Posts Tagged ‘working out’

Should we be exercising… less?

This might sound crazy to you, but in the quest for weight loss, some of us may be exercising too much. How can that be, you might be asking, since so few people actually exercise? Let me ask you this; for those of you who regularly go to the gym, do you know anyone that you see there every day on the treadmill not getting any thinner? I know I do. There is a new research study out this month that suggests that some people may be struggling to lose weight because they are actually exercising too much!

The study was conducted by the University of Copenhagen and followed the weight loss efforts of overweight but otherwise healthy men in their 20s and 30s. The men were broken up into 3 groups; no exercise, 30 minutes daily and 60 minutes daily. They were told to keep their eating habits constant throughout the duration of the 13 week study. Afterwards, they were weighed, and as expected the group that did not change their diet or exercise habits lost no weight. The 60 minute group lost around 5 pounds on average, so they were mildly successful. However, the 30 minute group lost 7 pounds on average, which was significantly more than the researchers were expecting. How could this be?

One hypothesis is the compensatory eating effect. Those who worked out an hour each day felt exhausted afterwards and may have had an increased drive to eat in order to compensate for the large number of calories burned. The 30 minute group most likely didn’t perceive the effort to be all that hard, and may actually have kept their calorie intake constant. The second and more interesting hypothesis (I think) is the amount of other activity they did during the day. The 60 minute group usually felt pretty wiped out from their workout and spent most of their free time sitting; they took the elevator instead of the stairs and sat on the couch after work instead of tackling some chores. The 30 minute group actually reported feeling energized from their workout and they moved around significantly more during the day.

I loved this study because it actually made sense in my own life. When I was in college I ran both track and cross country. During the cross country season, I ran more miles during the week, and therefore always felt like I was burning a ton of calories. I definitely reduced my other activity and ate as many brownies as my heart desired and looking back at pictures, I was always a little heavier during cross country season.

How much do you exercise? Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re exercising so much and yet not losing weight?


Getting Motivated

For those of us who struggle to exercise daily (or at least semi-daily), finding the right motivation is key. When my alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning, I need a really good reason to get out of bed; if not, I’m hitting the snooze and exercising tomorrow.

As an exercise physiologist, I’d like to think that the most current research is what motivates people to exercise. There are dozens of studies that tout the benefits of regular physical activity on reducing chronic disease; with just 30 minutes a day, you lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and even depression. That should be enough to make us want to move around, right?

Unfortunately, the research would suggest otherwise. According to a study done by Ingledew and Markland, exercisers tended to stick with a program much longer if their reason for working out was related to social interactions and those who were exercising for appearance didn’t last very long. Researchers have also found that when we perceive benefits to be either intangible or in the distant future, we aren’t very motivated. Just knowing that when you’re 75, your cholesterol will be lower doesn’t seem to be a potent motivator for getting off the couch.

So what do we do? There’s a great article on nytimes right now that suggests we will exercise much more often if we think about how it makes us feel, rather than how it makes us look, and if we think about how it affects us today, rather than how it will affect us 10 years from now. If yo look forward to your evening walk, thinking about how it helps you de-stress and how nice it will feel to be outside, you’ll be more likely to go than if you try to guilt yourself into going. Thinking about exercise as a punishment will always leave a bad taste and it will be a dreaded item to check off the to-do list.

I exercise for a couple of reasons; some noble, some not so much. Some days I look forward to my run; I feel fit and thin and it sounds like a fun thing to do. Other days, I force myself to go because I’m training for a race, or honestly, because I had an extra piece of chocolate cake the day before. But, what gets me out of bed in the morning at 5:45 is thinking how good I’ll feel for the rest of the day. If I tell myself, “it’s just 30 minutes. Then think what you’ll have accomplished before 7 am,” I’ll  get right up.

What motivates you to exercise?

Should I Workout When I’m Sick?

