Saturday, May 2, 2020

Quarantine Concerns

If you are like most people you have probably had your world turned upside down over the last two months. Fear of the Coronavirus and the safety measures taken to combat it have crippled the economy and sidelined most people to their homes. While the intention of doing so is to save lives, there are also many unintended consequences happening as a result. It is the perfect storm for people to gradually gain weight and get out of shape. Here's why:

Stress and anxiety- People are experiencing stress due to fear for their physical well-being. There is also anxiety from constantly watching news stories and updates that frequently feature running death tolls and conflicting advice on the best ways to stay safe. Then there is the financial stress of potential loss of income or employment. There has been plenty of uncertainty for the future and stress is not good for your immune system.

Isolation- While some may feel like they have spent too much time with their immediate family, others are missing social interaction with friends, extended family, and peers. Phone calls and Zoom meetings are beneficial for staying in touch, but they are not the same as face-to-face human interaction and physical contact. We've also been told to not only social distance but to avoid physical touch with others. This lack of social contact has been especially difficult for some personality types.

Limited  Medical Services - The public has not had the usual access to doctors and hospitals unless it is deemed an emergency. Elective procedures and less critical visits to the doctor have been postponed. I've heard many complaints from people who have not been able to get to the dentist, dermatologist, optometrist, chiropractor, or massage therapist, like they used to.

Staying Indoors- Staying inside all day keeps some people from getting out and stretching their legs, getting healthy amounts of sunlight for vitamin D, and breathing fresh air.

Sedentary lifestyle- Lots of people have decreased their activity levels while they are staying home. The closure of gyms and parks has made it less convenient to exercise. The only marathons people have been doing lately are binge watching Netflix.

Unhealthy Eating- It is common for people stress eat when they are anxious or bored. Unhealthy snacking also increases as TV watching and computer screen time increases. Convenience eating and limiting your food choices to restaurants that have a drive through window can also be detrimental to healthy nutrition.

So what can you do to be healthier while you are social distancing and hunkering down? What can we all do a better job of?

* Take time to exercise each day (even if it's only 10-20 minutes.)
* Make healthier food choices and watch your portion sizes.
* Find healthy ways to manage your stress.
* Get some sunshine and fresh air as often as possible.
* Socialize the best you can under the circumstances.

The tragic loss of life and the threat for those in high-risk categories is a real concern, but it has also been frustrating to see all the collateral damage happening to our economy and physical health as a result of this battle. I 'm hoping that as a country, and worldwide, we will be turning a corner soon. We may not ever go back to the same "normal" after this, but we certainly need to get back to more productive and functional lives soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Exercise for Kids

My favorite subject in elementary school (since lunch doesn't technically count) would have to be recess. I loved playing outside on the playground or in the gym as a little kid. It has been interesting to see how physical education has changed over the years. Many schools have reduced or even done away with PE classes for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons was safety. I remember our old playgrounds featured tall metal structures suspended high above hard asphalt surfaces. Some of the old school equipment, like spinning merry-go-rounds were the cause of many injuries as we tried to see just how many kids could get on and how fast we could make it go.  I found the picture below of some scary playground equipment from the early 1900's that would strike fear into any parent today.

Aside from the safety and liability issues, I think some educational administrators have forgotten how beneficial exercise and activity can be since it doesn't appear to fit in with their academic subjects they are emphasizing at school. Today there are many kids who can't concentrate in class. They are often simply labeled and medicated to fit in, but I'm sure many of them would perform much better if they had regular breaks to blow off some steam and switch gears every so often.

This week I was visiting Kenya. While we were driving to our lodging, we passed a large school. Our host offered to let us get a closer look since her kids attended there. As we drove up, we saw a couple hundred students outside on a huge dirt field doing their PE activities. They were so excited to be playing games, and you could feel their energy. There were a few home-made balls being thrown around but, aside from that, they had no equipment to speak of. The lack of equipment and facilities did not deter their play. They were playing tag, chasing, and participating in other group games.

I was shocked when I realized I could not see one kid who was even borderline chubby. I jokingly asked my host where they keep the fat kids and she said they have none. I understand there are many more factors influencing the body shape of a child aside from physical activity. Genetics, nutrition, socioeconomic factors, and culture all attribute to their thin builds. Most of them walk or run several miles to school every day. As we drove back home we saw many kids training for races running along the side of the road for miles. Several of them were barefoot and didn't seem to mind.

Contrast this type of activity to kids in the US who are very sedentary, spend a ton of time on social media and playing video games, and eat an abundance of surplus calories. It is no mystery why so many young kids today struggle with obesity. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 kids is obese in the United States and about 1 in 3 is overweight.

There are many things that contribute to a young person being in a healthy weight range, and physical activity is definitely one of them. Some of the ways we can help kids be more active include:

* Setting limits for how much time they spend watching TV or the computer.
* Encouraging them to participate in youth sports programs.
* Letting them walk or ride a bike instead of always driving them to nearby places.
* Setting a positive example for them by being an active parent. Actions speak louder than words.
* Spending more time outside with your kids, hiking, camping, at the park, etc.
* Encouraging them to try different physical activities until they find something they are passionate about. Once they find an activity they love, it is no longer a chore for them to be active.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Healthy Fridge Tips

Your fridge can be a helpful tool for healthy eating or a tempting distraction that can sabotage your efforts. It all depends on what you put in in. A little planning makes all the difference. Make your fridge your ally by implementing the following tips:

1. Clean your fridge out regularly. Don't just wipe it down, but take EVERYTHING out while you clean it. Then inspect each item before putting it back. Get rid of rotten or expired foods. You may be surprised how quickly unwanted food can accumulate.

