Lose big by not winning! Why weight loss competitions probably won’t help you lose weight and what to do instead.

There are numerous community and workplace weight loss competitions and fitness challenges underway in our area right now. These programs are a popular way to start making health improvements with friends or coworkers. Many people find the competition aspect of these programs to be motivating. Even those who are reluctant to start a diet or exercise program are more likely to give it a try. But this raises the question, are “biggest loser” type weight loss programs effective at promoting lasting weight loss? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Fitness for Community Service

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a time to celebrate the birthday and reflect on the accomplishments and legacy of Mr. King. It is also a  on which people are encouraged to use their day off from work and school to volunteer in their community. Individuals and groups across the country participate in community service, with some making this their first-time volunteer effort and many more continuing a year-round commitment to service.

You can maximize your impact in community service activities by being fit and healthy. To be sure, there are ways that people of physical abilities can contribute, but many service opportunities require a baseline level of fitness to participate. And it is certainly more enjoyable to volunteer if you aren’t being pushed to your limits. In fact, some service activities are similar in exertion to many forms of exercise and some may be consistent with maximal exercise. Unfortunately, the common pattern of inactivity and obesity can limit people’s ability to function optimally at school, work, or in leisure-time activities, including community service.This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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What’s Trending in Fitness This Year

The fitness industry is constantly evolving and responding to the needs of consumers. This year was no exception, especially considering the continued disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the top 10 fitness trends to look for in 2022, compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The fitness industry is constantly evolving and responding to the needs of consumers. This year was no exception, especially considering the continued disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the top 10 fitness trends to look for in 2022, compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The biggest fitness trend for 2022 is wearable fitness technology. From activity trackers to heart rate monitors to devices that do both and more, the newest “wearables” are sophisticated tools for recording your steps per day, distance you run, and calories you burn. Make sure to pick the device that meets your needs… and your budget, as they can get expensive!

Second on the list is home exercise gyms. With fitness facilities closed, many people opted to build their own at home. Home gyms can range from a single piece of exercise equipment to a set of weights to a fully equipped room that replaces the need for a fitness facility. Your home gym should match your goals, available space, and budget.

Next is outdoor activities. When fitness centers closed, many people moved their exercise outdoors. Not only are walking, running, cycling, and hiking great ways to get in shape, being outdoors makes appropriately physically distanced group exercise a safer option. Aside from getting a great workout, there are additional physical and mental health benefits from being active outdoors.

Strength training with free weights is fourth on the list. In addition to building or toning muscles, strength training can make everyday activities easier, help maintain bone mass, and promote weight loss. While weight machines can make you stronger, free weights promote bigger improvements and can incorporated into other types of exercise.

Number five is exercise for weight loss. Usually combined with some form of dietary changes, exercise can add to weight loos and prevent regain. This traditionally includes aerobic exercise, but now there is an emphasis on maintaining muscle and building strength.

Personal training is sixth on the list. One-on-one training can help you learn proper techniques, try new exercises, and keep you accountable. You should look for a certified personal trainer who has experience working with people like you, so ask for recommendations and references to get the best match.

Next on the list is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which uses repeated cycles of short, maximal or near-maximal exercise alternated with short rest periods. These HIIT sessions typically last less than 30 minutes but lead to fitness improvements that exceed those of traditional longer-duration training.

Eighth is body weight training, and for good reason. Popular because it requires minimal equipment, body weight training focuses on dynamic movements to build strength and endurance. This type of training can be done almost anywhere, which is good news for people who are moved their workouts from the gym to their home.

Number nine is online live and on-demand exercise classes. After access to most fitness facilities was restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, exercise professionals responded by offering synchronous and pre-recorded individual and group training sessions online. Using streaming video platforms, people were able to work out from home with expert guidance and real-time feedback.

Rounding out the top ten is health and wellness coaching, which combines behavior and lifestyle modification for a holistic approach to improve health and well being. Coaching can be delivered individually or in small groups, either in person or virtually to provide goal setting, support, and encouragement.

