Thursday, January 29, 2015

Don't Be An Exercise Drop Out & Beware the Super Bowl Feast

The handout for Standing Stretches will be on my website next week under the "Workouts" tab. This is for those of you who spend hours on your feet.  Get creative about where/when you can sneak these in.  

Feedback- Who Ya'Going To Trust  A colleague reminded me of another way to think about the reliability of sources of information.  A primary source describes the original research that was done.  For example, a study on effects of a supplement on exercise.  A secondary source discusses the research and may compare it to other studies.  This might be a professional journal reporting on exercise studies.  A tertiary source might be a popular magazine, newspaper or television report.

Sitting Can Kill You Revisted  CNN reports on an Annals of Internal Medicine  research article - “Sitting Can Kill You”.  This information has hit the mainstream.  The CNN report related that sitting is now classified as the fourth leading cause of death world wide by the World Health Organization.  But you knew that already!

Educators at Montara School in Oakland have taken the message to heart, placing stand up desks in the classroom.   If you missed that early blog post, you can find it here.  The evidence is building – time to set some alerts and get moving!

Third Week Slump.  Have the crowds thinned out at your gym?  The third week of January is the key according to the Wall Street Journal One fourth of the folks who made weight loss or exercise resolutions have dropped out already according to researchers at the University of Scranton.  And only 8% of the 45% of Americans who make resolutions follow through. 

How Not Be A Drop Outmy alter ego - TrainerMom  has some professional advice:

Hit reset – you’re not the worst person in the world for not sticking to your original resolutions.  Forgive yourself and move on.  There’s no law against revisiting those resolution goals and checking to make sure they’re SMART. Choose one or two and break them into manageable chunks, and give it another go.  It's never to late, and any amount can be beneficial.

Make specific plans as to when and where you will act – "after breakfast on Sunday, I will go to the gym". 

Put your workouts on your calendar.   You’ll be more likely to keep the date with yourself.

Lay out your shoes, clothes and get your breakfast or shake ready to go. Likewise, with anything else you need for the day – lunch, change of clothes, and so forth.

Tell a friend you’re doing a work out   Plan to call/meet them afterwards to check in.  Do it, feel good about yourself, and repeat.

Consult a professional.   Yes, I’m in the business, but honestly, doesn’t it make sense to get advice that’s been scientifically vetted rather than pick up a Men’s Health workout that’s way above your ability?  It’s a sure formula for getting injured and giving up your exercise goal.  And by the way, we really have heard all the excuses.  

The folks at Exercise Is Medicine, a branch of the American College of Sports Medicine would like you to consider exercise as medicine in an active form.  You’ll be hearing more about them as the program grows.  Expect to be asked about exercise at your yearly physicals.  Kaiser already has this built into their interview forms so doctors & nurses don’t forget to ask.  

Today’s Recipe
Its Super Bowl Weekend - a potential calorie trap of 925 calories from the first to fourth quarters, according to WebMD.  TrainerMom recommends being aware of your serving sizes and particularly aware of your liquid calories.  That said - get some exercise & enjoy the game!  More recipes and tips can be found on the WebMD link above.

From the good folks at the American Institute For Cancer Research comes this hearty soup packed with flavor and the healthy antioxidant lycopene.  Each serving has only 71 calories and 64mg of sodium.  Serve in mugs, and perhaps with some whole wheat crackers or croutons.

Super-Bowl Tomato Soup
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts
1 (28-oz.) can no-salt added whole tomatoes in tomato sauce
3 marinated sun-dried tomato halves, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 cup low-sodium tomato juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Garlic croutons, if desired, for garnish

In small Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and scallions, and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes one at a time, holding each over the pot and crushing it through your fingers. Add tomato sauce remaining in can. Add sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer soup for 20 minutes.

Using immersion blender, food processor or regular blender, purée soup until it is pulpy to smooth, as you prefer. Blend in tomato juice. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with croutons, if using. Or cool soup and refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.
Makes 6 servings.   Per serving: 71 calories, 2.5 g fat (< 1 g sat fat), 12 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein 2 g fiber, 64 mg sodium.
See the original recipe here.

Super Bowl Bonus - A Guacamole Makeover 
With the Super Bowl coming up, I was looking for a lower calorie guacamole recipe.  With only 76.4 calories per serving (recipe makes 8 servings), this is the skinniest guacamole recipe my research unearthed.  Yes, it still has 6.7 g of fat, but it’s mostly mono & polyunsaturated fat.  The recipe works by diluting the avocado with the cucumber. 

