Food for thought about how to live healthy!

Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category

Tips for helping your New Year’s hangover

About two years ago, I did a post about why hangovers happen and what can be done to “cure” them. Basic idea from that post: there is no real cure for a hangover.

Hangovers are the result of a night of heavy drinking. The medical term for a hangover is acute ethanol withdrawal. When you wake up in the morning, all the alcohol has already been flushed out of your system by now, assuming the last time you had a drink was over 4 hours ago. People say that binge eating cheeseburgers and fries or taking a hot shower are all cures for a hangover. While there is no one-step solution to getting rid of a hangover, there are lots of methods to help you feel better.

Drink lots of water. Lots and lots: Most of the symptoms from hangovers can be attributed to one problem: dehydration. The alcohol not only zaps all the water from your system but prevents your brain from releasing chemicals reminding you that you’re thirsty for water! The headache you get from a hangover is caused by your brain literally shrinking because it is dehydrated. It would be wise to drink as much water as you can. Try to aim for 32 oz an hour for 4 hours, then if you’re starting to feel better you can bump it down to 16 oz an hour.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol:  Caffeine makes you dehydrated, which you already are beyond your belief. And if you do drink coffee with a hangover, the caffeine will rush to your head and make your headache feel worse because now all your neurons are firing off and are more sensitive. And although a beer might make you feel better for maybe an hour, your headache will come back with a vengeance and you’ll be curled up on your bed swearing you’ll never drink again.

Eat asparagus and bananas, but don’t binge eat: The amino acids in asparagus help protect the liver from the toxicity of ethanol. Asparagus also makes you pee more which will help rid your body of toxins more quickly. Bananas are also good for replacing the salt and potassium that you’ve lost. Crackers, toast, really any bread product can help bring your blood sugar up and give you some carbs.

Do yoga and drink Gatorade: It’s true that working your body will help eliminate the toxins faster, but doing a full on workout will dehydrate your body, which you know by now is the last thing you want. Yoga is a great way to stimulate the body and get yourself moving without having to lose more water. Drinking Gatorade or any other sports drink will also help since the fructose in the drinks metabolize the alcohol more quickly.

Take a Advil, then nap: Chances are you didn’t get your 8 hours sleep last night, with all that tossing and turning and waking up to either pee or wolf down water. Take one Advil, not two or three, ONE Advil and then try to sleep. The combination of painkiller + sleep will help calm your brain and could help relieve that headache. The reason I say to take one Advil is because your liver is already exhausted after converting all that alcohol. Excess acetaminophen is actually dangerous, and could lead to some unpleasant stomach pains.

There are also other things you can do while you’re out drinking to minimize the effects of your hangover the next day. Alternate drinks with one glass of water. Don’t smoke cigarettes, they’ll just send more chemicals into your body that your organs will have to process and they’ll hate you for it. Mix drinks will a little more soda than rum. Shaving off ounces of liquor from your drinks can spare you some pain. And although this is weird, if you’re really concerned about a hangover only drink clear or light-colored liquor. Darker liquors are more potent and thus can pack more a punch when it comes to hangovers.

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Why Female Olympic Gymnasts Look Like Children

In the Olympics, the minimum age to compete in gymnastics is 16, but if you didn’t know that you would guess that gymnasts like USA’s Shawn Johnson or China’s Deng Linlin were 13 or 14. Most people do, which is why many gymnasts are under suspicion of faking their age. After all, swimmers or soccer players don’t look so young, so why only gymnasts? Fear not, there is a perfectly simple physiological explanation behind the delayed growth and puberty of gymnasts, especially in female gymnasts.

The common trait among gymnasts is that they’re short. While there is a biological reason for stunted growth there’s also an athletic reason: being short gives you an advantage in gymnastics due to the physics involved in the motions. So taller gymnasts usually aren’t able to compete with shorter gymnasts and thus don’t train as long or rigorously. But there are physiologically reasons why gymnasts’ puberty is often delayed:

1) Length of training

Gymnasts often begin training by the time they’re 4 or 5 years old. They’re usually about 7 or 8 year old when coaches and trainers begin to recognize talent in them, and that’s when the prodigies are picked out. They begin to work hard and diligent sometimes 10 years before they’ll compete in an international competition. Whereas other athletes, such as Michael Phelps or Lance Armstrong, begin the sport when they’re 11 or 12, while they’re already in the process of puberty.

