Tag Archives: fitness

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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Saving for when you need it most by making deposits in your fitness bank.

Saving money for emergencies is good advice and important for maintaining quality of life in the event of a lost job or other financial crisis. While this may seem like common sense, many people have been caught without enough savings when they needed it and found it difficult to meet basic needs.

This principle can also be applied to fitness. When you are healthy, you can maintain a high level of fitness. This makes your day-to-day activities easier and serves as a reserve or “bank” to draw on when you need it. Your good fitness now can get you through a health crisis just like saving money can help you through a financial crisis. This health crisis could come in the form of an injury or illness that keeps you from being active for several days or a hospitalization that keeps you in bed for a week, a month, or longer. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Patient walking in hospital


The problem with periods of inactivity, like bed rest or hospitalization, is that there are severe physiological effects that occur within days and get worse over time. You may have noticed this as weakness and fatigue after spending a few days in bed with a cold. Muscle strength declines with each day of bed rest, and can be 50% lower following as little as three weeks. That reduction in strength could limit a person who was already deconditioned to a point where he or she would have difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living.

A person who was fit and strong when they went into the hospital would certainly be better off when released. And older adults fare worse than younger individuals. According to one study, the decline in strength seen in older men in just 10 days was equivalent to the change measured after 28 days in men 30 years younger.

It’s not just the muscles that are affected, the bones get weaker, too. In fact, 12 weeks of bed rest can reduce bone density by as much as 50%, exposing patients to a greater risk of fracture. This is due to the reduced stress on the bone from not standing and walking as well as the lack of muscle activity. Two of the most effective ways to build bone density are putting stress on bones through weight-bearing activity and the action of the muscles pulling on the bones from resistance training. Because bed rest eliminates both of these stresses, bone density declines rapidly.

One unique study from the 1960s had healthy young men complete three weeks of bed rest. They all experienced a rapid decline (over 20%) in their aerobic fitness, but recovered quickly after the experiment ended. These individuals also had their fitness tested again 30 years later. It turns out that the decline in fitness in those young men in three weeks of bed rest was greater than the decline in fitness that occurred over 30 years of aging!

The good news is that most patients are encouraged to move around as much as possible. Some receive in-patient physical therapy or rehab, even after major surgery, to help lessen the effects of prolonged bed rest. It is important to take advantage of these opportunities if you, or a loved one, are hospitalized.

There are many reasons to exercise and be fit, but the most important reason may be to develop a fitness “bank” you can draw on if you become injured or hospitalized. Since the effects of bed rest are seen in people of all ages, everyone can benefit from a good fitness foundation. Just like putting money in the bank, doing a little now can have great benefits later when you need it most.

Finally, some smart advice: First, achieve and maintain a high level of fitness now, just as you would save money for a rainy day. You never know when you will need it. Second, if you are hospitalized, take advantage of opportunities to move, whether that is limited to moving from bed to a chair or if it includes short walks or even inpatient exercise–if the medical staff approves, of course. While many well-meaning friends and family members will tell you to rest and not move, true bed rest is almost the worse thing you can do.

For example, inpatient cardiac rehabilitation targets patients who are recovering from heart attacks and even open heart surgery. The goal is to get these patients up and moving as quickly as possible to prevent long-term consequences of bed rest.


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Santa’s exercise plan for functional fitness and health

Since Christmas is only a few days away 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.

santa


By all accounts, Santa is overweight. While we don’t know his body mass index, he would probably be considered obese. Furthermore, he appears to have a large waist circumference, indicating a high level of visceral fat. This suggests that Santa is a high risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. This combination can lead to a heart attack and, possibly, death at a relatively young age.

But Santa has avoided this fate, and seems to be living a healthy life. His secret, no doubt, is regular exercise. There is good evidence that maintaining a high level of physical activity can “undo” some of the negative effects of obesity and can reduce the risk of death in people who are obese (and everyone else).

Like many athletes, Santa trains in the “offseason” to get ready for his annual Christmas Eve journey. Santa’s training likely includes endurance, strength, and flexibility exercises. In order to visit every home around the world in one night, Santa moves quickly. This suggests that he has a high maximal aerobic capacity as well as good endurance. This is a result of both high-intensity interval training and long-duration, lower intensity training, similar to what a marathon runner might do. Evidence for his good aerobic fitness is shown by the fact that he flies away from each home with a hearty “ho, ho, ho.” If he were out of shape, he would be too short of breath to speak, much less give such a robust farewell.

Santa must also dedicate training time to improving his strength. His sack of gifts is certainly very heavy and he repeatedly carries it up and down chimneys. In addition to traditional weight lifting, Santa probably also engages in plyometric training, which involves explosive movements that develop muscle power. Santa must also have good flexibility in order to squeeze through narrow spaces and move quickly without pulling a muscle. This is the result of stretching and, likely, other exercises such as yoga.

Santa is also educated about sports nutrition. The cookies and milk you leave for him are more than a reward for delivering gifts at your house. The carbohydrates (sugar) in the cookies help Santa maintain his blood glucose to delay muscle fatigue. Some research suggests that combining carbohydrates with protein is even more effective, so the glass of milk is a good addition. Of course, Santa could have a specialized sports drink, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.

