Archive for Fitness

Diet Drugs – A Miracle Cure?

Obesity is one of the most difficult and frustrating disorders to successfully manage, and is one of the most common disorders in clinical practice. Defined as a body weight 20% or more above “desirable” weight, over one-third of adult Americans are overweight, with approximately 50% of women dieting at any one time. Americans also spent over $30 billion last year on diet books, diet meals, weight-loss classes, diet drugs, exercise tapes, and other weight-loss aids.

Some women, in the search for a “miracle cure,” have turned to over-the-counter diet drugs such as Acutrim and Dexatrim (phenylpropranolamine), which is a stimulant. Stimulants are substances which get the body ready for the “fight or flight” response; as diet aids, they are thought to activate the central nervous system to reduce food intake.

Acutrim and Dexatrim are chemically related to amphetamine. If you remember, years ago amphetamine was prescribed for weight loss because it suppresses the appetite. When I was 16 years old, and maybe 10 pounds overweight, my mother took me to the doctor to “see what he could do.” He put me on amphetamines – “speed,” as we called it. I think I took it two days before stopping – I was so hyper, I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d be cleaning my bedroom at 2:00 a.m.! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not “blaming my mother” for this; back in the 1970’s, we weren’t as educated about safe, healthy weight-loss techniques as we are today. Amphetamines often led to drug abuse, so pharmacologists rearranged its molecular structure to develop comparable, but safer, compounds. One of those is phenylpropanolamine, the active ingredient in Acutrim and Dexatrim – the only FDA approved over-the-counter weight-loss drug. Others include the active ingredients in several prescription weight-loss medications: Tenuate, Mazanor, Sanorex, Fastin, Ionamin, Bontrilk Plegine, Clenbuterol and Didrex.

When used in a weight loss program that includes a low-fat diet and exercise, Acutrim and Dexatrim can increase weight loss by a small amount (about 5%). However, weight loss is usually not permanent after these drugs are discontinued.

Possible side effects of Acutrim and Dexatrim include nervousness, irritability, headaches, sweating, dry mouth, nausea, and constipation. You also should not take these drugs if you are also taking any antidepressant with an MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor.

Diet aids such as Acutrim and Dexatrim should not be used for more than three months. Even small doses of phenylpropanolamine can cause increased blood pressure by constricting your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate.

It becomes obvious that choosing diet drugs is not the solution for long-term weight loss and a healthy body. The importance of exercise for successful weight loss and maintenance is more firmly incorporated. In addition to increased energy expenditure, exercise affects the composition of the body substance lost during weight loss. When exercise is directly compared to diet, or when exercise plus diet is compared to diet alone, exercise results in greater prevention of lean body mass. For example, for each pound of weight lost, less fat and more muscle is lost during weight loss programs without exercise. This is meaningful since the body’s resting metabolic expenditure is closely utilized with lean body mass.

Because of the interest in starting or preserving lean body mass, women are turning more and more to resistance training (weight lifting, circuit training, etc.). Couple this with regular aerobic exercise, and you will see results and benefits of improved cardiovascular health, decreased appetite, a general sense of well-being, decreased blood pressure (in hypertensives), improved glucose metabolism and insulin action (in diabetics), and improved blood lipids (in lipid disorders).

So why turn to drugs with potentially dangerous side effects to lose a little bit of weight, when you can choose to eat a healthy, low-fat diet and exercise for better health – and keep the weight off for good?

Connecting With Bob Greene

If you’re looking for some motivating and inspirational reading about fitness and health, look no further than Bob Greene‘s books–Make the Connection, and the latest one, Keep the Connection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bob Greene, he is an exercise physiologist and personal trainer specializing in fitness, metabolism, and weight loss. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arizona and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. He is also the fitness correspondent for “Good Morning America” and writes and lectures on health, fitness, weight loss, and motivation, and has been a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Bob and Oprah met in 1992, and that’s when Oprah’s life changed. He showed her how to eat, how to exercise, and how to live in a new way. Oprah was at her heaviest weight ever–237 pounds.

