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Two separate studies released this week show that walking on a daily basis boosts both mental and physical well-being. As we age, walking prevents dementia, improves mental agility and slows the onset of degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also keeps the joints mobile and improves co-ordination.
A team of scientists in the US studied subjects with an average age of 80. Those who were the most mobile and who walked daily showed a much slower level of decrease in proprioception and general agility – these benefits were also present even with the onset of degenerative brain diseases that would usually effect the ability to walk.
The results show that a more active lifestyle for those over 60 can be a huge help in maintaining mobility and mental agility. It can also prevent the onset of dementia.
“Physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage” said Dr Debra Fleischman, author of the report and part of the team at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK commented “This study showed that older people who engage in daily activity equivalent to walking for an hour and a half are less likely to develop movement problems related to small areas of blood vessel damage in the brain.”
The results in the US also confirm the findings of another study published in the journal The Lancet that shows the benefits of a three-pronged approach – regular walks, healthy eating and keeping the brain active. The research, conducted by Scandinavian scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that those who did all three things performed up to 2 ½ times better in cognitive tests that counterparts who did not eat as well, did no mental agility exercises (like online puzzles) and did not walk on a daily basis.
Although other studies have shown links between healthy eating, exercise, mental exercises and cognitive decline, this is the first large random trial to show that a targeted program including these three risk factors might be able to halt or at least slow cognitive decline in older subjects.
The Moonwalk, run by the charity Walk the Walk was started 16 years ago, when just 13 women power walked the New York marathon in their bras to raise both awareness and money for breast cancer. What began as a simple one-off event has now burgeoned into a thriving multi-million pound charity. Up to date over £83 million has been raised for breast cancer causes. Interestingly enough, the charity’s founder, Nina Barough, came up with the idea to walk the marathon in a bra for charity with no former experience of either breast cancer or charity fundraising!
In 2004 Prince Charles became the patron of Walk the Walk, having been a supporter since 2000.
So, walking a half marathon..easy, right? Well, not quite. Although marathons and half marathons require both fitness and stamina, there is also a third, and perhaps more important factor; toughness. Not just a toughness of the mind, but a toughness of the knees, feet, ankles and all the other bits that you use when walking or running. Even walking any distance over 6 miles, this toughness will be needed to avoid becoming tired, achey, and sore.
Just like the fitness and stamina needed, this toughness can be built up by doing a proper training program, and just like a program for running, this is based on weekly training sessions. Overall weekly milage is important, as is the one main walk which “steps up” each week, taking you close to completing the half-marathon distance the week before the event.
Why train? Couldn’t I just go out and do it with no training? The answer to this may be yes, but with no training it’s going to hurt, be tough to finish, and won’t be nearly as enjoyable. We’re taking part girls, so we may as well do it properly, right? The training will also ensure that you don’t get injured, get fitter and of course burn at least a trillion calories in the process.
The half marathon training plan walking is 12 weeks, a standard length of time to get ready for a distance event. Don’t worry if you have missed the start, you can drop in at week 3 (10 weeks to go), 4 or even further in. There are 4 walks a week; two easy ones, a mid distance step up (the distance/time increases each week) and then your long step up.
There are 3 speeds for the program; easy, comfortable and brisk. These can be translated into:
Easy – browsing the shops
Comfortable – faster than a stroll, but not all-out – breathing a tip more than normal.
Brisk – walking with real purpose, breathing and heart rate elevated somewhat. You should still be able to chat to your walking partner, but not too much.
Don’t worry if you miss a walk or two, but try to get them all in – it will make the event so much more enjoyable. And being outside is really, really good for you. Some cross training (strength training, intervals and more conventional types of fitness) will also really help you to put in a great performance and be super proud on the day. Good luck!
By now statistics show that you may be finding it hard to keep up with that resolution. Most people’s reason for not starting an exercise regime is “I don’t have enough time”.
It’s simple really – make time – you might not think that you have enough, but really, you do. Just make exercise a priority. Try these tips on how to make time for exercise
1 – Set an appointment with yourself, put it in the diary and be sure to keep it. Imagine that you are meeting a very close friend or going to a vital business meeting. Don’t let anything else interfere with your appointment. Isn’t your health and fitness more important than these things anyway? Most of us use a smart phone calendar, so set an alarm to remind yourself of the appointment.
