model of person holding knee in pain from an injury

Caring For Chronic Knee Pain

Your knees do so much work for you. What can you do to take care of them?

Ongoing, chronic knee pain is a common complaint, and made more common by numerous causes. Whether you have stiff and slightly swollen knees from osteoarthritis, referred pain from tight muscles in the hip and thigh, or an old injury like a meniscus or ligament tear that still bothers you, there are a few easy things you can do to help yourself out and better manage your knee pain.

If you’ve had a recent injury or flare up of knee pain, put some ice on it!

Ice is great for managing pain and promoting the healing process in almost every situation, from a referred pain point that’s just occurred to a decades old knee sprain that lets you know when it’s going to rain. Ice has an excellent pain-numbing effect, so it’s a great option for pain management when you don’t want to take painkillers, and is also useful in managing how the body responds to pain and injury, minimizing the effects of swelling and speeding the healing processes.

While there are no set-in-stone rules for the use of ice, guidelines suggest use for at least 10-20 minutes, though these numbers can vary based on the type of ice treatment you’re using, such as ice bath, ice massage, or ice pack. If you’re applying ice to help manage an injury to deeper tissues – like if you have a diagnosed ACL tear, which is deep, and you’re working to manage the swelling throughout the joint – you may need to leave the ice on for a longer period. The same applied to icing a body part that has greater levels body fat. In either case, more time is needed for deeper tissues to decrease in temperature.

Feeling stiff, tense, and spasmy? Throw a heat pack on that!

Heat is a great option for knee pain that’s stemming from stiffness or muscle spasm.  Like ice, heat treatments can have a painkilling effect, and will also improve circulation to an area, increasing oxygen and nutrients and helping eliminate cellular waste products and speeding the healing process. It’s also an excellent way to relieve muscle spasm, which can indirectly decrease knee pain by decreasing tension in supporting muscles.

Like ice, heat applications need 10-20 minutes to be effective, and may need even longer to be effective when target tissues are deeper under muscle or fat layers. Also like ice, heat can be applied directly to the knees, or to the muscles surrounding them. And it’s common sense, but bears repeating: Always use heat or ice with a towel between the heat or cold and your skin.

And get moving!

While somewhat counterintuitive, movement can work quite well to decrease knee pain. Your knees (and the other major joints in your body) keep themselves “well oiled” with a particular body fluid called synovial fluid that found within many major and minor joints. This fluid is the “oil” that keeps the joint moving well, and movement stimulates the body to create more of this fluid. This is still the case even when movement is painful. Work around this by keeping movement to a non-painful range. Maintaining the movement you have is an important step in moving towards being pain-free.

Movement (especially the right kind of movement) also builds strength through the muscles surrounding and supporting the knees. This is where a physiotherapist, physical therapist, or exercise physiologist comes in: These professionals can help identify the pieces of your movement patterns that might be creating joint stress leading to your knee pain. They can provide you with the right exercises to reset those patterns and get you feeling better. The ultimate goal: Move well, get strong, and get on with enjoying your life!


Fit and healthy middle age woman exercising in the morning by running on a path

Client Question: Is morning exercise or evening exercise better for weight loss?

Great question from one of our personal training clients in Taringa this last week:

Should I do my workouts in the morning or the evening for better weight loss? 

When it comes to working out, most of us want to maximize the results we get, so it would make sense to work out when your body can make the most of it. Popular belief in the personal training and body building worlds holds that cardio first thing in the morning is a great fat burner, perfect for losing weight and toning up. How true is that?

The answer: Somewhat.

There is evidence that morning exercise can set you up for better fat burning (and improvements in other health markers) throughout the day, meaning that over the course of the day, you may burn slightly more fat than you might if you were relying solely on evening exercise. Why am I talking about fat burning if you want to lose weight? Body fat loss is far more likely to be what achieves your weight loss goal, than overall weight loss. Body composition is what determines how lean and toned you look, and from a health perspective, lower body fat levels are associated with lower levels of health risk; fat loss rather than weight loss can significantly improve your health.

