processed foods (1)

The Danger of Processed Foods

Processed foods are a staple in the American diet, and as a result, we are a heavier, sicker population overall. Processed foods are generally recognized as any food that comes in cans, bags, boxes, or jars, especially if they have a long list of ingredients on the label!  Processed foods are very easy and convenient; however, they contain many ingredients used to soften, preserve, color, emulsify, bleach, flavor, and hide odors.  These chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease. Consequently, processed foods should be avoided as much as possible.

One reason processed foods have negative health effects is because they are usually very high in sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This sugar laden food is filled with empty calories and negatively affects metabolism.  Additionally, excessive sugar intake has been linked with high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Fructose is especially damaging and toxic to the liver, since that is where it is primarily metabolized. It also turns directly into fat and leads to obesity and issues with the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), which also has a role in metabolism.

In addition to sugar, processed foods contain a large variety of artificial ingredients. These ingredients are not real food! They are chemicals used as preservatives, colorants, flavors, or texturants. Further, some of the chemicals in the food may not even be listed on the label and might be grouped in an all-encompassing term, such as “artificial flavors.” Supposedly, these chemicals have been tested for their safety, but how can all of these foreign chemicals actually be good for us?  A great deal of research shows that certain preservatives are linked to allergic reactions, cancer, and other health issues. For example, the preservative BHA affects the nervous system and has been shown to change behavior. Food colorings and flavorings also have negative health outcomes. In fact, nine food dyes are linked to hyperactivity and cancer, while a flavoring called diacetyl may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Processed foods are also high in refined carbohydrates, which pass through the digestive system quickly and raise blood glucose levels and insulin levels. This has been associated with many chronic diseases and negative health effects. Additionally, these foods are generally low in fiber, because the fiber is lost during processing. Fiber is responsible for slowing the absorption of food, increasing satiety, normalizing bowel movements, and lowering cholesterol.  When foods pass through the digestive system quickly, we require less calories to digest them. Therefore, in a shorter period of time, we can eat more and burn less, a recipe for weight gain!  Overall, there is very little nutritional value in processed foods, even when vitamins and mineral are “added back” into the foods.

Many people complain that they can’t stop snacking on processed foods, and they have intense cravings for these items. Research shows that many of these foods have been engineered to be rewarding and desirable to the brain, which makes the food addicting and makes it difficult to stop eating.  Even though our bodies are designed to regulate how much we eat, food manufacturers have designed their foods to be “hyper-rewarding” and to bypass these intrinsic regulators. Additionally, since processed foods are missing important components like water, fiber, and nutrients, the hormones in your body do not know how to respond or digest these foods properly.

Today’s society is busy, stressed and overwhelmed, so processed foods may seem like an easy solution. However, in order to remain productive and healthy, it is important to eat real food. Real food with real nutrients will make us look better and feel better!

Lower Back Pain

Living with Back Pain

Back pain can be a debilitating and life altering problem for many Americans. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 80% of Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Most of the time back pain is an uncomfortable annoyance, although in some cases, it may be serious and require medical attention. Pain is usually associated with how our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together.

While back pain can occur at any age, it more commonly effects those between 35-55 years old. Other risk factors for back pain include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, anxiety, depression, smoking, pregnancy, sleep disorders, obesity, strenuous physical activity, and strenuous exercise, especially if exercises are not performed correctly. There are many possible causes of back pain, but the most common is due to strained muscles, strained ligaments, and muscle spasms due to heavy lifting, improper lifting form, or abrupt or awkward movements. For most of the population, everyday activities, poor posture or a bad mattress are frequently responsible for back pain.  This may be the result of sitting or standing too long, driving for long periods, sitting in a hunched position, over-stretching, bending awkwardly, or pushing/pulling/carrying items. Back problems may also be due to structural problems, such as ruptured disks, bulging disks, sciatica, arthritis, scoliosis, or osteoporosis. More seriously, pain may sometimes be due to cancer of the spine, spinal infections, bladder or kidney infections, and shingles, so contact a doctor if your pain is accompanied by fever, inflammation, numbness, pain radiating down the legs, or incontinence.