2 – Replace a bad habit. Most of us spend time doing things that are not really that stimulating or necessary. Facebook time and watching rubbish TV are two good examples. Work out how much time you spend on those habits and replace them with some structured exercise. At the very least promise yourself that if you are going to spend time doing something unnecessary that you will exercise at the same time.
3 – Exercise harder for less time. Numerous recent studies have shown that just a few bursts of maximal effort will have a greater benefit to both health and fitness than a long, less intense session. So try a 5 minute warm up, then sprint up the stairs 5 times, at full tilt. Session done! The next day do a 5 minute warm up and then a short circuit of bodyweight exercises – push ups, squats, jumping jacks and a plank. Repeat 3 times, workout done!
4 – Establish a routine. After just a few weeks you will have built up a habit. You should, eventually, actually want to exercise! So be sure to give it time, and then keeping up the routine will get easier.
5 – Just do it. Thinking about exercise too much can be tiring and will put you off. So don’t overthink it..that takes up time! Just start!
By Adam Atkinson
As we enter the new year here is our 2014 health and fitness review – both the good and the bad. From the uselessness of vitamin supplements to the benefits of standing up, we learned a lot in 2014.
Although generally frowned on by your GP, the fasting diet, where calories are drastically lowered for a couple of days a week, were found to have a remarkable effect on the immune system, we were told in June. In tests on both humans and mice, fasting for two days a week triggers a “regenerative switch”, making the body produce more white blood cells. These blood cells fight illnesses, so fasting could be used by the elderly or those with damaged immune systems (from chemotherapy, for example) to generate a new one. Source – The University of Southern California
Standing is a great idea if you want to have a pert bottom said a study in April by the University of Tel Aviv. When fat cells are subjected to “chronic, sustained pressure” they expand by 50%, becoming both bigger and heavier. This is what happens when we sit for prolonged periods, so try to stand and walk, even in the office, at least every 20 minutes.
Although not technically good for us, these previously “vilified” fats do not have the negative impact on health as previously thought. For nearly half a century the consensus has been that saturated fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. The NHS still advocates reducing intake to around 25g a day. But researchers at the University of Cambridge conducted a “mega-study” covering 600,000 people in 18 countries, and found that there is no “clearly supportive evidence” to support the NHS advice. The study showed that although trans fats increased a person’s likelihood of getting heart disease, saturated fats made little difference.
Many parents worry that endless hours in front of computer games is addling their childrens’ brains. But a study released by Oxford University in August showed that this worry may be misplaced. Involving 5000 children aged from 10 to 15, the research showed that those who spent up to an hour a day playing were happier, more sociable and better behaved than those who did not play computer games. Even playing for up to 3 hours a day was found to have no harmful effects (apart from the obvious effect on fitness). The study concluded that the games provided cognitive and social stimulation to a much greater extent that their TV based counterparts.
These were found to be a waste of time and money by a team at the University of Johns Hopkins in the USA. In January they declared “case closed” on a long running debate as to the effectiveness of vitamin supplements. Reviewing more than 25 studies involving 500, 000 people the University concluded that over the counter supplements had no benefits for “well nourished adults” and should not be taken for health benefits or disease prevention.
Known to be bad for us in excess for a long time, the year saw further dammning evidence for drinking. A decade-long study of 7,00 people found that boozing in middle age appeared to accelerate cognitive decline. Those that drank the equivalent of 2 ½ pints a day were found to have the verbal fluency, memory and mathematical ability of a 70 year old – when they were just 60. Moderate drinkers (1 pint a day) were unaffected.
These were given the thumbs down when research in September found that sweeteners in diet drinks can fool the metabolism, causing blood sugar levels to rise and making people overweight. There was also found to a mental factor too; those an diet drinks felt that they had more leeway in other areas of their diet and so ate more sweet treats.
Fruit juices, fizzy drinks and cordials.
The sugar in fruit juices and smoothies was labelled bad in February, when a study suggested that those who get their sugars from drinks with added sugar (as opposed to natural sources) were 1/5th more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke. British children consume 40% more added sugar that the recommended maximum, and the biggest source of thus was found to be fizzy drinks, fruit juices and cordials.
By Adam Atkinson
Even if you see a PT 3 times a week, that’s only 3 hours spent training. What about the other 112 or so hours during which you are awake but not training? What you do on your own will have a huge impact on how well you do. Yes your trainer can tell you what to do, but you still have to do it! Whether going for a six-pack or just trying to be fit and healthy, all the exercise in the world will be futile if you are not eating well. It’s easy to fall for the latest fad that you read in “Heat” magazine, but eat like a caveman (or woman) and all will be well. Lean proteins, vegetables, low GI fruit and whole grains are the way forward. Plus, once you start to eat healthy, you can eat waaaaayy more!
