Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cold Weather Exercise

There are two main concerns about cold weather exercise. The first is whether to do it at all. The second is what to wear when you do. Sometimes the weather is just too rotten for outside exercise. This is when you want to have an indoor option.

A gym membership can solve the problem, if you can get to the gym. You may want to have some equipment at home. Treadmills, exercise bikes and stair climbers, among other pieces of cardio equipment, fit the bill, but sometimes even a couple flights of stairs or a jump rope can do it for you. A weight bench and some dumbbells are sufficient for strength training. It's a good idea to have some cross-country skis if you live in snow territory, for transportation as well as exercise. Snowshoes may be even a better idea, if you don't consider breaking trail in wet snow with your cross-country skis to be fun.

So you decide you want to exercise outdoors in the cold. The most important thing to consider, besides the weather report, is what clothing you will need for the whole time you are out. This means dressing in layers. There's no good evidence for acclimatization to the cold, so you have to dress for it whether you're a resident or a visitor. If you're comfortable at the start of a run, you will be too warm when you get into it. Wear an outer layer you can leave somewhere and pick up later or put into a backpack. If you're cross-country skiing, you will warm up, but when you stop to rest or eat, you will cool off quickly. Have a windbreaker you can take on and off. If you sweat too much in cold weather, you will end up getting chilled, as the sweat can't evaporate properly. The effort part of downhill skiing usually doesn't last long enough to generate much heat, but the weather can change, so you need some layers for a downhill day too. Larger people retain heat better, and smaller people and children are more susceptible to cold injury. If the weather changes too drastically, you may need to pack it in for the day. Frostbite can sneak up on you and so can hypothermia.

Remember, too, that you have to drink water or sports drinks when working out in cold weather. Heat loss isn't as dramatic as it is in hot weather, but you still lose fluid while exercising and dehydration can result. Don't go too long without eating. You need to have enough energy to keep yourself warm. Plan ahead and you can keep fit no matter the weather.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Weight Lifting: The Fountain of Youth?

We all know that aging is inevitable; it is a physiological process that occurs at the cellular level and affects every aspect of our body. We are reminded of the effects of time when we look in the mirror or attempt a new physical activity.

As a society we have invested millions of dollars in finding a "cure" for aging, believing that a vitamin, cream or power drink will restore youth and stop Father Time. At the end of the day, we know there's no million-dollar pill, but with a little work in the form of resistive training, we can certainly stall the aging process and make getting older more about a number than a decrease in function.

Weight lifting is one of the most common resistive training exercises and its effects on health and general fitness are numerous. Bill Carle, a personal trainer, is approaching 50 and has been lifting weights since his early 20s. He says, "For me 50 is just that, the number 50. Thanks to years of weight lifting and a healthy diet, I am strong, flexible and have avoided many of the diseases that strike other men my age. I have been able to maintain a level of fitness few men in their 20s can claim."

Bill stresses it is never too late to start lifting weights and improving your fitness level.

Weight training is becoming an activity of choice for many people, male and female, old and young, athletes and non-athletes alike. An improved physical appearance resulting from pumping a little iron keeps many people in the gym, but scientists, doctors and trainers agree that the benefits of this once he-man activity can keep us all healthier longer.

The four main reasons touted by many researchers for making weight lifting part of a fitness routine are: maintaining muscle mass, bone density, disease prevention and functional capacity.

1. Maintain or Gain Muscle Mass

This is probably the most obvious and easily understood benefit. Due to lower levels of hormones and minerals made by the body as you age, you gradually lose muscle. If you're not performing some kind of resistive strength training, you lose a half-pound of muscle every year past age 25, according to the American Council on Exercise. Without exercise, muscle mass declines an average of 22 percent for women and 23 percent for men between the ages of 30 and 70.

On the same note, we don't lose body fat; it's simply redistributed. Not a very fair trade, but if you participate in a weight lifting program, you can reverse this scenario. By gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift, you are actually activating muscle fibers and increasing their size adding to overall muscle mass. Since more calories are burned to maintain muscle tissue than to maintain fat tissue, you are increasing your metabolism. Each pound of muscle mass raises your metabolic rate by approximately 50 calories a day depending on your weight, thus by gaining muscle you are burning more calories even during inactivity. Which combined with a healthy diet will lead to a leaner, stronger body.

2. Bone Density

Activities that apply weight to the bones, such as weight lifting, have been linked to maintaining bone density, which keeps them strong so that they can fulfill their role as support for tissue and organs. New research indicates strength training cannot only help woman and men prevent Osteoporosis, it may also be able to aid in the cure of this prevalent and crippling disease. Weight training has been credited with slowing mineral loss in bones. Loss of mineral content from the bones is one of the major reasons for decreases in bone density, resulting in porous bones that are so weak they fracture easily.

3. Disease Prevention

Not only does strength training help prevent Osteoporosis; it has been linked to the prevention of cancer and other diseases thought to be synonymous with aging. Studies show that lifting that barbell can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol, low back pain and certain kinds of arthritis.

Dr. Paul McCartney, BS, DC, says, "Weight bearing exercises performed properly are one of the keys to maintaining a healthy joints because joints depend on motion to stay healthy and mobile, which is essential to overall health and fitness."

4. Functional Capacity

It stands to reason that if we are going to live longer, we should aim to be as functional as possible. Weight training promotes better posture, tendon and ligament strength, improves bone density, increases muscle mass, keeps joints strong and flexible and improves balance, which allows us to perform our activities of daily living with more ease and safety.

By improving balance, you prevent falls that lead to fractures. By promoting better posture, you feel better, look better and most importantly, reduce the pressure on the spine, as is the case with poor posture. By remaining flexible and strong, you can care for your children; perform household activities as well as recreational activities with increased physical ease and without the fear of accidents or injuries.