In Make the Connection, the first book that Bob and Oprah co-wrote, they walk you through the ten steps toward a happier and healthier existence, with tons of encouragement and personal stories of Oprah’s own trials in the “battle of the bulge.” Bob starts the book with chapters such as, “Why We Eat,” “Becoming Self-Aware,” “The Purpose of Body Fat,” and “The Physics of Body Weight.” He goes on to explain the ten steps–which are to exercise aerobically, five to seven days each week; exercise in the zone (at a level seven or eight); exercise for 20 to 60 minutes each session; eat a low-fat, balanced diet each day; eat three meals and two snacks each day (healthy ones, of course); limit or eliminate alcohol; stop eating two to three hours before bedtime; drink six to eight glass of water each day; have at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day; and renew your commitment to healthy living each day. This book has sold millions of copies and has become an inspirational classic.

Now, in his new book, Keep the Connection, Bob shows how to keep the momentum going, and it’s truly inspiring. First, he encourages you with a section on how to get started and how to move to the next degree of mental and physical fitness. He talks a lot about the choices we make in life. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the book:

“It’s important to understand how the choices you make affect your life. You are, in essence, what you choose. We don’t always realize it, but we are constantly making choices. Life is made up of millions of choices made in every moment of every day of every year in your life. That is how you create who you are–by the choices you make. Look in the mirror. Take a good look at yourself, and understand that you have created this person through all of your decisions throughout your lifetime.

So many people think that to lose weight and get fit, they simply have to alter their choices on diet and exercise. They do. But they also have to take a good, honest look at themselves. And that is probably the most difficult thing to do. You must be willing to look inside yourself to see what needs changing. Then you have to find the strength within to change permanently. In many cases, doing this involves admitting that you have made poor choices in your life. For many of you, this will be a painful admission. It’s painful but necessary!

Embracing this concept is essential to accomplishing what you want and, more importantly, keeping what you want. It’s a crucial element in the new foundation you’re building. You create yourself through choice.”

Then Bob takes you step by step, explaining certain exercise moves and rooting for you along the way–from ab routines to weight machines, to working in “the zone.” He also includes instructions and photos on each exercise, including stretches.

Lastly, the book concludes with an entire section of healthy, delicious recipes. He claims the meals will leave you feeling satisfied, and in addition to the weight loss benefits, there are also health benefits of lower cholesterol and better heart health.

Let today be your day to make the wise choice of either making the connection, or keeping it.

Truthful Talk On Treadmills

Are you tired of waiting in long lines for use of the treadmill at the gym? Or maybe it’s too much of a hassle to drive back and forth to the health club just to use the treadmill, so you decide to buy a treadmill of your own. You head to your local sports-equipment store or the big discount warehouse, try out the different machines, and buy the one that feels best to you. That simple?

How do you know whether it’ll hold up for several years? Will its electrical system and display go haywire? Will the motor burn out? Or will it end up as an extra clothes rack in the corner of your bedroom because it gave up instead of you?

In the September 1999 issue of “Cooking Light” magazine, it states that The American Council on Exercise (ACE), a nonprofit organization that describes itself as America’s “workout watchdog,” recently teamed up with Harris Black International, a leading market-research firm, to conduct a comprehensive home-treadmill survey designed to help you eliminate the lemons in the lineup.

In an Internet survey, more than 7,000 current treadmill owners rated their machines in overall satisfaction and in four specific categories: durability, safety, features and ease of use, and effectiveness of workout. Thirty-four brands were involved, but only seven brands made the A-list. Treadmills cited for overall satisfaction won at least one of the smaller categories–the exceptions are Trimline’s 1400.1 and 2200.1 models, which won solely for durability.

The winners for overall satisfaction, by price:

  • Less than $1200: ProForm swept the category with the following five models: the J8li, the 785EX, the 725EX, the CrossTrainer, and the CrossWalk LS.
  • $1200 to $2000: The PaceMaster Pro-Plus HR shared top honors with three Keys models: the Pro 1000, the Pro 2000, and the MS1200.
  • More than $2000: A triple tie at this price point: the Landice 8700 SST, the Precor M9.25I, and the True Fitness True 450.