It’s all good and well saying “I want to be a size 10”, but it’s a bit vague. Try to be specific and direct with your goal setting. If you have a goal that is way to big to think about, like running your first marathon, then break it down. Set goal 1 for a 10k run in, say, 8-12 weeks. Then think about a half-marathon. Then plan for the full marathon!
If your car is broken, then would you try and fix it yourself? Getting fit can be a very complex physical and emotional undertaking, so what makes you think that you can do it yourself? Did that method work last time? Exactly. The hourly rate may seem high, but it’s the work outside of the sessions, the planning and nutritional assessments that takes ages. get professional help. It’s also expensive because of all the psychological damage our clients inflict on us!
No matter what you read in the media, this is the absolute maximum amount your body can lose, be happy and keep it off. Any more and bad things, both hormonally and mentally will happen, meaning that when your fad is over, you will just put all that hard earned weight back on.
Muscle mass is vital not just for weight loss but also for a healthy, fun life. Lean muscle begins to decline as we get older, yet it is what we need to move properly, be active and also to burn energy. It connects our joints and allows movement. Lean muscle even burns energy at rest, so go on – get strength training.
Unless they are a stepping stone onto better types of exercise, or you are coming back from injury, step away from the machines. Free weights and body weight exercises will test your body in a much more functional way, working more things at once, getting faster results. They are unstable, functional and challenging. You sit down all day in the office right? So why would you go to the gym and sit down on a weights machine??
Your body will only adapt if you place it under just a bit of stress. If you are on a treadmill strolling along then you are wasting your time. You need to be out of breath and at least a little sweaty to get fit and burn enough energy to make a dent in those fat stores.
Doing cardio then weights? There’s no need. Unless you are training for something very specific, like a 10k, then to get fit try to combine weight and cardio together. Superset (alternate upper and lower body exercises with little or no recovery) and then do short bursts of cardio. Done in the correct way, the weights alone will get your heart rate up This is called PHA (peripheral heart action) and it’s a winner. This is possibly one of the best fitness secrets there is!
Always start a routine with large, compound movements, like squats, rows and push ups. Do the smaller muscles last. Why? This is because those smaller muscle help the big muscles do their work. If you tire them out early, then they will fail in the compound exercise before the big muscle gets a chance to be tested.
When you train, you actually damage muscles. They then repair and improve in rest. So make sure you have a few days off every week. Also make sure that you are not too stressed out and are getting enough sleep. Too much stress and too little sleep = fat storage and possible future disease.
The thousands of UK patients that go through painful knee surgery may only be getting negligible benefits, a new study has discovered. As people get older the meniscus – the cartilage in the knee that acts as a shock absorber – thins out, making it more likely to tear. Researchers in Canada studies 811 procedures and the results were published in the Canadian medical Association Journal; they found that there was little evidence to show that surgery achieved better outcomes than not operating, or even performing a placebo operation. Other treatments like weight loss, anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise and physiotherapy should be used first, with surgery as a last resort only.
Top physics and personal trainers second this advice through experience. Following surgery the limb will never return to 100% effectiveness. Often, exercise (in particular muscle strengthening and prorioception work) can get the joint into as goo shape as a painful operation. Plus there is no lengthy recovery period where fitness, confidence and strength can decline further.
So before you go under the knife, call us! Remember, surgeons need to do surgery to stay in work and pay the bills!
By Adam Atkinson
Want to run faster? Many of us are have-a-go runners; some of us run competitively, or have at least done the odd 10k or half marathon for charity. But if we really wanted to step up and become great, what running tips could we get from double Olympic and European champion Mo Farah? How can we run faster?
Run3D, a company that analyses runners’ gait and is part of the University of Oxford, analysed footage of Mo Farah running to see what we, the lesser mortal, could learn from his style. Factors from arm position to foot strike were looked at and Dr Jessica Leitch came up with 9 points that help to make him (and could help you become) a great runner and to run faster.
Foot strike: The traditional way of running (in the West) is with a heel strike first, and then rolling through the foot and pushing off on the toes. Farah, however, hits the ground with his mid-fiit first. This is known as mid-foot striking, and by adopting this style the impact or “braking” as the foot hits the ground is less, reducing forces through the knee and the hip. It also makes running more efficient and allows for a faster cadence.
