Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Does Fitness = Gymness? (Part III: The Only Three Things You Need For Fitness)

I've spent a lot of time in gyms over the years.  When I was in college, the gym I went to was barely lit, had one working treadmill, a stationary bike from the 1950s, thousands of pounds of rusted free weights and one cable machine. Gyms in days of yore didn't have a lot of bells and whistles and yet people still managed to get a decent workout. 

Gyms today are different.  Every piece of cardio equipment has a built-in TV screen so everyone can watch their own programming (heck, one gym I belonged to a few years ago had built-in DVD players so you could bring movies.  My first thought was, "Does someone stay on the elliptical for 2 hours?!").  Treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals all have programs that mimic everything from beach running to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The weight machines are no less fancy.  There are specific pieces of equipment to work your calves, hamstrings, quads, biceps, triceps, low back, shoulders and wrists --all independently of course.  It seems that the technology boom has impacted the fitness industry as well.  I don't know if it's because we are convinced that technology improves our lives so thoroughly that it must also improve our fitness, or if we're all so addicted to technology that we can't conceive of spending a workout without it.

I think part of the reason why people dislike gyms is that the equipment is overwhelming.  The cardio machines have so many lights and buttons they might as well be computers, and then who knows what any of the weight machines actually do?  If you're new to fitness all of this can be intimidating.  No one wants to be the guy reading the instructions on the leg press machine or the gal who can't make the treadmill move.  Embarrassing.  And so two things happen.  First, (and most importantly), we assume that to be fit we have to have fancy equipment.  And second, if we're intimidated/don't like/can't afford the gym, we sit on our backsides.

But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, you can purchase (affordably) just three pieces of fitness equipment that surpass just about any piece of fancy gym equipment you would find in a traditional fitness facility and use these three items at home (or anywhere) thus avoiding the gym.

By now you're purchased your kettlebell and have the first vital piece of equipment.  Now for the final two pieces of equipment you're going to need:  a jump rope and a pull-up bar. 

The jump rope could be the Rodney Dangerfield of fitness, it doesn't get any respect.  I can't think of a more simple, inexpensive piece of equipment that provides such an excellent workout.  Jumping rope is an intense aerobic workout but also has the added benefit of targeting the shoulders, back and legs.  It's summer -- tell me you don't want rockin' arms and shoulders to be flaunting at the pool.  And jumping rope also helps us to improve our balance, coordination and agility.  As we age, many of us fear the day when we fall and break a hip.  Want to know the secret to not falling and breaking a hip at 65?  Don't fall.  You can accomplish that by working on your balance, coordination and agility now. Jump rope is the answer to hot arms, great fitness and not breaking a hip when you’re old. 

If someone asked me, "What's the single best all around exercise for fitness?" I would respond, "squats" -- but the SECOND best exercise would be pull ups.  Compound exercises are exercises that involve using more than one muscle group and more than one joint.  Pull ups are a shining example of a compound exercise (as is the squat, which is why it's number one in my book) which works back, shoulders, chest and arms.  Pull ups are hard, which is why a lot of people do bicep curls instead.  But by including pull ups in your regular exercise program, you will get stronger.  A lot stronger.  And for the record, look better naked.  If you can't do an unassisted pull up yet, fear not!  You can do assisted pull ups using bands or do jumping pull ups (stand on something so your head is just about at bar height then jump and pull yourself so your chin is over the bar).  By doing assisted pull up work, you will develop the strength to do strict pull ups in no time and then the sky is the limit. 

A gym membership can be a great investment for some people.  But I would argue that a more efficient and effective workout can be done at home (or anywhere) with just a kettlebell, jump rope and pull up bar.  Use these three tools consistently and I guarantee you'll be in the best shape of your life.  Use the $50 a month you would have spent on the gym and buy yourself a tiny little bathing suit to show-off your hard work.

Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences 
Monday, June 18, 2012

Does Fitness = Gymness? (Part II: Kettlebells, Comrades)

Just recently I was staying up too late watching my beloved New York Mets get trounced by some team or another.  During a commercial break, a very fit woman in a revealing spandex outfit appeared in an ad for the "Newest form of exercise training sweeping the country!"  For 30 seconds, the woman moved through a variety of exercises using what appeared to be a cannonball with a handle.  She swung the cannonball, pressed it over her head, did elegant one-handed passes...all her in spandex outfit.  Meanwhile, the announcer summarized the benefits of this "modern technology" that "not even large-scale national fitness facilities are using."

At the conclusion of the ad for this piece of wondrous modern fitness equipment, I laughed out loud (LOL'ed for those of you under 25) which was a welcome change from the tears I had heretofore been shedding during the game.  For those of you who might not recognize the description of a "cannonball with a handle", this comical late night fitness ad was for the kettlebell.  You may have seen these pieces of equipment advertised on late night TV or even for sale in large retail stores accompanied by DVD training videos.

What tickled my funny bone wasn't the woman in spandex but instead the description provided by the announcer that kettlebells are a “new and modern fitness training program.”  Kettlebells have been used for athletic training and fitness by our Russian Comrades since the 1700s.  Hardly "new and modern," Russians have been using kettlebells for hundreds of years as a component of strength competitions, military training, and post World War II as a component of Olympic training for a variety of sports.  Kettlebells are typically made from cast-iron and come in a variety of weights.  Traditional Russian kettlebells come in standard weights called POODs.  A POOD is equal to 35 pounds so a 1 POOD kettlebell is 35 lb while a 1.5 POOD kettlebell is ~53 pounds.  You get the idea. 

So what have the Russians known for hundreds of years that we in America just "discovered" in Y2K?  That kettlebells are awesome, Comrade!

One of the draws of a gym is the access that members have to strength training equipment.  But you don't need a gym or its machines, free weights or resistance bands when you have a kettlebell at home.  You have an entire gym in just one piece of equipment.  Tell me that doesn't beat a membership!

Kettlebell exercises are superior because you can use them for high or moderate intensity cardio training as well as strength training that works nearly every muscle in the body.  Doing ballistic exercises such as swings, snatches and clean & jerks are full body exercises that develop strength in the legs, shoulders and core all while jacking your heart rate up and burning a bunch of calories. 

If you want to be fit and never set foot in a gym again, I strongly urge you to buy a kettlebell.  They come in a variety of weights, but America, in typical American fashion, has created a line of "fitness bells" that are too light to maximize the full potential of the kettlebell.  I would recommend that ladies purchase either an 18 lb or 26 lb kettlebell to begin with.  For gentlemen, either a 35 lb or 44 lb.  The cost of kettlebells is such that as you become stronger you can easily purchase higher weights without significant economic burden.

How do you train once you have your kettlebell in hand?  Swings are the standard movement.  You'll want to educate yourself about proper form. Sure you could look-up videos on youtube, but I’d strongly suggest the book Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel which also includes several day-by-day training programs based on swings, cleans and presses.  And for the record, I have no financial interest in this book specifically or kettlebells in general so you won't be aiding me in any way other than my increasing my sense of satisfaction from knowing that there are more fit people in the world. 

When it comes to fitness, there are few things that match the versatility or effectiveness of kettlebell training.  I carry a 35 lb kettlebell in my car (which is strapped into the passenger seat with a seatbelt -- at 70 mph a loose kettlebell can do some damage, trust me!) so that when I travel, I can do a workout anywhere (you don't even need shoes).  Work hard and you can be done with a complete workout in less than 15 minutes -- I bet that's less time than it would take you to drive to the gym!

Happy training, Comrades!  

Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Does Fitness = Gymness? (Part I)

Pretend you're at a dinner party.  Imagine you're standing around the buffet line and making pleasant conversation.  Then imagine that the topic of exercise arises.  You have just met a new gentleman named Bob.  You take note of Bob's bulging biceps, flat stomach and round backside and determine that Bob is in great physical shape.  What do you ask Bob?  I bet you ask, "Which gym do you go to?"  In today's fast-paced, highly specialized and technologized (I made that up) world, fitness seems to always be equated with a gym membership.  This relationship, fitness = gym, is no doubt great for the fitness industry, but it can be discouraging for the majority of Americans who are not gym members.  When gyms have the lock-down on fitness, it tells us that we can only be fit if we're exercising at a gym.  That the only way to get healthier, slimmer, faster, stronger and sexier is to have a membership card and go to a building with fancy machines and equipment, the majority of which no one knows how to use. 