Coach Nicole's Fresh & Skinny Guacamole
2 ripe avacadoes, peeled & chopped
1/3 medium organic (if available) cucumber, chopped
1/3 medium onion, chopped (author used red)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin powder
1 squeeze lemon (about 1-2 Tbsp)
Salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp)

Add all ingredients to blender or food processor & process till desired consistency.  Add salt to taste.  Serve chilled.  Enjoy with your favorite chips or tortillas.
Makes 8 servings.  Per serving: 77.4 calories, 6.7g fat (0.9gm sat fat), 4.7g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, sodium - 143.8mg. Original recipe. 

TrainerMom's Notes:  Its the added vegetables that reduce the calories in the recipe.  Try adding some chopped tomato after ingredients are blended. Reduce amount of salt by using less than indicated.  While chips may never be totally healthy, you might try finding a baked chip.  Or even better, serve with veggies.

Coming Soon - answers to the top two questions a trainer gets – “how do I start” and “what should I eat”.  Hints – slowly, following good advice.  And eat real food, following the Dietary Guidelines.  More detail to follow.

© Fitness Spark Personal Training, January, 2015.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Who Ya' Gonna Trust

Who Do YOU Trust?  Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil?  Men’s Health? Aunt Martha?
There's a lot of questionable information out there on exercise, nutrition, and diet.  Small studies often are hyped by TV personalities or media outlets, print or online – but they don’t tell you if it’s a preliminary study or that they have commercial ties to medications or products.

Is It Reliable?  One of my grad school professors described 3 tiers of reliability.  At the top are reputable journals which publish only peer reviewed papers on creditable research.  Examples:  Journal of the American Medical Association, British Journal of Medicine,  and New England Journal of Medicine. The articles generally are very technical and tough reading for the average person.

Next are publications that describe the research.  They will generally give you enough information to either look into the topic yourself or go to the original research.  In this category are health newsletters like UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, Harvard Nutrition Letter, and Nutrition Actionline Newsletter.  Look for websites sponsored by government entities, university or reputable industry associations.

Examples:  American Medical Association, American Pharmaceutical Association, American Dietetic Association,  American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Food & Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, US Department of Agriculture (Food & Drug Administration),

At the bottom of my professor’s pyramid are media publications – magazines, newspapers, TV shows, websites with advertising, and Wikipedia.  Some of these are more reliable than others – Consumer Reports On Health, and the New York Times Health column are two better publications written at this level.

Questions You Should Ask:
Definitive answers are hard to come by in scientific research.  Supporting evidence requires more time consuming studies, involving years of studies.  So folks try for quick answers when there is a lack of scientific consensus, and want to believe what they hear or read.  

Do be skeptical of the “latest” diet, breakthrough or miraculous cure.  Ask what evidence there is, for this “new” breakthrough?  Is it a double blinded study with reasonably large numbers of participants?  How big is the study?  And who funded it?  More responsible publications will give you the answers to some of these questions.

If the information is on television or a website, ask who sponsors it?  Is there any advertising on the site?  What are they selling? 

Cross check the information with another source.  Although such sites as WebMD and LiveStrong have an abundance of good information, all accept advertising.    WebMD’s credibility was recently called into question, when it was revealed that the site accepts funding from Eli Lilly, a large pharmaceutical company.*  Mayo clinic does have banner ads, but has a good reputation.

As for television, suffice it to say "Biggest Loser" is not one of my favorite shows, and as for Dr. Oz, see this article.  Consider such shows as entertainment, with occasional nuggets of information.

Among print publications, Consumer Reports was rated at the top of a survey by the American Council on Science & Health for accuracy of its nutrition information.

Information sources that I recommend & use:
  • UC Berkeley Wellness Letter 
  • Harvard Health Letter.
  • CSPI Nutrition Actionline Newsletter – very reasonable, with no advertising (but they will ask for donations frequently).
  • ChooseMyPlate.Gov – a plethora of information on nutrition, diets and weight loss.  Has an excellent diet tracker. 
  • – information on supplements.  Analyses of different brands.  A subscription site. 
  • American Dietetic Association website
These fitness organizations & their websites are good sources of exercise information:
  • American College of Sports Medicine ( – probably the most definitive word in exercise science;  has a more medically based outlook.
  • National Association of Sports Medicine ( – also an excellent source of research based information.  More geared towards sports. 
  • American Council on Exercise ( -  their site contains a number of fitness program tools.  They do promote their online training system, but its not blatant.
  • IDEA ( – a site for exercise professionals, but they do have a good article library, and food & nutrition tips
Next time:  How do I get started?  What should I eat?  These are probably two of the most common questions a fitness professional hears.  We’ll attempt to provide some answers next time. 

