Weight Loss with HEALTHeME

Weight loss and good health made simple

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's February. Are You Keeping Your Resolutions?

Here are HEALTHeME's top ways to keep you on the fitness wagon and find success that lasts all year long (and then some).

We are on the brink of a new year and you know what that means: resolutions. Surely resolutions made for 2012 will involve starting a regular exercise program. But, come March, so many who started off with good intentions will let their busy schedules get the best of them, leading to a sad break-up: bye-bye cycling and yoga classes. Sound familiar? This year can be different.  Here's how:

#1 Plan your work & work your plan.
Research says thinking about behaviors you will perform in the future may increase the chances you will actually do these things. Researchers asked study participants to answer questions about how much they planned to exercise the following week. Thanks to planning ahead, study participants increased the amount of time they exercised by 94 minutes. Here's one more important finding: the behavior must be one of your goals or you’re more likely NOT to do it at all.

#2 You know why…but how?
Is there any doubt that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle? Still, fewer than 20% of Americans meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physical activity recommendations. It’s unlikely that the reason is because we don’t know exercise is good for us! According to a recent study, focusing on how to fit exercise into your busy life is the key! Researchers found that participants who were given behavioral strategies were more successful at increasing their physical activity than those who were just given more information about exercise. Behavioral strategies like setting goals, scheduling your workouts, and tracking your progress are successful ways to make exercise a part of your life.

Here’s a simple checklist to help you stick to your exercise resolutions:
  1. First, choose a goal that you want to achieve. Remember, this must be something you actually want to do or you are less likely to be successful.
  2. Come up with a plan-of-action. Include specifics like when you’re going to exercise, how much time you’re going to spend doing it, and what you’re going to do.
  3. Write your goal down and put it in a place where you’re going to see it on a daily basis. Visual reminders of your goal will encourage you to hit the gym, even when you’re tired.
  4. Track your progress. Use tools like your HEALTHeME website to track what you’re doing and celebrate your success!

Friday, December 23, 2011

What's a little weight loss among friends?

Weight loss works best with friends.
Do bird of a feather really flock and lose weight together? 

According to some recent studies, when those “birds” are overweight, they sure do! The research may have you reconsidering your “flock” to help you achieve weight loss success.  In one recent study, researchers found that people tend to eat more if they’re around overweight people. Study participants indulged in more candy or cookies after seeing an overweight person. With two out of every three Americans being classified as overweight or obese, this may make overeating (and the subsequent tipping of the scales), as contagious as the winter cold or flu running around your office.

Another study found that your social network is an important factor when it comes to your waistline. Researchers surveyed 288 people and found that overweight or obese people were at least 10% more likely to have an overweight best friend or romantic partner.

Here are two strategies to help you reach your weight loss goals and maybe even help your “flock” take a turn down the healthy road with you:
  1. According to one study, shared activities and meals may be the key element that causes people to gain or lose weight in sync. Enlist your friends to make some healthy resolutions. Catch up over a walk or watch your portions by splitting a healthy meal.
  2. Remembering your specific goals and realizing the link between overeating and weight gain can help you stay on track, even when you’re around people who are overweight or making poor choices. The best way to keep up with your goals? Write them down and log your food daily so you’ll understand the relationship between what you eat and your success.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weight Loss Myths Debunked

Top weight loss myths debunked.

What really works for weight loss?

The media is swirling with “great” advice to help you shed unwanted pounds. From doing only cardio, to doing no cardio and from eating nothing but cabbage soup, to eating chocolate with each meal, it seems there is no end to the words of wisdom devised to come to your weight-loss rescue. So, it seems relevant, at this time of year, to address two specific issues and set the record straight for weight loss.

MYTH 1:  “You aren’t eating enough.” Really?
I recently had a conversation with someone who was told by her personal trainer that she wasn’t losing weight because she wasn’t eating enough. As a long-time fitness professional, I’m not putting down personal trainers but I do think we need to question this line of reasoning. Does it really make sense that the nearly 70% of Americans who are either overweight or obese got to this place by not eating enough?
It may be more accurate to say that we aren’t eating enough of the good stuff, like fruits and vegetables. Some statistics estimate that only 32% of U.S. adults eat 2 or more servings of fruit per day. The data for vegetable intake is more disheartening, with only about a quarter of adults eating the recommended 3 servings per day. So, maybe we can amend the statement by saying we don’t need to eat more in general, just more of the good-for-us fruits and vegetables and less of the processed, empty calories in which we’re famous for indulging.

