Tag Archives: starting an exercise program

Vacation is over…it’s time to get back to the gym.

Summer is winding down so many of us will be getting back to our usual routine. Maybe you had an active vacation this summer and maintained your fitness.  More likely, you took relaxing on your vacation a bit too seriously and fell out of your normal exercise routine.

Athletes have long known that even a short break from training results in significant decreases in fitness and performance. You may have noticed this yourself after taking time off. Two recent studies that you may have read about in the news suggest that taking time off from exercise can have a negative impact on your health.

Let’s explore how and why this happens, and what you can do to prevent it.

Exhausted after workout


When you start an exercise program your body adapts in ways that improve your strength and endurance.

Your aerobic fitness and endurance are enhanced by both cardiac and muscle adaptations. Your heart actually gets larger and stronger to pump more blood to your muscles. Within the muscles there is an increase in the number of capillaries, the small blood vessels that deliver blood to the muscle, and mitochondria, the part of the cell that produces ATP, the energy the muscle uses to contract. Together, these adaptations allow the muscle to produce more ATP without fatigue, allowing you to exercise a higher intensity for a longer time without fatigue.

If you do resistance training (and you should!), you get stronger and your muscles get bigger, called hypertrophy. Lifting weights causes microscopic damage in the muscle, which leads to inflammation and soreness. This sounds bad, but your muscles respond by rebuilding stronger, allowing you to generate more force and causing the muscle to grow in size.

These adaptations are also a major reason that exercise makes you healthier, too. Your blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood cholesterol are all improved because of how your heart, blood vessels, and muscles respond to exercise. Additionally, exercise results in changes to certain hormones and how your body stores and uses or stores glucose and fat. The end result is that exercise has far-reaching beneficial effects on your health that simply can’t be matched by any other intervention, including medications.

So, when you stop exercising for a period of time you start to lose these adaptations. This causes both your fitness and health to decline. And it happens quickly, in as little as two weeks!

Two recent studies demonstrate that regularly active adults who suddenly limit their usual activity for two weeks experience significantly impaired blood glucose control, increased fat storage, and lower fitness. It is important to note that in both studies these changes did not fully return to baseline after resuming normal activity for an additional two weeks. This means that the benefits of exercise were lost quickly and took a longer time to return to normal.

This is also true for aerobic fitness and muscular strength. Research done on athletes who stop training, perhaps due to an injury, shows that fitness declines rapidly with the first two weeks. Worse, it can take many more weeks to regain those fitness losses. You may not be a competitive athlete, but the same principle applies to you when you take time off from exercise.

Make it your goal to maintain some level of activity, even when you are on vacation. Time off can mean doing less, but it doesn’t have to mean doing nothing. Even a little exercise can help you maintain your fitness, keep you healthy, and make it easier when you return to the gym.


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Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your health

Have you ever justified your weight by saying you are “big-boned”? What about your eating and exercise habits? How often do you really eat out? How many days did you actually get to the gym last month? Are you being honest with yourself when it comes to your health? And are you asking others to be honest with you?

Being honest about your health is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Being honest with yourself is essential for initiating health behavior changes and setting good goals. For example, someone who tells themselves they need to lose “a few pounds” may really need to lose much more and may not take their weight loss as seriously as they should. Convincing yourself that you are doing more exercise than you really are may mean that you won’t see the fitness or weight loss results you were expecting.

This type of self-deception is easy to do. Take body weight for example. The current standard for determining if you are at a healthy weight is body mass index (BMI), calculated from your weight and height (kg/m2). It requires a bit of math, so using a mobile app or online calculator is a good idea.

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal, 25-29.9 is overweight, and if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are classified as obese. To put this in perspective, a BMI of 30 is equivalent to about 25–30 pounds of excess fat.

Let’s say your BMI puts you in the obese category, suggesting you should lose weight. But then you think about an article you read about how BMI isn’t accurate because you can be considered obese if you have excess muscle, not fat. And then there was the story on the news suggesting that it is okay to be obese as long as you are physically fit. So, maybe you don’t need to worry about your weight!

See how easy it is to tell yourself that you don’t really need to lose weight? In reality, BMI is an accurate method of assessing your body fatness; the inaccuracies reported in the news almost always involve athletes or people with lots of muscle mass developed through physical labor. Be honest…is that really you? It’s also true that people who are fit and fat can be healthier than people who are thin and sedentary, but it requires a lot of exercise to reach that level of fitness. Again, are you really that fit?

