Woman tying running shoes before starting to run

Getting Started With Exercise: An Interview

Our Principal Exercise Physiologist and company founder, Erin Haske, chatted to our friends at Just Knead It Sports and Remedial Massage about getting up and going as you kick start an exercise program.

Pop on over to their blog to find out what she has to say about strategies to get up, keep moving, and even enjoy it!

Just Knead It is a remedial massage clinic based in Woolloongabba on the south side of Brisbane. HealthFit Coaching strongly supports the role of remedial massage in short and long-term health maintenance and prevention, whether you are an athlete or not. And you always feel amazing at the end of it!


Small wins are the little things that give us a (big) boost, and lots of small wins add up to big changes and powerful breakthroughs. Small Win Saturdays are where we share a tiny-but-awesome thing that happened to a HealthFitter or a HealthFit coach in the last week. Try it out for your a mental or physical boost, or share own your small win in the comments!

Deep Sleep Music on YouTube

I often struggle to get my brain to shut down in the evening so I can fall asleep. Since finding it earlier this week though, I’ve been able to stop my brain in it’s tracks. This sleep-sounds track has quickly become my sure-fire way to calm down, switch off, and get some shut eye. It’s gentle and unobtrusive, and I can focus on it without getting wrapped up in it. With this on, I drop off in minutes.

As we prepare to sleep, our brains generally decent through four stages of electrical activity from highly active to less active. The final state of low-level activity is the delta wave state, which is associated with deep sleep and dreaming.

This music is designed to help you achieve delta wave state. This particular track is about three hours long. As a norm, your brain becomes accustomed to noises, so it’s likely that you won’t actually hear the whole track. But it’s great to help you relax and kick that sleeplessness and insomnia to the curb. Small wins can be big wins!

Small Win Saturday: Free Deep Sleep Music


Woman doing yoga outdoors to build strength and flexibility

Does Muscle Actually Turn Into Fat?

The Short Answer: Despite the shift from a toned to a softer appearance, nope, muscle does not turn into fat with decreased use.

It’s actually impossible. Muscle tissue and adipose tissue – aka fat – are different types of tissue, from function all the way down to the molecular structure. Muscle tissue turning directly into fat would be the everyday equivalent of turning water into motor oil. But that doesn’t change the fact that muscle tissue will change appearance through decreased use.

So why do our muscles go from lean and hard to small and soft?

The shift of larger, harder muscles to smaller, softer muscles is due to a loss of muscle size and muscle tone. Appearance can also be affected by overall levels of body fat. Of those contributing factors, muscle tone has the greatest effect on how much a muscle looks like, well, a muscle.

A muscle’s “tone” is it’s level of contraction at rest. That may seem contradictory, but all of your muscles maintain a very low level of contraction at all times. This helps keep you upright and in control of your body. Muscle tone is also developed when your muscles do regular, intense work (like strength training). Done frequently, heavy lifting will stimulate your nervous system to maintain increased muscle tone even at rest, as that makes it easier to generate more force and strength when you need it. (Heavy lifting will also stimulate an increase in the size of your muscle cells, which leads to an overall increase in muscle size.) Your large skeletal muscles account for anywhere between 25-45% of your body weight, and they are heavy energy users, even with low resting tone. Increases in both size and tone increase resting metabolic rate – exactly why it’s said that muscle burns more calories than far.

When regular physical demands decrease, your body recognizes an opportunity to save energy by decreasing the size and resting tone of the muscle. The loss of tone in particular leaves the muscles looking softer and looser – giving rise to the myth that your hard-earned muscle turns into fat!

 

References
Martini, F. H. (2005). Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology (7th Edition) (7th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.
Masi, A. T., & Hannon, J. C. (2008). Human resting muscle tone (HRMT): Narrative introduction and modern concepts. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 12(4), 320-332. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.05.007

What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years, but many people – including many in the health and fitness industries – struggle to define it. To some, the word may conjure up images of exercise standing on one leg with your eyes closed, or even on a huge exercise ball. Good news: You can save those circus tricks for, well, the circus!

Functional fitness means being physically able to meet your daily demands of work, sport or exercise, and leisure activities. Functional training refers to exercises that give you the strength, coordination, and endurance (or cardiorespiratory fitness) to do so. The muscles of the upper body, lower body, and core must be strong, with good neuromuscular coordination to tie it all together effortlessly. Increasingly, functional fitness also means being physically able to counteract the poor postures and physical stresses we encounter in daily life. 