MYTH 2: “You aren’t losing body fat because you’re working out too hard.” What?
We’ve probably all heard talk of a mystical place called the “fat-burning zone”. And, no, it’s not due north of the Bermuda triangle. There are studies that confirm the utilization of more energy in the form of stored fat when you exercise at lower intensity levels. However, the total number of calories you burn at lower intensity levels is less than the calories you burn during a higher intensity exercise session of similar duration. One study found that women who participated in high-intensity exercise sessions lost more abdominal fat and decreased the amount of fat surrounding their organs than did their lower-intensity exercising counterparts. So, what really matters, in terms of weight loss, is your total caloric burn.
In fact, the energy balance equation is pretty clear on this matter: if you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight; if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If you decrease your total daily caloric intake by 500 calories, you will lose one pound per week. You can most easily create this deficit by cutting back on calories and adding daily exercise.

The bottom line: there are just no short cuts when it comes to weight loss. But, by exercising regularly (especially at higher intensity levels), cutting unnecessary calories (like those in processed foods), and eating the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies each day, you can enjoy weight loss success!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cool Infographic: America's Sugar Addiction

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Sugar Addition in America.
In the 1990’s, American obesity rates soared and became public health enemy numero uno. The answer, it seemed, was to produce a whole lot of low-fat and fat-free foods. What did food producers do to satisfy the newly health-conscious consumer? They were able to slash the fat content of food and replace it with a lot of sugar. Here we are, nearly 20 years later and obesity rates continues to soar, as do rates of diabetes and heart disease.

One of the major problems with sugar is how our body metabolizes it. If we eat too much of certain types of sugar (think high-fructose corn syrup), our liver has to work really hard to process it and will convert most of the sugar into fat. This process can lead to insulin resistance, which is a major contributor to obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease.

Here are 3 simple tips for cutting sugar intake:
  • Don't make desserts a regular part of every meal - Save them for special occasions or weekend treats.
  • Skip breakfast cereal -  Most cereals are loaded with sugar, which sets you up for hunger and fatigue for the whole day.  Try having fruit, yogurt, and nuts or light cheese instead.
  • Say farewell to soda and fruit juice - These sugary drinks are also high in calories, so choose water flavored with fresh lemon or lime, seltzer, tea, milk, or plain water instead.
Infographic credit: August Harris-Early/Sloan Rachmuth - HEALTHeME

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Think juice helps you lose weight? Think again.

Juice is a terrible option for weight loss.
Recent reports that kids’ juice boxes contain poison have parents up in arms! Citing reports of increased amounts of arsenic in juice, parents and some safety agencies are calling for a deeper look at what’s in lunchboxes across America. While some forms of arsenic are thought to be fairly harmless to people, other forms of the chemical are lethal. One recent Consumer Reports survey found that juice drinkers have higher levels of arsenic in their urine than their juice-free counterparts. Plus, long-term exposure to the chemical has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

Maybe concern over the possibility of sipping poison will finally convince people to do what other health-related messages have failed to do: stop drinking juice! One recent study found that people who drink juice gain more weight than those who eat whole fruits and vegetables. Another study found that drinking just 3 or more cups of apple juice per month increased a woman’s risk for developing diabetes. But, apparently such health warnings haven’t been quite enough to curb America’s juice habit. One research group estimates that the average American consumes over 11 gallons of juice per year.

So, aside from the obvious argument that we may be slowly poisoning our bodies by drinking contaminated juice, why all the fuss? It’s true that juice contains vitamins and is often enriched, providing drinkers with a bit of a nutritional boost. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, juice offers no nutritional benefit beyond what you get when you eat a piece of fruit. And because juice is lacking in fiber, whole fruits definitely have the nutritional edge. The juicing process removes most of the fiber from the fruit. Since fiber is a key to healthy weight, digestive health, and blood sugar regulation, it is important to eat the whole fruit and get your fill of fiber.

It’s time to re-think your morning juice and opt for the real thing instead. If you are not ready to start your day sans juice, make sure you’re drinking only 100% juice, with no added sugars. You also need to limit your intake: children 1-6 years of age should only consume 4-6 oz. per day; kids 7-18 years and adults should consume no more than 12 oz. per day. And for those who are left wondering what to drink if the rule is “no juice allowed”, we’ve got one magic word for you: WATER.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga for weight loss.

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America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. And, it seems as though we have decided to combat the growing weight of our nation by focusing on diet, what we should and should not eat. We have relegated exercise to after-thought status, something to do when we have more “free time”. Which leaves me wondering: How’s that working for us?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 64% of Americans are overweight or obese, and the number is growing as quickly as our waistlines. The CDC also reports that only about 50% of adults meet the physical activity recommendation of accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Painting a more disheartening picture is this statistic:  

"25% of Americans report getting ZERO added physical activity each week."