2. Don't pack your fridge so tight with groceries that you can't see what's in the back. Ideally you should be able to easily see all the contents of your fridge when you open the door. Remember it also works better when there is space for cold air to circulate around the food.

3. Use glass or plastic containers or zip lock bags to store your food. It is so much easier to eat well if you can see the food you actually have. This also reduces your chance of discovering spoiled food covered in mold down the road. I'm sure you've experienced this in the past  when you pulled the tin foil off of that bowl or can that had been sitting there for 2 weeks.

4. Stock up on fruits and vegetables. Wash them as soon as you get home and then cut them up into convenient ready to eat serving sizes. This way you can snack on healthy food without having to invest any food prep time. If you feel like snacking, you can eat all the raw vegetables you want without worrying about calories.

5. Keep the healthy foods you are trying to eat more of at eye level in your fridge. This is the same principle marketers use and why companies pay a premium to stock more expensive foods on those shelves in grocery stores.

6. Prepare meals in advance and freeze them. If you have to sit down and start from scratch each time you want to eat you will be very frustrated (like Homer in the picture above.) Planning ahead simplifies your food preparation and makes it easier for you to eat healthier. Healthy eating almost never happens by accident.

7. Store meat in the lower fridge shelves in case it leaks juice onto the food shelves below. The last thing anyone wants on their food is raw chicken juice. Doing so can help prevent food borne illness.

8. Put smelly foods like onions, garlic, and tuna fish in airtight containers when you have left overs or everything in your fridge will smell like them.

9. Stock up on pre-made bagged salads. You can buy these in the produce section and they are a very convenient way to throw together a salad if you are in a hurry. These are available in a variety of styles and flavors.

10. Use less ketchup, mayo, sour cream, and high calorie salad dressings. Instead look for lower calorie dressings, lemon juice, salsa, or hummus.

11. Keep some good protein sources handy so you can easily add them to meals or snacks. These might include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken, boiled eggs, or peanut butter. These foods also satisfy your hunger better than just snacking on carbs.

12. One easy way to increase your vegetable intake is to keep a variety of frozen vegetables in your freezer so you can easily add a serving of vegetables to your meals. You can quickly microwave, boil or steam them in a matter of minutes.

13. Keep plenty of filtered water in your fridge. Cold, clean water is much more appealing than tap water and will make it easier for you stay hydrated.

These are just a few simple things you can do to keep your food safe, more appealing, and healthier.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Which Body Fat Testing Method is Best?

Knowing how much you weigh can be beneficial, but knowing your body fat percentage is even more enlightening. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool developed for large populations to determine levels of obesity.  It is a useful concept when dealing with big groups of people and associated health risks, but only frame size and weight were factored into the equation.  As a result a bodybuilder with 7% body fat may show up on the BMI index as being obese. Because of the limitations on the BMI system, I am a fan of body composition testing.

Knowing your body composition is important for anyone who is trying to maintain a healthy weight. Body fat can be measured in a variety of ways. Some are more affordable than others, some are more convenient, and other methods offer greater accuracy. Here's a summary of your options.

Skin calipers-Calipers are used to measure the thickness of various fat locations on the body and then these measurements are plugged into an equation to estimate your body fat percentage. It is relatively accurate but there is great possibility of human error if the technician taking the measurements is unskilled or inconsistent. Some people don't like to have their fat manually pulled out and measured with a gauge either.

Bio-electrical Impedance-These are common in gyms or on body fat scales. Your body fat percentage is estimated by how long it takes a very small, painless, electrical charge to pass through your body. The electrical impulse travels faster through muscle than it does through fat. These are quick and convenient, but usually not as accurate since the charge may just arc through the upper or lower body and as a result may not give you a complete picture of your overall fat. Hydration levels can also skew the results.

Hydrostatic Weighing-This is an older method that uses Archimedes principles of water displacement. You will probably only find these at a University since they are so large and expensive. You sit in a dunking chair and blow all the air out of your lungs as you are slowly lowered into a small pool of water. You then have to hold still as long as you can. The water displacement is measured to help determine your body fat. It is a difficult process and uncomfortable for the test subject, but very accurate.

Bod Pod machine
 The Bod Pod-The Bod Pod looks like Mork's egg spaceship. It is a small chamber that uses the same displacement principles previously discussed, but instead of water it uses air. You just hold still once inside for about a minute while it calculates your body fat. It is pretty accurate, comfortable, and easy to use. The disadvantage is that you may not like it if you are claustrophobic and they are not very common at gyms since the machine is quite pricey.

Dexa Scanning (Dual Energy X-Ray Absortiometry)-This tool was originally developed to analyze bone density. It is basically a bed you lie on as an X-ray slowly scans your body. It is slow but very accurate. It is also extremely expensive. Not only does it tell you what your body fat % is but it's detailed analysis breaks down exactly how much fat is located throughout the body and can break it down by torso, arms, legs, etc.

I prefer bio-electrical impedance devices since they are so quick and easy and can still give you a decent idea of your body fat, but when I want to get a more accurate measurement, I will splurge and spend the $20 bucks to have the calculations made with a bod pod.

Focusing on one's body fat percentage is more telling than just worrying about what the scale says. Remember fat is not necessarily bad, your body needs a certain amount to be healthy. Unfortunately most Americans have exceeded the healthy level and have put themselves at a greater health risk for a variety of diseases.

Regardless of which method a person uses to determine their body fat percentage, it is important to remember that they are still just estimates and are subject to a margin of error. Even so, body fat testing can be a helpful tool if you use the same method to track changes and trends over time to determine  your progress.