Many people are facing the same physical, functional needs, ranging from weakness in foundational-level stabilizing muscles to imbalances in muscle tension, length, or strength. Creating functional fitness in these circumstances means building up weak points and decreasing stress on overused areas. This can be done by teaching your muscles to activate better, loosening or lengthening muscles and connective tissues, or using a targeted exercise program to build strength and balance out poor posture.

Some of the most common scenarios we see:

  • Too much sitting: Your desk job, meeting, car/bus/train commute – all of these things create excessive tension and shortness at the front of the hips and thighs, which can be a major (eventual) contributor to lower back pain. Stretch out the hip flexors and quads to regain that length and take pressure off the lower back.
  • Too much computer: Any screen time falls into this category, including tablets and smartphones. The forward postures that go along with this shortens the front of the shoulders and over-stretches the muscles of the upper back, leading to the neck and shoulder tension you are likely way too familiar with. As with the hips, stretching through the front of the chest and shoulders is a good start. I’d also recommend doubling up with a deep tissue massage (aka remedial massage) through the entire upper body, as this will help the tissues stretch much more easily and (added bonus) will actually get you feeling better fast!
  • Not enough movement in general: Many, many people have swapped physical stress for mental and emotional stress. We work too much, our leisure activities often involve the TV or computer, and there’s little actual need for movement. But even just 10 minutes of low-intensity movement (going for a walk or playing with the dog, or even doing household chores) can help decrease stress and counterintuitively, can give you a great energy boost!

Not sure what your functional fitness needs might be? Ask one of our expert coaches below to have your answer featured on a future post!


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!


Fast Facts: Magnesium

While present in only small amount in the body, magnesium is nonetheless one of the most important dietary micronutrients. In over 300 of the chemical reactions required to sustain life, it acts a co-factor – essentially a “helper molecule” that is needed for an enzyme to carry out its function. Many of these reactions have a key role in creating your body’s energy and in efficient nervous system function. On a whole-body level, many people report that magnesium has a calming effect, helping to manage anxiety, decreasing muscle cramps, and can lead to better sleep.

Men tend to need more than women, thanks to a generally larger body size, however most people have a much-lower-than-recommended intake daily basis. In Australia, a national health survey in 2011-2012 showed that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population did not meet the required intake, depending on age group (older adults are at higher risk.) A 2005-2006 survey in the United States found that a majority of Americans did not meet estimated average requirements (EAR) of magnesium, and it should be noted that the EAR measure is the intake level estimated to meet the requirements of 50% of healthy individuals, which may be a lower level than your individual requirements. In short, most of us don’t get adequate magnesium supplies from food.

This can be due in part to food choices (some are more magnesium-rich than others) as well as the impact of other nutrients on the body’s ability to absorb magnesium. Additionally, some diseases and health conditions can impact the body’s ability to absorb the mineral, and some lifestyle choices – like higher levels of physical activity or exercise – can lead to higher intake requirements.

 

Magnesium is involved in:
  • Cellular energy production via carbohydrate and fat metabolism
  • Protein and DNA synthesis
  • Regulates transport of ions (chemical molecules) across cell walls, plays a large role the muscle cells ability to contract and relax
  • Chemical reactions that create cellular “second messengers” that send signals within a cell
  • Movement of cells to damaged areas, and wound healing
  • More than 300 enzyme-driven chemical reactions all over the body
Food sources of magnesium include:
  • Dark leafy greens, especially spinach and Swiss chard
  • Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin and sunflower seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains, especially quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, and barley
  • Potatoes
Getting too much magnesium can lead to:
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue, weakness, and sleepiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Very low blood pressure
Not getting enough magnesium can lead to:
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Muscle cramps or twitching
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Problems with moods, thinking, and memory
More on magnesium:
  • The body has complex controls to help regulate magnesium levels. You may absorb more of the mineral from food if your intake is low, and excrete more if your intake is high. (Even with high absorption, you can still have inadequate intake.)
  • Role in bone integrity: Up to 60% of your magnesium is stored in your bones, and as such, it plays a key role in bone metabolism. Studies have shown a low levels of long-term magnesium deficiency can lead to a significant amount of bone loss.
  • Role in blood sugar control: Studies have found that low magnesium can worsen blood sugar control, and that improvements in control are seen when low magnesium levels increase.
  • May help decrease risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Diets high in magnesium are associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes.
Magnesium combined with other medications and health conditions:

