5 Tips to Improve Your Mind, Body and Spirit

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.

References

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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6 Manly Tips for Men’s Health Month

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.

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.

Decreasing Back Pain with Yoga

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Source: http://health.com

We tend to take our backs for granted until aches become chronic and we’re jolted with pain. At this point, we realize that the back should not be neglected, especially since the spine connects to virtually every muscle in the torso.

Today, an increased number of people sit hunched over a desk for long periods, and as a result, they are suffering from a spine that is out-of-balance. If you’ve been sitting for three plus hours, walking or stretching can help increase your mood levels while decreasing back pain associated with being glued to your desk for extended periods of time.

Try these 3 movements:

1. Clasp your hands behind your back, and as you breathe in, bring your arms up as high as you can. Push your chest forward. Exhale as you lower your arms.

2. Breathe in. Bend your upper body down as far as you can. Keep your head gently lifted. Exhale as you slowly raise your upper body (try this while seated).

3. With clasped hands, lift your arms as high as you can. Bend your knees slightly and, as you breathe in, twist your upper body to the right. Exhale as you return to the original position. Repeat for the left side.

Repeat the movements described above three times each.

The team at Dahn Yoga, a national network of studios that teach Dahn Yoga (also known as Dahnhak), a Korean “yoga” system, leads a great exercise that can be done anytime you need relief (see below). And if you’re interested in visiting a Dahn Yoga Center, please inquire about the location(s) nearest you.

New Research Shows Correlation Between Yoga and Health

The Yoga in America Study showed a 29 percent increase in the number of Americans who practiced some form of yoga. That increase represented 20.4 million yoga practitioners in 2012 or 8.7 percent of adults in America; growing from 15.8 million four years earlier. Of that number, 82.2 percent were women; 17.8 percent were men and about 63 percent fell within the age range of 18-44.

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photo credit: http://karmasurfretreat.com

A recently published paper in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine (2014) looked at the positive association between yoga and physical and mental health. The author of the study concluded “that practice of yoga is beneficial for all the dimensions of health, i.e. physical, mental, social, and spiritual and at the same time promotes harmony with nature and helps in conserving environment.”

In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Yoga, Penman and colleagues looked at the practice of yoga in Australia with more than 3,800 yoga practitioners. The researchers concluded:

“Yoga practice was seen to assist in the management of specific health issues and medical conditions. Regular yoga practice may also exert a healthy lifestyle effect including vegetarianism, non-smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, increased exercise and reduced stress with resulting cost benefits to the community.”

Finally, a review of eight studies demonstrated pulmonary function appears to improve with a minimum of 10 weeks of regular yoga practice. The more de-conditioned the person the better the improvement in pulmonary function, measured by maximum inspiratory and expiratory pressure.

References

Taneja DK (2014). Yoga and Health. Indian J. Community Medicine. 39(2): 68–72.

Penman S, Cohen M, Stevens P, and Jackson S (2012). Yoga in Australia: Results of a national survey. Int J Yoga. 5(2): 92–101.

Abel AN, Lloyd LK, Williams JS (2013).The effects of regular yoga practice on pulmonary function in healthy individuals: a literature review. J Alternative Compl Medicine. 19(3):185-90.

7 Tips from Fitness Expert Michael Wood, CSCS

MW headshot 2 copy 2One of the great things about life is the ability to continue to learn as you get older and this also holds true when applied to your own personal health and fitness. After more than 25 years in the fitness industry I have learned a few tricks of the trade along the way and here are a few of them that I focused on this past year, give them a try.

Challenge Mind and Body with New Activity. You may be into yoga, running, biking, swimming or taking exercises classes and whatever it is that’s great because they all help you clear your mind, burn calories and keep you moving. The key is to stimulate your mind, body and spirit each day with one of my favorite eight letter words: movement, activity or exercise. A few activities that I seem to have gravitated towards during the past year were stand-up paddle board, walking or running stadium stairs and snow-shoeing (with poles). I highly recommend you try them or find a new activity that will engage your mind and challenge your body.

Start Wearing a Pedometer. A pedometer is ideal for helping you increase your daily activity. I have been wearing a Fitbit pedometer since 2009 and really enjoy it. Your goal is to find out what your daily average steps are over the course of 3-5 days, then add 500 to 1000 steps a week (or 10-20% of your average determined from baseline) until you progress to 10,000 steps each day (this is about 5 miles). The average Fitbit user records about 6000 steps a day. Research by Tudor-Locke and Schuna recommend that adults avoid averaging less than 5,000 steps a day and strive to average greater than 7,500 steps a day, of which about 3,000 steps (about 30 minutes) should be taken at a cadence of 100 steps or more a minute. Stanford University researchers looked at 26 different studies and summarized the results in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their synopsis showed individuals who use a pedometer take 2,000 additional steps each day compared to nonusers and had significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure while overall physical activity level increased by 27%.

Get Strong with Stadium Stair Workouts. Whether you walk or run the stairs it doesn’t matter because in the end the stairs always win. Stair workouts are ideal for improving cardiovascular health and building hip and leg strength. It is also a great supplement with you’re weekly strength training. It engages most of the muscles in your body and the caloric expenditure is high especially if you run. Look for an area high school or college near-by and if you’re in the Boston area give Harvard Stadium a try and don’t forget to wear your pedometer, you won’t be sorry.

Understand Strength Training is for Life. Some things in your training bag will come and go but when it comes to strength training it should be done for the rest of your life! Be consistent, challenge yourself and make it progressive. According to one 1992 study women who did not strength train lost about 7 pounds of muscle every 10 years and a by-product of this was a reduction in their metabolism by about 50 calories a day.

Bring Interval Training into Play. No matter what you’re doing on the cardio side of things add interval-based cardio sessions into the mix on a weekly basis. You can find this type of exercise at a Koko FitClub near you. Here are two FREE (audio-based) cardio sessions to try. You can find interval-based workouts like Tabata and Stadium Stair intervals for all ability levels at Koko FitClub.

You Are What You Eat. All the exercise is great but if you don’t fuel up optimally it will eventually catch up with you. Try this one tip, watch your added daily sugar. If you’re a male eat no more than 150 calories a day (38 grams/day) and if you are female make it no more than 100 calories (25 grams/day). Do this for the next month and see how better you look and feel. A recent study found a correlation between high sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes rate across various countries.

Lengthen Tight Muscles. Perform a quick needs analysis on your body with a goal in mind of finding out what’s weak and what’s tight. Once this is determined, you need to strengthen what’s weak and lengthen what’s tight. I know it sounds easy but most people do not do this and invariably end up compounding any problems they may have had. In regard to the tight muscles, add some of these modalities or activities to your current routine: add a dynamic warm-up prior to exercise, try a yoga class, use a foam roller, get regular massages or relax in a hot tub. If muscles are either too tight or too weak they are basically an accident waiting to happen. Maybe this is one of the reasons why you have low back pain. If nothing else, at least try the foam roller and “roll out” to a new you for the new year!

References

Tudor-Locke C and Schuna JM (2012). Steps to Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Exercise, Walk More, or Sit Less? Frontiers in Endocrinology 3(142):1-7.

Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, et al. (2007). Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health. Journal American Medical Association 298(19):2296-2304.

Michael Wood, CSCS, has been Chief Fitness Officer of Koko FitClub since 2005. The Koko digital gym currently has more than 130 franchise locations in 28 states.