Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Happy Walktober! Celebrate by going for a walk outdoors.

 

Now that cooler fall weather is finally here (at least in our area), being active outdoors is more enjoyable. October is a great time to get outdoors and go for a walk! That is the spirit of Walktober, an initiative adopted by health organizations, companies, and communities around the globe.

Walking is a great way to be active to help you control your weight, increase your fitness, and improve your health. The most common form of exercise for most people is walking, and for good reason: walking doesn’t require any special equipment (beyond comfortable shoes) or skills, and you can do it almost anywhere.

You can meet basic physical activity recommendations by walking briskly for 30 minutes most days of the week. Even this amount of walking can lead to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers as well as improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of wellbeing.

father and son walking in woods

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Take steps (literally) to fight the flu.

It’s time to get a flu shot if you haven’t already. Getting vaccinated is the most important thing you can do to prevent seasonal influenza (flu). But did you know that regular exercise is important for a healthy immune system and can make your flu shot more effective? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Flu vaccine


Exercise can have a positive effect on your immune system. People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds and have up to 50% fewer sick days than those who aren’t regularly active. Research in animals and humans shows that exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells. This makes the immune system response to viruses, like the cold and flu, more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when the exercise is moderate in intensity and duration, such as a 30–60 minute walk or jog.

More exercise isn’t always better, though. Very vigorous and prolonged exercise can have the opposite effect. Athletes who engage in long, intense training tend to be more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. Research shows that immune function is depressed in the weeks leading up to and after running a marathon, leading to an increased risk of becoming sick. The bottom line is that regular exercise improves your immune system, but very vigorous exercise may not.

Regular exercise also enhances the immune system response to the influenza vaccine. This means that the flu vaccine can be more effective in people who exercise. If you don’t exercise already, you can still benefit: One study showed that a single 45 minute exercise session can improve the immune response to the flu vaccine. You can get this benefit by going for a brisk walk before your flu shot.

There are other steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting sick this cold and flu season beyond getting a flu shot and regular exercise. You should avoid close contact with people who are sick since the flu can be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can also protect yourself by not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth and by washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Good nutrition is also important for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of 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. In fact, the majority of nutritional supplements have not undergone appropriate testing and for those supplements that have been tested, the results are not consistent with the claims.

Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. Sleep deprivation can also reduce the positive immune response to a flu shot. High levels of stress increase susceptibility to colds and the flu 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.

In order to have your best chance of staying healthy this year you should exercise every day, eat a healthy diet, manage your stress, and get enough sleep. Additionally, follow the traditional advice to get a flu shot, wash your hands frequently, stay away from people who are sick, and stay home yourself if you are ill.


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Exercise has benefits at any age, so it’s never too late to start.

 

The benefits of regular exercise for everyone from childhood through old age are well-known. Children who are physically active establish healthy habits and do better in school than their peers who are more sedentary. Young adults who exercise are more likely to be active as they age, reducing their risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Older adults can maintain their memory, cognitive function, and ability to complete everyday activities by improving their fitness.

In many ways, exercise can turn back time on many health and fitness variables that decline with age. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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When it comes to the health and fitness benefits of exercise, there are no shortcuts–you have to do the exercise!

What if there was a way that you could get the benefits of exercise without having to do the exercise? Many people are interested in finding such a shortcut to health and fitness. Some of these ideas are pretty creative. Take this one, for example: Exercise increases your heart rate and causes you to sweat. So does sitting in a sauna. But is sitting in a sauna a shortcut to getting the benefits of exercise? The answer is no! When it comes to getting the benefits of exercise, you actually have to exercise. Continue reading

Function and fitness follow form.Why doing exercises properly can help you get fitter, faster.

When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is that you do it! When you are starting out, almost anything you do will have health and fitness benefits. As little as 30 minutes per day of moderate aerobic activity can improve your endurance and even one set of a few resistance exercises once or twice per week can increase your strength. Doing more, either longer exercise time or intensity, will result in bigger improvements in fitness.

Getting the most out of your workouts requires doing exercises properly. Using equipment appropriately and having good form can help enhance your gains from training. Proper technique is commonly thought to reduce the risk of injury, but it also has as much to do with the effectiveness of the exercise itself. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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A health and fitness remodeling project

Losing weight are getting in better shape are common goals. Given that almost 40% of Americans are considered obese and less than 25% meet minimum exercise recommendations, there are many people who could benefit from changing their eating and activity habits.

Much of the time the focus is on losing lots of weight quickly. Many popular diet and exercise programs require making big changes to eating and exercise behaviors. These changes can promote rapid weight loss, but many can’t be maintained as lasting habits. But these changes do help a lot of people lose significant weight, at least for a while.

There are also many people who want to lose just a little weight, maybe 5–10 pounds, and get in better shape. This usually means building muscle and shedding fat, but not really losing much weight, a process that I call “remodeling”.

jogger in woods

Here is a story about Shannon (not her real name), and her health and fitness remodeling project. Continue reading

Think big for better health. Here are a few simple changes that will have a big impact on your health.

If you are trying to lose weight, prevent or treat a chronic condition like diabetes, or improve your health in general, knowing what to do can be confusing. Being “healthier” can include an almost endless list of small changes, making you unsure where to begin.

Nutrition trends tend to focus on single foods or ingredients rather than on changes that will have a significant impact on your diet and health. For example, adding chia seeds to a smoothie is unlikely to make you any healthier, but eating more fruits and vegetables certainly will. The same is true for fitness fads, most of which offer little benefit beyond simply dedicating time for regular exercise.

To really improve your health, you should focus on making changes that will have a big impact. Here are a few ideas to help you get started, which I shared in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


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  1. Sit less, move more, be active every day

Research shows that sitting too much is almost as unhealthy as not exercising. Spending less time sitting at work, home, or in the car is an easy way to improve your health. Getting up and moving for even a few minutes is better than staying seated for long periods of time. Every little bit of activity really does count.

Significant health benefits, including weight loss and improved fitness, can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of activity per day, but more is better. The activity doesn’t have to be “exercise.” It can include walking the dog, yard work, or house work, but there are significant additional health and fitness benefits from regular aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercise.

 

  1. Eat smart, and not too much

Making dietary changes can be difficult, but first you need to figure out what to do. Fortunately, a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. While there is much debate about which diet is the healthiest, almost everyone agrees that eating more real food, especially fruits and vegetables, and less added sugar is a good place to start.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and most are low in calories. Eating less added sugar in sweets and processed foods can help you cut down on calories and lead you toward healthier food choices. Controlling portion sizes plays as big of a role in weight maintenance as the types of food you eat, so pay attention to how much you eat. Chances are, it is more than you think!

 

  1. Chill out and get your ZZZs

Reducing and managing stress is essential for good health. Uncontrolled stress can lead to high blood pressure, poor immune function, and weight gain. Daily exercise will help, as will using as will stress management techniques like progressive relaxation and breathing exercises.

Getting enough sleep is also important for good physical and mental health. Sleep is important because it provides a condition under which energy can be directed toward growth and recovery rather than other activities. This is essential for the brain, muscles, and other organs, which renewed during sleep.

 

  1. Don’t smoke

Smoking cigarettes more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke, and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.


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