The media and many public health campaigns have spent a lot of time and energy focusing on America’s diet, making it public enemy #1, the root cause of the obesity epidemic. In fact, one recent study suggests that more people rely on making dietary changes than exercise to lose weight.

Maybe we’ve gravitated to a diet-only approach for weight loss because it’s just easier to eat a little less or skip the fries than to carve out 30 minutes in an already busy day to exercise. But, as any carb-deprived dieter will tell you, weight loss is hard when you're focusing on diet alone. Here’s the reality: you have to focus on both diet and exercise to lose weight and keep that weight off. Although you may feel too overwhelmed by your day to workout, if you take the time to exercise, you’ll actually have a lot more time – like years – to check items off of your to-do list! According to one recent study, improving your fitness level is more important than weight loss or decreasing your body mass index (BMI) in terms of reducing your risk of heart disease.

No more excuses! It’s time to get up and get moving. Here are some tips to help you fit exercise into your daily routine:
  • Schedule it. Whether you need to make it to a 6:30pm Yoga class, meet a friend for a workout at lunch, or just get up a few minutes early to go for a walk, you need to assign as much priority to your workout as you would a meeting with a client at work.
  • Split it up. Splitting your yoga into smaller segments allows you to “squeeze” your yoga in where you find little windows. According to one classic study, short bouts of exercise were as effective as a more traditional, continuous exercise session in terms of weight loss.
  • Fight fat with a friend. Social support is a key factor in the likelihood of weight loss success. Skip the coffee and catch up with your friends while practicing yoga.
  • Set a goal. Whether it's registering for a 5K or splurging on a new pair of jeans, establishing a goal, complete with a timeline and reward once you're successful, will keep you moving even when you're tempted to skip yoga.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dairy for Weight Loss: The Truth

Does milk do a body good?

Behind the hype of dairy and weight loss.

Losing weight is tough and many people don't care how they lose weight, as long as the scale is tipping in the right direction. But, several recent studies remind us that weight loss involves more than just slashing calories: the goal of weight loss is to get rid of the fat, while maintaining or building lean tissues like muscle and bone.

In one recent study, women were put into groups that consumed varying amounts of dairy, protein, and carbohydrates; and all groups exercised seven days per week. While all groups lost weight, researchers found that the group that consumed the highest amount of both protein and dairy lost the most total body fat and gained the most lean muscle tissue. This is significant because gaining lean muscle while losing body fat helps prevent weight gain. 

Another recent study found that women who ate a diet higher in protein, especially when the protein came from dairy products, maintained their bone density even while losing weight. Bone density is an important issue for both men and women.  A loss of bone mass can lead to osteoporosis or fractures. While many people lose bone density while they are dieting, you can reach your weight loss goals and protect those all-important bones by including low-fat dairy in your daily diet.

The way you lose weight is important.  By working to maintain or build muscle and bone while shedding fat, you will change your body for life! And, it looks like a diet rich in protein and low-fat dairy products may be just what you need to succeed. Try these tips to include high protein, low-fat dairy in your diet:
  • Go Greek - Have Greek yogurt for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or top with fresh fruit for a decadent dessert! Greek yogurt packs twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt.
  • Sport a milk mustache -  Have a glass of skim or 1% milk with your meals to help you feel full and get plenty of bone-strengthening vitamins! Don’t like milk? Try soymilk or almond milk instead.
  • Say cheese -  Enjoy low-fat cheese, like string cheese, as a snack to boost your energy & keep you feeling full.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weight Loss is Possible During the Holidays!

The holiday season is a time of joy, giving, and eating. And eating. And eating the leftovers. Many a well-meaning individual has joined the buffet line at grandma’s house or “forgot” to pass the mashed potatoes only to find themselves a bit heavier and less happy come New Years. Rather than relying on the magical properties of the age-old New Years resolution try these 5 tips to avoid weight gain.

Pass the … Judgment on Portions
When you have a dazzling feast before you, it’s easy for your eyes to be bigger than your stomach. According to a study published in Obesity, participants who concentrated on portion control lost more weight than those who concentrated solely on planned exercise. So when you’re piling your plate, take care to pay attention to your portion sizes. Confused about correct portion sizing? Don’t feel bad, most people are. Fortunately websites like HEALTHeME offer easy to access and understand models for portion sizes based on common foods, and even a handy wallet-sized print-out that can help you make smarter portion choices.

