Friday, November 30, 2007

Body Fat Measurement:The Facts on Why, How and How Much

If you're exercising regularly, chances are that your body composition is changing. Muscle weighs more than fat, so your body fat can be dropping and you won't see a change on the scale. One thing that could be happening is that you are losing bodyfat and replacing it with muscle. How then can you know if this is happening to you? And if you lose weight, how do you know if you're losing the fat you want to lose, or muscle tone instead?

Body Fat Measurement - Not Just For Athletes Anymore!
A body fat measurement is the best way to track your lean muscle mass versus fat mass over time. Even very slim people can have dangerously high body fat levels, which are correlated to certain health risks. Having too little body fat can be dangerous as well (although most of us will never run that risk!).

There are several ways of measuring body fat. These include hydrostatic weighing, calipers, and bioelectrical impedance. Hydrostatic Weighing is considered the "gold standard" of bodyfat measurement. This is where you get submerged in a tank of water, expelling all the oxygen from your lungs. Unfortunately, it's very expensive - about $200 or more per "dunking" from what I've seen.

Some gyms offer bodyfat measurements for free or a nominal fee by their personal trainers; unfortunately, these are almost always done with calipers. Calipers are small plastic devices that are actually clipped to your side (and arm, and thigh) to measure the thickness of the fatfolds there. The accuracy of this type of measurement is also dependent upon the quality of the calipers and the skill of the technician. These skinfold measurements are then compared to a chart that calculates your bodyfat based upon your age. Unfortunately, there is no accounting for your height, weight or bone structure in these charts. So the same percentage would be given to a 5'2" small boned woman weighing 100 pounds as to a 5'9' large boned woman weighing 155, as long as they were both the same age. Maybe it's just me, but the logic behind using a fixed number to calculate a percentage of bodyfat, without taking the other factors into account just doesn't make sense to me.

There are also some new devices on the market that measure your bodyfat in the privacy of your own home using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA is a measurement of the electrical resistance in your body. A tiny electrical current is passed through your body, either from hand to hand or foot to foot. These units measure the resistance they encounter, and calculate that into how much of your body mass is fat versus muscle. They use your height, weight and exercise frequency to calculate your bodyfat. These used to cost up to $300; however, you can now get a personal BIA bodyfat analyzer for under $50! Let's look at two different types of bioelectrical impedance bodyfat analyzers specifically.

Bioimpedance Analyzers:
Two examples of bioimpedance bodyfat analyzers are the Tanita Bodyfat monitor/scale and the Omron Body Logic Body Fat Analyzer. These both use bioelectrical resistance to calculate bodyfat, but are slightly different devices. If you're interested in tracking your bodyfat, you might want to consider one of these devices. Let's look at how these two work specifically.

The Tanita Bodyfat Monitor/Scale looks like a regular scale, somewhat. It sits on the floor, and has a little digital readout at the top. There are two small metal plates on each side, though, for your feet. You first program in your age, height, and athletic background (whether you workout 4 times a week or more) and set that. You only have to do this once, then the unit stores it. You then stand on the scale in your bare feet, and it gives you your accurate weight as well as a percentage of bodyfat. This takes about 8-10 seconds total, and is extremely accurate.

Tanita sells scales that are for one, two or four users; for adults only or for adults/teens; and for everyday users or everyday/athletes. The list prices on these $74.99 - $254.99; however, I have seen these on sale online for as low as $59.95!

The Omron Body Logic Analyzer differs from the Tanita scale in several significant ways. It still uses bioelectrical impedance to measure bodyfat; however, it does so through the hands not the feet. This is a smaller device, about the size of a video cassette case, that you hold in your hands. You enter your personal information (height, age, athlete level - if appropriate - and age) into the unit. It can store up to four users in the memory, so you only have to program it once. Then you hit start and in seconds the analyzer tells you your bodyfat in both percentage and pounds.

