Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 2012 Fitness Q & A

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Question: With it being American Heart Month, I’m curious what dietary changes I should make in order to stave off heart disease? Just trying to be proactive rather than reactive!

Answer:  First of all, kudos for focusing on prevention! As far as diet is concerned, there are definitely some modifications you can make, but to be honest, they aren’t all that new. For starters, you could try following the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet focuses on specific amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins. Sounds pretty healthy, right? In fact, the diet has been shown to reduce hypertension, and can also decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke over time. But even if you don’t follow a comprehensive diet, you should still try to limit your sodium intake, reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, moderate your alcohol consumption (no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women), and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. All of these changes will go a long way in helping to protect your heart, and the rest of your cardiovascular system. If you want additional information, check out the American Heart Association website,, or consult with a registered dietitian.

Question: I lift 5 days per week consistently, but my strength gains have flat-lined. How do I continue to get stronger? I don’t think I can lift any more than I am right now. Help!

Answer:  I don’t really have much information to go on here, but let’s see if I can provide some insight. First of all, there’s the distinct possibility that you’re working out too much. Maybe your volume (the combination of sets and reps) is too high—a common problem for those looking to gain strength as quickly as possible. And how long has it been since you’ve taken some time off to allow your body to fully recuperate from the stress of exercise? Some much-needed rest may do the trick, and amazingly, people often come back even stronger. I also wonder if you’re changing up your workouts enough. Many people get into the habit of using machines or free weights, but then never gravitate toward other forms of exercise. Cables, tubing, bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, and even bodyweight exercises can all increase strength, so you should try to vary up your routine regularly. Lastly, you have to remember that strength doesn’t just increase exponentially on a continual basis. There is a threshold that you’ll reach at some point, and you could be there already. If you feel like you need help with your current program, talk to a certified personal trainer.  

Question: I see quite a few advertisements for multivitamins these days, but I’ve never really thought about taking one. Now that I’m the big 4-0, I’m focusing more on my health. Do you think taking a multi is a good idea?

Answer:  In a word…yes! Nobody follows a “perfect” diet, so taking one makes sense. There are actually a number of health organizations that currently recommend multivitamin/ mineral (MVI) supplements for all individuals. I like to think of an MVI as insurance. You pay insurance for your house and your car, so why not take a multi to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need to function and feel well? After all, there’s really no downside to taking one. In most cases, your body will use what it needs, and will eliminate what it doesn’t. The hard part is finding the right supplement. You should look for an MVI that is broad-spectrum, meaning it has a comprehensive list of essential nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis. You also want to make sure that the one you take includes these nutrients at functional dosages, which means that the ingredient levels actually affect your health in a beneficial way. Unfortunately, many of the most popular MVI’s only contain the Recommended Dietary Allowances, which are nutrient levels designed to prevent deficiency diseases, not necessarily enhance health. You should also look for products that are manufactured by reputable companies that follow good manufacturing practices and FDA regulations. There are plenty of well-formulated products on the market. If you need help choosing the one that’s right for you, contact a registered dietitian.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 2012 Fitness Q & A

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Question: It’s obvious to me that women see their physicians much more frequently than men. As a guy, I want to be proactive about my health, but I really don’t know how often to schedule regular check-ups. Any advice?

Answer:  That’s a great question, and one that lots of fellas have probably been curious about. To be honest, it really depends on who you ask. Every doctor is different, and I’m sure they all have an opinion when it comes to this issue. My advice would be to ask your personal physician first. You can also follow something I like to call the 5-year rule. This means that you should schedule a doctor visit at least every 5 years, starting right after high school and continuing through to age 50. After that, more frequent visits may be in order in hopes of catching any health issues early on as you get older. Ideally, the visits should include a basic physical exam, as well as comprehensive blood work. This should be enough to keep you healthy and happy for years to come, but again, ask your doctor what he/she thinks as well!  

Question: Boot camps seem to be a pretty popular form of exercise these days. What do you think of these workouts—worth a try?

