Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Season's Greetings!

Before we say good bye to 2015, Fitness Spark would like to wish you the best of health, fitness & happiness during this holiday season.

It's hard to believe but FitnessSpark*S* blog is one year old! Thank you for hanging with us for this long.  Your feedback makes it all worthwhile.  Keep the comments & questions coming & don't hesitate to e-mail!  We will be trying to compile an index of articles to make it easier to find what you are searching for.

Future topics coming up next year  -

  • How Exercise Might Help Us Fight Infection
  • Plant Based Eating - why it might helps with chronic disease....and my personal experience with this style of eating.  It's been interesting - I've lost 3 pounds already with out really "dieting".
  • Treadmill desks - best thing for everyday fitness?  Or not?
  • Maintaining mobility - pamper those feet!  Some simple steps & exercises you can do.
  • And more....

In the meantime, here's a reprint of Alex Starr's not too sweet Sweet Potato/Apricot casserole:

Sweet Potato and Apricot Casserole This is for those who like tart rather than sweet & sticky sweet potatoes. My grandkids LOVE these as do the adults.

1 lb. Can whole sweet potatoes or 4 medium size sweet potatoes - or buy fresh yams and cook them until just tender (yes, they are different from sweet potatoes and they are delicious)
3 T. undiluted frozen orange juice
3 T. melted butter
1 T. brown sugar
salt (to taste)
pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 C. of chopped dried apricots

Mash sweet potatoes. Mix with O.J., butter, sugar and seasonings. Stir in unbeaten eggs and last, the pieces of apricot. Spoon into shallow buttered (or use PAM) casserole dish (glass). Bake 350 for 20-24 minutes or until brown and fluffy. Serves 4.  Double or triple, if you wish - just bake a bit longer.

Until next year - best wishes for the holidays & we hope you are able to spend quality time with family, friends & loved ones.

© December 23, 2015, Fitness Spark Personal Training

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Can You Exercise Too Much?

We hope you all enjoyed that uniquely American holiday - Thanksgiving - with good friends, family & an abundance of food.   The aftermath, however, is usually vows to "exercise more".  Here's some things to keep in mind before you ramp up the intensity.

Can you Exercise Too Much?  Researchers have been trying to find the sweet spot between too much and too little activity.  Obvious adverse effects of too much exercise – either in duration or intensity - are an increased risk of injury due to overuse & possible adverse effects on the immune system due to increased inflammation. Athletic trainers have always recommended one to two days a week of rest for the body to recover from hard training sessions.  Some studies have even found coronary changes in endurance athletes which could predispose to risk of arrhythmias and sudden death.  

Other signs of too much exercise - overtraining - are a lack of progress, chronic muscle soreness & fatigue, an increased resting heart rate, an increased susceptibility to infection, and injury.  These can lead to depression, burnout, and even mental breakdown.

Recent Research  Some of the latest research involves observational studies comparing a million healthy British women.  Those who were active at least once a week were found to have fewer heart attacks, strokes or blood clots in legs or lungs.  In this study, any kind of activity had the same effects as strenuous activity, but the headline grabber was that those who exercised everyday didn’t see more benefits.  In fact, those who exercised twice a week had about the same benefits as those who exercised six times a week.

A Danish study compared the death rates for joggers versus sedentary folks.  Light to moderate runners were less likely to die than non-exercisers.  However, strenuous joggers (fast pace, more than 2.5 hours a week) had a mortality rate similar to those who were sedentary.  The conclusion – higher doses of running may be unnecessary and may counteract the benefits found in lower rates of running.

A German study & a Mayo Clinic study found that those who were sedentary & those who exercised at a higher rate were more likely to die over a 10 year period.  However, the couch potatoes had a higher risk.

These studies caused headlines such as “Fast Running is as Deadly as Sitting on Couch” or “One Running Shoe in the Grave”, but raised many questions also.  One the one hand, the research was observational & showed correlation, not causation.  They were also meta studies where data from many studies were combined.  The studies included may have differed in the way information was gathered, and how the exercisers were categorized.  It was not examined if there was something different about those who exercised vigorously, as compared to those who did so moderately.

