3 Hormones That Can Make or Break Your Weight Loss Efforts

 

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Do you find yourself eating less, exercising more, and not losing a pound or an inch? If so, hormones may be to blame. Hormones are chemical messengers that are responsible for triggering or regulating bodily functions. When hormones are out of balance, negative effects within the body can result, including weight gain. Cortisol, insulin, and serotonin are just a few of the hormones that can and do play a significant role in making or breaking your weight loss efforts.

Insulin

Insulin can play a vital role in making or breaking your weight loss efforts. No matter how many calories you remove from your diet and no matter how many exercises you incorporate into your daily routine, if insulin is not stable, you may feel the need to eat more. In fact, according to Dr. Mercola, on his web site Mercola.com, explained that insulin is the central part of the weight loss equation and the reason 200 million Americans are overweight is because they have impaired insulin receptor sensitivity. An overabundance of insulin can prevent your fat-burning hormone, lipase, from releasing fat into your bloodstream to be used as fuel. So, instead of using fat for fuel, your body will use carbohydrates and amino acids from your muscles. The key to weight loss success, according to Mercola.com, is to have LOW levels of insulin so your body can produce large amounts of hormone-sensitive lipase and burn fat all day so you can look thin and slim. People with high insulin levels should also avoid overeating, especially refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and get regular exercise.

Serotonin

Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain, which plays a vital role in whether or not your dieting efforts will succeed. Serotonin can also affect your appetite, mood, sexual arousal, perception of pain and body temperature. Consuming high carbohydrate foods will increase serotonin levels in the brain, whereas low serotonin levels will cause your body to crave carbohydrates. Furthermore, researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Research Center (BIDRC) found that decreased serotonin is linked to increased appetite. Therefore, weight loss can occur when you increase your serotonin levels either through diet, supplementation or both. SAM-e and 5-HTP are supplements that may be of assistance in weight loss, and it has also been used for depression. Consult with your doctor before taking these supplements, especially if you are already taking medication for depression.

Cortisol

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, which is responsible for the flight or fight syndrome. This hormone plays a key role in metabolism, helping to determine the best source of energy – protein, carbohydrate, fat – for your body to use.  Chronic or long-term stress can increase cortisol levels and cause metabolic and hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain. Too much cortisol not only increases your appetite and craving for unhealthy foods, but also lowers testosterone levels in women and men. Lower testosterone can mean the loss of lean muscle, causing your body to burn calories less efficiently. Remember that muscle burns more calories than body fat. To keep your cortisol levels in check and lose weight, you need to incorporate stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi; and get regular exercise such as cycling, hiking or walking; and get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. In fact, according to Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., author of the book called “The Cortisol Connection,” says that getting just two nights of restful, sound sleep can be more effective at reducing cortisol than a lifetime of stress-management classes. And, lastly, taking certain supplements, such as DHEA, may also be helpful for lowering cortisol levels in men and women, according to a University of Pittsburgh study published in the “Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology” in February 2003.

So, as you can see, it is important to watch calories and include exercise; however, it is equally important to be aware of your hormonal balances, as well.

 

Valentine’s Day Treats That Won’t Bust Your Diet

Photo Credit: KitzOOO

Are you looking for the perfect sweet Valentine’s Day gift for yourself or a loved one, but don’t want to add too many extra calories? Sugar-free and low-sugar candies and sweets are a good option for those counting calories.

Chocolate should not make you feel guilty and may even help you get some nutrients you might be lacking. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which improve your blood pressure, lower your bad cholesterol and improves blood flow. The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains. Chocolates that consist of 70 percent cocoa are richest in flavonoids and usually less than 150 calories per serving. You can indulge in dark chocolate without the guilt. Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not offer the same guilt-free benefits and contains more calories.

Dried fruits are naturally sweet and contain plenty of vitamins and minerals. Nuts covered in dark chocolate are another good Valentine’s Day treat that won’t add a lot of calories to your diet. Some nuts can be high in fat, so check the label for calorie and fat information. Sugar-free jelly beans give you all the flavor your sweet tooth demands without the extra calories. Fresh fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries and pineapple are sweet and loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

30-Minutes to a Better Life

Photo credit: Victor Tondee [CC BY 2.0]

Stressed? You aren’t alone. The American Psychological Association released Stress in America: The State of our Nation in November 2017, finding that “a majority of adults (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember…” Modern life, with the culture of multitasking and expectation to ‘do it all,’ continues to add more and more to our already packed schedules. Work demands, family obligations, and personal commitments all contribute. As stress levels rise, so too does hypertension and the risks of associated diseases and complications, like increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Approximately 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure. Of those, about 54% have their blood pressure under control.

