Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Simple Tip to Improve Lower Back & Core Strength

If you experience stiffness and tightness in your lower back on a regular basis, for no apparent reason – adopting a simple habit could help ease that by improving your lower back and core strength:

Whenever you walk, focus on your ab and glut muscles and keep them strong. You don’t have to put a lot of energy into this and constantly flex your behind and abdominal areas while you go about your business; the key is to consciously use your glueteal and abdominal muscles whenever you stand, walk, jog, and run.

If you do this correctly, your gait will feel strong and purposeful, and you should be more aware of the muscles that surround your hip and lower back areas.

What makes this habit helpful for people who experience chronic, intermittent lower back pain? It lightens the load on your joints. Your ligaments wrap tightly against the joints in your pelvis and lower back and your muscles are right over them. The main purpose of the ligaments is to keep your joints stable, preventing dislocations and keeping your muscles strong eases the tension on the ligaments.

Over time, the muscles and ligaments that surround your lower back and pelvic regions can become weak. As your muscles become weak, your ligaments have to work even harder to keep your joints stable. Since muscles and ligaments tend to get weak together, your ligaments under extra stress can become injured, typically producing intermittent joint problems. Injury leads to pain and inflammation, which leads to less physical activity, which produces further weakening of the muscles and ligaments. See how that works?

Injured ligaments can heal and strengthen over time, but in some cases, the involved joints may never fully recover.

So, if you’ve recently started your program and you’re having a hard time with lower back pain, don’t let it stop you. Training your muscles to be active and strong while you go about your daily activities can be an extremely effective way of strengthening your lower back and core – and help you bring it harder, sooner. Your muscles have much greater capacity to be strengthened and reconditioned than your ligaments do, so by consciously using your abdominal and gluteal muscles every time you stand, walk, jog, or run, you provide significant support to your lower back and pelvic regions and keep your joints happy.

When it comes to bending your trunk forward and backward, your abdominal and lower back muscles perform opposite actions; your abdominal muscles flex (curl forward) your trunk, while your lower back muscles extend (bend back) your trunk. Your nervous system is designed to allow both your abs and lower back muscles to perform with the least amount of opposing strain. This nervous system mechanism is called reciprocal inhibition.

When you keep your abs strong while you walk, your nervous system tells the muscles of your lower back to relax to some degree. And when you keep your gluts strong as you walk, your hip flexors receive a steady signal from your nervous system to relax and lengthen.

Having strong abs, strong gluts, and relaxed and lengthened lower back muscles and hip flexors are the four main requirements for a strong and healthy lower back and core.

So, there you have it. Just be conscious of your ab and glut muscles when you’re moving around, going about your business and you’ll strengthen your lower back and core, which will help you feel better, fight aches and pains, and be able to bring even harder. Simple. Try it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missy Knows Best


If you attended my Vegas Fitness Camp this past summer you were fortunate enough to meet and learn from my Food Guru Missy Costello. She's got her own blog and I lifted this great pre-holiday advice from that.

Read, Learn & Live!


Tips for eating healthy this holiday season and keeping off unwanted pounds!

Yes, the holidays are here, and this is the time for over-indulgence and putting on some extra weight for a lot of us. Cookies, stuffing, cake, pie, you name it, we put it in our mouths at this festive time of year. Parties are plentiful and so are the extra pounds. This is the time when your health must take precedence over all-else. Willpower needs to kick in, but more than that is your dedication and commitment to yourself and a long, healthy life!

So, in the spirit of a joyous season, here are some great tips on keeping yourself healthy and weight-gain-free this holiday season. Is that an oxymoron??

1. Holiday Parties: If you are going to a holiday party and you know there will be plenty of sweets, eggnog and other ways you can sabotage your health, make sure to eat a healthy, complex carbohydrate meal with a lean protein beforehand. The complex carbs will give you good staying power and will work with the protein to help to stave off sugar cravings. Once at the party, if you are having a hard time resisting that dessert table, allow yourself to have one treat. I always like to live by the 80/20 rule; eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself to have a 20% window by which you enjoy some special treat or snack. This rule allows us to have fun, and not deprive ourselves. It allows freedom without feeling restricted.
2. BYOF (Bring your Own Food): There have been plenty of times when I have gone to a friend's house for dinner and brought my own food. Being a vegetarian and healthy eater is sometimes frowned upon by society. Most people think it's high maintenance or weird. And they sometimes take offense when you tell them you are going to eat your own food. If these people were really your friends, and really concerned about your happiness, they wouldn't be offended about your lifestyle or the fact that you need to bring your own food with you! I find that once they see my delicious dish, they most always want to try it and end up eating more of my food than their own! So, go ahead, BYOF and enjoy a healthy meal in the company of others!
3. Use Alternative Sweeteners: If you are baking some special treats for this holiday season, find ways to use alternative, lower glycemic sweeteners such as; Agave Nectar, Molasses, Brown Rice Syrup, Xylitol (a sugar alcohol made from Birch Trees) and Stevia (an all natural herb that is 300 times sweeter than sugar). All of these sweeteners will enter your blood stream less quickly than refined sugar, and won't give you that sugar crash that we are so familiar with, leaving us wanting more. It's a vicious circle. Do yourself a favor and be creative. Experiment with these natural sweeteners. They are great to sweeten tea and coffee too!!!
4. Cut back on Alcohol: Drinking alcohol is one of the biggest culprits of weight gain during the holidays. Alcohol turns to sugar once it's in our system, and sugar turns to fat!!! Do your best to have only one drink if you are at a party, and make it a weak one. Be sure to drink 2 glasses of water for every alcoholic drink you finish, so that you stay properly hydrated. If you feel awkward at a party not drinking, than order some water in a fancy glass, throw in a lemon or a lime and pretend! No one will notice the difference! Oh yea...and make sure you laugh a lot too.

