Fit to Serve

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 certain 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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Resolutions to make your family happier and healthier in 2021

 

By this time, you are probably working on your New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully, you are on track to meet your goals. Whether they are health-related or not, it is likely that your goals focus on you. But what about the rest of your family? Fortunately, there are a few resolutions that your whole family can make that will help you all move, eat, and sleep better. Here are a few ways your family can make 2021 a happy and healthy year.

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Make sure everyone in the family is active every day.

Physical activity is critical for good health for everyone. Beyond that, being active can help you perform better at work and school and make it easier to do things you enjoy in your leisure time. Adults should be active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. Everything from taking the dog for a walk to a fitness class at the gym counts. For children, the goal is 60 minutes per day through PE class, sports, and play. As a bonus, you can do at least some of the activity together to make activity a family event!

Make healthy eating a family project.

There is a lot of confusion about what makes a healthy diet, but there are a few guidelines almost everyone agrees on. First, eat more fruits and vegetables. At a minimum, eat at least 5 servings each day, but try for twice that. Second, limit added sugars and salt. This is tricky since salt, sugar, and other sweeteners are added to most processed foods. Eating too much sugar is known to contribute to obesity, heart disease, and some cancers, so this is among the smartest nutrition moves you can make. Salt, by itself, isn’t necessarily harmful, but less salt almost always means less processed food and more “real” food. Finally, be mindful of portion sizes. Super-sized servings and second (and third) helpings are the primary reason why people gain weight over time.

Plan to eat at least one meal together each day.

Most experts agree that family dinners are important for promoting good communication and healthy eating habits. Given that our days are busy with work, school, and other activities, eating dinner together every night is unrealistic for many families. So, start with planning at least one family dinner at home each week. This is also a good opportunity to teach children about food and cooking, so it is even better if you prepare the meal together.

Make getting enough sleep a priority.

Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect children’s growth, development, and learning. It can also have an impact on an adult’s productivity at work. The effect of chronic stress on health is well-known and we should recognize a lack of sleep as a form of stress. A good goal for adults is 7–9 hours of sleep each night. School-aged children need 8–12 hours, with younger kids requiring more sleep. As difficult as it may be, earlier bedtimes can benefit everyone in the family. Limiting screen time (TV, computer, tablet) before bed can help improve sleep, too.

Obviously, these ideas are easier read than done, especially for busy families. But moving more, eating better, and getting more sleep—especially if it is done together—can help your family enjoy a happier and healthier year.

Fitness Trends for the New Year

The fitness industry is constantly evolving and responding to the needs of consumers. This year was no exception, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the top 10 fitness trends to look for in 2021, compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The biggest fitness trend is online training. 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.

Second 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!

Body weight training is next, 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.

Fourth 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.

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.

Number six is virtual training. Similar in many ways to online training, virtual workouts are typically done individually or in smaller groups and participants can go at their own pace. The virtual sessions are led by a trained instructor and can be viewed anytime. You can find virtual workouts from local gyms and online and on social media from specific personal trainers.

Next is Exercise is Medicine, an initiative that aims to get physicians and other health care providers to ask about and promote physical activity in every interaction with patients. Treating exercise like a “drug” that should be prescribed reflects the importance of being active for good health. You should treat exercise professionals as an integral part of your health care team.

Strength training with free weights is next 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 nine is fitness programs for older adults. Now that people are living longer, staying healthy and active in old age is a priority for many. Exercise can improve strength and endurance to help people who are recovering from cancer or other chronic illness and allow older adults to enjoy an active lifestyle.

Rounding out the top ten is personal training. 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.

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!

Make Fitness Tech Work for You

Wearable fitness technology is an important tool that many people use to monitor their activity, track their progress, and stay motivated. From activity trackers and 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. But using these devices to help you get fit, lose weight, or otherwise improve your health requires that you use that information wisely. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

This is especially true when it comes to losing weight. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because losing weight almost always means reducing the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. This concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program and explains why some diets and exercise programs seem to work better than others, at least for some people.

Modern wearable devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself and some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about your protein intake, dietary analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who fail to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health. Finally, make sure to pick the device that meets your needs… and your budget, as they can get expensive!

Santa’s secret plan for health and fitness revealed!