Answer:  You’re right—boot camps have taken the country by storm. Group exercise instructors are including them in the club setting, but there are also a number of companies popping up that hire fitness professionals to facilitate camps in a variety of outdoor locations as well. I personally like boot camp workouts because they’re different. They get you out of your fitness comfort zone. When workouts become stagnant, results tend to follow, and this is sure to have a detrimental effect on your motivation to exercise. These types of workouts also tend to focus on multi-joint, full-body movements with both cardio and strength components, which often produce greater fitness benefits. But that’s not even the best part! Boot camps are a lot of fun, and we all know you’re more likely to participate in something that you find enjoyable. Remember, you can always design your own personalized boot camp too. If you need some help figuring out what to incorporate, talk to a personal trainer at your club.    

Question: Lately, I’ve become much more aware of my carbohydrate intake, specifically focusing on sugars. I watch sweets and limit refined grains, but what about fruit? It obviously has a lot of sugar, so should I limit that too?
Answer: Fruit is essentially all sugar, but it also has lots of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Because of this, there is no reason to limit or avoid fruit. In fact, most people could probably use an extra serving or two each day. The only individuals that may need to moderate their intake a bit would be those dealing with diabetes, but even they can still have a few servings daily, as long as they’re spaced well throughout the day. Generally, when we talk about limiting sugar, we’re focusing on the added sugars that seem to appear in so many foods. Added sugars contribute significantly to overall carbohydrate and calorie intake, and are one of the many reasons for the nation’s expanding waistline. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for an avoidance of added sugars to become an avoidance of all sugars, and even carbohydrates in general. Let’s not forget—carbohydrates are an important energy source for the brain, the red blood cells, and our muscles. And carbohydrate-heavy foods are not just empty calories; they contain a variety of other healthful nutrients as well!    

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Friday, January 20, 2012

January 2012 Fitness Q & A

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Question: How come I never see anyone else doing a warm-up prior to working out?

Answer:  That’s a great question, and one that’s relatively easy to answer. Most people simply don’t make time for a warm-up. Lots of folks just want to “get in and get out,” and don’t really consider the benefits of properly preparing the body for exercise. Let’s highlight a few of these benefits, so you have justification for incorporating it into your workout.

  1. Increases the temperature of your muscles and joints, which makes movement more efficient and reduces the risk of injury
  2. Causes blood vessels to dilate, which shuttles oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, allowing you to achieve peak performance
  3. Prepares you for exercise mentally, heightening your senses and allowing you to focus and concentrate on the work at hand

There are lots of other benefits, but no matter why you do it, a simple fact remains. You will feel better and perform better if you include a warm-up in your exercise session. Take five minutes, and do some light cardiovascular exercise, along with a few basic bodyweight strength exercises. Try the elliptical or some fast walking, and throw in some lunges, push-ups, squats, or planks. And don’t forget, it’s best to try and mimic your actual workout if possible!

Question: I’m sure you knew this was coming. How do I manage my food intake during the holidays, especially with all the cakes, cookies, and other goodies seemingly everywhere? Help!

Answer:  I thought we were going to skirt by without addressing this, but I’m glad you asked. Interestingly enough, the answer depends almost entirely on you. Assuming you’re susceptible to sweets and other treats, you really only have three options—go all-out and worry about the ramifications later, avoid them at all costs, or take a reasoned approach and indulge to a modest degree. I think most people would argue that the third idea is the best one. After all, why not treat yourself to a few holiday goodies, especially if you can limit yourself to one or two here and there. And don’t forget to continue with your workouts during this time as well. Restricting foods that you truly enjoy will only increase your cravings for them, and make for an unhappy holiday season. Bottom line—it comes down to choice, and you can choose to make healthy decisions or not, but you have to be realistic. Keep variety, moderation, and balance in mind, and reward yourself for being active all year long!   

Question: I saw a trainer post something in the club about resting metabolic rate testing. What is this, and is it worth it?

Answer:  Resting metabolic rate (RMR) testing is something that’s becoming much more common, and for good reason. Your resting metabolic rate is essentially the number of calories needed to maintain basic bodily functions, and represents the approximate number of calories you would burn if you laid in bed for 24 hours doing nothing. When someone is trying to reach a specific weight goal, they often want to pinpoint (as accurately as possible) how many calories they need to reach that goal. Knowing your RMR is the first step in that process, and obtaining a measured RMR is more accurate than using a standard equation. Your metabolic rate is determined by a breath test, which measures your oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. These values can be directly linked to caloric expenditure. Keep in mind, once you know your RMR, you also have to determine how many calories you burn through daily activity and the digestion of food, and also factor in a surplus or deficit if you want to gain or lose weight. A personal trainer can help you calculate your total caloric expenditure, which takes into account all of these variables. Then, you can then match this number with your dietary intake in order to reach your goals. This is what calorie balance is all about. Give it a try and see what you think!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 2011 Fitness Q & A

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Question: I keep hearing about the benefits of HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Can you tell me specifically what it is and the benefits of doing it?