Some details to consider when picking out a treadmill:

  • The thickness of the running belt. Two-ply belts are stronger and less likely to curl at the sides than are one-ply belts.
  • The length of the running surface. Longer decks provide more room for a comfortable stride.
  • The percentage of incline. It can range from a low of 2-4%, to a high of 15%. Commercial-grade treadmills often go as high as 25%.
  • Electronic feedback displays of speed, time, and distance are usually standard on most treadmills. Some also display the number of calories burned or heart rate. Most treadmills offer customizable programming capabilities.

Retail purchases of treadmills are up since the increased popularity of walking as an exercise. While running has been a favored American activity since the 1970’s, walking has come into the limelight in the 1990’s; in part because it’s a low-impact exercise that less-fit and older people can do easily.

Whether you walk or run on a treadmill, it’s an activity that has numerous health and physical benefits. “It has great cardiovascular value for the heart, lungs, and circulatory system,” notes Gregory Florez, president of First Fitness, Inc., a Chicago personal-training and consulting firm. “It’s a very efficient way to lose body fat, and since it’s a weight-bearing activity, it has musculoskeletal benefits as well.” If you run on a treadmill at 5.5 to 6.5 m.p.h. with no incline, you will work the quads, hamstrings, and calves. If you don’t watch TV or read, try to keep your arms bent 90 degrees and pumping hard. Or combine your treadmill workouts with a climbing machine for an excellent fat burner.

If you walk on a treadmill at a speed of 3.4 to 4.5 m.p.h. with a 5% incline, you will work the same muscles as above, plus the glutes. Beginners, as well as advanced exercisers, should walk heel-to-toe on the treadmill and keep high intensity throughout the workout.

Virtual technology may be coming to home treadmills. A company in Minneapolis, Minnesota is developing a virtual reality product for stationary bikes, steppers, ski machines, and treadmills. Called, “The Virtue Series,” these CD-ROM virtual “worlds” will enable treadmill users to pretend they’re walking on a desert at sunset or jogging on an alien planet.

Given the convenience of home-based fitness equipment, and the great physical benefits of a treadmill workout, the addition of a technology that can turn a walk into an exotic excursion might just convince you to run out (no pun intended) and buy a treadmill for your home.

Perspiration And Inspiration

I have good news: even the most disciplined and motivated exercisers wane from their fitness routine once in awhile. There are plenty of excuses available, but I will fess up and let you know mine. I live in northern Illinois where the past couple of weeks have been excessively hot and humid – in fact, 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit with the heat index. Normally I would be outdoors riding my bike or going for a walk, but these activities would be dangerous in this kind of heat and humidity. What about the health club? My membership expired as I was on vacation, busy with the kids, and was lacking the money to renew the membership. I don’t own any home exercise equipment, nor am I a big fan of exercise videos. Granted, I am active in my home with day-to-day activities – and I even used handheld weights to do some semblance of strength-training – but it wasn’t the same as a full workout outdoors or at the health club. According to Chad Tackett, the President of Global Health and Fitness, including exercise into your busy schedule will be an adjustment, and staying motivated will be equally challenging. However, when you begin achieving great results, the excitement and fun you experience will make the change well worth the effort. Action creates motivation!

The following ideas will boost your motivation and keep it at a high level:

  1. Schedule your workouts. You should have a large calendar in a prominent place in your home or keep an appointment book – use it! Your workouts should be like an important appointment, because that’s exactly what they are. If you exercise on the same days, at the same time, you create a routine and not exercising will feel unnatural.
  2. Set short-term goals to ultimately reach your long-term goals. For instance, if your long-term goal is to walk three miles, four times a week, then set short-term weekly goals at first. Start out with one mile until that becomes comfortable, then move up to 1 ½ miles the next week, etc. For strength- training, either increase your weight or the number of reps every few weeks. On the other hand, make sure your goals are attainable. If your expectations are set too high, you will be setting yourself up for failure, due to frustration. Equally, make sure that your goals are not too easy. When you reach your goal, your own satisfaction will create more motivation.
  3. Add variety to your routine by trying a new form of exercise. If you always work out with barbells, try the machines next time. If you always walk, try bike riding. If you use a stationary bike, use the treadmill or stair machine. If you like aerobic exercise videos, try the new Tae Bo tapes.
  4. Ask a friend or family member to join you. It could be as simple as asking someone to join you on a daily walk, or as challenging as competition: use a timer and see if you or your exercise partner can walk a 13-minute mile. One evening last week, I hopped on my bike and rode 1-½ miles in five minutes. I stopped a minute for a water break (this was in the excessive heat I mentioned at the beginning of this article!), then did it again. When I got home, I challenged my husband to beat my time. He got on my bike and rode the 1-½ mile loop – in the same time!
  5. Keep a workout log. An exercise diary can be very inspiring when you can go back and see how far you’ve come. If you desire, you can also record your weight and measurements once a month.