There are two models of the Body Logic device. The HBF 300BL is the "Pro" version and has a keypad to enter your data with. This is the more expensive model, probably more appropriate for high volume users who need to enter a lot of different people's data quickly (like schools or personal trainers, etc). The HBF 301BL is the home user model, where you have to scroll through the options to enter your data but you can still store it in the memory, and this sells for far less (retails for $99 but it's on sale at for under $33. With either unit you have to enter your weight into the equation, which makes it good for people who already have a scale or aren't trying to lose weight, just body fat.

So What's Right for Me?
When you look at a body fat scale, you have to decide if you really are concerned about your bodyfat, or just your weight. If you are exercising and want to feel like you are accomplishing something (even when you hit those plateaus) and/or you are concerned about your overall health and want to focus on more than just your pure weight, bodyfat measurement can be a useful tool for you. For example, if you lose four pounds, don't you want to know that you lost four pounds of fat, not of muscle?

If you already have a good scale, especially if your weight is not changing (or not changing rapidly) the Omron device may work well for you. It's handheld, a little less expensive, and tells you your bodyfat in both pounds and percentage. It's also small enough to tuck in your gym bag or backpack, and you don't have to have bare feet to use it.

If you are trying to lose weight and like a very accurate scale, the Tanita body fat monitor/scale may be a better match for you. You do need bare feet to use it; however, it gives you your weight and body fat percentage in only a few seconds. It sits on your floor like a regular scale, and can be used as a regular scale (no bodyfat measurement) if you prefer.

Some tips for bodyfat measurement:

  • Always try to measure your bodyfat at the same time of day (once a week should be sufficient to monitor changes)
  • Try to measure your bodyfat when you have not had anything to eat or drink within two hours, especially no alcohol or caffeine
  • Try not to measure your bodyfat immediately after exercising, as you will probably be dehydrated and get a less accurate measurement
  • Measure with an empty bladder
  • First thing in the morning you are usually not well hydrated, so this is not the best time to measure
  • Be sure to research your body fat scale well, to choose the right one for you, and shop around online using a search engine for a good price before buying!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

’Tis the Season to Exercise, Avoid Stress and Eat Healthy

As the holiday season emerges, heralding celebration and excitement, it also brings stress and conflict. Trips to the mall, family gatherings, office functions and community events take priority over exercise and healthy eating. Consider making this holiday different by planning to eat moderately, setting aside time to exercise and keeping your stress level low.

The holidays may be just the time you need to exercise the most. For exercise, devise a sensible plan on how you'll fit it in. Now would be a perfect time to recruit a friend to exercise with you. This could provide you with the motivation you need during this busy time of the year. If you usually attend an exercise class but now need that time to shop, consider having your instructor recommend a video similar to your class that you can use at home at your own convenience. Exercise also enhances sleep quality and reduces feelings of depression, which are often present during the holidays. The extra boost you get from a good workout can give you the energy and stamina you need to get you through your busy days and nights.

Stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure; muscles tighten and you may experience headaches. Emotional tensions such as irritability, anger and depression often follow. Responses to exercise are exactly the opposite of some of the common stress responses: reduced heart rate, blood pressure andincreased flexibility, strength and endurance. Exercise also burns up hormones produced by your body when you're under stress. It's easy to miss out on sleep during the holiday season. Adequate sleep restores energy and is essential for stress management. If loneliness is a source of your stress look for an opportunity to volunteer for those who are less fortunate. Consider a yoga videotape or going for walks. Be organized by making a list of things to do. Plan ahead. Waiting "until the last minute" only creates more stress. Do not over-commit yourself. Chose carefully what you really want to do and say "no" to the rest, giving yourself a realistic schedule. Do less; enjoy more!

Remember to eat moderately when you are indulging in those goodies. Focus on making smart choices. Too much alcohol, caffeine and fatty foods can make you tired and more irritable. Too much caffeine acts in the same way as too much stress, so caffeine can make stress symptoms worse. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate and some sodas. Alcohol is a depressant and can aggravate stress and will stimulate your appetite. It is also high in calories when mixed with sweetened beverages like soda and juices. Try to eat healthy when you're not at gatherings and avoid going out to lunch this time of the year.

However you choose to spend your holidays, make them safe and have a happy healthy holiday season!