These gymnasts start at a much younger age and train with the same vigor that other athletes do when they’re the best in their sport. Their training continues through when normal girls begin puberty, around age 11, and beyond. Because their bodies are much more physically fit from all the years of training, it imbalances the hormones and delays the process of adulthood.

2) Physicality

Gymnasts are unbelievably fit when they’re adults, so imagine that kind of fitness in a child. Specifically, they have low body fat. And this doesn’t just pertain to gymnasts, almost all Olympic athletes have low body fat, sometimes in the single digits. And gymnasts have had low body fat since they were 5. Because the stores of fat are so low the body thinks, “I don’t have a lot of fat supply. Maybe it’s best not to grow up right now and wait until I have a little more fat.”

The low levels of fat cause two big reactions in the body that delay puberty:

1) Decreasing levels of gonadotrophin. If you didn’t already infer from the name, gonadotrophin is responsible for the creation of sex hormones. Decreased levels of this delay the normal symptoms of female puberty, like increased breast tissue, darker arm, leg and pubic hair, and menstruation. Most gymnasts eventually undergo puberty by the time they’re 13 or 14, sometimes even 15. Unfortunately, because their puberty is delayed and not allowed to develop correctly, these gymnasts often experience hormonal problems, and sometimes infertility, in the future.

2) Lower levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Less fat and sugar means less glucose, means less insulin, means no growth. This is the reason gymnasts don’t often grow above 5’3″.  The big growth spurt during puberty is caused by IGF-1. It allows long bones, such as the femur and humorous, and soft muscle tissues to grow into adulthood. Because gymnasts train so rigorously, their muscles are already fit and strong so they really don’t have much need to grow anymore. But the bones are the structures that suffer most. There haven’t been many studies because there aren’t many elderly gymnasts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in 20 or 30 years they discover that gymnasts are more likely to get osteoporosis than regular women.

So what can be done? Honestly, not a lot. Female gymnasts can try oral contraceptives to help boost production of sex hormones, but realistically, they probably won’t want to. Delaying puberty helps these girls keep their bodies short and limber, and that’s better for them when it comes to competition.

If you’re thinking of putting your child into gymnastics and it turns out your child is an Olympic prodigy, consider this parents: 1) Does your child like the sport?? and 2) Is it worth the consequences they may face later in life due to a delayed puberty?

Healthy Effects of Sex

“Do you know what the human body goes through when you have sex? Pupils dilate, arteries constrict, core temperature rises, heart races, blood pressure skyrockets, respiration becomes rapid and shallow, the brain fires bursts of electrical impulses from nowhere to nowhere, secretions spit out of every gland, and the muscles tense and spasm like you’re lifting three times your body weight. It’s violent. It’s ugly. And it’s messy. And if God hadn’t made it unbelievably fun, the human race would have died out eons ago.” -Dr. Allison Cameron, House M.D.

While sex isn’t a truly important necessity of living a good lifestyle, it has tons of great benefits that a lot of people aren’t aware of. But to know why sex is good for you, it’s nice to know how sex works.

Hopefully, you took sex education in school so you’re probably knowledgeable about who does what and what goes where. But what you’re thinking during sex and what your brain is actually doing are two entirely different things. In order to achieve an orgasm, both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems need to be stimulated, which is difficult considering the two act against each other, like a teeter-totter. When one is active, the other is at rest.

The sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system are the two “actors” in your head. They control the response to stimuli and physical reactions of your body. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Your body spends most of the time in this phase. The PNS also activates various glands to secrete hormones that trigger sexual desire and arousal.

The sympathetic nervous system is the most underlying layer of your nervous system. It controls and regulates organ function, so it’s usually never noticed. During an orgasm is one of the few times you are consciously aware of your SNS and PNS at the same time.

It’s easy way to remember it is this: PNS = Point, SNS = Shoot.

