Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Is Walking Worth It?

With the popularity of high intensity workouts like Crossfit, F45, or bootcamps, it might seem like going for a walk isn’t much of a workout at all. If you’re looking to increase your fitness and improve your health, is it worth your time?

Actually, yes – especially if you are interested in health benefits more than getting lean and ripped.

Going for a brisk walk is moderate intensity exercise for most people, and can even count as vigorous exercise if you aren’t normally active. A meta-analysis (a research paper pooling and organizing other research to better understand and apply results) reviewing 32 studies has shown that a brisk walk at least a few times per week will improve your health. Significant improvements in aerobic fitness were found, as well as decreased BMI, body weight, body fat percentage, and measurements of waist circumference – all of which are strongly linked to high risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure also showed a significant decrease following a program of regular walking.

So what?

The benefits of weight loss and lower body fat are well-discussed: Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions. But those are things that may or may not happen in the future. What about right now?

While the health and fitness improvements found in the reviewed studies weren’t so great that the participants ended up with six-pack abs, the average increase in fitness was about 10%. This is enough to make a noticeable difference in how easily you can manage to do daily tasks, or how much energy and stamina you might have to get through a busy day. This means that by the time you get to kick back and watch some TV before heading to bed, you’ll actually get to watch the entire episode of your favorite show, rather than falling asleep on the sofa. Overall, better fitness means more energy for the day to day things that matter to you, which in turn means a better quality of life.

These benefits improvements took place in as little as eight weeks of regular walking, with the most people in the studies walking 30 minutes, three to five times per week as part of an organized program. You don’t have to “start exercising” to make walking worthwhile though. A few 8-10 minute walks per day can give the same benefits as a single 30-minute session, which in real life might mean walking around the block in the morning and evening. (An additional benefit of “starting small” is that often you just need a nudge to get going. It’s easy to extend once you’ve gotten out the door – or onto the treadmill.)

Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that health and fitness improvements aren’t all-or-nothing. Instead, they happen on a continuum, and in fact any movement has a positive impact on your fitness levels and health risks, and therefore your quality of life. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to be worthwhile; your own brisk walking pace will be just fine. So whether you have five minutes to spare, or fifty, it’s all worth doing – what are you waiting for?

 

More Information
Murtagh, E. M., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M. A., Holder, R., Nevill, A. M., & Murphy, M. H. (2015). The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Preventive Medicine, 72, 34-43. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.041
Phys. Act. Guidel. Advis. Comm. 2008Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report: 2008Washington, DCUS Dep. Health Hum. Serv. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/Report/pdf/CommitteeReport.pdf

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.


Middle age man sitting in a relaxed position

Deep Breathing For Better Energy

How often do you feel exhausted, sluggish, weary or worn out?

People frequently feel like they don’t have enough energy for the things they have to do, let alone for the things that they want to do! In fact, about 20% of the population reports feeling fatigue that lasts for a month or more.

It’s probably no surprise that there are strong associations between high levels of fatigue, low levels of energy, and a number of physical and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and diabetes. Even if you are otherwise healthy, low energy levels and high fatigue can be a huge drain on your quality of life. We’d all like to get home from work and still have the energy to connect with family, walk the dog, or spend some time on hobbies.

Numerous activities can increase or decrease energy levels. Think of how you feel after a poor night’s sleep or hours of work on a presentation, or the effect of a short walk or powernap. Hundreds of scientific studies have found that mind-body interventions, including yoga practices, are effective in treating stress-related mental and physical disorders. The calming effects are attributed, in part, to the emphasis on controlled breathing, which can lead to neurological, and biochemical changes that impact our feelings of stress and energy.

Admittedly, working to create calm might not seem like a great way to create energy. But science has shown that the relationship between breath and emotions is a two-way street. Stress levels can change your breathing patterns, but the way you breathe will actually significantly influence your stress levels. Deliberate deep breathing creates a physical effect that is the opposite of the famous “fight or flight” response. It can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, enhance immune function, and increase stress tolerance. The combined physical effects of deep breathing and attention on the breath can lead to sharpened focus and clearer thinking. After even just a minute or two of deep breathing, many people report feeling both calmer and more energized.

Here’s how to do it: Find somewhere where you can sit comfortably and not be disturbed for at least a couple of minutes. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths, expanding your rib cage from top to bottom and side to side as you breathe in. Aim to slowly inhale for five seconds, and slowly exhale for five seconds, or as close to that as you comfortably can. Continue this breathing pattern for up to five minutes – though even a few breaths like this can be helpful.