Honestly, I’ve been missing my exercise routine. Even though I haven’t gained any weight, I “feel” heavier and more sluggish – my energy level has waned. This evening there was a lull in the heat wave, and with a smile on my face, I jumped on my bike and went for a short, but fast ride. You know what? It felt great – and I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow. Action creates motivation!

Walking – The Perfect Eexercise

Want a workout that’ll burn calories and give you cardiovascular benefits? Where you won’t need any expensive exercise equipment, and can be done just about anywhere, anytime?

Think walkingfitness walking. Personally, I try to fit walking into my fitness routine several days a week (other days I bicycle). I walk around my neighborhood, at the nearby State Park, or on the treadmill at the health club. Last week I was on vacation in Wisconsin, and enjoyed several walks in this scenic state, including one with my husband and mother. We talked the whole time, which made the time go faster and the walk easier.

I know there are a lot of women who find it hard to fit exercise into their already-busy schedule. However, walking is easy to fit into a schedule. Rise ½ hour earlier and relish the early morning sunshine (or sunrise, as the case may be!) and the time alone. Take a quick walk on your lunch hour, or right after work before the evening “rush hour” begins. Have a baby? Push the baby in a stroller. Have small children that can’t be left home alone? Bring them with you. Granted, you may not be able to walk as fast as when you’re alone, but some exercise is better than none. Besides, you will be an example to your children by showing them that exercise is important, and they’ll relish the time with you.

Although starting a walking program is as easy as walking out the front door, sticking with the program is another matter. It’s easy to get bored or come up with excuses: “It’s raining.” “It’s snowing.” “My walking partner quit.” “My route isn’t interesting anymore.” If the weather is lousy, head for the mall, treadmill, or indoor track. It’s easy to change locations – you can even drive to a different neighborhood and walk there – new scenery, new people. You can also incorporate more walking into your everyday routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from a store or office entrance.

If you are a newbie to exercise, starting out slowly is best, especially if you’re seriously overweight, have a medical condition, or are recovering from surgery. If this is the case, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program – even walking. It’s probably the safest form of exercise, as there’s little chance of developing shin splints, torn muscles, cartilage or ligaments. “About the only way you can hurt yourself is by tripping on the sidewalk,” says Robert Vaughn, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the Tom Landry Sports Medicine and Research Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. “Walking and running,” he continues to say, “both burn approximately 100 calories an hour. Because people can run two miles in the time it takes to walk one mile, they think running is twice as effective. But if they had walked two miles, they would have burned the same amount of calories as if they had run two miles!” Walking is also kinder to your knees, veins, and joints than running, as you won’t get that “jarring” effect.

Start out with some gentle stretches before your workout – this keeps your body flexible, increases your general coordination, and warms your muscles which reduces your chances of injury – then try for a 15-minute walk. Once that feels comfortable, work up to 30 minutes, and finally, up to 45 minutes. In subsequent weeks, you can increase the distance walked in 45 minutes, which will give you a better aerobic workout and increase muscle tone.

Remember to stand up straight and look directly ahead, not down at the ground. Keep your steps short and fast, with your heel being the first part of your foot to hit the ground. Roll along the length of your foot and push off with your toes.

A couple of “do’s and don’ts” to maintain your program:

  • DO drink a lot of water – at least eight 8 oz. glasses per day. You may even want to carry a small water bottle with you when walking, especially if it’s a hot day. Also, for every extra 10 pounds you’re overweight, drink another 8 oz. glass of water.
  • DON’T use hand or ankle weights. These throw off your natural gait, which can cause muscle strain or injury.
  • DO wear comfortable, well-fitting athletic shoes. See my previous article on how to pick the best pair of athletic shoes for yourself (“Put Your Best Foot Forward” – June 22, 1999).

