Sunday, February 27, 2011

Regular Fitness Assessments and Checkups

Do you know how fit you are compared to last year? How long has it been since you've had your blood pressure or cholesterol checked or had a full-blown physical? Having regular fitness assessments and checkups can be very beneficial in helping you spot potential health problems before they get too serious. They also help you be more accountable for your health.

When I was in junior high, I started keeping track of my height and weight. I've continued to track it each year, along with measurements, body fat percentage, my 5K times, strength tests, and several other indicators. If you want to track your progress, you need to be able to monitor it. This is easily done with regular fitness assessments.

Some items like your weight are easy to monitor on your own by stepping up on a scale, but there are also several more unpleasant procedures that people tend to put off like going to the dentist, getting breast exams, pap smears, prostate exams, or colonoscopies. Seeing a doctor put on rubber gloves during a physical is enough to make most people cringe. I used to complain about how unpleasant that is for people until one day a doctor said "Do you really think we enjoy it?" I now empathize with health care professionals as much as I do their uncomfortable patients.

I've heard of many instances where having a routine checkup helped someone catch a disease in the early stages before it became life threatening. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A filling is cheaper than a root canal and having a mole removed is easier than treating skin cancer. Develop the habit of getting regular checkups. If you've been procrastinating a checkup or procedure that you know you should have done, but don't want to do, then I dare you to to just do it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fitness Obsession: Crossing the Line

I'd like to pose a question? At what point does being fit and in shape cross the line into the territory of unhealthy behavior? I see some people with very impressive physiques, but some of them spend so much energy on counting calories, working out, and obsessing over what they eat and how they look. Others are so into themselves that they are out of balance in other areas of their life.

Some people do things that are very unhealthy in an effort to improve their appearance like abusing steroids and drugs, starving themselves, or developing eating disorders. Years ago I overheard a body builder talking about how he was totally into the sport and how it consumed his life. He said he finally got to the point where he won a contest. He came home with the trophy and when he saw his wife and young son, he realized that he had been blowing his money on steroids and supplements and spending all day at the gym. He had been neglecting his family and focusing all of his efforts on himself. He said he gave up the competitive aspect of the sport that same day because he didn't like what he was turning into.

Maybe you don't abuse your body, but you just spend too much time working out. There are a few people I always see at the gym no matter when I go there. They must live there! Unless you are an employee of the gym or training for Mr. Olympia or the Olympics, you probably don't need to spend hours there every day. You can get a killer workout in half an hour.

Exercise is a healthy activity, but some people can get addicted to it. I don't think that I'm addicted to exercise, but there have been many times when I've gone to the gym to play basketball and I didn't have a lot of time so I'd tell myself I was just going to play for 30-40 minutes. Two and a half hours later I'd finally leave and would be angry with myself because I couldn't stop playing when I told myself I would. By the way, that's also a great recipe for getting yourself in the dog house.

I think exercise, proper nutrition, and being physically fit are crucial to one's quality of life, but there comes a point of diminishing returns. Training too much without scheduling time to rest can cause fatigue, burnout, and set you up for injury. Does your life evolve around the food you eat or a diet or any particular fitness philosophy? If you feel like your fitness quest has turned into an unhealthy obsession or if your life is out of balance, then it might be a good thing to take an inventory and see if you are really headed where you want to go.

Most Americans need to be pushed to get off their butts and do more for their health, but there are some out there who need to relax a little in order to overcome their obsession with fitness. Remember that physical fitness is only one aspect of overall good health.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Years ago, nutritional advice was as simple as "an apple a day." Later we were advised to eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest USDA recommendations suggest that we eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Over the years there have been many changes to the healthy eating pyramid with an obvious emphasis to eat more plant based foods.

As much as I enjoy fruits and vegetables, there are some challenges associated with them. When I was a little kid, my dad would come home from grocery shopping every week and stock the fridge full of produce, but most of it would spoil before we got around to eating it. The shelf life of fresh produce is always a challenge if you don't eat them soon enough.