Whether you decide to follow a fitness trend or not, make sure you dedicate time every day to be active. Health and fitness will always be trendy!

Ready, set, go! Set a goal to run or walk in a road race this spring.

Most of us could benefit from getting more exercise and, with the new year just beginning, this is a perfect time to get started. You can meet minimum health recommendations with a 30-minute brisk walk five days per week. You can get even greater fitness benefits by exercising for longer or by doing more vigorous activity, like running. A good goal is to be active every day for at least 30 minutes and include longer or more vigorous exercise sessions when possible.

Many people are motivated by having a goal to begin or add to an exercise program. You may find that training for an event is more rewarding than exercising for the sake of being active. An excellent goal is to prepare to walk or run in a local race. Don’t let the word “race” scare you. Most people who enter these events have the goal of finishing, not winning. That should be your goal, too.

Now is a great time to start training for your first race. The weather is an incentive to be active outdoors because it’s not too hot to be enjoyable. There are several events in our community in the upcoming months that are excellent opportunities for first timers and more seasoned racers. Many events are linked to charities, so they are also good ways to raise money for a good cause.

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One example is our area is the Run United event on April 30, 2022, which consists of a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles), 10K (10 kilometers or 6.2 miles), and a half marathon (13.1 miles). Almost everyone can participate in one of these events with some preparation, so it is a perfect event for the whole family.

If you are starting to walk for exercise, completing a 5K walk is a good goal. Start with a target of 20 minutes of walking per day. You can split this up into 10 minute segments, if necessary. After you are comfortable walking 20 minutes at a time, increase to 30 minutes per day. Continue increasing your walking time until you are up to 45-60 minutes per day, about how long it takes most people to walk three miles. If you already do some walking, gradually build up to this goal.

Maybe you already walk and are interested in trying running. Preparing for a 5K or 10K is great motivation. Start by adding some jogging into your walking routine. Try alternating 5 minutes of jogging with 10 minutes of walking. Once you are comfortable with that, try 5 minutes of jogging for every 5 minutes of walking. Increase the duration of the running intervals over time, until you can run for at least 30 minutes for a 5K or 60 minutes for a 10K consecutively. If running three or six miles is too much, you can always complete those races by alternating walking and running. Completing the half marathon will require more dedicated training, building up to running (or a run/walk combination) for over two hours.  To reduce the risk of injury you should progress slowly, whether you are walking or running. This is particularly important if you are building up to a longer event, like a 10K or half marathon.

Even if you don’t plan to participate in one of these events, the opportunity to get outdoors for a walk or run on a nice day is reason enough to be active. Use this as an opportunity to get your friends and family moving with you. Kids can ride their bike while you walk or run and you can push younger children in a stroller. Older children may want to walk or run with you, and don’t forget to bring your dog!


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Just in time for Christmas, it’s Santa’s annual fitness report

Since Christmas is this week our attention is naturally focused on one person: Santa Claus. Have you ever wondered how Santa gets in shape for his yearly sleigh ride to deliver gifts to good boys and girls around the globe? Like many elite athletes, Santa does not publicly discuss his training or his fitness. There are certainly no published studies that report his one repetition maximum strength or his maximal oxygen uptake.

Given this lack of information, I attempted to make an educated guess about Santa’s training, fitness, and health. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


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Too fat to fly! Weight loss tips from the North Pole.

There is a problem at the North Pole! Santa’s reindeer are unable fly, putting his Christmas plans in jeopardy. It turns out that the reindeer are suffering from a common problem, one that you might be dealing with, too. Fortunately, Santa has a solution that can help his reindeer and save Christmas. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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According to the children’s book Too Fat to Fly by Doreen Belleville, Santa’s reindeer have gained weight in the “off season.” Too much sitting around and too many snacks and treats have resulted in weight gain to the point where the reindeer simply can’t do their job. Sound familiar?

Whether it comes during the holidays or gradually throughout the year, weight gain is common for many people. And, like the reindeer, it often goes unnoticed until it is too late—trying to fit into your old suit or favorite dress, for example.

