Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Strike a recovery pose

If you spend time in the gym or play or watch sports, you probably see athletes standing with their hands on their head or bent over with their hands on their knees during a break from a workout or game. Other than being an indicator of fatigue, these “poses” may actually speed recovery, allowing athletes to get back to action faster. Quick recovery is important for performance in athletes, especially if they have back-to-back events. It’s also important for the rest of us when we do workouts that have multiple sets, separated by brief recovery periods. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Go (and Eat) Green for Earth Day

Since Earth Day is this is a good time to think about the impact we have on our environment and what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are ways we can “go green” that are good for our health and the health of our planet, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Fit for fun: Preparing for your active summer vacation

If you intend to take a vacation this summer, now is the time to start planning. If your vacation will involve activities like hiking, cycling, or swimming, you need to make sure you are ready for that level of activity. Even sightseeing and visiting theme parks can require far more activity than most people are accustomed to.

Unfortunately, many people find out the hard way—sore feet and achy legs, for example—that they weren’t prepared. The good news is that regular exercise now can prepare you for your next vacation so you can focus on having fun. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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There is good reason to choose an active vacation. Spending time outdoors can reduce stress and walking on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean seems like fun, not exercise. The end result is that being active on your vacation adds to the restorative effect of taking time away from your usual routine. In one study, people who had a physically active vacation reported that they felt mentally and physically fitter, felt more balanced and relaxed, could concentrate better during work, were in a better mood, and felt more recuperated than those who took it easy.

Even if you don’t choose a vacation to participate in a specific exercise, you will likely spend time being active. At the very least, you will be on your feet a lot more than usual.

It is not uncommon for visitors to Disney World to be on their feet for 12 hours and walk 10 to 15 miles in a single day. Most people don’t do that much walking in a typical week! This can lead to blisters, muscle soreness, and fatigue, limiting what you can do and, at the very least, making your time less enjoyable.

If you spend much of your time sitting at work and home, you should try limit your sitting and spend more time standing and moving around. This will help you get ready for long days on your feet. If your vacation will include cycling, hiking, or other vigorous exercise, you should make an effort to build up your endurance through longer exercise sessions. And be sure to break in new hiking or walking shoes before your trip!

Your travel plans may require spending time on planes and in airports. This usually means a lot of sitting, but it doesn’t have to. Airports, especially large airports, are built for walking. You can easily walk long distances while you wait for your flight. If you have enough time, you can take a walk around the entire airport, giving you an active way to pass the time.

Passageways that showcase art, shopping, or other information make walking through the airport a more pleasant experience. If you are traveling with children, many airports have areas that allow kids to move and play. You can always get at least a few minutes of activity by taking a short walk rather than sitting in the gate area waiting for your flight to board. Once you are on the plane you can usually get out of your seat to stand up, stretch, and walk around a bit.

Your goal should be to enjoy your vacation and the extra activity it will likely include. In addition to the numerous other health benefits, improving your fitness through regular physical activity will help you appreciate your vacation time more with less stress, meaning you can return home relaxed and ready to take on your usual routine.


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Living from chair to chair … to wheelchair?

You probably know that participating in regular physical activity is among the most important things you can do to improve your health. This activity can include exercise as well as just about anything else that gets you moving.

Parking further away at the store, walking the dog, even doing yard work are all recommended ways to be more active. The message, from me and others, is that every little bit of activity counts. Of course, doing more activity, including both higher intensity (traditional exercise) and longer duration (a longer walk) can bring greater health benefits.

What you may not know is that being sedentary, especially spending time sitting, is just as detrimental to your health as not being active. In fact, spending most of the day sitting can undo some of the benefits of exercising, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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It’s true—a person who doesn’t exercise but moves a lot during the day at work or home may be healthier than someone who exercises every day but spends much of the rest of their day sitting! (To be sure, that person is much better off than someone who doesn’t exercise and sits all day.)

You may also be surprised how much time most people, yourself included, spend sitting. While some people have jobs that keep them active, most occupations involve sitting much of the day.

The situation outside of work isn’t much better, between lengthy commutes in the car and hours of “screen time” at home.

This sedentary time comes at the expense of being active, especially doing vigorous activity that causes you to break a sweat, like exercise. And the extent to which we avoid vigorous activity is shocking!

One study used measurements of physical activity recorded continuously for several days in over 2,500 adults to determine how much time the typical American spends being active or sedentary. The results show that the average adult spends about 8 hours each day being sedentary (sitting, mostly), and about 6 hours being active. Almost all that activity time was light intensity activity, around 20–30 minutes was moderate-intensity (a brisk walk), and less than a minute of vigorous activity per day. Less than a minute!

As the author of this study noted, many people seem to be living from “one chair to another.”

Men were slightly more active than women, and overweight and obese men and women were less active than normal weight individuals. Obese women got just one hour of exercise per year. Obese men were not much better, with less than three hours of vigorous activity per year. These levels of physical activity are far below the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

The consequences of sitting so much instead of being active can be severe, including higher body fatness, poor physical function, and increased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Another study suggests that these consequences also include an increased risk of disability. In this study, older adults who were less active reported more difficulty completing self-care tasks including getting in and out of bed, eating, dressing, or walking. In fact, each additional hour of sedentary time increased the risk of this type of disability by almost 50%.