Answer:  High-intensity interval training is a fantastic way to work out, and it offers many of the same advantages of more traditional training programs in much less time. The idea is to pick an activity that you like to do, and then fluctuate between periods of high-intensity, sprint-type work and less intense, active recovery periods. This type of pattern is repeated several times until you’ve completed 15-20 minutes of exercise, not counting your warm-up and cool-down. The specific ratio you choose will depend primarily on your fitness level, but the goal is to finish the entire workout in about 30 minutes. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of this type of training, including improvements in VO2max, resting metabolic rate post-exercise, and overall endurance performance. Researchers also found significant improvements in whole body and skeletal muscle fat oxidation, meaning the body became more efficient at using fat as a fuel source. Despite these results, HIIT isn’t for everyone. If you’re new to exercise, make sure to improve your base fitness level first, before moving on to more advanced training programs. As always, if you have questions, contact a personal trainer in your area.

Question: I’ve tried numerous diets in the past few years, but for some reason, my attempts always seem to end in failure. Can you explain this?

Answer:  You may have some personal reasons for your lack of success, so I can’t necessarily comment on that. However, I think we can safely sum up diet failures in three problematic scenarios. The first is the fact that almost all diet plans are too restrictive in one way or another. Either there are not enough calories, too few carbohydrates, or very little solid food, which ends up leaving people feeling unsatisfied and yearning for more of what their plans are missing. Plus, if you’re getting too little of one thing, you’re probably getting too much of another. Clearly, this is not the way to achieve variety, balance and moderation in your eating plan. Another potential problem is a general lack of monitoring. If you’re not paying attention to how much you’re eating, exercising, sleeping, and working, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to be successful. Research has proven this time and time again, but monitoring your progress takes extra work, and many never commit the time and energy needed to keep track of their habits. The last issue, and probably one of the most obvious, is the fact that people always seem to be looking for a quick fix. They simply aren’t interested in—or haven’t fully committed to—changing their behaviors permanently. Any changes made are generally short-lived, which means you’ll probably be back in the same boat in the very near future. Most diets are simply short-terms solutions to a long-term problem. Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, and because of this, it takes some serious planning and hard work to overcome.

Question: Foods seem to be so high in salt these days, and I’m aware of the dangers of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Can you please clarify the amount of sodium I should be consuming daily?

Answer:  You’re right—salt is everywhere these days. Processed foods are the main culprit, but the increased reliance on fast foods and restaurant meals are problematic as well. To add to the confusion, people often have trouble differentiating between sodium and salt. Salt is actually 40% sodium, so when discussing recommendations, we need to be clear about what we’re talking about. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day (5800 milligrams or 1 teaspoon of salt). On the other hand, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 1500 milligrams of sodium per day (3800 milligrams of salt), and they set the tolerable upper intake level at 2300 milligrams. It’s clear that your intake should fall somewhere between these two ranges, or even less, but it’s actually quite difficult to keep your sodium level as low as 1500 milligrams per day. In fact, the IOM points out that 95% of American men and 75% of American women consume sodium in excess of the tolerable upper limit—not good news for those of us looking to avoid chronic disease as we get older. In order to keep your sodium intake in check, you need to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you buy foods that are fresh and unprocessed. And don’t forget to avoid adding salt at the dinner table as well.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

November 2011 Fitness Q & A

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Question: I would do almost anything to get a nice 6-pack. Can you give me some tips and hints?