Divide & Conquer

Most every holiday meal includes a barrage of deserts. It’s not usually just one cake, or one tray of cookies, but a seemingly endless line of sugary, fattening treats of great variety. You’ll never make it through the holidays dieting, as evidenced by a study conducted by Janet Polivy, a Toronto psychologist. In the study subjects, some dieters and some non-dieters, were allowed to consume as much ice cream as they wanted, but one group was given milkshakes prior to consuming the ice cream while another group was given nothing prior to the ice cream. Of the non-dieter group, the results were as you would expect, with those consuming a milk shake or two prior to the ice cream consuming less ice cream. The dieters, however, went on to consume more ice cream than non-dieters even after having a milkshake prior to. Polivy hypothesized this was because the dieters had accepted that they’d already blown their diet for that day, so why not eat! A big downfall of most people is that they become overwhelmed by the many choices and find themselves unable to decide on just one desert, so they grab a piece of each.

When you’re in the throws of a sugar high you don’t realize that your plate of cherry pie, coffee cake and a cookie is a ridiculous amount of food for one person: it’s just a plate of awesome! If you’re going to try every flavor on the rainbow, cut back your portions considerably. Take a sliver of cake, a half of a cookie, etc.

Jingle Bell Jog
Exercise is crucial to meaningful weight loss, bottom line. Think back to your last Holiday dinner: for most of us, there is a lot of sitting and talking or watching T.V.  Be sure to indulge your metabolism with as much exercise as possible during the holidays, be it morning yoga or ice skating.

Kiss The Cook
 If portion control fails and exercise just isn’t your thing, consider cooking some healthier alternatives to your favorite holiday dishes and drinks. For instance,  drinking hot chocolate as opposed to egg nog can save you a whopping 230 calories.  Instead of baked potatoes have red potatoes, or have ham instead of prime rib. Making these little changes can help you save calories without feeling like you’ve starved yourself.

And This Little Piggie Cried Wii!
On the note of exercising, it can be decidedly difficult to break away from family that you don’t necessarily get to see except during the holiday season. So why not include everyone in the fitness fun. There are now a variety of Wii games and other activities that can be played indoors that the whole family can enjoy, many of which get the sweat flowing without carrying the “But mom, I don’t wanna” stigma that accompanies exercise.

Don’t let the fun of the holidays fade into self-hatred in the New Year. By following these and other steps to weight loss, you can enjoy the holidays without the guilt. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

High blood pressure may lead to memory loss.

High Blood Pressure Can Make You Lose Your Mind.

It’s no secret that high blood pressure (or hypertension) brings with it a whole host of health problems. Increased risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and sudden death are just a few of the complications associated with uncontrolled high blood pressure.  A new study adds mental decline to the list of negative effects of hypertension.

Researchers followed 24,000 people who had no prior history of cognitive impairment or stroke.   They found that having high blood pressure increased study participants’ risk for cognitive decline.  Cognitive decline is more than just the age-related changes in memory; it involves declines in thinking skills, memory, language, and problem solving. 

There are some things you can do to keep your blood pressure in the “healthy” range and prevent the health issues associated with hypertension, including cognitive decline.   


    •    Know your numbers: The first step is to have your blood pressure checked.  A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.  If your blood pressure reading is above this number, you should consult with your healthcare provider.

    •    Slash your salt intake: The 2010 recommendations set the limit at 2,300 mg of sodium per day and 1,500 mg of if you’re older or already have high blood pressure.

    •    Combine efforts: Following the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has long been touted as an effective way to lower blood pressure.  A recent study found that combining regular exercise with the DASH diet was a more effective way to reduce your blood pressure than following the DASH diet alone.

    •     Take a nap: New research suggests that taking at least a 45-minute snooze during the day resulted in lower blood pressure following a stressful event.  This important finding may help you manage both your blood pressure and your stress level.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

8 Saltiest Foods

Pizza is 3rd saltiest food according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, we eat way too much salt!

Sodium, or salt, is a common addition to foods; especially the so-called “comfort” foods that don’t leave you feeling so comfortable after you indulge.  One reason for this bloated feeling is the sodium in foods that can cause your body to hang onto extra fluids. 

