Tag Archives: training

Exercise and sleep: Why getting fit requires getting your ZZZs.

If you are serious about exercise, you take steps to maximize your workouts in order to meet your fitness goals. Obviously, what you do for exercise matters. You probably also appreciate that nutrition is important, so you pay attention to what you eat. But there is another important step to achieving your fitness goals you may not be aware of—sleep. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


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Off to the races! How to get started training for a 5k run or walk.

Most of us could benefit from getting more exercise and, with the warmer spring weather, this is a perfect time to get started. You can meet minimum health and fitness goals with a 30-minute brisk walk five days per week. You can get even greater fitness benefits by exercising for longer or by doing more vigorous activity, like running. A good goal is to be active every day for at least 30 minutes and include longer exercise sessions or more vigorous exercise when possible.

Many people are motivated by having a goal to begin or add to an exercise program. You may find that training for an event is more rewarding than exercising for the sake of being active. An excellent goal is to prepare to walk or run in a race. Don’t let the word “race” scare you. Most people who enter these events have the goal of finishing, not winning. That should be your goal, too.

Getting started training for a 5k run or walk is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

running feet

Now is a great time to start training for your first race. The warm weather is an incentive to be active outdoors, and it’s not too hot to be enjoyable. In addition, there are several events in our community in the upcoming weeks and months that are excellent opportunities for first-timers and more seasoned racers. Many events are linked to charities, so they are also good ways to raise money for a good cause.

If you are starting to walk for exercise, completing a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) walk is a good goal. If you don’t currently exercise, start with a target of 20 minutes of walking per day. You can split this up into 10 minute segments, if necessary. After you are comfortable walking 20 minutes at a time, increase to 30 minutes per day. Continue increasing your walking time until you are up to 45-60 minutes per day, about how long it takes most people to walk three miles. If you already do some walking, gradually build up to this goal.

Maybe you already walk and are interested in trying running. Preparing for a 5K run is great motivation. Start by adding some jogging into your walking routine. Try alternating 5 minutes of jogging with 10 minutes of walking. Once you are comfortable with that, try 5 minutes of jogging for every 5 minutes of walking. Increase the duration of the running intervals over time, until you can run for 30–40 minutes consecutively. If running 3 miles is too much, you can always complete a 5K by alternating walking and running.

To reduce the risk of injury you should progress slowly, whether you are walking or running. This is particularly important if you are building up to a longer event, like a half marathon or marathon. Obviously, training to walk or run 13.1 or 26.2 miles requires a good deal of time and motivation. Keep in mind that most people who complete their first half or full marathon started with a much shorter event.

Even if you don’t plan to participate in one of these events, the opportunity to get outdoors for a walk or run on a nice day is reason enough to be active. Exercising outdoors has benefits beyond the improvements in fitness or weight loss you would expect. Walking or running in a natural environment can give you a better workout and make you feel healthier and more energized.

Use this as an opportunity to get your friends and family moving with you. Kids can ride their bike while you walk or run and you can push younger children in a stroller. Older children may want to walk or run with you, and don’t forget to bring your dog!

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Sports Science in the News: The 2-hour marathon

There was a great article in the New York Times recently about a sports scientist who is on a quest to train a runner to complete a marathon in under two hours. Even though the world record right now is just under 2 hours and 3 minutes, a sub two-hour marathon is a bit like the four-minute mile once was—many people think it is impossible (or at least not likely to happen anytime soon). What I appreciated about the article was the way it explained some key concepts in exercise physiology. Since I am preparing to teach my summer Exercise Physiology course in June, I thought this was particularly relevant and worth sharing in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Marathon feet

First, let’s put a two-hour marathon in perspective. To do it would require sustaining a running speed of over 13 miles per hour for two hours! Most runners I know would be hard pressed to complete the 285 yards at that pace…forget about the 26 miles that come first. It is also more than twice as fast as the average marathon time of over 4 hours. If you are brave you can see how fast this is yourself by getting on a treadmill and cranking the speed up to 13 miles per hour. Hang on, though, because you won’t last long!

The article mentions the training method known as “live high, train low.” This technique involves athletes spending time at high elevations but doing much of their training at sea level. This works because the key to endurance performances like a marathon is getting as much oxygen as possible to the muscles to use to produce energy. Living at high altitude causes the body to produce more red blood cells, increasing oxygen delivery to the muscles. But because there is less oxygen in the air at altitude, athletes can’t train as hard, which may offset the gains in red blood cells. Because of the lower training intensity, which is essentially doing less work, some athletes realize little benefit from this technique. So, a perfect solution is to live (or spend lots of time) high, but train low to maximize the benefits of both altitude and intense training.

The article also mentions another interesting phenomenon related to oxygen delivery to the muscle. As the heart pumps blood to the muscles it also sends blood returning from the muscles to the lungs to pick up oxygen from the air we breathe. As the red blood cells pass by the air sacs of the lungs (the alveoli), oxygen molecules bind so that the blood is fully saturated with oxygen before it is pumped back to the muscles. But the harder the heart beats during exercise the faster the blood flows. In some elite athletes, the blood flows so fast that the red blood cells don’t have enough time to pick up enough oxygen. This can reduce oxygen delivery to the muscles and impair performance in these athletes. (Fortunately, it isn’t a problem for the rest of us)

Admittedly, I am a bit of a physiology geek, so this is fascinating to me. If you are curious about exercise physiology and sports performance, check out the New York Times article from May 11—it’s a sneak peek into the world of sports science. The article also touches on nutrition, especially carbohydrates, biomechanics, temperature regulation, and training as important factors in reducing marathon times. All of these are topics that I cover in my Exercise Physiology course, too. And in case any of my students are reading this—yes, it will be on the exam!