Taking charge of your health during this time can definitely be a challenge, but think of how happy you will be when January 1st comes and you don't have to join an overcrowded gym with the rest of society to lose that extra weight! Stay strong, commit to your health and wellbeing, and have fun doing it!!!!

Happy Holidays from Karma Chow!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Still Spooked by High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

by Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

Many Halloween sweets start in the cornfield.
By now most everyone has seen ads from the Corn Refiners Association, claiming that our fears about high-fructose corn syrup are misplaced. Since our kids will soon be loading up on Halloween treats laden with the substance, it’s a good time to consider why so many people find corn sweeteners so scary.

Just this month, researchers from Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago took a look at the link between kidney disease and high-fructose corn syrup. Using data from nearly 9,400 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2004, they tracked consumption of sugary soft drinks, a major source of high-fructose corn syrup in the United States, and protein in the urine, a sensitive marker for kidney disease. They found that overall, people who drank two or more sugary sodas a day were at 40 percent higher risk for kidney damage, while the risk for women soda drinkers nearly doubled.

In June, the Journal of Hepatology suggested a link between consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in sodas and fatty liver disease.

And this summer, a small study published in The Journal of Nutrition suggested that fructose may make people fatter by bypassing the body’s regulation of sugars, which means it gets more quickly converted to fat than do other sugars.

Many scientists hypothesize that high-fructose corn syrup has contributed to rising obesity rates, although others say there is no solid evidence to support the theory. The corn refiners agree, dedicating a Web site to the “sweet surprise” of high-fructose corn syrup.

But we do know that foods made with high-fructose corn syrup are heavily processed and typically lack any meaningful nutritional value. And while the jury is out on the real effect high-fructose corn syrup has on obesity, we do know it’s a threat to the health of the planet.

As writer Michael Pollan told The Washington Post earlier this year, high-fructose corn syrup “may be cheap in the supermarket, but in the environment it could not be more expensive.”

Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used solely for corn, not rotated among crops. This maximizes yields, but at a price: It depletes soil nutrients, requiring more pesticides and fertilizer while weakening topsoil.

“The environmental footprint of high-fructose corn syrup is deep and wide,” writes Pollan, a prominent critic of industrial agriculture. “Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country — a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites.”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Diet Foods and Drinks Can Make You Fat and Rot Your Teeth

If you're trying to slim down, think you should switch out your favorite sweetened foods from those made with traditional sugar to the “light” or “diet” varieties made with an artificial sweetener? Turns out, maybe not. According to some recent studies, consuming the fake stuff may lead to overeating.

Research on this topic is relatively new - and so far most of the testing has been done with animals. One study tested the weights of lab animals that were fed “light” yogurt containing saccharin versus the traditional sugar-sweetened variety. The animals who consumed yogurt sweetened with saccharin consumed more calories and packed on more pounds than the animals who were give the yogurt with sugar added. Why is this? Researchers believe that like humans, animal’s brains are conditioned to expect sweet-tasting foods to be high in calories. When that no-calorie substitute is consumed instead, it seems to put the brain and the body in conflict. The brain thinks, “Mmmm, satisfyingly sweet.” And the body insists, “Wait. This isn’t working. I need more.” There are already human studies that link diet soft drinks to excess weight.

If you value your pearly whites, here’s another reason to avoid sodas – diet or regular. Most carbonated soft drinks wear and tear on your tooth enamel like you wouldn’t believe. Whether they’re full of sugar or not, bubbly drinks have some impact on tooth enamel. Citrus-flavored sodas do the most damage, followed by colas. The only exception seems to be root beer, which only causes a slight impact on tooth enamel.

It’s not just the sugars in sodas that are bad for your teeth, it’s the acids too. The total acid content of the soda including types like citric, phosphoric, malic, and tartaric acids affect how much damage your choppers take. They say rinsing your mouth after consuming a soda can reduce the damage, but who does that?

The good news is that you can satisfy your sweet tooth and be mindful of your calorie intake at the same time. Try piling on the berries – they’re a yummy addition to cereal, yogurt or just by themselves. Berries of all kinds are great for you a full of fiber – which helps you feel full. And when you’ve just gotta have chocolate – think quality, not quantity. A little piece of dark chocolate can be more satisfying than a pound of the milk chocolate variety. And eaten in small quantities, dark chocolate is actually good for you.