Let's imagine a different Bob.  We'll call him Bobby.  Bobby comes into my office one afternoon and informs me he has just returned from his physician's office.  Bobby is feeling discouraged because his physician is threatening to prescribe medication for Bobby's high blood pressure.  The doctor is giving him a 60 day grace period in which time Bobby has to demonstrate a commitment to exercise and  lose at least 15 pounds.  Bobby is glum.  Typically in this scenario (which is repeatedly almost weekly in my office) I ask Bobby what his exercise program looks like now.  Almost without exception, Bobby will tell me, "I don't exercise at all, I hate the gym."  If I had to estimate, I would say that 85% of my sedentary clients tell me, "I don't exercise because I hate the gym."

This is a problem. 

The gym can be a great tool in a fitness arsenal.  Inside the gym it never rains, is never too hot and there's always TV.  You can run, walk, ride a bike, pump some iron or workout with friends, all in one location.  You can learn new exercise programs from professionals and even hit the sauna.  Gyms can be a great resource.  But fitness doesn't = gym.

Millions of Americans can't afford the cost of a gym membership.  Millions more can't join one even if they can afford the cost because there isn't one in their community.  And more importantly, there are the millions of Americans who wouldn't go to the gym even if was free and next door to their home.  And so we have lots of Bobbies in the world who "don't exercise because they don't like the gym."

So I have good news for those of you who aren't gym members but still want to be healthier, slimmer, faster, stronger and sexier -- fitness does not = gym.  In this week's blog posts, I'm going to give you three simple and inexpensive pieces of equipment you can purchase that will bring the gym -- no, better than the gym -- right to your own home.
Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wild Medicine--Part III

Photo of Achillea millefolium L.
As promised, this last post on Wild Medicine is dedicated to a plant that helps stop bleeding.  Remember those skinned knees?  In addition to helping to arrest bleeding when used externally, it is also useful for colds, the flu, and breaking a fever when used internally.  You may even have it in your garden--right now!!

What is this beautiful and amazing plant?  It's Yarrow.

Achillea millefolium was historically used as an herb for the battlefield, specifically for its anti-hemorrhagic properties for wounds.  At the end of a day outside playing, my little ones sometimes look like they've come off a battlefield.  So they have learned how to identify Yarrow, crush the leaves and/or flowers well (much like Plantain), and apply to the bleeding area.  If they can do it, so can you!

Yarrow is found all over North America, although there are several varieties.  All are excellent for medicine however.  Even the pretty cultivated kind that you may have in your garden.  A member of the Sunflower family, they have small white flowers, and the most delicate feathery leaves.  They are often found along roadsides and meadows so keep your eyes open, they are in full bloom right now!

Use them for medicine, hang them up to dry, put them in a vase to beautify your home.  Just use them!  These plants can empower you to heal yourself in a deeply fulfilling and gentle way.

In Health,
Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Monday, June 11, 2012

Wild Medicine--Part II

 Skinned knees seem to be an everyday occurrence in my house in the last few weeks.  The first few weeks of shaky bikes rides with the kids, as they get the hang of flying on two wheels again, tends to bring lots of tears and lots of band-aids.  Luckily, you don't have to pack a whole box with you on that next hike or bike ride.  Instead, just look for plantain.

There are a few species of Plantago that are a great make-shift band aid.  Plantago laneolata  and Plantago major are the most common.  The broad leaves are used topically for wound healing, helping to reduce inflammation and soothe painful cuts and scrapes.  They can even soothe and heal burns!  After you pour a little water on the wound, simply grab a leaf, smush (a very technical term, I know) gently with your fingers, and apply to the wounded area.  Make sure to get that good juice in there! 
You can use another leaf or bandage to  cover the wound to facilitate healing.