Taking vitamins or minerals may have adverse effects when combined with some over the counter or prescription medications, and some medications can decrease absorption. Some health conditions can be impacted by high magnesium intakes. Talk to your doctor prior to increasing your magnesium intake if you have or are taking:

  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Nutrient interactions: Very high doses of fiber, protein, and zinc supplements may make it more difficult to absorb magnesium, and Vitamin D and calcium may help absorption. More research is needed to confirm this though, especially outside of laboratory conditions (i.e. in the real world).
  • Bisphosphonates: Medications or supplements that are high in magnesium can decrease oral bisphosphonates absorption, such as medications used to treat osteoporosis.
  • Antibiotics: Magnesium can prevent the absorption of some antibiotics.
  • Diuretics: Long-term use of some diuretics can increase the loss of magnesium in urine and lead to depletion. In contrast, other diuretics can reduce magnesium excretion.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (used to decrease stomach acid): When taken for prolonged periods (typically more than a year) these drugs can cause low magnesium levels.
Reference List
Lukaski, H.C. (2001). Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutrition and athletic performance. Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 26(Suppl.): S13-S22.
Berardi, J., Andrews, R., St. Pierre, B., Scott-Dixon, K., Kollias, H., & DePutter, C. (2017). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Third Edition. Toronto: Precision Nutrition, Inc.
ODell, B. L., & Sunde, R. A. (1997). Handbook of nutritionally essential mineral elements. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2016, February 11). Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

Fast Facts: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the best known micronutrients. However, the average daily intake is often lower than expected. You might not be getting as much as you think.

Vitamin C is perhaps best known for immune system support. Interestingly, while some immune cells need vitamin C to function (and you may be more susceptible to illness if deficient), there is no concrete scientific proof that increasing your intake makes a significant difference in the duration or severity of colds. Of course, if you’re otherwise generally healthy, it’s also not likely to do you any harm, as our bodies are excellent at secreting excess.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, working to help balance the body’s chemical reactions and prevent cellular damage from free radicals. It helps your body absorb iron and protects levels of vitamin E, and is needed to produce collagen (a key structural protein) and several neurotransmitters (the chemicals that carry signals throughout your brain and nervous system). It also plays an active role in cholesterol management, helping to convert cholesterol to bile acids, which in turn lowers cholesterol levels.

Much of the research on vitamin C has shown greater health benefits when you get your C through food rather than tablets or pills. Of course, eating whole foods provides you with many other nutrients as well, so food is almost always a better option than supplementation. Individual variation exists of course, so it’s worth trying a few approaches to find the right method for you.

Vitamin C is involved in:
  • Protecting cells from free radical damage, as an antioxidant
  • Improving dietary iron absorption
  • Regenerating vitamin E levels
  • Building collagen, an important structural protein
  • Production of norepinephrine and serotonin
  • Chemical transformation of cholesterol to bile acids
  • Maintaining the functional ability of some immune cells
Food sources of vitamin C include:
  • Citrus fruits (lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, etc.)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Berries and melons
  • Squashes and carrots
  • …and most other fresh fruits and vegetables!
  • Organ meat, if that’s your thing
Getting too much vitamin C can lead to:
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas and/or upset stomach
  • Increased risk of kidney stones

There is little to no evidence that high vitamin C intake from food sources leads to any signs and symptoms of excess intake.

Not getting enough vitamin C can lead to:
  • Poor wound and structural repair
  • Poor dental health
  • Poor immune response
More on vitamin C:
  • Vitamin C levels in food are quickly reduced by heat, oxygen, and storage. You can slow these losses by refrigerating your fruit and veggies and storing them whole.
  • Nicotine decreases the effectiveness of vitamin C, and smoking in particular leads to higher levels of free radicals, so tobacco users may need greater dietary intakes of vitamin C
  • Some research has shown that vitamin C may help slow plaque buildup in arteries and keep blood vessels more elastic, leading to decreased risks of heart attack and stroke. However, this research needs more support, and there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements will help (it needs to come from food sources to be protective).
  • Evidence also shows that people who eat diets rich in vitamin C are less likely to be diagnosed with arthritis, though there is no specific evidence that vitamin C supplements will help treat or prevent this.
Vitamin C combined with other medications and health conditions:

