Tag Archives: exercise

Take steps (literally) to prevent 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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Diabetes 101: What you need to know for American Diabetes Month.

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 Standard this week.

diabetes


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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Invest in your health by following the Buffett plan.

Making smart investments that pay off over time is a key to creating wealth and sustaining financial wellbeing as we age. Warren Buffett is widely regarded as a successful investor and financial leader. His careful investment strategies have allowed him to amass an impressive personal fortune and lead to him be considered one of the foremost experts on investing.

For these reasons, Buffett’s business and financial advice is respected and followed by many people to achieve wealth and financial security. This same strategy can be applied to health with the same good results. Here is how following Buffett’s investing strategy can help you achieve good health now and maintain it long into the future. Just like saving for retirement, you will be glad you have plenty of good health in the bank when you get older.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. Since I am not an expert in the world of finance and investing, I did run this by a colleague from the School of Business to make sure I was on the right track.

couple jogging on beach


Make smart, not popular, choices.  Many of Buffett’s investments have been in industries or companies that others have overlooked in favor of more trendy options. However popular, these investments may not be smart choices in the long run. Similarly, new exercise trends and popular dietary supplements may seem appealing for weight loss, but the results are often disappointing. Sometimes the best approach for health is something much less exciting: making smart diet choices and daily exercise will almost always pay off for years to come.

Plan for the long-term success, not quick results.  Investments promising that you will get rich overnight are appealing. While you may make money initially, in the long run you may not have anything to show for it or you may end up losing money. Many fad diets and exercise trends are the health equivalent of get rich quick schemes. For example, they may promote weight loss right away, but fall short when it comes to keeping the weight off. Some popular high-intensity training programs can lead to rapid increases in fitness and strength. But for some people they can lead to injury or, at the very least, a negative experience that may turn them off from exercise in the future. Just as Warren Buffett makes investment decisions that will promote long-term income, you should make diet and exercise choices that will pay off for years to come. Even though the health “income” may accumulate more slowly, it is more likely to be lasting.

Diversify your investments.  Buffett’s strategy has been to invest in multiple industries. This allows him to maximize income and insulates his portfolio from losses in any one area. Similarly, you should diversify your health investments. Instead of focusing only on your diet or just on exercise, include both diet and exercise in your health portfolio. That way you will get the benefits of both treatments and maximize your return on investment. This works because the health benefits of good nutrition and physical activity are additive. In fact, in some cases the activity is essential for the diet to be effective, and vice versa.

Your goal should be to make smart investments in your health by choosing diet and activity strategies that you can live with and that will pay off long into the future. Applying Warren Buffett’s investment strategies can help guide you toward making these prudent decisions.

But a healthy, happy life involves more than good nutrition and exercise. You need to take time for yourself and do things you enjoy. Fortunately, there is another Buffett we can take inspiration from: Jimmy Buffett. Sometimes, escaping to Margaritaville is just what the doctor ordered!


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Chill out! Why less stress is essential for good health.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that contribute to or exacerbate many health problems. In fact, the negative health effects of chronic stress are like those of eating a poor diet or not getting enough physical activity. That said, managing stress, including getting enough sleep, is often overlooked as a key component of good health.

The effects of stress and the importance of stress management is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

stress


The word “stress” is typically used to indicate both the feeling of being “under a lot of stress” as well as the things that cause that feeling. The events and situations that cause stress are properly called stressors, which lead to a stress response that includes consequences we feel as well as physiological changes we may not notice.

The immediate effect of a stressor is called the “fight or flight” response since it prepares the body to deal with a dangerous situation. A classic example of this is a caveman who encounters a saber-toothed tiger, clearly a stress-inducing event.

The sympathetic nervous system is immediately activated, which raises heart rate and blood pressure to pump more blood to the muscles. Additionally, stored fat and carbohydrate fuels are broken down as fuel for the muscles. The adrenal glands release catecholamines (adrenaline) and cortisol (the stress hormone) to prolong and enhance this effect. This coordinated response makes sure the caveman’s body is ready for action. After the danger passes, everything returns to normal.

This physiological response is appropriate for major events like saber-toothed tiger encounters, but not for less perilous stressors like being stuck in traffic, pressure at work or home, and other personal and family issues. But the body responds with the same increase in blood pressure and hormones to them all. Unlike a rare saber-toothed tiger encounter, these stressors tend to occur on a daily basis, leading to continuous stress response.

The increase in hormones can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. This is partly due to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in storing fat and increasing appetite. While elevated cortisol during exercise (including running away from a saber-toothed tiger) is normal, chronic overproduction can have negative effects.

While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. To the extent that it is possible, avoiding stressful situations through better time management, setting realistic expectations for ourselves and with others, and learning to say “no” are common recommendations.

Learning how to deal with stressors to avoid the negative effects of stress is also important. Techniques that can be implemented in the heat of a stressful moment include taking a break from the situation, listening to calming music, and progressive relaxation. Even taking a deep breath can help.

