Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chronic Back Pain - A Personal Story

Chronic back pain.  Just hearing that phrase gives some people the shivers.  If you have never experienced back pain, be thankful.  If you suffer from chronic back pain, here is a personal story we would like to share with you.  Meet April Crosby.  She is a personal trainer here at PROMATx Health Club and she suffers from chronic back pain.  Here's her story. 

I have been active all of my life...softball, basketball, volleyball, and dance team in high school; intramural sports in college; running, hiking, mountain biking, group exercise instructor, personal trainer, yoga, and soccer as an adult.  It has always been unusual for me to be sedentary.  Approximately three years ago, however, that changed.  I experience what some would call "the straw that broke the camel's back".  After years of wear and tear on my body, I began to experience low back pain.  It started out as manageable discomfort.  My back was stiff in the morning and occasionally I had pain when lifting objects.  It slowly progressed over the course of a few months into daily pain where it was difficult for me to sit or stand for more than 5 minutes at a time; I couldn't seem to get comfortable.  Then I noticed I had shooting pain that traveled from my low back down through my left leg and into my foot.  I felt as if I constantly had to move my left leg to keep the shooting pain "under control".  At this time, I was running and playing soccer.  Both of these became difficult if not impossible to participate in.  It would take me days to recover from a soccer game...most of those days were spent lying on the floor on an ice pack with my feet propped up on the couch.  My chiropractor was helping to provide a little relief but it was short-lived.

At this point I knew I needed medical intervention.  I went to a physical medicine physician and was "prescribed" a course of physical therapy and pain medication.  I'm not one to take medicine...I'd rather take the holistic approach to healing.  Now it was time to start physical therapy.  After unsuccessful attempts to "cure" my back pain, my therapist recommended I get an MRI.  That's what I did.  The results...3 herniated discs in my low back (L1/L2, L2/L3, and L4/L5).  Physical therapy was not working; pain medication was only a "band-aid" to my problem.  Where do I go from here?  My physical medicine physician recommended stronger pain management with epidural injections.  That wasn't the answer I was looking for so I decided to do a little research on my own.

Next came a discussion with my chiropractor about spinal decompression.  Although he did not have the proper equipment at his office, he felt it would be a very good option for me to explore.  After meeting with another chiropractor who offered this service, I was hooked.  I told him "let's try it...what do I have to lose?".  I liked this non-invasive needles, no surgery, just gentle "traction" to allow the discs to heal and return to their original position between the vertebrae where they belong.  After the first session, the shooting pains in my left leg lessened.  After the complete course of treatment (approximately 2 months), I was pain free and ready to get back to my physically active lifestyle.

I'm not telling this story to promote spinal decompression (although it worked wonders for me!!), I do want people to know that it is possible to overcome physical limitations.  I couldn't participate in the activities I enjoyed (soccer, yoga, running) and every day activities like sitting and standing were excruciatingly painful.  Although I will continue to have problems with my lower spine the rest of my life, I do know how to manage my life through stretching, yoga, and physical activity to keep my body strong and healthy.  The discs in my lumbar area will continue to bulge/herniate due to the weakened ligaments; however, I am still active in soccer and compete in half-marathons and I take care of my body to keep "flare-ups" to a minimum.

My advice to you...find what works for you and don't give up.  Explore all of your options if you seek medical help.  Talk to those around you for support and advice.  Most importantly, take care of your's the only one you get!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cholesterol and Exercise

In our last post, we discussed cholesterol, what it is and what levels should be checked by your health practitioner.  Now that you have a basic understanding of cholesterol, let's look at how to improve your numbers to put you at a lower risk for developing heart disease.  Click HERE if you need to review the previous blog, "Cholesterol 101".