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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The 2020 Health & Fitness Holiday Reading List

Looking for a good book to read? Maybe you have some extra time during the holidays or need a gift idea for a family member or friend. Here are some suggestions related to nutrition, exercise, and health, all written by experts in a way that make them easy to read and understand. Together, these books provide the why and how of developing an active, healthy lifestyle and give you the information and ideas you need to get started on your New Year’s Resolutions!

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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (Riverhead Books, 2020).
For something you do all day and night, you probably don’t think much about breathing—but you should! In this book you will learn how breathing can affect your physical and mental health, the benefits of regulating your breathing, and techniques to improve your breathing. Combining research, ancient practices, and self-experimentation, the author provides evidence and examples for taking breathing as seriously as you do healthy eating, exercise, and sleep.

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Jason Fung (Greystone Books, 2016)
Losing weight and keeping it off is a familiar challenge for many people and the focus on simply eating less doesn’t always work. This book explains the metabolic and hormonal reasons why weight loss is so difficult and why traditional diets often fail. It also provides suggestions for things you can do to achieve a healthy balance to lose weight and keep it off. Equal parts explanation and instruction, this book has a lot to offer people who want to understand both the why and how of weight loss.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear (Penguin Random House, 2019).
Improving your health is as much about changing your habits as it is about any specific dietary or exercise change. This book focuses on breaking bad habits and adopting good ones in all aspects of your life through small changes to your everyday routines. Based on a loop that reinforces habits, good or bad, the author recommends four steps to make new habits obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. While the book isn’t specifically about health behaviors, you can apply it to any habits you want to change, including eating, exercise, and sleep.

The Heart-Healthy Handbook by Barry Franklin and Simon Dixon (Healthy Learning, 2017).
If you have had a heart attack or are at risk for a heart attack in the future—which, by the way, is nearly everyone—this is the book for you! Written by expert exercise and nutrition professionals in a way that is easy-to-understand, this book explains the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease and related conditions. From descriptions of common tests to steps you can take to improve your heart health, this is a book you can put to use within the first few pages.

Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Kelly Starrett, Juliet Starrett, and Glenn Cordoza (Victory Belt, 2016).
You probably already know that years of sitting at work, home, and in your car is bad for you. This book clearly explains why and how prolonged sitting affects your health, from diabetes and heart disease to muscle and joint pain. More importantly, this book includes simple exercises to help you undo the damage from sitting. On almost every page you will find something you can do to stretch, strengthen, and restore your muscles and joints.

SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey (Little, Brown and Company, 2008).
Exercise has well-known and proven benefits for the body, from improved health to enhancing fitness. What is less well-known are the benefits exercise has on the brain. In this important book, Dr. Ratey explains the link between exercise and brain health. You will learn how mood, memory, attention, and learning are all improved with exercise and have new motivation to get out and get moving!

Healthy for the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving has past, the holiday season is in full swing. At the same time, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed virtually every aspect of our lives. If that’s not enough, this is also cold and flu season. In addition, the holiday season itself, with hectic schedules, stress, and lack of sleep, can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to getting sick. The good news is that there is much you can do to keep yourself and the people close to you healthy for the holidays.

For starters, following the familiar recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will help prevent colds and the flu, too. This includes physical distancing and wearing a mask anytime you are close to others, especially indoors. Another basic step in preventing sickness is to wash your hands regularly. Soap and water is best, and there is no additional benefit in using an antibacterial soap. If you can’t wash your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. Keep in mind that hand sanitizers don’t actually clean your hands and aren’t as effective if your hands are dirty.

Masks and physical distancing are important because SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and common cold viruses are spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks loudly, or sings, so avoiding close contact with people who are sick—or who may be sick—is important. If you are sick, it is essential that you stay away from others as much as you can. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough or sneeze onto your sleeve to help keep the germs from spreading through the air or on your hands.

People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe illnesses than people who aren’t regularly active. This is because exercise has the effect of stimulating the immune system, making it better able to respond when you are exposed to cold or flu viruses. Presumably, the same is true for the virus that causes COVID-19, so being active every day is essential for the health of your immune system…and the rest of you!

Good nutrition is also necessary for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can have a negative effect on immune function, so eating a balanced diet is essential. That said, there is no support for “boosting” the immune system by taking high doses of vitamins, minerals, or other supplements, despite the claims made by supplement companies. The best advice is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, drink plenty of water, and avoid highly processed foods, especially those that contain added sugar.