 

Are you looking for more practical, easy to apply advice like this? HealthFit Coaching provides in-home health, fitness, and nutrition coaching all across Brisbane. Contact us for a free, no-obligation call and find out how we can help you.


What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?


fit middle age woman standing with good posture at a standing desk in a blue office

Are Standing Desks Better Than Sitting?

Short answer: probably, but actually not by much! But there’s a third – and much better – option.

Ever since standing desks became widely available several years ago, people have been asking: are they really worth it?

Spending hours every day sitting is definitely not great for your health, and society is moving more and more towards jobs that keep us at a desk and computer the majority of our working hours. You’re probably aware that prolonged sitting can leave you feeling stiff and sore. Muscle fatigue can actually build up from holding a single position for an extended time, and seated positions allow the abdominal muscles in particular to slacken and weaken. This leads to increased pressure on the vertebral discs of the lower back, and can increase the risk of significant lower back injury over time, especially coupled with changes in muscle tension that occur in this position.

If sitting for so long is so bad for you, should you rush out and get yourself a standing desk? Actually, no. Though it might be a better option than sitting for hours per day, going cold turkey and standing for the same period has its own set of problems. A standing desk is by no means a guaranteed cure for a tight neck and shoulders stemming from computer use, as it’s just as easy to slouch with these desks – sometimes easier, since you may end up leaning on it to a greater extent. Standing for hours on end can create muscle fatigue in the lower body, as your legs may not be used to supporting your body weight for long periods. As a result, most people tend to shift on their feet and can end up in awkward standing positions, putting more stress on joints of the lower body, hips, and lower back. Prolonged standing is also more challenging to the circulatory system than sitting is, so it may not be a healthy option for people with circulatory conditions, and it can contribute to varicose veins.

So if sitting for hours is bad and standing for hours not much better, are you doomed to discomfort for the rest of your working days? Not necessarily. Your best bet is to invest in a sit-stand combination desk. These desks allow you to vary the height of your desk to allow for both optimal sitting and standing heights, so you can choose your working posture as you see fit. Studies have shown that the body doesn’t handle being in any posture for long periods of time, and responds well to this mix of movement as shown by decreased aches and pains (and subsequent days off work and/or medical treatment) and increased feelings of comfort and productivity while desk-bound. Physically, frequently changing positions also helps maintain normal nerve function and maintains good blood supply for the muscles.

If you don’t have access to a variable height desk, there are a few options. Desktop additions are available that allow you to raise or lower the height of your monitor, keyboard, and mouse, effectively turning any desk into a sit-stand desk. And no matter what kind of desk you have, frequently getting up for a walk around the office is one of the nicest things you can do for your body. Put a reminder in your phone or email to get up for a walk or a stretch and get yourself moving!

 

Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to info@healthfitcoaching.com to get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.

 

 

Image By Kennyrhoads (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fresh vegetables including onions carrots and beets eaten to provide dietary fiber

Fast Facts: Dietary Fiber

Also spelled dietary fibre – gotta love English!

Dietary fibers encompass a vast array of digestion-resistant components found in plant-based foods. They fall into two basic categories: Soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, which have different benefits for the digestive tract. Soluble fibers are found predominantly in fruits, vegetables, legumes like beans and lentils, and plant extracts, and provide a food source for your beneficial gut bacteria. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables and woody plants, and provides meal bulk, satiety (feelings of fullness), and helps prevent constipation.

While dietary fiber is not absorbed by the body, it still plays an important role in digestive and overall health. Adequate fiber intakes can help with weight loss and weight management by increasing feeling of fullness, and as it is slow to be processed by the body, is an effective tool for hunger management. Fiber consumption has been linked in lower risks of several diseases, including multiple cancers of the digestive tract.

The recommended daily intake is approximately 25-30g of fiber. While many people routinely fall below this, you can boost your intake by choosing food including more beans and lentils, fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and other delicious whole food options. Choosing whole foods that are high in fiber will also provide a diet rich in a variety of other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well. No supplements needed!