Exercise has long been recognized as beneficial for reducing stress and the long-term effects of stress on your health. This includes doing something active during a stressful situation and exercising regularly to improve the way your body responds to stress. While all forms of exercise seem to work, much research and practice has focused on specific types of exercise including yoga and Tai Chi.

Other effective strategies traditionally include meditation and relaxation exercises. More and more research shows that getting enough sleep is also critical for reducing stress and the impact it has on your health. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the effects of stress as well.

The bottom line is that a healthy lifestyle includes stress management as well as a good diet and regular activity. Since all three are essential for good health, it would be wise to eat smart, move more, and chill out!


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Get fit (and stay cool) in the pool

It’s hot! Whether you are swimming laps or splashing in a lake, swimming is a great way to stay cool. Swimming is also an excellent exercise to get in shape, build muscle, and to help you lose (and maintain) weight. Lap swimming is about as aerobically demanding and burns as many calories as land-based exercise such as walking or jogging. The benefits of swimming is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Swimmer


There is nothing that feels better on a hot summer day than going for a swim. But beyond being a fun way to cool down, swimming is a great way to get in shape. Swimming is also an excellent exercise for injury rehabilitation or for people with conditions like arthritis.

The fitness benefits of swimming are well established. Since swimming is a whole-body exercise it uses all of your major muscle groups, building strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness. Highly trained swimmers have VO2max values, considered the best measure of aerobic fitness, that are similar to runners and cyclists. If you have doubts about the fitness benefits of swimming, think about how muscular and lean Olympic swimmers are.

Depending on the stroke and speed, swimming ranges between 5 to 10 METs. (METs are units used to measure the intensity of activity; one MET is equivalent to sitting at rest) For example, doing the backstroke at a moderate speed is about 5 METs while swimming laps freestyle with vigorous effort is about 10 METs.

This range is similar to walking at 4 mph up to jogging at a 9 minute per mile pace. What if you are just spending time in the pool or lake rather than swimming laps? Swimming leisurely is 6 METs, still a decent workout.

Swimming is a great way to burn calories, too. Even at a moderate pace, swimming laps for 30 minutes can burn over 200 calories. The exact energy expenditure depends on the stroke (butterfly is highest, backstroke is lowest) and the speed, but for most people swimming will burn as many calories as spending the same amount of time exercising on land.

There are two major reasons for this. First, water is more dense than air, so you need to expend more energy to move your body through the water. Second, swimming is a whole-body exercise which requires more muscle activity compared to walking or jogging which mostly involve the legs.

You may be surprised to learn that novice swimmers expend more energy per lap than elite swimmers. For example, one study showed that competitive swimmers expend only 280 calories to swim a mile, while less experienced swimmers burn about 440 calories to cover the same distance. The reason for this is that experienced swimmers are more efficient, so they expend less energy.

Aquatic exercise is popular for both therapeutic and fitness purposes, especially for people who don’t tolerate exercise on land well. When you are submerged up to your waist, 50% of your weight is supported; when you are up to your chest, about 75% is supported. This reduces the impact of exercise in the water, perfect for people who have arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, severe obesity, or who are recovering from injuries.

Exercise in the water doesn’t have to mean swimming laps. Water aerobics, aqua walking or jogging, and resistance training using foam “weights” or webbed gloves offer safe ways to increase strength and endurance for almost everyone. Most fitness facilities that have a pool offer group aquatic exercise classes and you can find instructions online for exercises that you can do in your own pool. If you are interested in using the pool for exercise, you can find information about aquatic exercise in general here and links to suggested exercises here.

The hot summer weather makes swimming and other water exercise appealing. But even if you don’t use the time for exercise, spending time playing in the pool or lake can still burn as many calories as going for a walk and is a great way to have fun and cool down!


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Get fit in just minutes per day!

We are cautioned to be skeptical of claims that you can lose weight while eating everything you want or that you can get in shape without spending hours at the gym. For good reason, too. These claims are essentially the equivalent of a get rich quick scheme, with the same expected results.

But there are some popular exercise programs that aim to increase your endurance, build muscle, and improve your health in less than 10 minutes per day. One is a popular seven minute workout that was published in a fitness journal and received much media attention. There is even an app for your phone that will guide you through the workout. If seven minutes seems like too much, there is even a four minute version! But is less than 10 minutes of exercise per day enough? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Stopwatch


Current guidelines call for all adults to participate in moderate intensity physical activity for 2 hours and 30 minutes per week or vigorous activity for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. You can meet this recommendation by going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes on 5 days each week, running for 25 minutes on 3 days per week, or some combination of the two. In addition, you should do strengthening and flexibility exercise at least two days of the week.

For many people, these recommendations seem daunting. In order to make it easier to meet these goals, the exercise time can be divided into shorter sessions. For example, three 10 minute walks are a substitute for walking 30 minutes at once. But some people may still find doing enough exercise to get in shape a challenge, which is why the seven minute exercise program became so popular. And for many, an effective way to improve their fitness.

