Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Healthy Diet

  • A healthy diet is one that provides you with enough calories to sustain your bodily functions.
  • It allows you to be active and alert so that you can enjoy the activities that you like to undertake on a day to day basis.
  • It is one that you can follow for the rest of your life, not on a temporary basis while you lose weight.
  • You should take pleasure on what you eat, you should be able to savor sinful treats every so often as long as you are not allergic to them.
  • A good diet should provide you with good amounts and quantities of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein, water) and micronutrients (vitamin and minerals) to repair and rebuild damaged tissue and to fuel up your metabolic needs.

Other considerations

  • The health food industry, though initially well-intentioned, also responds to economics laws. One should not take anything from a health food store no matter how reputable with blind faith. Read labels!
  • Organic laws vary from state to state, federal research has found no more nutrition and slightly lower pesticide and chemical content in organic food. Try it objectively and decide. (I find organic food to have better taste, though). A more expensive item is not necessarily better. Try new things, but do not discard what’s readily available to you .
  • Finally, most importantly of all, no matter how nutritious the food in the items you choose, a great diet is no good if you are dissociated from your body cues. Do not allow your mood, stress, thirst or any other cue guide your food habits. Let hunger guide your eating. If you do so, you will always be at a healthy weight.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why train the core muscles?

What muscles compose the core?

Well, it depends on who you ask; however, everyone agrees that at least four muscles compose the inner core musculature. They are:
  • the diaphragm (you use it for breathing, without it you'd be dead)
  • multifidi (small muscles that run between your vertebrae, more developed on your low back)
  • transversus abdominus (corset-like muscle that keeps your abdominal contents in place)
  • the pelvic floor (you use them to stop the flow of urine, defecation and they are responsible for the pleasurable orgasmic contraction during sex)
Why do you want to train your core muscles?
  • For a flatter, nicer-looking abdomen. Even without losing weight, you'd look trimmer. (ok, I said it. Let's move on because this is not about vanity... or is it?
  • Better posture and balance
  • Protection from potential back injury when done properly
  • Maintenance of correct intra-abdominal pressure which play a role in the development of varicose veins and digestive dysfunction
  • Better reaction time while shifting body weight in unstable terrain to increase sports performance
  • More efficient transmission of force from the upper body to the lower body
  • To bring your core strenght to at least baseline after abdominal surgery, back pain/injury and childbirth to avoid further injury to the area.
  • After any lower extremity injury to avoid protective patterns of movement to become permanent so that you do not develop early degenerational changes
  • To efficiently transfer the force produced by your lower extremities (legs) to your upper extremities (arms) and vice versa.
How do you train your core?

Stretch tight muscles: the erector spinae (responsible for bringing your torso to a straight position when bending and keeping your back straight during the day) and hip flexors are the ones to target. They shut off your core when exercising if they are tight. Your body adapts, but with these muscles taking the brunt of the work that should be performed by your core, you are an injury waiting to happen.

Balance work in any position: standing, sitting, on your side, using a BOSU or a physioball. Add instability to your routine. Do curls while standing on one leg, do leg abductions while doing a side plank, do resistance exercises while using the BOSU or physioball, add a pilates class to your schedule. Have a personal trainer look at your form while adding these variations to your routines. I have seen many people trying to add these in their routine only to strengthen a lot of compensatory problems that can lead to injury.

Rotational exercises using cable machines or medicine balls: a lot of sports require you to create torque using torso rotation: golf, tennis... even running or walking involve a bit of rotational movements. High and low woodchoppers and torso twists, lunges with a twist performed with a medicine ball are example of these. To a lesser extent, oblique crunches can actually help when performed correctly.

Kegel exercises: they specifically target your pelvic floor. Once you can do a set of 10 contractions held for 10 seconds with correct form. Also try adding pelvic floor contractions while you do your core and abdominal work at the gym or at home.

Breathing exercises: the diaphragm might be a muscle used for breathing, but it is the first muscle to fire when you move your extremities. Your transversus abdominus functions in forced expiration. Try Yoga, breathing centered meditation, pilates to strengthen these two muscles. Remember that when you take a breath your stomach protrudes; when you breathe out, your stomach goes in. If you don't breath that way, you will need to change your breathing patterns. There are specific exercises to help out with paradoxical breathing, but they are beyond the scope of this entry.

