Do you really need to take 10,000 steps daily?

The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800, and in Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet – but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot. It bears asking:

How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?

Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s reallllly convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number we need for health. Our bodies don’t often work on such easy numbers!

That said, the number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerous studies show that the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This tends to mean that you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer steps on a daily basis. Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a walk to workout (or other exercise, for that matter)? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with just being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.

In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week, and found that in the 4 years following the study, those in the lowest step count group were also the most likely to die. This was found even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum:  women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.

So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!

 


The word health spelled with blue and white pills on a yellow background

Science Snapshot: Vitamin D Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease

A new study has found that Vitamin D supplementation might not provide as much cardiovascular protection as we thought.

Previous observational and prospective studies (that is, studies that look at what happens without trying to influence the outcome) have seen a link between low vitamin D levels and higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease (heart disease) that may lead to death.

This recently published meta-analysis (a study that combines and analyses the results of several previous studies, providing stronger evidence) has found that vitamin D supplementation did not actually have any effect on cardiovascular disease risk.

It’s important to note that while this study did not show a link, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are 100% certain one doesn’t exist. However, it may be that there is a different link between vitamin D levels and risk of heart disease. For example, much of our vitamin D is actually created in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. If you are regularly active, you’re likely to get outdoors more – even if it’s just walking from the car into the gym. Since small “doses” of sunlight (in most of Australia, 10-20 minutes per day is plenty) is enough to keep vitamin D levels normal, it might be that your activity or exercise levels are keeping your vitamin D high and your heart healthy (sunscreen blocks the body from creating vitamin D, so take that into consideration too). This is always the challenge with healthcare and health research – it’s difficult to completely control all possibilities!

What does this mean for you?

Unless you are taking vitamin D specifically for cardiovascular protection or heart health, without being told to by your doctor, this news probably won’t have much of an impact on you.

Of course, if you are taking vitamin D pills, tablets, or other supplements because your doctor or dietitian told you to, keep doing so! Vitamin D plays many roles in the body, including supporting immune function and musculoskeletal health. If you’re not sure whether you need to increase your vitamin D intake, speaking to your GP or a registered dietitian is your best bet. Of course, we all feel better and are more healthy with a bit of extra activity, so you can always take yourself outside!

 

For more information: 

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Feature Article: Vitamin D  https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.006Chapter2002011-12

National Institutes for Health, Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: Vitamin D https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

Barbarawi, M., Kheiri, B., Zayed, Y., Barbarawi, O., Dhillon, H., & Swaid, B. et al. (2019). Vitamin D Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease Risks in More Than 83 000 Individuals in 21 Randomized Clinical TrialsJAMA Cardiology. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2019.1870


Increasing The Evidence For Food As Medicine

We all know that eating nutritious food helps keep you healthy. Now a research study in California is aiming to demonstrate just how much your diet can actually impact you.

Over the next three years, researchers from the University of California San Francisco and Stanford will evaluate how a healthy, nutritious diet and nutrition education will impact the treatment, prognosis (or likely course or outcome of a condition), and overall cost of medical care for people with chronic disease. This study will build on the results of earlier smaller and less rigorous studies that have had positive results, including substantial decreases in the cost of medical care.

The food-as-medicine concept is being increasingly accepted and promoted by doctors and other facets of the western medical system. This approach has long been advocated by natural and allied healthcare providers, but in the past there has been little research and scientific evidence to back up recommendations for diet as an adjunct or supportive element of medical care.

The evidence is growing now though, and quickly – at least relatively quickly, as high quality research takes a long time. I’m excited that there is more of this research occurring, and that more attention is being paid to it. The New York Times piece tells the story much better than I do, so head over and read for yourself: Cod and ‘Immune Broth’: California Tests Food as Medicine.


Sick middle age woman blowing her nose

Client Question: Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Another great question from one of our exercise physiology clients in St Lucia:

Should I exercise when I’m sick?

In broad terms, moderate exercise and good fitness support good health. But improving your fitness levels doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never catch a cold or the flu. Here are your science-supported guidelines for exercising when you’re sick.