Here are some foods high in sodium to avoid:

  • Peanuts (dry roasted, salted) have 230 mg of sodium per ounce
  • Potato chips, tortilla chips, popcorn
  • Pretzels: yes they are low in fat but a serving has around 400mg of sodium
  • Cold cuts and other processed meats like pepperoni and hot dogs
  • Ham - packs a lot of sodium in each serving
  • Dips and spreads, like creamy Ranch dip for veggies
  • Olives & pickles
  • Condiments & dressings – things like ketchup, mustard, and salad dressings have tons of sodium in each serving

Here are some healthier options:

  • Unsalted nuts are great sources of protein and heart-healthy fats.
  • Fresh vegetables: carrot & celery sticks are usually found next to the creamy dip so skip the dip and load up on the fiber instead.
  • Baked or broiled meat options.
  • Use sodium free dressing or drizzle a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top of your salad.
  • Cheddar cheese and cream cheese is lower in sodium than some other cheeses like American.

For more low sodium eating options, go to www.myhealtheme.com.

Monday, November 28, 2011

8 Holiday Weight Loss Tips

The holiday season is a busy, but fun time of year!  From office parties to cookie exchanges and family gatherings, your social calendar is probably packed.  And what happens at most of these festivities?  That’s right, we eat!  Sharing food is part of the holiday season but it is easy to get side-tracked and forget about your weight loss goals.

Some studies suggest that the average adult gains one pound during the holiday season.  That may not sound like a lot but it adds up over the years and contributes to obesity later in life.

 Here are a few ways you can avoid packing on those extra pounds:
  • Monitor what you're eating.  A recent study says that monitoring your calories is the number one way to lose weight over the holidays.  Weight loss programs that focus on tracking calories might help you do this consistently. 

  • Exercise will not only help keep you on track to reach your goals, it will also help keep your stress level in check and strengthen your immune system.  Plan to take a walk, jog, ride a bike, or give yourself a gift and try something new!
  • Sleep is an important way to stay healthy and strong, especially during busy times.  Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Bring a side dish to the party.  It may sound easier to swing by the grocery store on your way and pick something up that is ready-made.  But, by making your own side dish, you can experiment with new recipes and make some substitutions that will be party-pleasers.  Try using applesauce instead of oil to reduce fat and calories.  Also, sprinkle herbs like rosemary and thyme instead of salt to decrease the sodium.
  • Eat before you play!  Eating a healthy, high fiber meal before a holiday party will help you avoid over-indulging on the tempting treats!
  • Holiday beverages: Did you know that the average cup of eggnog packs almost 350 calories and 19 grams of fat?  Try some sugar-free hot apple cider mix or low-fat hot cocoa to enjoy a festive drink that won’t pack on the pounds!
  • Plan ahead!  Take exercise clothes with you when you travel & have workout shoes with you at all times so that you can fit in a walk.  Remember that even 10-minute exercise sessions have huge payoffs!
  • Avoid eating out.  All-day holiday shopping can leave you hungry and tempted to stop by the food court or drive-thru window.  Be sure to have healthy snacks on hand like nuts, bananas, apples, or peanut butter on whole wheat bread.
  • Pencil time for yourself into your calendar.  If you don’t schedule time to exercise and prepare healthy meals, it can be easy to push those things aside.  Plus, exercising and eating right will help boost your energy so you can do all those things on your list!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't let the holidays tip your scale!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you know what that means: food, food, a little post-meal T.V., and more food! According to one classic study, the average person gains one pound each year, usually beginning around the Thanksgiving holiday (eh-ehm). Although a one-pound weight gain doesn’t sound like much, most people don’t lose this extra weight and it contributes to obesity later in life. But, if you are trying to stay on track to reach your weight loss goals and hoping to enjoy some of your family’s holiday traditions, take heart! There are ways to celebrate and lose weight!

The findings of one study suggest that portion control is the single-most important thing you can do to lose weight! Researchers followed 300 overweight or obese adults who were beginning a weight loss program. Study participants followed one of five different weight loss programs: eating more fruits & vegetables, increasing planned exercise, increasing daily physical activity, cutting back on fat, or actively controlling portion sizes. Study participants in the portion control group were most successful and 38% of people in that group lost at least 5% of their body weight! This is a big contrast to people in the other weight loss groups, many of whom gained several pounds. So, you can enjoy delicious foods, as long as you are practicing portion control!

In the classic National Institute of Health study mentioned above, researchers also found that people who reported being more active didn’t gain any weight over the holiday season, and some even lost weight! Try planning some activities that will get you and your family up and moving over the holidays. Plan family walks, bike rides, basketball games, or toss the Frisbee around. You will burn calories and stay on track to reach your weight loss goals!

The bottom line: enjoy your holiday favorites but only in moderation and work towards increasing your exercise. The holidays are a “high-risk” time for weight loss but you can be successful, even in this season of temptation!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Get up & get moving to ward off depression!