You can get benefits from two more common-sense recommendations: getting adequate sleep and reducing stress. Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. High levels of stress increase susceptibility to viruses and can lead to more sick days from work or school. Stress and poor sleep habits tend to occur together, creating a double negative effect on the immune system.

By taking these steps, you can improve your chances of celebrating the holidays in good health. As a bonus, eating a healthy diet, exercising every day, managing your stress, and getting enough sleep will give you a head start on what are likely to be New Year’s resolutions.

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

Happy Thanksgiving week! While this Thanksgiving will 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.



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Immediate benefits of exercise

Regular physical activity is essential for achieving and maintaining good health and preventing and treating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. In addition to being physically active, participating in exercise is the best way to improve strength, endurance, and flexibility as well as promoting health and well-being to an even greater extent. These health and fitness benefits of exercise often take weeks or months to achieve, and requires a commitment to being active most, preferably, all days of the week.

While most of the biggest health benefits come from chronic adaptations to years of regular activity or exercise, there are some acute physiological changes that occur after a single bout. These changes tend to be short-lived, lasting only a few hours, and depend on the intensity and duration of the exercise. But, when exercise is repeated every day, these changes can have important positive effects on your health. Here are a few of the immediate benefits of exercise that can improve your health right now.

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

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What you need to know about diabetes

Diabetes is among the fastest-growing health conditions in the United States. Over 30 million adults have diabetes, with 1.5 million new cases each year. If you include prediabetes, which tends to lead to diabetes if untreated, over 115 million Americans are affected. Fortunately, most cases of diabetes can be treated or prevented through healthy eating, weight control, and regular exercise.

Since November is American Diabetes Month, this seems like a good time to raise awareness about the prevention, treatment, and consequences of this serious medical condition.  If you want to learn more about diabetes, a great place to start is American Diabetes Association. This is also the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standardthis week.

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Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) caused by a lack of insulin production or impaired insulin action. The lack of insulin production can be caused by an autoimmune disorder that damages the pancreas. This typically occurs during childhood, as in type 1 or “juvenile” diabetes, but it can occur in adults, a condition called latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA). For both types, injected insulin is required to control blood glucose.

More commonly, diabetes is caused by the body’s cells not responding to the insulin that is produced, a condition called insulin resistance. This is called type 2 diabetes and is thought to be caused by some combination of obesity, particularly excess abdominal fat, and physical inactivity.

Diabetes can be diagnosed based on a fasting blood glucose test, taken 8–12 hours after a meal, usually in the morning. Another test is an oral glucose tolerance test in which blood glucose is measured for two hours after drinking a special beverage containing glucose. This measures the body’s response to glucose. The hemoglobin A1C test is a long-term measure of blood glucose control. This is important because the higher the hemoglobin A1C level, the greater the risk of diabetes complications.

For most diabetics, the main treatment goal is to control blood glucose level to prevent serious complications including nerve damage, blindness, infection and amputation, heart attack, and stroke. This is typically accomplished through a combination of diet, exercise, and medications, with varying degrees of success. But “curing” diabetes is rare, so most patients require continued treatment.

Exercise is important for blood glucose control because exercise causes an increase in the uptake of glucose into cells and can improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. In addition, exercise has the added benefits of promoting weight loss and improving strength and fitness. Both aerobic and strength training are recommended, with a minimum goal of 30 minutes per day, every day.

Meal planning involves selecting healthy foods to help maintain consistent blood glucose levels while meeting energy needs for exercise and other activities. The dietary recommendations for preventing and treating diabetes are almost identical to the general recommendations for good health: Emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat meat and dairy and reduce unhealthy fats, added sugars, and salt. The diet should also promote weight loss and weight maintenance, especially for overweight patients. The glycemic index (GI), a measure of how much a food raises blood glucose, can be helpful in dietary planning, but it is not the only meal planning tool that should be used.

Proper diet, blood glucose testing, medication use, and regular exercise can improve blood glucose control, reduce the risk of other health problems, and improve quality of life in diabetics. In those with prediabetes these efforts can delay the progression to diabetes and may even result in a return to normal blood glucose. In fact, diet and exercise have been shown to be more effective than medications in preventing diabetes. Plus, these lifestyle changes lead to weight loss and improved fitness, benefits that no medication can match.


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