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Posts Tagged ‘health’

Things I Like: The Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer

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A little while ago, I told you about a device that brought some super useful data to my health and fitness awareness: the Fitbit. I won’t go into it again, but suffice to say that nearly a year later, I still use the Fitbit every day, for nearly every activity.

Today, I’d like to tell you about something else I like that’s very much in the same category as the Fitbit.

I train with an online coach, and he requests body composition data from time to time. So to make that happen, I bought a Withings WS–50 Smart Body Analyzer, which is a very fancy way of saying WiFi-enabled scale. But it’s more than a scale: in addition to weight, it tracks bodyfat percentage (using bioelectrical impedance), heart rate, indoor temperature and air quality (measured in CO2 parts per million, or PPM).

For $150, you have the ability to collect data that five years ago would have cost you hundreds of dollars per month to obtain.

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Casual Friday: Sitting Is the New Smoking

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We’ve posted a bunch about health and nutrition before, and we got a bit nerdy. Maybe too nerdy (as if there’s such a thing). But today, we’re posting about health again, but we’ve cut out almost all the nerdy. Promise.

Today is about why sitting is killing you.

Sure, there are tons of articles out there about why sitting down all day is doing oceans of damage to your hips, glutes and spine, and can actually shorten your life. I’m not going to rehash all that. Instead, I’m going to ask you to view sitting as the new smoking, because it’s that bad for your health. And aside from ingrained habit, it’s pretty easy to change.

Arshad Chowdhury has a post entitled What Happens When You Stand for 2 Years, and it’s making the rounds. What different about this one than all the others is it’s a retrospective look on the benefits of standing from a guy who actually stood up at his desk for two years. It’s not theoretical, it’s experiential.

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Tracking is Knowing: The Fitbit

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Last week we talked about the notion of tracking is knowing as it relates to understanding the food you eat (in terms of caloric value and macronutrient breakdown). As I said, it’s probably the biggest step you can take to getting a handle on your health and fitness, because very few people understand how much food, energy-wise, they’re eating on a daily basis.

The next step is understanding how much you’re moving. This isn’t about tracking your workouts – that’s another topic. What I’m talking about here is simply getting a handle on how much you move on a daily basis. Spoiler: it’s astounding how sedentary most of us really are.

Let’s face it: we all pretty much sit around at a desk all day staring at an LCD panel. Or we’re in our cars, sitting, taking calls, listening to the radio. Or we’re at home, sitting on the couch, watching TV or messing around on our iPads.

Very few folks have an ‘active’ job where they have to stand or walk for a good part of every day.

Enter the Fitbit. The Fitbit is a wireless tracking device that clips to your clothes. It has an uncannily accurate gyrocope/accelerometer combination that tracks how many steps you take every day, how many flights of stairs you climb, how far you wind up walking and how many calories you burn. You can even wear it to bed and have it track your sleep quality. Once you set up your profile (which takes into account your gender, age, and weight) and start using the Fitbit, you will have a picture of your quantified-self that you’ve never seen before.

(Note: Fitbit can also track food (like My Fitness Pal, mentioned last week), but I find its database far inferior to My Fitness Pal’s. It can also track workouts and factor them into your activity, but I don’t use that feature because of the specialized workouts I do. If you do fairly standard exercise, Fitbit’s exercise tracking is fantastic and I recommend it.)

I use the Fitbit One, which is the smallest tracker they have, as well as the most feature complete. The battery lasts a solid week (maybe more) between charges. It’s so small you barely notice it.

And there’s the rub: it’s so small, you barely notice it. You need to be very mindful that you’re wearing it, or you will wind up washing whatever piece of clothing it’s attached to, and boom, goodbye Fitbit. That’s the only caveat I’ll yell from the rooftops.

Here are some pics of my Fitbit. This is the basic information you can get from the LCD display:

How many steps I’ve taken.

How many flights of stairs I’ve climbed so far.

The distance I’ve walked so far in miles.

How may calories I’ve burned so far. This is based on my age, gender and weight, which Fitbit uses to calculate your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate.

Finally, your flower. Your Fitbit flower grows or shrinks based on recent activity, so it’s a graphic reminder to get up and move if you see it withered and shrunken.