Foot position: his foot lands only marginally in front of him, again reducing the impact and braking effect. This “falling forward” into the run means that momentum is carried forward, not vertically.
Hang time: the amount of time that the foot is in contact with the ground is known as “stance time”. The ground equals friction, much less so the air. Mo has a very short stance time – milliseconds – so less energy is lost with ground contact. He is flying!
Twist and wiggle: body movement is measured in three planes – up and down, side to side, and rotational. While running we want most of the movement to be forward, and too much movement in the other planes can waste energy. So when Mo runs, his hips stay relatively still with little side to side movement.
Relaxed style: relax the jaw, don’t hunch the shoulders, don’t clench the fists. A relaxed running style uses less energy and means that you will run more efficiently.
Trailing leg position: just after the foot leaves the ground, Mo flicks the heel up towards the bottom like a sprinter. The shortens the pivot of the leg and means that less effort is needed to get the leg back forward for the next stride.
Cadence: this is the rate at which the feet hit the ground. A high cadence will mean greater speed. Many of the points above allow Mo to run at a greater cadence, and go faster!
Arm position: As he runs, Farah keeps his hands high and the elbows very bent. This again reduces the length of the arm level and means that there is less energy required to get back to the starting position. This generates a more powerful arm drive.
Forward, not vertical: all of the points mentioned contribute to less vertical bouncing and more forward movement, so his leg energy goes forwards, not up and down.
Even you, the amateur runner can immediately try to use some of these techniques to go faster straight away! If you need more help with technique, getting fit, strength training for running or a training programme, then we can help with some one-on-one personal training sessions.
By Adam Atkinson
Summer fast approaches, many of us are starting to enter running events, from 5k charity runs, 10k races to one of the many half or full marathons on offer. The best training for running is of course running, but complimenting this with a strength training for running program will help you run faster, run longer, feel fitter and be more stable on your feet. It will also ensure that you stay injury free through your training.
Strength training for running – old school vs new school
Strength training for running traditionally focused on;
Bilateral moves (both feet on the ground at the same time),
Saggital plane exercise (forward and backward but not twisting movements)
Single body parts, not compound whole body movements
Muscle endurance, not strength
These traditional workouts did not really look at balance, strength or stability.
Strength training for running – the smart, modern way – should include integrated whole body movements, a focus on rotational exercises (we rotate when we run!) and an emphasis on stability in the foot as well as overall balance. This prevents energy leakage from unstable foot placement and lack of balance. We hardly ever do a 10k on a smooth surface, so stability, strength and blanche will really help transfer all your running skill into forward movement. Shorter workouts will also help make them more achievable, as well as getting nearly all the benefit of more sets. Try to include the strength training on days when you have a shorter run or are doing speed/interval work. This will shorten the overall time needed as well as having a great warm up included.
This strength training routine can be done by any level of runner, from advanced to beginner. If you want to make it more challenging then simply add some weight in the form of dumbbells, barbells or kettle bells. If you are a beginner then the exercises can be adapted to be slightly less challenging.
To save time you can superset each pair of exercises. For example do the first exercise, push ups, then go straight to the round the clock lunges. Once the pair is complete rest for 45 seconds and repeat the pair. Do 2-3 sets of 12-14 repetitions. It’s got to be hard going, so judge the weight accordingly!
1 – Push ups with a frog lift
2 – Round the clock lunges
3 – Split stance bent over row
4 – Woodchop with weight
5 – Russian twist
6 – Leg curl on a swiss ball
Other exercises to consider are lunges with a knee raise, walking lunges and some plyometric exercises like burpees and knee tuck jumps.
By Robert Adam Atkinson
Physical training suspended from a rope or strapping has recently become very popular and is now an accepted part of fitness training. Often taking its generic name from a specific brand of equipment, the TRX, suspending yourself from an unstable rope or strap during training can exaggerate the effects of gravity, presenting a unique challenge to the muscles and joints. But what are the origins of suspended movement training?
Three types of suspended movement training have been blended together to form the basis of the genre today. Its origins come from the ancient Incan empire, German gymnastics and also the US Navy seals.
