Saturday, May 29, 2010

Music and Health

Last Christmas I got a new cell phone with Pandora radio and an MP3 player on it. I've been listening to a variety of music lately and it has been very interesting to see how different musical styles or genres effect my mood. Obviously, ones personal preference, upbringing, and tastes play a role in how music affects them, but so does the actual music they listen to.

I once heard of a study that tested the effects of music on strength. Participants who listened to heavy metal music while lifting weights were able to lift more weight initially, but those who listened to classical music had more strength endurance over time and didn't tire as quickly. I don't know how accurate that is, or if the study was even legitimate, but I do know that music affects our mood, and our mood in turn affects our health.

When I hear music that I listened to as a teenager, It sometimes conjures up memories and feelings I felt when I was 17 and I could swear it makes me feel younger and gives me energy. Music that is fast paced and loud tends to energize people. Some examples are the theme from Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, and the Mission Impossible theme song. Slow music that people listen to while meditating, doing yoga, or getting a massage does the opposite and has a calming affect. I know serious runners don't run marathons while listening to music, but posers like me use music for motivation. This morning I ran a 5K race and chose songs on my play list that had a strong consistent beat, which helped me maintain a steady pace when I got tired.

Music can affect our mood, breathing, heart rate, and brain waives. Last year there was an article in TIME magazine which told how different types of music affected patients during surgery. When the US marines invaded Panama, they blasted Noriega with music like Twisted Sister for a couple days until he gave up and came out of his compound. Many people would classify listening to certain styles of music they don't enjoy as torture. Does the music you listen to uplift, refresh, and make you feel better, or does it numb you and wear you down? Just a thought. I'm amazed at how many people I see at the gym who are wearing earphones while they work out. There must be something to it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Importance of Recovery

Recovery is a critical component of a fitness program. When I was in high school, our basketball mantra was 4-6-12. It meant practice 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, 12 months a year. (At least it wasn't 24/7). Anyway for several years I pretty much did that. My attitude was that I'd work harder than the competition and would spend more time in the gym. I benefited from the intense commitment to basketball, but I didn't understand the dangers of over training until years later.

During my senior year, my conditioning and performance peaked mid season due to over training. Towards the end of the season and during State Championships I felt exhausted. I could still perform okay, but I fatigued quicker and took longer to recover from injuries. I didn't realize at the time, but I had been over training and had not allowed my body sufficient time to recover.

Occasionally people will notice that they can actually lift more weight, run faster, or jump higher after coming back from a vacation or after taking several days off from exercise. It is important to remember that when you work out, the process literally tears your body down on a microscopic level and you need proper nutrients and rest for your body to rebuild and recuperate. Many people find that as they age, they also require more time to recuperate between workouts. Other factors that can affect recovery time include your nutrition, stress levels, intensity and frequency of workouts, and how much sleep you get.

Remember that you don't want to work the same muscles with intense workouts without allowing them time to recover. Too much exercise without sufficient rest can stress your body and make you susceptible to injury or illness so give your body what it needs to recover.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rewarding Yourself

My high school basketball coach used to award a free chicken sandwich coupon to the players who took a charge during a game. To those of you not familiar with a charge, it is when you sacrifice your body and let an opposing player run into you to draw a foul. It usually hurts so most people are reluctant to do it. I thought it was funny how much this simple reward could motivate some of us. We might not take a charge to win the game for our school, but we'd sure as heck do it to for a sandwich!

I've seen similar situations in life where people will go to great lengths and work hard for small rewards, but they are reluctant to do it for their own health or for the many obvious benefits that would come from doing so. I like to make charts to track my progress towards goals. Some people might think coloring in boxes is silly or juvenile, but I will milk it for all its worth since it helps me make progress. Rewards don't have to be big or expensive to motivate most people. Some times people will work harder for the small things since they are so attainable and believable.

It requires discipline to only reward yourself with some of these small things after you hit your goal. I've heard of successful business people who may have millions in the bank, but they refuse to buy the flat screen TV or mountain bike they want (which could easily afford) until they hit a specific goal. Some aspects of getting into shape are just as much a mental battle as their are physical and that is why rewards can be so helpful. Overcoming these psychological battles with your self can be difficult, but as you consistently exert yourself, your self esteem and confidence will increase.

Caution: If you are going to reward yourself for your efforts, make sure the reward it appropriate for the level of achievement. You obviously wouldn't go on a vacation to Hawaii for eating 5-7 servings of vegetables during the week, but you might go out to eat to as a reward for a week of healthy eating. If there is something you really enjoy doing, use it as a reward for good behavior. Some simple rewards include watching a favorite TV show after you exercise, or buying new clothes when you slim down a size. Just find some kind of carrot that motivates you and dangle in front of you as a reward for when you accomplish your goals.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making Progress

The definition of progress is moving forward and advancing in the direction of your goals. I find that many people who are trying to lose weight get discouraged when they have only lost a few pounds over the course of a month. I think the sensationalism of shows like The Biggest Loser can give people unrealistic expectations. If you were 300 pounds overweight you could probably lose 10 pounds a week too, but the closer you are to healthy body weight the harder it can be to slim down and hit your target weight.

If you ever feel frustrated by how slow your progress has been, just imagine how things would be if you didn't have that goal to begin with. According to the definition of progress, it is impossible to move forward if you don't have a goal. Without goals, not only do you stop making progress, you actually start going backwards! That is a law of physics.

Occasionally people who set goals get discouraged when they don't accomplish them in the time frame had had originally planned on, but if you are making progress, you shouldn't beat yourself up. That would be like a pregnant woman thinking she is not pregnant anymore just becuase she is past her due date and had not delivered her baby yet.

While it may be true that some people can achieve amazing results in a short period of time, for most people, healthy living should be likened to a marathon race as opposed to a 100 yard dash. It's like trying to play the stock market for 6 months as opposed to leaving your investments in over the long haul. There may be ups and downs, but over the long run, those who have been persistent with their investments and their health over time will benefit the most.

I'm all for getting results fast, but it's still better to get results slowly than not at all. Remember that persistent behavior will pay off in the long run and as you develop healthy habits you will improve the quality of your life.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Personal Trainers: What to Look For

Before I started Your Fitness Quest, I used to think that personal trainers were absolute experts when it came to fitness and exercise. Over time I found out that some trainers are self appointed and had little or no experience. It's not like being a doctor where extensive qualifications and certification are required. Many people make the mistake of assuming that if someone has a good physique then they must be a good trainer. As in all industries, there are competent professionals who provide excellent service and there are those who give the profession a bad name.

In 2001 I started working as a trainer. I got certified with The International Sports and Sciences Association, The National Academy of Sports Medicine, and The American Council on Exercise. I enjoyed what I learned from each organization and thought it was very helpful, although I admit it is not as demanding or thorough as earning an actual degree in physical education, exercise physiology, or nutrition.

Here are a some things to watch out for when shopping around for a trainer. Avoid a trainer if they:

*Have little or no experience
*Are not certified or have expired certifications
*Do not have First Aid or CPR training
*Don't cater and customize workouts to your ability and goals
*Push you harder than is safe or don't listen to your feedback
*Ignore you during your sessions while socializing with others
*Try to sell you supplements or some other products
*Touch you in an inappropriate manner or flirt with you
*Step outside of their range of competence and training. A trainer should not try to be a physician, dietician, or physical therapist.

Trainers should design programs, educate, teach proper technique, and help you track your progress and provide encouragement and accountability. Accountability and support is what helps Weight Watchers, A.A, or any other support group participant succeed. I recommend using a certified trainer to help you achieve your fitness goals. Just make sure you shop around first and find a good one that is right for you.