The default goals Fitbit uses for your daily activity are:

  • Steps: 10,000. This is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. As a general rule, you need to walk somewhere between 3-4 miles to even have a chance at 10K. That’s not too hard, but you must get up and move around regularly to hit the 10K number.
  • Flights of stairs: 10. Pretty easy to hit, especially if you live in a house or work in an office with stairs.

Of course, no biometric tracking endeavor would be complete without a web presence, and here Fitbit doesn’t disappoint. Here’s a snap of my Fitbit ‘dashboard’:

(Click to enlarge)

This, in conjunction with My Fitness Pal, gives you everything you need to know about your current state of food intake/nutrition combined with activity level. This is enough to make meaningful changes in your life. In fact, it’s more than enough. You walk into any doctor’s office with this sort of data, and most likely they won’t know where to begin.

So, the Fitbit one is about a hundred bucks very well spent. I wear mine every day.

If you believe that you will have a harder time getting to where you are going without knowing where you are at the current moment, this is your device.

When It Comes to Health and Fitness, Tracking Is Knowing

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The Taking Control of Your Health series thus far, in case you missed earlier posts:

I’ve given you a lot of information about how to take control of your health, but a lot of the information is just that — information. Today, I’m going to show you perhaps the single biggest practical step you can take to get started on a healthier path.

There’s an axiom in the health world: tracking is knowing. Meaning: it’s hard to truly know what you’re eating, or what your workouts look like, unless you take steps to track your daily progress.

Question, and answer quick: how many calories did you eat yesterday? How many grams of carbs? Of protein? What did your macronutrient breakdown look like?

You probably have no idea. Until about a year ago, neither did I. Then I found a tool that helped me quickly and easily track what I was eating, and believe me when I said it was very, very enlightening.

For example, I can tell you that last Tuesday I had a total of 2065 calories. I had 208 grams of protein, 113 grams of carbs and 85 grams of fat. I was about 650 calories under my calorie goal for the day. It was a busy day, so I actually under-ate.

I know this thanks to a free app called My Fitness Pal, which is available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. It also has a web interface once you create a free account.

The premise is simple: whatever you eat gets logged in My Fitness Pal. As you continue to use it, it recognizes the foods you eat the most frequently and categorizes them together for quick entry. After a few weeks, assuming you eat more or less the same group of foods, entering meals and snacks is a breeze.

Below is what an average breakfast entry looks like. This took me about 20 seconds to log in My Fitness Pal.

I don’t use all the features of My Fitness Pal. For example, it has social features so you can connect to your friends to see what they’re eating and what their workouts are, but I don’t do that. If you’re doing a group fitness class, or maybe some sort of transformation challenge, this feature would be very valuable.

In addition to being able to log foods easily and see total calorie consumption vs. your goal (your goal is set by the profile you create), you can also see exactly what your macronutrient breakdown looks like:

My Fitness Pal has the largest (and most accurate) database of foods I’ve ever seen, with a great deal of the data being accurate (My Fitness Pal uses a social confirmation system to allow users to ‘confirm’ a food’s data once it’s entered, and highly-confirmed foods appear in search results first). In addition, it allows you to track your ongoing progress, whether progress is tied to your weight (the most common) or even neck, waist and hip measurements.

Again: tracking is knowing. It’s amazing what happens when you start shining the light into areas that once were dark. If you know your calorie limit is 2,200/day, and you’re heading into dinner with 1,800 calories under your belt, you know a light dinner is in order. Likewise, if you were slammed all day and only ate 700 calories heading into dinner, you know you have a bit of headroom.

And that’s just the beginning: if you’re trying to keep carbs under 150 grams per day, and you had oatmeal and bread and a few bananas during the day, you know you might want to keep your last meal centered around lean proteins and healthy fats.

Tracking is knowing, and it’s impossible to overstate the value of a tool like this, especially if you’re newly traveling down the health/fitness path. I’ve been at the fitness game for over three years now, and I can tell you that even though I have a good off-the-cuff understanding of what my meals look like, calorie-wise, I still use this tool 90% of the time.

I rank tracking your food, especially in the beginning of your fitness efforts, as important as actually going to the gym itself. No hyperbole. Give it a try and bounce any questions you have my way.

Controlling Stress: The Part of Your Health You’re Probably Ignoring

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You’ve heard it before: stress is called ‘the silent killer’ and is skyrocketing in the United States. It’s no longer foo-foo to say that you need to manage stress; even family doctors are telling folks to employ methods to keep stress at bay. Call it a sign of the times.

