Archive | May, 2009

The End of Overeating

31 May

As I’ve said for quite a while, it’s not just reducing calories, but also chosing those that are whole and natural and unprocessed.  Here’s a book that brings forth this information but also gives us a dose of how the processed food industry stimulates the pleasure center of our brain and turns us into food junkies.

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Diet, by Dr. David A. Kessler

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Sustainable Reduction of Calories

26 May

We all know that part of the formula to losing weight is eating fewer calories.  But anyone who’s ever cut calories would probably say that standing on your hands while receiving an enema is easier.  

The pharmaceutical guys came to the rescue with their appetite depressants, like Fen-phen, which was wonderfully effective at putting an end to hunger–as well as a hole in the heart.  What a disaster.  But the natural supplement industry is here to back this fiasco with plan B: appetite depressants that are mostly central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, which made us eat less but also made us tremble and anxious and paranoid about things like sunshine and generally being alive.  

So we return to something less risky.  Which is to to stand on our hands and receive an enema.  Or, we force ourselves to… gasp… eat less.  

Of course, eating fewer calories must be somewhat (or vaguely, or even remotely) user-friendly, so weight loss wisdom offers dirty little tricks against nature to help us eat less, strategies that fool the body into thinking it’s getting food when it’s really being starved–like chewing gum while watching American Idol, or sucking on an ice cube to keep your mouth busy while your mind trips over and over on the thought of real food.  Sure, many of these tricks work. 

But, for how long can we trick our bodies into eating less?  I mean, for the most part, it’s downright oppressive. 

Hunger is a strong instinct, otherwise we’d all be dead two million years ago had our ancestors decided that hunting the wooly mammoth and gathering berries were too much trouble.  Hunger made the nomads travel vast continents, and hunger made them cross the great tundra; therefore, hunger sure as hell can’t be stopped by an ice cube.

To eat fewer calories, you need behavioral changes.  Yes, most of us knew that.  Stop buying junk food and crap with empty calories.  Don’t go for seconds.  Push away from the table.  Stop eating mindlessly.  Duct tape your mouth.  Blah blah blah.  This doesn’t address the real issue: the low-calorie-induced hunger.        

Eating fewer calories require behavioral changes that are in themselves challenging, and the associated hunger pretty much throws this challenge over the top.  Why not keep this challenge manageable at its foundation:  eat foods that tend not to trigger hunger in the first place?

By this I mean go for fibrous (less starchy) vegetables, and some fresh citrus fruits and berries as the main source of your carbohydrates.  They don’t tend to hi-jack your pancreas into releasing the massive insulin that essentially throws your blood sugar out of whack, which messes with proper nutrient uptake by muscle and fat cells and ends up making you even more hungry.  

Starchy carbohydrates and grain-based processed foods tend to cause a series of hormonal and cellular events that ultimately leave you low on energy and fat on… well, fat.  Ultimately, this makes you perpetually hungry, which is a bad thing on top of the psychological and behavioral hunger that already stem from a reduced calorie intake.  This is not a good start, middle, or end to your weight loss or weight management program.  If you want your low-calorie intake to be sustainable, then reduce or eliminate the foods that trigger hunger.

So it’s not simply cutting calories to lose (fat) weight, but also eating the right food to control the hunger.  This also helps deliver nutrients into their proper places in the body, so that the muscle cells don’t starve and the fat cells don’t get stuffed.  It’s all around a good thing to do.

Are Sport Drinks Necessary During Your Workout?

23 May

We see those sport drink commercials flooding our attention with us believing that we need their product during our sporting activity. They want us to believe that if we drink their product, we will perform better or as good as the pros do because they drink the same product. But do we really? Are these better than water alone?

In a nutshell, the research suggests that if our activity lasts more than an hour, with vigorous activity (such as competitive endurance events, summer conditioning, or in hot environments), yes, a sports drink is better than drinking water alone. The carbohydrates and electrolytes in the sports drink do help replenish those that are lost during your activity.

However, that means for most weight training programs alone, they are not necessary. Your program should not last for more than an hour. Many programs have rest periods that last longer than you are actually active, so your carbohydrate stores are not exhausted enough that would require any need for a sports drink. However, there still are exceptions: the environmental conditions, exercise intensity, acclimatization, aerobic fitness level, hydration status, age and gender can all have an effect on you will perform during your workout.

