercises correctly for your body type to prevent injuries.

One of the potential problems with large group exercise classes is the teacher to client ratio. It is impossible for an instructor to adequately spot and correct the form of everyone in the class throughout the entire session. Therefore, exercisers may be putting too much strain on certain joints, may not be activating the correct muscles, and may be hurting or straining their backs. This can lead to orthopedic issues, which include muscle tears, muscle strains, and disc problems. Secondly, the activity level of the class may vary. Therefore, some people may be working out too hard while others are not getting the correct amount of stimulation. Because of the class size, it is unlikely teachers will offer modifications to make sure each person is exercising at the correct intensity.  Next, because of the group dynamic, exercisers may be pushed harder than they are capable of working in order to keep up with the group and to be a part of the crowd.   This can be very dangerous if your body is not physically able to perform the class.

Further, the recent surge of group exercise classes has been associated with an increase in rhabdomyolysis, which is a condition that is caused by extreme exercise and could be potentially life threatening. While some muscle damage is normal and beneficial for muscle growth, rhabdomyolysis occurs when the stress is so great that fibers are destroyed and break apart to release myoglobin, which is harmful to the liver. According to the American Journal of Medicine, doctors have been finding that some people, especially beginners, have developed rhabdomyolysis after taking a high intensity spin class. This condition does not only affect spinners; in fact, doctors found it associated with any type of excessive weight training, running, P90X, and CrossFit Classes. It is important to note that not all the people who developed rhabdomyolysis were unfit; they were pushed too hard and then developed muscle trauma. It is extremely important to give muscles adequate time to adjust to new exercises. When you start any kind of new exercise program, try a less intense version to start. Work your way up gradually and know your limits! Do not ignore signs of injury and make sure to rest!

Working out in a group can be very motivating and empowering. This dynamic is the reason that many people go to the gym.  A room filled with loud music and enthusiastic peers can be more uplifting than sitting on a stationary bike by yourself. If you are group class advocate, it is important to know your limits and to abide by them. Wear a heart rate monitor and perform a self-check to see how you feel during the class. Additionally, it would be extremely beneficial to schedule an individual session with a personal trainer to make sure your form and positioning is correct so you can self-adjust during exercise classes.  A trainer can also help you come up with modifications unique to your body type and limitations. Another option is semi-private training or small group classes where the teacher can be more hands-on and helpful.

Make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck from your fitness routine.  Exercise is extremely beneficial both mentally and physically. That is why it is so important to make sure that you are maximizing your time and effort.  Large group exercise classes are not tailored to individual needs. This may cause injuries and also prevent some people from reaching their full potential and optimizing their health. Please be an educated consumer and work out to your full potential!

 

by Denise Groothuis

Gina

My Fight to Be Fit

Anyone who has ever been overweight knows just how hard of a process it actually is. Every single day is a struggle. Like many others, those struggles began for me as a child. I played sports and was fairly active during the summer but not all year round. As a result, my weight reached 180lbs by the time I entered high school. High school can be rough on any kid…but when you struggle with weight it’s that much worse. By senior year, I developed significant problems with my eating. I didn’t know that I had a “real” problem because I was never underweight and I was never formally diagnosed with any type of eating disorder. I’d go from eating one meal a day to, at my worst, one piece of candy or cracker per day. I made myself sick, which ultimately got me to eat again but not nearly enough. As the years have gone on, I’ve come to realize I suffered from what is known as Atypical Anorexia. That disorder continued to plague throughout college and ultimately ended with my spending upwards of 2 hours a day in the gym, barely eating, and drinking (heavily) every weekend. I got down to 130lbs and while I looked great…I didn’t feel it. Looking back on it, I had worked really hard in the gym but done nothing about my diet…or my mental state.

What many people in the fitness industry don’t truly understand is how much of this process is actually mental. You could do all of the right exercises and have the best diet…but if your head isn’t in the game…you won’t be either and that will almost ALWAYS catch up with you. It did for me.

Over the course of my entire life, I probably did almost every fad diet there was. At the time where I was living at the gym, I was also on the South Beach Diet. Like most other fads, once I stopped living in the gym and doing that diet, I gained a lot of the weight back. Over the course of the next 5 years, between health issues, medication and a lack of exercise, my weight climbed to an all-time high of 210lbs. I was miserable and completely clueless as to how I could change it. I needed help but I didn’t know where to turn. Enter the Biggest Loser and Jillian Michaels. The show has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few years for people gaining the weight back. Anyone who drops a crazy amount of weight without changing their mindset and, subsequently, their lifestyle, will fail. That’s just a given. Those who used the show as a method to change their life have stuck with it and their results have lasted. Those who used the show as a game and a chance to win money and fame…have not succeeded. It’s not easy. You have to work at this every single day. But that show, that woman…completely changed my life. If it wasn’t for the one night I turned on that show…I may not be where I am today. I began going to the gym the very next day and I never looked back. To date, I’ve lost and kept off about 80lbs & gone from squeezing into a size 14 to comfortably wearing a size 2/4.

