Archive for June, 2013

postheadericon Caring for our immune system


Our immune system is something we often don’t think much about until we get a cold or the flu. But a healthy immune system is critical for us to carry out our daily activities, including our workouts, without falling ill to many of the microscopic invaders that we come into contact with daily. One important part of our immune system is in our intestines. Our intestines do a lot of work for us – trillions of bacteria, most of them the beneficial kind, inhabit our intestinal tracts, processing our food and making available essential nutrients that fuel our bodies and help us to carry out all of our activities, including exercise. One of the important functions of our intestines is immunity. About 70% or more of the power of our immune system resides in our intestines. Important players in our immune system, such as B and T cells, have their origin in the gut, specifically the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). So a healthy intestinal tract is important for overall health, immune strength, and good training.

So how do we give our guts the best care we can and how can we help our overall immune system stay healthy?

> Well, one thing we can do is obvious – eat a healthy diet. Unprocessed, nutrient-dense food makes less work for our bodies and gives us the nutrition we need without having to filter out a lot of junk (there’s a reason it’s called “junk food.”)

> We can also be tuned in to any negative reactions we have when eating certain kinds of food. We all know people with food allergies or intolerances, and having that as an added burden won’t help our health OR our workouts. So watch for that often hidden problem.

> Probiotics, which can be found either in some foods or taken as a supplement, are basically the beneficial bacteria that can help keep the population of “good bacteria” high enough to allow for good function. Probiotics are available in capsule or tablet form, either in refrigerated or shelf stable varieties. Soy or almond yogurt is also a good vegan source of these beneficial bacteria.

> Exercise! Moderate exercise has been shown to help immune function and is recommended for almost everyone, even people with serious diseases such as cancer. For example, colon cancer patients have been shown to have better odds of survival if they walk regularly.

> Get plenty of rest and sleep. Lack of sleep can impair immune function and predispose us to all kinds of ailments. Plus, it just makes us feel lousy.

> This one is tough, but try and avoid stress. Or, if there is unavoidable stress in your life (and who DOESN’T have some stress?), try and find healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise (!), relaxation techniques, or spending time outdoors.

> Phone a friend – or better yet, get together with one. Social relationships can have a positive effect on our immune system.

So externally and internally, there is a lot we can do to strengthen our immune system and keep it working for us and our workouts!

Source articles:

Mother Earth News
Weight Training

Photo: Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells. Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

postheadericon No cardio (for a month, anyway)

No cardio – that’s right. I am going to experiment, just for a month, with a no cardio regimen. What is causing me to make this decision that many fitness enthusiasts would say is not productive and possibly even unhealthy? Plain and simple – a slump. I have been in a bit of a workout slump for a little while, in part because of a time/schedule situation which required me to cut back on workouts overall for a few weeks. But it isn’t just that. I have often taken breaks from lifting, usually for a week or so. Most of the time, I returned to the gym with a new energy for lifting and was often happy to see that my strength had increased from the additional rest. But I almost never take a significant break from cardio. And I am starting to wonder if the break I feel I need is not from strength training, but from cardio, both steady-state training and high intensity. Not that I don’t love a good run or a butt-kicking HIIT workout, but perhaps a rest from just cardio while maintaining strength training will help me to accomplish my short term goals – to lose a few pounds, get better defined, and have more energy.

So why are so many people saying no to cardio? A couple of reasons. First, muscle has a higher caloric requirement than fat just to maintain itself. The more muscle on the body, the more calories consumed, even while resting. This means that highly muscled individuals often maintain their weight better than people who don’t have as much muscle. So more muscle = better weight maintenance. How do we get more muscle? – strength training. Second, many people believe that cardio, especially long duration exercise, causes inflammation in the body, increases the production of stress hormones, and destroys the muscle acquired after many hard hours in the gym. Why work so hard to get something only to destroy it? Especially if it might lead to other problems, such as inflammation and fatigue.

I do believe a variety of cardio routines, including HIIT and even steady state on occasion, have their place in a healthy lifestyle. And cardio training DOES help heart health, after all. So eventually, I am sure I will introduce it into my life again. But until July 4, which will be an easy date to remember, I am going to strength train three times per week and not do any intentional cardio workouts. If I have an opportunity to go for a walk or a hike, I will, but I am not planning any specific exercise, especially high intensity activities. So that I only have one variable to deal with, I am not going to change my sleep patterns or my diet significantly, other than to maintain my current effort to eat pretty clean. Wish me luck – I’ll let you all know in a month how it turned out.

postheadericon Why power training is important, too

I was so tempted to start this discussion with a Star Trek reference in the title (Scotty, I need more POWER!!). It was a close call. But dilithium crystals aside, we actually DO need more power. A training regimen which includes power training is believed to benefit health as much as one that includes strength training. Power training may be even more effective than strength training in helping older adults carry out their daily activities. It is even recommended as part of training for endurance athletes, such as triathletes and marathoners.
strength training hand_weights_on_workout_mat
Before we get to power training, though, let’s do a quick review of strength training. Strength refers to the ability of muscle to exert force against resistance. That resistance can be in the form of a very heavy weight, from a resistance band, or from one’s own body weight. Typically, strength training goals revolve around how much weight a given muscle or group of muscles is able to lift. So when people talk about being able to bench press x pounds or squat y pounds, it is a strength measurement. Strength training refers to training which is designed to increase muscle strength. The variety of weight training exercises performed in succession (reps) and in repeated successions (sets) is the cornerstone of strength training regimens. As previously mentioned, resistance bands and body weight exercises can provide the necessary resistance to build strength in many cases, although weight training with heavy weights remains the popular choice for strength training.

power training basketball_hoop_at_park
Power is a bit different than strength. Power refers to the amount of work done per unit of time. There is a new component here – time. Power is the ability to do something, but it also matters how quickly it gets done – so now timing and speed become part of the training. Power training often includes exercises such as plyometrics (think basketball jumps), sprints, and quicker and reduced rest sets with weights (usually with much lighter weights than are used for strength training) – exercises that require explosive expenditures of energy in short periods of time. Incorporating these types of exercises into our training regimen can help us to be better at our athletic pursuits, our daily activities, and to be healthier overall.

Here is a very comprehensive article about power training and specifically what kinds of exercises to do.

And to quote Shaun T in the Cardio Power and Resistance DVD of Insanity, “It’s all about power, y’all.”

postheadericon My new fave breakfast (or lunch, or dinner…..)

Seems like a small thing – a bowl of cereal, yogurt, and some fruit. But for GF vegans who are looking for a protein-filled high fiber start to the day, a good bowl of cereal (that tastes good!) can be a challenge to find.

Enter Van’s Cinnamon Heaven gluten free cereal. Van’s products have been very reliable sources of good tasting, nutritious GF food for me, and this cereal does not disappoint. With a soy yogurt and some fruit, it provides fiber, protein, carbs, and is filling and tasty. It does make a good lunch and in a pinch or at the end of a long day, a light dinner.

Nutritionals are for a bowl of Cinnamon heaven, silk fruit and creamy soy yogurt, and a half cup of fresh blueberries:

calories 300g
fiber 6.3g
protein 8g
carbs 59g
fat 4.5g