While we are inundated with proof that exercise can lower stress, finding the time to exercise may feel impossible. Including even one more activity in your day may feel impossible, but taking the time to exercise makes other challenges seem surmountable. Walking and practicing yoga are two forms of exercise that are easy to fit into your life and have been shown reduce stress and blood pressure.

Walking is a low impact way to lower blood pressure. Proven to be as effective as running, the American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity for three to four days a week to benefit blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Too busy for 40 minutes? Try splitting it up into 10 to 15-minute increments, shown to be just as effective. Some ways to add more walking to your day are to take the stairs, park at the farthest end of the parking lot, walk your dog, or take a walk with your partner or family.

Like walking, links have been found between practicing yoga and improving blood pressure. A meta-analysis conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that “overall, yoga was associated with a modest but significant reduction in blood pressure in individuals with prehypertension and hypertension. It’s important to note that “…even small reductions in blood pressure have been shown to reduce risk for coronary heart disease and stroke,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Many feel too intimidated to check out their local yoga studio. Misconceptions about yoga abound; while 75% of Americans agree “yoga is good for you,” 48% of all Americans say they are unlikely to try yoga, according to yogaalliance.org. It isn’t necessary to be hyper-flexible or in shape to practice yoga. As yoga continues to grow in popularity, it is becoming easier to find a studio that is the right fit for you. Alternatively, the internet provides a vast collection of free yoga videos to try at home. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube offers excellent options for beginners.

Roughly translated to yoke in English, yoga is the union between breath and movement. Both the physical practice (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) are beneficial because they stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Stress causes spikes in cortisol levels and triggers the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), our biological “fight or flight” response. The PNS is linked to our “rest and digest” response, slowing the heart and lowering blood pressure.

Some yoga poses are more beneficial than others. Supported forward folds, both standing and seated (Uttanasana and Pashchimottanasana) are considered cooling for the body and help to quiet the mind. Forward folds can be especially calming after a stressful day.

Yoga poses that are contraindicated for practitioners with hypertension are inversions, such as headstand and handstand (Shirshasana and Adho Mukha Vrksasana), and poses that compress the diaphragm, like bow pose (Dhanurasana). As always, please check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.

As days speed by faster and faster, with more to do and less time to do it, taking a moment for mindfulness, spending 15 minutes walking through your neighborhood or focusing on a simple yoga flow, can allow some space between you and those daily agitations associated with everyday life. Reducing overall stress is one of the best ways to combat hypertension and lead a happy, healthy life.

 

Resources

American Psychological Association

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf

Centers of Disease Control

https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm

American Heart Association

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp#.WmqtFpM-fVr

American Heart Association

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-Infographic_UCM_450754_SubHomePage.jsp

National Institutes of Health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679769/

Yoga Alliance

https://www.yogaalliance.org/Portals/0/2016%20Yoga%20in%20America%20Study%20RESULTS.pdf

Yoga with Adriene on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ6NfFIr2jw&list=PLui6Eyny-UzzWwB4h9y7jAzLbeuCUczAl%5D and busy people

 

 

Yoga Journal

https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/the-scientific-basis-of-yoga-therapy

Yoga International

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/5-poses-to-reduce-hypertension

Making Sense of Macronutrients: A Brief Look at the Ketogenic Diet

Photo credit: Kjokkenutstyr [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Macronutrients are the building blocks needed to maintain health. The seemingly simple concept is the source of debate among scientists, nutritionists, celebrities, and laypeople. The question of ratio, quantity, and combination of macronutrients is not new. At different points in recent years, we have seen advocates for a surplus of one over the other in most fad diets—making it nearly impossible to know what to eat.

One diet currently gaining popularity was created to treat childhood epilepsy in the early twentieth century. A ketogenic diet, recently rebranded as a “bio-hack,” has been proven to be effective in the treatment of childhood epilepsy—but is it safe for everyone?

Following a ketogenic diet means strictly limiting carbohydrates—starchy vegetables, grains, and fruits—that convert to sugar during digestion and are used to power the body. Instead of being fueled by sugar, the body is forced to burn fat for energy. The body enters a state of ketosis, a similar effect to fasting in which the presence of both acetone and beta-hydroxybutyric acid appear. Followers of ketogenic diets get up to 75 percent of their daily calories from fat, 5 to 10 percent from carbs. Remaining calories come from protein, typically 1 gram per kilogram of body weight.

