Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I'll let you in on a little secret. Everything you need to know about getting a gym membership

I've often said that you don't need to have a gym membership in order to get in shape. However, the winter months are quickly approaching and the days of workouts at the park are slipping through our fingers. While some people may want to take their workouts indoors at home, others may be headed to the gym to get the job done.

Gyms are not a bad place to workout. In fact, this is my preferred workout location. There is a variety of equipment, group class options and it's a fun place to people watch. There is a different and often, more motivating energy that can be felt there as well. One of the downsides to working out in a gym is trying to navigate the sales process when looking to purchase your membership. I've worked in a large corporate gym for a few years and know the ins and outs of the car salesman-like tactics that a potential gym member may run into. I'm going to spill the beans on what the sales team might pull on you and things to look for when trying to find the right gym for your workouts.

Location, Location, Location
This is the first thing you want to consider when looking for the right gym. If you have a lengthy commute, it may end up squashing your motivation. The last thing an individual wants to think about when going to the gym is fighting traffic to get there. More often than not, the decision to lounge around at home on the couch will beat the dreaded drive and throw you off the wagon.

Does Size Matter
Some people don't like to workout in a crowd while others may really enjoy the social interaction. Gyms come in all shapes and sizes from high traffic corporate conglomerates to friendly neighborhood "women's only" fitness centers, so finding a gym to suite your comfort level is easy. It's important to find a gym that fits your personality and style. A shy, reserved person is not going to feel comfortable at the commercial club and may end up being intimidated before even walking through the door.

They've Got What You're Looking For
Do you prefer to do circuit training? Do spin classes give you the cardio rush you need on your lunch hour? When touring a potential gym, make sure they have what you need and that it's working. All gyms have elliptical trainers in their cardio station but they aren't going to do you any good if they are perpetually out of order.

Nothing In Life Is Free
Be wary of the free membership trials or free sessions with a personal trainer. This is only a marketing ploy to get you in and talking to a salesman. Sure, you may get to use the gym for a week, but you'll have to sit in the membership sales pit and listen to the "fitness counselor" go through the "7 steps to overcoming an objection" and other sales techniques they learned at the Monday morning meeting. If you're not privy to these business practices, you may end up with a gym membership that you had no intention of singing up for. The same goes for personal trainers. They might take you through a workout on a circuit station, but it's mostly to show you what you don't know about working out, making you feel like you would be lost without their services.

After you've found a gym that's convenient and comfortable with the equipment needed for your training program, you're ready to rock. Don't let the gym staff suck you into any gimmicks or schemes and all you'll have to think about is how much you can bench!

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's time for...Cyber-Client Results!

People have been working out, eating right and achieving great results. Here are some updates from people who've been following the program:

Wendy- Finished another marathon with great time and a wonderful attitude. Amazingly, she finished the race with a blister and a leg cramp, but that was it! If she recovers fast enough, she wants to run another 5 weeks. WOW!

Robin- Despite having a few non-workout related injuries, she's still been able to lose 10 pounds and keep it off because she's been great about following her nutrition plan!

Cheri- Continues to buy new clothes because all of her others are getting way too big. Nice!

Ellen- After only a few weeks on the plan, she's lost about 6 pounds and has been shopping for new clothes as well. She's excited about feeling great in her new clothes for an upcoming vacation. I'm excited for her too!

These are great results!! I'm so happy for all of them and I'm excited to see what else they can achieve!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Trick or Treat? What you need to know about artificial sweeteners

The holidays are just around the corner and before you know it, your house will be full of sugary treats. The average American eats approximately 170 pounds of sugar a year or 20 teaspoons a day and considering what the average American looks like, it shows! Is there a way to enjoy our favorite desserts while still keeping our waistlines in check? Artificial sweeteners can help make our indulgences a little lighter but they aren't a guiltless delight.

They go by several names, including sugar substitute, non-nutritive sweetener, very low calorie sweetener, or alternative sweetener. But one thing is common. They all taste similar to sugar with little to no calories or glycemic response. Each substitute is also sweeter than sugar, meaning that a little goes a long way.

Currently the FDA has approved five types of sugar substitutes for use in the United States:

Saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener, developed in 1879. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. After being suspected of causing bladder cancer in rats in 1972, many studies were done which ultimately disproved any link to cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Human epidemiology studies (studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people) have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence." Saccharin has been considered safe for human consumption since 2002 and is marketed under the brand names SweetN' Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet.

Aspartame was approved by the FDA in 1981. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Its chemical compound breaks down into a substance known as phenylalanine. This can pose a danger for people who have Phenylketonuria, (PKU) but overall, aspartame is considered safe for the general public. Equal and Nutrasweet are the brand names for aspartame.

Acesulfame-K was approved in 1988 as a "tabletop sweetener" and in 2003 as a general purpose sweetener. It is not metabolized by the body, which means that no calories are absorbed when eaten. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is marketed under the brand names, Sweet One and Sunett. It is frequently blended with other artificial sweeteners.

Sucralose comes from sugar, but it is 600 times sweeter. It isn't absorbed by the body, so it does not add calories to foods. In 1999, it was approved as a general purpose sweetener. It can also be used in home baking to reduce calories in homemade foods. The brand name for sucralose is Splenda.

Neotame is a cousin to aspartame, and is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. It was approved in 2002 as a general purpose sweetener. Although it is related to aspartame, it doesn't carry the same warning about phenylalanine, because a minimal amount of phenylalanine is produced during digestion. Neotame is not marketed under any brand names yet.

There are a few reasons why someone would consider using a sugar substitute:
  • Dental Hygiene — sugar substitutes are tooth friendly, as they are not fermented by the microflora of the dental plaque.
  • Diabetes mellitus — people with diabetes have difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels. By limiting their sugar intake with artificial sweeteners, they can enjoy a varied diet while closely controlling their sugar intake. Also, some sugar substitutes do release energy, but are metabolized more slowly, allowing blood sugar levels to remain more stable over time.
  • Reactive hypoglycemia — individuals with reactive hypoglycemia will produce an excess of insulin after quickly absorbing glucose into the bloodstream. This causes their blood glucose levels to fall below the amount needed for proper body and brain function. As a result, like diabetics, they must avoid intake of high glycemic foods like white bread, and often choose artificial sweeteners as an alternative.

While artificial sweeteners may reduce the calories in our favorite foods, they do not make them calorie-free. Many people consider artificial sweeteners an essential component to a weight loss program. These sugary treats may be a bit lite with sugar substitutes, but it's portion control that will keep you in your skinny jeans this holiday season.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

To ice or not to ice, that is the question. What you need to know about treating sports injuries.

While one of the aspects of working out using an integrated training program is to reduce the risk of injury, it does not completely eliminate that risk. Let's face it. You're bound to come across a soft tissue injury like a sprain, strain, tear or bruise at some point in your training. Once you've been injured, what do you do next? What is the best way to recover from a sports injury?