Any exercise you do will have a positive impact on your body fat levels, regardless of what time of day you do it. But both morning and evening workouts have their own benefits. Several factors are in play here:

  • Exercising leads to a slight to moderate increase in metabolism during the “recovery period”, or the time after your workout when your body is busy replenishing cellular energy stores and making repairs to tissues. Because of this, exercise in the morning may provide a slight advantage by adding to the normal amounts of energy used during your daily activities. Overall, you may see a small increase in overall energy (calories) burned during the day. It’s important to note that this difference will be minor, especially if your morning workout is low to moderate intensity, and will not be enough to make a huge difference to body weight and body composition in a short or even moderate/medium time frame – this is for playing the long game.
  • Some studies have shown an increase in fat burning tendencies after exercise in the morning compared to exercise in the evening, though other studies have found no differences. This also appears to be dependent on the types of fats in your diet, with unsaturated varieties being more easily used than saturated fats. This can be particularly useful if you’re exercising for heart, cardiovascular, or metabolic health.
  • Exercise intensity and the resulting hormonal and immune responses (generally thought to be related to the physical stress of exercise) both influence the use of fats versus carbohydrates in providing energy at a cellular level. In normal physical function, these responses are influenced by the time of day as well as how you exercise. Many physical responses to exercise are amplified in the evening; Evening exercise appears to increase the body’s hormonal and immune responses, which in turn can lead to higher release of fat molecules into the bloodstream – basically, leading to increased breakdown of fat stores. It’s important to note, however, that increased breakdown of fat stores does not necessarily mean increase fat burning, as these molecules may continue to circulate in the blood without being used.
  • Given that the hormonal responses to exercise are heightened during the evening hours, you may wish to consider how these might impact your sleep. One normal exercise response is to increase levels of your “fight or flight” hormones, making you more alert – rather than ready for bed. If you already have sleep challenges, you may wish to avoid evening exercise.
  • Exercise at any time of the day is can be followed by a decrease in blood pressure. While this response is larger after evening exercise, there is evidence that the blood pressure decrease after morning exercise is more consistent. It may also be more valuable if you are prehypertensive or have high blood pressure. As part of normal body functions, you experience a temporary rise in blood pressure in the mornings; the decrease in blood pressure following morning exercise can return these morning “spikes” to more normal levels.

Evidence exists for both morning exercise and evening exercise to be more effective in fat burning and weight loss, and there are mindset and motivation effects of morning exercise that are hard to look past. For example, if you hit the gym in the morning, will that make you less likely to grab that pastry from the office kitchen for breakfast? Regardless of the science and the mindset effects, your work outs, your ability to lose weight, and your health will all stand to make the most improvements on your own timeline. The most effective workout time is going to be the time when you feel best prepared for it.

 

For more information:
De Bristo, L. C., Rezende, R. A., Da Silva, N. D., Junior, Tinucci, T., Casarini, D. E., Cipolla-Neto, J., & Forjaz, C. L. (2015). Post-Exercise Hypotension and Its Mechanisms Differ after Morning and Evening Exercise: A Randomized Crossover Study. Plos One,10(7).
Kim, H., Ando, K., Tabata, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Nishimaki, M., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2016). Effects of Different Intensities of Endurance Exercise in Morning and Evening on the Lipid Metabolism Response. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,15, 467-476.
Kim, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Tabata, H., Endo, N., Numao, S., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2015). Effects of Acute Endurance Exercise Performed in the Morning and Evening on Inflammatory Cytokine and Metabolic Hormone Responses. Plos One,10(9).
Votruba, S. B., Atkinson, R. L., & Schoeller, D. A. (2004). Sustained increase in dietary oleic acid oxidation following morning exercise. International Journal of Obesity,29(1), 100-107.

 

Shameless plug time!
If you’re interested in exercise for weight loss and better health, we can help. HealthFit Coaching offers exercise physiology, personal training, nutrition coaching, and our signature Complete Coaching package in the Brisbane suburbs of St Lucia, Sherwood, Chelmer, Oxley, Indooroopilly, Taringa, and Toowong, or online at your convenience.
Contact us now to look good, feel great, have more energy, and enjoy life more. We offer a free no-obligation Kick Off call to make sure we can meet your needs. What do you have to lose?

Fit and healthy middle age woman getting ready to run on a treadmill in a gym for a cardio workout

What gym equipment will give me the best cardio workout?