In most cases, back pain can be treated at home and will not need imaging scans or treatment by a physician, though surgery may be indicated for those with structural issues.  For pain, doctors usually suggest over the counter NSAIDS, codeine, and cortisone injections. To alleviate pain, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, shiatsu, chiropractic manipulation, and osteopathy are also sometimes recommended. TENS therapy (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) may also be utilized; it emits small electric pulses through electrodes on the skin.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid back pain altogether?  Well, there are steps you can take to prevent the onset of back pain. First, adopt healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a normal body weight. Additionally, it is important to engage in regular exercise to build strength and flexibility. Physical activity also helps to prevent obesity, which, on its own, is a risk factor for back pain. It is also important to be aware of your posture both when sitting and standing and to correct poor posture as often as possible. When standing, keep a neutral pelvis with straight legs, stand upright, and keep your head forward. While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knees and hips are level. Your arms should be at right angles if you are using a keyboard, and your lower back should be supported. Next, be careful when lifting. Always bend your knees, never twist and lift, and push rather than pull objects!  Finally, make sure you have a supportive mattress so that your spine can remain straight.

If you follow these suggestions, you can help reduce the onset of back pain and also alleviate some of your discomfort if back pain does occur. Be as active as possible in a safe and effective way, and you can keep your body moving pain free as long as possible!

Skip the situp

Skip the Sit-Up

For many years, fitness professionals have used the sit-up as the exercise of choice for the core. It is important to train core muscles, which include the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, for both balance, stability, and strength.  Additionally, a tight core makes you look thinner, since generally you will have tight abs and a slimmer waistline! While most experts agree that a strong core is crucial to any exercise routine, there is some discrepancy on the best way to achieve this goal.  Those educated in the field contend that the sit-up is outdated and shouldn’t be used to exercise because it presents too great a risk of back injury.

According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, sit-ups can place hundreds of pounds of compressive force on the spine. McGill has published many studies and written over 200 scientific papers and found that repeatedly performing sit-ups and flexing can squeeze the discs in the spine. This may potentially lead to herniated discs, which press on the nerve and cause pain.

Old school sit-ups can be damaging to your lower back because the sit-up recruits and overuses the hip flexor muscles. When you perform a sit-up, you push your spine into the floor and use your hip flexor muscles to lift you up. Hip flexors that are too strong or too tight can pull on the lower back and create discomfort by compressing the lumbar discs and creating back spasms and lower back pain. For example, the psoas, one of the hip flexor muscles, runs from the upper thigh to the lower back, and when it is contracted, it causes the pelvis to shift into an anterior position, forward and down. This position may cause discomfort plus it may increases pressure on the disks. When the feet are anchored down, this exacerbates the problem. Additionally, many people contract the neck when performing sit-ups, causing neck strain.

The Canadian Armed Forces has recognized the negative repercussion of the sit-up and recently banned it from its fitness test. Many military experts in the US are trying to cut it from the Navy and Armed Forces as well. In fact, a commander at the navy was quote as saying that sit-ups don’t prepare us for daily life activities. Core strength is needed to pull, push, carry and lift, and the sit-up is not an effective way to stabilize the abs to perform these daily motions.

Instead of a traditional sit-up, McGill recommends a modified curl-up that he created where the hands palm down are positioned under the low back to lessen the pressure on the spine. The back should not be flattened on the ground, and the shoulders barely leave the floor. The crunch up should be slight in order to work the abdominal muscles; you do not have to crunch up very much. Additionally, it is possible to do a modified sit-up or crunch on a stability ball, but this not recommended for everyone, and a personal trainer should evaluate you to determine your individual level and physical limitations.

Another good core exercise is the plank because it recruits more muscles on the front, sides and back of the body instead of just a few target muscles like the sit-up does. Most of our activities of daily living, in addition to sports and recreational activities, require muscles to work together instead of in isolation like the sit-up. Using patterns of movement that are dynamic will help strengthen the entire set of core muscles used everyday.

Other research also supports the fact that the sit-up is not the best exercise for abdominal strength. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports, researchers found that exercises on a swiss medicine ball were more effective than the traditional bent knee sit-ups/crunches.