It’s not just the weight that is the problem. The long, lazy vacation has allowed the reindeer to become unfit. They simply aren’t strong enough and don’t have the endurance to pull Santa’s sleigh. Again, a decline in fitness over time is something many of us experience and we may not notice it until we do something strenuous that makes it clear we are out of shape.

In the book we learn that the solution is both simple and well-known. Santa charges his elves with getting the reindeer back in shape, in terms of both fitness and fatness. The snacks are replaced with healthy meals containing lots of fruits and vegetables. And days spent lying around are now spent in the gym and going for walks outdoors.

Like many of us, the reindeer have a tough time adjusting to their new exercise routine. The treadmills are tricky for them, until they get the hang of it. For many of us, exercise equipment and new types of exercise can be intimidating. But with some guidance from the elves (or a personal trainer) you may find that trying new forms of exercise can really help you, just like it did for the reindeer.

The reindeer followed a diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. Despite the controversy over which diet is the best, almost everyone agrees that more fruits and vegetables and fewer calories from added sugars will help you lose weight. These foods are lower in calories than many other options, contain fiber to help you feel full, and replace less healthy foods you might otherwise pick. Carrots and apples, what the elves picked for the reindeer, are excellent choices, but pretty much any fruits and vegetables will work. Of course, you should eat other foods in moderation, too, including whole grains, meat, and dairy.

The good news is that the diet and exercise program helped the reindeer lose weight and get back in shape in time for Christmas can work for you, too. While you may not see such rapid results, if you are careful with what you eat and dedicate time every day for exercise, you can lose weight relatively quickly. It’s not easy for people or for reindeer, but weight loss and improved fitness are achievable.

Looking forward, continuing to eat a healthy diet and exercising regularly can save you the trouble of trying to lose weight next year at this time. It is always easier to maintain weight and stay fit than it is to lose weight and get back in shape. I’m sure that’s a lesson Santa will teach his reindeer!


Health & Fitness guide to holiday gifts your friends and family really want.

The holiday shopping season is well underway, but you may still be searching for that perfect gift for a friend or family member. You probably know someone who plans to start an exercise program, try to lose weight, or otherwise improve their health in the upcoming year. The right gift from you could help them get a good start on their New Year’s resolutions. With so many options for books, DVDs, exercise equipment, apps, and other gadgets, it can be difficult to pick the right gift.

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Maintain, don’t gain, this holiday season: Six tips for preventing holiday weight gain.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the holiday season is in full swing. In addition to spending time with family and friends, the big events of the season also seem to involve shopping and eating. This will almost certainly result in big numbers on your credit card bill. And, because holiday weight gain is a reality for most people, on your bathroom scale, too!

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Christmas cookies


Research shows that, on average, people gain about one pound between Thanksgiving and the new year. The problem is that this extra weight may not be lost during the spring or summer, meaning that holiday weight gain can be a contributor to the gradual increase in weight, about one pound per year, that most people experience over time.

The good news is that the weight gain that typically occurs during the holidays can be prevented. Since people tend to gain less than one pound, even small changes to what you eat and your activity can make a difference, without taking away from your holiday cheer. Here are some strategies:

Stay active. The average holiday weight gain could be prevented by walking about one mile, or about 20 minutes, per day. Since time may be a factor, you can turn a shopping trip into a chance to be active by taking an extra lap around the mall or parking further away in the parking lot. Go for a walk when you have free time—and take your family and friends (and dog) with you.

Stay away from the food. Most holiday parties include lots of food, and usually not the healthiest choices. You can reduce the amount you eat by limiting your time near the food—literally, fill your plate and move away from the food. Using a smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you take, too. Getting rid of the candy dish on your desk at work or the plate of treats on the countertop at home are also smart ideas.

Don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages, soda, and juice all contain calories and can add up to a big part of your total calorie intake. Many beverages, including hot chocolate and coffee drinks, can easily contain hundreds of calories. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite drinks, but enjoy them in moderation.

