Let’s face it, there are plenty of ideas circulating around that you could try to use in your everyday life that may potentially help you become more healthy. But what are the best things to try and how should you implement each into your lifestyle so they eventually take hold and become a habit? Here are a few ideas that I have tested that may be just what you need in order to become a healthier 2.0 version of yourself!
“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” John Wooden, former UCLA Basketball Coach
Try a yoga class. Keep in mind, that it may take time to find the right class and instructor that ends up working for you and your body. Personally, I have not found any activity that hits on all three areas of mind, body and spirit better than yoga. It’s simple, you will continue to lose joint range of motion, mobility and flexibility as you age and yoga can help bridge the gap between health and disability. After you leave a class – all three (mind/body/spirit) feel like they have been re-energized. Research continues to demonstrate that a regular yoga practice can improve everything from back pain to depression.
Focus on both mobility and strength training. The majority of people focus on one or none. They are both critical in the aging process. If you want to maintain functionality as you age you must do both on a regular basis. Think “mobility and strength for life.” Make it a priority adding in mobility work before and/or after – each strength training session. Individuals continue to load their joints and muscles without spending the necessary time on improving mobility. Ever wonder why chiropractors, orthopedic docs and PT’s are continually taking on new patients? Work on mobility to prevent disability.
Let technology help. It seems everyday there are new apps coming out that can help make us more aware of our current health status. I actually came across one such app called Welltory that does just that. It basically documents how well your body is handling stress each day and what your energy level looks like. Take a look at this free app for a week or two and see how well you’re doing in those areas. When your body releases too much cortisol (known as the stress hormone), from lack of sleep, too much stress, etc. – you’ll have trouble in other areas, like trying to build muscle. Another cool meditation app that can help reduce stress and improve mood is Headspace. I have previously written about it here and here.
Don’t neglect sleep. In my opinion, sleep is one of the key missing pieces of the human puzzle. Have a few bad nights with inadequate amounts of sleep and you’ll (always) pay the price. We have become a sleep-deprived society and the evidence supports this; showing that we sleep on an average 6.8 hours as opposed to 9 hours a century ago. About 30 percent of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours per night. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that individuals who got less than 5.5 hours of sleep each night lost 60 percent more lean muscle that those who got adequate sleep. Another study from the University of Colorado showed subjects that got minimal sleep on consecutive nights gained two pounds on average over the course of the study. A third study from the University of Pennsylvania Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory looked at the sleeping and eating behavior of 225 people. They reported in the journal Sleep, when you’re awake between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., you’re more likely to consume extra calories. The group ate an average of 553 more calories, typically choosing foods higher in fat, when they were kept awake until the early morning hours. Make sure you get or catch up on your ZZZZZ’s.
Cut back on added sugar. This one tip that hopefully turns into a habit can significantly improve many different facets of your life, including sleep, energy, oral health, body weight and body fat, to name a few. The average American consumes about 40 teaspoons of sugar each day (about 600 calories) and this far exceeds what your body needs. The American Heart Association recommends the amount be cut to a maximum of six teaspoons (100 calories or 25 grams) a day for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories or 38 grams) for men. One study that was completed at the University of California at Davis, found adults who consumed 25 percent of their daily calories from HFCS for two weeks had increase levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease. And in 2011, researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University concluded that high fructose consumption by teenagers could potentially put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Webb WB and Agnew HW (1975). Are we chronically sleep deprived? Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, vol. 6, p. 47. (82)
National Sleep Foundation, Sleep in America Poll (2003). National Sleep Foundation, Washington, DC, USA.
Nedeltcheva AV, et al., (2010). Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals Internal Medicine 153, 435-441.
Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH (2013). The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57873
Stanhope KL, Bremer AA, Medici V, Nakajima K, Ito Y, Nakano T, Chen G et al. (2011). Consumption of Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup Increase Postprandial Triglycerides, LDL-Cholesterol, and Apolipoprotein-B in Young Men and Women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96(10); DOI: 10.1210/jc.2011-1251
Pollock NK, Bundy V, Kanto W, Davis CL, Bernard PJ et al., (2011). Greater Fructose Consumption is Associated with Cardiometabolic Risk Markers and Visceral Adiposity in Adolescents. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 142 (2): 251 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.150219
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It was much too difficult to pick just one topic to discuss for Men’s Health Month so as you can see, I picked six things to talk about. These items have been on my mind as of late and are relevant for all the men out there so let me know your thoughts and own experiences regarding the following topics.