So, get to work! Ask your a personal trainer about the correct way to integrate these type of exercises into your routine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Activities and their intensity.

I listed the following activities for you to have an idea of the comparative intensity of different activities. The activities are listed in descending order by intensity measured in METs. One MET is equal to a person's oxygen uptake at rest. So you will use 4 times as much oxygen as you consume at rest in an activity that is rated at 4 METs. Take a look at the list.

Running 6 min/mile 16.3
Running 7 min/mile 14.1
Judo 13.5
In-ring boxing 13.3
Running 8 min/mile 12.5
Rope jumping (120 - 140 skips/min) 12
Running 9 min/mile 11.2
Running 10 min/mile 10.2
Snow Shoeing 9.9
Running 11 min/mile 9.4
Racquetball 9
Rope jumping (60 - 80 skips/min) 9
Running 12 min/mile 8.7
Basketball (game play) 8.3
Boxing (sparing) 8.3
Horseback riding (galloping) 8.3
Field hockey 8.0
Flag football 7.9
Climbing Hills 7.2
Cycling (10 mile/hr) 7.0
Horseback riding (trotting) 6.6
Tennis 6.5
Billiards 2.5

Other activities in alphabetical order
Archery 3 -4
Backpacking 5 - 11
Badminton 4 - 9+
Basketball (nongame)3 - 9
Bowling 2 - 4
Canoeing, kayaking 3 - 8
Conditioning exercise 3 - 8
Climbing hills 5 - 10 +
Cricket 4 - 8
Cycling (pleasure/or to go to work) 3 - 8+
Dancing (social, square, tap) 3 - 8
Hiking 3 - 7
Music playing 2 - 3
Sailing 2- 5
Scuba diving 5 - 10
Shuffleboard 2 - 3
Skating (ice and roller) 5 - 8
Skiing, downhill 5 - 8
Skiing cross-country 6 - 12+
Soccer 5 - 12 +
Stair climbing 4 - 8
Swimming 4 - 8 +
Table tennis 3 - 5
Tennis 4 - 9+
Volleyball 3 - 6

Guidelines for Physical Activity. Are you active enough?

Many of us have the wrong idea when it comes to physical activity. We usually quote the experts when they say that 30 minutes a day of physical activity will bring health benefits into our lives. That is true. Any physical activity will improve our health to a certain extent. However, to improve our health markers and obtain visual results from our workouts, we need to put more effort than experts originally thought. Here's what the US Department of Health and Human Services has to say about physical activity for adults (
  • All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
  • For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
Health benefits do not necessarily mean results that you can see. You should feel the benefits like added stamina and endurance, but you might not see a substantial amount of weight loss. These are some of the benefits that aerobic activity will bring into your life.
  • Reduction of blood pressure
  • Increased HDL cholesterol
  • Decreased total cholesterol
  • Decreased body fat stores
  • Increased aerobic work capacity
  • Decreased clinical symptoms of anxiety, tension and depression
  • Reduction in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion
  • Increased heart function
  • Redution in mortality in post-myocardial infarcton patients
  • Prevention of type 2 diabetes
Defining moderate and vigorous intensity

Moderate Intensity: Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking), Water aerobics, Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour, Tennis (doubles), Ballroom dancing, General gardening. To be at the minimum threshold, you would have to do these activities for 30 mins five times a week or 50 minutes 3 times a week.

Vigorous Intensity: Racewalking, jogging, or running, Swimming laps, Tennis (singles), Aerobic dancing, Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster, Jumping rope, Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing, with heart rate increases), Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack. You can do these for 25 minutes, 3 times a week.

For additional benefits and most likely visible benefits you can add resistance training and the additional aerobic activity sessions explained above.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Primal movements and resistance exercise

Good resistance exercise routines should include "primal movement patterns". The concept of the “Primal Movement Patterns” was developed by Paul Chek. These movements have been common to mankind for millenia. Without them our early ancestors would have never been able to fight animals, to build refuge, to climb trees, to harvest agricultural products, to escape a predator by swimmig across a lake etc. Paul Chek's methodology is based on whole body approach focused on functionality. As a chiropractor, I understand that that is how we get stronger and stay away from injury.