To improve cardiovascular fitness, you need to challenge your cardiovascular system. Simply put, that means moving your body in a way that increases your heart rate and makes you breath harder. Of course, you can get fit without a gym membership, but the variety of cardio machines under one roof can make your cardio workout a little more enticing. Make sure you get the best cardio workout by picking the machine that will work best for you. That mean safe and keeping you pain free, effective, and maybe even enjoyable!

Stair Climber / Stair Stepper

The rundown: The stair stepper (or stair climber) is exactly what it sounds like. Generally the “stairs” take two forms: A treadmill-type “staircase”, or a set of foot plates that moves up and down.

  • The stairs are tough! Prolonged stair climbing will quickly elevate your heart rate, especially with a faster speed. But “tough” is all relative – you have control over speed or resistance to make the workout somewhat easier or harder.  And don’t feel bad about giving yourself plenty of breaks throughout the workout. It will make it easier to get through the session and you’ll lose little or no benefit from it.
  • The stair stepper can be good for keeping your joints healthy. You need use a bigger range of motion, as each step will require more bend in the hips, knees, and ankles to lift your leg and take the “step”.  This greater range of motion can help keep joints well lubricated and mobile.
  • Provides a nice added strength boost for the lower body. Because you have to take bigger steps, the muscles in your lower body will work harder. This means you’ll develop more strength in the major muscle groups in your legs (your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves).
  • The stair stepper may not be the best choice if you have existing knee pain, though that doesn’t automatically rule it out, either.  Use a foam roller or trigger point ball on your quads (front of thigh) and glutes (butt and sides of hips) prior to taking your first step up.  Loosening tension through these areas will take a lot of pressure off of the knees.
  • Getting tired? DON’T lean on the arm railings – this takes away much of the “work” and can put your body in an awkward position, which can lead to physical stress through the joints of your spine and upper body, and can long-term set you up for injury. If you feel the need to lean, take a 1-2 minute break instead, either by slowing the machine way down, or by hopping off and walking around.

The Verdict: The stair stepper is one of the most effective cardio machines at the gym, because the movement is inherently high demand. Plus you get the added bonus of strength building through the lower body and large ranges of movement.

Elliptical Machine

The rundown: This machine guides you through low-impact movement that’s a cross between running and cross-country skiing.

  • Many machine have optional arm bars. Use them! Adding in upper body movement will lead to a larger increase in heart rate than just using the stationary handles. More muscles moving = higher heart rate and more calories burned.
  • This is generally the closest you get to running and still keep in low-impact (actually, no impact). If your elliptical machine has an incline setting, give yourself a boost here for a greater range of motion, which can help joint health.
  • Because you generally keep your feet connected to the foot plates, the gliding motion can sometimes lead to discomfort through the joints, especially if you’re already holding tension through the muscles of the hip and thigh (muscle tension can sometimes create more twist and torque through joints).

The Verdict: Excellent if you like to run but don’t feel comfortable with the impact any longer. If you choose an elliptical workout, get your upper body involved to maximize your results.

Stationary cycle / Spin bike

The rundown:  Another low-impact cardio machine, stationary cycles and spin bikes can give you a great workout with minimal joint stress, provide you set the bike up to suit your body. Because you can set the resistance,  you can somewhat turn your cycle workout into a strength builder as well.

  • These bikes can still lead to joint stress and strain, even without the impact. To prevent joint pain, make sure the bike settings are adjusted correctly for your body. Seat height should be set so that your knees are slightly bent when straight out, and the distance between the front of the seat and the “handlebars” is about the same as the distance from your elbow to your fingertips. This will minimize your risk of knee pain or lower back pain, though again, the risks are small!
  • Increase the resistance to simulate riding up a hill. This can be an excellent way to build strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Variable resistance and the smooth motion of the pedal stroke means that stationary cycles and spin bikes are great in almost every situation, from knee surgery rehab to cross training for high level sports.
  • Leaning too heavily on the handlebars/arm bars can result in a lot on tension buildup through the neck and shoulders. During your ride, sit up straight frequently and shake out your shoulders and arms to keep everything loose.

The verdict: Great for use in almost every situation, as the speed and resistance can guide smooth movements with minimal physical stress. Make sure you know how to set the bike up for your arm and leg length to keep yourself comfortable and pain free.