For those that routinely train intensely for more than an hour, you will have to deal with dehydration. During endurance exercise, the research suggests 150 to 350 mL (6 to 12 oz) of fluid should be consumed every 15 to 20 minutes. There has not been any recommendations established for resistance training and fluid losses alone, however, this same recommendation can also apply. Your rate of fluid loss while exercising will depend on the same conditions listed above (i.e. environmental conditions, intensity of play, etc.).

In order to replenish lost glycogen during your training, bring a water bottle containing a solution of six to seven percent carbohydrate and electrolytes, such as Cytomax, Heed, G Push or Hammer Gel. Try to avoid Gatorade, Powerade or any of the common sport drinks seen on commercials because they contain a considerable amount of table sugar, which may lead to nausea, diarrhea and/or poor replacement of muscle glycogen.

Fats for Dieters: The Essential Fats

22 May

The essential fatty acid’s are described in another article here entitled “Fats for Your Performance”, that gives a brief overview of various types of fat that are most beneficial for energizing you and helping you recover through your athletic events. This would be a recommended quick read.

Briefly, there are 2 distinct types of EFA’s, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linoleic acid (omega-3). Both of these contain double bonds uniquely located that are critical in their functions and behavior within our bodies. The more double bonds in a fatty acid, the more it speeds up metabolism and stimulates energy production. This article will focus on how and why we should be eating essential fatty acids (EFA) while we are trying to lose body fat.

Benefits

Here is a quick summary of benefits of EFA:

* All fats including essential fats suppress appetite.
* Fats stabilize the highs and lows of blood sugar and insulin levels, maintaining stability.
* Essential fats improve thyroid function, normalize metabolic rate and energy levels provided enough iodine is present in the diet. While dieting, our metabolic rate will have a tendency to decrease to conserve energy.
* Omega-3 (abbreviated, n-3) essential fats decrease inflammation and water retention, and help release water from inflamed tissues.
* N-3 essential fats improve kidney function, making removal of excess water more efficient.
* N-3 essential fats increase energy production, making it more likely that a person will be physically active. This, in turn, leads to more calories being burned, and increased muscle mass as a result of increased physical activity.
* N-3 essential fats elevate mood and lift depression. Recently they have been used as an alternative to treat ADD and ADHD.

Research suggests that n-3 and some omega-6 (n-6) EFA’s play a major role in the body’s ability to burn fat. These do NOT include monounsaturated, saturated, or trans-fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are still healthy fats compared to the others listed, however, for the purposes of burning fat, they are not an ideal choice compared to polyunsaturated fats such as EFA’s. This is because the body cannot make an omega−3 or omega−6 fatty acid because human metabolism cannot add a double-bond to a fatty acid that is more than 9 carbons away from the methyl end of a double bond. For the same reason, the body cannot convert an omega−3 to an omega−6 fatty acid, or vice-versa. But the body can make omega−9 fatty acids, thus they are not EFA’s.

EFA’s at the Genetic Level

The EFA’s and, more specifically the n-3’s, are powerful food components that affect us at the genetic level. The following is a list of their capabilities:

1. Decrease fat production by turning down the gene responsible for fat production (fatty acid synthase)
2. Increase fat utilization by activating at least 9 genes required for fat burning
3. Shift the body from using carbohydrates as fuel to using fats as fuel
4. Turn on gene (uncoupling protein) that is responsible for thermogenesis – the production of energy from fat without the body performing work.

As you can see, individuals on very-low to no-fat diets are lacking these benefits when EFA’s are lacking in their diet. Also, as mentioned earlier, EFA’s have other benefits such as cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, etc.

Sources of Omega-3’s

Alpha-linolenic acid, the primary dietary source of omega−3 fatty acids in the diet, is frequently found in green leaves. The leaves and seeds of the perilla plant (widely eaten in Japan, Korea and India) are the richest plant source of alpha-linolenic acid, although linseed oil is also a rich source. Fish oil contains very little lpha-linolenic acid, but is rich in the omega−3 derivatives EPA and DHA. Fish are at the top of a food chain based on phytoplankton (algae) that manufacture large amounts of EPA and DHA.