Plantain is another wild medicine that is found everywhere in the U.S.  Just check your lawn, roadsides, meadows, or fields.  Try not to collect directly from the side of the road or on a lawn that has been sprayed by chemicals.  Look for long oval leaves, spreading from a central point, with parallel veins.  Of course, always be sure to properly ID a plant before you use it.  But I don't have to remind you of that.  Right?!

Gathering your wild band-aid will cheer those kids right up after a fall.  Especially if you combine it with another plant to stop bleeding--which I'll talk about next post. 

Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Friday, June 8, 2012

Wild Medicine--Part I

Summer seems to be officially upon us (well, almost officially). You know how I can tell?  The wild flowers have truly grown wild.  Many are in full bloom.  In the fields, in the forests, and in my unkempt backyard.  Truth be told I prefer an unkempt backyard.  Many wildflowers are actually wild medicine, which means my backyard is actually an apothecary. 

This week I'll be introducing you to some of these wonderful wild medicines.  Many of them you are probably familiar with.  Ever search for a four-leaf clover?  They not only bring good luck, but good health as well.  Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms in particular are an incredibly powerful medicine.  It is primarily used as an alterative, or blood cleanser, but has great applications as an antispasmodic as well.  Why clean the blood?  To increase circulation, improve urine output, and increase bile that's why!  Hint: These are all key factors in detoxification.  The antispasmodic properties of red clover helps ease summer colds by loosening up phlegm and calming pesky coughs.  Not only that, but it contains a high amount of nutrients (think super multi-vitamin) and is well-known for its benefits for fertility.

Another great thing about this herb is that it is everywhere!  Every state in the U.S., in fact.  Usually blooming from early summer through early fall, it is hard to over-harvest.  Gather the bright pink blossoms just after the dew has dried up, always leaving the third blossom alone.  Even wild medicine needs to be harvested ethically!  Avoid gathering right near roadsides, instead diving deep into your favorite field, meadow, or wild backyard space.  You can dry them to use in tea or other herbal preparation, or simply eat them raw.  Be sure to research contraindications in your favorite herb book, and have fun!  Wild medicine hunting is a great way to connect with nature and yourself.

Happy Gathering!

Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Assessing the quality of your diet

Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
FT Faculty: Health & Wellness & Nutrition Dept

Summer is almost here! Time to trade in the sweats and long pants for shorts and summer dresses. Reading this may send some of you into a panic as you  wonder if you are ready to shed those layers. For many people the instinct is to jump on to some quick fix drastic diet that eliminates food groups or has you eating nothing but ho-ho’s for a week. Instead of doing that, think about taking a more reasonable approach to assessing your diet. Small, targeted changes that are sustainable can add up to big results in terms of long term health and weight management.
Nutrient Density. Do you know what this term means and if you do are your actively apply the principle? A nutrient dense diet is something akin to choosing high octane fuel for your car over the regular unleaded. Octane is a measure of anti-knock properties, i.e. performance and the higher the octane generally the higher the performance. The same goes with your diet: fuel up with nutrient dense choices and power your body through a long day of work with energy left over to go to the gym while at the same time decreasing your risk for a host of chronic diseases.
Make a commitment to add an extra serving of fruit and/or vegetable to each meal and snack:
·         Eat the skins of your potatoes and leave them on when making mashed potatoes.
·         Substitute spaghetti squash for pasta and top with your favorite sauce and diced vegetables.
·         Choose whole fruits over juice the majority of the time.
·         Buy whole carrots and eat the skin instead of buying baby carrots.
·         Add dried apricots to your whole wheat couscous.
·         Grill fruits like peaches and pears along with your vegetables.
·         Add fruit to your salad – dried cranberries, fresh raspberries and mandarin oranges work well.
·         Add spinach and peppers to your omelet.
·         How about adding fruit to plain yogurt instead of buying the fruit yogurt?
·         Snack on hummus and veggies.
·         Make green smoothies for breakfast or snacks by adding a handful of kale or spinach to some yogurt or protein powder. Throw in a few dried dates to make it thick.
·         Start your lunch and dinners with broth based low-sodium vegetable soup or try it as a snack.
·         Add a layer of vegetables to your lasagna.
·         Make a puree base of vegetables, fruits or beans and add to just about everything. The Sneaky Chef has some great free recipes http://www.thesneakychef.com/free_sneaky_chef_recipes.php
You can also make some targeted changes when it comes to upping the quality of your protein intake:
·         Substitute a starch like a potato for a serving of beans.
·         Ever try beans for breakfast? In many cultures this is the norm.
·         Trade in the dark meat for white meat.
·         Grill and broil your meats instead of frying them and use olive oil instead of butter.
·         Include fatty fish twice a week.
·         Include a vegetarian protein based meal once or twice a week.
Then there are the grains. Aim to make most of your choices whole and unprocessed:
·         Choose whole grains for everything: pasta, couscous, rice, barley, pastry and regular baking flour, hot and cold breakfast cereals. You may have to look a bit harder but whole grain versions do exist!
·         Mix up your grains and try quinoa, millet, amaranth and bulgur. They can all be substituted in place of rice.
As we embark on another summer, make a commitment to up the quality of your diet. If you have a tip to share I would love to hear it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Health Benefits of Hemp

