Saturday, May 22, 2010

Food Rules to Live By

Michael Pollan has become one our most important writers about human nutrition. His book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), spelled out why the almost 8 billion humans on this planet had better balance what we eat, for our own health and the health of the planet.

He published a small book in 2009 (Penguin Books) called Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. His rules are around 7 words in 3 brief statements: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. How simple and wise is that!

These three statements make up the three parts of this small book, with lots of practical "rules". Here are some of the best:

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognize as food
Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry
Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not (like imitation butter)
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food
Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
Don't overlook the oily little fishes
The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead
Be the kind of person who takes supplements - then skip the supplements
Eat more like the French, or the Japanese, or the Italians, or the Greeks
Have a glass of wine with dinner
Stop eating before you are full
Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored
Eat slowly
Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it
Buy smaller plates and glasses
Serve a proper portion and don't go back for seconds
Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper

and the last one:
Break the rules once in awhile

So, enjoy a healthy diet and eat right!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Getting and Staying Healthy: Getting Enough Sleep

Our busy lifestyles often aren't conducive to getting the recommended amount of sleep at night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Dr. Kenneth Berg from the Mayo clinic states that persons who get less than seven hours of sleep per night have a higher mortality than those who have adequate sleeping habits. Inadequate sleep has been linked to increased risk of motor vehicle accidents; an increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation; increased risk of diabetes and heart problems; increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse; and decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information.

So, if you are currently getting less than 7 good hours of sleep at night, consider making a change to try to increase that to a minimum of 7 or 8 hours. Here are some other suggestions for you to consider to improve your quality or quantity of sleep:

1. Establish regular sleep and wake schedules.
2. Have regular, relaxing bedtime routines such as taking a hot bath or playing quiet music.
3. Create a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool environment.
4. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
5. Avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed.
6. Avoid eating 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
7. Exercise regularly during the day, but avoid exercise at least a few hours before bedtime.
8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime.

Let me know if you have comments or additional suggestions...

Getting and Staying Healthy: Getting Enough Sleep

Continuing this series on getting and staying healthy, another one of the basics, other than obtaining and maintaining normal weight and getting enough exercise is getting adequate sleep at night. Our busy life styles often don't lend themselves to the 7 or 8 hours of sleep usually recommended to maintain health.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Exercise Part V: Exercise and Weight Loss

I am often consulted about diets and weight loss. I witness a blinding array of dietary approaches to weight loss and, alas, have discovered that most simply don't work! Yes, that's right, diets if they work at all, tend to be short term solutions at best. People can usually rally their will to restrict their intake and lose for awhile but, inevitably, without a more basice lifestyle change, the pounds slowly creep back over weeks or months.

So, if you are overweight (over 63% of American's are obese or overweight), and want to shed pounds what is the answer? It's actually very simple. The basic concept is "calories in-- calories out". One merely needs to slightly reduce the number of calories consumed per day and burn additional calories over what has been your past pattern, such that a "deficit" is created between the number of calories consumed and the number of calories burned.

If this idea seems rediculously simple, it is but, apart from bariatric surgery, or the rare case of a life-changing epiphany, a simple commitment to combining exercise with moderate caloric restriction is the secret to losing and maintaining weight.

Let me provide an example of how this might work in practice: Let's say, you are 10 to 15 pounds heavier than you want to be and have been having trouble losing it. How should you approach it? First, decide a couple of items typically consumed in a day that you can manage to leave aside that would amount to between 250 and 500 calories. Let's say you decide to give up one soft drink, or one Starbucks flavored coffee or Latte plus the bag of chips that you usually have for lunch; or that you give up the piece of pie or cake that you have with dinner. That's it. It's just that simple. Otherwise, just continue with the diet that you are accustomed to.

Then, with your exercise program that you have committed to (30 to 45 minutes five days a week in the "aerobic zone"), you are burning an extra 300 to 500 calories. At the high end of this scheme, you would have a "1000 calorie deficit" (the 500 fewer calories you take in and the 500 extra calories that you are burning). This would take you towards a faster weight loss and at the low end (250 fewer in and 300 burned) to a 550 calorie deficit. The latter plan would likely result in a one or two pound per week loss and the former a 2 to 4 pound loss.

This is not an exact science and, since everyone is different, daily flexibility and adjustment is required. Therefore a daily or every other day weigh in is essential. If the weight is not trending in the right direction, an adjustment is made, either in cutting out a few more calories from somewhere or increasing the duration or effort level of your exercise. This is the fine tuning that is the ultimate secret to the success of this approach. And this regular adjustment process should continue indefinitely. This daily/every other day weigh in serves to reinforce your program and remind you of your commitment to maintaining fitness and weight control.

So, there you have it. The exotic Smith plan for exercise and weight loss, otherwise known as the "Anti Diet Plan".

Your comments and dissenting opinions are always welcome...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exercise, Part IV: Injury Prevention, Stretching, Warm Up and Cool Down

Preventing injury is an often-neglected component of an exercise program but, when the basics are incorporated into your daily routine, you will be much less likely to spend time on the sidelines because of pulled muscles and other overuse injuries.

Warming up can be confusing to many who are starting out with an exercise program. But, there is nothing complicated about it. The basic tenets are simply to start slow and stay slow until your body is ready for the stress of the workout. This will allow your cardiovascular system to infuse all of your key muscles, and will get your heart and lungs functioning on "high alert" to endure the stress of the workout. For most people, this process involves exercising at appoximately half speed for about the first five minutes; then, if all seems well, you can move to full speed and complete your exercise session. Failure to properly warm up may result in a high degree of muscular stress on muscles and tendons that are still tight and not adequately vascularized, and render them much more susceptible to injury.

Cooling down is a good idea and is almost as important as warming up. What cool down accomplishes is allowing the body to reduce the heart rate and blood flow while, at the same time, reducing the amount of stress and work that the muscles are doing. During this time, the blood courses through the muscles and begins the work of cleansing toxic breakdown products such as lactic acid that can cause soreness and stiffness. It also provides a few relatively stress free minutes to concentrate on form and technique, which are also important, over the long haul, to staying in balance and avoiding injury.

What about stretching? How often should you do it? How should you do it? And, should you stretch before or after a workout? Stretching is important in maintaining optimum flexibility and preventing injury. Failure to stretch results in progressive shortening of the muscles and tendons to the point that, after years of exercising and not stretching, some people literally cannot completely straighten their legs. For walking, running and biking, the most important stretches are the legs. For tennis, weight lifting, handball and other upper body skills, arms and shoulders are most important. It's not that you shouldn't stretch all of these areas regardless, it's just that, if push comes to shove, it is much more critical for a biker to stretch his hamstrings and quads that it is for him to stretch his shoulders and arms.

Stretching should be done a minimum of 5 or 10 minutes three to four times a week. The preferred technique is "proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation", which involves alternating contraction and stretching of the muscle in question. I prefer to stretch hamstrings for 30 seconds, then the other side, returning the first one for a total of two stretches on each side. I do this by placing my heel about waist high and leaning over til I feel the stretch, alternating contraction and stretching to increase the amount of muscle lenthening that can be accomplished. I stretch the quads by holding on to my foot behind me, same way, 30 seconds on each side, repeat times one. Most people tend not to like to stretch and, so, they often avoid doing it, resulting in a very tight body that cannot perform optimally and is more prone to injury.

Next time, we'll talk about exercise and weight loss...

Your comments are always welcome.