It is widely known in the medical field that exercise can improve HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol levels.  Some research even shows the size of HDL increases as well as the availability in the blood.  As we learned in "Cholesterol 101", HDL helps to remove excess cholesterol from the blood by transporting it back to the liver for disposal.  By increasing the size and/or availability of HDL, more cholesterol can be removed from the blood.  For every 1mg/dl increase in HDL, the risk of developing heart disease drops by 2-3%!  That's a significant improvement!

So now that you know exercise can improve HDL levels, what should you do?  Unfortunately research has been unable to pinpoint what type of exercise and the duration of exercise sessions result in the most significant improvements.  Some research has shown that moderate to intense exercise is a key component, while other research shows cardiovascular exercise (i.e., jogging, walking, cycling, etc.) is more beneficial than strength training.

Until we can get definitive answers from researchers, it is important to follow the guidelines of the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in regards to exercise intensity, frequency and duration.  Both AHA and ACSM recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, a minimum of 5 days a week.  Moderate-intensity is defined as 60-90% of  your maximum heart rate.  This is calculated as follows:

Heart Rate Max = 220 - age

Example for a 40 year old person:

220-40 = 180
180*.60 = 108
180*.90 = 162

This person should exercise with a heart rate between 108 and 162.

(PS...if this confuses you, refer back to our blog entry "Intensity...How Hard Are You Working Out?").

So the moral of the story is, GET MOVING!!  There are many benefits to exercising on a regular basis.  An important one discussed here is the improvement in HDL levels.  Cardiovascular disease is nothing to mess with so come in and talk with a fitness professional at PROMATx Health Club and learn how you can reduce your risk.  Don't wait, come in today!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cholesterol 101

Do you know what your cholesterol numbers are?  Did you know is important to know more than just your level of "total cholesterol"?  Before we continue, you should know that cholesterol is not a bad thing.  This is an important building block for cell membranes and the production of certain hormones.  It is also responsible for the production of bile acids which assist in digesting fats.  Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and the body produces approximately 700-900mg daily.  Your body actually produces all the cholesterol it needs therefore making dietary cholesterol unnecessary.

The only food items that contain cholesterol are those made from animal products such as meats, eggs, and dairy.  The average American consumes approximately 300mg of cholesterol daily.  It is possible to eat a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat and still have low blood levels of cholesterol.  Unfortunately the opposite is true also; you can consume little to no foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat and have high blood cholesterol levels.  Genetics plays a role in how much your body produces so sometimes it is difficult to control cholesterol through diet alone.

Cholesterol is transported through your body by way of "lipoproteins".  There are three different lipoproteins:  very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).  The first two (VLDL and LDL) are considered to be "bad cholesterol" because they contain more cholesterol than protein while HDL is "good cholesterol" because it has a majority of protein.  HDL helps to remove excess cholesterol from the blood by transporting it back to the liver for disposal.

When you have your blood levels checked by your health practitioner, you will be given more than just your total cholesterol number.  Blood work will reveal LDL and HDL levels, triglyceride and total cholesterol levels, as well as a ratio of cholesterol-to-HDL.  High levels of LDL in the blood increase your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.  Desirable LDL levels are below 130.  Since HDL is the "good cholesterol", higher levels are desired; blood levels should be 45 or above.  Total cholesterol levels should be below 200 for optimal decrease in the risk for heart disease.  Finally, the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio is the another indicator of risk.  This ratio is calculated by dividing the total cholesterol by HDL.  For example, if your total cholesterol level is 200 and your HDL level is 45, your ratio is approximately 4.4.  The lower the ratio the better and below 4.5 is desired.
These numbers will provide your health practitioner valuable information about your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.  If you have a family history of heart disease, you really should know your numbers.  No matter what, you should have blood work performed in order better understand your risk for developing heart disease.  Talk with your health practitioner and if it has been a while since your last blood draw (or if you've never had it done), request a "lipid profile".  You'll learn about what's happening inside your body so you can better control what's happening outside of your body.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lose Weight Without Dieting

Admit it, that title caught your attention, didn't it?  Now that we have you hooked, let's look at how it really is possible to lose weight without dieting. 