The Squat: This basic movement involves bending at the knees and the hips, while keeping the back relatively straight, and lifting a weight from the ground or pushing a weight that is placed on the back or chest. Exercise examples include barbell or dumbell squats, machine squats, squat to press, plyometric jumps etc. Have a professional take a look at your squat. Squats are great exercises when performed correctly, but they become hazardous if you don't perform them with good form. An easier, less complex exercise in this category include the leg press. This might be a good exercise to start building up leg strength while you perfect your squat form.

Lunges: This exercise involves stepping forward with just one leg, and bending that leg down. From your point of you, when you look down to your feet while performing the exercise, make sure your knees do not go past beyond your toes. Keep your torso as straight as possible. Add resistance only when you have good balance and can do the exercise with proper form. Exercise examples include the lunge, the walking lunge, lunge with a twist (using a medicine ball or a resistance band), lunging into a step, etc. The single leg press is a good preparation exercise.

Bending: This movement involves flexing and extending at the waist, preferably in a standing position. This movement doesn't usually exist in isolation in our daily lives unless we are at the gym exercising doing countless crunches. It is usually combined with the first two movements (squat and lunge) in real life. Examples of this exercise include crunches, deadlifts, sit ups, back extensions, throwing a medicine ball forcefully to the floor, etc.

Twisting: This movement involves turning and rotating the torso to apply force. Racquet sports players are very familiar with this movent, especially tennis players. As a primal movement, it combined other movements like throwing, lunging, pulling or pushing. At the gym, we can apply it when we do medicine ball throws to the side, cable torso twists, bicycles or oblique crunches and woodchop exercises.

Pushing: This movement includes using the arms, chest, and shoulders to force a weight out and away or up from the body. Exercises in this category include push-ups, bench press, standing cable crossovers, military presses, dumbbell shoulder presses etc.

Pulling: This movement involves using the arms, back muscles, and posterior shoulder muscles. Examples of gym exercises include seated rows, chin-ups, lat pull downs, rear-deltoid flies etc.

So how do you use this information? Well, if you are a beginner who is in good physical health, you can pick one exercise per category. My favorite exercises to start with for beginners are dumbbell chest presses (push, horizontally), shoulder presses (push, vertically), seated row (pull horizontally), lat-pull down (pull vertically), the leg press (squat), reverse lunges (lunge), the frontal plank (endurance, bend sagittal plane) and the side plank (endurance, bend on the coronal plane), I find they are a good foundation from which you can build more complexity in later routines. Perform 1 set 8 - 12 repetitions (10 - 15 if you are an older or sedentary beginner). A good weight is one that you can lift at least 8 times or 12 times AT MOST. Increase the number of sets as you get stronger. Planks (side and frontal) are timed. Make it your goal to hold the position for 30 seconds and build up to one minute.

Make sure your form at these exercises is impeccable. Sometimes we think we are performing an exercise correctly from our point of view, but from a couple of meters away, your form might look like a trainer's nightmare: the injury express. So, if you can afford it, hire a personal trainer to watch your form. If not, research the exercises, instruct a friend on how the exercise should be performed, and have him or her watch you perform the exercises so that you know you are doing them correctly.

NOTE: You should always get medical clearance before starting any kind of exercise regimen.

NEXT: A word about Cardiopulmonary Exercise or CARDIO for short.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Scheduling time for your work-outs during your busy week

NOTE: Please read this article within the context of we cannot give what we don't have. We have to create our own happiness so that we can make others happy. One source of unhappiness is feeling unhealthy without having time to improve our well-being. This post is about finding out your personal way of creating time to be fit.

The first thing you need to know to make time for your work-outs is to find out how much free time you actually have available during the week. Most of us underestimate the amount of free time we have or that we can create to enjoy ourselves.

1. Make a page from your appointment book. Make sure it has many time slots. Pencil in all activities you do during the week in the appropriate time slots and days.

Look at your week. Did you include all the invisible tasks you perform during the week such as sleep, work, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, watching your favorite TV shows and the news, paying bills, cleaning up the house, going to the mall, reading the morning newspaper, taking a shower, shaving, going to the hair stylist (thank God I'm bald!), social time with friends, exercise, meditation etc. Be as realistic as you can. Believe me you think you know how your week looks like, but you might be surprised once you see it on paper. Highlight all the activities that you cannot do at a different time (i.e. sleep, work). Make a list with the remaining activities. Circle the activities you can only do yourself (work, sleep, exercise). Separate them from those you can delegate or pay someone to do for you (cleaning the house, grocery shopping).