Rowing ergometer

The rundown: This machine is one of the most frequently mis-used, which is a shame. It can offer a really phenomenal workout!

  • Out of all the standard cardio equipment you find in a gym, this piece has the highest potential for a high intensity workout. Good rowing technique requires a powerful push with the legs, and a pull with the torso and arms, meaning that almost every muscle in the body is working hard.
  • This machine also allows you to set your own speed and resistance, so the workout doesn’t have to be crazy challenging. An important note though: make sure you have enough resistance to work against, especially with the leg push part of the movement – without this, there is a greater risk of losing control of the movement, which can lead to physical stress and injury.
  • One of the most common complaints with using the rowing machine is a sore lower back, and/or neck and shoulders. This happens when you lean too far back as you pull the handle, and when you pull the handle too high. At the end of the pull, you should be leaning back only slightly, and definitely not more than about 45 degrees, and the handle should be pulled in towards your bellybutton.
  • You might want to start small with this machine. Because there is a lot more upper body involvement, many people tire quite quickly. Interval training is a great option on the rower, or just start with 5 minutes’ work and combine it with another type of cardio.

The verdict: Once you’re comfortable with the technique, this is a really excellent option for a big workout in a short amount of time – big being relative, of course!

Treadmill (Walking, Jogging, or Running)

The rundown: The most well-known of the cardio equipment, you can walk, jog, or run in a controlled environment.

  • The tread can be a little bit more joint friendly than concrete, as it provides some cushion to help decrease the impact of each step. But that and the movement of the tread make it less work than walking or running outside. Get all of the benefits: Use a little incline to cancel out the “give” of the tread. A 1% incline is roughly equal to the work of walking on the ground, without the loss of cushion.
  • Don’t lean on the hand supports or arm railings. If you aren’t using your arms, your missing out on natural body movement and extra calories burned. This is especially true if you’re walking at a high incline, holding the handles and leaning backwards – you’re missing out on a lot of the benefits, and it’s not particularly safe on the off chance that your phone rings and you absentmindedly let go. THE ONE EXCEPTION: If you need some help with balance, by all means, hang on. Help maintain good body mechanics by keeping your hands somewhat in front of your torso, and away you go.
  • One of the benefits of using a treadmill is that you get your workout without going anywhere, so if you get tired, you get to just stop and get off. BUT. Please let the tread come to a complete stop before stepping off. Those videos you see off people flying off the back of the treadmill? I’ve seen that happen in real life and it’s not fun.

You’ll find most of these cardio machines in most gyms, but this isn’t a complete list of the equipment you might have available, nor is it a complete list of pros and cons. Always chat to a personal trainer or exercise physiologist about which cardio workout will be right for you and your specific situation.

 

 

HealthFit Coaching provides in-home and in-clinic personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane’s western suburbs of Indooroopilly, Taringa, Toowong, St Lucia, Graceville, Chelmer, and Sherwood.
Find out how you can look good, feel great, move easily, and enjoy life more. Contact us now to learn how.

Middle age woman raising her eyebrows in surprise

The Secret Life Of A Health Coach

Want to know the biggest secret about my life as a health coach/exercise physiologist/personal trainer?

I’m just a normal person.

I like all types of fried potatoes, working out is sometimes more effort than it seems like it’s worth, and I definitely do not have a six-pack. I’ve been through periods of being super active and fit, and periods of being super lazy, and while I much prefer feeling and being super fit and healthy, I frequently struggle to make the time for it.

It’s called real life – as least, it is for most of us. There are great trainers out there who are able to juggle big workouts, prepping and eating routine meals, making their body their whole focus – Awesome for them. I’ll even admit that I’ve more than a little jealous. I had that for a few years and it was great, but it was also when I was in college with the luxury of plenty of time to spend on it.

In the years since, I’ve stopped beating myself up over NOT doing all those things. I’ve found my balance between eating healthy and really enjoying my meals, between being fit and being out of shape (though I often sit slightly below my ideal fitness level). These days, my ultimate goal is to strike that balance between making my entire life about my body, fitness and health, and being able to enjoy what life has to offer.

So, my big secrets?

My fitness levels fluctuate A LOT and I have to really work for what I have. My biggest challenge is balancing my time between every life demand in a way that I’m happy with (or at least can live with). Sometimes workouts lose out.