The effect of exercise on health and fitness is determined by the dose—the combination of intensity and duration. Improvements in aerobic fitness and strength are more related to the intensity of the exercise. As little as a few minutes per day of high-intensity training can be enough to improve fitness, which is why these programs include a combination of vigorous aerobic and strength exercises. In fact, bouts as short as one minute of very intense exercise can improve strength and aerobic fitness better than lower intensity exercise done for a longer time.

Because these programs tend to be intense means that you have to be fit to even get started. A very short program may not be a good choice for people who are not already in shape or who are new to exercise. There may be a greater risk of injury in people who are unfit and start exercising at a high intensity. At the very least, muscle soreness is likely and may impact your ability—and motivation—to repeat that exercise the next day. It is smart to start slowly and gradually increase exercise duration and intensity as your fitness improves.

If you are interested in starting a 10 minute per day routine you may want to start with an app or video that leads you through daily workouts. These may involve using your own body weight for resistance or may require using minimal equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands. If you are more of an expert, you could create your own routine using exercises you are familiar with. You should also warm up before and cool down after each session, something that may not be included in the 10 minute program.

While a 10 minute exercise program can improve your fitness, it shouldn’t be the only physical activity you get. Optimal health and fitness benefits are realized by combining daily physical activity with regular exercise. The best advice is to be as active as possible every day by limiting the time you spend sitting and looking for opportunities to move. Walking instead of driving, using the stairs, and taking the dog for a walk are good ways to increase your activity. You should also dedicate time for exercise to improve your strength and aerobic fitness at least 2–3 days per week. A very short exercise routine may make it easier for you to meet this goal.


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FITT-SPF: How to exercise safely in the sun this summer.

People who exercise are probably familiar with FITT—frequency, intensity, time, and type—the basic principle behind almost all fitness programs. The FITT principle applies to everything from running to weightlifting to yoga. For people who exercise outdoors there are three more letters that are important to know, especially in the summer: SPF. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

woman running on beach


First, a bit more about FITT. Exercise prescriptions are based on four key concepts that allow training to be tailored to meet individual goals. Frequency refers to how often you are training, usually expressed as days per week. Intensity is how hard you are working, which could be running or walking speed or the amount of weight you are lifting. Time is simply how long you are exercising per session. Type is the specific type of training you are doing, which we typically think of as endurance (like walking), resistance (lifting weights), or flexibility (stretching).

Keep in mind that there is interaction between these components. Less intense exercise like walking is typically done for longer than more intense exercise such as interval training can be done in shorter sessions. Some people focus on one type of training at a time, as in weight lifting to increase strength or yoga to enhance flexibility, while others do exercise that includes some endurance, resistance, and flexibility training in the same session. Many group exercise classes and programs like CrossFit are examples of combining multiple aspects of fitness in one session. Since everyone has a different starting fitness level and goals, FITT can be manipulated to meet a variety of needs.

Many types of exercise, especially endurance or aerobic training, can easily be done outdoors. Walking, running, cycling, and water sports like stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking, are popular outdoor activities, especially in the summer. Being active outdoors in nature improves health and wellbeing beyond the fitness benefits of the exercise itself, so “going green” with your workouts is a great idea! Some sun exposure is necessary for your body to produce vitamin D, an essential nutrient. But excessive sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer.

Excessive sun exposure is a real risk of exercising outdoors, especially for prolonged periods of time. Cycling, running, water sports, and skiing have been identified as sports that increase the risk of some types of skin cancer. Unfortunately, sunscreen use among outdoor athletes is low. According to survey results, at least half of college athletes never apply sunscreen before games and practices and those who report using sunscreen don’t use it regularly.

Marathoners, who can accumulate 1,000 or more hours of sun exposure during training per year, are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than non-runners, but only about half use sunscreen, according to one study. Regular sunscreen use is even lower in the general population—about 30% of women and 15% of men—so even if you aren’t an athlete it is likely you are still at risk.

The good news is that there is much you can do to reduce your risk of skin cancer while you are active outdoors. First and foremost, properly applying (and reapplying every two hours) a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is the best way to protect exposed skin. Some sunscreens are more water and sweat resistant, but still need to be reapplied regularly.

Second, covering exposed skin with light-colored clothing, a hat, and sunglasses is smart. Some clothing is more resistant to UV rays than others, so look for a higher ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Obviously, you need to find a balance between protecting your skin and allowing sweat and heat loss to keep you cool.

Third, try to exercise outdoors in the early in the morning or later in the day when the sun’s rays are less direct. Keep in mind that you should still use sunscreen on cloudy days as UV rays can penetrate clouds. This also tends to be when temperatures are lower, too, so exercise may be more comfortable.

The bottom line is that summer is a great time to be active outdoors. By taking a few precautions you can do it safely, especially when it comes to reducing your risk of skin cancer from excessive sun exposure. You can learn more about skin cancer risk and prevention from the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology.


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