Fight depression.  Exercise!
You might think a highly developed nation, like the United States, would be filled with happy people. But, in one recent study, America was found to be the second most-depressed nation (just behind France), and a woman living in America is six-times more likely to be depressed than a man living in China! According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression.

These sad statistics may be partially explained by our nation’s sedentary behaviors! A recent study examined the behaviors of almost 50,000 women. Researchers found that women who exercise 90 minutes or more each day were 20% less likely to be diagnosed with depression than women who exercised 10 minutes or less per day. In addition, time spent watching television was found to increase the study participants’ risk for depression! Women who watched three or more hours of T.V. were 13% more likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Researchers were quick to point out that some of the participants may have been experiencing symptoms associated with depression, which may have led to them exercising less frequently. However, this study helps support the notions that exercise can boost your mood and time spent in front of the T.V. doesn’t do any favors for your body or your mental health.

Exercising more and spending less time in front of the T.V. may be especially significant in these shorter, darker fall days. Many people find they feel tired, unmotivated, and experience other symptoms of depression in the fall and winter, related to the decrease in exposure to sunlight. One of the recommendations for people who feel blue in the winter is to spend some time each day outdoors. You can combine efforts by exercising outdoors: taking a walk, doing yard work, biking, hiking, or going for a jog are great ways to get some sunshine and decrease your risk of depression.

If you feel any symptoms associated with depression, you should talk with your healthcare provider. And remember, following a more active, less sedentary lifestyle is an effective way to keep your body and your brain in tip-top shape.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

4 Tips For Healthy Holiday Weight Loss

Beautiful fall foliage, cozy sweaters, turkey dinners, and holiday music. ‘Tis the season for festivities, but it’s also the season for runny, red noses and coughs that keep you up at night! According to statistics, the average adult gets 2-4 colds each year. But, you aren’t doomed to spend your holidays feeling under the weather! There are some things you can do to boost your immune system and have a healthy holiday season.

#1 Get Some Sleep
It is no secret that getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is important. A 2009 study found that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night are almost three times as likely to catch a cold. If your sleep is interrupted because you wake up during the night or if you have trouble falling asleep, you are more than five times as likely to find yourself in the throes of a cold. Most experts recommend 6-8 hours of sleep per night. So, take advantage of the shorter days and head to bed when you feel tired.

Chill out.  Stay healthy.  Lose weight.
#2 Meditate
Meditation has long been touted as a way to manage stress. According to a recent study, a regular meditation practice can also boost your immune system and help you fight off that cold you were probably exposed to while completing your holiday shopping! To reap the benefits, you have to meditate on a regular basis.  Try starting with just 2-5 minutes per session; you will still benefit from just a few minutes of mindful meditation.

#3 Lower Your Cholesterol
It might seem as though cholesterol and your body’s ability to ward off a cold is completely unrelated. However, in a study published earlier this year, researchers found that hormones released when your body’s immune system is stimulated decrease cholesterol levels. Viruses and some bacteria need cholesterol in order to grow. So, it makes sense if we lower the cholesterol in our body, the viruses may not be able to survive. 

#4 Exercise
Exercise and immune function is definitely a situation where more is NOT better! A NY Times article explores the relationship between exercise and immune function, especially as it relates to intensity of exercise. As the article explains, several studies have found that workouts of long duration or high intensity have a negative effect on immunity, as well as weight loss. However, leisurely workouts of short duration and low intensity boost your immune system, so you are more likely to fight off the sniffles. Aim for 20-30 minutes of activity, like a moderate walk, to boost your immune system.  Burning off some holiday treats helps weight loss too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back Pain Relieved with Yoga

Yoga is top back pain treatment.

Spending hours sitting in front of a computer, stress, lots of time driving in traffic, and extra body weight are all contributing factors to one of the most common and costly problems in America: back pain. It’s estimated that about 80% of American people experience back pain. And, sufferers spend nearly $7000 per year on medical costs associated with managing back pain.

A new study may offer a ray of hope for those who are tired of hurting and spending loads of cash to find relief.  Researchers gave study participants, who were sufferers of chronic back pain, one of two treatments: traditional medical treatment or a 12-week yoga program. Those who participated in the yoga program saw greater improvements in function and were able to participate in 30% more activities than those who received standard medical treatment. The yogis also had more confidence in their ability to perform activites in their daily life. By improving function and increasing confidence, people can enjoy an enhanced quality of life, which often suffers when individuals are hindered by chronic pain.