The primary source of omega−6 fatty acids in the diet is linoleic acid from the oils of seeds and grains. Sunflower, safflower and corn oil are particularly rich sources of linoleic acid, which is at the root of the omega−6 fatty-acid family. Evening primrose oil and borage oil are high not only in linoleic acid, but the omega−6 derivative gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Avocado is 15-20% oil — mainly monosaturated, but also high in linoleic acid. (Avocado has the highest fat content and the highest fiber content — soluble as well as insoluble — of any fruit.)

Recommendations

When trying to decrease body fat, the end goal is to be slim and trim.

Nevertheless, because of the multiple uses of omega-3’s and essential fatty acids (EFAs) in our diet, we should certainly be taking them. How much? The recommendations vary. One “fat expert” named Dr. Udo Erasmus believes that you should take enough EFAs to make your skin feel velvety. If you can scratch a letter on your hand, then it is too dry. This could range from 1-5 tablespoons of flax seed oil per day.

Dr. Erasmus also believes that we should ingest optimal ratios of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are found in abundance in our Western diet because of all of the excessive heating and processing we do to our fats. Healthy omega-3’s can be broken down into unhealthy omega-6’s (although not all are unhealthy, such as GLA). Thus, if you continue eating primarily omega-6 fatty acids, then you will become omega-3 deficient. The same is true vice versa. If you rely on a great omega-3 source of fats, such as flax seed oil only, then you can actually become omega-6 deficient. Therefore, Dr. Erasmus has his own product called Udo’s Perfected Blend in which he has what is believed to be the optimal amount of omega-3:omega-6 ratio, as well as some MCTs. This oil has a pleasant nutty taste that can be easily mixed into yogurt, protein shakes, salads, or whatever you think might work for you.

Fish oil is another alternative. At one time, the fear was ingesting fish oil from fish contaminated with mercury, pesticides, heavy metals, or an assortment of toxic substances our industrialized world dumps into the ocean. However, today, there is more public pressure to create purified oils that do not have these contaminants in them. Today there are a number of brands that have their fish oils independently lab tested for contaminants and toxins. Many brands now advertise this.

Choosing an Oil

Just like fresh produce, highly unsaturated fats are sensitive to light, oxygen, heat, processing and time and they can produce toxic substances when exposed to any of these. These substances will inhibit energy production and performance.

Therefore, choose oils that are bottled in a dark bottle in glass and refrigerated. Make sure to keep it refrigerated at home and finish the bottle within 3 to 6 weeks.

Fats for Your Performance

21 May

Typically, athletes are suggested to keep their fat intake low for their athletic performance. Unfortunately, some athletes interpret this advice as a total avoidance of fat intake or they try to keep it at a bare minimum. This cannot only be detrimental to performance, but also to overall health.

Just like carbohydrates and protein, not all fats are equal in how they behave and affect your body. The “healthy” fats are the types of fat that are required for health, energy production, regulation of cell functions, and healing of injuries. Many of these are the essential fatty acids (EFAs) or the fats that we need from our environment that the body does not produce, such as linoleic acid, alpha-linoleic acid and fish oils. The “bad” fats interfere with health and slow down athletic performance.

Fats Regulating Energy Production

There are two factors that affect how a fat affects energy production: 1) its chain length, or the number of carbon atoms it consists of, and 2) how many double bonds they have.

Chain length

Chain length concerns saturated fats primarily. The term “saturated fat” refers to the chemical structure of the fat. Saturated fats consist of fatty acids whose carbons are joined by single bonds. Carbon, by nature, can form four bonds. In these fats, it is usually bonded to another carbon atom or a hydrogen atom, unless it is the last carbon on the molecule. These fats do not contain any double bonds.

The shorter the saturated fatty acid, the less it inhibits energy production. Our body easily metabolizes short-chain fatty acids to produce energy. These are 4 to 12 carbon atoms in length and consist of a class of saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are 6 to 12 carbon lengths.

As much as the shorter chain fatty acids speed up metabolism, the opposite can be said of long chain fatty acids. These inhibit energy production. The longer they are, the more they slow down energy production because the body takes more energy to metabolize them. These are the fats found in tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel oils), land animals, butter, margarine and certain vegetable oils.

Degree of Unsaturation

The more double bonds in a fatty acid, the more it speeds up metabolism and stimulates energy production. So a saturated fatty acid of a particular chain length is “slower” than an unsaturated fatty acid of the same carbon chain length.

Also, the greater the double bonds present in a fatty acid, the more it increases oxidation rate, metabolic rate, and energy production.

