Archive for May, 2009

Are you making yourself Skinny-Fat?

May 20, 2009

Since starting my blog, I have written about tangible, physical topics like nutrition and exercise.  But in light of a recent study and article that came out last week, I feel it’s time to write about a more ethereal, but equally important health topic… and that’s body image.

Physical fitness is so much more than losing pounds on the scale or making gluteal muscles firmer for bikini season.  Intellectually we all know that health is more important than what size we are, but it seems that most of us are really more concerned with being “skinny” than being physically fit.  A recent Associated Press-iVillage poll shows a big disconnect between body image and physical health.  For example, do you avoid eating certain fruits and veggies because you think they’re “fattening” even if they’re loaded with nutrients? 

A psychiatrist at a New York hospital says too many women in our culture place too much importance on weight and appearance than on physical fitness.  That logic is simply backwards.  She believes that female athletes are much better role models than fashion models.  

I’ve said this many a time in my classes – particularly cycling classes – where we are surrounded by mirrors, “close  your eyes, feel how your body is working…. If you’re just focusing on the mirror, you’re only focusing on 10 percent of who you really are.  How fit you really are can’t be seen in the mirror.”   I remind people of this because it is so relevant and true.  You can’t see your RHR (resting heart rate) getting lower, or your aerobic capacity, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improving.  Being considerably overweight is unhealthy, period.  It places more strain on joints, and raises risk for heart attacks and diabetes not to mention other health issues like sleep apnea.  But being “skinny” doesn’t mean being fit either.  (I’d love to pluck a few corpse-like models off a runway and drop them onto a treadmill to see how long they last.  To be fair, I’d pull the cigarettes out of their mouths and replace their Minolo’s for Adidas first).  This may surprise you, but it is possible to be “fat” and wear a size 1!  How?  Compare a wafer thin model whose only exercise is walking a few yards down a runway and barely ever eats a full meal, to a woman who’s a size 6 or 8 and works out a lot.  It is possible that the athletic woman will have a lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of lean tissue (like bone and muscle) than the model who eats poorly and doesn’t work out.  As a matter of fact, the human body in survival mode – when faced with starvation – will do whatever it can to save body fat, including burning off muscle instead.  So if you’re starving yourself to look like a model, you’re really just asking your body to store fat. 

Given the bombardment of beauty ideals we see in the media, it’s not really surprising that we have body image issues.  Hopefully one day the media will change it’s mind and favor fit and healthy bodies rather than just skinny bodies.  But in the meantime, we have to take it upon ourselves to adjust our attitudes and how we see ourselves.

Learning to feel good about the skin you’re in will make your self-esteem soar.  How many people do you know who work hard on having the ideal body and are truly happy and satisfied with their lives?  

Here’s a few tips on how we can adjust our attitudes about our attributes:

-A great way to boost self-esteem is to participate in activities that are good for you mentally and emotionally as well as helpful to getting you to your physical goal. 

-Always remember that your physical goal has to be good for YOU and not what others think is good for you!  Your goals have to be realistic considering your capabilities and your DNA.

-Take a good, hard look at your goals and what is truly important to improving your life.  Having unrealistic goals can leave you dissatisfied and unhappy with yourself.  Remember, getting healthy and fit is about the joy of the journey and not just the destination.

-Make sure your actions don’t betray your goals.  Going on a crash, fad or unhealthy diet to get to a “healthy” weight is basically hypocrisy… and is not “good for you!”

-Nip it in the bud if you have kids.  Our culture’s obsession with being super thin is affecting kids at younger and younger ages.  An Australian study of more than 500 school-age kids reveals that even a first grader may think, “thinner is better.”  This can trigger eating disorders or at least unhealthy eating behaviors.  Did you know that nearly one in three 10- to 14-year-old girls restricts her food intake according to a Canadian study?  Talk to your kids  often about what they see on TV, magazines, movies, video games, etc.  Help them understand what is realistic and what isn’t.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is lead by example!

-Finally, feeling good about yourself comes from treating yourself with the same respect you’d give to someone else you admire.


Does exercise boost your immunity? Intensity matters!

May 6, 2009

Flu-phobia is spreading faster than the virus itself lately. Personally, I’ve used more hand sanitizer this week alone than I’ve used in my entire life! But even if you make it thru the H1N1 outbreak this season, you’re still likely to get bit by at least one bug this year. Actually, the average adult catches two to three upper respiratory infections each year. Not too bad, considering we’re constantly being exposed to viruses day in and day out. But some people are more susceptible than others to catching whatever is going around.

Here’s a few things that increase your chances of catching colds or flus:
-Poor nutiition
-lack of sleep
-over training

So what can you do to give your immune system and extra boost? Research has been showing a connection between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system. Exercising at a moderate intensity level (approximately 70 – 75% of your VO2 Max), has been shown to have a positive response on the immune system and temporarily increases the production of cells that attack bacteria. Researchers believe that consistent exercise can have big immunity benefits over time. This makes sense because when you’re exercising at a moderate intensity, immune cells circulate thru your body faster so they’re able to kill more bacteria and viruses. The more often you exercise, the more benefit you may get over the long run. The effect seems to be cumulative according to at least one researcher.

However, there is a point where you cross the line. Too much intense exercise can lower your immunity! Research shows that exercising at a high intensity for over 90 minutes can make you more susceptible to getting sick for up to 3 days after your workout – yikes! During high intensity bouts, the body produces stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels while weakening your immune system. That’s why it’s important to get proper rest and recovery time after endurance events and long, hard-core workouts. Over training will surely weaken your immune system. The symptoms of over training are increased resting heart rate, a slower recovery heart rate, fatigue, irritability and a feeling of heaviness or lethargy.

If you’ve already come down with a virus or infection, it’s okay to exercise at a light or moderate intensity because it will boost your immune system and will likely make you feel better. But intense activity will make it worse and probably even extend your illness. When you’re sick, your body is working hard to fight whatever you caught – stressing it more is like adding insult to injury!