The Best Exercises You Can Ever Do

Harvard Medical School put together this list of “5 of the best exercises you can ever do” and I like them because it touches upon so many areas that I think are for getting more people to exercise:

  • Accessibility – the exercises mentioned here are accessible to nearly everyone without having to pay excessive gym fees
  • Not skill level dependent – Folks from all skill levels can participate in these activities.
  • Purpose – Besides losing weight or gaining muscle, these exercises have an added benefit of increasing balance or halting memory loss.

Examples and quotes below are from the Harvard Medical School:

1. Swimming: “Swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight bearing,” explains Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Research finds that swimming can improve your mental state and put you in a better mood. Water aerobics is another option. These classes help you burn calories and tone up.

2. Tai Chi: Because the classes are offered at various levels, tai chi is accessible, and valuable, for people of all ages and fitness levels. “It’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older,” Dr. Lee says.

3. Strength Training: Muscle also helps burn calories. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” says Dr. Lee. Strength training might also help preserve your ability to remember.

4. Walking: Walking is simple yet powerful. It can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood and lower your risk for a number of diseases (diabetes and heart disease for example). A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.

5. Kegel exercises: These exercises won’t help you look better, but they do something just as important — strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence.

For more information about what I’ve posted above and to download a very helpful guide to “Starting To Exercise” from the Harvard Business School, please click here.

Why You Should Care About Your Waistline

At the Wide-Body, we aren’t critical the physical shape with which people were born. Everyday athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and the Wide Body openly encourages everyone to embrace their physique. I will never have the body of a men’s fashion model, and I’m okay with that because I like the fact that my body is built for physical power. The features of sleekness and power in a body is rare, and given the chance to choose, I will choose power every time.

But there does come a time when we must address excess fat that taken up residence on the body. You should embrace your curves, but don’t embrace a pot belly that is damaging your health. How bad is that extra weight around your gut? This is what the Harvard Medical School about abdominal obesity;

Excess body fat has serious consequences for health. It’ associated with high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It impairs the body’s responsiveness to insulin, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. Excess body fat contributes to major causes of death and disability, including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, fatty liver, and depression.

Wow. That is a “Who’s who” of the leading killers in North America.

Scientists are studying this closer to better understand why fat around the abdomen is so destructive. The first thing we should do is separate fat into two categories; 1. Subcutaneous fat and 2. Visceral fat.

Subcutaneous fat is the fat that lies just beneath the skin. Reach down your, give yourself a little pinch on your “love handles” and you have found subcutaneous fat. This sort of fat pretty much looks the same throughout the body. And while this fat is not always healthy, it is not necessarily the culprit of poor health issues.

Visceral fat is the fat that is within the abdomen, surrounding the internal organs, and is a danger to the body because of lipotoxicity. As the Harvard Medical School points out;

Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat cells release their metabolic products directly into the portal circulation, which carries blood straight to the liver. As a result, visceral fat cells that are enlarged and stuffed with excess triglycerides pour free fatty acids into the liver. Free fatty acids also accumulate in the pancreas, heart, and other organs. In all these locations, the free fatty acids accumulate in cells that are not engineered to store fat. The result is organ dysfunction, which produces impaired regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol, as well as abnormal heart function.

How do you know if you may have a problem? The best way to determine if you have an issue with body fat is to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) test completed by your doctor. While the test is not perfect, it is comprehensive enough for you to begin taking actions to bring your health in line with where it should be.

BMI’s are expensive, and a simpler test is using a waist circumference test. These tests are more prone to failures because it only takes into consideration one metric, the waist, Nonetheless, it is a simple test and can give you the guidance as to whether you need to take steps to change your health.

Table: Waist Circumference and Your Risk

Waist Circomference test

If you fall within an intermediate of high risk category, schedule some time to have a frank with your family doctor about your health. The best and only way to lose visceral fat is to increase the burning of calories through exercise and to decrease the caloric intake of food.

For more information on this topic, please read this article from Harvard Medical School.

Are Shin Splints Stopping You?

Many of you have started running since the New Year as it was a New Year’s resolution. And unfortunately, some of you have developed painful shin splints. Ugh! Shin splints hurt so bad that you must stop running and they can be so discouraging that you may stop all exercise.

Shin splints can occur when you have overworked the muscles in your lower legs. Besides straining the muscles, the muscle fascia (a tissue that sheathes the muscles) becomes inflamed creating the shooting pain that stops you in your tracks. If left untreated, the pain can take weeks before it goes away.

The folks at Runner’s World have put together a video of four exercises to help you strengthen the area around your lower legs and thus avoid the pain for shin splints.

And if you already have shin splints, RW has included for tips on how to resolve the pain. Check out how ice, arch support, and stretching can rectify your injury and get you back on the path to be your physical best.

Can Cinnamon Improve Your Health?