We can learn an important health lesson from Santa. Even though he is overweight, through regular exercise, Santa has reduced his risk of health problems and maintained his fitness at a level that allows him to complete his necessary activities. Like Santa, all of us can benefit from being physically active, whether we are overweight or not. He would likely be healthier and be able to perform his job better if he lost weight, but I’m not about to tell Santa what to do!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

It’s not too late to celebrate Walktober!

Walking is a great way to be active to help you lose weight, increase your fitness, and improve your health. The most common form of exercise is walking, and for good reason: it 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.

Now that cooler fall weather is finally here, spending time being active outdoors is more enjoyable. That is the spirit of Walktober, an initiative adopted by health organizations, companies, and communities around the globe. October is a great time to take advantage of opportunities to go for a walk!

walk-in-woods


Walking, like any exercise, has substantial health benefits. These benefits are even greater if you are active outdoors. Being active in a natural environment has been shown to have an impact on mental health including enhanced feelings of energy and diminished fatigue, anxiety, anger, and sadness compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Research shows that exercise outdoors leads to physiological changes in brain blood flow that are associated with psychological benefits.

When you go for a walk outdoors you may get a better workout. This is mostly due to the fact that you will likely walk faster outdoors, but other factors like uneven ground and hills add to your effort. The good news is that even though you may exercise at a higher intensity outside, you may feel that your effort is lower than for the same exercise indoors. This is partly because the pleasant visual stimuli outdoors distracts you from sensations of effort during exercise. And much of the psychological benefit of outdoor exercise occurs in the first five minutes, so even short bouts of activity are meaningful.

If you are new to walking for exercise, you can start with 10–15 minute sessions and work up to 30 (or more!) minutes at a time. This can be as simple as going for a short walk outside when you have a break at work or taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood. It’s also a good idea to walk with a friend or in a group, which can provide motivation and accountability. And, of course, it is a great way to spend time together.

If you have been exercising indoors, this is a perfect time to take your activity outdoors. Going for a hike in the woods or a long walk around town can build your endurance, especially if you encounter hills along the way. Running outdoors can break the monotony of the treadmill or other indoor exercise equipment. This might not replace your workouts at the gym, but it can certainly add to your activity.

The best part is that walking outdoors is something the whole family can do. Beyond the health benefits for everyone in your family, it sets an excellent example for your kids (and grandkids). Many experts agree that increasing opportunities for outdoor play and exercise is important for helping children grow up healthy and happy.

Every little bit of activity you do outdoors will have both physical and psychological benefits to help you become and feel healthier. So, get outside and get active this Walktober!

 


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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Just do it — together!

It’s common to see people walking or running in pairs, and at the gym many people like to work out with a partner. Group exercise classes and boot camp programs are popular among novices and seasoned exercisers alike. Joining a team that trains together to walk or run in a race is a good plan for completing your first 5k or 10k event.

Having another person or a group of people to exercise with is a great way to increase your motivation and enjoyment. This makes it more likely you will stick with your exercise program, leading to better fitness and health. But there are additional benefits to exercising with others that may help you get started and continue your fitness program. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Boot camp workout


Exercising with others provides a level of motivation and accountability that is important, especially for people who aren’t self-motivated. Knowing that you are meeting a friend for a walk or meeting a training partner at the gym makes it less likely that you will find an excuse to skip a workout. While guilt isn’t the best reason to exercise, for many people it is the one thing that will get them moving.

Did you know that exercising with others can also help you get a better workout? It’s true. When you are exercising with another person or a group you can get feedback on your technique. Doing exercises properly can reduce the risk of injury and improve your gains strength, endurance, and flexibility.

You can also get ideas for new exercises and training techniques that can make exercise more enjoyable and less monotonous. Many people find that having a friend to walk or run with makes the time seem to go by faster. The friendly “competition” that can come from a partner or group can push you to train harder, making the exercise more beneficial.

A group dynamic is an important component of many popular exercise classes and programs. At the gym, participants in classes from aerobics to Zumba and spin to yoga benefit from the support and motivation of exercising with others. And programs like boot camps, CrossFit, and F3 are popular largely because of the camaraderie of the other group members.

The benefits may be even greater if you exercise with someone who is more fit than you are. Research shows that when someone is exercising with a partner who they perceive to be more fit they will work out harder and longer than if they were exercising alone. You can benefit from finding a partner or group members who are in better shape than you are. Be careful, though, since exercising with people who are much fitter than you can have the opposite effect and you may get discouraged.

Your exercise partner doesn’t even have to be another person to be effective. Research shows that walking with a dog can improve your adherence to a walking program and lead to greater improvements in fitness compared to walking with a human companion. While a friend might make excuses to skip exercise, a dog will always look forward to a walk. Don’t worry if you don’t have a pet; one study used dogs at a local animal shelter as walking partners.

You can take advantage of the benefits of exercising with a partner easily by asking a friend to go for a walk. It’s something that will benefit you both and it will be a good opportunity to spend time together. No more excuses…get moving!

The effect of involving others in your behavior change process is also helpful for losing weight and quitting smoking. This is true even if the other person (or people) aren’t participating  with you—simply telling others about your plans to change can help make you more accountable and improve your chances for success.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr