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Every year, many of us decide to go dry for the month of January, not drinking alcohol to make up for the debauchery of the festive season. Some reports are sceptical about the benefits of this one month “fad”, so a ten of staff at the New Scientist magazine decided to go dry and study the results properly.
On October the 5th of last year, 14 members of the magazine’s staff (all of whom regarded themselves as “normal” drinkers) were given various tests and questionnaires to asses the state of their livers and overall health. For the next 5 weeks, 10 drank no alcohol, while the remaining four carried on as normal. They then returned to the laboratory to repeat the tests. For the four drinkers, there were no notable changes.
But for those who had gone dry, the effects were significant. Their levels of liver fat (an indicator of possible future liver damage) had fallen by an average of 15%. Their blood glucose levels (connected to the onset of diabetes) had taken a huge plunge by 23%, from 5.1 to 4.3 mmols per litre. The normal range is 3.9-5.6.
They also lost weight. This is without a specific effort to do so, and they lost an average of 1.5kg. Their blood cholesterol (an early indicator for heart disease) had also dropped by 5% from 4.6 to 4.4mmol. 5.2 or below is considered healthy.
The dry group also reported have better concentration levels as well as sleeping more soundly, rating their sleep as improved by 10%.
Kevin Moore, a consultant in liver sciences for University College London declared that he was amazed by the results.
“What you have is a pretty average group of people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helped them to lose weight”. “If someone had a product that did that they would be raking it in”.
Many runners or even novices just focus on running and building a high milage when training for a marathon. Added milage may be good for building endurance, but it may also lead to imbalance and injuries. The high impact in running puts large stresses on the joints and connective tissue. If the muscles cannot take this load then injuries will happen.
Simultaneously running starts to break down muscle tissue over time. So keeping and even increasing muscle while doing your training is essential for a successful marathon. Core training will also ensure that all the effort you are making with your legs is translated into forward momentum. A soft unfit core will absorb this energy and slow you down. Strength training should fit into your running schedule, not the other way around. Marathon training will include some shorter faster runs, these are ideal as a warm up for your strength training.
Add in an extra day for strength and stretching, and you will be in great shape for the big day.
Phase 1 (week 1-4) of marathon strength training should focus on form and slow tempo in the exercises. No weights should be needed (except for some pulling movements) and higher repetitions are best, so 15-20 reps with low recovery of around 30 seconds. Single leg exercises are also good at this stage to begin establishing a balance. A good circuit would be spider-man push ups, single leg squat onto a bench, bent over row, rotating lunge into shoulder press, Russian twist, plank. 2-5 sets.
Phase 2 (weeks 5-8) of marathon strength training needs to go a little heavier by adding weights. Barbells and similar bilateral exercises are good at this stage. Repetitions come down to 8-10 with slightly longer recovery of 1:30min. A good routine is barbell bench press, deadlift, barbell bent over row, barbell jerk, barbell straight legged deadlift. 6-10 sets
Phase 3 (weeks 9-12) goes more explosive as you build power. Sets drop for less volume. Jumping squats, fast push ups and inverted rows are the order of the day. Reps stay low and recovery is high. 2-4 sets. Suggest fast push ups, burpees, inverted row, snowboarder squats, jack knifes, plank.
Phase 4 (weeks 12-16) focuses on tapering. Back to phase 1 exercises (basics with balance) but now add in more stretching, foam roller work, massage and even swimming.
So another year has gone by and leaves us to reflect on 2013 fitness tips. This past year science and research fine-tuned and expanded what we know about physical activity and how it effects our brains, heart, joints and even our DNA before we have been born. We learned that our lifespans can be greatly increased with exercise, particularly if we go reasonably hard and fast.
This year we were both encouraged – fitness can happen in 7 minutes a day – and depressed (especially if we thought that barefoot running could improve our form and prevent injury). It was at times validating (why cool downs are not really necessary), enlightening (why gentle exercise does not quash our appetite’s as much as we thought), boring (boredom with food can be a great appetite suppressant) and down right strange (chewing gum helps focus the brain).
However the lesson they emerged gain and again was they intensity in exercise matters. The 7 minute workout as popularised by the New York Times was one of the most popular topics for the whole year, especially for those wanting to get their exercise over and done with quickly. The time commitment may seem small, but for the session to work the effort must be vigorous. To gain all the health benefits from this HIIT (high intensity interval training) you need to work at 90% of maximum heart rate and be very, very breathless and sweaty. But on top of getting fitter and healthier, HIIT also suppresses the appetite more than traditional aerobic based exercise.
The research on HIIT also undermined the common excuse not to get any exercise – “I don’t have the time”. Again, the emphasis must be on intensity and not the short duration.
Intensity winning over duration was also proved in a small study where out of shape volunteers ran on a treadmill at high speed for just 4 minutes three times a week. They increased their VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) by about 10% (in ten weeks) while improving blood sugar control and blood pressure.
We also learned in 2013 how pervasive the effects of exercise are. In another experiment, rodents that ran on wheels for several weeks responded far better to stressful situations than their non-exercising counterparts.
But one of the most interesting studies of 2013 showed how exercise can effect the very fabric of our being. In experiments, scientists found that exercise reshapes the genes within human cells. By changing how atoms attach to parts of our DNA the behaviour of the gene changes. Researchers found that in some cases, six months of moderate exercise remodelled genes related to the risk for diabetes and heart disease. Foe those of us wanting a slightly faster result, another study found that just a single session of cycling altered the genes in the muscle cells of the volunteers.
These studies are an important and inspirational remainder of the robust effect exercise can have on the human body, even at the level of our DNA.
And my favourite piece of fitness news in 2013? The blerch, via Frances Lindsay; thanks girl, keep running!Of course, any exercise can be substituted for running.
Some simple and well known exercises can be all you need to see if you are fit for your age. Or not!
1 – Push up test.
How many push-ups can you do continuously until failure? For men this is a full push up with the shoulders, knees and hips in a straight line. The tempo should be slow – 2 seconds down and two seconds up; you should go to a depth where your elbows are at 90 degrees. For women the same applies but do them from the knee. A poor score in this test means that you have low upper body strength and suffer from sarcopenia; this is the natural muscle wastage that happens to us all with ageing.
Scores: Women – aged 30-39 – 13 or above is good. Below 13 is poor. Women 40-49 – 11 reps is good, below 11 poor. Women 50-59 – 7 or above is good, below 7 is poor. Women 60-69 5 or above is good, less than 5 is poor.
Scores men: 30-39: 17 or above is good, less than 17 is poor. 40-49: 13 or above is good, less than 13 poor. 50-59: 10 or above is good, less is poor. 60-69: 8 or above is good, less than 8 is poor.
2 – Stand up sit down test.This is a simple yet one of the most functional moves there is. Using only one hand, from a cross legged position, how many times can you get up and sit down in 2 minutes? Regardless of sex, if you are under 40 you should be able to do 15. According to a Brazilian study of 2,000 people and published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, this simple test is a strong predictor of how long you are likely to live. Those who had to use both hands or who needed to get up on both knees were 6 times more likely to die prematurely.
3 – What is your running speed? A simple but perhaps painful test. How fast can you run 1 mile? Running speed in midlife has been closely linked to the likelihood of heart disease.
1) a man is his fifties who can run a mile in 8 minutes or fewer (9 min for a woman) had a 10% lifetime risk of heart problems.
2) a man who could run a 9 minute mile (10 min 30s for a woman) had a 20% risk
3) a man who could only do a mile in more than 10 minutes (12 minutes for females) had a 30% risk.
The study concluded that the exercise that you do in your 40s has a large bearing on your health in your 80s.
3 – How far can you walk in 6 minutes?
Studies show that not only is this test an indicator of cardiovascular health, but it is also a guide to how well you will stave off aches and pains like a bad back in later life. Distances to aim for are: men and women under 60: 650-900m. men aged 60-64: 600m (women 500m). Men aged 65-69: 515m (women 460m). Men aged 70-74: 500m (women 440m).
A team of scientists in Norway have devised a new simple formula to calculate your “fitness age”. Although our birthday marks another year that we have been alive, the process of ageing varies greatly from one individual to another and can be hugely influenced not just by genetics but also by the amount of exercise, healthy food and sleep you have (to name just a few). Now scientists have come up with a simple formula to see how your body is defying the ageing process.
The lead author of the study, professor Ulrik Wilsoff, director of the KG Jebsen Centre of Exercise in Medicine, says that the low-tech calculation is the single best predictor of current health. After evaluating the fitness, weight and health measurements of 5000 subjects between the ages of 20-90, the professor and his team came up with a formula to estimate someone’s VO2 max. This is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be taken in, transported and utilised by the body and delivered to the cells. Although it declines with age the drop can be slowed with regular exercise. A good VO2 max is linked to a host of health benefits, from prevention of cardio-vascular disease to diabetes.
How fit you are is increasingly thought to be a better measurement of health than BMI or weight alone. Adults aged 60+ with a good level of aerobic fitness have been found to live longer that those with a low VO2 max regardless of weight and levels of fat. A low level of fitness means longer stays in hospital for older people following illness or surgery as well as a greater propensity for other health related diseases.
Although not completely accurate, the test provides a useful guide to cardio-respiratory fitness. The results will be a wake up call for many. A 45 year old man who exercises moderately, has a 36 inch waist and a resting heart rate of 72 beats per minute will have a fitness age of 55. The good news is that no matter how old you are, starting exercise or increasing the frequency and intensity of activity can still turn back the clock. You can still have a fitness age of someone much younger!
Try the test by filling out your details here!.
There are four basic health checks that everyone can do to make sure that all is well with their general health and to have a healthy heart. The good news is that they don’t involve jumping up and down or any for of exercise!
The for areas to keep a watch on are your blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure and resting heart rate.
1 – lower your heart rate. The ideal range should be 60-60, but if you can do some regular exercise that takes you above 60% of maximum heart rate then it might get even lower. Like a car sitting at the traffic lights, your resting heart rate is the speed at which your engine has to work to keep you alive at rest, and is a true measure of your cardio-vascular health. If your arteries are clogged or your lungs inefficient at taking in oxygen, then the more beats per minute it will have to beat at rest. Over time this will all add up; if your engine is constantly having to work hard then sooner or later it will wear out.
For every 15 beats per minute that you add onto resting heart rate your chances of getting heart disease increase by 24% (American Heart Journal).
What now? Check your heart rate in the morning before getting out of bed at least 4 times a year. Keep it low by getting three lots of reasonably vigorous cardio-vascular exercise every week.
2 – Watch your blood sugar levels. Blood sugars can show if you are at risk of batting diabetes. Ask your GP for a test and do a follow up every year. Eating foods with a lower GI (glycaemic index) will ensure that you are not constantly suffering high blood sugar levels. This will cause your cells to become immune to the insulin that is being constantly released and eventually will cause insulin deficiency.
3 – Blood pressure. You should have this checked every quarter. If it is high then you need to look at your nutrition and start to get some exercise. Even small changes and short bursts of exercise will help to get you back on track. Ideally it should be 120/80
4 – Balance your cholesterol. The bas sort of cholesterol is LDL (low density lipoproteins). Ideally it should be less than 100mg/dL. Every 43mg/dL that your cholesterol goes up adds 50% to your risk of heart disease. Good cholesterol will act as a brake on the bad. So eat plenty of healthy oils, nuts and seeds.
Sweden has become the first Western nation to reject the current status quo recommending a low fat and high grain carbohydrate based diet. The change followed the publication of a two year study by the independent Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment. The body looked at 16,000 studies published over the past 30 years.
Personal trainers and bodybuilders have known for years that fat does not make you fat..finally some governments may start to see sense. The current advice from western governments is to consume 60% of our foods in the form of grains and carbohydrates. Yet this neglects the impact that blood sugar levels, insulin and hormones have on fat storage and long-term health.
Highlights of the study are as follows:
“Health markers will improve on a low-carbohydrate diet:
…a greater increase in HDL cholesterol (“the good cholesterol”) without having any adverse affects on LDL cholesterol (“the bad cholesterol”). This applies to both the moderate low-carbohydrate intake of less than 40 percent of the total energy intake, as well as to the stricter low-carbohydrate diet, where carbohydrate intake is less than 20 percent of the total energy intake. In addition, the stricter low-carbohydrate diet will lead to improved glucose levels for individuals with obesity and diabetes, and to marginally decreased levels of triglycerides.”
A local newspaper also summarised the findings:
Butter, olive oil, heavy cream, and bacon are not harmful foods. Quite the opposite. Fat is the best thing for those who want to lose weight. And there are no connections between a high fat intake and cardiovascular disease.
On Monday, SBU, the Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment, dropped a bombshell. After a two-year long inquiry, reviewing 16,000 studies, the report “Dietary Treatment for Obesity” upends the conventional dietary guidelines for obese or diabetic people.
For a long time, the health care system has given the public advice to avoid fat, saturated fat in particular, and calories. A low-carb diet (LCHF – Low Carb High Fat, is actually a Swedish “invention”) has been dismissed as harmful, a humbug and as being a fad diet lacking any scientific basis.
Instead, the health care system has urged diabetics to eat a lot of fruit (=sugar) and low-fat products with considerable amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners, the latter a dangerous trigger for the sugar-addicted person.