More Exercise - Good or Bad? The jury is still out since aerobic exercise is also known to improve other cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol & body weight.  Perhaps, high intensity exercise can benefit some aspects while negatively affecting other heart health factors.

In the US our problem is that of too much sedentary behavior, so such sensational headlines that imply exercise is bad for heart health should not be taken “to heart”.  Other studies have found that 400,000 Taiwanese exercisers lowered their mortality rate the more time that was put in.  One hundred minutes a day seemed to be the peak level for benefits.  For intense exercise, the plateau was 45 minutes, with no decrease in benefits with increased time.

It could also be that what's too much or too little varies from person to person.  Genetic differences could make some of us more susceptible to physical or cardiovascular problems.  Training differences could also be a factor.

Bottom line:  listen to your body, plan your recovery time, and follow the latest recovery protocols for exercise nutrition and time off.

Hippocrates said:  "If we could give every individ­ual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health."                                                                      Reference

Cranberries - A Year Round Friend    Although these colorful berries are having their heyday right now, its good to remember why they can be beneficial all year round.  

For urinary tract infections (UTIs), 10-15 ounces of cranberry juice may prevent bacteria from overtaking the urinary tract. Studies are actually equivocal but if your doctor's not available, a few glasses of cranberry juice may help.  Its thought that proanthocyanidins found in the berries may prevent bacteria from attaching to the lining of the bladder.

For oral health, the mechanism is thought to be similar.  However, sweetened cranberry cocktails are not likely to be effective.

Heart health may benefit from the antioxidants in cranberry juice.  These might prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol.  A small study showed effectiveness in type 2 diabetics.

Cranberry juice may prevent h. pylori,  the most common bacterium found in ulcers from sticking to the stomach lining.

And cranberry extracts have been shown to inhibit cancer cells in esophageal, colon & oral cancers.  However, it doesn't follow that cranberry juice will prevent these cancers.

Quick Cranberry facts:                                          Reference
  • Low in calories - 50 calories per cup of berries; 120 cal per cup of undiluted, unsweetened juice.
  • Fiber - about 5 gm per cup
  • Contain vitamin C
  • Most cranberry beverages are heavily sweetened.
  • Can be frozen for year round use
  • Cranberry sauces are high in calories - 200cal/cup.
  • Craisins are sweetened and are 370 calories per cup.
We're working on an index of 2015 articles and hope it will be in time for next month.  But for now, here is a recipe that uses cranberries to sweeten the possible bitterness found in Brussels Sprouts.  Since this recipe comes from the American Institute For Cancer Research you know its high in antioxidants and other healthy phytochemicals.

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Cranberries and Walnuts
3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 Fuji or Gala apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (see Notes)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Trim bottom from sprouts and remove any loose or bruised leaves. Place shredding disk or fine slicing disk in food processor, and using feeder tube, gradually shred Brussels sprouts; there will be about 4 1/2 cups (see Notes). Transfer shredded sprouts to mixing bowl.

Add apple, cranberries, walnuts, salt, pepper and lemon juice and stir with a fork for 1 minute to combine well. Add oil and stir well. Cover and refrigerate slaw for 3 hours to overnight. Re-stir before serving. This slaw is best served within 24 hours.

  • If Meyer lemons are not available, use 1/4 cup regular fresh lemon juice.
  • If your food processor does not have a shredding dish, quarter Brussels sprouts vertically and place in food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Pulse until sprouts are finely chopped, stopping several times to scrape down bowl. Take care not to leave big chunks or to turn sprouts into mush.
Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 1/2 cup

Per serving: 120 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat fat), 16 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 3 g fiber, 130 mg sodium.

© December, 2015, Fitness Spark Personal Training

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Muscle Soreness, Hidden Sugars & A Better Halloween Treat

No Pain, No Gain??