1. If it has been more than a year since your last full physical exam then pick up the phone today and call your primary care physicians office and book yourself an appointment. When you’re done have the secretary book you in advance a year from that date. I try to make it each year the same month as my birthday. A great number of ailments and for that matter diseases that people end up getting would never exacerbate if caught early and a yearly check-up could significantly improve your odds in those areas. While you’re at it do the same thing regarding regular teeth cleanings and eye exams.
2. We like to say at Koko, that lean muscle is like the fountain of youth, the more you have the better off you and your metabolism will be as you age. Research shows staying active coupled with regular strength training is the best prescription to help fight your cause.
3. If you’re really interested in seeing how healthy you are then take a look at your blood profile. I have used Inside Tracker, a company founded by scientists from MIT, Harvard and Tufts University to “give you blood-based, science-driven, effective advice on simple changes you can make to optimize your performance and health.” I really enjoy looking at what is going from a “deeper” perspective and track those metrics over time. Inside Tracker also does a great job at suggesting food options if you’re low in specific areas to help you drive those numbers back into a healthy range (think testosterone here guys).
4. Make a foam roller, a pair of tennis balls and a lacrosse ball your best friends. All that pain, stiffness and tightness that you typically experience may be due to restricted fascia. Fascia is basically connective tissue, along with ligaments and tendons, that acts as, among other things, as a support structure and plays an important role in overall health. Use the tools mentioned to roll away some of that residual pre/post workout stiffness. This helps just temporarily though and to get at the root of the problem speak to a coach and take advantage of applying some pressure to “tight” areas with those tennis balls or lacrosse ball. Have someone show you the right way to accomplish this or you could do more harm than good. In addition, get more sleep and drink more H2O to help your cause.
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5. Work on reducing your body fat level by 1-2% this month. No, not by doing more steady-state, long duration cardio. Try completing eight short, high intensity interval (HIT) sessions over the course of the month. Get outside and do sprint intervals, try using a Schwinn Air-Dyne bike, maybe a Versa climber or a rowing machine, you get the picture. Separate the HIT sessions with 3-days between each session. On those “off” days watch your added sugar and do some form of strength training. In regard to added sugar, consume less than 150 calories a day (38 grams) and use the MyFitnessPal app to make you more aware of what you’re consuming and to help you document it. As for strength training, try using “giant sets” – choose five multi-joint movement exercises, like lunges, squats, deadlifts, chest press and pull-ups, and do each round for a desired number of repetitions or for a specific amount of time like 30-45 seconds each. Aim for a minimum of two weekly sessions. Like your cardio, it does not have to be long, quality trumps quantity especially during Men’s Health Month.
6. Finally, mix things up and take a yoga class. You may have to go out of your comfort zone here. There is a reason why more and more college and pro athletes are now doing more yoga. It’s great for your mind/body/spirit. If you don’t want to venture out or pay for it then download the Headspace app and meditate a bit. Adding these six health and fitness tips during the month of June will make you not only more manly but a better friend, brother, dad, and husband. Hopefully, this time next June, a few of these will stick and be part of your regular routine.
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“Mens sana in corpore sano” (Latin) – a healthy mind in a healthy body.
There were almost 82 million Americans who were completely inactive in 2015. We know that exercise on a regular basis can be a very difficult task since most people do not even like to exercise. More than 30% of the population will not workout at all this year and only 5% will exercise at a level that is considered vigorous. Compounding the problem, the average American sits more than 9 hours a day; sitting is now considered the new smoking. We have become a society where inactivity is fast becoming the new norm. If this resonates at all with you then you may want to try to incorporate the following practical tips into your lifestyle.
There have been many things that I have learned and continue to learn during my three decades in the fitness industry and I can honestly tell you, in addition to some nutritional advice, these five particular items should be on your radar. It would be prudent for you to make sure these five components (5M’s) find their way and get ingrained into your lifestyle.
Athletes at the collegiate and professional level continue to improve because they work with the best strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionist. They have a well thought out plan and get tested periodically. This is the one component that offers the most bang for the buck yet most individuals find reason to neglect it. Find the time to take some type of measurement(s) and periodically test yourself in order to (1) hold yourself more accountable, (2) determine if your exercise plan is actually working and (3) to help keep you motivated. This applies to not just exercise and your workouts but also on the nutritional side of things. Are you eating, for example, too much added sugar? Checking your body weight is OK but go beyond just checking your weight. What percentage of muscle and body fat make up that overall weight of yours? What is your waist measurement? Can you run a mile? Can you run up a flight of stairs without feeling winded? These types of measurements offer more value than jumping on a bathroom scale.