Not only does sex feel good, but it has lots of other great health benefits

  • Men who have sex regularly (2-3 times a week) can cut the risk of heart attack in half.
  • Sex releases endorphins that also relieve pain, including headaches and (if your partner is bold) menstrual cramps.
  • The hormones released after sex can also help relax the body and relieve stress, leading to a better night’s sleep.
  • The increased blood flow and the release of the hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone helps repair tissues and can even give you younger looking skin.
  • The increased levels of serotonin during sex also lead to increased levels of happiness. A relationship shown to have regular sex sessions was equal to the same levels of happiness of earning an extra $100,000.
  • For pregnant women who are looking to induce labor, semen contains prostaglandin which ripens the cervix and helps induce labor.
  • Not only does sex boost the intimacy between you are your partner, but it also raises self-esteem. 16% of women have sex because it makes them feel good about themselves.

What happens behind closed doors can make a big difference about having a healthy lifestyle. But always practice safe sex unless you’re looking to expand your family. Although birth control pills can prevent pregnancy, it doesn’t protect against STI’s like condoms do. So unless you know your partner is clean, better to be safe than sorry.

Saturday Seedling: Candy Health on Halloween

Thinking about stealing some of your kids’ candy this Halloween? Calories from that candy can add up fast.

Halloween is typically the starting point of the typical Holiday Season Weight Gain. You can help moderate yours or your kids' weight by cutting down on the number of houses visited or donating half of your Halloween candy to underprivileged kids.

Here’s a list of portions per piece of candy that fall around 100 calories:

  • 4.5 Hershey’s Kisses
  • 4 Tootsie Rolls
  • 29 M&Ms
  • 23 Skittles
  • 9 Whoppers
  • 8 Dots
  • 15 Candy Corns
  • 5 Starbursts

Seems like the only healthy thing about Halloween is the amount of walking kids and their parents do while Trick-or-Treating. The average child ages 8-12 walks about 2 miles on Halloween, which can be great exercise for parents too. However, Halloween can be a very dangerous day when it comes to hit-and-runs and other pedestrian accidents. Children under 14 are twice as likely to be hit by cars on Halloween than any under night.

If your child is 12 or under, walk around with them to keep them safe. Remind them to check for cars before crossing the street and sort through your child’s candy for any food that might have been tampered with in some way. Look for broken and resealed wrappers, or be cautious of unknown or unfamiliar candy.

If you’re looking for healthy candy to give to kids, I have a couple personal recommendations. 3 Musketeers are good because they contain 30% less fat than original milk chocolate. Dark chocolate Hershey Kisses or Bars are also a healthy alternative for regular milk chocolate candy. Stay away from gummies, sour candies, or any other treat that contains artificial coloring and sugars.

And remember, it’s trick-OR-treat. So if you really want to make your night fun, playing a couple fun pranks on unsuspecting teens is a welcomed part of Halloween too.

*Note: Saturday Seedlings are a new segment I’m starting. They’re shorter than average posts but still contain helpful information on health and wellness.

Fat Burning 202: Exercise

Dieting is essential to losing weight, as described in my last post. But if you’re really determined to drop that extra fat, exercise is crucial.

Burning fat via exercise is tricky. In the same way that your body is predetermined to make a certain number of fat cells, your body also has a predetermined order for burning fat.

When exercising and building muscle, your body wants to burn as much fat as possible so that it can be more efficient when developing musculature. So when building muscle, your body mass will shrink first before it starts to tone out.

Of course, the musculature of men and women don’t necessarily develop muscle in the same ways. Men tend to hold onto their fat in their abdomen and back while women tend to hold onto their fat in their hips and thighs.

But your goal when it comes to losing weight depends on how much you exercise and what kinds of exercises to do? Do you want to just shed a few extra pounds, or do you really want to get in shape and replace muscle with fat? Here are both sides for both sexes.

Women

Shed Fat: For women who just want to lose that extra baby fat or fit into that old pair of jeans again, it’s all about cardio. Any kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping and keeps it pumping for 30-60 consecutive minutes is the most efficient way to drop that extra baggage. Women have a musculature that favors the growth and development of their lower body. Running, kickboxing, jumping rope, and spin classes are all great cardio exercises. Another benefit of cardio is less soreness in your muscles afterwards. Soreness is caused by lactic acid build up in your muscles. Fortunately, your heart loves eating lactic acid. So more cardio = less lactic build up = happier muscles.

Lunges are great for glutes and hamstrings.