I’m writing this post to you wiped out on the couch with a wicked case of strep throat. I had no idea a sore throat could hurt so badly! Have you guys ever had strep throat? If you haven’t, count yourselves incredibly lucky and if you have, I feel your pain! It’s terrible!

If you’re someone who works out most days of the week, during cold and flu season, you may want to know, “Should I work-out when I’m sick?” Or, if you’re more like me, “Should I feel guilty for not working out when I’m sick?” I should tell you that it’s Sunday and I haven’t run since Thursday. One, because I’ve been on antibiotics for strep and on strict orders from the doctor to rest, and two, I just didn’t want to. 🙂

If you’re debating illness and exercise, you need to ask youself two questions; how sick am I and how much exercise am I doing?

How sick are you?

Let me first say that if you are contagious, please don’t go to the gym! You’re not being tough, you’re being a jerk. It’s bad enough that you’re sick, but sweating in out in the gym means your spreading your germs to dozens of exercisers. Don’t do it!Secondly, if you have a fever, the flu, or some other condition which makes the trip from the couch to the fridge an arduous journey, you are officially too sick to exercise.

However, if it’s just a persisent cold, a runny nose, or a cough, you may want to think about it. Research has shown that moderate exercise may boost the immune system and actually may help you fight the cold, especially if you are a regular exerciser to begin with.

How much exercise are we talking about?

Most all of the research that shows a positive relationship between immune function and exercise refers only to moderate exercise, not vigorous or long-duration exercise. What counts as moderate? If you are doing cardio, you should only exercise 20-40 minutes, and you should be able to talk to your neighbor the whole time. If you’re lifting, don’t do any sets to failure and go for volume rather than max strength (think 2 sets of 20 reps rather than 4 sets of 5 reps).

If you feel like a cold is coming on, let me encourage you to keep your exercise moderate, and don’t go for that long run this week. While moderate exercise may help you get over that cold, extreme or intense exercise could actually make you more susceptible to an infection.

Bottom Line: If you have strep throat, stay home! But, if you just have a cold, get your butt out the door and go for a 30  minute brisk walk.

Do you guys exercise when you’re sick?


To Stretch or Not?

Please let me apologize for our extended hiatus! I’ve been teaching like a crazy person all summer, Kevin has been working tons of overtime, and unfortunately the blog had to go on the backburner for a bit. But, now it’s almost fall and we should have plenty of time for our blog. Hooray! 🙂

One great thing that happened this summer was that a friend of mine guest lectured in one of my classes, and I learned a ton! He is a certified strength and conditioning coach, has a PhD in Exercise Physiology, and is an accomplished powerlifter. He knows a ton about weight lifting and I was thrilled to have him give a three hour lecture (plus, it meant I didn’t have to lecture that day).

The coolest thing I learned was how much convincing research there is about stretching; mostly, it’s stupid. Shocked? I was. Every team I’ve ever been on has started every practice by stretching. For those of you who work out, how many of you feel that you need to stretch before you start? It’s just good common sense, right? If you care at all about athletic performance, apparently not.

A study done at LSU looked at the effects of static stretching on sprint performance. The athletes stretched for 15 minutes (think bending down and reaching for your toes for 30 seconds at a time), and then did a 20 meter sprint as fast as possible. They compared the running time without stretching and interestingly, all the runners were significantly slower after stretching. The researchers even asked the runners which trial they thought was fastest, and every runner said they felt faster and more confidant on the stretching trial. But they were slower!

The same effect was found in endurance running as well. So why do we continue to stretch? For most of us, it’s habit. Our coaches told us to do it, our friends do it, and we’ve been doing it for years, but is it any good? What about injuries? For the longest time, I continued to stretch because I was afraid that if I didn’t, I’d  get injured. The research is mostly…inconclusive. (Here’s a link to a nice review article if you are nerdy like me) The problem is that stretching decreases the elasticity of a muscle, making it more compliant. Think about stretching a rubber band around a chair and leaving it for awhile. Not so stretchy. If you need to do a powerful, fast sport, you need all the elasticity you can get, and reducing elasticity can actually lead to injury. Even  low- intensity activity requires muscle elasticity, and while it probably doesn’t increase injury, it certainly doesn’t prevent it.