Probably the best test is to take a good look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. Try to “pinch an inch” of fat around your belly. One inch isn’t necessarily a problem, but take notice if you can pinch a handful of fat. Measuring your waist circumference (or looking at your pants size) can give you the same information. People who have a high BMI because of extra muscle, like athletes, have thin waists. If your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches ( women) or 40 inches (men), you have excess fat.

This honesty also applies to others, including your doctor. Many physicians are reluctant to discuss weight and weight loss with their patients, and many patients don’t want to hear what they interpret as a personal attack. Don’t be one of those patients! Ask your doctor for an honest assessment about your weight and the impact it might have on your health.

This is a real problem. According to one report, only 39 percent of obese people surveyed had ever been told by a health care provider that they were obese.     To help combat this problem, the American Medical Association has developed resources to help physicians better communicate with patients about their weight.

Making changes to diet and activity habits is a difficult process, to be sure. Telling yourself that you don’t need to make them only delays getting started and can lead to poor health in the meantime. When it comes to your health, honesty is the best policy!


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

Your Health & Fitness holiday gift guide: What you should really give your friends and family this year.

You probably have a friend or family member who is planning to start an exercise program, try to lose weight, or otherwise improve their health in the upcoming year. The right gift from you could help them get a good start on their New Year’s resolutions. With so many options for books, DVDs, exercise equipment, apps, and other gadgets, it can be difficult to pick the right gift. No worries, the Health & Fitness holiday gift guide is here to help you select something that will really help. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Holiday shopping


Most gift guides for health and fitness include things that people might need to get started and succeed on a weight loss or exercise program. Activity trackers are popular for monitoring exercise and providing motivation. Many runners use GPS devices or apps to record and share their runs. A host of websites and mobile apps provide nutrition analysis of meals to help with meeting training goals or weight loss. Almost all of these allow sharing with others over social media networks to foster a group dynamic, providing support, and even a little healthy competition.

All of these apps and devices can be helpful to someone starting a health improvement project and make great gifts. But an even better gift is something that really will help your friends and family members be successful. Here are the Health & Fitness holiday gift ideas:

Time. The most common reason that people quit an exercise program or struggle with weight loss is because of time. That includes time to exercise, obviously. But it also includes time to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals and snacks. This year, give the gift of time. Commit to helping your friend or family member plan time to focus on their program and dedicate yourself to taking on some responsibilities to help them do that. 

Help. In addition to helping find time, you should commit to actually doing things to facilitate your friend or family member’s health improvement program. Taking on chores and projects around the house, picking up the kids after school, and helping with shopping and cooking are examples of things you can do.

Support. Anyone who makes a major lifestyle change needs the support of others to be successful. Your role can be to provide encouragement, ask about progress, and take your friend’s program into account when planning meals and other activities together. You should also be ready to provide a gentle (or not-so-gentle) nudge when you see them getting off track.

A buddy. People who take on an exercise program with others are more likely to stick with it and be successful. So get involved with your friend or family member. Going for a walk together during a break at work or developing a healthy eating plan as a family is an excellent way to play along. Chances are, these healthy changes will benefit you, too.

These gifts may not have the wow factor of a shiny exercise gadget, but they are the things that will really help your friends and family members be successful. And that’s the best kind of gift to give. After all, no one ever quit an exercise program or failed at losing weight because they didn’t have the right nutrition app or the latest activity tracker. The real reason people struggle is because of factors like time and support from family and friends in the real, not virtual, world.


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

 

A second chance for your New Year’s resolutions

How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Hopefully, you are still on track to meet your goals. If not, you are in good company. Research suggests that by this time well over half of people who made New Year’s resolutions have either lost momentum or given up altogether and that only 8% will achieve their goal.

There are a host of reasons for this. Some of the most common resolutions—quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting in shape—are also some of the most difficult behaviors to change because they require making significant lifestyle modifications. To make things worse, many people set unrealistic goals or try to take on too much at once.

Many people who fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions this year will recycle them next year and try again. In fact, most people who manage to successfully quit smoking or lose weight have tried many times in the past. Sometimes experience, even a bad experience, is the best way to learn what does and doesn’t work.

