The Importance of Hydration

Recently, I was lucky enough to sit in on a lecture from Lawrence Armstrong, Ph.D. FACSM an expert in the area of hydration. It seems like a lot of health specialists give out the advice to drink more water, and … Continue reading

Can Exercise Boost Your Immunity?

It’s cold season. I hear people sneezing on the train, people sniffling at the office and coughing as they are walking down the street. You can’t avoid it. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the average adult gets 2-4 upper respiratory infections per year. We are constantly being exposed to millions of germs on a daily basis. Our immune system, is just that a system, that works to combat the germs and fight against infections.

In the past decade there have a number of studies looking at the effects of physical activity on immune function. While exercise is known to be beneficial for helping control and prevent a number of age related ailments and disease, this is a relatively new subject to be researched. One’s overall immune function is mostly genetic but the average adult’s immune defense does varies from day to day based on lifestyle choices. Vitamins, supplements and basic dietary choices can help promote a healthy immune response. Sleep plays an important role and not surprisingly, the amount of stress in your daily life can also negatively effect your ability to fight off a cold.

So what about exercise? It is one of the lifestyle choice that appears to be helping immune function. This shouldn’t be too shocking as moderate exercise is also helpful with dealing with stress and anxiety. Just another reason to be getting in those daily physical activity minutes! But studies show that too much can start having an opposite effect. Intense exercise, labeled at more than hour and half of sustained physical activity (i.e. marathon runners, professional athletes) can weaken your ability to combat viruses. Many athletes are more susceptible to getting sick after a big competition where they were training for extended periods of time. So unless you are a professional, like for so many things in life, moderation is key.

Check out these links below that talk about how to boost your immunity this cold season!

NBCNews: 7 easy ways to boost your immunity

Harvard Health Publications: How to boost your immune system

Webmd: fitness and exercise: Boost your Immune System

Active.com: Answering your question about immunity

About.com: Exercise and Immunity

The Power of Probiotics

Check out this article about a new study of probiotics given to mice!

I guess my title should be the power of a healthy digestive system. Probiotics are simply healthy bacteria or yeast that are ingested to help balance the microflora in one’s intestines.  According to WebMD, in the average human intestine, 400 different types of probiotic bacteria can be found. This “Gut Flora”, plays a role in helping to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, helps break down undigested carbohydrates using enzymes that humans lack, increase cell growth in the intestines, and has a dynamic effect on the systemic immune system. They are believed to assist us in synthesizing specific vitamins and absorbing ions such as calcium and magnesium. Probiotics help alleviate symptoms of IBS and might also help prevent the developing of allergies. They are also used to help replenish bacteria growth after the use of antibiotics which can kill beneficial bacteria as well as the harmful bacteria they are targeted towards.

While the verdict is still out on for the effects of using probiotics to treat disease and more serious health ailments, as more and more studies are coming in that show serious benefits, I think only good things will be brought to light with the current research. The article above, from ABC News, illustrates the difference in the shiny coat of fur in the skinny yogurt fed mouse versus the regular, noticeably larger, regularly fed mouse next to it. The probiotic mice were slimmer which suggests, as other studies have too, that the yogurt might help the mice reduce the risk of age-related weight gain. And the reported “swagger” in the male mice’ step? Well, healthier = happier = sexier… right?

I’d be interested if the probiotic fed mice were also more energetic, exercising more or just being more active. But I guess, keeping things “moving” so to speak by keeping the digestive system healthy is overall just a good thing to keep on top of!

Food and Fitness

Like two peas in a pod, right? People’s motivations for exercise are different. Some want to lose weight, some want to maintain weight, some want to be able to eat whatever they want, some exercise to help with health issues, others are obsessed with being “fit” and some have always been active and it just comes naturally. But no matter the reason or goal for physical activity, what you consume plays a definite role in seeing results.

There was an article in the New York Times about the effects exercise has on appetite and the results were slightly inconclusive. Basically, depending on how active you already are, your appetite may or may not change after a work-out. If someone’s goal is weight loss, exercise alone will never be enough. Diet habits have to changed in order to make a difference.

The average person in America does not fully understand the quantity of food/nutrients they need each day. The fact that it is so much less than would be expected is part of the reason we have an obesity epidemic in our country. People can exercise regularly but not see any difference in their weight because the believe their workout gave them the leniency to spurge on that [insert dessert/fried food/favorite indulgence] they’ve been drooling over all week. The fact remains that an average work out may only burn 400-600 calories, and that cheesecake has just as many. Even the idea hydrating with a flavored sports drink takes away half the output of a decent exercise.