Fat for Energy

When it comes to deciding which types of fats an athlete’s diet should contain, they should consume short-chain fatty acids, like MCTs, and omega-3 fats such as alpha-linoleic acid, linoleic acid (found in flax seeds and flax oil) and fish oils.

At the same time, they should avoid the long-chain saturated fats that slow them down. These are found in foods that are processed, altered, fried, deep-fried, hydrogenated, or rancid (rotten). All of these interfere with cellular functions and some inhibit cell oxidation and energy levels. Some injure cell membranes, tissues and arteries. Others interfere with digestive processes, resulting in poorer absorption of nutrients, bowel irritation, and allergic reactions that require more energy to process, leaving less for performance.

Anecdotally, athletes who start taking omega-3’s report increased endurance, perform better, and recover from fatigue after exercise quicker than they did before taking omega-3’s. Although this phenomenon is not totally understood, this may be because of the omega-3’s role in oxygen transfer in the lungs (i.e. oxidation).

Because of their increase of oxidation and metabolic rate, omega-3’s and other highly unsaturated fatty acids such as stearidonic, gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty abbreviated GLA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) prevent fat deposition. These help people lose excess body fat and water held in tissues.

Fat for Healing

Another area of athletic performance that healthy fats are getting some attention is their role in healing. We know that omega-3’s have an anti-inflammatory role in our bodies, but whether or not it is strong enough to produce a significant improvement in recovery time may still be debatable. However, this is still a relatively new area that needs a lot more human studies to confirm whether or not healthy fatty acids like omega-3’s could speed recovery.

Anecdotally, athletes with bruises and sprains heal faster when they include omega-3’s in their diet. According to these studies, minor injuries take only one-quarter to one-third of the healing time previously required. This is a difficult claim to support. How do you know each injury was of the same severity? Because of the number of unknown factors involved in determining how effective omega-3’s are, you should still resort to more dependable measures of recovering from injuries, such as ice, rest and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Recommendations

Nevertheless, because of the multiple uses of omega-3’s and essential fatty acids (EFAs) in our diet, we should certainly be taking them. How much? The recommendations vary. One “fat expert” named Dr. Udo Erasmus believes that you should take enough EFAs to make your skin feel velvety. If you can scratch a letter on your hand, then it is too dry. This could range from 1-5 tablespoons of flax seed oil per day.

Dr. Erasmus also believes that we should ingest optimal ratios of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are found in abundance in our Western diet because of all of the excessive heating and processing we do to our fats. Healthy omega-3’s can be broken down into unhealthy omega-6’s (although not all are unhealthy, such as GLA). Thus, if you continue eating primarily omega-6 fatty acids, then you will become omega-3 deficient. The same is true vice versa. If you rely on a great omega-3 source of fats, such as flax seed oil only, then you can actually become omega-6 deficient. Therefore, Dr. Erasmus has his own product called Udo’s Perfected Blend in which he has what is believed to be the optimal amount of omega-3:omega-6 ratio, as well as some MCTs. This oil has a pleasant nutty taste that can be easily mixed into yogurt, protein shakes, salads, or whatever you think might work for you.

Fish oil is another alternative. At one time, the fear was ingesting fish oil from fish contaminated with mercury, pesticides, heavy metals, or an assortment of toxic substances our industrialized world dumps into the ocean. However, today, there is more public pressure to create purified oils that do not have these contaminants in them. Today there are a number of brands that have their fish oils independently lab tested for contaminants and toxins. Many brands now advertise this.

Choosing an Oil

Just like fresh produce, highly unsaturated fats are sensitive to light, oxygen, heat, processing and time and they can produce toxic substances when exposed to any of these. These substances will inhibit energy production and performance.

Therefore, choose oils that are bottled in a dark bottle in glass and refrigerated. Make sure to keep it refrigerated at home and finish the bottle within 3 to 6 weeks.

Top 10 Tips for Eating Healthy

18 May

The following is a list of what to do as a daily regimen.