2. Analyze your week. Did you read my first post? Do you know who you are, what makes you happy and the kind of life you'd like to lead? Based on that, how can you be more efficient so that you can make time to have the kind of life you'd love to have? Can you group some activities and do pick a day/time when you will attempt to do them all? For example, instead of taking multiple trips to the grocery store designate a day when you do all your grocery shopping while you leave your laundry going at home. If you are stuck with a job you don't like, how can you make it finance the activities you love in life while you find a better job? How many activities give you enduring satisfaction? How many of your activities serve NO purpose in your life? Can you eliminate them? Are you doing tasks you can have others do? How much rest do you get? Do you have any ME time?

3. Creating ME time: Commit to yourself, marry yourself! Like marriage your ME time is sacred and requires commitment and sacrifice so that you can be productive in life. Under this concept you are your nagging self, your loving partner and responsible parent.

People who marry themselves might listen to the news in traffic so that they won't have to watch the late news. That way they can devote time to their partner every night. They record their favorite TV shows and watch them during the weekend. They are their nagging self or responsible parent when they want to stay away from distractions that can keep them away from the life they want to lead. They are their own loving partner when they plan for free time in which they can do whatever they'd like after they have accomplished their goals during the week. They understand that being oneself is a work in progress so they cut themselves some slack when they realize their goals were a bit unrealistic. More importantly, people who marry themselves know commitment. They understand they don't live in a vaccum. They are more likely to be committed to bringing joy to all the people they love and have the energy to accomplish that task.

So, make exercise part of your ME time
. The most successful people in the area of fitness have structure in their lives. Some cook their meals on one night and freeze portions to have during the week. They wake up early to exercise or work-out late at night. Some do core work and stretch at work. They might watch those shows while exercising at home. You can add a bit of social time in your routine by inviting your friends or a family member to become your exercise partner(s) or by joining a fitness class and meeting new people afterwards. Most importantly, exercise is an appointment with yourself regardless of where it takes place (gym or home). Are you going to keep one of the most important appointments with your most important client?

4. Look at your schedule again after your best attempt to free up time to exercise. How frequently and for how long can you afford exercising during the week or weekend? What are you willing to sacrifice? Your TV shows? Your night at the bar with endless round of alcohol? Your third time eating out at a restaurant with delicious tasting artery clogging delicacies?

5. Once you decide on your new weekly activity schedule, look back each week and evaluate your performance for a few seconds. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to accomplish? Did you exercise and ate correctly, spent time with friends and family? Were you a good employee? Did you give your best effort to everything you undertook? Was your stress level manageable? If the answer is yes to all of the above, what are you waiting for? Go have some fun. Reward yourself for a job well done!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Be Yourself, Be FIT

Fitness is about balance. Fitness is about being as healthy as you can be within the context of who you are, who and what you love, what you want for your life and what you want to leave the world as your legacy. You need to be clear about these variables because these variables are what fuel your enthusiasm to undertake all the projects and activities that go on in your life on a daily basis. This reasoning can be applied to everything you do. I'm going to apply it to physical activity and exercise.

So why do you exercise? Many of us want to look great, feel energetic and agile. So who defines your perception of what looking great, feeling energetic and agile is? Is it characters in movies and TV who have lives that barely resemble our own? Is it members of the your community who might have chosen to live less stressful circumstances than your own and who have better paying jobs than you have? Is it articles written by intellectuals who only know how to phylosophize, but don't even know how to organize their own lives when given a chance? Or do you define who YOU are after you take good, honest inventory of what your qualities and flaws are, where you stand for as a human being, what fulfills you and give you joy... get my drift?

So, liberate yourself! Accept the body that you've got and make it better. The secret to being fit for life is discovering how you can make sense of exercise, how you can savour the fruits of fitness-related activities in other aspects of your life. The truth about FITness is that you need to make it FIT wisely in your life. If you force an exercise regimen to fit, the same activities that can cause you to look and feel better will make you feel worse and bitter about your body.