  • Consider how sick you actually are. If your illness is moderate to severe, with an associated fever, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, or swollen glands, skip your workout and rest up. Do what you would normally do to get yourself better, whether that’s heading to the doctor or heading to bed with some extra vitamin C.
  • If you are severely ill, with the above symptoms, you may need as much as two to four weeks away from moderate to intense exercise. Illness and exercise both stress the immune system in the same way, and depending on what type of viral or bacterial infection, pushing through to work out when you’re sick can actually make your illness worse. In extreme cases, this can lead to lasting damage to your heart or lungs.
  • If your illness is minor, without any associated fever, muscles aches or fatigue, or swollen glands, you might be ok to exercise. General guidelines suggest that:
    • If your symptoms occur above the neck (stuffy or runny nose, dry cough, or sore/scratchy throat), you’re safe to start with easy exercise or activity – think short sessions that are low intensity, like heading out for a walk. If you find your symptoms get worse, stop exercise until they improve.
    • If you’ve got symptoms below the neck (fever, aching muscles, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything else to do with your digestive tract), rest up until your symptoms go away.
  • Use your common sense. Do you feel too tired to work out, or otherwise just don’t feel up to it? Your body is giving you the answer right there! You wont make any gains when working out under fatigue or illness, and in fact you may prolong your recovery. Get some extra sleep and get back to quality exercise when you’re feeling ready for it.

Putting your workouts on hold can be frustrating, especially when you’re working hard to build your momentum and maintain your progress. If you’re feeling this, take a minute to step back and look at the big picture: You could push through and do your workout, but will it be worth it? You’re unlikely to make any gains in fitness, and may prolong your illness and recovery. We all need more sleep anyway, so indulge in that, get better faster, and get back to life as you want it!

For more information:
Gleeson, M. (Ed.). (2006). Immune function in sport and exercise. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

 

Get started with a safe exercise that will improve your health and fitness with an in-home exercise physiology program from HealthFit Coaching. Regardless of your current health levels, you can safely work out to improve your health, fitness, energy levels, and quality of life. Contact us now to find out how.


Deep sleep in a comfortable bed

Over-extended?

The last few weeks have been HECTIC. I’m prone to working a lot. A lot, a lot. All the time. I’m way interested in what I do, I’m passionate about helping people feel better, and I have a lot less anxiety when my To-Do list is at a manageable level. Every now and then these tendencies lead to me over-extending myself, and then being somewhat (very) sorry.

I’ve spent the last three weeks working what felt like triple overtime, without taking a break from the hour or two of research, planning, and reading that I try to do daily AND maintaining some semblance of a workout routine… Turns out that burning the candle at both ends will in fact catch up with you.

No big surprise, I got sick. I’m finally on the tail end of a head cold, which doesn’t sound terrible (and isn’t, as far as sick goes) but really knocked me down. One of life’s not-so-subtle reminders to slow down, I’ve been prompted to remember:

  • Sleep is ok. Seriously, your job will be there tomorrow and your body doesn’t expect you to kill yourself over the job. That’s a big one for me, and I also have to remind myself that all my little projects that I’d like to finish and the entire internet will be there for me to look at tomorrow too.
  • Prioritizing is ok. We all have long lists of things that we would like to get done, feel like we should get done, or actually have to get done. I’m trying to be a little more conscious about the fact that an extra 20 minutes cooking a healthy dinner that will also be my lunch for tomorrow is way better than eating two cheese sandwiches and snacking my way through the next workday. I’m working on putting down the things that aren’t making me happy and healthy, sooner, so I can more quickly get to the things that ARE good for me.
  • Easing back into exercise is ok. Fatigue sticks around, especially when you’ve got to jump right back into other commitments and hit the ground running. I did a half hour of yoga when I got home this afternoon, and took the easiest option for every pose. And I still feel like I had a workout. So even through I’d love to go out for a run tomorrow… The smart thing to do will be to keep it to a low-key walk. Or sleep a little longer (see above).

We all have habits that challenge our health rather than support it. I’m working on recognizing mine and giving myself permission to look after myself first and foremost – playing catch-up isn’t much fun.

How can you take care of yourself today?

 


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.


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

 


Fit healthy middle age man swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

What Are The Most Common Types Of Exercise?

Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:

Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.

Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.

Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.

Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.

Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training:  These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.

Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.

Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!

 

Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.


Microscopic view of heart muscle cells

If exercise and high blood pressure both lead to an enlarged heart, why is one good and the other bad?

Before we get into the answer, it’s helpful to remember that your heart is actually a muscle, and like any other muscle, it responds to the demands of hard work by getting stronger and larger. So while an enlarged heart – known clinically as cardiac hypertrophy – might not sound good, it can actually be great for your long term heart health.