However, don’t take all this to mean you shouldn’t do any kind of warm-up before exercising. A slow jog and some dynamix stretching is wonderfully effective. Think leg swings, high knees, and butt-kicks to get you started.

Do you guys stretch before you exercise? What do you do and do you swear by it?


How to Make a Change

Kevin and I saw an interesting documentary this weekend called Hunger for Change. (I’ll write a review in a few days!) It was pretty good, and got me thinking about the process of changing our habits. The more and more I read about weight loss and dieting, I’m realizing that for most of us, the struggle is not getting enough information about how to live, but instead finding the motivation to change our behaviors. There really are quite a few diet books out there that suggest healthy, well balanced diets and recommend regular exercise, and yet so many Americans are still overweight. Why? Because drastically changing your life is so hard! It’s one thing to read about it, and quite another to put it into practice.

When I look and Kevin and my journey to becoming healthier over the last few years, I have noticed a few things. I hope that these suggestions can help you a bit on the road to becoming a healthier, happier version of you!

One thing at a time. I am terrible at this! Whenever I watch a health food documentary, read about vegan diets or see photos of someone who is super-ripped, I think about how I want to completely over-haul my life. I make plans to eat only fruits and vegetables, wake up and the crack of dawn for a 2 hour workout and plan a 30 minute yoga session every night. And, of course, none of that happens. I hit the snooze button, put off the workout, and definitely eat more than just fruits and vegetables (namely Oreos, which are my nemesis).  Trying to make so many drastic changes makes me feel overwhelmed. The challenge seems impossible and so instead of being successful, I flop down in failure. The times I’ve actually managed to maintain better habits are the things that naturally developed over time. I started bringing one piece of fruit to lunch with me, and then two. I began by having a fruit smoothie for breakfast, which has now evolved into mainly just spinach and kefir, and I’ve found that fried foods aren’t really something I crave at all anymore. All of these changes were done on thing at a time, and over the course of several months or years. When we decide that we want to be a better person, we usually try to tackle all our problems at once, but I think that’s just a recipe for disaster. Instead, focus on just one good change you’ll make; something that doesn’t seem to bad or too hard. Once you’ve successfully mastered that, move on to the next thing. By next year, you’ll be shocked at how far you’ve come.

Visualization. I first started using visualization when I was coaching cross country during my PhD. I had my runners visualize their race, watching themselves do everything right and picturing how strong they would feel at the end. When they pictured themselves succeeding, they were much more likely to have a successful race. Visualization has been used in athletics for decades, but I think it absolutely applies in our everyday lives as well. If we want to make a change, the first step is believing that it’s actually possible. I use this in order to motivate myself to get up early and exercise. I hate waking up early and I usually use any excuse I can to sleep in, but lately I haven’t been able to get my workouts in at night. I know the only way to make myself exercise is to get it done in the morning, but I haaaaate waking up so early. This past week, every night before I go to bed, I visualize myself waking up at 5:45 (ughh) and running. Much to my husband’s surprise, I’ve actually done it!

Add, don’t subtract. This is one idea I stole from the Hungry for Change documentary; instead of trying to deny yourself, think about adding healthy habits to your life. Don’t focus on eating fewer fatty foods, but instead think about adding healthier ones. The entire process of dieting and restricting ourselves leaves us feeling deprived. A diet feels like something we have to survive and I know as soon as I start restricting foods (telling myself no sugar this week, or no junk food), that’s the only thing I can think about! Instead, I’ve been focusing on my goal to eat more fruits and vegetables. I pack at least one fruit, if not two in my lunch, and Kevin and I bought a juicer (which will be another blog!) to try to increase our consumption of vegetables.  The healthier my diet gets, the less I am interested in eating cookies and brownies (although, if you offered me one right now, I can’t say I’d turn it down!).  I don’t think about restricting anything; instead just focusing on the positive things I can add to my life helps me focus on the good stuff, and the bad stuff tends to just fall away on its own.