Build Muscle: Three words, ladies: legs, buns, and thighs. As I said in the previous paragraph, women are built to have a stronger lower body than an upper body. It’s also last on the order of predetermined fat to be burned so it’s hardest to get rid of. But because doing lower body exercises comes more naturally to women, it’s easier for us to develop muscle. At the gym, start out doing a 10 minute cardio routine, just to get your heart pumping. Then move to the weight machines. Start at your calves and work your way up. Calf raises, leg extensions, hamstring curls, and lunges work the main muscles in your lower body: gastrocnemius, biceps femoris, the three vastus muscles + rectus femoris (aka the quads), and the gluteus maximus. Every couple of days, do some upper body work outs to give your lower body a needed break. After you’re done with 30-45 minutes of weights, finish off with another 10 minute cardio session. It’ll help circulate the lactic acid in your body.

Men

Shed Fat: Unfortunately for you guys, your muscles are not built for running. Men have a musculature that favors their upper body. Mind you, running is great to help improve your heart. But for men, it is not the most efficient way to burn fat. Try a round table style weight lifting session. Start out your routine with a quick cardio workout. Then try 30 minutes of lower body weights and 30 minutes of upper body weights. For lower body, your calves and your hamstrings are the most important to work. For upper body, it’s shoulders and biceps. Finish your workout with a quick cardio session.

The Chest Dip is a great way to work your triceps and pectoralis majors.

Build Muscle: How exactly does your muscle get bigger? In order to build muscle, muscle must be damaged. When doing resistance weight lifting, muscle fibers tend to tear apart. That damage in tissue prompts your body not only to replace the damaged, but to build more to prevent further damage. That’s why as your muscles grow bigger, it takes more weight to stress them. In order to gain muscle, you have to focus on only a couple areas of your body to generate enough tissue damage. Also, make sure you focus on different muscles around the body so you don’t put too much stress on one area. Work triceps, wrist extensors, and hamstrings one day. Then try shoulders, glutes and calves, and ect. There are tons of workout routines available online. But be careful not to overstress your muscles and always have another person spotting you while lifting. Being irresponsible can result in serious injury. Finish weights with quick cardio.

Last but not least. When it comes to building muscle, stay away from muscle enhancers (aka steroids). Human Growth Hormone has way more negative effects than it does benefits. It can cause hormonal imbalance, mood swings, and (most importantly) erectile dysfunction. Stay away from oral creatine too. The side effects of it are not well known and there doesn’t seem to be any positive benefit, so better to be safe than sorry. If you’re looking for that extra boost, protein bars and shakes are alright.

Why did I introduce diet before exercise in this little series about weight loss? Exercise is crucial, but diet is essential. You can’t work out for 90 minutes then celebrate your hard work by eating a cheeseburger and fries. Learn to eat healthier, and then focus on getting your body in shape.

Photos courtesy of Declare Magazine and isporttech.com

More Stretch, Less Stress

Studies have shown practicing yoga several times weekly has many health benefits.

When you hear the word “yoga” what comes to mind? Deep breathing, weird poses and soothing music are often associated with a typical session of yoga. Unfortunately, the health benefits of yoga aren’t being stressed enough, especially to the younger generation.

While it may seem yoga is a great way to relax, it also helps the biochemistry of your body. A new study reported in the journal Diabetes Care reported that those with Type 2 Diabetes who took yoga class were able to shed more weight and easily retain their blood sugar levels contrasted to those who did not take yoga.

Researchers, however, don’t exactly know why yoga is so beneficial. Most of the medical evidence suggests that the deep breathing exercises help lower what is known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when byproducts of the cells’ energy usage rise to levels beyond the body’s ability to neutralize them. These “free radicals” can circulate around the body and cause organ damage. Oxidative stress has been attributed to a number of chronic disease.

Long term oxidative stress has the biggest impact on the brain and the heart. It is most involved in diseases such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, mycardial infarction (heart attack), Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and chronic fatigue syndrome.

So how does breathing cut down on oxidative stress?

The Sympathetic Nervous System, the system that controls the “fight or flight” response, is like the gas pedal of the brain’s organ control system. When the body is faced with combating a degenerative disease such as heart disease or Alzheimer’s, the SNS sends these cells into an energy output overdrive which produces these free radicals. Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is like the brake against the gas pedal.