Yoga is a form of mind-body exercise that increases joint mobility, improves flexibility, and builds strength - all of which contribute to a healthier back. Yoga also has many psychological benefits like improved coping skills and stress reduction. One study found that yoga was better than other forms of exercise for managing mood and anxiety. Psychological stress, anxiety, and depression can increase back pain. So, managing your mood with a regular yoga practice may be another key to reducing back pain.

But, don’t expect results overnight.  Yoga is considered a “practice”; and just like anything else, you have to practice regularly to see progress! Here are a few important lessons from yoga that are especially important for those who have experienced any form of pain:
  • Listen to your body & know when to stop.
  • Participate without judgment and competition; this helps keep you from overdoing it.
  • Let go of expectations and accept where you are on that particular day.
  • Try to maintain a calm, steady breath, which you can’t do if you’ve pushed beyond your comfortable limits.
  • Be present in the moment and let go of worries, anxiety, or distracting thoughts.
  • Have fun – it’s one of the best stress (and pain) relievers around.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lose Weight by Tricking Your Brain

Weight loss can be complicated.
There's more to losing weight than just willpower.

Has this ever happened to you:  after working hard to lose weight, the scale starts tipping in the wrong direction?  Ever get utterly  frustrated throw in the towel?   A new study explains why there is more to this situation than just willpower.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed 50 people for over a year. What they found was that as people lose weight, their hormones respond by stimulating hunger and sending messages to “eat more”. The hormone gherlin tells us to eat more; the hormone leptin tells us to stop eating. When we lose weight, it appears that the body produces more gherlin and less leptin to try to encourage our body to regain the weight. From an evolutionary stand-point, this makes sense: if your body senses calorie restriction,  it sends messages to eat more in order to survive. But, from a dieter’s perspective, this is frustrating and explains why it is so difficult to maintain weight loss.

Here are simple strategies to help you “outsmart” your body for weight loss:
  • Weigh yourself daily. One study found that people who weighed themselves daily were able to maintain weight loss; their counterparts who didn’t weigh themselves gained back at least 5 pounds. And being accountable for weigh-ins (like texting HEALTHeME or using your online tracker) helps people be more successful maintaining weight loss!
  • Re-fuel with fruits & vegetables. Not only are they naturally low in calories and fat, they’re also high in fiber. Fiber keeps you feeling full and satisfied. So, when you’re body is telling you it’s hungry, fruits & veggies make a satisfying snack with staying power!
  • Re-train your brain. One 2008 study found sugar can be an addictive substance. Get rid of the Halloween candy and make sure you only have healthy snacks on hand. Eventually, you can train your brain to crave healthy foods!
  • Move your body. Exercise helps maintain a healthy body weight. Plus, exercise fights stress and boredom – both of which make you think you’re hungry, even when you’re not!
  • Think before you drink. People who drink sodas, even diet sodas, weigh more than those who drink water. Plus, the signals your body sends when it is dehydrated can mimic the messages sent when you’re actually hungry! Aim for 6-8 glasses of water each day!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Healthy Living & Cancer Prevention

Healthy living.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In light of this devastating disease, it’s important to bring awareness to the link between healthy living and your risk of developing any cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every three cancer diagnoses can be linked to excess body weight, an unhealthy diet, or inactivity. Of these, excess body weight seems to be the most serious of the risk factors! In fact, 14%-20% of all cancer deaths are associated with overweight or obesity.
Increasing the amount of physical activity you get can help you maintain a healthy body weight and may also be an important cancer-prevention tool. A recent Japanese study found women who exercised 8-10 hours each week were more likely to enter menopause earlier than their inactive counterparts. This is significant because researchers believe that exposure to hormones, like estrogen, increase the risk of developing certain cancers. By entering menopause earlier, you decrease your exposure to some hormones, thereby decreasing your risk of cancer.  

But, exercise alone isn’t enough.  Healthy behaviors, like following a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep, are an essential part of cancer prevention. One study of almost 6,000 women found that exercise was only effective in helping prevent cancer if she also got at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Sleeping less than 7 hours nightly appeared to negate the cancer-prevention benefits of exercise.
Working towards a healthy body weight through regular physical activity, making healthy food choices, and getting quality sleep will do more than just help you fit into your favorite fall jeans! In fact, these changes may help prevent diseases like cancer and help you live a longer, happier life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Think Before You Drink!

Soda packs on the pounds.

From sodas to sports drinks and sugary coffee concoctions, sweetened beverages are everywhere! And, most Americans drink at least one of these sugary beverages per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average male consumes 175 calories from beverages per day; the average woman consumes 94 sugary-drink calories daily. Even drinks you might consider “innocent”, like sports drinks and vitamin-enhanced water, contain calories and are loaded with sugar.