Most of us live a life that includes too much sedentary time, especially sitting, and too little activity. This has serious health consequences both now and as we age. But you can take steps (literally!) to become more active by sitting less, moving more, and making time each day to be active.


 

Reducing sugar and sweet.

Cutting back on sugar intake is a common goal to improve heath and promote weight loss. It is also a popular New Year’s resolution and many people have attempted to completely eliminate sugar on a 30-day (or longer) sugar challenge. There is good reason to do this: eating too much sugar is unhealthy! Excessive sugar intake causes hormonal changes and inflammation that can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This is especially true when combined with a lack of physical activity. And your dentist wants you to know that sugar is also associated with dental caries.

If you are trying to lose weight or if your goal is to eat healthier in general, reducing or eliminating added sugar will help more than any other single dietary change. Many people do this by switching from sugary sodas, juices, and other beverages to flavored, artificially sweetened drinks. This is good because it lowers sugar intake, but it may not be the best approach.  This is the topic of my Health and Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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There is some concern over potential health risks of excessive artificial sweetener consumption, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, mood, and behavior. It is important to know that research does not support a strong association between typical artificial sweetener consumption and these health problems. That said, if your goal is to eat less processed food, avoiding artificial sweeteners is an excellent idea.

A more realistic concern may be the effect that replacing sugar with an equally sweet alternative has on your eating behavior and food preferences. Sweetness is one of the most important tastes we respond to, driving our food choices and the amount we eat. It is easy to become accustomed to a certain level of sweetness in food and beverages that make unsweetened “natural” options less palatable.

For example, in an effort to move away from soda and other beverages, many people drink flavored, artificially sweetened water. These drinks taste good and have no calories, so they seem like a smart choice. And they are, if you only consider calories. But these drinks create an expectation that water should be flavored and sweet, so they move people away from a goal of making water the primary source of hydration. I know several adults who simply won’t drink plain water!

This is especially true for children when it comes to fruit. Kids may develop an expectation that strawberries should taste like strawberry-flavored fruit snacks or that orange juice should taste as sweet as a sugar-free fruit drink. Children who learn that fruit should taste sweeter than it really is may not like real fruit when they try it. To a kid accustomed to drinking orange-flavored drinks, even sugar-free, an actual orange may taste sour.

So, if you are already cutting back on sugar intake, keep it up. If you haven’t tried to reduce your sugar consumption, you should. The health benefits are worth it! Keep in mind that you should also make an effort to cut back on sweets, too.  

Take the sweet challenge by reducing your consumption of added sugars and sweeteners. One easy way to do this is to replace sweetened drinks with plain water, tea, and coffee.  You should also avoid processed foods and eat more “real” food. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, meat, beans, and dairy are known to have health benefits and have no added sweetness. When you do eat packaged foods, pay attention to food labels and look for foods and beverages that have no added sugar or sweeteners.


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No pain, no gain? Why muscle soreness occurs after exercise and what to do about it.

If you exercise, especially if you lift weights, you have probably heard the adage, “No pain, no gain.” This may serve as motivation for some people, but the belief that exercise results in pain might be a good reason not to work out for others. If you are one of those people, you should know that idea that exercise should hurt is simply wrong—muscle pain during or following exercise usually suggests an injury. However, some muscle soreness is unavoidable, especially if you are new to exercise. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Let’s Agree to Agree About Food

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual event created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus on developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics represents Registered Dietician Nutritionists and other nutrition professionals and is an excellent source for information about food, nutrition, and health.

I will share some general advice about healthy eating here but remember that a Registered Dietician is your best resource for evaluating your diet and making changes to meet your individual needs for health and performance.

Here are five ways to improve your diet almost everyone agrees on, from my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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How to be smart about cutting carbs

I had lunch with a friend at a casual Mexican place recently. He ordered a burrito without the tortilla (too many carbs), but ate a whole basket of corn chips. Many people make this same choice…cutting out carbohydrates in one way but eating more in another.

To be sure, most of us could easily eat less carbohydrates, but I think we are focusing on the wrong carbohydrate sources. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus on the tortilla as much as the chips that go with it.

I think of this in terms of “necessary” and “unnecessary” carbs. In the example above, the tortilla is a necessary part of the burrito, but the chips are an unnecessary addition. If people are interested in cutting out carbs, skipping the chips make more sense than forgoing the tortilla. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Celebrate American Heart month by learning more about your heart.

February is American Heart Month, with a focus on encouraging all of us to make heart-healthy choices to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. I thought that sharing some information about the heart, how it works, and how to keep it healthy would be an appropriate way to celebrate. This is also the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Are those chocolate hearts you got for Valentine’s Day healthy?

Today is Valentine’s Day so you may have been the lucky recipient of a box of chocolates. Hopefully you enjoyed it! Of course, eating too many sweets, including chocolate, isn’t a good idea. But eating certain types of chocolate has been linked to some health benefits.

The idea that chocolate may be healthy is no doubt welcome news for chocoholics. But it may leave you wondering if eating chocolate really is healthy. The answer depends on what you mean by chocolate and what you mean by healthy.

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