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Power From Within

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the news on the radio and it mentioned a study that confirmed something in our brains called insula can give athletes an extra physical edge to excel. I was intrigued!

We have all heard the stories of an athlete being able to perform the unexplainable. Or read accounts of individuals who pushed their body beyond what they thought sprinting-athletewas possible. There is a scientific reason why this happens. The reality is that our bodies are capable of more exertion than we think – it’s not physiological, it’s perception and anticipation.

Recent studies indicate the brain’s insular cortex can help an individual be more efficient physically and give that extra “edge”. The insula is said to anticipate future feelings.  Researchers at the OptiBrain Center and the Naval Health Research Center suggest that athletes can generate a heightened awareness that can accurately predict how the body will feel at the next moment. This allows an individual to activate their muscles to move faster and perform better than typically expected.

The OptiBrain center says this “mindfulness” is a result of the insula serving “as a critical hub that merges high-level cognition with a measure of the body’s state to insure proper functioning of the muscles and bones; those that perform more optimally are the ones who are able to use anticipatory cues to adjust themselves and return to equilibrium.”

The insula helps to calculate how much energy exercise “costs us”. The brain can respond by pushing the body when it needs to and pulling back when necessary. The insula seems to be the key to pushing yourself physically to limits you did not think you could reach.

So next time you are in a workout, try to incorporate a sense of mindfulness…anticipating when you will need to exert yourself to a higher level (for those in our Tabata Bootcamp – you know when it is coming ;-). You might be surprised how much you can push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable.

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You Are My Sunshine

What if we told you there is something you can take to build strong muscles and bones, improve your cognition, build a strong immune system and increase your energy level…and you can’t taste it?

Well, this is your lucky day. We are not talking about expensive, questionable supplements. We are talking about vitamin D. A little dose packs a big punch.

Vitamin D is a nutrient that can be found in some foods but, as many know, is also absorbed by the body from the sun. Vitamin D is essential for the formation, growth, Sources-of-Vitamin-Dand repair of bones and for normal calcium absorption. It is also a requirement for muscle movement and helps nerves carry messages between the brain and every part of your body. In addition, your immune system needs vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses. It has also been cited in helping to maintain a healthy body weight and healthy heart.

In fact, high levels of vitamin D were found to protect people at a genetic  level. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that higher vitamin D levels in healthy individuals have a significant impact on the genes that are involved in several biologic pathways associated with illnesses, including cancer, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases. It is also a great defense against osteoporosis.

People can become deficient in vitamin D because they don’t consume or absorb enough from their food, their exposure to sunlight is limited or their kidneys do not convert vitamin D to its active form in the body.

How do you know if you are getting enough?

They best indication is through a blood test on your vitamin D levels. A level of 50 nmol/L or above are sufficient for most people. Vitamin D levels can rarely be high enough to be harmful, but it is possible.

How do I get it?

Not that many foods contain vitamin D. It is mostly found in fortified foods. Foods that naturally have vitamin D include salmon, tuna, mackerel, cheese, egg yolks (in small amounts), mushrooms and milk. Fortified foods (enriched by food manufacturers) include some brands of bread, orange juice, cereal, yogurt, soy beverages, etc.

The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Recommended intakes of vitamin D are based on the assumption of little sun exposure. On average, you only need 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per week. Skin exposed to sun through a window indoors does not produce vitamin D. Despite the benefits of vitamin D from the sun, is it critical to limit exposure of skin to sunlight, wear sun protective clothing and sunscreen with SPF to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

You can also take vitamin D supplements. The safe upper limit for Vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU/day for children 1-8 yrs old and 4,000 IU/day for children 9 years and older, including adults. You should not exceed these amounts. On average, the recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 IU per day. Just as a reference, I take 2,000.

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14 Reasons Why You Are Still Not Losing Weight

Sometimes we feel like we are doing everything right, but the weight still doesn’t come off.  Following are some possible reasons why the scale isn’t moving in the right direction.weightlossblog

1.  Eating In Front Of The Television Or A Computer

It is easy to overeat when you aren’t paying attention.  Instead of bringing food to the couch or desk, step away from the screens and focus on enjoying your food.  You will feel satisfied and have less of a tendency to overeat.