Dietary Fibre is involved in:
  • Decreasing risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease by changing the rate and level of absorption and metabolism of some dietary fat and carbohydrate molecules, leading to lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and more steady levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) and insulin
  • Decreasing risk of colon or bowel cancers by decreasing exposure of intestinal lining to potential cancer-causing molecules, both by increasing the volume of total food digested and decreasing the time food spends in the digestive tract
  • Speeds the passage of food through the digestive system and adds bulk to stool, increasing regular bowel movements and alleviating and preventing constipation
  • Weight loss, weight maintenance, and appetite control, through increased meal bulk with a relatively low number of calories, fats, and added sugars, as well as making you feel full faster
  • May increase absorption of other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium
  • Appears to decrease systemic inflammation levels that are inherent to many disease states, including diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and others
Great Ideas for Increasing Fiber Intake

Low fiber intakes are often due to high intakes of processed foods, animal-based foods, and low intakes of plant-based foods. You can increase your fiber intake by including an extra salad, veggies, or fruit in with your daily meals. Some common high-fiber foods and their dietary fiber content are listed below.

  • Romaine or Cos lettuce: 1 cup shredded = 1g
  • Tomato: 1 small = 1.1g
  • Cabbage: 1 cup shredded = 1.8g
  • Quinoa: 1 cup = 5.8g
  • Brown rice: 1 cup = 3.5 g
  • Kidney beans:  1 cup = 11g
  • Chickpeas: 1 cup = 12g
  • Black beans (also called black turtle beans): 1 cup = 15g
  • Celery: 1 large stalk = 1g
  • Carrot: 1 medium = 1.4g
  • Apple: 1 medium = 4.4g
  • Banana: 1 small = 2.6g
  • Kiwifruit: 1 medium = 2.1 g
Can I get too much fiber?

The National Academy of Sciences has not set a tolerable upper limit on dietary fiber intake. There are some health conditions that can call for a low fiber intake, so if you aren’t sure if you are in this category, talk to your doctor. In general, most health conditions will benefit from increased dietary fiber levels. Evidence also indicates that the higher your average intake, the more protective benefits you’ll enjoy.

What happens if I don’t get enough fiber?

Low intakes can lead to excessive weight gain and increased disease risks, however low fiber intakes alone do not seem to be solely responsible for any specific health condition. So while you may not be used to eating a high-fibre diet, you can easily increase your fibre intake by adding a piece of fruit or some veggie sticks. Any increased intake will provide benefits, even if you don’t hit the daily 25g mark!

 

Want to try out a quick and delicious high fiber lunch? Try this Chickpea and Feta Salad!

 

References
Dhingra D, Michael M, Rajput H, et al. (2012) Dietary fibre in foods: a review. J Food Sci Technol, 49(3), 255-66.
Kaczmarczyk, M. M., Miller, M. J., & Freund, G. G. (2012). The health benefits of dietary fiber: Beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism, 61(8), 1058-1066. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017
Marlett, J. A., McBurney, M. I., & Slavin, J. L. (2002). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(7), 993-1000.

Small Win Saturday: Finding Friends Leads To Success!

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!

Finding Friends

A HealthFit Coaching client who has been working hard at making a morning walk part of her daily routine had a great boost this week. She was on her usual route along the Coronation Drive section of Brisbane’s Bicentennial Bikeway when she ran into some friends who were finishing a similar walk. She joined them a few days later and said that she’s now walking with them a two to three times per week. She looks forward to it so much more now that she’s walking with them regularly, and has noted that she’s even going farther than she thought she could handle – and is handling it really well! Small wins are big wins!

Support in healthy choices makes them so much easier to make. If you’re struggling to cement a healthy habit, ask a friend to join you to make the going a little less tough.


wooden stairs that are good for running or walking for fitness

Healthy Made Easy: Avoiding Effort Overload

I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for over 10 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a lot of these people. Most start off excited and enthusiastic – this is their third time starting, and this time they’re really gonna do it! They tell me about going to the gym and going on a diet. And a large number of them end up going nowhere with it. It’s heartbreaking, since they’re all up against the same challenge.

I call it Effort Overload.

It’s the wide-spread idea that healthy living is all water bottles, gym time, and meals in Tupperware, with no nights off or pizza with a glass of wine in sight.  This sort of “healthy” lifestyle isn’t so (mentally) healthy for most of us, since it usually means a LOT of change in a short period of time. Coupled with a lot of “I don’t really know what I’m doing…” and “Is my body supposed to be this sore or am I injured?” and “No thanks, I’m just going to have this lettuce for lunch”, healthy living all of a sudden seems hard and unappealing. It’s totally understandable that people decide that they’ll take the long-term health risks in order to put an end to their Effort Overload. It’s just too stressful.