There is a plethora of information out there from reliable sources like your Doctor to old wives tales from your know-it-all neighbor down the street. It can be confusing to hear one person recommend ice while another will suggest using heat. So what is an injured athlete to do? Here's a run down of what to do if you've been benched because of an injury.

There are two types of injuries, actue and chronic. Acute injuries are those you have incurred within the last 48 hours. These are your typical sprains, strains, pulls and bruises. Acute injuries tend to have a lot of swelling when the tissue is damaged and possibly bleeds internally. Chronic injuries are those nagging aches and pains that you've been dealing with for weeks if not years. This include arthritis and overuse injuries like carpel tunnel, tendonitis and shin splints, just to name a few.

For Acute Injuries:
First and foremost, stop. Whatever you're doing; running, playing tennis, lifting weights, just stop. By continuing the activity trying to "work through the pain" you will only make it worse. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away and it certainly won't just heal on it's own. "No pain, no gain" is not a mantra to live by and is truly a fitness myth. When soft tissue is damaged it swells. The swelling causes pain and a decrease in motion which limits the use of the muscles. Continuing the activity after incurring the injury will increase the swelling and the pain, causing more damage and a longer recovery time.

Next is R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Resting the injury will give your body the appropriate time it needs to heal, without re-injury causing the acute injury to become a chronic injury. Using ice will help to reduce the initial swelling which will help to reduce the pain. Never use heat on an acute injury, as heat will induce swelling and inflammation, not reduce it. Compression by using tape or a wrap will help to keep swelling to a minimum and offer additional structural support to the injured body part. Finally, elevating the injury keeping it above heart level will continue to reduce swelling as well.

A few days of using R.I.C.E should help your body heal and ready to start training again. You'll want to take it easy and start with corrective exercise and stabilization training (phase 1 and 2) in the NASM OPT Model, no matter what stage of training you were in when you were injured.

For Chronic Injuries:
Chronic injuries tend to have a lot of built up scar tissue that immobilizes the joint and decreases the contraction of the muscle, which combined, decreases function and performance. By using heat prior to the activity, it will help to relax and loosen the tissues and increase blood flow to the area. Using ice afterward will help reduce the pain and swelling, just like an acute injury.

By following the guidelines in corrective exercise and stabilization training when you begin working out, you can "re-train" your body to work efficiently, minimizing the flare up of a chronic injury.

Here is a quick guide on what to do and when:

Ice or Heat?

Ice Heat
When To Use Use ice after an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, or after activities that irritate a chronic injury, such as shinsplints. Use heat before activities that irritate chronic injuries such as muscle strains. Heat can help loosen tissues and relax injured areas.
How To Do It Read through the information on how to ice an injury. There are several ways to ice an injury. Heating pads or hot wet towels are both excellent methods. Place a washcloth under hot tap water and then apply to the injured area.
For How Long Apply ice treatments for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Too much ice can do harm, even cause frostbite; more ice application does not mean more relief. It is not necessary to apply a heat treatment for more than about 20 minutes at a time. Never apply heat while sleeping.

The information in this article is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have incurred a sports injury, please see your Doctor for a proper diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gym in a bag. Taking your workout outside.

I often tell my clients that they don't need a gym membership to get in shape. With a few simple tools, you can workout anywhere. Now that the weather is cooling off a bit, you can experience a fantastic workout while enjoying the changing seasons.

Late summer and early fall are, in my opinion, the best seasons for outdoor workouts. It's not too hot, not too cold and very beautiful. Many neighborhood parks offer fitness courses complete with circuit training stations. It's an easy way to focus on body weight exercises (bench dips, pull-ups, squats) combined with sprints mixed in between sets for cardio. This type of routine is handy if you want to have a spur of the moment workout or you would rather leave your workout equipment at home.

For a more intense routine, you can pack a "gym in a bag" to take along with you. For clients who want to want a change of scenery or a breath of fresh air in their workouts, I pack everything I need for a complete integrated training program into one backpack:
  • Foam roll
  • Yoga mat
  • 55 cm stability ball (deflated)
  • 45 cm stability ball (deflated)
  • Hand or foot pump for stability balls
  • Set of 10 pound free weights
  • Set of 5 pound free weights
  • Jump rope
While the backpack may weigh 30 pounds (which makes for a great warm-up and burns extra calories) you can achieve the same accelerated results that you would expect from a typical gym workout.

Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut while in the gym and moving your routine outside can also jump start your motivation. Creating variety in the routine and in the workout environment as well, can really add that extra "something" making exercise a lot less boring.

So get out there while you can and get a great workout in the great outdoors!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tools of the trade: BOSU Balance Trainer

Do you need to kick it up a notch in your workout routine? Are you looking for great looking abs, legs and glutes? Do you just want to try something fun and different? Go get yourself a BOSU Balance Trainer to add to your fitness equipment collection.

BOSU stands for "Both Sides Utilized" or "Both Sides Up", referencing to it's limitless uses in a training routine. Developed in 1999 by David Weck, this "stability ball cut in half" provides an amazing way to improve balance and stabilization training while minimizing the potential risk of injury.

You can do practically any exercise that you can imagine with this tool; from push-ups, lunges, crunches and even combo exercises like V-sit bicep curls or plyometrics like ski jumps. BOSU balls constantly activate your core muscles (or the stabilizing muscles of the body) while engaging muscles all over the body all at the same time. This efficient recruitment of muscles maximizes the caloric burn in your routine, yielding accelerated results.

Here are some examples of how you can use the BOSU ball in your routine!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Be Creative. Use F.I.T.T. to your advantage

Nobody like to do the same workout routine day after day after day. It gets old fast and leads to mental burnout pretty quick. Not only is it mentally draining, but being rigid in a strict routine can set you up for failure, as life is never the same everyday. By using the F.I.T.T factors (frequency, intensity, time, type) you can be creative in your training routine, keeping it mentally stimulating while also providing flexibility for those times that cut your workout session short.

This variable can be adjusted to compliment a progressive integrated training program. By starting with just a few times a week, you can increase your training frequency (i.e. from 3 days a week to 5 or 6 days a week) to promote accelerated results without overtraining.

When certain life events get in the way of your workout routine, you can decrease the frequency while increasing other variables in the F.I.T.T factor (i.e. intensity and/or time). Say you have a project at work that is holding you in the office later than usual. You can decrease your training frequency from 5 days a week to 2 or 3 while increasing the intensity of your workout.

Intensity refers to the level of demand an activity places on the body. This is usually measured by heart rate and/or VO2 max. By keeping track of your Target Heart Rate, you can easily modify this variable to fit your desired fitness goal. Knowing your training intensity is key to avoiding overtraining, mental burnout and decreasing your risk of injury.