The sit-up has continued to remain popular because the general population believes they cannot have tight, toned abs without them in their routine. However, powerlifters and weightlifters develop amazing abdominal muscles without the sit-up and use only total-body lifts, such as squats, power cleans and deadlifts. Dr. Stuart McGill further states that toned abdominals are not about crunches; it is about lower body fat. So even if you do not have any back or neck pain from sit-up, why take the risk of damaging your spine and potentially causing back pain in the future? Great abs are possible without the sit-up, so cut them out of your routine!

Don’t Be Toxic

Toxins in our environment often contribute to weight issues and to the increasing obesity epidemic in our society. Obesity is not just controlled by calories in vs. calories out.
In order to have a healthy metabolism, we need to eliminate toxins and heavy metals from our diets and boost the natural detoxification system in our bodies.

Toxins, which are broadly described as substances that don’t agree with us, are commonly viewed as poisons and contaminants. They are present both internally and externally. Even the healthiest among us are surrounded by toxins and have toxins in their bodies. Some toxins come from the environment and include chemicals and heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, etc). Toxins are also internal byproducts of metabolism and normal bodily functions. All toxins are processed in the body by the liver and kidneys.

High levels of toxins can lead to increased inflammation in the body and cause oxidative stress. Since toxins are stored in body tissues, people with more body fat carry more toxins in their bodies. This may affect their liver and kidneys as well as damage the mitochondria, which are responsible for burning energy. Additionally, toxins in the body lead to lower thyroid hormone levels, which affects metabolism. Toxic metals can also block leptin, which is the hormone that tells your body that it is full.

Since it is impossible to avoid toxins completely, it is important to try and limit exposure as much as possible. Drinking clean, filtered water and eating organic foods are two important ways to reduce toxins. Engaging in regular exercise and drinking plenty of water help to naturally detoxify our bodies. Certain foods can also help the detoxifying process. Glutathione is the most important antioxidant and detoxifier in the body. It is important to get adequate glutathione, which comes from proteins, such as fish, poultry and meat. Other foods known to help the process are garlic, artichokes, green tea, cruciferous vegetables, cilantro and pomegranate. There are many supplements on the market that help with detoxification as well, such as NAC, alpha-lipoic acid, pycnogenol, quercitin, and probiotics. Detoxification cleanses also help to reboot your liver, kidney, and metabolism, leading to a less toxic body.

Skinny for the Summer

Spring is here! And while it might not feel like it at the moment, we will soon put away our jackets and shed all of our layers for clothing that shows off our figures. Now is the perfect time to start thinking about your diet and exercise routine and to get back into shape for the beach!

To get into shape, you need to eat right AND exercise. One cannot exist without the other. Rather than obsesses about crazy workouts or counting calories, the most important change you can make to promote weight loss is to alter your environment and your habits in order to make weight loss and health second nature. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “the key to changing habits is to understand how change really occurs. And for the most part, it occurs by design, not by accident or wishful thinking. It occurs by transforming the unconscious choices we make every day, shifting them so that the automatic, easy, default choices become healthy choices, not deadly ones.”

The old adage, “you are what you eat,” hits the bull’s eye when discussing diet. While the amount of food is important, the types of foods we eat are just as important.  Sugar is toxic, and it is very important to limit foods with extra sugar in order to see weight change.  Many people have food cravings and find change to be extremely difficult.  As stated before, in order to change your eating habits, you must change your environment. Do not keep candy, chips, and sugary items in your house. Place fruits and nuts within easy reach. Make fruit more accessible by cutting it up and displaying it. Do not go to the sections of the grocery store where you may be tempted to buy unhealthy items, and avoid restaurants or shops where you have a weakness for their unhealthy choices. Serve meals in portions and put away leftovers, and use smaller plates to eat less. Find new recipes online and keep condiments handy in the house to flavor food. Also, plan your food and snacks in advance so you never have to “cheat” and so you are never left hungry and have to grab something unhealthy. Change is possible if you have a plan!