Plan ahead. If you are trying to watch what you eat, have a healthy snack before you go to a party. You will feel less hungry so you will probably be less inclined to eat as much. If you are bringing a dish to the party, make it something healthy that you like.

Focus on family and friends, not food. The holidays are a time to enjoy special meals and events with family and friends, and that should be your focus. You should enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, just do it in moderation.

Give yourself a break! Healthy eating and exercise are always important, but they are more difficult to do around the holidays. In research, even people who said they were trying to lose weight over the holidays ended up gaining about a half pound. So, do your best maintaining your healthy habits, accept that you may struggle, and make a commitment to get back on track after the holidays!

The bottom line is that you can prevent holiday weight gain by watching what you eat and staying active. It is easier to keep the weight off than it is to lose it later, so a little extra effort now is worth it in the long run. Considering that many people plan to exercise and lose weight after the holidays, you could get a jump-start on your New Year’s resolutions along with making this a happy and healthy holiday season.


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Be thankful for family, friends, and food— real food—this Thanksgiving​.

Happy Thanksgiving week! While this Thanksgiving may different when it comes to gathering together with family and friends, food will certainly be a part of the holiday. Even though many of our favorite dishes are not the healthiest choices, they make an appearance on the table each year. For many of us, Thanksgiving dinner is a day marked by overindulgence and poor nutrition choices.

In an effort to make Thanksgiving dinner healthier, recommendations for modifying or replacing traditional dishes are a common theme in magazines, on the morning TV shows, and on the web. While these suggestions are meant to be helpful, I’m not sure they actually serve to make a significant impact on health. In fact, the foods we eat and the way we eat them may be the healthiest part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.



Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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Body fat: Where it’s at matters for health.

Everyone knows that fat is where the extra calories you eat end up and the reason your clothes fit too tightly. Body fat, or adipose tissue, is an efficient way to store excess energy. When you eat more calories than you expend, the extra energy can be stored as fat. Body fat is essential for storing extra energy, something that allowed our caveman ancestors to survive times when food was scarce. Beyond simply storing energy, research also shows that fat plays an active role in health and disease. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

waist circumference


Some fat is stored beneath your skin, which you can feel when you “pinch an inch.” This is called subcutaneous fat, and it is what most people think about when they think of body fat. It is also the fat that people see change when they gain or lose weight. But you also store fat in other places in your body, which can have important health effects.

Subcutaneous fat is stored between the skin and muscle and may or may not be distributed evenly throughout the body. Some people tend to store fat in their hips and thighs while others store it in their upper body. Much of this is determined by genetics, which also influences where fat is lost during weight loss.

Fat is also stored beneath the muscle wall in the abdomen. This is called visceral fat because it surrounds the intestines and other internal organs. Visceral fat is known to be associated with a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease than subcutaneous fat. This is in part due to the chemical signals called adipokines that are released from visceral fat and have effects on other organs and tissues resulting in insulin resistance and inflammation.

A simple way to tell if you have excess visceral fat is to measure your waist circumference. If it is greater than 36” for females or 40” for males, you are at risk. This is especially true if you aren’t able to pinch much fat around your waist, which suggests you have less subcutaneous fat and more visceral fat. Keep in mind that this isn’t foolproof, and a high waist circumference doesn’t always mean excess visceral fat, but it’s a good indicator.

Fat can also accumulate inside the liver, a condition is called fatty liver disease. You might expect this to be the result of eating too much fat in your diet, but a more common cause is too much sugar. When you eat excessive amounts of sugar, the liver can turn it into fat. This is especially true if the sugar is fructose, which is found in many artificially sweetened foods and beverages as high fructose corn syrup. When the liver converts fructose to fat it damages the liver and can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

The bottom line is that excess fat anywhere is unhealthy, but some forms of fat are particularly dangerous. Losing weight and body fat can reduce the negative effects of body fat. Improving your diet to reduce sugar intake is important for weight control and to minimize liver damage. Exercise also plays an essential role in reducing or reversing some of the negative effects of excess fat so you should strive to be more active every day regardless of your body weight.


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