Friday, 28 November 2008

Softly, Softly, Catch a Monkey.

Obesity can be defined very simply as excess body fat.

Notably "fat" not "weight" ... and this is really where the waters start to get muddy. Everyone is obsessed with weight loss, probably for one simple reason. Weight loss is simple to measure and the feedback is immediate. Fat loss, on the other hand, is a little harder to quantify. Immediate gratification versus a little bit of effort.

Determining the true extent of the real problem is worth it though ... because obese individuals risk a myriad of health problems including:

- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- dyslipidemia (abnormal blood fats, cholesterol)
- type 2 diabetes ("adult onset" diabetes)
- coronary heart disease
- stroke
- gallbladder disease
- osteoarthritis
- sleep apnea (sleep disturbance)
- respiratory problems
- some cancers (colon, breast, endometrial)

And the list goes on ... glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, increased visceral fat tissue, hormonal imbalances, deep-vein thrombosis, kidney disease, psychological distress and more.

The solution appears simple. Consume less calories and expend more calories (aerobic exercise and resistance training), creating a caloric deficit. And do this without "unreasonable" calorie restriction. Softly, softly, catch a monkey. Incremental tweaking, if you will.

However, for the changes in this strategy to be sustainable you must enjoy both your eating plan and your exercise regime ... and be committed to a lifestyle change that is lifelong!

Not quite so easy!

If in doubt, please re-read the list above. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Why Should We warm Up?

So many misconceptions surround the simple matter of "warming up".

Why should we do it? Is there a correct way of doing it? How long should we do it? What type of stretches, if any, should we do? Everyone you speak to seems to have an opinion on these and other questions ... so I thought I'd take a bash at demistifying some of what's out there. Most of us do little more than a few token movements that achieve very little.

The overall objective of any warm up is to prepare our systems to perform at optimum efficiency. This means not just muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments ... but also our heart, blood vessels, lungs ... even our nervous system.

When we warm up correctly our muscles become more pliable. For those with an appetite for jargon ... "soft tissue viscosity" decreases, while chemical and metabolic function is enhanced.

This protects our body and prepares it for exercise that is more aggressive and more intense. It's not enough to go and sit in a warm bath ... the process needs to be active and involve muscle contraction and controlled movement that gradually increases in intensity. This creates heat and stimulates biochemical processes. We breathe a little harder, we start to perspire and our blood starts to really flow as it gets shunted to the muscles doing the work.

It is wise to start with a general warm up, carefully limbering up all your joints. I like to progress systematically through my body, ending with the body parts that will be most challenged in the "meat" of the workout. So, if I plan on focusing on my upper body, I would start with toes, ankles, knees and hips ... progressing through lumbar spine, thoracic spine and neck ... then finishing with fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

After maybe ten minutes, I incorporate a mild aerobic element, increasing my rate of movement to increase blood flow and improve my flexibility. I may do any combination of swings, leans, twists, easy accelerations, even shadow-boxing ... wherever my imagination takes me. This may take me only five minutes and when I feel I'm ready I will carefully introduce some dynamic stretches, swinging my arms in opposition to each other and raising my legs to the front, sides and back. I concentrate on aligning my body for minimum stress and I slowly increase my range of motion in each direction and with each repetition, tapering my effort once I reach my comfortable limit of flexibility.

Not only is the whole process gradual and therefore not unduly stressful to my body, but it also protects me from injury by increasing my body awareness. In effect, I am less prone to reckless movement, or miscalculation.

Once you have warmed up, then completed the main body of your workout, it is equally important to cool down gently. I like to think of this as "letting the bees settle" ... five to ten minutes of gradual winding down.

This respect for our body's engine allows metabolic waste and stress chemicals to dissipate more efficiently. More effective recovery translates into quicker results and better adaptation. You will actually feel less discomfort and be better prepared to get more out of subsequent workouts.

Once you appreciate this your warm up/cool down will become every bit as essential as your main routine.

Until next time ...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Quinoa: Nutritional Powerhouse

Nutritionally considered a "supergrain", quinoa (most commonly pronounced "KEEN-wah") is technically not a grain, but the seed of a distant relative to spinach.

