4 Benefits of Training with a Stability Ball

The stability ball is an effective tool for mastering balance, control, core stability, and strength. Stability balls, also known as exercise balls or fit balls, are used in home gyms, weight rooms, and fitness classes. Using a stability ball on a regular basis will provide many benefits and make any exercise more challenging.

Spine and Back Health

According to a study published in the May 2006 edition of “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” using an exercise/stability ball may decrease the risk of back pain in sedentary individuals and improve stability of the spine. The study found that when the stability ball is used on a regular basis, spinal stability and core strength improved. Researchers concluded that individuals who are prone to back pain or spend a lot of time sitting could definitely benefit from frequent use of the stability ball.

Muscle Balance

Muscle imbalance is caused when one muscle group is stronger than its opposing muscle group. For example, your quadriceps (front of thigh) and hamstrings (back of thigh) need to work together to perform a certain task, as do your triceps and biceps. Your anterior muscles (front of body) are naturally stronger than your posterior muscles (back of body), because they are used more frequently throughout the day. Also, most people tend to neglect their posterior muscles and over-train their anterior muscles, which can lead to additional imbalances and bad posture. The ball is an ideal choice for correcting these imbalances because it strengthens the posterior muscles and supports the lower back.

Aids in Sports Performance

The soft, unstable surface of the exercise ball stimulates all of your core muscles, and improves proprioception, balance, posture and coordination. Not only will these skills help protect you from injury, but also improve your sports and fitness performance.

Core Stability

Your core plays a critical role in stabilizing and supporting all your movements. The abdominal muscles or “midsection” consists of deep core and back muscles that work to balance your entire body. The deep muscles in the abdominal wall, such as the lumbar multifidus and transverse abdominis, form a belt around the vertebrae to help control breathing and support posture. These muscles work together to help with everyday activities, such as throwing, reaching, lifting, running and bending, so keeping them in good shape is very important. Otherwise, you risk injury and simple movements like walking, pulling, and running go unsupported when the stabilizer muscles are not well conditioned. Three great exercises for stabilizing the core include the Plank, Prone Cobra and Floor Bridge. When you perform these exercises, focus on slow, controlled movements. For best results, perform at least 2 sets of these three exercises at least three days a week, non-consecutively, for 4 to 6 weeks.

 

References

Top 5 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods

 

Photo credit: Renee Rendler-Kaplan CC-BY-1.0

Being diagnosed with any cancer can be a frightening experience, and just hearing the “C” word can be terrifying enough. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated one-third of cancer deaths can be linked to a poor diet and inactivity. Genetic and environmental factors also play a role. However, the good news is that you can fight disease and live longer by making healthier food choices, including a variety of superfoods, and getting more exercise.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green algae superfood abundant in vitamins, minerals, protein, carotenoids, and antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage. It contains nutrients, including beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, manganese, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, iron, copper and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid).  In A Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies, Mark Stengler ND, writes “spirulina stimulates natural killer cells and similar anti-immune components of the immune system that can help fight cancer cells. Laboratory studies also show that spirulina polysaccharides can work to repair genetic material that has been damaged from toxins or from radiation.”

Chlorella
 

Chlorella is another nutrient-dense superfood that offers a powerful punch against cancer. In Prescription for Dietary Wellness, Phyllis A. Balch explains, “Chlorella…contains the highest chlorophyll level per ounce of any plant, as well as protein (nearly 58 percent), carbohydrates, all of the B vitamins, vitamins C and E, amino acids (including all nine essential ones), enzymes and rare trace minerals.” In Treating Cancer with Herbs, Michael Tierra, writes “due to its dense and nutrient-rich nature, chlorella offers your body a two-fold attack against cancer. You can access these benefits by taking only one or two teaspoons of chlorella once or twice daily.”

Mushrooms

Several types of mushrooms, such as Maitake, Shiitake and Reishi, help to strengthen the immune system and may assist the body in its fight against cancer. Compounds in the mushrooms called polysaccharides can help build immunity. Lectin, which is a protein, may also fight cancer cells by preventing them from multiplying.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, may provide protection against certain cancers, including colon, bladder and breast cancers. Cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals called isothiocyanates, which stimulate our bodies to break down potential carcinogens. Sulforaphane, found in broccoli and in broccoli sprouts, is a well-known isothiocyanate, which stimulates the body to produce enzymes that detoxify carcinogens. Also, according to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, many cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, a compound that affects sex-hormone metabolism involved with the progression of prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. Men between 40 and 64 who ate three or more half-cup servings of cruciferous vegetables a week were 41 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Berries

Fresh, organic berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are abundant in nutrients and antioxidants, which may slow or prevent the development of cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, all berries are abundant in a phytochemical called ellagic acid, which has shown the ability to prevent cancers of the breast, skin, lung, bladder and esophagus. Ellagic acid also acts as an antioxidant, helping the body to neutralize specific carcinogens and slow the reproduction of cancer cells.

 

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.