But there is no need to wait until January 1 to try again. It turns out that now is a perfect time to restart your stalled New Year’s resolution or finally get around to doing what you planned months ago. Labor Day marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year, so it is a natural time to set goals and make changes. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Resolution list


Since setting a date to begin a behavior change is critical step in the process, why not give yourself a second chance on your New Year’s resolutions today?

Here is some advice to help restart (or start!) your New Year’s resolutions successfully.

Be realistic. Many people fail to keep their resolutions simply because they don’t set realistic goals or aren’t honest with themselves about what it will take to meet those goals. For example, running a marathon is an ambitious goal for almost everyone, especially someone who doesn’t exercise at all. A resolution to work up to jogging five days per week, with a goal of completing a 5k run is more realistic and achievable.

Focus on learning. Making most health behavior changes involves learning as much as doing. Something as simple as eating healthier meals requires learning about the nutrients that make some foods better than others, learning to read food labels to select healthy foods, and learning how to cook and prepare healthy meals. If your resolution is to learn about healthy meals, you will be able to achieve that goal and be well on your way to eating a healthier diet.

Manage your time. Most health improvement projects require taking time to learn about, implement, and maintain those healthy behaviors. If you resolve to manage your time to include exercise or meal preparation in your daily schedule you will be much more likely to meet your goals. Trying to add these new activities as “extras” to your already busy day will inevitably lead to them getting squeezed out.

Plan ahead. Most people already know that changing health behaviors can be challenging, even under the best circumstances. It’s no wonder that holidays, travel, and other life events can complicate or even derail an otherwise successful diet or exercise program. Make it your resolution to think about what you can do before, during, and after these (and other) disruptions occur to keep yourself on track.

Hopefully these steps will help you keep your resolutions, achieve your goals, and make this a happy, healthy year. As a bonus, you can take January 1 off!


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

Affordable care acts

The Affordable Care Act is in the news again, this time because the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled on the legality of subsidies offered to help people afford health insurance. Health care has long been an important and contentious topic in both political and social circles. Given the importance that accessing quality health care has for everyone, it is unfortunate that promoting good health has turned into a political debate.

In addition to expanding access to health care, the Affordable Care Act should also make it easier for people to get preventive care. This is important since preventable chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease, are among the leading causes of disability and death as well as contributing to high health care costs. It turns out that adopting some simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward making you and your family healthier, as well as saving money.

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

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Here are a few affordable care acts you can implement today:

1. Move more

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. Research shows that sitting too much is just as unhealthy as not exercising. Spending less time sitting at work, home, or in the car is another easy way to improve health. And 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.

2. Eat smart

Making dietary changes can be difficult, but a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. Eating more real food including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and less added sugar is a good place to start. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals 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 gain and loss as the types of food you eat, so pay attention to how much you eat, especially when you eat out. Chances are, it is more than you think!

3. Chill out.

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 stress management techniques like progressive relaxation. When you can, avoiding stressful situations is wise. Taking time to do something you enjoy each day is a good idea, too. Getting enough sleep (most adults require 7–9 hours) is also important for good physical and mental health.

4. Don’t smoke

Cigarette smoking 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—and the health of those around you. 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.

Regular activity, quitting smoking, managing stress, and the types of dietary changes described here can have a profound effect on preventing and treating many health problems. Best of all, these affordable care acts are basically free to implement and can lead to both health and financial savings now and in the future.


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 about time.

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about time—why dedicating adequate time is essential for exercise and weight loss success and suggestions for how to spend your time to achieve health and fitness goals.


Improving your health through diet, exercise, and weight loss takes motivation and dedication. It also takes time. This includes time to learn about what you should (and shouldn’t) do as well as the time needed to modify these health habits. For many, the problem isn’t knowing what to do or how to get started, it is finding the time to stick with the program. In fact, the number one reason why people abandon their diet and exercise routine is lack of time.

Given that most people are busy—maybe too busy—with work, family, and other responsibilities, finding time to focus on health isn’t easy. But it is important, so the first step should be dedicating your time wisely to meet your goals. This involves time for planning, taking action, and monitoring your progress. In short, you should treat your diet or exercise program like a project, rather than an “extra” activity.

This idea is supported by behavior change research, workplace productivity programs, and the practical experience of real people who have gone through this process. Here are a few suggestions to help you dedicate the time you need to achieve your health and fitness goals.