An important food for over 6000 years in the Andes mountains of Peru, quinoa is known as the "mother of all grains". It is an excellent source of high quality protein containing both the amino acids lysine (absent in most grains) and methionine (absent in beans) ... so it is an attractive choice to anyone looking for "complete" protein in their diets.

Although fairly non-descript, the taste grows on you ... as does the fact that it is also a good source of fibre, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.

If we are to approach anything remotely close to a "balanced" diet, then variety must be a key strategy ... and this is one option definitely worth considering. Organic quinoa is readily available and it's gluten-free and easy to digest.

To make it even more interesting, I usually prepare it in combination with brown basmati rice and wild rice, something that is truly delicious!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Supplements: Necessary, or Redundant?

Every day we are exposed to a plethora of harmful toxins in our food, water and the air we breathe.

In addition to reducing our exposure, we can use supplements to help eliminate toxins and reduce damage from the excess free radicals that result from this toxic overload.

Many causes of death and disease are largely preventable with healthier diet and lifestyle choices. Information is readily available highlighting what constitutes a healthy diet.

However, when we look closely at the average supermarket trolley, it's no secret that many people are falling well short of these guidelines. Refined and processed foods, laden with "empty" calories, harmful fats, sugar and salt are the order of the day. Are we really leading labels ... and if so, do we understand their implications? Also, just how nutritious are those pristine, perfectly shaped, tasteless fruit and vegetables?

If price is really the reason why so few people choose organic options, then why does the liquor aisle dwarf the organic food section?

We can bury our heads in the sand for only so long. Our kids deserve better ... and so do we. Get informed and learn more about how you can protect yourself and your family.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Come on parents ...

I must thank Staci Rose who commented on my earlier post "A Stitch in Time ...".

While I appreciate that it's a challenge for all parents to engender a culture of physical activity in their kids, particularly in their most formative years ... we cannot abrogate them from their responsibility to do so.

This is where the seeds are sown.

Activity should not be the exclusive province of the educational system. Parents should lead by example. If kids have fun playing outdoors and don't associate it with competition or, even worse, humiliation ... then they may have a fighting chance to embrace continued activity as they get older.

You may be able to tell I'm not a parent?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Stand and Deliver

Weight management is one of the most formidable challenges facing anyone looking at starting a fitness program.

Inately you sense that you are losing ground. On the surface it seems so simple ... eat less, exercise more, job done. The mirror doesn't pull any punches. Your body, stiff and immobile, carries the same clear message. Friends, family and strangers aren't that subtle either.

So why then is something so apparently obvious and straightforward, such a beast to tame?

Quite simply, because every message you get, on every level, only re-enforces the pickled emotions that got you there in the first place. Putting on weight, getting fatter, has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with the way you feel about yourself.

For some of you, the catalyst to do something will be fear ... something someone said, the way you feel after you walk up the stairs, a lucky escape from a potentially lethal event.

Some of you may be driven by disgust and self-loathing ... enough is enough!

Maybe for you it's far less intense ... you've been toying with the idea of taking action ... and finally you just feel ready? You just know.

Whatever drives you, here are three keys to successful weight management:

- your reason should be sufficiently compelling

- your focus should be absolutely clear and specific

- and, when you decide to take action, giving up is not an option

Along the way, you will face the three imposters of discouragement, distraction and impatience. Just keep going and don't look back. Never, ever look back.

The rewards are so worth it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A stitch in time ...

Recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" in an effort to get people of all ages and physical conditions in the U.S. moving on a daily basis.

Significantly, this is the first time the Federal government has issued comprehensive recommendations of this nature. A detailed breakdown can be found at or and, quite frankly, there is nothing earth-shattering about the specifics. In fact, research strongly suggests that people should be encouraged to exceed, rather than merely meet, these minimum levels.

I must admit that I find the necessity for such intervention to be a sad indictment on the state of our global awareness of wellness issues. Until the paradigm shifts from "cure" to "prevention" the human race will continue to look to medical science instead of our own good selves to be the custodian of public health. So yes, this development is crucial.

I'll say it again ... it's time we take responsibility for our own health and physical wellbeing. Enough consistent, unambiguous information exists for many of us to make an informed decision.