This variable can be altered when you are in a time crunch and want to maximize your results. If you typically have time for a 2 hour workout session in the gym but something has come up and you now only have an hour, you can train with less time at a higher intensity. This will yield similar results.

Time is similar to frequency in it's ability to compliment a progressive routine and allow for flexibility in unusual circumstances. By starting with 30 minutes a day of activity and increasing to 60 minutes, you can gradually build strength and endurance without overdoing it.

When life throws a wrench in your workout plans, you can adjust your training time accordingly to accommodate for prior engagements. Implementing a circuit training routine both decreases time while increasing intensity, thus maximizing results.

This is where constant variation can not only provide opportunities for fun and challenging exercises, but it also keeps you open minded about changing up your routine when you may be forced to. Variation in the type of exercises you do will coincide with a progressive training routine, constantly challenging your body to move in different ways while developing muscles in a more efficient manner.

Being familiar with different types of exercises and activity will ensure a successful workout session, no matter what situations may arise. Many times you may find cardio equipment under maintenance or you may be working out at "prime time" in the gym where you end up waiting for a specific machine. Rather than wasting your time, you can find different types of exercises that achieve the same desired effect.

By utilizing the F.I.T.T factors, you can design a progressive program that fits your fitness goal, no matter what life may throw your way. These variables can help spice up a humdrum routine or provide flexibility when you need to be creative in order to maintain consistency.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back to Business: Cyber-Client Results

Now that I've got the all clear from the Doctor and I don't have any more worries looming over my head, I can focus my attention back to training and writing. I thought it would be fitting to post the latest client results to get things rolling again.

After about 15 weeks of training, Cheri has lost almost 30 lbs and about 10 inches. 4.5 of those were from the waist. She had to buy a whole new wardrobe and prior to leaving for vacation, she was able to go on a shopping spree to a store where she was never able to shop before.

I'm so excited for her! What an achievement!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Distracted, but not forgotten. I will post again soon!

I just wanted to update the blog to let regular readers know that there will be some great information posted soon! It's been a crazy time with a distraction that makes it incredibly difficult to focus my thoughts. I have great things to write about, but I can't seem to sit down and type them out.

Not too long ago, I wrote about a fellow blogger and her very informative post about Inflammatory Breast Cancer. The information motivated me to finally call my Doctor to get in for an exam. I've had a lump since I started breastfeeding. When I weaned my son almost 8 months ago, it was still there. I thought it would go away and it never did. I started to worry when it became increasingly tender.

I had to wait three weeks to finally get in to see a Doctor (thanks insurance company!) and had my exam on Friday. There is something there and I will get further testing (hopefully this week) to determine the diagnosis. My Doctor is confident that it's not cancer, but now I'm hearing horror stories from people who've been told the same thing. Thus, the lack of posting here.

In the meantime, Whymommy nominated those women who have read her post and made the decision to get checked out for the Rockin' Girl Blogger Award.

I'm thankful for her post because without it, I probably would have continued ignoring the lump for quite some time. I hope the re-posting of her information on here was helpful to other women and inspired them to take action.

I'm positive the outcome will be nothing to worry about but until I get an official answer, I'm afraid my thoughts will be elsewhere. However when I get the all clear, stay tuned for some very useful tips and advice on how to achieve your fitness goal!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ask The Trainer. What to do about back problems.

I'm always flattered when someone I've never met, emailed or known in general asks me for advice. I'm often taken aback, not because I doubt my knowledge or skill, but because of all of the fitness and health professionals in the world, I seemed to be the one who could help out the most. It's a very humbling experience.

The other night I received this email:

Hi there,
I don't know if you can help me...I am simply looking for guidance/feedback. I live in Australia and have an ongoing lower back/pelvis problem. I am a dancer and for the past few months (despite having danced for nearly 3 years) my left hip joint keeps rotating backwards and up causing severe misalignment and pain down my right side. The therapist I am seeing suggests to take 1 month off dancing to work on core stability (have been doing her exercises for 2 months now) and allow myself to become stronger and more stable so that my hip joint won't keep coming out...and my pelvis out of alignment. I am afraid that my body will never become strong enough to allow me to dance (my passion in life).

Could I possibly ask for your thoughts on this? I need guidance and help and would appreciate any feedback....

Kindest Regards,
N in Australia

Hi N-

I'm sorry to hear about your back and hip problems. It's very disappointing to deal with physical limitations, especially when your passion in life is very demanding.

While I can't diagnose conditions for people I've never examined and assessed, I can tell you what I would do to find out the cause of your misalignments, possible resolutions and referrals to professionals in Australia who could help.

First and foremost; a chiropractic, orthopedic, neurological exam complete with full spine x-rays would be recommended. This would allow a health professional gather all of the physical information needed to properly diagnose the true cause of the imbalances and misalignments. Part of this exam should include a gait analysis and an overhead squat assessment. These are biomechanical tests that a health professional would do to see how your body moves, finding your muscular imbalances (what muscles are tight and weak).

After a proper examination, the general course of action would include deep tissue massage or myofascial release to relax the "knots" in the muscles, causing them to hyper-contract. After that, the muscles are prepped for corrective exercise training. This "re-trains" the muscles to work in a more balanced manner. Specific Chiropractic adjustments will compliment the corrective exercises, as our bodies are made up of systems that work together. You can't correct imbalances without addressing both the muscular and skeletal systems.

After corrective exercise training, stabilization training would be your next step. This stage is more core intense and also progresses you into exercises that will begin to build more strength, in addition to stabilizing your joints.

You'll want to find a Chiropractor who specializes in human movement science. Chiropractic Biophysics is a great spinal/joint rehabilitation technique. These Doctors may recommend physical therapy or give you the corrective exercise training program themselves. If you go through a personal trainer, you'll want to find someone who is NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified. You might be able to contact NASM directly for a referral.

I agree with the recommendation of your therapist in that taking a break from dancing will help, giving your body time to heal and retrain. Unless there is something seriously wrong, you should be able to regain your strength and stabilization, allowing you to dance again.

I hope this information helps you out and points you in the right direction.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

K.I.S. Keeping It Simple...with the 5 keys to fitness

Health and fitness can be a complicated subject with the vast array of information available. We are constantly being bombarded with the newest discoveries in ground breaking research, publication of the latest fad diet and more tips and tricks than anyone can keep track of. How can the average gym goer decipher the good from the bad? What is the clear cut, no fluff secret to total fitness?

Here's the K.I.S. (Keep It Simple) strategy focusing on the five keys to reaching your goal. You can use this simple guide to help, making sure you have all of the components in place and ensuring your success.

1. Nutrition
This is by far the most important key to reaching you goal, be it reducing body fat, increasing muscle or improving sports performance. Without this component in place, you will never achieve optimum results.

A. Portion Sizes
I. Consuming more and moving less leads to stored fat, or weight increase. Consume less and move more and you'll achieve fat loss. The key is to know exactly how many calories your body needs to reach your specific goal.

