Monday, January 24, 2011

A Tribute to Mr. Jack LaLanne-- Fitness At Any Age

The world lost an incredible man yesterday.  Jack LaLanne was one of the first people to really bring fitness into the home and make it not only accessible to the mainstream public (including women!), but desirable.

One of my favorite things about Jack is that he was a living, breathing example of how a healthy lifestyle can keep a person vital at any age.  At 96 years old, Jack was still strong, still exercising two hours per day, still sharp, and still able to care for himself without assistance.  He was felled by pneumonia, not any of the diseases associated with old age, and my guess is that if he hadn't caught that, he'd be around for many years to come.

Jack, you will be so, so missed.


And the proof is in the science, too.  Studies show that even folks in their 80's and 90's showed muscle mass and strength gains when they started on a weight training program without any side effects ( http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/51A/6/B425.abstract , http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199406233302501 , http://geronj.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/1/M22.short and many more ).

Strongman Joe Rollino at 103 years old.  Not too shabby.  He was, very tragically, killed by a van at age 104.  He was strong, healthy and vibrant to the end.
 A lot of people stop exercising when they get older, either because they're afraid to lift, don't see any reason to, or just don't want to.   I personally find it much scarier to lose my ability to think for myself and take care of myself.   If you want to remain strong and independent, you need to keep your muscles and joints strong and active (and your mind will improve, too-- http://neuro.cjb.net/cgi/content/full/25/17/4217 , http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/1/62.full ,  just a few of many resources on this).  Balance training and flexibility are important, too (http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Aging/6-12-11-SeniorCitizensImprove.htm )-- deaths from hip fractures in older populations are frequent.  My own father, who had every physical ailment you can think of from heart failure to kidney failure and beyond, was finally felled by a broken hip simply by trying to get back into bed on his own (in his lifetime, he did not exercise, nor did he believe in healthy eating).   

Bette Calman, the Yoga Supergranny, at age 83 in this pic, still teaches yoga and kicks some serious ass.
 So Jack, I salute you and thank you for being such an amazing example.  for inspiring so many, and for defying tradition and bringing healthy lifestyles to the public.  You were one of my heroes.  Rest in peace.  This set of pushups is for you.

(for a list of Jack's phenomenal physical achievements, check this out: http://www.jacklalanne.com/jacks-adventures/feats-and-honors.php )

Have any salutes to Jack you'd like to express, or questions/comments about exercising at advanced ages?  Post 'em here!

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Time To Develop a Drinking Habit.

I'll be the first to admit it-- my water drinking habits have been less than stellar.  I drink tons of tea (green, white, red, and herbal) and eat a lot of foods with a high water content, which I thought would cover my bases, but I find myself thirsty quite a lot.  And, as I'll explain later, if you're thirsty, you're just not hydrated.  And, as I've done more and more research on the importance of hydration, I'm realizing that I need to get my act together and take up a drinking habit.  While last year's resolution included cutting out most sugar (which I did very successfully-- blog post on that coming soon!), this year's includes drinking much more water.  Wanna join me?  Here's why you should:

Double-fisting is always an option.


1)  Drinking 5 glasses of water a day reduces your chances of heart attack-- by a lot!  Researchers at Loma Linda University discovered that drinking at least 5 glasses of water per day lowers heart attack risk by over 50%.  Water reduces the viscosity of the blood, so lots of factors that contribute to coronary disease are lowered by making this small change.  See the study here:  http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/155/9/827.short

2)  Even mild dehydration puts the body at risk for several different diseases, from urinary tract infection (which, although isn't usually fatal, is pretty horrific to go through) to venous thromboembolism (such as those blood clots that people can get in their legs from sitting for too long-- these can be deadly) and many diseases in between.  For a summary of research on the relation between hydration and several diseases, read this:  http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/full/26/suppl_5/535S

3)  Dehydration is linked to decreases in strength and endurance, particularly in hot climates. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18550960 ) If you want to perform at your peak, you need to drink water before, during, and after exertion, especially on hot days or if you sweat heavily. 

4)  Considering that the human body is around 60% water, one might see a reason to keep those levels up there.

So, how much water, exactly, should we be drinking?  Well, the "8 glasses a day" rule is a good place to start, but everyone's body is different.  Some people need more than others.  If you have a high-protein diet, ingest a lot of caffeine, sweat a lot, or have diarrhea or vomiting symptoms, you will need to drink more water than usual.  Using thirst as a gauge is not a good way to go about drinking water-- being thirsty means you're already going into dehydration status.  Your best bet is to make sure you don't get thirsty.  

A singing teacher I once had gave me this gem:  "If you're a singer, your pee should always be clear."  In other words, if you're a singer you should be drinking a lot of water.  Nothing like a good pee quote to make a girl happy.  I'd take that to another level and say, "If you're a person, your pee should generally be pretty clear."  Meaning you should be drinking a lot of water.  The darker your pee is, the more concentrated your urine is, and the more dehydrated you are likely to be.  So that's always a good gauge.

So, there's my little schpiel on hydration.  I plan to stick with my resolution, and all this typing is making me thirsty.  I'm gonna go get me some water.

Oh-- and while you're upping your water intake, you'd probably better read this:  http://melodyschoenfeld.blogspot.com/2010/12/do-you-know-whats-in-your-water.html


Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Get a Grip!