Success? Yes, No or Maybe?

Why You’re Sore:   Exercise, particularly eccentric exercise which lengthens the muscle as it is working can cause microtears in the muscle fiber, and the connective tissue surrounding it.  This sets up an inflammation which results in waste products that stimulate nearby nerve endings.  This in turn causes localized pain and soreness.  You may have heard this referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

While there are numerous studies targeting various therapies or remedies for preventing DOMS, another pertinent question is whether such soreness is essential for developing muscle.

The answer is yes…and not necessarily.  The damage to the muscle fibers stimulate muscle satellite cells which join with the muscle fiber.  This results in the release of growth factors that help repair the damage, and enhance the regeneration of the muscle fiber.  Thus, soreness is indicates damage, which can be the precursor to muscle growth.

However, the more you exercise, the more efficient your body and muscles will become in adapting to the exercise induced damage.  The sensation of pain can gradually be reduced.  Experienced exercisers may feel some fatigue with a particularly hard workout, but can have little DOMS afterwards.

Remember also, that too much soreness (soreness lasting more than a day or two) from over exercising, or doing “too much, too soon” can stress your body’s ability to repair and regenerate quickly.  Subsequent workouts may lack some of the intensity necessary to continually challenge your muscles to develop. Plus, going up or down stairs may be interesting for awhile!

Bottom Line:  Moderate soreness is good, but lack of soreness is not necessarily bad.  It is possible to titrate a workout progression so that there is a gradual overloading of the muscles that doesn’t produce DOMS.  For more detail, see this link.

Hidden Sugars

There’s lots of research coming out lately about the dangers of refined added sugars – school kids got healthier in 2 weeks when sugars were controlled.  In adults, its been found that those extra calories can be deposited in your belly, increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer.  Added sugar can also raise your insulin levels, increasing the risk of insulin resistance & diabetes. 

Need more convincing?  Refined sugar can age your cells more quickly, as well as causing inflammation which has been found to be related to increased risk of many other diseases.

With the holidays fast approaching, this might be added incentive for not indulging too heartily.  Here are some sneaky foods to beware of:

Granola Bars & Cereals – these can have up to 25gm of added sugar in a one cup serving.  The RDA for added sugars is 10 gm/day.  Keep in mind a teaspoon of sugar is 5 gm, and that there are 4 calories per gm of carbohydrate.

Ketchup based salad dressings – these pack a surprising 9-10gm of sugar in a 2 tablespoon serving.  You wouldn’t sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar on your salad, would you?  Better choices – home made dressings including oil/vinegar, garlic, or balsalmic vinegar.

Yogurt contains lactose (milk sugar) which is naturally occurring.  However,  yogurt with added fruit will have up to 30 gm or 120 calories of sugar.  That sort of defeats any healthy feelings you might have that you chose yogurt as a snack.  Plain Greek yogurt with a little stevia, maple syrup or honey will have fewer calories.

Frozen Meals – surprised?  In addition to 500-600gm of sodium, many frozen meals can have 30 – 40 gm of added sugar

Dried Cranberries – ¼ cup or a handful can have 29gm of sugar.  We’re talking about Craisins here.  Compare to the 4 gm that a whole cup of fresh cranberries have.

Fruit Juices – these often have 20-30gm of sugar added for flavor.  Look for 100% juice.

BBQ & Other Sauces can have up to 12gm of sugar per serving – that’s close to 3 teaspoons of sugar.  Ask for sauces to be served on the side so you can control the amount.

White Wine.  Reds have less sugar than whites.  Whites also vary by varietal.  Rieslings can have up to 6 gm per glass, while dryer whites might be as low as 1.5 gm.

Canned Fruit – the problem here is the syrup often contains high fructose corn syrup.  There can be 30gm or more per cup of canned fruit.  Look for water or natural juice packed varieties.  Or choose fresh whole fruit.  You’ll get fiber, as well as the benefits of the nutrients in the fruit. 