Learn from my mistake. In the summer of 1998, I achieved my perfect body with my very imperfect genes at the cost of developing a walking pneumonia that impaired 1/3 of my breathing capacity. It all started as an experiment. I wanted to know if I could tame my adipose tissue friendly genes and look like a fitness model. I am not genetically blessed, I look at food and I get fat. My arms are small; my legs are big. I had been a personal trainer, so I knew what to do. I started to lift intensely and ran for 45 mins every day from May to September. Well, I got down to 172 pounds (from 190) of solid muscle in 3 months. My face look cadaveric for my taste, but my body looked model-like. I should have been happy knowing that I had attained my goal. I should have realized that 3 hours a day at the gym was a bit unrealistic for me to keep up.

During my "experiment", I had gotten a promotion at work and I was working more hours than usual. So instead of easing my stress, the exercise routine added to my stress. I was pushing the envelope trying to maintain a body outside of my genetic make-up. Let me tell 3 hours a day at the gym stopped being fun. But I needed the time at the gym to keep seeing gains or even maintain my body to the level I thought I wanted. I had gotten obsessed. Remember how fitness is about balance.

Then one week, I had a hard time running wimpy distances at a wimpy pace. One night, on my way to the kitchen, I felt like I was going to pass out, sat down to avoid injury and spent the night sitting up on a chair too dizzy to get something to bring my sugar level up. When I went to see the doctor, at my insistence, he took a chest radiograph. He looked very worried after examining the X-Ray. I had lost 1/3 of my breathing capacity. He gave me the choice of going to the hospital right away or stay at home taking very potent antibiotics for a couple of weeks.

I had a couple of weeks at home to do a bit of soul searching. During that time, I realized that my immune system had traditionally gotten depressed when I added additional stress in my life without maintaining balance between family life, physical activity, work, entertainment, God etc. In a week, I could see my "love handles" showing up again even when I was not eating much. My cadaveric face started to look normal again. I felt guilty that I spent so much time looking like a model instead of thanking life for who I really was: a very hard-working guy who loved helping his fellow man who happend to be a bit round at waist level with relatively small arms and big legs and a face that didn't look healthy when his fat percentage got too low. The thing is I looked great even before I undertook the let's-look-like-a-model challenge. I was happier. I was just trying to have a perfect body. Little did I know that in the process of having a perfect body, I was becoming more imperfect as a human being. Fitness is about balance.

So after that ordeal, I exercise within the context of my life. I exercise more during down times and less during peak times at work. I have accepted my body the way it is and try to make it stronger within the limits of my genetic make-up. Since I am a personal trainer and a chiropractor, it is a challenge at times not to let the media or client expectations about how I should look to influence my actions. However, I go back to my mantra: I exercise to live, I don't live to exercise. I always assume people in the media are a bit self-centered anyway which is not the way I'd like to be.

The following exercise has helped me define who I am at certain times in my life allowing me to stay focused in what is important.
  1. Make a list of all the virtues and flaws you think you have.
  2. How do you enrich the life of others in your life and outside your life?
  3. Make a list of all your present activities, how long do you spend performing them, why do you do them and how much satisfaction do they give you. How happy are you today? Is there anything you can change today or in the near future to make your life more satifying.
  4. Make a list of all the activities you have undertaken in life, how long did you spend doing them, why did you do them and how much satisfaction you derived from them. What do these activities have in common.
  5. Think of your ideal life. What activities would you undertake? What kind of job would you have?
  6. Look at your list of virtues and flaws, again. Have you learned anything new about yourself? What is the common thread among the things that bring you most satisfaction in life?
  7. Actions speak louder than words. Look at all those activities (actions) towards which you gravitate. What's the common thread?
  8. Now who are you? How would you like people to remember you and your accomplishments in the future? Within that context, what can being fit bring into your life that can motivate you to exercise and give your body the importance it deserves. What characteristics can make you fail in your attempt to exercise? What qualities have allowed you to achieve success in life? What would you be willing to sacrifice to allow the benefits that being fit will bring into your life? How can being fit and healthy allow you to achieve your mission in life?

If you want to look at yourself in the mirror and realize you look better than Hugh Jackman or Beyonce, stick to a program that allows you be as healthy as you can be within the context of who you are. You might not become a world celebrity doing this, but you will surely admire the kind of celebrity you will become in your life and the lives of the people you touch.