I love eating. LOVE IT. I love movie popcorn and giant salads and everything in between. Portion control is my nemesis.

I struggle to make myself a priority. I spend all day every day talking to people about taking care of themselves. I’m the worst at taking my own advice!

Stress-eating: Ugh, yes, that’s me.

I would much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym. (Though as with most people, I get a lot more satisfaction from going to the gym, once it’s all said and done.)

I may or may not read on my phone every night in bed, even though I know all the science says it’s bad for your sleep. Oops.

The point is, this is real life. We can have all the education and experience in the world – I’m not short on either and definitely know better – and making the best choices is still challenging. I live those choices day in and day out, just like everyone else. But these days I’m ok with those challenges. They are a lot easier now that I’ve learned to make life about habits and choices I enjoy, rather than choices that feel like chores that I should or have to do. I’ve found my balance between the effort I’m happy to make, and the results I’m happy to have. I’m launching this new section, The Secret Life Of A Health Coach: Food and Fitness in Real Life, to share what those choices look like for me, and to give you some ideas and support in finding your own balance.


Red Emergency sign at the entrance to an emergency room

Do you really need a doctor’s clearance to start exercising?

You might. And you might not. Getting a doctor’s clearance prior to starting an exercise program has one purpose, which is to answer this:

How much will your health status place you at risk for a medical emergency during exercise?

To some degree, common sense applies here. How healthy are you right now? Do you have any physical concerns, or anything going on with your body that doesn’t seem quite right? Anything you honestly can’t explain?

These are things that should prompt a visit to your doctor prior to starting an exercise program, according to many major exercise science and medicine associations (including the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Exercise and Sports Science Australia, and Sports Medicine Australia, among many others). The results of an examination or testing are used to gather information and provide guidelines, with an overall goal to decrease your risk of a sudden, serious medical event – in layman’s terms, a medical emergency that could lead to disability or death.

That’s scary stuff, and it makes sense to limit your risk. Good news for you though – for most people, that risk is actually really low. While these risks are elevated during and shortly after high-intensity exercise, it’s important to bear in mind the following:

  • There is a wealth of current and historical data show that heart-related events (those that are highest risk, and that you might be most worried about) are associated with exercise in only about 5% of cases. To put it another way, they happen to about 20 people out of every million.
  • Low- and moderate-intensity exercise is even less likely to trigger anything but improved fitness.

So if you’re ready to start an exercise program, what should you do to get started safely?

Gauge how hard you plan on working. According to current recommendations, low to moderate intensity exercise is a great place to start no matter what your current health status is – it’s actually high intensity exercise that is most likely to lead to problems during or immediately after a session. If your plan is to start high intensity workouts, you should examine the following points in a little more detail.

Intensity is relative – if you’re not used to doing much physical activity, you’ll likely find that as you start out, many things feel harder or more intense than you might expect. Use the talk test – can you comfortably carry on a conversation during activity? – to help keep yourself to an appropriate work intensity. And ease into exercise. For example, consider starting with a long walk rather than a short run.

Be smart about how you start. If you think you might have more than two risk factors for cardiovascular disease, or if you have another diagnosed health condition, including conditions like asthma or Type 2 diabetes, definitely go talk to your doctor. While your GP or PCP probably won’t be the ultimate expert in exercising with health conditions, they definitely are the experts in who you should see for that information, whether that be an exercise physiologist, a cardiologist, or another specialist. Plus, with the right referral from your doctor, you may have insurance options that help cover the costs of learning to exercise with expert guidance.

An additional point on this – if you haven’t been to see a doctor in some time, and have a sense that you may have some health risks, making that appointment and getting there can be scary. I know that, exactly and personally. But even if they have not-great news, it’s likely nowhere near as bad as you think, and there’s a lot you can do about it.

Self-diagnose (just not with Dr. Google). Use a pre-exercise readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) form like the one here to help determine whether you are at higher risk of an exercise-associated medical emergency, and if you need talk to a doctor before starting high-intensity workouts. If you’re starting an organized (or even semi-organized) program, like personal training, exercise physiology, and programs like Crossfit, F45, HIIT training, and others, you should definitely be using this and your personal trainer or program coach should provide some version of it. If they don’t, or if you’re more likely to exercise on your own, it’s still worth using. Just print off your own copy and fill it out (it takes about a minute). And remember that it’s generally deemed safe to start with a low or even a moderate intensity exercise program – just listen to your body, and if says stop, then stop!