Answer: Absolutely! Not everyone has this particular goal, but the ones that do seem to be very passionate about it. First of all, you have to do some serious core work, focusing on the abdominals, obliques and low back area. In doing this, most people make one of two mistakes. The first mistake is working these muscles too many days of the week. Some think you need to do abs almost every day, but you wouldn’t do this for chest, back, and legs, so why would you do it for your abdominals? The other common problem is that people don’t push themselves when doing core work. I’ve seen plenty of people stop their set right when they start to feel the “burn.” Others may only use their bodyweight, never thinking that weights might actually challenge them even more. Remember, the harder you work your abdominals, the less you’ll have to do them—and you’ll get better results. Aside from strength training, the other key components to getting a firm, lean mid-section include cardiovascular exercise and, of course, proper diet. You should try to do cardio 5-6 days per week, especially if you have some extra flab to lose, and try to follow a well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet. If you have more specific questions, be sure to schedule a meeting with a trainer at your local Anytime Fitness.

Question: With the weather getting colder (in certain areas) and flu season almost upon us, can you provide a little refresher on working out when you’re sick?

Answer: Everyone seems to have a different opinion on this, but here’s the scoop. You often hear people say that working out is fine if it’s just a head cold—stuffy nose, coughing, and other stuff that you don’t like, but can deal with. This is generally true, but if you have a fever, body aches, or other more serious symptoms, you should leave the exercising to the rest of us. This philosophy is actually pretty sound, but consider these issues as well. When I’m working out, I don’t really want people that are sneezing and coughing around me—and I would guess you don’t either. Plus, I like to workout with intensity, and I put a premium on the quality of my exercise. Therefore, I would rather rest up for a day or two, even if I just have a head cold. Then, when I get back to exercising, I can pick-up right where I left off. Ultimately, the decision is in your hands, so do what’s best for you!

Question: Can you tell me the main difference between whole grains and refined grains? What are we really talking about here?

Answer: The main difference between whole grains and refined grains is the way in which they’re processed. During milling, whole grains are often stripped of their bran and germ in an effort to make them easier to cook with. The bran is the protective outer layer of the seed, which contains B vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, and the germ is the “embryo” of the seed, which contains even more B vitamins, some minerals, healthy fats, and protein. When these are removed, the endosperm is all that is left, which is primarily just starch. Despite being enriched with some vitamins and minerals, these refined grains lack much of their original nutritional value. In an effort to provide healthier options, more and more companies are pulverizing the entire grain, resulting in what we call whole grain products. These are healthier for you, but you have to be a savvy shopper. Look for whole grains on the food label—ideally, they should appear at the beginning of the ingredient list.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 2011 Fitness Q & A

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Question: I am someone who regularly skips meals and workouts, thanks to both a busy work schedule and family life. I’m wondering if you have any tips that might get me back on track?

Answer: Luckily, there are many people that lead busy lives while still finding the time for healthy meals and productive workouts—it can be done! You need to make sure that fitness and nutrition are priorities in your life. Once you make this commitment, doing the “right” thing will seem like a lot less work. Try taking an inventory of your week on Sunday night, figuring out which days are light and which ones are heavy in terms of work and family responsibilities. Then, you can schedule your workouts in your planner and resolve any meal planning issues as well. For example, maybe you need to pack more comprehensive snacks if you have a meeting during lunch, or maybe you need to create a reminder so you remember to take frozen meat out of the freezer the night before you cook it. These seem like small, almost trivial changes, but they make a world of difference when you’re in a time crunch. We typically schedule things we don’t want to forget, so why not schedule meals and workouts, too?

Question: Lately, my goal has been to eat healthier snacks during the day, since I’m a big fan of chips and candy bars. What do you guys recommend as alternatives?

Answer: We get asked this quite a bit, so we definitely have some favorites. If you want something similar to your candy bar, you could certainly go with a sports nutrition bar. The main difference is that the sports bars are a bit more balanced with additional protein and less fat. They also typically have more vitamins and minerals as well. As a result, they make for a better meal replacement than a traditional candy bar. If you want some “real foods,” which we recommend, check out the short list below:

Celery and carrots with low-fat dip                      Plain yogurt with granola and blueberries

Whole grain crackers with hummus                    Cottage cheese with apple slices

Trail mix with dried fruit and nuts                        String cheese and a banana

½ whole grain bagel with peanut butter              Low-sodium beef jerky

Rice cakes with lean ham or turkey                    Edamame (soybeans in the pod)

Question: Despite the focus on strength training in recent years, cardiovascular exercise still needs to be part of my routine, right? Assuming I’m correct, how much should I incorporate into my workout program?