Continue your walking program and you will find yourself with lower blood pressure, more energy, stronger leg muscles, better quality of sleep, reduced stress, and natural weight loss.

PUMP IT UP!

When you think of going to a gym and lifting weights or working out on Nautilus machines, do you picture big, sweaty young men in bulging tank tops? Think again! Weight lifting and strength training are a necessary part of a woman’s fitness routine, and from the looks of it at the health club I attend, the women there agree with me. On any given day, there are as many women as men “pumping iron.”

Strength building exercises are important for everyone as they age, especially so for women, as they have more fat and less muscle than men. According to Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., the author of “Strong Women Stay Young,” women face a greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause when they lose the natural protection of estrogen. Most women begin to lose bone and muscle mass at about age 40; in part because of this, they start to become less active.

Inactive adults lose about one-half pound of muscle per year, and since women continue to eat as much as usual, these extra calories get stored as fat. A pound of fat takes up more room than a pound of muscle; so as you lose muscle and gain fat, your weight might remain steady, but your waistline & hips will expand!

Experts say strength training is as important, and maybe even more important, to fat loss and overall health than aerobic exercise. That is due to the resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the number of calories burned by the body while at rest. A pound of muscle burns 35 to 50 calories a day compared with only two calories from a pound of fat. Women tend to choose aerobic activity over strength training, especially when they’re short on time, because it burns the greatest number of calories. However, adding muscle will raise your RMR and will increase the chance that fat loss will be maintained. Also, with aerobic exercise, the RMR is elevated temporarily – only up to a few hours afterwards. Strength training elevates the RMR permanently.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, and author of “Building Strength and Stamina” and “Strength Training Past 50” says in one of his studies, more than 700 women performed about 25 minutes of strength training (13 Nautilus exercises) and 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (treadmill or cycle) 2 or 3 times a week for two months. On average, they added almost 2 pounds of muscle and lost about 4 pounds of fat. They also increased their muscle strength by over 40 percent, which greatly enhanced their physical abilities and performance levels.

Women traditionally exercise from the waist down, due to battling traditional problem areas such as the hips, buttocks, and thighs. But by balancing your workout by adding upper-body strengthening, you will appear less bottom-heavy with more defined shoulders and a stronger upper back.

When starting with a strength training routine, you need to warm up for at least 5 minutes before each workout by walking, biking or stair-climbing at a light pace. Cold muscles are stiff, and if you go straight into your workout without warming up, they can tighten up and make your workout painful, as well as increasing the risk of injury.

If you’re new to strength training, start out with less weight than you think you should. The first few repetitions should feel easy and you should be able to maintain this weight for 10-12 repetitions with the final 2-3 repetitions being challenging. You can increase the weight when the last few reps are no longer challenging, which will probably be a few weeks. After your workout, it is just as important as the workout itself, to stretch each muscle group and hold for at least 20 seconds.

In 4-6 weeks, you will notice more defined upper arms and legs and squared, instead of rounded, shoulders. Your clothes will fit better, people will probably start asking if you’ve lost weight, and you will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, not quite)!

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Last week, I was in the market for a new pair of shoes. I had been exercising in year-old, cheap shoes that were looking quite worn. Seeing there’s a whole slew of different types of shoes to choose from (running, walking, aerobic, tennis, cross-trainers), I did some research on-line as to what type of shoe I would need. I found that since I do a combination of regular exercise – walking, light jogging, biking, using the Stairmaster, weight-training, and sometimes playing soccer or basketball with my children – my best choice was a cross-trainer.

You may be wondering if all these different varieties of shoes are really necessary. According to Dr. Stephen Pribut, a leading Washington, DC podiatrist, you do need to protect your feet and joints with the right shoes that fit properly. You also need to replace them every 3-12 months, or every 300-500 miles (depending on the activity). However, there is no sure-fire formula since so much depends on size, weight and sport. A lighter-weight woman who only walks or does aerobics may have shoes lasting longer than a taller, heavier-weight woman who plays basketball. This is an area where “pennywise and pound-foolish” couldn’t be more true. Injuries from worn-out shoes are particularly tough on runners who experience the greatest impact on their feet, next to basketball players, according to research by Nike’s product research department.