B. Type
I. You won't get to your goal by eating highly processed, unbalanced foods.
II. Keep it fresh and clean.
III. On average, most people need a macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat) balance of 60/20/20.

2. Cardio Training
This component will make you slim and trim while keeping your heart healthy and beating strong. It's also important to find balance and synergy. Too much can derail your progress, leaving you frustrated and unmotivated.

A. Frequency
I. 30 minutes of moderate daily activity is a must.
II. Most people are successful in cardio training with a more intense frequency of three to five times a week.

B. Intensity
I. Use Maximum Heart Rate formula to determine the appropriate intensity that best suits the goal.
II. Beginners: 50%-60% of MHR (Maximum Heart Rate)
III. Advanced: 65%-85% of MHR

C. Time
I. Beginners: 10-20 minutes
II. Intermediate: 15-45 minutes
III. Advanced: 30-60 minutes

D. Type
I. Walking is best for beginners
II. The best kind of cardio is the type you enjoy doing.
III. Keep it interesting with variety.

3. Resistance Training
This key component will help you become a lean, mean optimum performing machine. Increasing muscle density will increase your metabolism, thus decreasing body fat. Increases in strength does not equal increases in size. Everyone, including women, needs to incorporate integrated strength training into their routines.

A. Balance
I. Improves functional, or everyday performance.

B. Coordination
I. Keeps communication between mind and body movement strong.
II. Core (stabilization) training prevents injury and improves strength performance.

C. Flexibility
I. Ensures muscles contract efficiently, maximizing results.
II. Helps to improve other aspects of fitness programing (increases speed, decreases weight, increases strength

D. Strength
I. Increases metabolism, thus decreasing body fat
II. Creates not only muscular looks, but also "toned" look or definition.

4. Rest
Stress and over training can lead to injury or halt progress. By creating a progressive program, you can methodically train while allowing for proper recovery.

A. Rest Day
I. Take one day off a week from working out
II. Allow for 48 hour recovery time after lifting routine (per muscle group)

B. Sleep
I. Make sure to get 6-8 hours of restful REM sleep to ensure full recovery

C. Cheat Day
I. Decreases the feeling of deprivation that often sabotages a fitness program.
II. Balance and moderation is key as over indulgence will halt success.

5. Education
Knowledge is power. By understanding the basics, you will master the essential skills it takes to be successful in achieving your fitness goal. Education is also an incredible motivator.

A. Form
I. Provides an understanding of body movement and helps you to achieve perfect form.

B. Progression
I. Provides you with the knowhow to advance through platues

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dimples aren't cute when they're on your backside. Everything you need to know about cellulite

Many women of all shapes and sizes have often done a double take when getting a glimpse of their derrière in the mirror. Some have vowed to never wear shorts or skirts. Women around the world are covering up to hide cellulite.

The "cottage cheese" appearance seen on the thighs and buttocks of many women is cellulite. Some 90 percent of women have cellulite. Even the thin and physically fit are prone to dimpled thighs. The true cause of cellulite is not completely understood. However, it appears that in individuals with cellulite, there is irregular connective tissue under the skin. To understand what cellulite is, you need to understand a bit about musculature and fatty tissue.

If you look at a cross section of a woman's thigh, you'll see tight fiber bands connecting muscle through the fat to the skin. Where the bands aren't attached, the fat bulges up. When enough fat is deposited under the skin, it will tend to bulge through the connective tissue much like a balloon bulges when you squeeze it. In essence, the irregular connective tissue squeezes the fat and causes it to bulge. This may explain why cellulite has an irregular "cottage cheese" or "orange peel" appearance. Men generally don't have the problem because their fibers criss-cross and the fat can't bulge up as easily.

Other factors that may contribute to the development of cellulite are genetics, hormones (specifically estrogen), stress and diet.

While many remedies have been proposed to reduce cellulite (creams, herbs, massage, etc.), many have little effect on this condition. Creams have not been shown to be very effective at all, but some forms of massage may be beneficial. The use of deep tissue massage or a self-myofascial release (SMFR) technique has worked for a number of women. Using a foam roll is the easiest way to accomplish this.

While there's not much you can do to control genetics or the way your body responds to hormones, you can help to smooth out the lumps and bumps by:
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Eating a well balanced high fiber diet
  • Staying hydrated
  • Quit smoking
  • Workout following an integrated training program complete with SMFR

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You don't have to have a lump to have breast cancer.

While my posts here are about nutrition and fitness, this health related post contains some important information that could really change someone's life. I have a family history that involves different forms of cancer (colon and skin) and I've also worked in a cancer clinic. I've seen more cancer than I care to remember.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can be a proactive way to curb the potential growth of cancer in oneself. However, prevention only takes you so far. Early detection is another key. Whymommy at Toddler Planet has been recently diagnosed with Inflammatory breast cancer. In her fight, she wrote this very informative post on IBC to help educate women across the world and inspire them to take action. She writes:

We hear a lot about breast cancer these days. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, and there are millions living with it in the U.S. today alone. But did you know that there is more than one type of breast cancer?

I didn’t. I thought that breast cancer was all the same. I figured that if I did my monthly breast self-exams, and found no lump, I’d be fine.

Oops. It turns out that you don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer. Six weeks ago, I went to my OB/GYN because my breast felt funny. It was red, hot, inflamed, and the skin looked…funny. But there was no lump, so I wasn’t worried. I should have been. After a round of antibiotics didn’t clear up the inflammation, my doctor sent me to a breast specialist and did a skin punch biopsy. That test showed that I have inflammatory breast cancer, a very aggressive cancer that can be deadly.

Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis because many doctors have never seen it before and consider it rare. “Rare” or not, there are over 100,000 women in the U.S. with this cancer right now; only half will survive five years. Please call your OB/GYN if you experience several of the following symptoms in your breast, or any unusual changes: redness, rapid increase in size of one breast, persistent itching of breast or nipple, thickening of breast tissue, stabbing pain, soreness, swelling under the arm, dimpling or ridging (for example, when you take your bra off, the bra marks stay – for a while), flattening or retracting of the nipple, or a texture that looks or feels like an orange (called peau d’orange). Ask if your GYN is familiar with inflammatory breast cancer, and tell her that you’re concerned and want to come in to rule it out.

There is more than one kind of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is the most aggressive form of breast cancer out there, and early detection is critical. It’s not usually detected by mammogram. It does not usually present with a lump. It may be overlooked with all of the changes that our breasts undergo during the years when we’re pregnant and/or nursing our little ones. It’s important not to miss this one.

Inflammatory breast cancer is detected by women and their doctors who notice a change in one of their breasts. If you notice a change, call your doctor today. Tell her about it. Tell her that you have a friend with this disease, and it’s trying to kill her. Now you know what I wish I had known before six weeks ago.