Have you tried any of these strategies? What are some successful changes you’ve made in your life?


Final Spartacus Review

Hey guys, sorry for posting this week’s review a little late. I am now into second week of the 2012 Spartacus workout. I still find the workout physically challenging, although I have started to get a little bored because there is no variety; it is the same 10 exercises everyday you do this. Also this is almost a purely lower body workout, 7 out of 10 exercises are exclusively legs. So if you haven’t been doing a lot of squats and lunges be prepared to be so sore you can’t complete the program 3 times in your first week.  I now have multiple weights to use as I mentioned last week that this would help enhance the workout.  As mentioned before the degree of difficulty varies greatly in-between exercises, so to keep the intensity high you will need a variety of weights to switch between.

As far as my diet is concerned I haven’t changed anything except for lunch.  I have swapped my organic fruit bar with one of those squeezable fruits and only because the grocery store was out of my regular fruit bar. I also forgot to mention that I drink about 20 cups of water a day…’s hot in south Texas all the time!

 I know that I have stated that I would be doing this routine for 6 weeks but after doing for 2 weeks now I have changed my mind. I will only being doing one more week of this routine.  Honestly it just isn’t providing the level of challenge and fitness I desire. I am currently looking for a new program to go on to review. I have been attending a training class, so when I am done with that I plan on taking on a UFC workout by joining a mixed martial arts gym for a month, but in the mean time I am looking for a new routine so if you have a good one you have tried, or one you like to see tried please let me know.


Fat Burning Zone

You may have heard this advice sometime, “If you want to burn fat, you need to be exercising in you fat-burning zone.” Even the cardio machines at the gym have a nice little graph of where your heart rate should be if you want to burn fat versus where your heart rate should be if you’d like a cardiovascular workout.  So what is the “fat-burning zone” and does it actually help you burn more fat?

The Physiology

Your body has two main sources of energy; carbohydrates and fat. You are constantly going through metabolic processes that break down these macronutrients, producing something called ATP, which is the main source of energy in the body.  To use carbohydrates, your body breaks down the carbs into their simplest form, glucose, and goes through a 10 step process called glycolysis. Glucose is available in your bloodstream after you’ve eaten, is stored in your muscles and produced by the liver. The other way you can produce ATP is by breaking down fat and you use a simple form here as well (the fatty acid). However, in order to use fat, it must be broken down in your adipose tissue (those are your fat cells stored all around your body), travel through the blood stream, be taken up by your muscles and then go through two cycles before you get ATP. It’s a much lengthier process, but the end result is much more ATP.  Because this process is so lengthy, however, you can’t produce energy very quickly. That means that if you are exercising intensely, you will rely on carbs for energy rather than fats.

The bottom line: the harder you are exercising, the more you use carbohydrates, and the lower your intensity, the more you rely on fats.

So what’s the claim?

The idea behind working in your “fat-burning zone” is that if you lower your intensity, you will burn a larger percentage of calories from fat, instead of carbohydrates. Which is true, sort of. The thing you don’t hear much about is that your ultimate fat burning zone is sitting completely still. When you are sedentary, you don’t need energy very quickly, so almost all your energy is coming from fat. Well great! Why don’t we all lose weight sitting around then?  The problem is that you burn very few calories while sitting, so who cares if they all come from fat? The same principle applies to exercise.

Practical Application

Exercising in your “fat-burning zone” usually entails a heart rate of approximately 120-140, however you will burn significantly fewer calories in your exercise session than if you were able to maintain a heart rate of 150-160. Yes, more of them may be derived from fat, but because your total number is so much less, you won’t come out ahead. If burning fat is what you’re after, you can either work out at a higher intensity for 20-30 minutes, or, if you prefer a lower intensity, then you need to increase your time to 60 minutes plus.

How intensely do you like to exercise? Do you prefer longer and slower or shorter and more intense?


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