Similarly, you need to have a plan for exercise. Make sure to set aside time to go to the gym and workout. Make it a priority and schedule it into your calendar. Exercise should be easy, so find your obstacles to working out and create a solution to them!  Also remember that cardio is not enough to change your body; resistance training is necessary to boost your metabolism, increase muscle mass, and burn fat. Work with a personal trainer to learn how to safely exercise and have him make you a routine to follow. Change your current habits and start your routine to see results!

It is all about having the motivation, ability and a trigger to change. We live in an unhealthy world, so we need to create our own healthy environment and design it to make it easy to do the right thing. That is how we create health, and it is the key to success in weight loss and transformation of mind and body.

The Negative Effects of Gatorade

Gatorade has long been a popular sports drink, especially for kids. It is marketed as an electrolyte replacement drink for athletes.  Electrolytes are substances that contain free ions and conduct electricity1.  In the human body, electrolytes are responsible for regulating nerve and muscle function, blood pH, hydration, blood pressure, and damaged tissue repair1.  Some examples of electrolytes that are in our bodies are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride1.  The levels of electrolytes in our blood change when water levels in our body change, for example, during altered hydration status1.   When we sweat, we lose mostly sodium and potassium, and they must be replaced in order to maintain the proper balance in our bodies1.  According to ACSM, two pounds of sweat contain an average of 800 mg of sodium (ranges between 200-1600 mg) and 200 mg of potassium (ranges between 120—600 mg)2.

Gatorade has three different lines of sports drinks: G2, Gatorade Protein Recover, and Gatorade Thirst Quencher.  All Gatorade products have a list of difficult-to-pronounce-ingredients, and many of these ingredients are forms of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  In fact, sugar is the second ingredient after water; the ingredient list on a food label lists the ingredients in descending order of prominence and weight.  Therefore, Gatorade products are mostly sugar and water.  In fact, Gatorade Thirst Quencher has a whopping 14 g of sugar, coming mostly from sucrose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup. “The American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance come from added sugars.  For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men)3.”   This is about 24g of sugar for women and 36g of sugar for men.

Excessive sugar in the diet can be very bad for your health, and it is important to try to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet.  Sugar that is naturally occurring in fruit and milk is perfectly fine; it is the added sugars that need to be decreased.  Consumers need to beware because sugars are hidden in many different kinds of foods, such as salad dressings and crackers4.

One negative consequence of excessive sugar intake is weight gain and obesity.  Sugar is very calorie dense, and as stated before, it is added to numerous foods and drinks4. Additionally, eating a lot of sugary foods displaces more nutritious foods in the diet, and these foods don’t provide the same satiety as healthful foods, and therefore cause overeating4.  A second issue with added sugars is that they increase the risk for higher triglycerides, lower HDL, and higher HDL, which contribute to an increased risk of coronary heart disease4. Lastly, sugar contributes to tooth decay4.

The G2 line of Gatorade has fewer calories and less sugar; but it does have sugar alcohols instead.  Sugar alcohols are a type of reduced-calorie sweetener5 that provides fewer calories than regular sugar.  They do increase blood sugar levels, but less dramatically than regular sugar5.  On a positive note, they do not cause tooth decay. Sugar alcohols can have some negative GI side effects, such as bloating and diarrhea6

Another huge problem with Gatorade is the amount of food additives and colorings added to the products.  For example, one additive is monopotassium phosphate, which is not only used as a food additive, but also a as a fertilizer and fungicide7.  It is a bit scary to be ingesting an ingredient used to fertilize plants.  Additionally some flavors of Gatorade contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a food additive used as an emulsifier in drinks with citrus flavoring10.  Bromine – part of BVO – is an element found in flame retardants9!  Some research shows that it may build up in the body leading to thyroid problems, memory loss, and skin and nerve problems9.  It has been banned in Japan and Europe10.  In January 2013, Pepsico announced they had plans to remove BVO from Gatorade; however, there are no current plans to remove it from Mountain Dew10.

Gatorade is also filled with many food coloring, such as blue 1 and red 40.  Many studies have showed a link between children and hyperactivity due to food additives11.  In fact, 35 years of research has shown that many children with ADHD show significant improvement in their symptoms when they eliminate artificial food colors from their diet12.

