July 26, 2011

Get Results in Ten Minutes a Day!

I have written a great deal about the need for intensity and hard work to obtain fitness results.  I have scoffed at infomercials proclaiming, “Results in ten minutes.”  And now I am going to contradict that to state that you can get results in ten minutes.
Here is the big disclaimer; it depends on what you mean by results.  If you want to lose weight or get a six pack, then sorry, do not delude yourself that ten minutes is enough.  However, if you want to improve your health by decreasing your blood pressure, cholesterol and or blood sugar, then ten minutes a day may be enough.
A great deal of research is showing that small doses of exercise of moderate intensity can go a long way towards improving physical and mental health.  Amazingly enough, even one bout of exercise can decrease blood pressure for several hours in individuals with hypertension.  Even something as simple as standing up every half hour can reduce blood sugar in sedentary individuals.  Low intensity exercise (especially if it is outside) for even five minutes can boost mood and self-esteem.
All of these benefits are attainable without weight loss. The exercise does not have to be intense; walking can get you great health returns.  If the idea of an hour (or even a half hour) of exercise a day is too intimidating to get you off the couch, then focus on just ten minutes.  Ten minutes a day to improve the quality of your life?  How can you resist?

Martin, C.K., et al. 2009. Exercise dose and quality of life: A randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (3), 269-78

Barton, J., & Pretty, J. 2010. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology. 44 (10), 3947-55.

July 14, 2011

Burn 1000 Calories in an hour ?

What do these statements have in common: Proven to burn 1000 calories an hour, get results with only ten minutes a day, doctor approved weight loss method? They are all misleading marketing slogans that herald “proven” benefits.   The weight loss and fitness industries flood us with new miracle products every day, all claiming to be backed by research.
Currently there is no organization that regulates fitness claims, so it is up to you to discriminate between marketing claims and real research. Read the claims carefully.  Calorie counts are usually exaggerated.  Any program that claims to burn even 600 calories an hour is most likely too intense for the average person to do for more than 30 minutes.  Running at 8 miles per hour for one hour may burn up to 800 calories an hour, but few of us can maintain that pace for an hour.  Most calorie estimates are based on a person (male) weighing about 160 pounds.  If you are female or weight less, your calorie burn will be less.
Get results in only 10 minutes a day? Lose weight without changing your activity level or what you eat? Sorry, I am not even going to discuss those. 
What about products that say “doctor approved”?  All that means is ONE doctor approved it, and there is a good chance he or she is making money from it.
Try not to be swayed by “anecdotal evidence”.  These are the compelling stories such as how one person gained 20 pounds of muscle and lost 10 pounds of fat in two weeks.  What works for one individual (or even several) does not prove the effectiveness of a product.
There are good scientific studies that back up many fitness programs, but even this research should be scrutinized. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating a research study:

  • Who funded the study?  (For example, did the dairy industry fund the study on whey protein?)
  • Where was the study done?  (In a lab or with people?)
    How many people were studied?
  • Was the research replicated?
  • Was the study published in a reputable journal?
Of course the best way to figure out which fitness claims are true is to apply the old cliché: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

July 4, 2011

Squat to better knees

If you are one of the many who say, “I can’t squat because it hurts my knees.” chances are it is due to poor form, not your knees.  The squat is one of the best exercises you can do to help strengthen your knees.  It is true that some individuals have too much knee damage to comfortably squat, but most people with knee pain will see an improvement after a squat conditioning program.  I am not talking about squatting with blow out weights or going ankle deep, and of course you should check with your physician first.
Bad form is the main cause of knee pain, so start with a modified squat until you can do one perfectly: 
 Stand with legs about shoulder width apart, keeping your knees so they follow the direction of your toes, then bend as far as comfortable.  It may only be a few inches at first.   Start with just six a day and gradually increase the repetitions.  Over time you will be able to bend deeper. It is crucial to keep the knees following the direction of the toes.  Some people have a natural turn out; this is fine as long as you do not twist the knees to track them forward.  Push out your rear as if sitting back into a chair.  Keep your back in its normal arch; do not round or over arch it.  Keep working at it until you can get your thighs parallel to the floor. 
Unless you are training for a specific sport or are a power lifter, you do not need to go any lower than parallel.  Make sure your heels stay on the floor.   Keep the knees behind your toes and rise up.  Keep your gaze forward and avoid looking down at the floor.

Another way to learn is to squat into a chair.  You can use your hands to help you back up until you are strong enough to get up without it. If your back hurts you can try a squat against the wall, or with a stability ball behind your back.  Once you can squat comfortably you can advance by adding dumbbells or barbells.  Keep practicing and you will see reduced knee pain as well as a tighter butt and toned legs.