* Eat approximately every three to four hours to maintain steady blood sugar and aid in physical and mental recovery.
* Eat complex carbohydrates (starches). Starchy foods such as pasta, wheat bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and vegetables provide a major energy source to fuel your activities. These foods are also a source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – the health protective substances in plant foods. The more fiber the better.
* Choose protein sources from turkey, chicken, eggs, fish, lean cuts of beef, tofu, low fat cottage cheese.
* Choose healthy fat sources from nuts, avocadoes and cold-water fish. Eat 40 to100 grams of fat per day. If you do not get enough of these, take an essential fatty acid supplement or fish oil supplement (one to two tablespoons each day).
* Keep drinking water or sport drinks to maintain hydration while training. Try to avoid water-like substances such as Kool-Aid, sodas, juice or lemonade. Although these may contain water and some carbohydrates, they also contain a greater amount of the wrong type of carbohydrate source (table sugar and/or fructose), which can ultimately lead to gastrointestinal distress (i.e. diarrhea) and decreased performance.
* Eat a diet that consists of a wide variety of foods by keeping in mind the basic food groups. It is the best insurance for getting needed nutrients.
* Consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. High fiber foods include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and cereals. Read labels, and be aware of fiber content in everything you eat.
* Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and excessive table sugar, even when trying to gain weight. These include candy, juices, desserts, baked goods, etc. This will ultimately result in excess body fat.
* Use meal replacement shakes, fruit smoothies or bars whenever possible. Always keep bars available, such as in a book bag, gym bag, purse, glove compartment, locker, or wherever poor nutrition might be the alternative such as at a competition. Try an assortment of brands to see which you like.
* Limit alcohol consumption, including red wine, to one drink per week. The potential antioxidant benefits of red wine do not out way the risks of gastrointestinal cancers and liver distress. A daily intake of many veggies and some fruit will take care of that much better.
* Take a multivitamin/mineral supplement in the form of a gel capsule, not a tablet or liquid.

Once you have accomplished the above guidelines as a lifestyle, you will be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

When shopping, you should rarely find yourself going down the aisles. No more than twice, and that should be to buy a high fiber cereal or an occasional diet soda. Also, just because cold beer is on the outside of the supermarket does not make it fair game (see above recommendation regarding alcohol).

A Calorie is Not a Calorie

16 May

When we go on a diet we often watch our food intake by ‘counting’ calories.

But new evidence has shown that all calories are not created equal.

3500 calories = one pound…always?

Among nutritionists it is commonly taught that a calorie is a calorie. This is the cornerstone dogma that has established a number of metabolic rate calculations to estimate the proper number of calories for weight loss, weight gain and food labeling.

This means that in order to lose weight all you need to do is decrease your calories by 3500, the number of calories in a pound, and you will lose at least a pound of weight (hopefully fat weight), no matter if they come from fat, protein or carbohydrates; and vice versa for those wanting to gain weight.

Theoretically, calories in = calories out = no increase/decrease in body mass. This is true according to the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transferred as heat.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says processes always go in the direction of randomness or disorder (entropy). This law suggests that the exchange of energy will be imperfect, such that some energy will escape, as heat, thus increasing entropy in the universe.

In terms of our body, the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats may be very different depending on our hormonal state and enzymatic activity. Therefore, individual uniqueness should be expected among us as individuals.

Finally, the late Mel Siff, PhD., suggests in his book The Facts and Fallacies of Fitness another problem comes when we look at how scientists accept the number of calories in foods. The calorific values of foods quoted in diet books may not be as accurate as previously thought:

How are Caloric Values Determined?

First, calories are determined by a special chemical process called proximate analysis or by burning quantities of each food in a bomb calorimeter, a type of scientific furnace, which measures the amount of heat produced in each case. Scientists take this information and assume that it creates this same amount of heat in a low temperature combustion inside a person.

It is also assumed that all components of the food are metabolized according to the characteristics of the food. For example, a food with soluble fiber should always be absorbed. However, not all “soluble fibers” always get absorbed into our bodies. It is also assumed that all components of the food are metabolized according to proximate analysis estimations, and that the combustibility of the food does not vary with source and quality (even though the combustibility of coal varies with type and source). Doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Who started these assumptions? Somebody did not tell the whole story. Let’s keep looking at this.

Influences in Burning Calories

The calorific values of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and their components (such as, amino acids) vary with the foods and mixture which are in it. Protein, by itself, takes approximately 30% more energy to metabolize than fats or carbohydrates. This is one reason why many high-protein dieters are successful with these types of fat loss diets.

Also, food components change their characteristics during the cooking process (such as fiber content increasing after frying starch) or may not be fully digested because of the amount swallowed or because of the interaction of a food’s components (affecting the overall glycemic index of the meal) or digestive enzymes involved. For example, sugar dissolved in water (such as in soft drinks) provides more energy and produces more body fat than sugar eaten in solid form.