Many popular athletes endorse Gatorade and some may use it to replace electrolytes during sporting events and training.  Gatorade isn’t completely bad; it does replace sodium and potassium and help restore electrolyte balance and hydration status.  Athletes are paid to endorse products, and they may not do their due diligence to find better and healthier alternatives.

A Better Alternative:

If you are looking for an electrolyte replacement drink, there are better alternatives available.  Thorne Performance, a line of supplements geared towards athletes and their needs, has created, Catalyte, an electrolyte and energy restoration complex.  Catalyte is all-natural and does not contain calories, sugar, additives, or caffeine. It is also gluten and soy free.  Catalyte comes in a lemon lime flavor and the product is easy to mix.  In fact, the Catalyte powder formula contains vitamins and minerals that, when mixed with pure water, makes a tasty electrolyte supplement that helps repair and rebuild muscle.

 

References:

  1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php
  2. sportsmd.com/SportsMD_Articles/id/395.aspx
  3. http://www.rivercityraces.com/files/user/Electrolyte_Replacement.pdf
  4. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Frequently-Asked-Questions-About-Sugar_UCM_306725_Article.jsp
  5. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sugar-alcohols.html
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_alcohol
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopotassium_phosphate
  8. http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/2323-sugar-bad.html
  9. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bvo/AN02200
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brominated_vegetable_oil
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22864801
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21127082

Fast Food…The Fast Track to Poor Health

Fast food is extremely prevalent in the United States. It is synonymous with the American lifestyle, undeniably as American as apple pie. By definition, fast food is food that can be prepared and served very quickly. Usually, the food is pre-cooked, re-heated and served in a packaged form to take-out. Even though most people know that fast food is unhealthy, it has become part of our busy lifestyles because it is affordable, tasty, and convenient. Every day, 25% of the US population eats some sort of fast food. In 2012, the fast food industry generated total revenues of $195 billion U.S. dollars in more than 300,000 restaurants.

Unfortunately, there are many negative effects associated with consuming a diet filled with fast food. Generally, the foods come in large portion sizes that are high in calories, trans fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar, and additives. Additionally, they often lack vitamins and minerals. Fast food is representative of a dietary pattern that is the complete opposite of what is recommended for a healthy body. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans reports that these poor eating habits create nutritional deficiencies and weight gain. These nutritional deficiencies can put your metabolism under stress and cause fatigue and lack of energy. Fast food does not contain adequate amounts of protein or good carbohydrates, and it doesn’t contain the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Repeatedly eating at McDonald’s or KFC makes it more likely that people will gain weight and become obese. This is because fast food contains many more calories and fat than traditional food. On average, fast food meals contain over 1000 calories, which is about half the recommended daily caloric intake for men and women. Fat levels are also high; hamburgers with multiple beef patties, cheese, bacon and mayonnaise may exceed the 65 milligrams fat limit, which is recommended by the USDA for one day. If you routinely consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. High caloric foods contribute to weight gain and obesity and can cause many health problems as well as shorten life spans. In fact, a recent study found that a person’s BMI (body mass index) increases by .03 every time he or she consumes a fast food meal. Obesity is linked with many co-morbidities, such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, sleep apnea and asthma. Fast food is wreaking havoc on our children. Our kids are being set up for a lifetime of health problems. Currently, roughly one out of every three children in the U.S. is now overweight or obese. Extra weight affects a person’s overall health, and when obesity begins in childhood, the child is faced with a lifelong struggle with weight and health issues.

Another negative effect of consuming fast food is its effect on heart health. Fast foods contain high amounts of salt and cholesterol; in fact, American sodium intake comes mostly from processed foods and restaurant foods. Increased salt intake is linked with high blood pressure. Excessive dietary sodium can also have a negative effect on renal function, even leading to kidney disease. Too much cholesterol can cause plaque build-up in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. This condition can lead to stroke, heart attack and death. Additionally, many types of fast food contain oxidized fat, which is very dangerous to our blood vessels and can cause problems with circulation. This can cause plaque formation and lead to atherosclerosis as well.