But first — what is stress?

My handy OS X dictionary defines stress thusly:

Stress: state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

Well, that’s one definition, but I’m looking for something a more in the health context. So let’s ask Richard Lazarus, a renowned psychologist, what he thinks.

…any event in which environmental demands, internal demands, or both tax or exceed the adaptive resources of an individual…

That’s better.

There are two kinds of stress, both of which essentially disrupt your body’s physical and psychological homeostasis: acute and chronic stress. They are not created equally.

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Understanding Food: Carbohydrates

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Ah, carbohydrates. The new bad guy, right? The one who makes you decline those buttery dinner rolls and carrot cake?

Well, yes. Bad guys. Sort of. Not all the time.

Depends on you, your metabolism and activity level.

First, let’s explain what carbs are. In essence, they’re sugars, and sugars have the effect of raising insulin levels in your body. Excess insulin can also lead to rapid fat storage (and even disease) in sedentary and/or metabolically damaged individuals, which is where carbs get their bad name. That and the fact that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is massively, ridiculously heavy in processed carbohydrates.

Up First: Glucose

Glucose is a very common sugar found mostly in plant foods like fruits, veggies, grains and starches. It’s the basic sugar molecule found in a great deal of our food.

Unlike pure carnivores (like lions and some extremely cool dinosaurs), we humans male a digestive enzyme called amylase, which allows us to digest starch into glucose. We’re awesome that way.

But.

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Understanding Food: Proteins

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Last week, I gave a layman’s breakdown of dietary fat — that perennial bogeyman — and what types are out there and what you should and should not eat. Up this week: protein.

I will first say this: if you eat meat and some occasional legumes, you’re probably getting adequate protein levels for a sedentary activity level. Protein is very important to create a favorable glucagon-insulin balance. (Glucagon is a peptide hormone that is stimulated by protein, or decreased blood sugars, via fasting and exercise. Insulin, on the other hand, is released in response to elevating blood glucose and/or amino acids. What we don’t want is consistently high insulin levels, as that leads to a condition called insulin resistance (aka Metabolic Syndrome), which is bad stuff. Boo.)

Anyway. I digressed. Holy cats.

Let’s just put it this way: unless you are active or an athlete, you probably don’t need to supplement with protein. You don’t have the recovery needs of an athlete. You just need to make sure you’re getting enough.

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Understanding Food: What Are Fats Besides a Bad Word?

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For the past three (four?) decades, the macronutrient we were most often told to avoid is fat. Fat is joined by protein and carbohydrates to form the triumvirate of macronutrients you hear bandied about the media so often. Fat, a short form of ‘fatty acids’, is thought to make you fat, predicated on the fact that fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrate only have 4. Fat is fattening, so says the mainstream, because it’s caloric energy is over twice that of neighboring macronutrients.

While fat is more calorie-dense than protein or carbohydrate, that’s where the ‘danger’ ends. (The Inuit, whose diet is comprised of 90% fat, would probably agree). Without writing a biochemistry text, here is what you need to know about fat.

Saturated Fat

There have been no two more demonized words over the past 30 years than ‘saturated fat’. Which is too bad, because these form some of the most basic structural fats found in a healthy human body, and they’re a primary energy source for the human metabolism.

We have been relentlessly bombarded over the past 30+ years to think this type of fat gives us heart disease and makes us fat, and that’s simply not true. The fact is that you can eat as much of these as you want if you’re metabolically healthy, and be better off for it.

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Understanding What ‘Real Food’ Is, Part 1

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Last Friday, I told you we’re going to do a multi-part series on taking control of your health. Today, we’re going to start discussing food, because your diet is the cornerstone, the 90% component, of any fitness effort.

Yes, 90%.

There are two parts to taking control of the food you eat:

  1. Deciding what foods to eat and not to eat now that health is a priority, and
  2. Understanding what food is from a biochemical perspective (we’ll get into this another time, and I promise it won’t be boring.)

So for today, here’s what we’re talking about…

Rule Number One: Eat Real Food

Most folks think that ‘real food’ is merely the stuff they get from their local supermarket or specialty store, minus the obvious nasty-bombs like Double Stuff Oreos. That’s not exactly all there is to it, because our supermarkets are full of processed, refined, industrially-farmed food, which isn’t food at all – at least as far as our evolutionary history is concerned. (In other words, for the first time in our species history, we are eating foods that do not and did not exist in nature. Being a guinea pig to spark evolutionary adaptation to garbage food is not the honor you want, trust me.)

