I looked up the word ‘nerd’ the other day to see what came up and it proved to me that yes, I’m a nerd when it comes to exercise science and nutrition. I am absolutely obsessed with both subjects and devour books on these topics on a regular basis. TV Shows hosted by, for e.g. Dr Michael Mosely, regarding movement and any new research about exercise, injuries, weight-loss, muscle tone, VO2 max etc. peaks my interest immediately. Yes I know, it's boring, but I'm fascinated!
It’s always been something I’ve been interested in and I enjoy testing new recipes, healthy eating plans and exercise regimes on myself to see what the results are and how I feel. Some things have not always turned out that great, like my ‘barefoot running days’ – I got a stress fracture in my toe by totally overdoing it and of course my original green juice experiments and protein bliss balls were definitely inedible, but other things, like giving up added sugar, changed our lives.
In the world of fitness and health, things change every year, as more and more studies are done on men and now, thankfully, on more women. We are now finding out just how many distinct differences there are between women and men which affect exercise performance, injuries and even how you sweat.
Most of it, unsurprisingly is down to the hormone estrogen, dominant in all females and which ebbs and flows throughout a women's life. When estrogen is high, we are wobblier on our feet, which in turn can lead to a soft tissue injury. If you feel clumsy sometimes, blame the hormones – I do! On the plus side, estrogen allows us to maintain our strength and fitness longer than men, so if we take a break from training (a big holiday!), then all is not lost, our hormones protect us! When it comes to sweating, estrogen makes us sweat less and testosterone makes boys sweat more! Considering that sweat helps us to cool down, we have a slight disadvantage when working out or competing in the heat or for e.g. in a 90 minute hot yoga class!
These are just some of the findings of the latest research out there on fitness and as much as you can’t trust everything you read or find, it’s a good to know what can help us move better, feel better, look better, maintain our weight and live longer, without spending a fortune. Educating ourselves on how to become stronger, fitter and healthier; applying these methods to our own bodies and keeping up-to-date, also gives us more confidence when helping our clients.
Because I love to read all this stuff does not mean everyone else does and for some, it’s the most boring subject in the world: I understand as I’ve seen the glazed looks directed at me, so I thought I would package up a few wee nuggets of information, tried and tested, for being fitter and stronger, both mentally and physically, all based on the latest research!
Do a warm-up!
If you are about to play a game of football, squash, tennis, embark on an obstacle course or run a 10km, then do a warm-up and you’ll perform much better than if you did not. I remember Jack saying to me before a 10km run, ‘let’s go for a warm-up around the block’ and I used to look at him like he was nuts! I mean why would I do a run before a run? No, I stood there and did my static stretches like everyone else, bending my knee to lengthen my quads etc. Then I read the science, which proves dynamic warm-ups are in and static stretches are out. The problem is most of us are still doing what we learnt in P.E. 20 years ago or copying other static stretchers at events, who are trying to loosen off tight hamstrings! A small sport specific drill to fire up the muscles and get the blood pumping around the body will give you huge benefits rather than trying to stretch a muscle you are about to contract. Get moving before you do it for real and beat your best time, win that match and feel better during the first 10 minutes!
Take a strength test
A push-up is one of the best tests of overall muscular fitness, but a lot of people can’t do 1 on their toes. On average, a 40 year old man should be able to do 27 push-ups, and a 40 year old woman should be able to perform 16 push-ups! These are push-ups on the toes, performed correctly. This is just one way of testing for strength, and the reason strength is so important is partly due to the fact that we are now living much longer than before and we want more out of life. Our muscles are wasting away as we age and getting weaker, but weight training can combat this wastage, plus build bone strength and help with joint flexibility, giving us a greater range of motion.
If you want to be active well into your old age, plus travel and live in your own home longer, then you’ll need to stay strong to support your own body weight. Everyone as they age wants to move freely, get up off the couch without assistance, walk up and down stairs and tend to the garden – for some this is a problem at 50, never mind 70. Also, the stronger and more active you are, has huge cognitive benefits too: recent studies, often on mice, but some on men and women, show that increasing the volume of blood to the brain, through strength training, produces fresh neurons, which helps with memory retention and clear thinking.
Strength training is not only achieved by weights: body weight training, yoga, pilates, barre or zumba can help you get stronger – anything where you apply substantial force to the muscles. Every workout counts! You can be strong and powerful without being bulky.
Keep calm and carry on!
After a workout, our brains produce cells that are calm – yes they’ve done the tests, mostly on angry young men! So, if you are feeling upset, stressed, angry or fed-up, then exercise will help. The more you do, the calmer you’ll be? If life is getting tough, don’t give up exercise, keep it going and you will certainly be able to handle better, whatever stress gets thrown at you that day.
Been a bit of a sloth?
You are never too late to return to exercise and gain the benefits. A program of activity 3 x per week will increase your aerobic capacity, which in turn will increase your life! Yes, you can add a decade onto your life just by starting a new exercise regime, anytime – okay maybe not at 90!. Apparently in an American study, aerobic fitness was a better predictor of longevity than any other health measurement – even obese participants and smokers lived longer if they were aerobically fit. If you’ve stopped moving, start tomorrow! One Pilates class a week does not count 😉
We are what we eat
Sound familiar? It’s a common saying that’s been around for years and seen in print for the first time in 1923 in a newspaper advert for beef – the headline being ‘"Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat."
That saying and that headline still rings true! Recently the cancer council in the UK were calling on governments to do more to help with the growing obesity levels in children and adults as they believe that obesity is a key cause of some cancers and we can prevent them. They want the government to crack down on junk food promotions and yes, keep plugging the ‘exercise and move more campaigns etc.’ but they also want them to focus on the food we are eating as this is what is making us fatter and sicker!
The bottom line, excuse the pun, ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’ and ‘you can’t work off a week of indulgence with an exercise class every day for 7 days’ – well you could, but it would be more about what you ate before and after the class that made the difference! The sooner we realise that exercise is a really poor weight loss tool, the better. People still believe they can go for a jog and drop 2 kilos of fat, unfortunately you’d have to run to China to do that or take up Ironman training.
The thing is though, our bodies are just too clever, they ‘know’ if you’ve been jogging and used up 300 calories or attended a boot-camp session and burnt 600 calories, so they compensate by making you sit down more during the day (you don’t even know you are doing it) and your body will even try to get you to eat more to regain the weight you’ve just lost: post exercise muffin and latte anybody? The body wants to stay at the weight it’s used to and not budge. Unfortunately, the proof is now also out that exercise increases a women's appetite, much more than men – not fair,eh!
Exercise is amazing and is brilliant at helping us to maintain our weight: it also gives us strong bones and muscles; a calmer mind; a toned body; releases feel good hormones and can be used to suppress appetite (unlike other forms of exercise, HIIT Training has been proved to be an appetite suppressant, even for women – they still don’t know why!), but look at your diet for that initial weight-loss, because that is where the magic happens – what you put in your mouth.
One last thing from us: sitting is the new smoking! You heard it here first!