A few years ago, I wrote an article about a study that featured some promising news about cinnamon and its ability to control blood sugars. This news was expected to be a huge boon for diabetics, people struggling to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and those wishing to lose weight. As an update to this story, all I can report at this time is that subsequent studies have not shown cinnamon to help groups of people other than diabetics. In other health related research, studies have proven inconclusive as to whether cinnamon is useful in lowering cholesterol, treating yeast infections, and HIV.

This isn’t all bad news. It is known that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, is a power antioxidant, and anti-bacterial properties. That means cinnamon can still be used to help prevent and treat a host of ailments, including heart disease, stroke, and gastrointestinal ailments. So, don’t give up on cinnamon, because research is still being done and this powerful little spice will likely play a part in a healthier you.

Are you looking for some easy ways to add cinnamon into your diet? If you are a fan of Mediterranean cooking, you’ll recall that cinnamon is used in several North African savory dishes. Look for Moroccan recipes and you will likely find cinnamon as a featured spice.

  • Add a teaspoon to your coffee grounds before it is brewed.
  • Add a little to popcorn
  • Add a teaspoon to hearty vegetable soups and beefy stews
  • Try a sprinkle on roasted vegetables, such as hard winter squashes, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower.
  • A little on fresh fruit, such as apples, peaches, and pineapple, will enhance the natural sweetness of the fruit.

Add a little to you roasted meat seasoning and you’ll see that cinnamon is a versatile spice.

Let us all know if you have a favorite way to add cinnamon into your diet.

Whoa! Slow Down: Eating Slowly Is Good For You.

Did your mother ever tell to slow down when you ate? I know that there were times my mother considered giving me and my brother a shovel to eat with during dinner. As growing boys, it seemed like we could not get enough to eat, nor get that food down our gullets fast enough. Fortunately, for our health and dinner time decorum, my brother and I now no longer need the thousands of extra calories and we consume our food at a much slower speed. And while I think my mother was telling me to slow down because she wanted to instill good table manners in me, she was doing me a favor.
In a study released by the American Heart Association, researchers have found that people who eat too fast, are more likely to become obese and develop metabolic syndrome diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Fast eaters were 11.6% more likely to develop these diseases than slower eaters. It is believed the reason for this is that there is a time lapse between when you are “full” to when your brain registers that your appetite has been sated. So, by eating faster, the eater is more likely to consume more calories before they realize that they are full.

Metabolic syndrome conditions occur when a person has three or more of these measurements:

  • Waistline larger than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women.
  • Triglycerides levels of 150 milligrams or more.
  • “Good” HDL cholesterol levels of less than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women.
  • High blood pressure, with the top number at 130 or more and the bottom number at 80 or more.
  • Fasting blood sugar, or glucose, of 100 mg/dL or greater.

To read more about this study and others, take a look at this report from the American Heart Association here.

The Dreaded B Word: BURPEES!

A show of hands, who enjoys doing burpees? Let’s see, that will be … no one. Burpees are a tough sell: The exercise is no fun, you feel awkward when you are doing them, and you can easily question if any gain from the burpee is worth the pain.

Danielle Zicki, a writer for Runner’s World, makes a compelling case for why we should integrate burpees into our exercise routines. In her article “I Did 30 Burpees For 15 Days and Here’s What Happened” , Ms. Zicki highlights the positive physical changes she saw in short period of time. Those changes included:

  • Improved running
  • Gained more energy
  • The exercise got easier (strength and stamina improved)
  • Felt powerful!

After completing a challenging 15-day routine, I think we would all feel powerful. And how long does take to complete 30 burpees? 10 minutes when you first start your routine? Maybe 5 minutes? Your speed will vary, but my point is that the time it takes to complete the daily round of 30 will be negligible when compared to the gains you will see.

To read more about Danielle Zicki’s experience with her 15 day burpees challenge, check out her article on Runner’s World here.

Easy Sauté Spinach

Easy Sauteed Spinach

I’m staying with the common theme of this week, and that theme is adding more leafy greens to your diet. The recipe below calls for spinach, but don’t feel like you must use this recipe for only spinach. I regularly sauté Swiss chard, as well as mustard greens and arugula. Sautéing is fast, minimum of prep work, and you can season to taste. Bottom-line, this is an easy way to add greens as a side dish to your next meal.

• 2 Tblsp of olive oil
• 4 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
• 20 oz of spinach (that sounds like a lot, but it cooks down)
• 1 Tblsp of lemon juice
• ¼ tsp of salt
• ¼ crushed red pepper

Serves Six
Serving size: about ½ cup
Per serving: 65 calories; 5 g fat(1 g sat); 2 g fiber; 4 g carbohydrates; 3 g protein; 184 mcg folate; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 8,892 IU vitamin A; 28 mg vitamin C; 94 mg calcium; 3 mg iron; 172 mg sodium; 531 mg potassium

Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (178% daily value), Vitamin C (47% dv), Folate (46% dv)
Carbohydrate Servings: ½
Exchanges: 1 vegetable, 1 fat

For details on how to sauté this meal, check out the simple instructions at Eating Well.