You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I would walk 500 miles, And I would walk 500 more. Pedometers and walking 10,000 steps per day

Walking is easy. Almost everyone can do it. The problem is that most people don't. As technology advances, society becomes more sedentary and daily walking, or motion in general decreases. When activity decreases, weight increases. It's science and part of The Law of Thermodynamics; calories in versus calories out. By walking 10,000 steps a day anyone can easily fight the battle of the bulge. And win.

The word mile derives from the Latin word for thousand, because it was the distance the average Roman soldier covered while walking 1,000 paces. A pace is two steps, one with each foot, so for the average person 2,000 steps is a mile. That makes 10,000 steps about 5 miles for most people.

The Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research has conducted research on how much exercise we need for optimum health and fitness for over four decades. They find that 10,000 steps a day is enough beyond what the average sedentary person takes to meet the surgeon general's recommendation of 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity. A person who walks 10,000 steps a day will burn between 2,000 and 3,500 extra calories per week.

In the January 2004 issue of Sports Medicine, Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke classifies people taking less than 5000 steps a day as sedentary. Taking 5,000 to 7,500 steps a day is typical for people with no sports activities and is classified as low active. Taking 7,500 to 10,000 steps a day requires some walking, either on the job or in an exercise program, and is considered somewhat active. Dr. Tudor-Locke classifies those taking more than 10,000 steps a day as active.

Steps Per Day
Activity Level
5,000 - 7,499
low active
7,500 - 9,999
somewhat active
highly active

Now you know how many steps to take, it's just a matter of counting them. There are many gadgets out there to help you out. Pedometers are fairly inexpensive and you can find them in almost any sports equipment store. My personal favorites are the shoe pedometer and the Nike Sports Kit.

You can increase the amount of steps you take very simply. You can always park at the end of the paring lot, take the stairs rather than the escalator or even taking an after dinner stroll in the neighborhood. The first thing to keep in mind is to keep moving. You can't fail.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Birds of a Feather Flock Together or Misery Loves Company. How your friends are getting you fat

This is the latest and greatest in health and fitness related news. Your friends are getting you fat and obesity is "socially contagious". I agree 100%.

Those who have gone out to dinner with friends and tried to make good nutritional choices have all experienced the peer pressure at the restaurant table. "What are you eating? Can't you just order straight from the menu without all of those changes"? It's a lot easier to cave in and eat to your hearts content (or discontent, really). It can be an uncomfortable situation when others comment on your eating habits and most people try to avoid uncomfortable situations at all costs.

Not only does this happen at the table, but with activities as well. An obese friend is less likely to want to go for an after dinner stroll in the neighborhood, a bike ride in the park or even tag along to the gym. The activity levels between fit and obese friends may be drastically different, thus leading the duo (or trio) to find more sedentary forms of entertainment.

The study was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine and funded by the National Institute on Aging. The researchers found a person's chances of becoming obese went up 57% if a friend did, 40% if a sibling did and 37% if a spouse did. In the closest friendships, the risk almost tripled. On average, the researchers calculated, when an obese person gained 17 pounds, the corresponding friend put on an extra 5 pounds.

Researchers think it's more than just people with similar eating and exercise habits hanging out together. Instead, it may be that having relatives and friends who become obese changes one's idea of what is an acceptable weight. Obesity experts not involved in the research said the results back up what they have suspected all along - that people look toward one another for what is an acceptable weight. "If you're just a little bit heavy and everyone around you is quite heavier, you will feel good when you look in a mirror," said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center.

That finding may support efforts to provide nutrition education in the workplace, where many people find their friends. There is also value in targeting interventions at the person in a family in charge of food buying and preparation. The bottom line is that no one can do it alone. It takes the support of friends and family, the entire social network, in order to be successful in leading a healthy lifestyle.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Awesome Abs! Try this on for size

It's a hot topic in the gym and in the world of fitness. Awesome Abs, Washboard Stomach, Six Pack, whatever you want to call it, everyone wants it. People will obsessively train their abs in order to achieve this result. Knowing that nutrition and genetics play a huge role in the end result, variety in training plays another.

There are a million different exercises for core training. From basic floor crunches to ball crunches to creative exercises that incorporate balance and stability training. There's no lack of ab routines, that's for sure. However, people often get stuck in a rut repeating the same ab exercises week after week. This is one way to not only kill your motivation and excitement about working out, but it's also a good way to kill any progress in achieving that nice waistline. Variety truly is the spice of life and the trick to Integrated Training.

If you've been bored with your basic crunch, try this exercise out: Prone Iso-Abs.
This is a great basic exercise that can take your dull core routine to the next level. It makes you burn, sweat and even shake! Once you get stronger and this becomes too easy, there are a handful of ways to progress this exercise to increase the challenge.

This is one of my favorite ab exercises that I swear by and it has the tendency to make my clients swear. After some time with this, a good nutrition plan and a well designed workout routine, you'll swear this works too!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Time Wasting Machine - Standing Calf Raises

Here is another time wasting machine for everyone to avoid. The standing calf raise. This is yet another machine that gyms have in the weight room just because potential members specifically look for it. Any trainer worth their dollar won't even go near it, let alone put a client on it.

First, the calf raise machine is designed to train the calf group in a concentric manner and to strengthen the action of plantar flexion. This machine has been a common piece of equipment for years. Yet, if we examine the true action of the calf group in gait and function, the calf group actually decelerates dorsiflexion, stabilizes the ankle, indirectly helps to stabilize the hip and assists to accelerate plantar flexion.

he posterior tibialis, soleus, and gastrocnemius, all work synergistically to decelerate dorsiflexion. None of these muscles work independently of each other. When looking at muscle function, all muscles have a tri-phasic action, deceleration (eccentric), stabilization and then acceleration (concentric). To be effective, all muscles need to eccentrically load first, then concentrically unload. Selectorized machines work primarily by concentric muscle action and in one plane of motion. This is detrimental to people who run as this will shorten the muscle group and is opposite of what they require, which is a strong ability to eccentrically control the action of the tibia, ankle and foot. Additionally, these machines also work in a single plane of motion.

When examining different types of muscle fibers in the lower leg, it's been shown that the muscles on the shin are approximately 73% slow twitch (stabilizing muscles) while part of the calf has approximately 49% fast twitch (force and power producing muscles). Because of the different muscle types and various functions, it makes sense to train using an integrated progressive program that encompasses all aspects of training: flexibility, stabilization, balance, strength and power. If all of these components are addressed, the calf muscles will function at an optimum level of performance, the risk of injury is decreased and results will be quick to happen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not a gerbil in a wheel. Calculating cardio alternatives

Cardio is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, but it tends to be very challenging when it come to finding the motivation to do it. By incorporating a variety of exercises and activities into your routine, you can help prevent the boredom that comes with doing the same thing each day. Different activities utilize various combinations of muscle groups and intensity levels, therefore burning different amounts of calories per session.