It hasn’t all been roses & sunshine. I didn’t know much when I started. It took me a long time to lose weight and figure out what worked for my body. I began, like many others, by doing a ton of cardio. Slowly, with the help of online videos and Jillian DVDs, I began to incorporate weights into my routine. Without the proper guidance though, I ended up overtraining and doing many exercises incorrectly. This gave way to a serious shoulder injury, which landed me in surgery last October. I became a trainer and nutritionist so I could help others see that they weren’t alone in this fight and give them the guidance that I never had.

Since starting at The Arena, I’ve gone from a personal trainer to a professional. I will still argue that while you may lose some muscle, fasted cardio is the key to my fat loss. After all, every person’s body is different. However, I’m learning more and more everyday just how bad some of the most common exercises are and how they’ve created pain & made my pre-existing injuries that much worse.

Despite negative feedback and research, the Biggest Loser is the reason I got off the couch and did something about my weight. Was it the best, most credible source? Maybe not but it sure was the driving force behind my motivation and what kept me going every single day. I watched season 14 and I connected with the cast and trainers. I used Jillian’s voice as my motivation…and I made a change because of it. I may not have known the proper form or done the safest exercises but I got off my butt and got to the gym. I toned down the partying and eating out. I made small changes and learned how to implement a healthier lifestyle. I did the best that I could with the limited resources available to me. I also did it the smart way – making sure to not restrict myself or start some crazy exercise regimen. I made it work for ME…and it’s stuck 4 ½ years later. Along the way I’ve learned how to exercise safer and what proper form actually is. I’ve learned that I don’t need a TON of cardio to shed fat…but that for my terrible metabolism, I definitely need some. Most importantly, I found balance. Something I strived for my entire life. Now I want to help others do the same.

By: Gina Stallone

Gina holds weekly bootcamp classes every Tuesday & Thursday and is available for small group & individual training. Contact gina@thearena.fit for more information.

See Gina’s videos and articles here: Fight to Be Fit

See Gina’s interview with THE ARENA’s CEO Charles DeFrancesco

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Why Functional Medicine?

Have you ever gone to the doctor with a laundry list of symptoms and he/she is unable to diagnose your ailment or offer solutions? Or have you tried multiple prescriptions and therapies for symptoms that you can’t seem to alleviate? That is because conventional medicine treats the disease state instead of the individual person. Conventional medicine does not treat the causes of the disease; instead, its purpose is to diagnose and to treat the signs and symptoms of a disease state AFTER a patient’s symptoms have progressed. This is just a band aid and ultimately does not restore health or promote wellness.

The purpose of functional medicine is to identify and to alleviate the causes of disease while seeking to determine how and why the illness progressed. With proper treatment, most chronic disease is preventable and curable since chronic disease is a result of dysfunction in our bodies. This dysfunction is caused by genetics, lifestyle choices, and the environment.  Since each person is different, the root causes of disease may vary from person to person. Both the environment and genetics influence the body’s physiological symptoms, and they must be investigated to correct clinical imbalances. Functional medicine relies on research from nutritional science, genomics and epigenics to create personalized, individual treatment plans. Patients and practitioners work together to alleviate and to reverse the causes of disease at the cellular level.  Instead of treating disease states with medications and surgery, functional medicine focuses on lifestyle and environmental changes including diet, nutrition, exercise, stress, and psychosocial issues. It combines western medical practice with alternative therapies such as supplements, herbs, detoxification programs, therapeutic diets, and stress management techniques.

Many patients who visit functional medicine practitioners find that after years of unsuccessful treatments, they now feel dramatically better. My personal story is a great example of why I advocate for functional medicine practitioners. In my mid-twenties, I developed symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and every night I was plagued by terrible stomach pains and bowel issues. For ten years I sought treatment from GI doctors, who could only offer me my diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. They said there was no treatment, and while some doctors did recommend some different food choices,  I could not correct my problems. I thought I was doomed!

In my thirties, a friend recommended that I see a functional medicine practitioner, and my choice to follow that path has been life changing. The first thing my functional medicine doctor said to me was, “We know that your bowel is irritable, but why is it irritable?” After a detoxification diet, a heavy dose of probiotics, and some herbal supplements to heal the inflammation in my gut and to improve my gut flora, I ceased having irritable bowel symptoms. After some trial and error, we discovered my personal dysfunction and how to treat my individual issues. I still have to be careful with what I eat and I had to learn my triggers, but I was able to heal.

My goal is for anyone plagued by symptoms they can’t alleviate to seek treatment other than conventional medicine. This is not a boycott of regular medical checkups or therapies. Conventional medicine has its place, especially in advanced disease states. However, sometimes a combination of conventional medicine and functional medicine is the correct path to follow for optimal health and wellness. Research has shown that conventional medicine needs to catch up with the current studies.