Stress fractures, shin splints, cartilage breakdown, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and injury to the plantar muscle in the foot are some of the injuries that can occur with exercise that involves shock waves from the foot hitting the ground.

Perry Julien, the Atlanta podiatrist who was in charge of athletes’ foot care for the 1996 Olympic Games confirms the importance of shoes. “Probably 15% of the injuries I see are related to ill-fitting, improper or worn-out shoes”, he says.

So – how to choose the proper shoe for you? Consider the different types:

  • The running shoe: not only a choice for running, but also good for walking. Do not use for basketball, tennis, racquetball, aerobics, or other activities with excessive jumping, because they lack adequate support around the ankles.
  • Basketball & tennis shoes: should offer good traction, ankle support and firm cushioning. Some new models have flared soles to not only offer extra ankle support, but to prevent the kind of ankle roll-overs that result in torn ligaments and sprained or broken ankles.
  • Cross-trainers: an economical alternative to buying different shoes for every sport. These can be worn for running, walking, racquet sports, aerobics, and indoor-court sports such as basketball and volleyball. Serious runners are best off wearing the specifically designed running shoes, because cross-trainers lack the sufficient amount of cushioning and ankle support required for regular jogging.
  • The walking shoe: designed for the race-walker. If you jog as well as walk for exercise, these are expensive and needless. In this case, stick with the running shoe, as they provide more wiggle room for your toes.
  • Aerobic shoes: provide overall good support, a firm yet flexible sole, and are well cushioned. Choose the hi-top variety if you have ankle problems.

Now that you know which type of shoe is best for you, proper fit is of the next importance.

Here are some pointers:

  • You should have at least a thumbnail’s width between your toes and the end of the shoe. Your foot will expand during the day, particularly after a run, so select your shoes later in the day, or after a run.
  • They should fit snug, without pinching or slipping.
  • The arch supports should provide a good fit, support and comfort.
  • Try on several different brands; they all fit differently. From personal experience, I found that Nike runs narrower than other brands. Walk around in each shoe to see what feels best for you.
  • If you choose a specialty store, take in your old shoes. An experienced salesperson can tell a lot about your gait pattern from used shoes, and can guide you to a shoe best for you.

As for myself, I’m enjoying the comfort of my new, proper-fitting, cushiony shoes, and using my old ones for mowing the lawn!

Bone Up For Better Health

If you’re already working out or following an exercise program, most likely you’re focusing on muscle and fat. But underneath that muscle and fat are your bones. Your bones don’t respond “visibly” to your exercise routine, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important for overall health. Exercise has a great influence on your bone health, appearance, and well being.

Osteoporosis (gradual loss of bone mass), is a common affliction in women. It leads to smaller bones, shorter height, a “hunch back” look, and the possibility of broken bones after middle age. With osteoporosis, bones become less dense, and therefore less strong. According to Sue Grossbauer, RD, the risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause, when estrogen levels decline. In fact, about half of all women over age 50 develop bone fractures as a result of osteoporosis.

To protect bones, medical researchers recommend a routine that includes at least one of three types of exercise:

  • Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, skiing, jumping rope, and dancing. These types of exercises are more apt to improve bone mass than any other physical activity, as they put both gravitational and muscular stress on your bones.
  • High-impact exercise – tennis, baseball, and soccer.
  • Weight lifting – resistance training, weight machines or dumbbells. Even household chores that require carrying heavy items, such as groceries and children, are included in this category.

If you’re currently not involved in an exercise program, or you simply want to add more physical activity to your daily routine, then:

  • Walk more often – to the store, work, social events. Get off the bus a few stops earlier. If you drive to the store, park far from the entrance.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • While watching TV, use the treadmill or exercise bike. Or do stomach crunches and light calisthenics.

Of course, exercise is only one aspect of keeping your bones healthy. You also need enough calcium and vitamin D. Don’t wait until menopause to start thinking about calcium – developing bone mass in your younger years gives you the reserve to draw on later. When thinking about calcium, most women automatically think “milk”. Sure, low-fat milk is a good choice, but there are other foods that give you the calcium needed to keep your bones strong.