In addition to epilepsy, researchers have studied the therapeutic effects of a ketogenic diet on obesity, headaches, neurodegenerative diseases, and endocrine, sleep, and psychiatric disorders. One study shows that benefits in obese patients included decreased body mass index, total cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose.

The ketogenic diet differs from other low-carb diets, like Atkins, because it is not broken up into phases. Unlike Atkins, carbohydrates are not slowly reintroduced to the diet; practitioners just continue with the drastically reduced carb consumption. Unfortunately, a prolonged sense of deprivation can lead to significant overindulgence.

One feared consequence of maintaining ketosis for a prolonged period is ketoacidosis, a state in which the blood acidifies from high-levels of ketones. So far, the level of ketones necessary to reach ketoacidosis has not been possible in nutritive ketosis. There are several real side-effects to consider, however, including digestive issues, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and micronutrient deficiencies. When choosing the ketogenic diet, it’s important to discuss supplementation with your doctor or nutritionist to avoid these types of issues.

With trends shifting from low-fat to low-carb/high-fat, high-protein to moderate-protein, deciding what to eat is challenging. If you grew up during the low-fat craze of the 1990s, you may find it difficult to add healthy fats to your diet. One benefit of a short-term ketogenic diet or a “low-ketogenic” plan is that it allows a higher number of carbohydrates and can act as a reset for the sugar-filled Standard American Diet. Once the curve from high to low blood sugar is stabilized, it can be easier to make choices based on true, biological hunger instead of cravings.

Ultimately, a balance of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and animal or plant protein provide an accessible middle ground for most. By eating a varied diet, you are more likely to get all of the necessary nutrients without supplementation, and you are less likely to binge on forbidden food categories. If you have been limiting caloric intake for weight loss, adding a slice of avocado can be profoundly satisfying.

Resources

Scientific American

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/

Women’s Health Magazine

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/high-protein-diets

Scientific American

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/

 

 

How to Exercise Proper Breath Control while Running

Those who run for fitness reasons and endurance practice know just how important it is to maintain proper breath control while running. Anyone who has exercised under the supervision of a trainer should be well aware of the strict instructions issued while working out and understand that it is a very important aspect of exercise. If you can learn to control your breath as instructed, you will glean maximum benefits from your workout or exercise program.

Controlling Your Breath while Running

Running is a common aspect of many exercise programs, since its reputation as an effective cardiovascular activity is suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. Exercising correct breath control will enable you, the runner, to run more, and to benefit more from an increased heart rate coupled with less fatigue. One of the simplest ways in which you can ensure that your body is getting enough oxygen into the lungs is by inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. Pay attention to your breathing and avoid rapid breathing, since that will prevent oxygen from getting deep into the lungs.

Rapid Breathing is Pointless and Unhealthy

If you are one of those runners who seem to be constantly out of breath and are unable to speak while on a run, it does not necessarily mean that you are out of shape; your breathing is likely the culprit. Following a deep and slow breathing process will enable you to not only get the required amount of oxygen into your lungs, but will prevent breathlessness. Contrary to what you may have imagined while watching a healthy runner getting out of breath, the rapid huffing and puffing indicates incorrect breath control. If you control your breath, you will be able to run and enunciate at the same time without much effort; the results will speak for themselves.

Proper Techniques take Time

Proper breathing techniques take a little time to inculcate into the system. It will take time, but if you pay attention to your breathing, you will notice how you are able to run longer distances and can control the levels of oxygen intake effectively. Controlling your breath matters a great deal, and it is guaranteed that you will notice results after being able to increase the distance covered by a few miles since you will have more energy to burn.

Mastering effective breath control techniques will give you the best out of your running experience. Breathing correctly will ensure an optimum cardiovascular workout, and will benefit other areas of your fitness program as well, such as swimming and yoga.

 

 

4 Kickboxing Workout Benefits for Weight Loss and Fitness

Kickboxing for Weight Loss

If you are looking for a tough workout that will get you in shape fast, then you definitely need to check out kickboxing.

The combination of bobbing, weaving, kicking and punching will get you in the best shape of your life in no time at all.

A person weighing 155 pounds can burn up to 400 calories during a 30-minute kickboxing workout. That’s a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

Here are a few great kickboxing workout benefits.

Benefit #1 – Burns More Calories in Less Time

As stated before, the average person can burn as much as 400 calories during a 30-minute kickboxing workout.

That means you can burn as much as 800 in an hour.

Kickboxing is a very high energy workout, which will get your heart pumping and your muscles burning. If you want to take it up a notch, consider adding jump rope in the mix.

Jumping rope can boost your calorie burn up to 900 or more in an hour workout. If you have stubborn belly fat, kickboxing will whip it into shape.