A few (measurement) ideas for you:
Determine your Waist-to-hip ratio
Monitor your % body fat and/or lean muscle mass
Record your daily grams of added sugar (<35 grams/day/men and <25 grams/day/women). Use the MyFitnessPal app.
Determine your best 500 or 2000 meter row time
Vertical jump measurement
Plank challenge (can you hold position for 2:00 or 3:00?)
Are you getting 8,500-10,000 steps/day
Finally, remember another great quote from Peter Drucker, “what’s measured improves.”
Once your measurements are taken and documented you’ll then have a baseline and you’re ready to begin. A good first step, is to work towards becoming more mindful, this will help you not only with exercise and diet but in all aspects of your life. The net result will be a significant improvement in the “quality” of your exercise and the way you fuel your body. As we become more in tune with mindfulness, we become more aware of the relationship between a stimulus and response. You can think of mindfulness as a tool that can help you develop that gap between the stimulus and the response to that stimulus.
Mindfulness is “the ability to stay focused, while being aware of your thoughts and surroundings and being able to recognize and move past distractions as they arise.” Harvard Business Review
Researchers looked at subjects who had the opportunity to choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. Their study showed that respondents, on average, reported their minds were wandering 47% of time, and no less than 30% of the time during every activity except making love. Becoming more mindful in regard to exercise and diet is extremely important. Learn to become truly present when you’re involved in these activities otherwise your mind and body are not taking in 100% of the benefit.
One way to help you get moving down this road of mindfulness is with daily meditation. A typical session involving meditation could range from two minutes up to sixty minutes. I have used the popular Headspace app to help me get started which is excellent and I highly recommend you start with this free, simple to use, app. More than 4 million people have used the app to date. According to a Tim Ferris, podcast, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, more than 80% of the world-class performers who he interviews use some form of daily meditation and he’s a big proponent of the free Headspace Take 10 program.
There is a great deal of research that demonstrates mediation creates positive changes in our brains. Harvard University neuroscientist Sara Lazar told the Washington Post, “long-term meditators have an increased amount of grey matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex.”
In a 2014 study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Australian researchers looked at the relationship between various personality traits and exercise and other health-related habits. The researchers found that people who thought they had control over their lives were more likely to exercise and adopt other healthy steps than those who felt that luck or fate largely dictated their lives. Daily meditation offers that sense of control.
With everything we have going on in our daily lives like raising children, marriage issues, social media, political upheaval, and all the demands at work, we need to find more time to focus on ourselves. The goal should be to work on eliminating all the distractions and “noise” that surrounds us. Becoming more mindful will enable us to have better control in all aspects of our lives especially with what we’re focusing on here, improving your lifestyle especially with regard to diet and exercise.
You can take this assessment to see where you currently rate when it comes to mindfulness. Try taking the assessment before and then after completing ten sessions using the Headspace app.
Mobility, or joint mobility, in general, is one of the most misunderstood terms. The first thing you need to understand about mobility is that it does not start this week and then end in a day or two. If you want to improve mobility then it needs to be part of your every day life and one of the components of each workout you do. You will receive the most benefit when regular mobility work becomes part of your lifestyle.
Let’s first look at a good definition of mobility. According to physical therapist Joe Vega, M.S.P.T., CSCS,. “a person with great mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns with no restrictions in the range of motion of those movements.”
A more in-depth look at what happens when you perform specific mobility exercises is given here by fitness expert, Steven Maxwell. “Joint mobility exercise stimulates and circulates the synovial fluid in the bursa, which ‘washes’ the joint. The joints have no direct blood supply and are nourished by this synovial fluid, which simultaneously removes waste products. Joint salts, or calcium deposits, are dissolved and dispersed with the same gentle, high-repetition movement patterns. Properly learned, joint mobility can restore complete freedom of motion to the ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck and hands.”
Remember, you should take a proactive approach when it comes to mobility, not a reactive one. In other words, don’t wait for problems to arise before you address them.