  1. Yogurt and frozen yogurt offer 200-400 mg./cup of calcium. To maximize nutrition, top with slices of fresh or canned fruit. Make dips for veggies with plain, low-fat or no-fat yogurt, using your own spices (dill, onion, garlic – or a Ranch powder).
  2. Soy foods are gaining in popularity – not only is soy good for your bones; it’s very heart-healthy, too. Tofu has 250 mgs. per half cup and calcium-fortified soy milk has 200-500 mgs. per 8 oz. Firm tofu can be chopped up and used in stir-fries; silken tofu can be blended with fruit in a blender for a nutritious, calcium-packed smoothie, or blended with spices to make a great dip for cut-up veggies.
  3. Enjoy naturally high-calcium foods such as sardines or canned salmon. Dark green veggies are another source – kale, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, chicory, broccoli and acorn squash. Get creative with legumes – chickpeas & pinto beans. Sprinkle almonds on top of your oatmeal. Make desserts using figs or blackstrap molasses.
  4. Use low-fat cheese on sandwiches, make quesadillas for a quick lunch or dinner, or sprinkle some cheese on a salad (use fresh spinach to really give your salad a boost of calcium!).
  5. For a nutritious snack, whip up a smoothie in the blender using milk or yogurt, and some fruit. Or have a piece of string cheese and some crackers. How about a nutritious, low-fat muffin with a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice?

If you are concerned about getting enough calcium – maybe you don’t drink milk or eat some of the foods mentioned above – taking a calcium supplement is a must. However, it is NOT a substitute for high calcium foods, so eating the right foods is a better choice.

To get the best calcium absorption, take only 500 milligrams at one time. Your body may not be able to absorb larger doses at one time. Take calcium pills with meals to make sure your stomach acid breaks down the supplement. Calcium citrate is generally easier to break down.

If your calcium supplement doesn’t contain vitamin D, you should take 200-400 units of vitamin D per 1000 mgs. of calcium, as vitamin D is necessary for the efficient absorption of calcium.

Taking the antacid, Tums after each meal is an easy way to reach your calcium goal. Consult your doctor to find out which type of supplement is best for you.

Take care of your bones and they will provide you with the strong, sturdy frame needed for life. No bones about it!

Taking The Plunge

Think of a child and how much enjoyment he or she gets out of the water. Babies splashing in the tub, children running into the waves at the beach or playing and shouting in the pool are images that usually come to mind. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to swim in a hotel pool with my family, and we had a great time. You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the water and receive an effective workout at the same time.

Swimming ranks as high as walking as one of the near-perfect exercises for women. It’s also often the number one choice of exercise for those with limitations or without, as it creates no stress on joints like impact activities such as walking or jogging sometimes produce. Aquatic exercise is the wave of the future for fitness, as well as for rehabilitation from injuries. Because water provides buoyancy and support for the body, when you are neck deep in water, you only have to support 10% of your body parts. In fact, if you’re already having trouble with your knees, hips, or lower back, swimming may be one of the only exercises that will work well for you.

Water provides more resistance than air because of its density. Your muscles have to work much harder in water than they do in air. Water workouts can be just as intense as those done on land. But unlike land, water cushions joints, decreasing injury risk. In addition, the compression caused by water’s density decreases edema and swelling.

Swimming‘s benefits don’t end there. Due to its non-impact nature, swimming is often an excellent form of exercise for those who suffer from arthritis or back injuries. For those who suffer from asthma, swimming in an enclosed pool is ideal, because it’s done in a warm, humid setting.

If you’re overweight, swimming is easier than many land exercises. The water lifts you and gives you freedom of movement. If you’re pregnant, you’ll enjoy the same benefits and will find swimming a great way to stay fit.

For some women, swimming can be an incentive to stay fit. If you can’t get away with a baggy t-shirt hanging over your bathing suit, you’ll probably find yourself using extra care to pass up a brownie or bag of chips if you know you’re going to be wearing your bathing suit tomorrow.