Diabetes can be another consequence of fast food consumption. When you regularly consume too much refined sugar, there can be permanent negative effects on blood sugar levels. Beverages such as milk shakes and soda have high sugar content. According to the USDA, chocolate shakes have 62 grams of sugar, and colas have 44 grams, in 16-oz. servings. Fast food coleslaw, French toast sticks and even cheeseburgers also contain significant amounts of sugar.

Fast food intake is also linked to liver disease. The extra calories and fat take a toll on the liver because the liver is responsible for processing fats in the blood. The excessive fat and calories overload the liver and fat builds up in the liver cells causing liver damage. The liver is capable of regenerating itself; it is a very resilient organ. However, years of eating fast food may cause build up that can’t be reversed, similar to what happens in atherosclerosis.

Interestingly, fast food has also been negatively correlated to performance. High fat intake may lead to difficulties concentrating and poor cognitive function. Research also links fast food to depression. People who regularly eat fast food are 51% more likely to develop signs of depression. Some research also suggests that fast food may be addictive. Further, excessive fast food intake is a risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. The list goes on.

Our bodies were never designed to cope with the high-energy dense foods consumed in the West, which is contributing to the obesity epidemic. There are many healthy “fast” options that we can fit into our busy lifestyles. Supermarkets are filled with pre-made sandwiches and salads, Greek yogurt, cut up vegetables and ready to eat fruit. We only have one life to live, and if we make the right choices, we can reap the benefits of taking care of our body and our minds. Fast food should be eaten in moderation, and should only be a small part of a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.

How to Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks are the number one killer of both men and women each year in the United States. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when a blood clot develops in one the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that lead to the heart. This blockage can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. A heart attack is not the same thing as cardiac arrest, which is when the heart suddenly stops. Symptoms of a heart attack vary and may include: pressure, pain, or tightness in the heart, feeling of indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness, sweating, feelings of anxiety, and trouble sleeping.

Heart attacks can be caused by numerous factors. The most common cause is a build-up of plaque in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Plaque is a sticky substance that originates from cholesterol and other substances. When this build- up causes the coronary artery to narrow, it leads to a condition called coronary artery disease. The plaque that is built up in the arteries can rupture and spill into the bloodstream causing a clot, which can block the flow of blood to the heart. Other causes of heart attacks include spasms in the coronary artery, commonly caused by drugs like cocaine, tears in the artery, and small blood clots and tumors.

There are many risk factors for a heart attack that can be decreased or eliminated through dietary modification and exercise. Common risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, family history of heart attack, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, and a history of preeclampsia. Males over the age of 45 are also at higher risk.

Adopting a heart healthy diet is the most important thing you can do to prevent a heart attack. This includes eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats. The diet should be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars, and high in protein antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Avoid processed foods and eat fish two times per week to get omega-3 fatty acids. Take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement if you cannot consume enough fish.

Exercise is another important factor to minimize your risk of having a heart attack. The heart is a muscle and gets stronger through exercise. Find something you enjoy, develop a routine, and do it regularly. Adequate sleep, which is about 8 hours per night, has also been shown to positively effect your blood pressure and your heart.

To further decrease your risk of a heart attack, it is important to decrease your LDL cholesterol. This can be lowered through exercise, cessation of smoking, and a healthy diet low in fat and high in fiber. It is also important to lower your blood pressure through a low salt-low fat diet, decreased alcohol intake, exercising, and smoking cessation. When dietary interventions are not enough, prescription medications such as statins and diuretics can be used to lower cholesterol and blood pressure respectively.

The key to heart health is diet and exercise. February is heart health month, the perfect time to start your heart-healthy diet and exercise program.

Benefits of Exercise

You Think I’m Doing This for My Health???  Actually, Yes!!!

It is common knowledge that exercising has many health benefits, yet according to the Center of Disease Prevention, over half the US population does not exercise; only 48% of adults meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.  This is mind-boggling, considering how physical activity positively effects health and improves quality of life.