Physical training using ropes is first referenced during the Incan Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. This empire was spread over a very large area, from Chile and Argentina in the south to Ecuador and Colombia in the north. One of the most important parts of maintaining such a large empire was speedy and reliable communications. So the Inca used highly trained runners known as “Chasqui” or speed messengers. These messengers were taken into service for life, and needed to be very fit in all aspects. Cardio-vascular fitness was needed, but also strength, speed, agility and control, as the terrain varied vastly between jungles and rocky, high altitude mountains. The messenger routes through the Andes were dotted with relay stations, so that one messenger could take on a short part of the trail at great speed, passing it on to the next who would do the same. In this way as many as 240 miles could be covered in a single day. Even the roman empire at its height could only manage 100 miles a day. The Chasqui used ropes to help them through both the rocky and jungle terrain. So it made sense that their structured training included sessions using exercises suspended from ropes.
Gymnastics is also part of the history of SMT (suspended movement training). In 1842 German gymnastics coach Adolf Spiel developed swinging apparatus with triangular handles which he called “ringeschwebel”. These handles were then developed into circular rings. In the 1924 Paris olympics the rings were introduced as a new event and are still used today in the modern games. The gymnastic rings are an incredibly difficult skill to master; static holds, inverted hand stands, hanging holds with explosive swings and dismounts are part of the Modern event.
However the man who joined these elements into a functional training system for ordinary athletes (you and me) is generally considered to be Navy seal Randy Hetrick. During many foreign deployments access to traditional training environments and equipment was usually very restricted. In a quest to keep up his high levels of strength and fitness he developed parachute webbing with a metal carabiner to produce the first suspended movement prototype. In 2005 Hetrick set up a company and began the production and marketing of what we know today as the TRX. Since then several other systems have become available, all using strapping and metal or compound cleats with handles and straps.
These lightweight and versatile fitness systems are also very useful as a travel kit for those looking to keep fit on the move.
They are quite unstable so a few lessons or sessions with a personal trainer are recommended to get the most out of this amazing system.
By Robert Adam Atkinson
HIIT (high intensity interval training) has had lots of press over the last 2 years, from the BBC Horizon programme “The truth about exercise” to the well publicised Andrew Marr incident. Many accredited studies have shown that HIIT will increase aerobic fitness (VO2 max) as well as providing all the health benefits of longer duration exercise. Its time efficiency and effectiveness have made it very popular; but what are the optimal number of intervals?
In the BBC Horizon programme, Dr Michael Moseley was tested doing a single 3 minute routine, containing several 30 second, maximal bursts. Some complete just one sustained, flat-out 3-4 minute burst, whereas others practice a more conventional training routine of more intervals – as many as 10, all close to maximum heart rate. Each interval is followed by periods of slower recovery.
Frequency of training also varies greatly. Some may train every day, others a few times a week with days off between exercise. Dr Mosley Was completing just two sessions a week.
Although scientific studies have proved that intense interval training can increase your aerobic fitness up to 10 times faster than moderate exercise, no studies had been done to determine the optimum amount of intervals. Until now. A study by Mcmaster University in Ontario tested 17 young men and women on different HIIT regimes. 10 of the 17 were asked to exercise on 2 separate days a week. On the first day they did a standard HIIT session of four 30 second intervals of excruciating effort alternated with one minute of recovery. On the other day they did a single, non-stop interval of around 4 minutes, after which they had used the exact amount of energy as in the first session. Blood samples were gathered after each session.
The remaining 7 volunteers did the non-stop, single four minute interval for 6 weeks, completing it 3 times a week. Again blood samples were taken.
Although there were gains for the single interval training group immediately after exercise, these did not translate into lasting improvements over the 6 week study. Only the group who were doing multiple intervals gained in the medium term.
In another study by the University of Science and Technology in Norway, volunteers were asked to perform 24 HIIT workouts over three or eight weeks. This meant that some of the subjects did sessions every day (sometimes twice on the same day), while others only exercised three times a week. At the end of the study, those exercising 3 times a week had improved aerobic fitness by 11%, while those who were at it daily showed no improvements; in fact some of them showed a small decline. Only after they stopped exercise did the daily group show signs of improvement, with aerobic capacity creeping up by 6% some 12 days after cessation of activity.
The conclusion of both of these studies is that the best gains come from more standard interval training. Several intervals interspersed with recovery are best. So try to do 60-90 seconds off full on swearing-inducing effort with 60 seconds of slow recovery. Repeat at least 4 times, but 8 is better. The less recovery you have the faster you will improve lactic tolerance. The longer recovery you have the more you will improve speed and power.
By Adam Atkinson