This report turns the current concepts upside down and advocates a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, as the most effective weapon against obesity.
The expert committee consisted of ten physicians, and several of them were skeptics to low-carbohydrate diets at the beginning of the investigation.
Many of the doctors and scholars on the committee were previously sceptical towards low carbohydrate diets, but have subsequently has their minds changes by the weight of the evidence. Professor Fredrick Nystrom, part of the committee and a doubter as to the benefits of a low fat diet quoted:
“I’ve been working with this for so long. It feels great to have this scientific report, and that the skepticism towards low-carb diets among my colleagues has disappeared during the course of the work. When all recent scientific studies are lined up the result is indisputable: our deep-seated fear of fat is completely unfounded. You don’t get fat from fatty foods, just as you don’t get atherosclerosis from calcium or turn green from green vegetables.”
The professor has also advised (as have we here at DDW for a decade!) a greatly reduced intake of carbohydrate rich foods that are also high in sugar and starch so that there are healthy levels of insulin, blood lipids and good LDL cholesterol. This means reducing or eliminating potatoes, sugars, pasta, whire rice, flour and bread while encouraging the eating of plant oils, nuts, butter, whole food dairy, oily fish and meats. Nystrom also stated:
“If you eat potatoes you might as well eat candy. Potatoes contain glucose units in a chain, which is converted to sugar in the GI tract. Such a diet causes blood sugar, and then the hormone insulin, to skyrocket.”
Note that when insulin is present in the blood stream fat will be stored but existing far stores will not be metabolised.
See previous DDW posts on this topic.
Finally, he stated:
There are many mantras we have been taught to accept as truths:
“Calories are calories, no matter where they come from.”
“It’s all about the balance between calories in and calories out.”
“People are fat because they don’t move enough.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Of course these are not true. This kind of nonsense has people with weight problems feeling bad about themselves. As if it were all about their inferior character. For many people a greater intake of fat means that you’ll feel satiated, stay so longer, and have less of a need to eat every five minutes. On the other hand, you won’t feel satiated after drinking a Coke, or after eating almost fat free, low-fat fruit yogurt loaded with sugar.
Older women who walk for just an hour a day could prevent cancer, says new research.
While it is well known that people who maintain an active lifestyle are lees likely to develop cancer and other life threatening diseases, this study was the first to look at the benefits of moderate exercise alone. Researchers at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta looked at data from 70,000 post-menopausal women aged from 50-74, half of whom reported walking as their only daily exercise. Within the group, those that walked for 7 hours a week were 14% less likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than those who walked for 3 hours or less. Women who were even more active - doing an hour of vigorous exercise a day on average – were at an even lower risk of developing cancer, by a whopping 25%.
25% of people who join a gym put on weight after doing do, almost certainly because they reward themselves with sweet treats or extra food afterwards, reports the Hufftington Post.
A survey of 1,000 gym users found that although 25% had lost weight since joining 49% said that their weight had remained the same; 35% said that they rewarded themselves with extra calories after a workout, usually in the form of chocolate or wine. 53% of gym goers said that the exercise had made them hungrier.
Most people in the survey went to the gym 3 times a week, but only burned an average of 300 calories per visit, while 4% did so little that they used no kore than 100 calories. That’s slightly more than the amount needed to stay alive while sleeping.
Many of you will have read about or seen HIIT on TV – high intensity interval training.
It makes us much fitter much faster than conventional training where you try to stay in the aerobic fat burning zone Jane Fonda style.
But HIIT also has another big advantage. Not only will it increase your fitness and decrease time spent exercising but it also surprises the appetite, making you less hungry. According to the International Journal of Obesity, subjects in a trial who did high intensity interval training for 30 minutes ate 170 less calories at a meal an hour later then subjects who had been exercising at a moderate intensity.
They also ate 100 fewer calories over the next 24 hour period. Even further appetite suppression was found to occur during weight bearing forms of cardio-vascular training like running or skipping.
A good example of this weight bearing HIIT would be skipping at absolute maximum for 20 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of slow jogging, then a 20 second sprinting shuttle run followed by 60 seconds slow jogging. Try to do 4 sets.Then try a circuit of power moves, 14 reps with no recovery: push ups, barbell dead lift, barbell bent over row, barbell clean and press. Go for 2-4 cycles with one minute active recovery between cycles.
HIIT has received some negative press recently, but so long as you are not new to exercise, have stable healthy joints and have warmed up properly…go for it!