There’s also controversy over the effects antioxidants have on oxidative stress. While Vitamin E, a natural antioxidant, seems to help improve heart disease, there is no conclusive evidence of antioxidants having a significant impact.

If you are suffering from a chronic degenerative disease or know someone who is, yoga is a great way to improve your lifestyle. Even if you aren’t affected by a chronic disease, yoga is a great way to live healthier. Three 15-minute sessions a week is proven to help relieve stress, reduce tension in the muscles, shed weight and combat illness.

The best thing about yoga is there’s no gym or class membership required! There are several great yoga routines on YouTube you can do at home.

I picked out this video because it not only focuses on calming the body but also calming the mind. Calming the mind is what activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System and reduces stress.

Photo courtesy of organicsoul.com

Fat Burning 101

Biologically, burning fat is one of the easiest things to do. Your body’s muscles LOVE burning fat. It the primary source of energy for your body.

But the way we go about burning that fat determines how much weight we lose or gain. In order to understand the best ways to lose that extra weight, there has to be an understanding of how your muscles use energy.

Muscle cells, in particular, have three energy spending phases.

Phase One is Aerobic Respiration. Your body is in phase one most of the time. In this phase, your cells use oxygen to convert sugar, in the form of Glucose, into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is main form of energy used in the body. Even doing something as little as lifting a finger requires ATP. In Aerobic Respiration, oxygen is available so it’s very efficient for your body to use energy. But lets say you start running on a treadmill. Your muscles are being forced to work harder with less oxygen. Your muscles can still run on Phase One, but only for a minute or two until you run out of oxygen. This is when your body transitions into Phase Two.

Phase Two is known as the Phosphagen System. This system only lasts for about 10 seconds, but it’s also the period of time when your body spends the most extreme amounts of energy. In the Phosphagen System, your body lacks oxygen so it needs to find a different source of energy. Your body uses an enzyme, a catalyst that converts one molecule into a different molecule, known as Creatine Kinase to take a phosphate molecule from Creatine Phosphate, a high energy-storing chemical, in order to make ATP. It’s like a shortcut for the body. However, as a result the body creates a waste product known Creatine that can be toxic to certain organs. That’s why your body can only use so much Creatine Phosphate, and is forced to go into Phase Three.

Phase Three is known as Anaerobic Respiration. After you’ve run on the treadmill for about 3 or 4 minutes, you’ve most likely entered Anaerobic Respiration. This is when your body begins converting glucose without the use of oxygen. This process is known as Glycolysis. The body is able to burn energy, but not nearly as efficiently as Phase One. One molecule of glucose only makes two molecules of ATP in this phase. Your body also produces Lactic Acid, which can build up in your muscles and cause them to cramp. Certain people, specifically long distance runners, have trained their muscles to operate on Anaerobic Respiration for long periods of time.

So how do the 3 phases fit into fat burning? It depends what kind of fat burning you’re into.

If you want to shed a few extra pounds and just be more in shape, you want to lots of Endurance and Cardio exercises. These exercises keep your body running in Phase 3, and allows your body to become more adjusted to Anaerobic Respiration. Elliptical machines, treadmills, dance classes, anything that keeps you active and going for a consistent amount of time is a great way to improve the efficiency of your muscles.

If you’re looking into losing replacing fat with muscle in certain areas of your body, weight lifting and core training is what’s best. You want to burn as much energy as possible, and that requires taking advantage of Phase Two, the Phosphagen System. Doing multiple reps of weight lifting will keep your body in the Phase Two without having to resort to Phase 3. Just make sure you take breaks in between reps. Try 5 reps of 20 bicep curls, then switch to triceps, then shoulders, then cycle back to biceps. These exercises increase the power of your muscles.

If you’re looking to try and do both, good look. Muscles are very particular in the way they function. They either want to become efficient or big. It explains why super slim track stars can run 20 miles a day, and why ridiculously huge body builders can only lift cars for 10 seconds at a time.

Personally, I’ll take efficiency over power any day. When there’s a zombie apocalypse and you’re facing a horde of brainless flesh-addicts, I think it’s more useful to be able to run away quickly than it would to able to lift a sofa and throw it at a zombie. At least for you bodybuilders, before the zombies take over, your body will admired by hot girls and envied by coworkers who eat pancakes for breakfast every day.

That’s the apple for the day.