Physical activity affects both the mind and body.  From a physical standpoint, it helps prevent many diseases and health conditions.  For example, exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and stroke.  Additionally, studies show that physical activity is associated with lower incidences of colon, breast, and lung cancer.  Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and help prevent osteoporosis.

With proper diet, exercise can also help combat obesity.  When you exercise, you burn calories.  One pound is 3500 calories; so in order to lose one pound a week, one must have a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day.  Burning calories through exercise and physical activity helps reach this goal.

Besides weight loss, exercise through strength training can change body composition and tone muscles.  Also, certain physical activity can help alleviate arthritis pain by improving functional ability and joint mobility.

Exercise also has positive mental benefits.  Research shows that cardiovascular exercise aids in stress reduction.  Additionally, exercise can improve mood by decreasing stress, tension, fatigue, and anger. It also helps decrease depression and anxiety and has a positive influence on self-esteem.  When you look and feel better, you are happier and your confidence tends to increase.

Working out can help improve memory, both in adults and children.  This is because of an increased production of cells in the hippocampus section of the brain, which is responsible for learning and memory.  Furthermore, exercise appears to enhance creativity up to 2 hours after a workout.

Research shows that exercise increases productivity.  Those who exercise regularly seem to have more energy and are able to get more done.

Research shows that some physical activity is better than none and the benefits of exercising exceed the possible complications involved.  The Guidelines suggest 60 minutes of physical activity per day for both adults and children.  Additionally, the higher intensity, more frequent and longer duration the exercise, the more benefit that is derived.  Benefits usually occur with 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week and two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups.

Weighted Vests

Gyms and fitness center are loaded with machines and equipment; there are balls, bars, free weights, balance discs, and all sorts of gadgets for the exerciser to choose from.  Sometimes it is hard to know the benefits of using one piece of equipment over another.  Weighted vests are tools that have become popular for a variety of fitness activities.  However, many people are not sure how or why to use weighted vests.

Weighted vests are heavy vests worn over the torso, which have varying amounts of resistance.  The most common weights are 20 pounds and 50 pounds.  The purpose of a weighted vest is to increase the intensity of a workout.  Since more weight is added to the body, the body is forced to work harder, which causes increased muscle mass and fat burning.  Vests are versatile; they are used for resistance training, weight loss, cardio benefits, and variation.

First, vests supplement resistance training and increase performance. Resistance exercise, or strength training, increases the strength and mass of muscles. This was demonstrated by a research study at Texas Tech University, where a group of athletes wearing vests were compared to those not wearing vests. They found that the group wearing vests had substantially better results with their resistance training .

Next, weighted vests intensify aerobic workouts, thereby increasing the number of calories burned and promoting weight loss.  A study in The European Journal of Applied Physiology showed this increased cardio effect by looking at a group of distance runners wearing a 50 lb weighted versus those without added weight.  Those wearing the vest had improvements in their VO2 max and lactate thresholds, both of which affect endurance exercise.

Further, using a vest can change up an exercise routine.  Our bodies adapt to the same patterns of movement, and it becomes harder to see a change when we repeatedly do the same exercises in the same routine.  By wearing a vest, we provide variation to our normal routine.  This will challenge our bodies so that we can continue to see results.

Another benefit from exercising with a vest is improved bone density.  Several small studies show that the extra load from a weighted vest can help build bones.  One four-year study on postmenopausal women showed increased bone density when a weighted vest was used during stair climbing.

Weighted vests have many benefits, but it is important to remember they should be used in moderation.    When first wearing a vest, a low amount of weight should be used and it should never exceed more than 20% of an individual’s body weight.  Too much weight may negatively affect the joints, muscles, and bones.  It should also be worn tightly secured to the body to avoid any additional strain.  An individual may experience back pain if it isn’t strapped on properly or if the weight is not distributed evenly.  When wearing a weighted vest, the force upon landing is greater, increasing the risk of impact-related joint injury.  Also, flexibility is limited because the vest constricts some types of movements.  Lastly, there is a potential for overheating since the vest covers a large area of the body.

While there are many reasons to try using a weighted vest during a workout, it is important to remember that weighted vests are not for everyone.  A doctor or personal trainer should be consulted before it is added to any exercise routine.