In some sports, you might feel self-conscious or uncoordinated if you can’t master the same moves the experts do. But with swimming, you don’t have to be good at it. If you can’t do the butterfly stroke, so what? If you do the crawl, the backstroke or sidestroke, or even the doggie paddle – you’ll still reap fitness benefits and enjoy yourself.

By working your large muscle groups – legs and arms – swimming burns plenty of calories. It also strengthens your heart and lungs, and boosts your endurance if you keep at it. If you keep in motion at least 20-30 minutes at least three times a week, you will find yourself on the road to a new level of cardiovascular fitness. And more often than women realize, you will be using your abs. If you concentrate on maintaining good form for whatever stroke you’re doing, you’re working the abdominal section of your body, rarely noticing it’s happening!

If you have children, you’ll find the pool an entertaining place even for babies. The bonus of taking your kids to the pool is – you’re making them safer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming instruction for children. Exposure to water helps children learn the simple stuff like staying afloat.

Take the plunge – stay fit, stay wet!

Food For Thought

I remember my teenage years when dinner “on the run” meant stopping at the local convenience store for a package of Ho-Ho’s. I was all of 118 pounds then, and squeezed into size 9 Calvin Klein jeans very nicely.

Let’s face it – now that we’re older (and hopefully wiser), we can’t live off of Ho-Ho’s and Doritos for dinner anymore – unless we’re willing to accept a host of health problems.

Every time you pick up a magazine, you can read about the latest dieting fad – the grapefruit diet, the latest celebrity diet, the liquid diet, diet pills. However, the only safe and effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to exercise and eat “right.” Just what does eating “right” mean?

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines. It’s not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet. It calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need, and the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight.

The Food Guide Pyramid shows to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta each day. For example, one serving in this category would be one slice of bread, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta. Since white bread, rice and pasta give minimal nutrients, it is better to eat whole-wheat products.

The next food group is vegetables, which we need to eat 3-5 servings of each day. This would include one cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup of other cooked or chopped vegetables, or ¾ cup of vegetable juice.

We also need 2-4 servings of fruit each day. One medium apple, banana or orange counts as one serving, as well as ½ cup of chopped or cooked fruit, or ¾ cup of fruit juice. Researchers have found that canned and frozen fruits (and vegetables) have almost equal the fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium of fresh. “Fresh produce is often picked before it’s ripe, then shipped hundreds of miles,” explains Dr. Dean Edell, author of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry,” “but canned and frozen produce is picked closer to ripeness and then sealed, locking in the nutrients.”

As far as meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts go – we only need 2-3 servings a day. That would mean 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish (the size of the palm of your hand), or ½ cup of cooked dry beans, two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one egg. A study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” tracked more than 100,000 people for 14 years and found that one egg a day isn’t so bad after all. “If your diet is balanced you don’t have to avoid eggs, and can even include them in your diet,” said Frank Hu, lead author of the study.

With the milk, yogurt and cheese group, we also only need 2-3 servings per day. That’s one cup of milk (keep it no fat or low fat) or yogurt, 1 ½ oz. of natural cheese, or 2 oz. of process cheese.

Lastly, use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. That would include butter, margarine, and oils for fats. Instead of adding butter to your mashed potatoes, use a bit of chicken broth instead. Spray pans with cooking spray to sauté food, instead of using oil or butter. Standard American dietary guidelines suggest that your total fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of the day’s total food intake, though some doctors and other experts strongly believe it should be lower – between 20 and 25 percent.

When it comes to eating before or after exercise, some people can wake up in the morning and go for a walk on an empty stomach. Others may feel weak and lightheaded if they don’t eat before exercising. According to Michelle Stanten, Fitness Editor for “Prevention” magazine, the most important points to remember when it comes to eating before working out are:

Don’t eat a full meal. Wait at least 30 minutes to begin exercising after you eat. After eating, your heart pumps more blood to the stomach to aid in digestion. When you’re exercising, the arm and leg muscles you’re working need blood. If you eat too close to exercising, your heart ends up working harder than it should, trying to pump blood to both your digestive organs and your muscles.

Good choices would be small snacks that are easy to digest, such as fresh or dried fruit, a bagel with a little peanut butter, raw veggies and low-fat dip, or low-fat cheese and crackers – not Ho-Ho’s or Doritos.

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