There are many specific exercises that can be done to improve joint mobility for areas like the ankle, hip, back and shoulder. Here is one such example that targets the back, specifically, the mid back (thoracic spine). What I particularly like about this mobility exercise is how it isolates the mid back while stabilizing the low back (lumbar spine). For mobility exercise ideas please visit Michael Wood Fitness on Instagram.
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Prior to performing these movements try “rolling out” the area. A great tool to help you get started is a foam roller (see below) which can be used for self-myofascial release. It has been shown to help increase joint range of motion and with delayed-onset muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS. For more information check out MWOD.
Hippocrates once said, “walking is a man’s best medicine.” To find out if his 2,400 year-old remark was actually valid, two scientists from University College London performed a meta-analysis of research published between 1970 and 2007 in peer-reviewed journals. After studying more than 4,000 research papers, they identified 18 studies that met their high standards for quality. The studies evaluated 459,833 test-subjects who were absent of cardiovascular disease at the start of the investigation. The subjects were followed for an average of 11.3 years, during which cardiovascular events (i.e. heart attacks and deaths) were recorded. Their meta-analysis makes a strong case for the benefits of good old walking. The group of studies showed that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent, and decreased the risk of dying during the time of the study by 32 percent.
More movement of any kind is obviously a good thing. One tool you can use to monitor your exercise and especially walking is a pedometer. It can be valuable because it (1) can hold you more accountable, (2) it can help to build up to a desired step total for a daily/weekly/monthly total and (3) it can be a useful motivational tool along the way. Research out of Stanford University has shown that individuals who use a pedometer take an additional 2,000 steps each day, compared to nonusers, and their overall physical activity level increases by 27%. Another study showed participants who increased their steps to average more than 9,500 a day for 32 weeks lost 5 pounds, 1.9% body fat and 1.9 centimeters from their hips. They also increased their HDL cholesterol by 3 mg/dl and lowered their BMI by nearly 2 points. The participants in the study increased their steps by an average of 4,000 steps a day from the start of the study.
The goal with trying to add in more daily movement is consistency. If you have a crazy week at work and can’t get to the gym as much during the week then be sure you check it off during the weekend. The key is to do something. Research by Krogh-Madsen and colleagues showed the dramatic changes that can take place after just two weeks of decreasing your activity. The subjects were young, lean, healthy men who decreased their daily steps from 10,000 steps a day to 1,300 steps a day. They experienced an increase in body weight, 7% decline in VO2 max, a 2.8% loss of lean muscle in their legs, and a 17% drop in insulin sensitivity after just two weeks of decreasing their activity by 8,700 steps a day.
A few thoughts to keep in mind when it comes to movement. More movement, like walking, and other forms of exercise (like strength training), translates into an elevated metabolism. There are many external as well as internal forces that can have an effect on your metabolism and exercise is the most variable. Sedentary individuals may add only 10-30% to their total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) while very active individuals can increase that number above 50-75%. TDEE is the total amount of calories the human body burns (or expends) in one day. When you’re more active throughout the day you get the added bonus of what scientist refer to as NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than exercise. NEAT can vary by up to 2000 kcal per day between people of similar size in part because of the substantial variation in the amount of activity that they perform. Obesity is associated with low NEAT; obese individuals “appear to exhibit an innate tendency to be seated for 2.5 hours per day more than sedentary lean counterparts.” When you exercise at higher intensity levels you increase your body’s ability to burn calories post exercise, known as exercise post oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is one of the by-products of high-intensity interval training.
TDEE = BMR + TEF + NEAT + EPOC + Exercise
Finally, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, subjects who were least active during this particular study were five times more likely to die than the most active people and three times more likely than those in the middle range in terms of daily activity. The data was taken from approximately 3,000 people aged 50 to 79 that were part of the University of Pennsylvania Population Study. When in doubt, always remember the old saying “use it or lose it.”
The ability to maintain muscle mass as you age is considered by many as the closest thing to the fountain of youth. There is still hope for you even if you’ve been inconsistent or unable to exercise at all. That hope comes in the form of regular strength training. Research has shown that approximately three decades of age-related strength loss and two decades of age-related muscle mass loss can be recovered or reversed within the first couple of months of starting a strength training program. Research from a 2016 meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did regular strength training and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in lean muscle mass.