The average bottle of soda or juice has 2 servings per bottle and around 200-250 calories per bottle.

One recent study examined the effects of drinking juice versus eating the real fruit. Researchers found that people who drank juice gained more weight than those who ate fruit. Most juices are missing fiber, a key to feeling full and satisfied. So, even though you are consuming calories in these sugary beverages, your body doesn’t feel “full” and you continue to eat a regular meal on top of your calorie-dense drink. This leads extra calories and weight gain.

Interestingly, researchers of the aforementioned study also found that people who didn’t compensate for the extra fruits they were eating also gained weight! Although they didn’t gain as much weight as the juice drinkers, they did gain a few extra pounds. This brings up the key point that fruits and vegetables need to be eaten in place of, and not in addition to, high-calorie foods and sweetened beverages.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Finding the Right Exercise Intensity for Weight Loss.

Best Intensity for Weight Loss

Could exercise be a “magic bullet” for health?   It's certainly true that regular exercise helps prevent major diseases like cancer and diabetes; exercise can boost your mood, increase energy, and battle depression; exercise can also help weight loss.  A tough workout can also leave you feeling sore, tired, and ready to hang-up your workout gear for good.

Don’t love high intensity workouts? Here's some some good news:

"According to a recent study, women who participated in more moderate intensity workout sessions were happier, more energized, less anxious, and more likely to stick with their exercise program."
Moderate-intensity exercisers also reported increased levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that you have the knowledge and ability to achieve a certain goal and is a key to weight loss. One study found that improved self-efficacy during the course of a weight loss program increased the amount of weight participants lost - a double bonus!

So, what exactly is moderate intensity?   Well, one of the easiest and most effective ways to gauge the intensity of your workout is using a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. RPE scales involve assessing how hard you feel you are working. There are several scales out there but most people chose a 0-10 scale:
  • 0 = sitting on a couch, totally relaxed
  • 1 = very weak, very little effort
  • 2 = weak, little effort
  • 3 = moderate effort
  • 4 = somewhat strong
  • 5 = strong, challenging
  • 6 = a little more challenging
  • 7 = very strong, very challenging
  • 8 = very, very hard
  • 9 = extremely difficult
  • 10 = hardest exercise you can imagine
Most people will be most comfortable exercising between 3-5 on the scale. Staying in the moderate intensity range may help you feel better after your workout and more likely to stick with your exercise program.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fitness Myths De-bunked!

What's best for weight loss?
There's much fitness information and misinformation floating around that you may be left feeling baffled. Should I run or not run? If I do run, do I have to run barefoot? Then, to crunch or not to crunch? Let’s take a look at some common fitness issues.

  • The crunch controversy
When you want to tighten your tummy, you might be tempted to drop and do a whole bunch of crunches. But, research indicates traditional crunches may not be the best way to train your core. One classic study found that Pilates exercises were more effective than traditional crunches for working the major muscles of your core (rectus abdominis and obliques). So, there may be better ways to train your tummy, but are crunches dangerous? Probably not if you’re careful about the way you perform them! Some experts suggest maintaining neutral position of your back is the key to performing a safe and effective crunch.
  • Running realities
Contrary to popular belief, running isn’t just something for twenty-somethings! Several studies indicate running is not linked to a higher incidence of knee problems and may even be beneficial. If you’re ready to lace up your running shoes, you might be surprised to hear about a growing number of people who are running sans shoes. Is it safe and will barefoot running prevent injury? In one recent study, researchers found there is no difference between running barefoot or running in well-cushioned shoes with regards to injury. Quick Tip: start slow, build a good base of endurance by walking before you start jogging, listen to your body, and talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
HIT it hard.
  • Think you have to spend hours in the gym to be fit? One study demonstrates that less truly is more when it comes to getting your “fit” on! High intensity interval training (HIT), which involves short bursts of exercise followed by a brief period of rest, may provide the same muscle building benefits as longer, more traditional exercise sessions. Researchers in the study found that doing 10 one-minute bursts of exercise followed by one minute of rest 3 times per week elicited the same muscle-building effect as longer, more continuous exercise. Another, more recent study found high intensity interval training to be as effective as traditional training to reduce the risk of heart disease in children. However, this benefit was achieved with 85% less time! To be successful with this type of training, the intervals have to be high intensity; but that’s pretty do-able for most people because they know a break is coming.  A word of caution: make sure you have a base of endurance from some regular cardiovascular exercise before taking on high intensity interval training.