Let’s break down the anatomy and physiology:

The heart has four chambers, and the size of these chambers determines how much blood the heart can pump with each beat (volume). The thickness of the chamber walls determines how forcefully the heart can beat, or to think of it another way, how fast the blood is moving when it is pumped from the heart. The elasticity of healthy blood vessels helps accommodate changes in heart beat volume and blood speed, allowing the whole system to work efficiently with minimal health risk.

Regular cardiovascular exercise stimulates changes in both the chamber size and the wall thickness of the heart, as the working muscles will need more oxygen and nutrients to continue exercise and the heart will beat faster to accommodate. This stress can be good for your health, as over time, these changes allow the heart to pump more efficiently, using fewer beats to move the same amount of blood.

High blood pressure can also cause heart enlargement, however in this situation only a thickening of the walls occurs. This is primarily seen in the left ventricle, the last chamber of the heart before the blood is pumped into the vessels. This specific enlargement is called left ventricular hypertrophy, and is actually stimulated by a loss of elasticity in the blood vessels. Stiffer blood vessels require the heart to pump harder to move the blood, as there is more resistance from the blood vessel walls that prevents the blood from flowing as easily. Because the overall needs of the body don’t change, the volume of blood pumped per beat will remain the same and no change in chamber size will occur. Overall, thicker walls without a concurrent change in chamber size will complicate good heart function, as the heart chambers may not fill as well and the volume of each heart beat will be decreased.

If you have might blood pressure, it’s worth talking to your doctor about your risk of left ventricular hypertrophy, as it has been associated with sudden cardiac death. If you already have this condition, it’s really worth talking to your doctor because there is evidence that exercise and changes to your diet and body composition can have a positive impact on the heart structure, and you want to be able to make these changes safely.

 

References
Cohen J. L., Segal K. R. (1985) Left ventricular hypertrophy in athletes: an exercise-echocardiographic study. MSSE, 17(6):695-700. 
Pluim, B. M., Zwinderman, A. H., Laarse, A. V., & Wall, E. E. (2000). The Athlete’s Heart : A Meta-Analysis of Cardiac Structure and Function. Circ, 101(3), 336-344. doi:10.1161/01.cir.101.3.336
Smith, D. L., & Fernhall, B. (2011).  Advanced cardiovascular exercise physiology.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Image by OpenStax College [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fit and healthy middle age woman standing on beach at sunset with chest up and arms back

Stop Stressing and Get Healthy

The best way to prevent health care hassle is to minimise your need for it in the first place.

It’s not uncommon for our health challenges to get away from us. Anyone who has had a long-standing challenge to their health and fitness can tell you, getting answers can be the pits. There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of time, money, and energy on fixing a problem, and still not actually getting anywhere!

Our bodies are complex, and while medical and health care training has come a long way from the days before antibiotics, there is still a lot that we don’t know. Complicating matters, most doctors and other health care professionals spend a lot of time getting really good at one area or treatment approach. This is good, because when you need specialised care, you want someone who knows that they are doing! But what happens when you aren’t really sure which professional to see for which body problem?

Sometimes solving a health problem is straightforward – when you have had a heart attack, you see a cardiologist so that it doesn’t happen again. But it’s surprisingly common to not feel particularly well, but to be unsure about who to see for the best treatment. This is totally understandable. There is a lot of overlap among different health care professions, and many that will provide care for a problem that they are vaguely familiar with, rather than sending a patient on to someone with greater expertise. I’d bet money that rather than running from appointment to appointment in an attempt to get some symptom relief, you’d like a simple, straightforward plan for getting healthy and staying that way.

Health and fitness coaching is about providing that plan.

Your health and fitness coach will provide you with the best exercise programming and nutrition guidance that you can get, and will help you build on your strengths to provide you with a plan that will keep you in good shape for years to come. But we know our boundaries too, and when you have a challenge that we can’t help with, we’ll connect you with the person who can. With HealthFit acting as your health care hub, you wont have to worry about running from appointment to appointment and not getting solutions. Instead, you’ll have only the appointments that you need. No unnecessary treatment, and no dead ends, just feeling better.

Just imagine what you could do with all the time and money you’re spending on not getting results?

Take the first step to your best health and fitness. Contact HealthFit Coaching now to schedule your obligation-free consult call and find out what we can do for you.