More information here

 A Healthier Halloween Treat 

Cheesy Colby Jack O’Lanterns

You'll Need: 4 whole-wheat sandwich thins, 2 teaspoons butter or margarine, 1 (8-ounce) block of Colby Jack cheese, sliced
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Split four sandwich thins in half (so you have 8 slices) and butter one side of 4 of the slices. Lay butter side down on a baking sheet and layer Colby Jack cheese on them. Cut out jack-o'-lantern faces on the other 4 slices, then butter one side and lay butter side down on baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and place jack o'-lantern faces on top of the sandwiches.  Link

© Fitness Spark Personal Training, October 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ice Baths, Stress & Your Body, Cocoa & Your Blood Vessels

Now About Those Ice Baths For Athletes….  A tour of any collegiate training facility will likely reveal a couple of sunken tubs for post training or competition ice baths.  Recent studies corroborate earlier studies that show that those performing an active cool down had a greater gain in muscle strength and mass than those taking a 10 minute ice bath at 50°F.  

In addition, those cells responsible for muscle growth were stunted in their activity for up to two days after the exercise, following an ice bath.  Researchers now need to examine whether these results apply to those performing endurance type exercise.  More information here.

Bottom line:  you no longer have to feel guilty about dunking in a tub of ice "because the athletes do it".

Stress & Your Body A Time graphic

Time  magazine recently printed this graphic summary on the effects of stress on your body.  Stress affects almost every body system.  For example, stress can lead to less self control and poorer food choices.  Breathing rate increases and asthma can be triggered.  Click here.

Stress can cause higher blood pressure & increased cholesterol levels.  You may not be surprised that erectile dysfunction & stress are linked.  Ditto, type 2 diabetes, due to the increased release of glucose from the liver.

Irregular periods can also be the result of stress.  Increased muscle tension can be linked to stress causing neck & shoulder pain as well as headaches .  

Nausea, ulcers and severe GI pain can be a result of too much stress affecting the stomach.

If any of these affect you, its time to learn to relax more - exercise, meditation, hobbies, and deep breathing can help. Likewise, making better dietary choices, getting enough sleep and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol.  For more information, click here

From - cocoa increases blood flow to the brain.  It was a small study, but might be significant for those with cognitive defects.  A high flavanol drink (494 mg) increased blood flow to the brain for two hours after ingestion.  

However, you may recall that there is concern about cadmium being found in all cocoa powders that ConsumerLab tested.  Those that were low in cadmium also were low in flavanols.  Among chocolate bars, Ghirardelli Twilight Delight 72% had the best cost per gm of flavanol ratio. More information.

Bottom line - enjoy your chocolate, but don't expect a huge effect on cognition. The jury is still out & there's the cadmium issue.

No Sugar Brownies from Cheryl’s Cooking Blog
Less than 50 calories per brownie.  Website

¾ c nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
¼ c skim milk
1/2c cocoa powder
½ c old fashioned rolled oats
1 egg
½ c Truvia or another other natural/stevia based sweetener
1/3 c applesauce
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt

Preheat over to 400°.  Grease a square 8x8 baking dish.  Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth – about 1 minute.  Pour into prepared dish & bake for about 15 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting into 9 large squares. 

New Product To Try  Mission San Jose High grad, Jason Chan, has invented a snack "bar" without nuts, diary & wheat. Jason is a high school buddy of my son, Scott Chong.  

The GoGoGoBars are quite tasty at 210 calories each.  The bars are actually packed in a light weight plastic pushup "pop".  They are available in chocolate & non chocolate flavors, and contain 8 superfoods that are loaded with healthy nutrients. 

Check out Jason's website at  He can be reached at  We'll try to get some samples at Mission Hills Athletic Club in the future.  (Full discloser: Jason didn't ask me to mention his snack bars, but did send me samples to try.  The grandkids enjoyed the bars).