The table below runs down (on average) the number of calories that various exercises burn, which depend on both the activity itself, and the weight and sex of the participant. Try some of the ideas below to spice up your workout routine and keep it interesting.

30-Minute Workout Female 140
Female 165

Female 190

Male 170 lbs.
Male 190 lbs. Male 210 lbs.
Moderate Walking 94
116 138 111 128 145
Brisk Walking 115 141 166 136 156 176
Jogging 6.7 mph 419 499 578 505 568 632
Running 8.5 mph 545 648 750 659 740 821
Racquetball 250 300 350 300 340 379
In-line skating 461 548 636 556 626 695
Swimming 250 300 350 300 340 379
Weightlifting 81 101 121 96 111 126
Stationary Biking 250 300 350 300 340 379
Circuit training 292 349 407 352 397 442
Jumping rope 376 449 521 300 511 568
Stationary Rowing 250 300 350 300
340 379
292 349 407 352 397 442
with clubs)
145 176 206 172 196 221
250 300 350 300 340 379
Basketball 208 250 292 249 282 315
(low impact)
167 200 235 198 225 252

Monday, July 9, 2007

Take one down, pass it around. Enjoying alcohol while dieting

You've had a great summer vacation and enjoyed fabulous 4th of July celebrations. There were picnics in the park, back yard barbecues, and alcohol. Your intentions of healthy eating have gone down the tubes. But! All is not lost. Here's the scoop on alcohol.

Information about alcohol is often asked possibly by clients wondering what they can “get away with.” Ideally, abstinence from alcohol is the best solution, but it's not always a realistic solution. More often than not, when someone is told that they "can't" or "shouldn't" eat or drink something, chances are that they will anyway. So, we work with it. Balance is the key here.

If you look at the caloric profile of the macronurtients carbohydrate, protein and fat , each provides a specific amount of energy measured in calories. Basic laws of thermodynamics say that if one’s intake of calories is greater than their expenditure, the excess calories will be stored in the form of body fat.










7 cal/oz

For example, one 12-ounce beer yields 84 cal (12 x 7), depending on the type of lager. On a typical drinking binge, several alcoholic drinks can be consumed, leading to excessive calories consumed for that day. That number alone doesn’t appear too alarming, but multiply that by the number of drinks consumed in one day, one weekend, or one vacation, and you begin to see how alcohol consumption might increase the storage of body fat.

Here is a list of drinks and their caloric totals. You can use this guide to find some of your favorites to make a good choice next time you decide to indulge in a few drinks. This information may even surprise and motivate you to cut out alcohol completely.

Serving Size
Red wine
5 oz.
White wine
5 oz. 100
5 oz. 130
Light beer
12 oz. 100
Regular beer
12 oz. 140
Dark beer
12 oz. 170
3 oz. 165
3 oz. 205
Long Island iced tea
8 oz. 400
Gin & Tonic
8 oz. 175
Rum & Soda
8 oz. 180
8 oz. 200
Whiskey Sour
4 oz. 200

Keeping moderation in mind, other ways to decrease the impact of alcohol is by keeping hydrated. Drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic drink consumed, you'll be less likely to overindulge.

While drinking and healthy nutrition do not go hand in hand, you can still practice balance and moderation. It's still possible to enjoy life, indulge occasionally and still reach your desired fitness goal.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Whistle while you work. Working out at home.

There are a myriad of excuses for why an individual doesn't workout. Generally, the excuse most often given is a lack of time. As a society, we're working long hours, taking the kids to soccer practice, running errands; anything but working out. We're just far too busy. Well, where there's a will, there's a way.

You can workout anywhere, with practically anything. You most certainly don't need a gym membership to get in shape. You don't even need a complete weight set, heavy cardio equipment or an exercise room taking over the guest bedroom in your house. The best way to maximize your time is to multi-task. Turn everyday experiences into workout opportunities!

Grocery Shopping
We all know that by parking at the farthest end of the parking lot, you're going to get a little more exercise. This is an easy one. But did you know that grocery shopping can be a great way to get in a little strength training too? Using the hand baskets rather than the shopping cart will work your biceps and shoulders, giving you a great burn. Getting a half gallon of milk? When you get home to unload the goods, turn that milk carton into a triceps exercise. This works great for weighted squats and shoulder presses too.

Yard Work
This is a very labor intensive chore. If you have a lawn service, save yourself some cash and get out there to do it yourself. Pushing the lawn mower is a complete body workout. Pulling weeds can turn into an isolated squat, or even a lunge. Trimming the hedge will be a comparable substitute for a few shoulder exercises. You'll start looking as great as your yard in no time.

House Work
If you have enough time to clean your house, you have enough time to workout. Vacuuming the carpet is just like moving the lawn with a whole lot more emphasis on your core muscles, especially your obliques. You can do push-up's and crunches in any room that your cleaning, even the edge of the bathtub makes for a great push-up bench. Picking up the laundry basket can turn into bent over rows and deadlifts. Scrubbing the shower tiles? Wiping the windows and mirrors? Those make for some great upper body movements that produce noticeable results.

Watching TV
This is a prime opportunity for fitness. TV programming is inundated with commercials. As far as I know, nobody's paying attention to them. Maximize this break from your favorite sitcom by doing something active. Again, it's a great time for crunches and push-ups. It's an even better time to get a few minutes of cardio. Try jump roping, calisthenics, or even running in place for the entire commercial break. With as much TV as Americans watch, if everyone did this we would make great strides in overcoming the obesity epidemic.

There really are no excuses. Fitness and exercise opportunities present themselves many times throughout the day. Even brushing your teeth can turn into a balance and stabilization exercise. You just have to do it. Time is something that all of want (or need) more of, but you just have to work with what you've got.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Constantly moving. Maximizing cardio in a time crunch

Many people today have the same fitness excuse. "I don't have time". For some people, this is just an excuse, where they could easily make improvements with their time management. For others, this is a valid excuse, but still. It's an excuse. If you plan your day accordingly, most individuals can find an hour in their day for a workout. It may just be an hour and that's fine. We can work with that!

If you have plenty of time to devote to an integrated training program, it typically takes two hours to complete. This is including time for a warm-up, flexibility, core, strength and cardio routine. By modifying the routine to a specific circuit, you can cut that time in half. You still have all of the components of the program, but you are maximizing your time and effort making for some serious time management skills.

The trick to this circuit is to be constantly moving. You will have to take a break every now and then just to catch your breath and let your heart rate drop some, but the goal is not to take a 30 second (or longer) break in between lifting sets. With this "break" time, your muscles are recovering from the lift, but your body is still working by either doing a set of crunches or cardio.

Not only is this a great plan for those who have little time for a workout, but it's an incredible way to achieve a quick weight loss goal. If you're in a predicament where you need an "emergency" workout plan to fit into a swimsuit for your upcoming vacation, this is the plan for you too.