Health Benefits of Hemp
Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
FT Faculty: Health & Wellness & Nutrition Dept

I am a huge fan of hemp products and since they are gaining in popularity I thought I would dispel some myths, state some facts and share my personal experiences. I first got turned on to hemp products over a year ago when I was searching for another vegan alternative to soy protein powder. I wanted a product that was organic and free of harsh chemicals like the hexane that is used when processing soy. And if the products were produced in a way that was good for the environment, that would be fantastic! Enter hemp!
For many people when they hear the word “hemp” they automatically conjure up images of magical brownies or think that hemp is something that needs to be stashed somewhere inconspicuous. Hemp, or industrial hemp, is from the same plant as cannabis sativa however, hemp manufacturers eliminate all but traces of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). I guess that can be taken as good or bad news depending on your preferences. Because of this image problem, Canada has really taken the lead in this market capturing a good part of the US market share.
So what’s so great about hemp?
There are lots of things that are great about hemp including the nutritional content, the low environmental impact, its versatility and taste. I have tried just about all of the different hemp products available including the hemp butter, hemp oil, hemp seed, the high fiber hemp powder, the regular hemp protein powder, the high protein hemp powder, hemp beverage and several varieties of the shakes. So in terms of nutrition, hemp has many things going for it: it is vegan, gluten free, soy free, high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to health and need to be consumed through diet, and is a good source of highly digestible protein. The fats are in a 4:1 ratio which is thought to be ideal for health. Hemp also has two other omega fats, stearodonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) that are absent from many other foods.  In addition, most manufacturers certify that their products are organic which means no harsh chemicals or genetically modified organisms. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that hemp oil and butter should not be used for cooking and when baking with the powder the oven temperature should not exceed 350⁰F. High temperatures degrade hemps properties.
Looks good on paper, what about taste?
Personally I love the taste which is earthy and somewhat nutty and don’t mind the green color one bit. For me and for many people, hemp is easier to digest then soy or animal proteins like whey or casein. Hemp is high in fiber too so it digests slowly making it a good food for keeping blood sugar in check. Manitoba Harvest http://www.manitobaharvest.com/ and Nutiva http://nutiva.com/ are my favorite eco-friendly companies and brands. I use the Hempshakes for smoothies, the high protein hemp in oats, the chia and hemp seeds in baking and in smoothies, and the high fiber hemp in baking. I even have one of my original muffin recipes on the Nutiva site. Check it out: http://nutiva.com/?s=acai+muffins
Bottom Line
While some researchers argue that the plant form of the omega fats found in hemp are not converted efficiently in the human body and that it should not be overlooked that the oil, nuts, and butter are nutrient dense (i.e. high in calories), hemp still stands head and shoulders above the many processed foods that crowd our plates. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, allergen free, contains highly digestible protein, is high in fiber, is produced using sustainable agriculture, does not contain harsh chemicals or is organic and is extremely versatile. Have fun exploring hemp and  be sure to post a comment if it try it!

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Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
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