A strong grip will get you far in this world.  No more limp handshakes for you-- hellooooo business deals!  Or, say you slip off a cliff.  You can grab onto a branch or a rock and pull yourself back up!  Heavy groceries?  Nah, you won't need help carrying those.  Or maybe, like me, you just want to lift heavy stuff, just because.  Whatever your reasons, a strong grip is a good thing to have.

I have spent the better part of the last two decades trying to get as strong as possible, and while I have a long way to go yet, if there's one thing I've learned it's that grip strength is essential for overall lifting strength.  Here are some exercises I love that help build grip strength (and plenty of other muscles, too):

1)  Thick bar anythings.  I'm a big fan of thick bar lifting.  Anything you use a bar for, just wrap a towel around it and make it thicker.  This is an instant grip challenge, as you will not be able to wrap your hands around the bar as easily as you're accustomed to.   The more times you wrap the towel around the bar, the harder the lift will be.  Here's an example: 



While the towel is the cheapest way to go with this (I assume you already own a towel, or know someone who does), you can also go the PVC pipe method (get a thick pipe, and just hang some lifting chains off the sides of it, fill the thing with buckshot or water or whatever you want to weigh it down with, etc).  A simple bar pad, like this one, will work, too:  http://www.amazon.com/Valeo-VA4541BK-Bar-Pad/dp/B0007W2EPK , and you can even use pipe foam:  http://www.amazon.com/Thermwell-Products-Foam-Pipe-Insulation/dp/B000BQY9Z0  There are also a couple of other, more expensive, fancy-shmancy options.  You can buy an actual thick bar (like this one: http://www.functionalhandstrength.com/black_iron_strength_thick_bars.html ) or you can buy Fat Gripz (or similar):  http://www.fatgripz.com/ .

2)  Hanging Out.  Just hanging from a pullup bar will give you some pretty impressive grip strength.  Most people will find that their grip gives out before anything else when they do hanging exercises.  You can increase the difficulty of a dead hang by switching to a hook grip (no thumb), adding weight (with a weight belt or hanging a kettlebell off your foot),  and, as above, increasing the thickness of the bar.

A tool a lot of climbers use to increase their grip strength is a hangboard:  http://www.nicros.com/archive/archive18.cfm .  Hangboards are great for finger strength, but are definitely a skill to work up to if you're just beginning.

While we're on the subject of pullups, doing towel pullups is a great grip strength workout.  To perform a towel pullup, you'll loop a towel over a bar/branch/whatever, and do your pullups using the ends of the towel.  It looks like this:



3)  Farmer's Walks.  I'm a huge fan of heavy farmer's walks.  All this entails is one or two kettlebells, dumbbells, buckets filled with water, etc.  You just pick them up, letting them hang at your sides, keep your back as straight as possible, and walk around with them till your forearms scream.  It's amazing for the core as well as the grip, and doing a one-armed farmer's walk challenges your body in a much different way from a bi-lateral farmer's walk.  If you'd like to see a video of a farmer's walk, here you go:



4)  Hook grip swings.  Take your average kettlebell swing, and take your thumb off the bell handle.  This will take away the "crutch" your thumb provides and will force you to rely on your fingers for gripping.  Some people like to lotion up their hands and swing that way; if you go this route, I highly recommend finding a big, open, outdoor area where you can be sure no one and nothing will get hurt by a flying kettlebell.

This is really only scratching the surface of grip training exercises, but it's a good place to start. 

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Post 'em here! 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Cold Weather Method of Eating Your Veggies

There's no getting around it-- winter is here.  I was in Palm Desert and it was snowing.  SNOWING.  In the desert.  Insane.

It's, like, snowsuit cold.


So unless you're living somewhere that the temperatures never drop below balmy, you're probably looking for a way to warm up.  The good news is, ice cream's probably not on your menu right now.  The even better news is, exercise is a great way to keep warm.  And even more good news-- this is the best time of year to break out the slow cooker and make yourself some soup.

Soup is the ultimate healthy meal, in my humble opinion.  It's nourishing and warming and comforting, and it's a phenomenal way to put a ton of veggies into your diet, even if you don't usually like veggies.  The broth of the soup will generally hold onto the nutrients that cook out of the veggies, so you'll get much more nourishment (and flavor!) from soup than from some other methods of cooking them, and the best part is, it's easy enough for a complete novice to make.

Here my very basic recipe for making soup:

1)  put ingredients in slow cooker in the morning.
2) put slow cooker on "low" for 8 hours.
3) eat.


Possible ingredients:
-sweet potatoes
-celery
-turnips
-rutabagas
-carrots
-parsnips
-celery root
-fennel
-any dark, leafy green
-beans of any kind (if dry, soak overnight first)
-sprouted beans (often do not need soaking)
-sprouted brown rice or other sprouted whole grain
-sprouted pasta (Ezekiel makes a good one)
-quinoa
-garlic
-leeks
-onions
-veggie broth, either homemade or boxed (I like no-chicken broth by Imagine foods)
-diced tomatoes
-coconut milk

The possibilities are endless. 


This is a Jamaican-style bean curry I did not long ago: diced tomatoes, coconut milk, veggie broth, baby carrots, sweet potatoes, scallions, garlic, olive oil, adzuki beans, kidney beans, jamaican jerk seasoning, curry powder.

I'd be happy to post other very easy winter recipes if you're interested; just let me know.

What are some of your favorite healthy winter recipes?

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!