So, if your excuse for not working out is that you don't have time, try this circuit. I'll bet you can fit it in and see results in just a few weeks.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Back in the Game! And what personal training means to me

After a short blogging hiatus, I'm back in full force. This break was nice in the way that it was recharging, giving me some great topics for future posts. And there's no better way to get going again than to explain what personal training means to me.

This was a question that was asked of me last week. "...What are your feelings on personal training, what makes you happy and excited about it, the feelings that you have when you are exercising, the feelings that you want others to have while exercising, what you want your clients to get from you..."

While this question was asked for business purposes, it was exciting to reflect on the feelings I have for one of my biggest life passions. It was extremely motivating for me and it was a wonderful reminder of why helping to motivate others to change their lives is so rewarding for me.

I want to be able to help people help themselves, to feel empowered, be excited about fitness and successful in reaching their goals.

To me, personal training is a life changing experience. Many times when someone starts personal training, they have a horrible self image. They are usually depressed, desperate and confused because they just don't know where to start. When I sit down with someone in an initial consultation, they are often brought to tears because they are so frustrated with themselves and the false fitness information that they come across. I'm usually their last resort.

Personal training brings them hope and confidence. It brings back the spark that's been missing in their lives. They feel happier about themselves and the life they are leading. They have more energy, they feel stronger. They feel a sense of accomplishment and they are excited about the new "you" they see in the mirror. My training program has even saved a marriage.

My primary goal as a personal trainer is to educate. I want my clients to learn everything they need to know to become dependent on themselves, not me, to lead a healthy lifestyle. It's so important to me that people are empowered and capable because this is how lives are changed, with long lasting results. Not only are the individual lives changed, but this education on healthy living is passed down to their children.

Hope, excitement, optimism, physical/mental strength, accomplishment, self confidence, exhilaration from the adrenaline rush, education, motivation, a life changing experience...these are all of the feelings and results that I want people to get from my programs while exercising.

For me personally, the fitness hook is the adrenaline rush. While I'm doing cardio, pumping away to whatever music I have on my iPod, pushing my physical and mental limits...the rush is amazing. The goose bumps, the energy that flows through my blood and my entire body...I feel it from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I get the same feeling after completing a particularly difficult exercise. I love it. I walk out of the gym tired, but it's a good tired. I feel great. I get that rewarding sense of accomplishment.

It's difficult to limit my feelings to a few short paragraphs, but it's why I love doing what I do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bigger & Better Things

Most of you may be wondering, "What is going on with this blog? There hasn't been a post in days, even weeks!" Well folks, just a little reassurance, I'm not jumping ship & abandoning the blog. No, it's actually quite the opposite. With the help from one of my cyber-clients, Robin, we're working on a new and improved online training program! I've received some great feed back on ways the program could be more user friendly. Robin is restructuring all of the documents for me and even creating more. I am so excited about this! I feel like the program is going to be unlike any other online training program (not like there's a whole lot of them anyway).

Please bare with me during this hiatus. I should be back to posting tips and information regularly, starting next week. I'll try and sneak a post in before then, but I can't promise anything just yet.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Sometimes less is more. The ramifications of over training.

The saying "too much of a good thing" is true, even in the world of fitness. There are times when a person can exercise too much. This move into over training can cause many health problems and stop the breaks to achieving your fitness goals.

Among chronic exercisers, there is always the potential of doing more but receiving less. This is a common mistake in the weight room. What many exercisers do not realize is that additional workouts can sometimes lead to the law of diminishing returns, where anticipated results do not occur. It has been well established that in order to receive a training effect (weight loss, hypertrophy, speed, power), the exerciser must experience some fatigue. This fatigue will in turn induce a need for recovery, which leads to a period of overcompensation or the training effect. However, if there is little or no recovery, combined with additional intense activity, the overcompensation or training effects do not occur, and over training symptoms can result. The term over training has been used interchangeably with staleness, burnout, chronic fatigue, stagnation, overwork or run down. Researchers have reported no less than 31 features of over training extending to 84. The most prominent features of over training include heavy legs, sore muscles, high resting heart rate, poor motivation, sleep disturbances, low libido, frequent sickness or infection, weight loss, depression and increased rating of perceived exertion.

Over training occurs when an athlete has been exposed to prolonged high intensity, high volume training, which manifests itself in an accumulated fatigue state. It has been reported under over reaching, burnout, staleness etc. Athletes generally experience a deep and prolonged fatigue, poor performances and at times an inability to train and compete at the highest level.

The prevalence of over training appears to be specific to certain sports and exercise activities. Elite distance runners tend to demonstrate higher levels of over training, as do female athletes.

The three major causes of over training reported are inadequate recovery between sessions, excessive amounts of high intensity training and sudden increases in training load. General exercise prescription for overloading has recommended increases of no more than five to 10 percent. Other factors reported include too much intense strength training, too many competitions and travel and no breaks between training seasons. It is unusual to see over training symptoms in exercisers who maintain high volumes of low intensity training or moderate long term training.

An athlete’s lifestyle and the stress associated with it can contribute to over training. These may include poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, psychological conflict and an inability to achieve set goals.

The physical symptoms of over training include: poor performances, unable to maintain training load, chronic fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, hormonal changes, high blood pressure, continual muscle soreness, sudden weight loss, headaches, frequent sicknesses and menstrual irregularities. Emotional symptoms are: depression, poor self confidence, mood changes, apathy, lethargy, low motivation, poor sleep habits, irritability, boredom, poor appetite, inability to relax and anger.

It is of some concern that when these symptoms are recognized, it is often too late for adequate recovery before competition. Over training symptoms appear to be very much an individual response, and many times, an individual will exhibit a combination of symptoms. As a rule of thumb, one of the best indicators is still prolonged fatigue lasting one week.

Over training often requires extensive recovery. Elite athletes are always pushing the limit and as such train very close to the over trained state. In this case, it is much more effective to prevent the over trained state rather than treat it. Over training can be prevented by individualizing training programs, monitoring fatigue levels, increasing training load gradually, encouraging variety in workouts, scheduling rest days, providing breaks between seasons, encouraging good nutrition and including regenerative techniques such massage, flexibility, relaxation and hydrotherapy into the training program.

Remember, resting and off days are not a bad thing. These are very important components to a well balanced and successful fitness program. Over training can lead to injury, where you'll be forced to sit on the bench and slow your progress.

Monday, June 4, 2007

For the love of....Chocolate. The health benefits and detriments of chocolate

One food that has derailed more diets than any other is probably chocolate. Whether it's birthday cake or that tempting chocolate bar at the grocery check-out, chocolate is always hard to resist. As a trainers and nutritionist, I often include it as a cheat food. "Only in moderation," I will tell my clients. Lately, there has been a lot of attention on chocolate. Should we believe the media hype surrounding the potential health benefits of this sinful food? Here’s the scoop on everything you ever needed to know about chocolate.