Lastly, when you start to feel the invigorating effects of weight lifting and see the results staring back at you in the mirror, you can wink at Father Time. There may not be a fountain of youth hidden in an exotic jungle, but the key to impeding the aging process is as close as the floor of your local gym, or in the corner of your closet where some weights are waiting to help you turn back time.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Build Your Own Home Gym

Think you're the only one sweating in your basement? Not so. Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Courtney Love and Cindy Crawford have all been working hard in the comfort of their own homes to look their best both on screen and off. Richard, owner of the BigFitness.com, one of the largest home gym equipment retailers in the world, tells us how you can shape up at home too.

The Set-Up
Don't set up your gym in an uncomfortable room like a dingy basement. You're going to be spending time there working out, resting and walking around so you want to enjoy being there. Make sure there's a window for air and that the ceilings aren't too low, or you'll feel cramped. A TV will help distract you while you're getting your cardio workout and music gives you the motivation to work harder. Make sure when you set up the room, your treadmill or cardio equipment faces the TV. Then build the rest of your equipment around it. Place strength training equipment based on where you put the mirror so you can see your form. Finally, cover your gym floor with rubber or with carpet made of 100% nylon instead of natural fibers, which can breed bacteria when you sweat. This is especially important if your gym is on the second floor of your house since the machines can be noisy against the floor.

The Equipment
Think of your workout regimen in terms of aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Invest in a stationary bike, treadmill or stepper for your cardio workout and some free weights and a bench for strength training. Once you get into doing regular workouts and decide it's worth spending more money on your home gym, you can branch out and buy a multi-gym or some single station pieces. To decide which equipment is right for you, try working out at a gym to decide what you like to do and what makes you feel good. Talk to a trainer; he/she can help you figure out what you like and don't like about working out. Then, stop by a fitness specialty store and get a salesperson to help you weigh all the information you have gathered and make your purchases.

Don't forget to get a good mat; this is one thing people always skimp on but you'll be doing all of your stretching and abdominal work on it and you want one that offers good cushioning and won't slide around on the floor (try one from Airex).

Gear for At-Home Training

Key Pieces
Strength training doesn't have to involve equipment that takes up half your living room or half your wallet - if you know what to get. Here are some suggestions for great first-purchases to help get your program underway. All items should be available at your local sporting goods or fitness equipment retailer.

Free weights, also called dumb bells, are the foundation of your in-home gym. Free weights are compact, easy to store and take care of. Lifting free weights also gives you more strength training bang for your buck, because it works multiple muscle groups within an exercise. Dumb bells come in plastic-coated or metal finishes, and start at one pound each (increasing in increments).

Weight-lifting gloves help you keep your form and prevent injury by giving you a better grip on free weights. They cover the palm of your hand and stop at the fingers to give your hands maximum mobility. Make sure you get a snug but not-too-tight fit. Try them on before buying.

Weight Bench
A weight bench can provide balance and support for working with free weights. Make sure you go for quality construction and stability - the bench should sit solidly on the floor and not rock in place when you sit or lean on it, and should have adequate padding (try it out by lying down on your back on the bench) that resists ripping.

Resistance Bands
Also called fitness cables, resistance bands offer a complete and highly effective strength training workout in a space-saving, inexpensive and highly portable form. Similar in look to a jump rope, the bands are made of plastic tubing and come in differing resistance levels (light, medium or heavy or specific pound equivalents). Most bands come with exercise illustrations, some even offer instructional videos.

Invest in these core pieces of equipment and you'll have all you need to sculpt and strengthen your entire body on a space, time and monetary budget.

Losing Weight: Lift to Lose

For years, I viewed the "right" exercise for weight loss as anything aerobic. I tried classes (from Jazzercise to step class to spinning class). I used equipment (ranging from the Stairmaster to the treadmill to the recumbent bike). I jogged. I walked.

And while all this activity did help me to lose and/or maintain my weight (which varied, I confess, depending on whether it was winter or summer), it never got me that toned body that I dreamed of.

To compound my problems, as I got older, I discovered that eating the same amount of food didn't necessarily mean that I'd maintain my weight. Every year, I gained
a pound...or two....or three.

Then I noticed many of the sleek women in the health club that I joined were lifting weights. I'd always assumed that weight lifting was for men only, something that they did to gain weight and "bulk up."


The reality is that lean muscle will help your body burn calories much more efficiently and effectively as compared to body fat. When I asked those slim and trim women at the gym about their fitness programs, they all credited their weight lifting efforts (also referred to as "strength training" or "resistance training") as a key factor in losing weight and staying toned.

I invested in some training sessions with a certified personal fitness trainer to start my strengthening program. My trainer guided me through the use of different machines and small weights, encouraged me to lift more than I thought I could (a pleasant surprise!), and showed me ways to test my improvement.

Since that initial investment, I've continued on my own. Results: without changing my diet and/or increasing my aerobic activity, I have lost several pounds. I notice that my clothes fit better, too.

An excellent book on this subject is Strong Women Stay Slim. This guide supplies you with tools, including exercises, recipes, and tips that will help you start and continue a strength-training program of your own.

Authors Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D. and Sarah Wernick, Ph.D. are experts in the areas of nutrition, diet, and exercise. Included in the book are motivational success stories from "real women" who have incorporated weight training in their lives with great results.

You'll also learn exactly how weight lifting can help you lose weight, and you'll understand just how replacing fat with muscle can increase your metabolism. Remember: by increasing your metabolism, you'll burn more calories even when you're sitting in a chair watching television.

So, whether you want to have personal instruction from a fitness trainer at a gym, study the diagrams and instructions in a book, or purchase a weight-lifting fitness video, make your new weight loss mantra: lift to lose!

by Joanne