Taking vitamins may have adverse effects when combined with some over the counter or prescription medications, and some medications can decrease vitamin absorption. Some health conditions can be impacted by high vitamin C intakes. Talk to your doctor prior to increasing your vitamin C intake if you have or are taking:

  • Kidney problems
  • Regular use of aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen – These can increase vitamin C excretion. Somewhat confusingly, high vitamin C intakes can decrease drug excretion, leading to increased blood levels of the drug.
  • Regular use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) – High vitamin C intakes can decrease drug excretion, leading to increased blood levels of the drug.
  • Antacids containing aluminum – Vitamin C can increase aluminum absorption, which can make medication side effects worse. Aluminum-containing antacids include Mylanta, Maalox and Gaviscon.
  • Barbiturates – Including phenobarbital and others, these may decrease vitamin C effectiveness.
  • Chemotherapy drugs – Vitamin C may interfere with some chemotherapy drugs, though it is also speculated that vitamin C may make them more effective. Don’t increase vitamin C intake (or any other supplement) without talking to your oncologist!
  • Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – When taken with these drugs, vitamin C can increase estrogen levels; Oral estrogens can decrease vitamin C effectiveness.

Healthy Habits to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Have high blood pressure, or at high risk for it? Building healthy habits can really help your blood pressure levels. In fact, though there is a genetic component to your individual level, lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on blood pressure – for better or worse!

How is high blood pressure dangerous?

Picture this: You’re filling up a water balloon. As you put in more water, the balloon stretches, and the walls start to thin, which makes them much more susceptible to damage (like when you throw it at someone and it bursts on impact!!). On the other hand, a balloon with only a small amount of water in it will be much harder to damage.

High blood pressure (known in medical terms as hypertension) works in much the same way. The increased pressure on the blood vessel walls makes them more susceptible to damage. Vessels can become more stiff and build up deposits of plaque, leading to the blockage of blood that causes heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can also damage small blood vessels in your kidneys, eyes, and other organs, which in turn damages the organs themselves. And like the water balloon, blood vessels can also weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm that bursts can quickly be life-threatening. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for other diseases and health conditions, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive conditions.

These high blood pressure complications are not especially appealing! But the lifestyle choices that keep your blood pressure at healthy levels and help prevent complications can be easy, and even enjoyable.

Simple Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Get daily exercise or physical activity: A healthy heart and blood vessels can be achieved and maintained with as little as 30 minutes of daily activity. You can even break this up into smaller blocks – there is significant evidence that multiple, short bouts of activity have the same health benefits as one longer one. So if a brisk half-hour walk doesn’t sound good, you could try a 10-min walk in the morning and evening, and another 10 minutes of exercise or even active chores like vacuuming to hit your 30 minutes. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active or exercising, please chat with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.

Make healthy food choices: Choose fresh foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. That is, pick lean steak over salami. Eat more whole foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), and fewer pre-prepared foods, as these are generally higher in sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats. Choosing foods with no added sugars will also help. Don’t forget to include beverages in this category too!

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra body fat can cause blood pressure to rise, and increases physical stress on the body’s systems. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a big impact on blood pressure levels, and additional weight loss can lead to additional improvements. The above two ideas will certainly help with this.

Choose healthy stress management strategies: Gentle physical activity like walking or tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises, keeping a journal or working on arts and crafts are all healthy relaxation ideas. Take some time to have some fun!

Avoid unhealthy stress management: Two common but unhealthy stress management choices that many people make are alcohol and tobacco use. Keep your alcohol consumption under one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. And we all know that tobacco use is deadly – spiking your blood pressure is just one reason why.

Sleep well: Restful sleep is key to stress management. Poor sleep quality can impair your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which can lead to increases in blood pressure. On average, adults under the age of 65 should get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adults over 65 should get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting this amount of sleep, or don’t wake up feeling rested, please talk to your doctor about this. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your health!

Taking action in any one of these areas can make a significant difference. Making more than one of these choices on a regular basis will help you easily control your blood pressure, and potentially even prevent the need for medication. What’s one change that you can make today?