Therefore, at the energy production level, there are major inaccuracies of computation.

At the biological “furnace” level, each person’s biochemical individuality determines how efficiently a given food will be digested, stored or used as a fuel for energy. Studies with twins on exactly the same exercise program and diets have shown that the amount of weight loss or gain differs with the individual.

Other studies using various calorie equations for weight loss have resulted in no weight or little weight loss for obese individuals, making it a very frustrating experience. However, there are thousands of successful stories of obese people decreasing body fat by reducing calories and exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle. So, it is not clear, and for some, a diet modification may still have to be further enhanced by personal judgment.

Individual responsibility

It is clear that the science of calorie counting based on food burning computations is scientifically and practically misleading. However, this does not mean that you can eat whatever you want and still expect to lose weight, or that you should hold the “I’m a victim”-attitude and give up.

You still do have an answer to achieve fat loss or muscle mass gain. Although those equations are ESTIMATIONS, based on a large population, not you the individual, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics still apply – they are laws, not theories or hypotheses. Therefore, the concept of calories still applies and cannot be ignored. You still need to keep an open mind because the “calorie situation” is not as clear as once thought, but it is the best science has to offer.

Celebrity diet that’s worth following

15 May

Eminem loses two stone thanks to booze-free diet – mirror.co.uk.

Slim Shady lives up to his name . . .at least one part of it – Slim.  Eminem has lost nearly 30 lbs by eating sensibly, cutting out booze and exercising.  Every month there are periodicals listing how this celeb lost 20 lbs in 2 weeks or some other’s success with Jenny Craig.  There are no short cuts, no way to trick the body into losing weight when the goal is to keep it off.  Whether Mr. Marshall Mathers was interested in losing weight from the get go is unclear but one can hope that others will take a page out of his book and use the sensibility they are blessed with.

FDA Cracking Down

13 May

Once in a while the FDA catches deceitful claims made by food manufactures.  But for every slap on the hand by the FDA, dozens of other product makers use sleight of hand techniques and carefully constructed language to lead consumers to a single conclusion: this product is magic!  Caveat emptor.  

Or do you have a sense that a love relationship was established between the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry, which forged the agency’s rule that no food maker can claim similar effects claimed by big-business drug companies?

I’m just saying.

Physical activity or exercise?

12 May

Upon making exercise recommendations to clients, friends and loved ones, I’m frequently met with the response . . . “I get plenty of exercise . . .I walk my dog every day, I play golf and walk the course, I park in the spot furthest from the store, I walk up the stairs rather than taking the elevator, I have small children and am constantly chasing after them”.  All of this is great and means that their lifestyle is not completely sedentary but if the goal is to improve fitness, it is a mincing of words to call these physical activities exercise.

Physical activity is defined as any activity that causes your body to work harder than normal.  Exercise is a form of physical activity, however, the intent is markedly different.  The dictionary defines exercise as bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.  This, of course, begs the question, what is physical fitness?  Unfortunately, the ‘definition’ of physical fitness is a bit more allusive as it means different things to different people.  For you, it might be a certain weight or clothing size.  For your physician it might be your blood pressure or cholesterol.  There are plenty of very physically fit people who are heavier than they’d like to be and plenty of thin people who are extremely unfit.

In the interest of clearing up some of the confusion surrounding what is exercise and what is physical activity, I would liken physical fit body to the state of a fine-tuned, high performance automobile.  It can be big or small but regardless, it requires high octane fuel, it needs to be driven fast, and it requires regular maintenance to ensure continued performance.  This high performance vehicle is not meant to sit in the garage for months on end, it needs to be driven – around town at slow speeds is better than nothing but it will function better if you push it to the limits regularly.  In terms of the human body, the high octane fuel would be high quality nutrients provided at regular intervals.  The maintenance would be annual visits to your health care provider to ensure all systems are go.  The basic guidelines to the ‘driving’, or exercise, the body requires: consistency, duration, intensity and variety.  These guidelines can be used as a litmus test for whether you are engaging in exercise that will improve or maintain physical fitness or if you are simply leading an non-sedentary lifestyle.

If you are looking for more concrete guidelines, view the link to the 8/1/07 physical activity guidelines jointly put forth by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.

UPDATED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY GUIDELINES