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The First Step Towards Better Health: Bloodwork as Your State of the Union

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As I mentioned last Friday, today begins a multi-part series on taking control of your health and fitness. For many, this is a new year’s resolution, and it’s a good one.

It’s also one that fails very frequently because people typically attack it by going to the gym with no real goals other than “weight loss” in mind. Two months in, they’re frustrated, likely starving and have low energy. They quit.

Like everything else, having a plan is paramount. And in order to have an effective plan, you have to know where you are before you begin. In other words, you need a baseline.

Taking Inventory

No matter how out of shape or unhealthy you think you are, do not skip this step. Why? First, you might get some ugly news back, but that’s good: you will know exactly what you need to improve, and you might have some idea of what’s contributing to mental fog, low energy or poor libido. Second, you’ll probably want a medical screen run before to start an exercise program if you’ve been sedentary for an extended period of time, so you’re killing two birds here.

Above all, you can’t adequately get to where you want to go unless you know where you are. To this end, your first step is getting some comprehensive bloodwork done.

I normally refer folks to Robb Wolf’s excellent list of basic tests to have run so you can understand your health’s state of the union, as it were. His full article is here, but below is what Wolf recommends for men and women, respectively.

Testing for Males:

  • Complete Blood Count (white blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelet count)
  • Complete Thyroid Panel (TSH, Free T3, Free T4, TPO)
  • Complete Lipid Panel: (Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, HDL, VLDL)
  • Adrenal Panel: (Cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS)
  • Complete Metabolic Panel: (Electrolytes, Comprehensive Kidney and Liver Function, Fasting Glucose)
  • Complete Hormonal Panel: (Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, Estradiol, GH stimulation tests, IGH–1, SHBG)
  • Renal Function Panel: (BUN, Creatinine)

Other Important Tests/Readings:

  • Specific C-Reactive Protein
  • Homocysteine
  • PSA (Prostate specific antigen)
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Red blood cell magnesium
  • Zinc

Testing for Females:

  • Complete Blood Count (white blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelet count)
  • Complete Thyroid Panel (TSH, Free T3, Free T4, TPO)
  • Complete Lipid Panel: (Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, HDL, VLDL)
  • Adrenal Panel: (Cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS)
  • Complete Metabolic Panel: (Electrolytes, Comprehensive Kidney and Liver Function, Fasting Glucose)
  • Complete Hormonal Panel: (Estradiol, Progesterone, Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, GH stimulation tests, IGF–1, SHBG, FSH, LH)
  • Renal Function Panel: (BUN, Creatinine)
  • Immune Panel: (CBC, T and B lymphocytes)

Other Important Tests/Readings:

  • Specific C-Reactive Protein
  • Homocysteine
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Red blood cell magnesium
  • Iron
  • Ferritin
  • Melatonin
  • Zinc

Ask your doctor about the costs associated with these tests. Many of these will fall under standard bloodwork, but some may not depending on your insurance arrangement.

Also, understand that any blood panel returns a snapshot: a picture of results at a given point in time. For things like hormone panels, taking two a few months apart allows you to compare progress. Bloodwork should be an ongoing, periodic exercise so you can keep tabs on your progress.

At 43 and in reasonably good shape, I had these tests run on myself (along with a complete nutriton panel, which we’ll get into another time), and I learned some interesting things. My Vitamin D was low (it was winter here in Michigan), my zinc levels were non-existent, and I was deficient in magnesium. My total testosterone came back low (a result of not enough sleep or calories for the workouts I was doing). Upon seeing these results, I immediately began corrective action – action I wouldn’t have taken without knowing these results.

In particular, ask your doctor to pay specific attention to any biomarkers related to inflammation: complete metabolic panel with lipids, complete blood count (CBC), C-Reactive Protein, Rheumatoid Factor (RF), etc. Inflammation is the root cause of an absolute smorgasbord of disease, so it’s important to know if you are suffering from systemic inflammation.

Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. Remember, you can’t get to your goal unless you have a starting point.

Next week, we’ll begin talking about where you’ll realize or miss 90% of your health and fitness goals: your diet.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me. See you next Friday.

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