There are a few additional items you need to focus on consistently beyond your strength training. When it comes to maintaining or building muscle, sleep and recovery are critical and good nutrition is a must. When I say nutrition I’m talking about eating a surplus of good calories especially in the form of high quality protein. If your body is not continually in an anabolic state you will not be building new muscle any time soon. The goal is to eat a “clean” diet that consistently includes the three major macronutrients. Eating a plant-based, high fiber diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats is always a good thing. Avoid the processed foods, watch the extra calories from soda and other sport drinks, and limit alcohol. Put yourself on an added sugar budget, see #nosugar40 for more information.
A recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests a daily intake of 1 to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is needed for older adults who do resistance training. For example, a 175-pound man would need about 79 to 103 grams a day. If possible, divide your protein equally among your daily meals to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
There is a strong association between strength training and muscle mass but as you continue to age the key is working smarter. You can do that by making sure you include these primary lifts or movements as part of your strength program: squat, dead lift, pulling and pushing movements, and some type of loaded carry.
In a recent comprehensive research review, Donnelly and colleagues note that the majority of peer-reviewed resistance training studies (lasting 8–52 weeks) show increases of 2.2–4.5 pounds of muscle mass. These researchers suggest that an increase of 4.5 pounds of muscle mass would probably increase resting metabolic rate by about 50 kcal per day. Although this small change is not nearly as much as some advertisers may suggest, it does help close the gap between energy intake and energy expenditure.
There you have it – my five practical tips that will help take your health and fitness to the next level. The choice is now yours.
Schneider PL, Bassett DR, Thompson DL, Pronl NP, and Bielak KM (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. Am J Health Promotion 21(2): 85-89.
Donnelly, J.E., et al. Is resistance training effective for weight management? Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine, 1(1): 21–29, 2003.
Krogh-Madsen R, Thyfault JP, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Olsen RH, Mounier R, Plomgaard P, van Hall G, Booth FW, and Pedersen, BK (2010). A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. J. Applied Physiology, 108(5):1034-1040.
Wu BH, Lin J, (2006). Effects of exercise intensity on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and substrate use after resistance exercise. J Exerc Sci Fit, 4(2).
Abboud GJ, Greer BK, Campbell SC, Panton LB, (2012). Effects of Load-Volume on EPOC after Acute Bouts of Resistance Training in Resistance Trained Males. October.
Levine JA, et al. (2006). Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 26: 729-736.
Ivey, FM et al., (2000). The Effects of Age, Gender and Myostatin Genotype on the Hypertrophic Response to Heavy Resistance Strength Training. J. Gerontol: Med Sci 55A: M641-M848.
Ezra I. Fishman, Jeremy A. Steeves, Vadim Zipunnikov, Annemarie Koster, David Berrigan, Tamara A. Harris, Rachel Murphy. Association between Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Mortality in NHANES. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000885
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We all know the upcoming holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) can be a time to fall into “relax mode” with respect to our exercise and diet. Start getting into your pre-holiday routine now by watching your caloric intake and add in more movement during the day. Don’t let the excuse of busy schedules, attending parties and traveling be the culprit this time around.
Your first step is to become mindful in respect to individual triggers during holiday events or family gatherings. A previous blog post looked at research that showedthe average person will consume an extra 619 calories a day during the Holiday season which figures out to about a five-pound weight gain over the holiday season! If you get off on the wrong foot with Thanksgiving there is always the next day to get back on track and re-focus. The average person has the potential to consume 4500 calories or more coupled with 200 grams of fat (that equates to 1800 calories alone from fat) over the course of a typical Thanksgiving day!
Reports have shown that it doesn’t get easier a month later when the “average person eats more than 7,000 calories on Christmas day. Research carried out by Associated British Foods came to that conclusion. That’s more than three times the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily caloric intake.”
Try the following tips if you feel like your off course a bit and have been eating too much and not moving enough; get a jump on it now by starting to:
Increase the volume or intensity of your daily exercise (both strength and cardio).
Where a pedometer and work on increasing your daily steps over the course of the next 30 days. Add an additional 500-1000 steps to your weekly step count.
Watch the extra (empty) calories from soda, juices, alcohol etc. – try to add a glass of water in between drinks – if possible, avoid alcohol. The average person consumes close to an additional 450 calories a day through drinking soda, alcohol etc.
Avoid any late night eating.
Start each morning off with 16 ounces of water (add some lemon).
During this holiday season, think of exercise as a way to prevent weight gain. If you’re looking to lose weight, the key is to increase your activity level above and beyond what you’re currently doing. In addition, be more mindful of your intake, especially as the day goes on.
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