Exercise is generally awesome for your health, and while getting a medical clearance and/or a clinical exercise test can be beneficial, requiring this step can actually keep a lot of people from getting started in the first place. Going to the doctor for a medical or other testing can range from a painful waste of time to a frightening appointment with a lot of scary information that you previously lived with in blissful ignorance. On the other hand, is avoiding this clearance an unnecessary risk? Use the PAR-Q and be honest with yourself, start easy, and always always always pay attention to what your body is telling you!

For more information:
Pescatello, L. S., Arena, R., Riebe, D., & Thompson, P. D. (Eds.). (2014).  ACSM’s Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (9th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

 

HealthFit Coaching’s Exercise Physiology in-home and in-clinic programs provides expert guidance in safe exercise programs for existing health problems. Exercise is powerful medicine. Get healthy, feel better. Start now.


Recommended Reading: What We Know (and Don’t Know) About How to Lose Weight

This excellent, quick read from the New York Times and Dr.  Aaron E. Carroll provides a great starting point if you’re thinking about jumping on the low-carb or low-fat diet bandwagon. 

In brief, this article covers the results of a very rigorous study – rigorous meaning that the results are more likely to hold true across a wide variety of people. The crux of the results to the Low Cabs vs Low Fat question: It most likely doesn’t actually matter. The best diet is most likely to be the one that you can stick with – or, as we’re always saying to, it’s about finding what works for you.

Read the NY Times article here: What We Know (and Don’t Know) About How to Lose Weight

 


Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Client Question: Can Walking Uphill Take The Place of Lower Body Resistance Training?

Thanks to one of our exercise physiology clients in Indooroopilly for a great question!

Hill climbing can be a challenge to the muscles of the lower body, whether you walk outdoors or on a treadmill. As a result, uphill walking can help improve the strength and endurance of the lower body muscles. But it will not completely replace the need for lower body resistance training.

You may feel that walking uphill is a physical challenge, and you are not wrong! The major muscle groups in your legs have to work harder to keep you moving, and that can certainly lead to greater strength development than walking only on a flat surface. Walking will only stimulate strength development up to a point though, and relying on walking for strength will mean you’ll also miss out on other important elements of fitness.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Joint Mobility

Most strength or resistance training exercises require larger movements than walking does. These larger movements are the key to maintaining joint mobility (the freedom to move your joints through a normal, full range of motion). This keeps you moving well and can reduce wear and tear on the joints – one of the biggest causes of joint pain.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Muscle Strength

Strength is important, even if you don’t see yourself entering any future strongman competitions. You need a minimum, basic level of strength to meet the demands of daily life, whether that means lugging a heavy bag or briefcase around all day, carrying the groceries, or picking up the kids. While any activity that makes you work hard will develop muscular strength to some degree, resistance training is the best for this. A dedicated strength-building workout will promote far more strength than any you might build as a by-product of other exercise.

Resistance Training Helps Maintain Movement Abiliity

The combination of strength and joint mobility will help you maintain your overall movement ability, agility, balance, and gait well into your golden years. These two components of fitness and musculoskeletal health are what give you the ability to catch yourself if you trip, reach overhead to grab things down from shelves, and generally maintain your ability to walk, jog, and run well throughout your entire life.

Resistance Training Helps to Maintain Muscle Mass

Around about your mid-30s, you’ll start to lose about 1% of your muscle mass every year. Over time, this has a huge impact on your movement ability (muscle mass is directly related to physical strength) – if you don’t take action. Your body will keep the muscle it uses. Use resistance training to maintain muscle mass and your muscle mass will keep you moving.

Over time, muscle loss can also substantially slow your metabolism, one part of why many people gain weight with age. Remember that old saying “muscle burns more calories than fat”? It’s true! Resistance training keeps your metabolism revved up, helping you more easily lose weight and keep it off.