Before you begin. Any health behavior change should begin with identifying what you want to change, setting realistic goals, and determining what information, resources, and support you will need. For example, if you want to lose weight you should have a goal weight and timeline in mind. You should also set both short-term (weekly) and long-term (monthly or longer) goals.

This is also a good time to determine when and how you will put your plan into action. If you need information about what to eat or decide to join a gym to exercise, put those components in place now. Looking at your calendar and scheduling time for preparing meals and daily exercise or making a weekly menu of meals and a grocery list before you go to the store are good ways to invest your time.

Getting started. Once you have yourself organized, it is time to begin! Hopefully, this is a bit easier since you planned ahead, but keep in mind that you will continually need to revisit and modify your plan. This is important because a major reason why people don’t succeed is that they don’t allow flexibility in their plan. Once things go awry, they give up. The key is to keep moving forward, even if the progress is slow.

Keeping track of your weight or a record of what you eat or what you do for exercise is a simple way to monitor your progress. Linking progress to rewards is important for keeping you motivated, but make sure the rewards are consistent with your goals.

Sticking with it. While starting a diet or exercise program can be challenging, it is also exciting and seeing progress can be motivating. The trick is to maintain that progress over time, especially when you aren’t seeing such big improvements. Knowing that things will not always go as planned can help you avoid a bad day or week from ruining your success. This is why dedicating time to thinking about “what if” scenarios and coming up with back-up plans is essential.

 

The secret to lasting weight loss or maintaining an exercise program isn’t so much the details of the program but spending the time to plan, get off to a good start, and maintain the changes you decide to make. In the end, it’s about the time you dedicate to developing healthy habits.

 

 

The five pillars of good health

What does it really take to live a healthy lifestyle? This is the topic of me Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Confusing and conflicting information can make improving your health especially challenging. Some advice is straightforward—quit smoking, for example. But other recommendations, especially those regarding nutrition and exercise, are less clear. In an effort to stay focused on the “big picture” I have created what I call the Five Pillars of Good Health. These are five habits that are the basis for achieving and maintaining good health.

Don’t Smoke.

Smoking doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke and is the leading cause of lung cancer. Second-hand smoke can affect the health of others, so these risks are not limited to the smoker.

If you smoke, quit now…no excuses! Newer prescription medications and over-the-counter nicotine replacement products can help, but quitting will require dedication, effort, and support.

Eat Smart.

Good nutrition is essential for preventing and treating most chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Perhaps the best way to cut through the conflicting nutrition information and diet claims is to simplify healthy eating to it’s most basic form: Eat real food, not processed “food.”

This isn’t easy, of course. One sure way to make better choices is to limit added sugars and salt, which are almost always present in processed foods. Strive to eat more whole fruits and fruit juices, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (like beans), lean meat, dairy, and nuts. If weight loss is a goal for you, reducing portion sizes will absolutely help you cut calories.

Move More.

This is a three-step process. First, sit less. Limit sedentary time at work and home and make opportunities to get up and move. The health effects of prolonged sitting are similar to not exercising. If you find yourself in stuck a chair for an hour, at least get up and stretch for a minute.

Second, move more. Look for ways to add activity to your everyday routine. This can include yard work and house work as well as using the stairs and parking further away in parking lots. Every additional step counts!

Third, dedicate time to be active every day. This can include activity such as taking the dog for walk as well as more structured exercise that includes endurance, resistance, and flexibility training. Strive for 30 minutes per day, but know that more is better.

Chill Out.

Chronic stress can have a powerful effect on your health. While it is not possible to eliminate all stress from your life, you should dedicate yourself to identifying and modifying sources of stress at work and home and learning to control your stress response.

Much of the stress of life comes down to not having enough time. Good time management, planning carefully, and setting priorities will certainly help reduce both long and short-term stress. You should also know that inadequate sleep adds to the health effects of stress, so strive to get enough sleep.

Make It Work For You.

This is the tricky part—how to actually make these changes. The first step is to make good health a priority and dedicate time and energy to your efforts. No doubt you have tried some of these changes before, you probably have an idea of what does and doesn’t work for you. Try something different this time around. The support of others is essential, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get your friends and family involved, too. They will certainly benefit from joining you on your journey toward better health.