6 Foods For Your Brain

On Tuesday, I shared how greens are good for your brain (“Eat Your Greens. It’s Brain Food!“). Today I’ll share which are also good for the grey matter.

Let’s face it, keeping the brain healthy is just as important as keeping the rest of the body healthy. I doubt there is anyone who disagrees with that last sentence, but I do think many people are perplexed as to how we can keep cognitive functions clicking along at full speed. After all, we can feel our muscles getting stronger, and we can when out “guts” are well fed, but how do we know if our brains are being correctly exercised and fed? In future posts, I’ll discuss exercising the brain, but today the post is about feeding the brain.

In a Runner’s World article, six foods are given focus because of their brain protecting qualities. First item on the list is arugula, what I would consider a “stand in” for all leafy greens. (frankly, I would have chosen Swiss, but as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “An Ode To Leafy Greens…”,  I’m a little biased) Arugula does a fantastic job of feeding the brain with loads of vitamin K, and can be easy found in grocery stores and served in restaurants.

Others on the list include:

  • Blueberries – could lower Alzheimer’s risks by 53%
  • Egg Yolks – Choline in yolks is beneficial in allowing brain cells to communicate more efficiently
  • Olive Oil – The antioxidant oleocanthal may play a part in the reduction of plaque formations in the brain
  • Salmon – The Omega 3’s in salmon help reduce inflammation and oxidation in the brain.
  • Walnuts – Like salmon, these nuts are rich in Omega 3 oils, and thus protect the brain.

For additional details on why these foods work for your brain, click on the Runner’s World link here.

An Ode to Leafy Greens: Nutritional Values and How to Eat Them

photo created by the author

Yesterday’s post (Tuesday, 1/16/18, “Eat Your Greens. It’s Brain Food!”) I shared how adding a serving of leafy greens to your diet everyday is good for your brain. In today’s post, you’ll see the nutritional values for a variety of leafy greens that you’ll find in the marketplace, and some ideas of how you can consume greens other than in a salad.

For a while, kale has been written about with the title, “Super Food”. When you review the nutrition data associated with kale, “Super Food” is a title that is well deserved. But there is one problem with kale; many people don’t like the flavor. The bitter, astringent flavor of most kale is too strong for the palates of most folks. Personally, I like to add kale to a salad, but I rarely eat it alone. The question then becomes, what other leafy greens offer similar health benefits but not with the same bitter kale bite?

Nutritional values of leafy greens

Click on the table to expand it for better viewing.

I’ve been promoting the virtues Swiss chard to family and friends for years. Chard is a mild flavored green like spinach, but I believe chard has a lot more going for it than spinach. First off, chard is very easy to grow. The colorful leafy chard is very forgiving in a harsh growing environment, like where I live in Central Texas. Conversely, I have found spinach to be rather demanding, especially water consumption. Secondly, the nutritional profile of chard is outstanding. At a 100gr per serving, Swiss chard delivers 692% of the daily vitamin K needs (limits neural damage to the brain and promotes bone growth), 204% of the daily vitamin A needs (critical for good vision, bone growth, cell reproduction and cell growth, and thus supports a healthy immune system and skin), 50% of the daily vitamin C needs (powerful antioxidant that supports your immune system), 22.5% of your daily iron needs (nearly the same amount as spinach, and iron is a much needed supplement for many women) and powerful antioxidants such a beta carotene which turns into vitamin A once the phyto-nutrient is consumed. Why not swap one Super Food for another, and enjoy what you are eating.

Once you start to look at the nutritional profiles of leafy greens, I think you can make a good case as to why you should consider adding one or more of these vegetables into your diet. I suggest that you just eat one by itself, but instead mix them together like a salad because the different flavors and textures make for a satisfying meal. Personal tips: I like to add mustard greens to my salads. The sharp peppery-horseradish mustard flavor adds a punch of flavor to a mild lettuce salad. You don’t need too much to add a “wow” factor to your salad.

Here are some ideas on where to add greens into your diet:

  • Make a salad: This is obvious, and I already touched on this idea.
  • Make a sandwich or a wrap: Add mustard greens, spinach, and watercress to your next sandwich and give your next bite some extra crunch.
  • Add to soup: Hearty vegetable soups like minestrone pair well with collard greens, kale, and Swiss chard. Many Asian soup recipes pair well with bok choy and cabbages.
  • Stir-fry: Add chopped spinach, bok choy or Swiss chard to your stir fry.
  • Steamed: Steaming collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach until they are slightly soft.
  • Saute: Quickly saute your greens with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper.
  • In an omelet: One of my favorite ways to add greens to my diet. Saute the Swiss chard for spinach, then fold the greens into an omelet with tomatoes and little feta cheese. So good!

What are some other ways you have added greens to your diet. Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.