Diet and Exercise Go Hand In Hand

Gradual changes in diet and exercise are the keys to developing a healthy lifestyle. Many diets offer quick fixes and rapid weight loss that over the long haul prove not to be effective. Losing weight and body fat is a life-long goal to maintaining a strong, healthy body. Gradual changes in your eating habits and incorporating exercise into your daily routine will guarantee success. It is important to not only assess what you're eating but also the intensity, frequency and duration of your exercise. Food and exercise logs are handy in keeping track of the types of foods and how much you're eating as well as how long and how many times a week you are exercising. The facts are more realistic once down on paper. Exercise is essential to a healthier body. Aerobic activity, defined as using the large muscles of the body repetitively and rhythmically over an extended period of time, should be combined with strength training for optimal results.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Meat vs. the Alternative

Just a few short days ago, I sat down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house and discovered that she was serving a dish known as "Tofurkey." It looked and smelled like turkey, but as you may have guessed, it tasted nothing like the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Not that it tasted bad, mind you, just different.

The popularity of what are commonly referred to as "meat alternatives" (such as Tofurkey) is on the rise. Alternatives to meat include such products as tofu (made from soybean curd) eggs, seeds, nuts, legumes and complementary vegetables and grains. According to one source, sales of meat alternatives have increased by almost 89 percent during the past four years. It's estimated that over 12 million people in the U.S. are vegetarians and greater than 77 million are working to decrease their intake of red meat. Different reasons for this trend include growing concerns about the ethical treatment of animals, global ecology, and health and wellness. The health benefits of choosing meat alternatives over meat may be related to dietary fat intake and phytonutrients present in foods of plant origin. Many animal products tend to be high in saturated fat. Epidemiological studies suggest that those who consume large amounts of animal products high in this type of fat are at a much greater risk for developing certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

Even so, meat is considered an important part of a well-balanced diet because it is a good source of protein and is needed for growth and maintenance of a healthy body. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, nine of which are essential to human beings. The body either cannot make or cannot synthesize enough of these particular amino acids and must be obtained in the diet. The importance of a complete array of essential amino acids cannot be stressed enough. They are the "building blocks" of proteins within the body, the functions of which include fluid balance, immune function, muscle growth and maintenance, and structure. In addition to protein, meat is a valuable source of nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12. The downside is that certain types of meat are also high in saturated fats.

If you are thinking about incorporating meat alternatives into your diet, one factor to consider when choosing a product is protein quality, a term which encompasses completeness, complementarity and digestibility. Food choices that are low or deficient in certain amino acids are considered poor quality. In general, most animal-derived products are complete proteins. Eggs contain high-quality proteins and are considered references for measuring other types of protein. Similarly, yogurt, milk and cheese are also good alternatives to meat. Proteins of plant origin tend to be lacking one or more amino acid, which brings us to the idea of complementarity. It is usually necessary to combine certain plant foods in order to obtain a complete array of amino acids. Such combinations include beans and rice, or tortillas and refried beans. Digestibility refers to a protein's ability to be broken down into component amino acids and absorbed by the body. This characteristic is dependent mainly upon configuration and other factors in foods eaten with it. Because meat contains a substance known as intrinsic factor, it is more easily absorbed and digested than plant sources. It is very important to consider all aspects of protein quality when planning meat-free diets.

Can foods of plant origin provide us with enough protein to make it worth our while? Yes. The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for adults, or approximately 15 percent of the daily caloric intake. That's roughly 75 grams of protein per day for someone consuming 2,000 calories. In terms of protein content, one 50-100 gram serving of meat is equivalent to one or two eggs, two tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of tofu. Beans in particular are great alternatives because they contain no cholesterol, are high in soluble fiber and vitamin A, and are good sources of protein. In fact, tofu contains more protein than steak on a per-weight basis. However, the protein in meat has a higher bio-availability than that in plants. But with over 70 different varieties of tofu to choose from, many different tastes can be accommodated. Many commercially available products are now available, many of which are soy-based and include items such as texturized vegetable protein and tofu.