The idea that the sweetness of fruit is going to satisfy a chocolate craving is sometimes hard to believe. When the urge hits, there is very little that can be done to stop it until the only thing left of that Hersey's bar is the package. So why do we need it so bad?

There appear to be many reasons why chocolate seems to be so addictive. For example, the sugar in chocolate can increase the levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitters: serotonin and endorphins. Chocolate also contains an amphetamine-like compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), which is generated in relatively high amounts in the brain when happy events occur (i.e., falling in love). Chocolate also contains caffeine (although not very much), which provides an energy boost and small amounts of a substance called anandamide that mimics the pleasurable effects of marijuana by binding to the same receptor sites on brain cells as the active ingredient in the plant. Even the aroma of chocolate may affect brain chemistry.

However, the addiction some people claim they have to chocolate is not nearly as strong as the urge for nicotine or other highly addictive substances. The sweetness, aroma and the melt-in-your mouth quality of chocolate makes it very appealing. Despite this, there is a real difference between being addicted to something (e.g. cigarettes, heroin) and just liking something a lot. Liking chocolate has both its positives and negatives.

Cocoa and chocolate products have been delicacies for centuries, but only recently have they been recognized as significant sources of phytochemicals with healthful effects. Chocolate and cocoa powders are derived from beans that contain hefty amounts of phytochemicals called flavonoids that are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. Flavonoid compounds are found almost exclusively in the plant kingdom, and it’s estimated that there are more than 4,000 of them. Various epidemiological studies have shown that populations consuming a diet rich in flavonoids (including foods such as wine, tea and certain fruits and vegetables) have lower rates of heart disease and stroke.

The specific flavonoids in chocolate receiving the most interest are the procyanidins, which are also present in apples and grapes. Both tea and red wine contain flavonoids called catechins. These catechins can bind together to make larger molecules called procyanidins that are present in the cocoa bean.

Some of the ways that chocolate’s flavonoids can be heart-healthy include:

Antioxidant Protection
Antioxidants fight free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments like cancer. Flavonoids present in cocoa and chocolate may protect the heart by inhibiting the oxidation of the “bad cholesterol” called LDL (oxidized LDL is much more likely to result in the formation of plaque on the artery wall). Studies have shown that as the amount of chocolate flavonoids in the blood increases, there is a corresponding decrease in the markers associated with oxidation damage. In addition, the antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate may help spare other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, which allows them to act longer to fight off foreign invaders.

Reduced Platelet Activity
Some studies indicate that after consuming flavonoids in chocolate, there is a decrease in markers associated with platelet aggregation and adhesion (stickiness of the blood/blood clotting). Both platelet aggregation and adhesion are associated with a higher risk of plaque formation on the artery wall. As plaque formation increases, so does the risk of a heart attack by blocking flow of blood to the heart. Thus, chocolate can almost have an aspirin-like effect.

Relaxation of Blood Vessel Wall
Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids may protect the heart by increasing concentrations of a substance called nitric oxide that relaxes the inner surface of blood vessel walls. This has the effect of increasing dilation of the arteries, which improves blood flow and heart functioning. This function of cocoa and chocolate may help those who have high blood pressure. In fact, a small study found that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure in those with hypertension.

Researchers found that 15 days of dark chocolate intake improved insulin sensitivity (increased glucose uptake). Nitric oxide bioavailability deeply influences insulin-stimulated glucose uptake, and flavonoids present in dark chocolate and cocoa increase nitric oxide bioavailability. This same study saw a reduction in blood pressure among dark chocolate participants.

Reduced Inflammation
Research reported found that procyanidins (flavonoid found in the cocoa bean) can reduce blood levels of leukotrienes, which are a pro-inflammatory substance. This has positive effects on the immune system. In addition, this benefit could help protect the heart as inflammation in the lining of the artery walls is believed to be part of the damaging process that leads to cardiovascular disease.

The well publicized healthy properties of chocolate have lead many to believe they can enjoy chocolate in all its many forms. Not so! While the exact amount of cocoa or chocolate needed daily to exert health benefits is still yet to be determined, some studies have needed up to four ounces of antioxidant rich chocolate per day to elicit positive outcomes. Considering that an ounce of chocolate has roughly 145 calories and eight to ten grams of fat, if most people simply added this much chocolate to their existing diets, it would be detrimental to achieving their fitness goals. Individuals should be encouraged to substitute good-quality chocolate for other less healthy treats such as donuts, muffins and candy.

Also, all the studies showing promising health benefits from chocolate have used dark (“bittersweet”) chocolate and not the overly processed milk chocolates full of sugar that most people are consuming. Many find the taste of dark chocolate to be too overpowering and thus opt for the higher sugar forms with a lot less flavonoids.

To know which forms of chocolate are best as a treat or satisfy those cravings, here is a simple guide you can use:

1. Cocoa
Pure cocoa is the best type of chocolate substance to consume since it’s the richest source of flavonoids and contains none of the added sugar and fat present in processed chocolate. Cocoa is made when chocolate liquor (the ground up center of the cocoa bean) is pressed to remove much of the cocoa butter. It is virtually calorie free. Cocoa powder can be added to smoothies, oatmeal and plain yogurt.

When purchasing a cocoa powder, make sure the only ingredient is cocoa powder (unsweetened cocoa). To preserve the flavonoids, it’s wise to look for a brand that uses non-alkaline processing. Alkalized cocoa is also known as “dutch” cocoa. This process, which increases the pH of the product, has a negative impact on flavonoid levels.

Carob powder comes from the dried pods of the carob tree. Although research has found that carob does contain relatively high amounts of antioxidants, its impact on heart health has yet to be studied to any great length.

2. Dark Chocolate Over Milk Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains up to twice as much antioxidants as milk chocolate. Milk chocolate, which is made when dry milk is added to sweetened chocolate, contains more milk and less chocolate liquor than dark chocolate. In fact, the major problem with milk chocolate is that the first two ingredients are often sugar and milk, leaving less pure chocolate and therefore less flavonoids.

In addition, research has found that the addition of milk to dark chocolate may cause chemical bonds to form between milk proteins and antioxidants in chocolate, thereby inhibiting the absorption of antioxidants into the body. However, this is a finding that has yet to be fully proven.

If cocoa, cocoa solids or chocolate liquor (the ground up center of the cocoa bean) is the first ingredient, then you know you are getting a lot of chocolate and less sugar. Chocolate bars with at least 70 percent cocoa can be considered “dark chocolate” and will have more flavonoids and less sugar. A bar that lists sugar as the first ingredient will contain less than 50 percent cocoa.

So there you have it folks. The skinny (and fat) on chocolate. It has it's pro's and it's con's. Just like pretty much everything in life, "Only in moderation" is still the motto to follow. Don't deny yourself the indulgences of chocolate, but don't over do it either. Otherwise, you'll have a lot of working out to do to make up for it.