How many diets have you tried?  According to a Gallup Poll in 2005, Americans reported they have tried to lose weight an average of seven times in their lives. This includes 24% of Americans who have tried to lose weight once or twice, 28% who have tried between 3 and 10 times, and 11% who have tried more than 10 times. A third of Americans, 34%, say they have never tried to lose weight.  Which group do you fall into?

Regardless of which group you are in, it is possible to lose weight without dieting.  If you look up the word "diet" in the dictionary, one of the definitions is:  "such a selection or limitation on the amount a person eats for losing weight".   Doesn't that sound like a temporary event?  It does to us!  We want you to make a "lifestyle change" not a diet that is a temporary change in what or how much you eat.  Make changes to live by for the long-term.  Make choices to feed your mind and body.  Make selections that will provide you with the energy to not only sustain life, but to improve how your body functions.

Here are some ways you can lose weight by making lifestyle choices.
  1. Cut back on the sugary drinks.  The U.S. ranks 1st among countries for soft drink consumption per capita.  We consume ~15 ounces per day!  On top of that, 21% of the sugar in the average American's diet comes from soft drinks.  Ditch the soft drinks! Go for water flavored naturally with fruits, cucumbers or ginger.
  2. Use a smaller plate when setting the table.  Back in the 18th century the size of a dinner plate was 7 1/2 to 9 inches in diameter; in the 20th century that size grew to 10 1/2 inches; now the American plate is at least 12 inches in diameter.  Look in your grandparent's china cabinet and compare their dinner plate to that in your cupboard.  It's probably the size of your side or salad plate.  By using a smaller plate, you lessen the "need" to fill every inch of the plate with food.
  3. Shop in the perimeter of the grocery store.  Did you know the healthier food is located outside of the aisles?  Spend more time in the produce department buying fresh fruits and veggies.  Stay away from the pre-prepared or highly processed foods.
  4. Eat breakfast every day.  In a previous blog, we talked about the importance of eating breakfast.  Click here to read that blog entry.  Take the time to make a healthy breakfast, even if you have to prepare it the night before.  This will set the tone for your metabolism each day.
  5. Eat more often throughout the day.  Eating smaller meals more frequently will help prevent from overeating because you are "starving" at mealtime.
  6. Add physical activity to your day...EVERY DAY!  Yes, we said every day.  That doesn't mean you have to be in gym 7 days a week.  Step away from the computer and walk through your neighborhood or in a park.  When you go shopping, park a little further from the door.  Go "old school" and wash your dinner dishes by burn some calories that way!  Just be active.
  7. Add protein to every meal/snack.  Protein can help you feel fuller, longer.  This can prevent you from overeating in your next snack/meal.  Choose low fat yogurts or Greek yogurt, lean meats, beans and nuts.
  8. Don't deny yourself the "comfort" foods you enjoy.  If you attempt to totally eliminate the foods you love, you'll want them more!  Think about moderation.  You can have that creamy dessert, just not every day.  Look at ways to make your comfort foods healthier by making small substitutions without sacrificing flavor.
  9. Choose items from the appetizer menu at restaurants.  Smaller portions can cut back on calorie intake.  If that isn't possible, ask for a "to-go" container when your meal arrives.  Place half of the entree in the container for another meal.  Don't be afraid to ask for alternatives to the preparation of your meal also.  Even though it's not on the menu, that doesn't mean it's not in the kitchen!  Just ask.
  10. Put the "closed" sign up in your kitchen after dinner.  Mindless snacking in front of the television or computer at night can pack on the pounds.  Eat your meal, have a healthy dessert if you choose, but stay out of the kitchen until it's time to prepare breakfast.  Better yet, brush your teeth after your last meal and you might be less likely to eat again!
These are just a few ways you can lose weight without dieting.  Remember, make lifestyle changes that are permanent.  Eliminate the constant yo-yo dieting that Americans have become accustomed to.  Also, remember to make small changes in your life...don't try to change everything at one time.  Baby steps will get you to your goal!