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It’s time for Santa’s annual fitness report

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 in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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 fitness 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!


Turning back time with exercise

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the benefits of exercise…again. This time I focus on how exercise can improve strength, endurance, and bone density that tend to decline with age. Best of all, the benefits can be realized at any age—it’s never too late to start!

The benefits of regular exercise for everyone from childhood through old age are well-known. Children who are physically active establish healthy habits and do better in school than their peers who are more sedentary. Young adults who exercise are more likely to be active as they age, reducing their risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Older adults can maintain their memory, cognitive function, and ability to complete everyday activities by improving their fitness. At all ages, physical activity helps people maintain a healthy body weight.

Ideally, people would be active throughout their entire lifespan. What is more common, though, is that activity in childhood and young adulthood is replaced by a lifestyle that becomes increasingly sedentary over time. This can lead to a pattern of weight gain and declining fitness.

For many people the consequences may not be immediate, so there is no clear sign that the lack of exercise is having negative effects. But make no mistake, the health effects of inactivity accumulate over time eventually leading to conditions like obesity, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Aside from the risk of chronic disease, years of inactivity can result in poor strength, endurance, and flexibility. This can lead to increased risk of injury and difficulty completing work and leisure activities. This is particularly true in older adults who are more likely to experience falls, broken bones, and prolonged disability due to poor strength and balance.

It is well-known that strength and endurance decline with age. Fitness decreases about 10% per decade, so that a 70 year-old has lost about half of the exercise capacity they had at 20 years of age. It turns out that this decline in fitness is due more to decreasing activity, not age itself.

Resistance training can lead to improvements in strength at all ages, but the biggest gains occur in the elderly. Beyond the impact on activities of daily living—carrying bags of groceries, for example—strength training can improve bone density. This is of particular concern for women.

Bone density peaks about age 25, so women who exercise achieve greater bone density when they are young. This means they can lose more bone mass as they age before they experience problems. Middle-age and older women can also reduce age-related bone loss by participating in regular exercise. In fact, exercise is essential for the effective treatment for osteoporosis.

There is good news for those who haven’t been exercising. You probably know that people who exercise now are less likely to suffer poor health in the future, provided they stay active. But research also shows that people who are out of shape now but improve their fitness also experience a reduced risk of many common health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

It doesn’t matter when someone becomes active—the benefits can be realized at any age. In fact, one study showed that older men who begin a vigorous exercise program can improve their fitness to the level they were at 30 years ago. And these changes can occur in as little as six months.

The bottom line is that exercise can turn back time by reversing many effects of aging. Best of all, it is never too late to start. If you have fallen into a pattern of inactivity you can benefit from regular exercise no matter how old you are. So, what are you waiting for?


Santa’s fitness report, just in time for Christmas.

Right now Santa is making the final preparations for his big night, from checking his list of good boys and girls to packing the toys in the sleigh and giving the reindeer a pep talk. As we can only imagine, a trip around the world in one night is quite a physical feat, so, like an athlete preparing for the Olympics, Santa has certainly been training all year for this  event.

Of course, Santa keeps his training regimen a secret. In my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week I make an educated guess as what he does to prepare in the “offseason” and how this training helps him maintain good health despite his less-than-athletic physique. Santa’s training likely includes a combination of endurance, strength, and flexibility exercises.

Endurance training, probably a combination of both high-intensity interval training and long-duration, lower intensity training, leads to a high maximal aerobic capacity and fatigue resistanceProof for this is 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!

Resistance training gives him the strength to repeatedly carry his heavy sack of gifts  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.

Stretching and exercises like yoga promote good flexibility so he can squeeze through narrow spaces and move quickly without pulling a muscle.

Santa certainly knows that proper training is only part of the answer, so he certainly focuses on sports nutrition, too. Many athletes use specialized sports drinks and foods that provide fluid, carbohydrates, and protein during long events. Santa relies on the cookies and milk you leave for him to provide the nutrients his muscles need to delay fatigue.

We can also 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.

Happy holidays!

Could you be The Biggest Loser?

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the popular television show The Biggest Loser. In the column I address the question, could a viewer at home duplicate the weight loss results of the contestants on the show?

In my column I include data on average weight loss of the winners of the past 14 season, which I found here.

I also cited the results of a  study examining the contributions to weight loss experienced by Biggest Loser contestants. It is interesting reading.


Fat but fit, Santa is ready to go!

He may not look it, but Santa probably hits the gym regularly to work on the strength, endurance, and flexibility he needs for his job. Since Santa tends to keep to himself, he hasn’t come to my lab for a fitness test. But I tried to make a good guess as to what he does in the “offseason” to stay in shape in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard.

It’s a good thing he keeps himself in shape, too. Since he is overweight, good fitness is essential for reducing his risk of, among other things, a heart attack or stroke. In fact, Santa is probably healthier than some people who have a “normal” weight, but don’t exercise.

He should watch his weight, though. An ABC News report suggests that Santa is getting fatter!