2.  Overindulging In Low-Fat Foods

Low-fat foods may appear healthier, but they are often full of additives, artificial sugars and extra sodium. Even though it feels like you are eating lighter,  you may end up eating more than you anticipated.

3.  Overdoing It With Artificial Sugar

Study after study, including a recent one out of Yale University, has shown that when you eat artificial sugar, your bodies crave more sweets. Your taste buds may be ok with the fake stuff, but your brain isn’t fooled.

4.  Thinking Cardio Is The Only Exercise Needed

Everyone needs cardiovascular exercise for heart health, but incorporating weight training also has major benefits. Weight training builds muscle mass, increases metabolic rate and makes your body stronger and leaner.  This higher metabolism keeps you burning calories long after you have left the gym.  (See our earlier blog Heels To Barbells).

5.  Skipping Breakfast

It’s true – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. People who eat breakfast regularly lose more weight. Eating breakfast each morning jump starts your metabolism and keeps your cravings in check. It’s important to keep it healthy and balanced: include protein to give yourself sustainable energy and fiber to fill you up for hours.

6.  Working Out On An Empty Stomach

Research has shown that when exercising on an empty stomach, the calories burned will come from muscle, not fat. You want to keep those muscles since they burn more calories than fat. The more muscle mass you have, the better it is for weight loss. Not only will fueling your body help you avoid losing muscle, you will have more energy to push yourself through your workout.

7.  Overeating Healthy Foods

Yes – nuts, avocados, whole wheat pasta and olive oil are all good for you, but those calories still count.  Keep track of your portions as you enjoy these foods.

8.  Eating Straight From The Fridge Or The Kids’ Plates

Everything you eat counts – whether it is a handful of the chips from your son’s lunch or a few bites of leftovers from the fridge.  Even if you toss down these few bites without thinking, they still count.  My little trick – try chewing gum when making food for others.

9.  Turning A Healthy Salad Into A Landmine

Be conscious of what you put on your salad.  Creamy salad dressings, croutons, bacon bits, dried fruits and cheese can literally add hundreds of calories.  Try other lower calorie choices such as chickpeas, shredded carrots,  lemon juice or balsamic glaze.

10. Lacking Portion Control

This is a crucial key that can derail any attempts at weight loss.  You may need to initially weigh your food to learn the appropriate portion sizes.  Once you get the hang of it, you will be better able to judge what is a portion.  And just as importantly, you need to learn to recognize when you are full. At that first feeling of fullness, either remove your plate or cover your food with a napkin.

11.  Not Drinking Enough Water

Water not only keeps you hydrated, but drinking water on a regular basis helps with weight loss. Additionally, filling up on water before a meal helps encourage portion control. A recent study even found that drinking cold water can speed up metabolism and discourage cravings for sugary drinks like soda and juice.

12.  Never Indulging

In an otherwise healthy diet, enjoying a treat now and then isn’t going to ruin your weight-loss goals, and it may help you stay on track  by keeping you from binging.  A study found that a daily variance of as much as 600 calories  (that means some days less and some days more – not always an extra 600 calories) won’t reflect on your waistline, as long as you maintain a healthy diet in the long run.  Try not to waste these calories eating cold leftovers straight from the fridge; if you are going to indulge once in a while, choose something you really love and sit down and savor it.

13.  Eating The Wrong Post Workout Snack

A post-workout snack is just that — a snack. And unless it’s mealtime, what you eat after an average workout should be around 150 calories. Since healthy foods like trail mix can be high in calories, measure out a serving instead of mindlessly chomping straight out of the bag.

14.  Forgetting To Journal

Writing down what you eat is an essential way to monitor daily caloric intake. A study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics surveyed 123 women and found that those who were the most successful at losing weight used a food journal to keep track of their food intake.  And with today’s apps, there is really no excuse. (I use MyFitnessPal.)

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