Plant-based foods also contain phytonutrients, substances that have generated quite a lot of interest in the nutrition field in recent years. Things like bioflavonoids, carotenoids, isoflavones and others are considered phytonutrients. Some, such as carotenoids have been studied extensively and are known to act as antioxidants. Others include genistein and lycopene, and are under further investigation. The isoflavone genistein is derived from soy and is believed to help lower cholesterol, prevent certain types of cancer and decrease bone loss after menopause. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and may help prevent prostate cancer. These are just a few examples of the potentially beneficial phytonutrients found in foods of plant origin. So even if you enjoy meat too much to ever become a vegetarian, consider trying a meat alternative on occasion. Who knows, you may find that products like Tofurkey are pretty tasty.

Tips For Winter workouts

It's just round the corner, the air is getting crisper and sharper, and the nip just isn't in the bud! Winter is in the air and whether you like the cold or not, here are a few tips to help you modify your exercise routine to your advantage.

Keeping warm while exercising

The most important concern with exercising in the cold is hypothermia, or too much heat loss. Therefore, the primary factor to consider should be: preventing heat loss during exercise. Heat loss is affected by insulation within the body (the amount of fat), clothing and environmental factors such as temperature, wind, whether you're exercising in the air or in water. Each of these factors plays a role in the body's ability to maintain a comfortable temperature during exercise.

Although many people aspire to have a lean figure, people with a little more body fat are better insulated and will lose less heat. Clothing adds to the insulation barrier and is clearly the most important element in performance and comfort while exercising in the cold. One study showed that heat loss from the head alone was about 50 per cent at the freezing mark, and by simply wearing a helmet, subjects were able to stay outside indefinitely.

Clothing is generally a good insulator because it has the ability to trap air, a poor conductor of heat. If the air trapped by the clothing cannot conduct the heat away from the body, temperature will be maintained. Unlike air, water is a rapid conductor of heat. Even in the coldest of temperatures, people will sweat and risk significant heat loss. With this in mind you should choose clothing that can trap air but allow sweat to pass through. By wearing clothing in layers, you have the ability to change the amount of insulation that is needed. Many new products can provide such a layered barrier; however, it is important to avoid heavy cotton sweats or tightly woven material that will absorb and maintain water. These materials cannot provide a layer of dry air near the skin.

Keeping the hands and feet warm is a common concern when exercising in the cold. Lower temperatures cause blood to be shunted away from the hands and feet to the center of the body to keep the internal organs warm and protected. Superficial warming of the hands will return blood flow to prevent tissue damage. Blood flow will not return to the feet unless the temperature of the torso is normal or slightly higher (.5-1.0° F above normal). So, to keep your feet warm you must also keep the rest of your body warm at all times.


While exercising during winter, you need to pay attention to what you wear.

Wear a cap to prevent dissipation of heat, most of which escapes through the headThe closest layer in the body should be cotton to absorb the sweat.
Wearing socks will also absorb sweat and prevent sores from occurring.

Warm up adequately to avoid muscle cramps, strains and sprains, and gasping for oxygen. Warm-ups in the winter take slightly longer than usual.
Moisturize your body adequately to keep it from getting scaly
If you are fair-skinned, applying sun block will help the skin from getting burnt even in the winter sun.
Make sure you hydrate yourself well. The cooler air may not make you feel thirsty and that can be dangerous. Drinking 6-10 glasses of water ensures easy flow of oxygenated blood to the working muscles. And if you're thinking that a no-sweat workout is of no use, banish the thought immediately. Sweating is not connected to how many calories you burn. It will indicate that the fluids in your body need replenishing. Adding a pinch of salt to the water will replace the lost salts.

Winters also brings with it smog and pollution and thus those with breathing problems need to stay away from the early morning and late evening smog and pollution. Because the air is heavier, the pollutants stay in the air, making it difficult to reach very high exercise intensities for this population.

If you are a die-hard swimmer, there is no need for you to be in low spirits. There is hope in the form of alternate aerobic workouts that may not be as refreshing but serve the purpose, nonetheless. Joining an aerobic class or run in an indoor stadium may help get your adrenaline fix. Then splash yourself in a hot shower to get that wet feeling that can be quite invigorating!