The problem we are seeing is that most people are not interested in basic nutrition or eating balanced meals. It’s a downward spiral that starts when we are young. From school cafeterias to the media, to the myriad options of pre-packaged processed goods that are cheap and easy. Eating is more about convenience to many of us than it is about getting the nutrients our bodies need. There are so many diets out there, I’m not going to go into any specific one. I don’t think any of them are completely right, and I think that every one is going to have a different idea of what is right for them. And that is perfectly OK.

We are not striving to be perfect, because that is impossible and if that is your goal you are probably driving yourself crazy. Instead, strive to be healthy when you can. Little changes such as incorporating less processed foods and more whole foods makes a giant difference. Once you switch over you will start to crave those packaged foods less as your body begins to recognize them as less satisfying.

Anyway, I diverged from my beginning statement. Exercise can affect one’s desire for food and as Americans, who culturally have a strange relationship with food to begin with, it might be hard to keep a regular diet because our brain might be telling us we need more. The simple fact is that if you are wanting to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. For many of us that can be exceedingly difficult when the more we exercise the more we feel like we should be eating.

In my experience, depending on what time of day I exercise, my appetite might increase or decrease after a workout. Immediately afterward, I never feel like eating, but if I don’t eat a snack sometimes later on I’ll get ravenous and end up eating a huge meal. My biggest problem is craving sugar. I’ll start to feel like I have to eat something sweet and won’t be able to think of anything else until I’ve satisfied my sweet tooth. In many of the books and blogs I’ve been reading, the 80-20 rule has been quoted: be good 80% of the time and allow yourself to give in to your cravings for the other 20. This is the healthiest way to think about your diet. You don’t want to be so restrictive that you can’t even go to a party and enjoy a few hors d’ oeuvres!

The bottom line is that there are lot of aspects of nutrition that we still don’t understand. The reason eggs were good and then bad and then good again, is that new information is always coming in that changes our perspective. Exercise too, has been a little bit like that. There is no clear-cut plan: do this and you will be healthy. Part of the struggle is finding out how to listen to your body. I think it knows, it just doesn’t always know how to fill us in.

Detoxing? You can still be active

Spring is here! This means that I’ll be cleansing soon. Last year I did a month long cleanse from the Blessed Herbs company. During which, I eliminated alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, meat, and refined sugar from my diet. This year I am just going to do a week of the herbal cleansing but keep the strict diet for another two weeks. It helps that other people at work will be on the same cleanse so we can all keep each other motivated and on track!

Keeping a specific diet is hard, and this cleanse really limits what we can consume to clean and easy food to digest. What is did teach me last year though was that the body responds better to unprocessed foods and that is always the healthier choice. It helped me keep a few of my habits and addictions in check as well. Sugar? Coffee? I love it, but maybe only in moderation.

Last spring I remember the first week was the hardest, especially going cold turkey without the caffeine in the morning to help me get through the day. This year I am going to start cutting back and switching to tea a week early and plan on keeping an exercise routine as well.
Even though during a cleanse your body is going though some changes, staying active will help keep your energy level up.

What I recommend:

If your cleanse significantly cuts the amount of calories you are eating, don’t continue with strenuous exercise. This could lead to injuries and over exhaustion. Instead, focus more on stretching, walking, and localized strengthening.

Spinal twists can be especially therapeutic while you are detoxing because of their cleansing like nature. Joseph Pilates used to tell there clients to imagine wringing out the lungs while twisting the spine. In yoga theory, twists are usually done first to the left and then to the right in accordance to the anatomy of the large intestine to promote healthy digestion. In a spinal twist your internal organs are gently compressed. This can help increase circulation to the area. It will also feel really good on achy lower backs.

The traditional Pilates Hundred is also a great exercise to do while cleansing. It is challenging for the core, the breath is integrated into the movement, and the pumping of the arms will increase circulation and warm up the body quickly.

Planks are an exercise that will never let you down. Holding the position will challenge almost every major muscle group. Try the full plank or balance on your forearms. Add leg lifts or push-ups for an extra challenge.

Balance

Someone at work the other day gave me a huge compliment. She said that I was balanced.

It made my day because I can be proud of having balance in my life. I work at a health center, I am a Pilates teacher and a dancer, I try to eat well but I’m also human. To me living a balanced life means trying your best but not beating yourself up about every little thing. I have my fair share of guilty pleasures (such as fresh baked cookies) and I’m not ashamed to go out on a Saturday night with my friends. But at the end of the day, those things are perfectly normal, and if we were too obsessed with being perfectly healthy everyday we would drive ourselves crazy.

We can have the goal of keeping our diet and lifestyle healthy without being so strict and forget to have a little fun. The majority of my diet consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. I try to listen to what my body is hungry for, it usually has a good sense for what it needs. But what I believe is important is giving in to those little cravings (guilty pleasures) every once in a while. In moderation of course, but it’s nice to let yourself know that its OK to do so and not feel bad about it.