Answer: Cardiovascular exercise should definitely be front-and-center when it comes to exercise. After all, your heart is the single most important muscle in your entire body. There’s really no reason to avoid cardio. In fact, the only reason to limit cardiovascular exercise is if you’re a hard-gainer and your primary goal is to put on weight. Even in this scenario, you can do several sessions of low-intensity exercise per week, like walking or casual bike riding. For optimal health benefits, we can look to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Per the recommendations, adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, ideally spread throughout an entire week. The guidelines go on to mention that doubling these numbers provides even greater health benefits. Regardless of these recommendations, what you really have to do is factor in personal variables, like your current fitness level and your schedule. Gradually work your way up to recommended levels, and don’t forget to include strength training and flexibility as well. 

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Friday, September 23, 2011

September 2011 Fitness Q & A

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Question: I keep hearing great things about these antioxidant super fruit juices, and I even have a few friends that decided to become distributors. Am I missing out on something? Should I be adding these juices to my daily regimen?

Answer: These products are definitely popular these days, but here’s the scoop. Most of these products are exotic fruit juices marketed as super antioxidants, which supposedly have beneficial effects on the body. Unfortunately, many of these claims come from distributors or the elaborate marketing materials developed by the companies themselves. Research is often touted, too, but most of the studies that are referenced have been done on a specific fruit or an extract of that fruit, not the actual juice being sold to you. Plus, many of the manufacturers add other juice concentrates as well, so you have no idea how much of the supposed active ingredients are actually in the final product. This is pretty standard, though there may be a few exceptions. The other issue with these juices is the cost. Many of them sell for $20-$35 per bottle, with a typical serving being only a few ounces per day. The high cost is usually attributed to highly paid consultants and the distribution network itself, since everyone involved gets a piece of the monetary pie. The bottom line is these juices don’t appear to be harmful, but are they actually making you any healthier? That question is hard to answer. Before making a purchase, it would be wise to gather all the facts you can and ask a registered dietitian if you have any questions about a specific product.

Question: Is it better to do cardio first and then lift, or the other way around?

Answer: The fact of the matter is different people do different things. Some might say that you should do cardio first because it’s a nice way to warm up your muscles before a weight training session. Others would argue that doing this will cause too much fatigue, which might lower your workout intensity and make lifting with proper form more difficult. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer. The best advice is to pay attention to your goals. If you’re focused a bit more on the endurance side of the equation, try to do your cardio first, when you’ll have the most energy. If your goal is to pack on some muscle mass, hit the weights first, before getting some heart-healthy cardio into your workout. And if you’re really looking to push yourself in a particular area of fitness, make sure to break up your cardio and lifting sessions, so you feel energized during each and every workout.

Question: I’m having a hard time with nighttime eating. Any tips, hints, or other advice to help me curb this seemingly routine habit?

Answer: The first thing you need to do is determine whether you’re actually hungry or not. Appetite and hunger are very different concepts, and it’s important to differentiate between the two. Appetite is the psychological need for food, and it’s influenced by your senses, your emotions, and your environment. Hunger is the physiological need for food, meaning your body desires food to function normally. To simplify things even further, appetite deals with the sight or smell of food and your desire for it. Hunger deals with those pangs and growls you get in your stomach when you actually need food. Generally speaking, you should try to eat when you’re hungry. Take this example…after having a big meal for dinner, you might want some dessert, but are you actually hungry for it? You may just want it because it looks good or smells good, or because eating dessert is what you typically do after dinner. Essentially, your eyes are playing tricks on you. If you think you might be hungry in the evening, try drinking a glass of water and then waiting ten to fifteen minutes. If you’re still hungry at that point, try to figure out why. Did you have a big lunch and a small dinner, and now hunger is catching up with you? Or did you skip dinner altogether? You’ll often find a logical reason for being hungry, and if this is the case, be sure to remedy that situation the next time around. In the meantime, find something light to snack on in the evening. Some popcorn, a piece of fruit, yogurt, or even some string cheese would work just fine.
Anytime Fitness - 3930 SW 42nd Street - Suite 103 - Ocala, FL 34474 352-237-1848