So you can’t rely on the treadmill to build lower body strength. Do you have to join a gym? Not at all. If the rise of in-home personal training options and other at-home workouts tell us anything, it’s that you can get a great workout at home with little to no set-up. Our in-home personal training, exercise physiology, and coaching options do recommend a few different training tools, but you can start resistance training at home using just your bodyweight and branch out as you need to. You’ll probably find that you actually have a few things already lying around the house that you can use to provide resistance. Get creative and enjoy the benefits!

For more information:
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Franz, J. R., & Kram, R. (2013). How does age affect leg muscle activity/coactivity during uphill and downhill walking? Gait & Posture, 37(3), 378-384. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.08.004

A healthy dinner of Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Whether you need something for to take the edge off a cold spell, or are looking for a quick, easy, healthy dinner, this soup will do the trick! You might be surprised at how healthy and delicious this is, given the simple ingredient list and easy instructions (they might look long but they’re straightforward). And don’t forget to check out the recipe notes at the end of the page – you’ll find some helpful tips for turning this into a five-star dinner that will quickly slide into your standard list of healthy meals.

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken
Adapted from Donna Hay’s 10 Minute Meals

For the soup:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • Zest of one lemon (see note)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked through (see note)
  • 4 cups/1 litre chicken stock
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach (see note)
  • Juice of one lemon (approximately 2 tablespoons), or to taste

For the chicken:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Small pinch of chili powder
  • 1 tsp olive oil or coconut oil (see note)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

Prepare the chicken: Turn the breast on it’s side and cut down the length to get 2-3 pieces of about equal thickness. Combine lemon zest (half of a lemon), smoked paprika, chili powder, oil, and stock in a medium bowl and mix well. Add chicken pieces and coat thoroughly. Set aside.

Start the soup: Spray a medium pot with oil and add the onion, garlic, lemon zest (whole lemon), and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer 10-12 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Cook the chicken: While soup is simmering, spray a non-stick pan with oil and put on high heat. After 15-20 seconds, place the chicken strips into the pan, leaving a little space between each, and turn down heat to medium. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Remove from heat and let rest while you finish the soup.

Finish it off: When lentils are soft, stir through spinach, allowing it to wilt and mix through evenly. Stir through lemon juice. Slice the chicken into strips. Ladle soup into bowls, top with chicken, and enjoy!

 

Recipe notes:

  • Lemon zest is a great way to add flavor without additional calories. The easiest way to zest a lemon is with a microplane, but you can also use the smallest setting on a box grater.
  • Dry lentils, beans, and other pulses can sometimes hide small rocks that stems from the processing. This is normal, but you still want to pour everything onto a plate and check it over to make sure you’re only eating what you want to.
  • If you don’t have fresh packed spinach on hand, try whole leaf frozen spinach.
  • Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, which means that over anything but high heat, the oil can break down and lose it’s health benefits. Coconut oil has a much higher smoke point, has positive health benefits, and won’t impart a coconut flavor to your food.

 

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Healthy lunch of Fresh colorful tomato and cucumber salad

Eat More, Lose Weight, Get Healthy

Ever thought you’d hear someone tell you that you could lose weight and get healthy by eating a huge plate of food at every meal?

We are hard wired for survival, and to our brains, that means food. Though it’s a small percentage of your body weight, your brain uses approximately 20% of your daily energy! And in order to keep itself and the rest of you going, it drives you towards food. Lots of food, if possible. While that’s great for survival when food is scarce, we live where it generally isn’t scarce. Good for us, but your subconscious brain is not good at recognizing this. So the drive to eat will continue, which means even when you’re working hard to lose weight or body fat, you can still be outsmarted.

The good news is that we can turn the tables, and use this survival drive in our favor. I’ve long been a supporter of “eat more good stuff” rather than the “eat less of the bad stuff/everything” approach that is the hallmark of most diets.

Your eating experience is about far more than putting food in your mouth. In fact, scientists are still unclear about exactly what factors cause us to feel full, though the best theories propose a combination of visual and scent cues, the amount you chew your food, and the overall time you take to eat a meal. Vision is super important in this. Part of our drive for food means that we’ll subconsciously gravitate towards food as long as it’s available. This means a full plate. Probably second servings, even if that means just picking at leftover bits. Your subconscious wants it all!