If getting up early to exercise is not your cup of tea, change your schedule to an alternate time. Use the morning to catch up on the reading that has been piling up. If you are exercising indoors, make sure the room is ventilated and airy. This will save you from feeling giddy. An occasional fan may be wise to leave on to help circulating the air.

Summer or winter, don't allow the weather to get in the way of your exercise or else you will be the only loser. Keep the above-mentioned guidelines in mind and sprint away.

Monday, November 5, 2007

7 Holiday Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit

"This is not the time of year to start a diet nor a time to deprive yourself especially when there are so many tempting treats. Instead, challenge yourself to make better choices, and maintain your weight. "

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukah are all very special holidays. They are times to be thankful, times to remember, and times to celebrate our religious beliefs. These special occasions also seem to be a convenient time to overlook all the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that have been made to keep our bodies healthy and fit throughout the year.

Although the holidays can be a bit stressful and consuming of our time, we don’t have to succumb to skipping workouts or over indulging in all the holiday treats. With these simple strategies you can avoid adding those extra pounds to your waistline this holiday season.

Be sensible.

This is not the time of year to start a diet nor a time to deprive yourself especially when there are so many tempting treats. Instead, challenge yourself to make better choices, and maintain your weight.

Manage your time wisely.

With all the extra curricular responsibilities we have during the holiday season exercise is the first item eliminated from a hectic schedule. That’s a mistake. Exercise is a great stress reliever and a great way to keep your body and mind energized, as well as your metabolism revved up. Choose two days and a specific time that you will exercise and work your schedule around your exercise time. By strategizing and planning head you can fit your workouts in, even if you have to modify for current regime.

Add little variety.

Try circuit training. When you are really pressed for time, circuiting training is a savior. By combining your weight training exercises with aerobic movements you will keep your heart rate elevated and get through your workout in about half the time.

Give these two 30-minute circuit gym workouts a try.

Warm-up time 5 minutes

Four exercise per circuit / One minute intervals or 15 reps – three sets

Circuit One: (Circuit three times before you fast walk, jog or run on the treadmill)
Lat Pull Down
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
Seated Row
Incline Flys
Treadmill 3 minutes
Total time =15 minutes

(Circuit three times before you sprint)
Cable Curls
Rope Push Downs
DB Curls
Reverse Grip Push-Downs – EZ curl bar
30 Second Bike Sprints (5) sprints total - 30-second sprint - high intensity and 30 seconds at 50% of your high intensity level.
Total time = 16 minutes

Circuit Two: (Circuit three times before you fast walk, jog or run on the treadmill)
Leg Press
Leg Extension
Leg Curl
Lunge Walk
Treadmill 3 minutes, best speed
Total time = 15 minutes

(Circuit three times before you sprint)
Reverse Lunges
Calf Raise
30 Second Bike Sprints (5) sprints total - 30-second sprint - high intensity and 30 seconds at 50% of your high intensity level.
Total time = 16 minutes

Take on a new challenge.

Sign up for cardio kickboxing; body sculpting, or a spinning class. This will commit you to a least one day of exercise a week, at a specific time. A new challenge might be just what you need to kick your metabolism up a notch or two.

No equipment necessary.
If you just can’t get away, working out at home will do the trick. Try this time saving workout.

Execute each upper body movement three times for 12 to 15 reps (or until you are challenged). Lower body movements for 20 reps; perform your *aerobic movements in one to two minute intervals. I suggest circuiting this workout.

*Jumping Jacks
Reverse dips (triceps)
Lunges or squats
Crunches (bicycles)

Yoga is a great way to relieve tension and relax. Focus on your breathing. You might just be surprised at how challenging yoga really is.

Family matters.
Spending quality time with the family is important, especially with the children. Why not choose something out of the ordinary? Bundle up and build a snow family or a snow fort and have a snowball fight. If you live in a warm climate, go for a walk on the beach or get your family together for a game of volleyball or touch football.

The holidays create many happy, life long memories. Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends and most of all, and enjoy yourself.

Happy Holidays!