There are many benefits to eating fruits and vegetables. Some of these include:

1. You can eat more food since they have a lower calorie content than other foods.
2. They are a good source of fiber.
3. They contain anti-oxidants.
4. You don't have to worry about artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
5. They can reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and other diseases.
6. They contain beneficial vitamins and minerals.
7. They are very simple to prepare and are a healthy, natural snack.
8. They add color, variety, and greater appeal to your meals.

I've noticed that most kids tend to enjoy fruits more than vegetables. As a kid I hated onions and am still working to overcome that dislike. Some of my kids display the same prejudice that I did against vegetables, but we are making progress as we attempt to expose them to a wide variety of vegetables and choices.

It can be a pain trying to keep track of how many servings you've eaten, so for your next healthy habit, let's keep it simple and just work on eating more of fruits and vegetables each day than you have in the past. I feel like a hypocrite since I have not been eating enough fruits and vegetables recently so I am adding this to my weekly health commitments for 2011 and invite you to do the same.

Friday, February 11, 2011

7 Popular Fitness Myths

Over the years I have encountered many misconceptions and myths about fitness and exercise and they constantly keep resurfacing. There are many of these myths which confuse or mislead the public, but I'm only going to address 7 of the most popular ones in this post

1) Spot Reducing. You can't isolate the area of your body that you are going to lose fat from. I've see ladies come in the gym and go straight to the leg abductor machine or to the ab machine with the intention of burning off unwanted fat from these problem sites. You can certainly work specific muscles but it doesn't mean the fat you burn will be coming off of these areas. Losing fat takes time and it typically comes off the stubborn spots last that you want it off the most. If spot reducing worked everyone who talks a lot would have lean and slender cheeks and chewing gum would get rid of double chins.

2) If you stop working out, then your muscle will turn to fat. Some people look at body builders (see Arnold above) and athletes before and after their competition days and have jump to conclusions about this. Muscle cells can not turn into fat cells and you can not turn fat into muscle. You can burn fat cells and increase the size of your muscle cells (hypertrophy) but you can't convert them into each other. You can't change an apple into an orange and you can't turn muscle into fat. You can lose fat and build muscle or lose muscle and gain fat. Whichever one you do will depend on your lifestyle choices.

3) Women who lift weights will bulk up. I addressed this last month. Many women fear lifting because they think they will look like an East German Shot Putter. If you lift heavy weights while taking steroids and eat a lot more than usual you might bulk up, but regular resistance training will strengthen muscles, burn calories, and give you a better appearance.

4) In order for exercise to be effective it needs to hurt. We've all heard "no pain no gain." Others say you need to sweat profusely. You can still benefit from moderate exercise levels. Exercise doesn't have to be painful in order to improve your health, although intense exercise will cause a quicker response from your body and obviously burn calories faster than doing moderate activities like walking. There is good pain like pushing through a heavy lift or feeling a little sore after a workout and there is bad pain like feeling a sharp pain or exercising with an injured body part. Learn to differentiate between the two.

5) It takes a long time to get into shape. Surprisingly when you start working out your body makes improvements quickly. Usually if someone sticks to an exercise and nutrition program for 2 to 3 weeks they can notice discernible results in their strength and conditioning. Persistent and consistent effort is obviously needed for continual long term progress, but your body is very forgiving, so it doesn't take years to get into shape. At the other end of the spectrum, watch out for people who promise immediate results in just a matter of days. You still have to pay the price to get results.

6) You need super high amounts of protein to build muscle. Protein is an essential building block and if your body is growing or under a great deal of physical stress it may require more, but many people overcompensate and consume too much. Remember that excess protein can mean excess calories and can cause weight gain just like consuming excess fat or carbs.

7) The more you exercise the better. It is possible to overdo a good thing. Water is good for you, but if you drink too much it can even be fatal. It's also possible to over train and set yourself up for injury if you exercise too much. Remember to give your body time to recuperate and rest.

These myths are perpetuated when we take someones word about fitness without getting all the facts. There is a lot of conflicting data out there, so be careful who you listen to. These myths may also be perpetuated by fitness magazines, the big guy at the gym, supplement manufacturers, or even know it all personal trainers like myself. If you doubt what you've heard about a particular subject ,even if it's from a good source like Your Fitness Quest, then I encourage you to do some research and find out for yourself.