Benefit #2 – Total-Body Toning

Say bye-bye to those flabby arms and jiggly thighs. A kickboxing for weight loss workout will engage every muscle in your body. Some you never even knew you had.

Because of this, you will notice your body starting to tone up after only a few weeks. To burn even more calories, consider using a kickboxing pad during your workouts.

Benefit #3 – You Will Learn Self-Defense Moves

While most people just look at kickboxing as an intense, fat-loss workout, it’s also a great opportunity to learn life-saving self-defense moves.

When you are kicking, jabbing, bobbing and weaving, you are actually learning self-defense without even realizing it.

Some instructors will make it a point to let you know why you would use certain moves. This helps you better understand how you would defend yourself with that particular move.

Benefit #4 – Relieves Stress

The best way to relieve stress after a long day at work is through intense physical activity. Kickboxing would fall into that category. You will be kicking and punching as hard as you can. The result will be less frustration and a better night’s sleep. When you are kicking and punching the pads, you can imagine it being anyone who has made your day more difficult than it already was.

Maybe it’s your boss, a coworker or a friend. The idea is to get it all out on the pads. Let go of all the stress and tension of the day.

You will also be releasing the feel-good hormones known as endorphins, which will give you an extra boost in your mood.

Final Thoughts

Overall, kickboxing is an ideal exercise to get in shape and feel better about yourself and your body. Just make sure you take the time to learn how to do the moves the right way. Otherwise, you are putting yourself at risk for serious injury.

 

Want To Lose Weight Faster? Try These Workouts

Photo credit: Petr Kratochvil [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Exercise is one of the most important factors for a healthy lifestyle. If you want to lose weight fast, then it’s essential that you choose the right workouts for the best results. Workouts are also needed to both tone muscle and keep the mind and body healthy.

The idea of ‘working out’ doesn’t have to incorporate a session at the gym. The term ‘workout’ means “a practice or exercise to improve one’s fitness,” or “a session of vigorous physical training.” So any kind of intensive activity can be classed as a workout.

 

Here are some excellent workouts to try if you want to lose weight faster.

  • Walking. This might sound like it is too simple for to be called a ‘workout’, but if you currently have a sedentary lifestyle, then walking can be ideal. Walking has been described as a low-intensity activity to lose weight. It should be possible to burn up to 360 calories in 45 minutes. This means that walking 45 minutes per day a person can lose around a pound a week.
  • Swimming. Swimming is a great way to lose extra pounds. Depending on the type of swimming, a person can burn between 450 and 700 calories an hour. This is a low impact workout as the body isn’t subject to the bumps and strains of lifting weights or running. It’s a good form of exercise for people with other health issues like obesity, arthritis, and asthma.
  • Kettlebells. What are they? Cast iron balls that have a single handle. The interesting aspect of using kettlebells in a workout is that, because the weight isn’t distributed evenly, the body has to work to counterbalance kettlebell’s weight. Kettlebell workouts can burn around 400 calories in about 20 minutes. In terms of cardiovascular benefits, a workout with a kettlebell can be the equivalent to running six miles.
  • Jumping/skipping rope. This shouldn’t be resigned to the school playground. A jumping rope workout can help you burn up to 800 calories in an hour. Just 10 minutes of this type of workout is the same as running a mile. There are more than just cardiovascular benefits to using a jumping rope. It’s also a great way to improve endurance, coordination, and agility. It’s more intensive that other workouts, but this means that you don’t have to do it as long.
  • Squats. Squats burn fat fast and build muscle. Squat exercises use most of the muscles in the body. Why is this important? The more muscle mass a person has, the better his metabolism, and therefore calories will be burned faster. Squat workouts can be used with or without weights, therefore perfect for either home exercising or at the gym.
  • Lunges. These can be performed at home and no equipment is needed. They are great exercises to tone your lower body, but more importantly they great for burning calories. It’s estimated that a person can burn around 275 calories in a 30-minute workout. There are various types of lunges, even ‘explosive lunges.’
  • Bicycling is another low-impact, high-rewards activity for losing weight. Depending on how fast a person cycles and the type of terrain, it is possible to burn up to 1,000 calories in an hour. Cycling can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. For example, you could cycle to work or use the bicycle for leisure time. If that’s not possible, then most gyms have cycles.
  • Running. This is the ‘classic’ workout for losing weight. Running is great for strengthening muscle, improving the cardiovascular system and is generally good for the whole body and mind. It only requires a good pair of running shoes and a music player to help you keep pace. Even better is to use high-intensity interval running. This involves short bursts of running at top speed, then a slowing the pace before the next burst.