If you still need help, stop in at PROMATx Health Club and speak with a trainer or nutrition specialist.  We can guide you and put you in the right direction to meet your goals and live a long and healthy life!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Performing The Plank - A Fundamental Core Exercise

In a previous blog, we talked about strengthening your "core".  To refresh your memory, the core muscle group stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulders and provides a foundation for movement in the extremities.  This muscle group essentially makes it possible to stand upright and move on two feet.  Your core includes abdominal muscles but also other muscles from the lower part of the chest down through the hips on both the front and back of the body.  Click here to refer back to our previous blog entry on strengthening your core.

If you've been hanging around the gym for a while, you probably have heard of an exercise called the "plank".  This exercise is a fundamental core exercise that can be performed anywhere and without any equipment.  The plank can be modified until the core muscle group is strengthened.  Also, there are many progressions as your core strength improves.

Now that you know the basis for performing the plank, let's take a look at how it is performed.  First lie on your belly on the floor or exercise mat.  Keep your elbows tucked into your sides and directly under your shoulders.  Place your palms flat on the ground and keep your gaze on the floor between your hands.  Tighten your abdominal muscles and contract your thighs, lifting your torso and legs off the floor/mat.  Balance yourself on your elbows and toes.  It is important to keep your abdominal muscles contracted (tight) and keep the back straight, preventing any "sagging" in the low back.  Pretend you are balancing a board on your back that runs between your shoulder blades down through your feet.  If your hips rise too much, the board will slide off towards your head; if your low back sags, the board will fall towards your feet. 

This is the basic plank exercise.  Maintain tight abdominal muscles, breathe normally, and hold the plank as long as you can.  In the beginning, it may be difficult to hold this position very long but as improve your core strength, you should be able to maintain this position for more than one minute.  Once you've mastered this basic plank you can progress to make this exercise more challenging by lifting one foot off the floor while maintaining the plank position.  Other progressions include lifting one arm at a time, balancing on the hands (instead of the elbows) and toes, alternating arm and leg lifts while in the plank position, and moving to a side plank.

Start simple with the basic plank on the elbows.  It's an effective exercise to perform anywhere and every day.  A strong core improves your performance in daily activities such as lifting, bending, and sitting; it also will improve performance in sporting activities such as running, golf, and tennis.  Need help performing this (and other) core exercises?  Stop in PROMATx Health Club and meet with one of our trainers.

Be strong...prevent injuries.

Monday, October 10, 2011

For Better Results...Partner Up!!

Regardless of whether you are new to the exercise world or have been working out for a long time, having an exercise partner can help you meet your goals.  Many studies have shown that people who have an exercise buddy have a higher probability of reaching personal fitness goals.

An exercise partner can be anyone..your partner/spouse, a friend or neighbor, another gym member, even your furry four-legged friend.  Having someone else to exercise with allows you to be more committed and work harder to meet your goals.  If you are a solo-endeavor type person, you may think having someone to workout with is just going to hold you back.  Not everyone needs or wants and exercise buddy.  However, if you are stuck in a rut or feel like you are having difficulty reaching your goal then you may want to explore the option of "buddy-workouts". 

If this sounds like something you may be interested in, there are a few things to consider before grabbing the closest person and making them your new partner.  First, and foremost, it's helpful to have a partner who has similar goals.  If you are trying to lose weight and your partner wants to bulk up, you both may be frustrated after a couple of workouts.  Second, choose a partner who will motivate and push you, while at the same time, be understanding of challenges you may face working towards your goal.  If your spouse or significant other doesn't understand that you will have good days and bad days with exercise, you may become frustrated and feel "bullied" into working out.  