Fit to be Fit

Lower Body Workout – Circuit Style

Circuit training is a GREAT way to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. Be sure to take your time and drink plenty of water as you do this workout!

Cutting calories on white background

Not All Calories Are Equal

From a young age we are taught that the key to maintaining weight is to burn off as many calories as we ingest. We also have learned that weight loss occurs when we consume less calories than we expend, and that we gain weight when we eat more than we burn off. However, research over the past decade has shown us that this formula may not be quite as simple as it seems.

A calorie is actually a measurement of heat energy. Specifically, it is the amount of energy  that is needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.  This heat energy is what gives our body fuel.  Our calories come from the protein, fat and carbohydrates that we eat. Protein and carbohydrates have 4 kcal/g, fat has 9 kcal/g, and alcohol has 7 kcal/g.

Current research shows us that the source of our calories is extremely important, and that different food groups affect our weight status differently. It is a myth that a calorie is just a calorie. While all calories do have the same amount of energy – 4184 Joules of energy – our body reacts to the sources of calories differently. This is because we digest and absorb various types of food differently. Those foods go through diverse biochemical pathways and affect hormones in the body, which may also affect satiety and hunger.

As stated above, different foods are digested and go through different metabolic pathways, some of which are more efficient than others.  Protein requires a lot more energy to metabolize than fats or carbohydrates. When protein is ingested, it requires more energy to digest and absorb, which uses more energy.  Therefore, the calories ingested from protein are less fattening than carbohydrate or fat calories.

Another benefit to protein is that it increases satiety more than the other macronutrients. Appetite is reduced and less food and calories are consumed, which may lead to weight loss. This just demonstrates that the type of food that you eat is extremely important, and that all calories are NOT the same.

Further, people who eat whole foods rather than processed foods tend to eat less and have less issues with obesity. Whole foods require more energy to break down and digest than processed foods. This is because many processed foods contain refined carbohydrates, which are low in fiber, low in nutrients, and usually have a high glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested quickly and rapidly spike blood sugar levels. This causes food cravings and increased hunger and food intake.

Additionally, foods high in fiber are less likely to cause weight gain. This is because more energy is needed to breakdown the food, and much of the fiber is not absorbed into the body but rather is excreted as waste. Therefore, the body is not necessarily getting the amount of calories listed on the label.

The take home message is not to worry about counting your calories to lose weight. The food choices that you make are much more important for both your health and for your weight. Different food sources affect energy expenditure, hormones, and hunger, which all affect satiety and weight gain. Think about what you are eating rather than how many calories you are eating and look at your food a little differently. If you change your perspective, you will ultimately reach your goals and get healthy!

 

By Denise Groothuis

mens health

Breaking the Silence on Men’s Health

It’s important for everyone to take responsibility for their own health. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially among men. Research shows that women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. June is National Men’s Health month, in which we heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection & treatment of disease among men and boys.

There is a silent health crisis in America. On average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women. The health of men in America is steadily deteriorating, largely due to poor health education, lack of awareness, and culturally induced behavior patterns. This has caused a silent health crisis, whereby men face higher mortality rates than women for 9 of the 10 leading causes of death, in addition to a shorter life span. Today men, on average, die almost five years earlier than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Men are dying at significantly higher rates than women for the top 10 causes of death. This crisis in men’s health has very little to do with physiology. It has to do with the tendency of men to not seek care for their health issues. No matter the age, men have issues with things that don’t have every day symptoms, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Studies show that an alarming 13 million men have diabetes, while 450,000 die each year from heart disease! While genetics certainly play a role in getting both, so does lifestyle. The same cardio-metabolic risk factors that lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions are just as prevalent in men as in women. However, if more men sought diagnosis and treatment for those risks, their chances of controlling or eliminating those conditions would increase dramatically. High blood pressure has been referred to as “the silent killer” because people are often unaware that they have an issue. Have your blood pressure and your cholesterol checked often by your doctor, and closely follow any prescribed treatment they provide. In addition, you should exercise and eat right. By exercising moderately for about 30 minutes per day and eating a well-balanced diet with limited cholesterol and no saturated fats, you will be off to a good start. Always be sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, and limit your alcohol consumption as well.

Along with heart disease, cancer is among the top two leading causes of death among men, with prostate cancer being one of the most prevalent. The prostate gland is prone to three main conditions — 1). inflammation that can cause burning or painful urination, the urgent need to urinate, trouble urinating and other symptoms;  2). benign enlargement that can compress the urethra and slow or stop the flow of urine, a condition that affects about ¾ of men over 60; and 3).  prostate cancer, affecting about 1 in 7 men during their lifetime. As men approach their 40s, familiarity with the prostate gland becomes important. The prostate gland is a walnut sized male accessory sex gland that rests in front of the bladder. It usually enlarges with age and can constrict the urinary tube, thereby causing trouble with urination. Symptoms can include: diminished urinary stream, excessive nighttime urination, increased frequency and urgency.

 

by Gina Stallone