Satisfy that drive for more by giving yourself more of the good – or good for you – stuff. This will not be the first time you’ve been introduced to the concept of Eat More Vegetables, but that concept has stuck around because it works. Find vegetable or fresh fruit dishes that you enjoy and load up on them, or learn to pad the steak and potato dinner with half a plate of broccoli and green beans. This is what allows you to have a huge plate of food without the big calorie counts. If you’re working to lose weight, it’s a major factor in eating healthy meals without feeling deprived. It’s how you keep enjoying that delicious mashed potato without the guilt that comes from eating it out of the pot (I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that, right?!?!).

For a big meals thats filling, satisfying, and still healthy and supporting weight loss, fitness, or health goals,  try these

  • BIG Salads: Lots of greens, with enough beans, hard cooked eggs, steamed and fresh veggies, and small pieces of chicken, steak, or pork. Aim for mostly leafy greens with each bite, but enough of the other stuff that you actually get some flavor with it! Bonus – no dressing needed.
  • Half a plate of veggies: Steamed is the most common “healthy” suggestion, and it’s a good one. But I’m especially taken with roasted everything: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,  zucchini, peppers, pumpkin – anything you might steam will go well in the oven. Your taste buds wont know what hit them.
  • Extra steamed veggies tossed with some stock and a pinch of fresh pepper.
  • Homemade coleslaw with a vingear dressing for crunch and a bit of bite.

And anything else you can think of! This works best when your loading up on what you enjoy. Have a favorite veggie style? Please, share in the comments!


Body composition scans showing lean muscle and body fat

What’s More Important, Body Weight or Body Composition?

Both body weight and body composition are important in developing and maintaining good health. Does one deserve more attention than the other?

When you step onto the scale, the number you see accounts for the weight of all the tissue in your body. Body composition breaks down your weight into percentages of fat mass and lean tissue mass, providing a much clearer picture of what’s inside your skin. When it comes to health risks and rewards, it’s the percentages that count.

Your overall weight can provide insight into how high your health risks are, but there’s more to it than simple cause and effect – that number can be completely misleading. Compare a 100kg/220 pound bodybuilder to an inactive office worker who is exactly the same height, and also happens to be the same weight. You’re probably imagining two very different looking bodies with very different levels of health, fitness, and overall wellbeing – all due to the amount of body fat each person carries.

Fat cells are as active as any other cells in your body, producing a variety of hormones and other molecules that can increase your blood pressure, lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and can have a negative impact on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Abdominal fat cells appear to have a greater influence on these health markers. In addition, increased fat mass leading to high body weight can be hard on the body as whole, increasing stress on the heart, lungs, and joints, reducing sleep quality, and increasing mental and emotional stress. Lean body tissues, on the other hand, overwhelmingly provide support and protection to the body and your health, giving you the ability to cope with physical stress.

While there are no universally agreed upon standards for healthy body fat percentages, we do know that healthy levels vary by age range and sex. Body fat levels typically increase with age, and women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men, likely due to the role body fat plays in reproduction. The published research on body fat norms generally suggests that for health benefits, men should maintain 10-25% body fat from the age of 35 onwards, and women should maintain 23-38% body fat for the same age ranges.

There are a number of techniques available that can provide a basic body composition measurement, though these vary in ease of access, accuracy, and cost. Bio-impedance devices, like the hand-held machines or scales that provide a body fat estimate, are by far the most common commercially available options. These devices have varying degrees of accuracy, but in general are a good option for at-home measurement. Other methods include skinfold measurement, air or water displacement techniques, and the DEXA scan – the same one that is used to provide measurements of bone density for those at risk of osteoporosis.

Regardless of what method you choose, you need to stick with that method or machine to get the most accurate picture of progress, as different techniques use different equations to get your percentage. And for health reasons, it’s the fat percentage that counts. While excessive body weight is associated with many chronic health conditions, poor quality of life, and often to an untimely death, you’ll have much better control over your risk factors by keeping the body fat percentage low and not worrying as much about overall weight!

 

For more information:
Pescatello, L. S. (Ed.). (2014). ASCM’s Guidelines For Exercise Testing and Prescription (9th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Trefethen, L. N. (n.d.). New BMI ( New Body Mass Index). Retrieved March 03, 2018, from https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/trefethen/bmi.html