Having someone you trust and respect is important also.  Your workout partner will be a sounding board for things that frustrate you; he/she will help you work through problems in your "non-exercise" world.  If you value their opinions and trust them, you will build camaraderie and both of you will benefit in the long run. 

Not sure where to look for a workout partner?  Start at the gym.  Don't hesitate to approach someone who may be working towards a similar goal.  Looking for a running partner?  Chat up the person running on the treadmill every day.  Looking for someone to workout with in a group exercise setting?  Talk to someone in your next class and see when they typically attend classes.  Other ways to find a workout buddy are to check with local running clubs, post a request via social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, or Four Square), or just ask anyone!  What's the harm in that?  The worse thing they can say is they aren't interested in a workout partner.

Find a partner, build a new friendship, meet your goals.  Need help finding that "perfect someone" to workout with you?  Stop in at PROMATx Health Club and talk with our staff.  We can help you partner up and get you one step closer to that goal.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Whether you know someone who has battled this disease or you are that someone, it's time to take a moment to think about those who have struggled against and those who have conquered breast cancer.  

Breast cancer is not limited to women.  Men run the risk of developing breast cancer but it is approximately 100 times less common in men than in women.  In fact, the lifetime risk for men developing breast cancer is 1 in 1,000.  According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2011 and approximately 450 men are expected to die this year.

Breast cancer death rates for women are going down.  The chance of a woman developing invasive breast cancer in her lifetime is less than 1 in 8; the chance of dying from it are 1 in 35.  According to the ACS, there are approximately 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Whether you are male or female, you should be aware of the risk factors for developing breast cancer.  Some factors have we control over while others, such as genetics, we do not.  Controllable risk factors include:
  1. Alcohol
  2. Obesity
  3. Lack of exercise
  4. Hormone replacement therapy after menopause
  5. Not having children or having children later in life
  6. Use of birth control pills
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Family history
  4. Genetic predisposition
  5. Race
  6. Dense breast tissue
  7. Breast radiation early in life
Although there is no guaranteed prevention of developing breast cancer, you can reduce your risk by changing the lifestyle factors you have control over such as obesity and lack of exercise.  Take care of your body and it will take care of you.  Talk with your healthcare practitioner to discuss your risks and how you can reduce your risk.  In the meantime, come in to PROMATx Health Club and start reducing your "controllable" risk factors!

Don't forget...the Susan G. Komen-Lexington Race for the Cure 5K is October 15th at 8am in downtown Lexington.  Click here for race registration.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

B-Complex Vitamins and Energy

Are you tired of being tired?  Do you feel like you are dragging your way through the day?  Although there could be many reasons for your lack of energy, low levels of B vitamins in your body could be one of them.  B vitamins are essential for growth, development, and other metabolic functions.  Specifically, this group of vitamins helps to activate enzymes in the body that are responsible for producing energy. 

The B complex consist of 8 vitamins:  B1(Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate or Folic Acid), and B12 (Cobalamin).  A deficiency of B vitamins is known to cause: anemia, tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, muscle cramps, respiratory infections, hair loss, eczema, poor growth in children, and birth defects.

B vitamins are water soluble and are very delicate.  Food processing destroys the vitamin B levels found naturally in some foods.  That is one (of many) reason why white breads, flour and rice are less nutritious than the whole-grain versions.  Deficiencies can appear within a few months in those with poor eating habits because the body can only store limited quantities of B vitamins.  Therefore a major source of these vitamins should come from fresh fruits and vegetable, whole-grains, beans, and meat.

Do you know if you are getting the appropriate levels of B vitamins in your diet?  Talk with your health practitioner at your next appointment to have your blood levels checked.  Without the appropriate levels of B vitamins, your body is not working at its top capability.  We must fuel our bodies with well-rounded, nutritious meals.  What cannot be added naturally should be supplemented.  Check with our nutrition specialist here at PROMATx Health Club to learn more about your daily intake of B-complex vitamins.

Stop being fatigued...fight it naturally with healthy food and exercise.