In truth, taking much smaller steps towards a healthy lifestyle actually has a much greater rate of long term success. This is way easier on our brains, and in the HealthFit Coaching process, is actually designed to be NOT stressful. We help you break healthy choices down into steps so small that you might feel almost silly not taking them. Not to make you feel silly, but to help you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere!

Since there are many potential changes most of us could make to improve our health and fitness, we work to have a deep understanding of what will suit you best. Some of the questions we ask to help determine your steps:

  • What kind of things do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What are the healthiest choices you are making for yourself, right now?
  • What might you need to do to prepare to take the next step towards better health and fitness?
  • What are your biggest challenges in making healthy choices for yourself and your family?
  • Who are your strongest supporters in making healthy choices?

It’s always easier to keep moving forward when you have some momentum behind you, so we make sure to look at what’s already going well for you and build on that. Effort Overload is avoided by keeping the focus on one step at a time – the easiest step you can make, until that step has been mastered and it’s time for the next. Enough small steps, after all, lead to great progress.


Small Win Saturday: I’m A Quitter!

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!

I Quit My Gym Membership!

Waaaait a minute. Isn’t HealthFit supposed to be about more movement, not less? Well, yes. But we’re also all about stress management. Paying for a gym membership that I wasn’t using was making me feel guilty as heck, in equal parts for spending the money on nothing, and for actually not going.  And guilt is a sure path to more stress.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about dropping my membership for a few months now, but I felt like I shouldn’t. I felt like I should go, even though I have really been struggling to find the extra time that a gym workout would take. Keeping the membership was part of the “I’ll get there next week” lie I was telling myself. To be clear, I am still exercising, but I’m finding it way more convenient these days to sneak in a workout at home or go for a quick run than to add another half-hour of gym-commute time into an already packed day.

Once I gave some thought to where the go-to-the-gym pressure was coming from, I realized I was trying to meet some expectation that I had formed for myself: That if I didn’t do this, I was giving up on healthy and that would make me a total loser – and that’s much nicer than what my brain actually says.  As an aside, I had a great reminder from my psychologist recently: it’s mind-boggling how we speak to ourselves, and recognizing it when it happens can actually make a big difference. 

All this guilt and self-disappointment, despite the fact that I’m still practicing what I preach. I’m often slow to act on the opportunities to decrease stress in my own life, but I finally figured out that I could reframe “I should go to the gym” to “I prefer to work out at home”. I’m guilt-free (at least about this!) and have $60 bucks a month to spend on yoga classes that I will enjoy way more!

Small wins can be big wins! What was your small win this week?


Healthy Made Easy: The Power of Habit

Isn’t living a healthy lifestyle supposed to be a lot of work? At best, it’s a boring life full of Tupperware lunches and hours at the gym, right? We say “nah”…


Healthy living does NOT have to be like that. Trust me. Over the last decade, I’ve helped hundreds of people discover that “healthy” can come in many forms, and that healthy choices can be flexible enough to meet your needs and still be enjoyed.

One of the ways we make healthy easy at HealthFit Coaching is through harnessing the power of habit.

Almost half of our daily actions and activities are done out of habit. Essentially, we live much of our lives on autopilot. When I think about my days – how much I absentmindedly click over to Facebook when I’m at the computer, or have a snack as soon as I get home from work whether I’m hungry or not – I can readily believe that I’m this driven by subconscious habit.

Habits are created when you do something repeatedly, especially when they are linked to a specific event, situation, time of day, or other trigger (like getting home from work, in the example above). When you do something repeatedly, your subconscious “learns” the trigger and the action to take. This means your conscious mind doesn’t actually have to expend any energy on deciding what happens next, freeing your brain up to focus on other things.

Our goal is to help you create new healthy habits that will take the place of old, less healthy ones. You and your coach will identify the habits you don’t like, and what aspects of your daily life trigger you to take those actions. You’ll figure out exactly what you want to do instead (it’s all about the details!) and then with the help of your coach, you’ll develop a plan to turn your preferred habit into reality.

Putting your plan into action is the bulk of the work. While it’s commonly accepted that it take about three weeks to establish a new habit, in reality this process can take anywhere from a few days to several months. The good news: We’ve identified the steps you can take to make sure your habit-development timeframe is on the short end of that scale. These steps form the basis of our process, and you’ll have the support of your coach and the HealthFit community the whole way.

In the end, we want to help you make your healthy choices automatically. When you make them without even realizing it, that’s the easiest thing of all.