Till then – here’s a healthy recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research:  Easy Baked Apples With Walnuts & Raisins It can be prepared in advance, and can be baked or made in a slow cooker.  It is versatile as a low sugar dessert or breakfast with granola or yogurt added.  It's a tasty way to get your daily fruit servings in, while providing, omega 3 fatty acids, flavonoids & fiber.

*For more information:  WebMD vs Mayo Clinic  and  WebMD
©Fitness Spark Personal Training, January, 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! Exercise For Those Who Stand, Goal Setting

Fitness Spark*s*
A random collection of information, tips and food for thought on fitness, health, wellness and wellbeing meant to spark - inspire - the lifestyle changes that will boost your wellbeing.
spark – a latent particle capable of growth or developing. (Merriam Webster).

Happy New Year!  It's Resolution Time, V. 2015  Also Exercise Recommendations For Those Who Stand All Day.

Time is our best friend and our worst enemy.” 

Its a time for resolutions, and you will see advice in every news article or show right now.  Since I have a vested interest in fitness & wellness myself, I'm going to chime in.  Bear with me if youve heard this all before.

Failure to plan is planning to fail.   My main suggestion is to have a plan. Write your goals down. Make your plan, break it into smaller objectives and choose only one or two areas to focus on at a time. A whole remake of your eating or exercise routines right off the bat is a sure way to get overwhelmed, and not make it to Easter.  A recent article I read recommended remembering that fitness & wellness is a process.  It won't happen overnight, and there will be triumphs and setbacks.  Just keep on going, no matter what.

SMART Goals  To further help insure success in accomplishing your resolutions or goals, make sure your  goals are SMART.  That is to say specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & time defined. 

For example, instead of saying “ I want to get in better shape”, or “I want to lose weight”, a specific goal would be “I want to lose 10 pounds by Easter.  Or,  “I want to be able to run a 5K with my friend in June”.  Ten pounds is a measurable amount, so is the 5K.  It’s also achievable or attainable since a safe rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds a week.  The 5K would depend on your current level of fitness, but is specific & measurable.  Six months is likely enough time. Realistic means its something that’s possible or relevant to your lifestyle.  Timely means you’ve set a reasonable deadline for yourself.

Get Expert Advice  Next ask yourself how you intend to achieve your goal.  Losing weight generally involves a diet of some sort, and ideally, has an exercise program associated with it.  Get the best advice from your doctor, a registered dietician, or exercise professional on how to implement your plan. Half the mistakes we see in the gym are from DIYers who read a magazine or book and try to apply it without knowing if its appropriate for them.  Also typical are folks getting injured by jumping into a program like CrossFit, Boot Camp, or even yoga or pilates, without easing into it.

By the way, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, and its possible to get a personal training certification in three days online.  Find out what your experts qualifications are before signing up for an expensive program.  Do some research online using reliable sources (more on that next post).  Break down big goals into smaller ones.  

Plan Rewards Plan on appropriately rewarding yourself for achieving your progressive achievements a movie, mani/pedi, sports tickets, or other nonfood reward, if weight loss is the goal.

Go For It!   Give yourself a start date.  Procrastination never got anyone anywhere.  Good luck!  You CAN do it!

Now How About Organized Exercise for the person who stands all day?  Or for that matter, the person who is too busy to get to the gym regularly.  As promised, here are some tips:

Try High Intensity Circuit Trainingalso known as HIIT (high intensity interval training).  Plan on one or two sessions a week, either at the gym or at home.  Hire a trainer & ask for interval training that combines aerobics & resistance training.    There are numerous variations of HIIT; Tabata is another popular format.   

These programs will maximize the gains while minimizing the time invested since they can be done in 20-30 minutes.  Aerobic intervals are combined with strength training sets in a circuit that creates continuous exercise.  Mini circuits of 10 to 15 minutes can be done throughout the week at home to help maintain muscle  strength & aerobic endurance.  You do need to be in reasonably good shape to commence these!!  However, they can be modified for almost anybody by a knowledgeable fitness professional. See the other caveats below.

Other scientifically developed  high intensity programs that might work for you are the Scientific 7 minute workout - either the original or advanced versions, or the 4x4 Interval Training System.  The New York Times has even developed a web app which can be used online or on your smartphone.

Background Information:  The original 7 minute workout was devised at the High Performance Institute in Florida, and was published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.  The original research is here.  (ACSM is one of the most respected organizations in matters of fitness, movement and conditioning.  They are are behind the Exercise  is Medicine program, which you may be hearing more about in months to come.)  

The 4x4 program was developed at the Norwegian University of Tromsø, by the same folks who developed the longevity quiz in my first post.  They have developed a 7 week program that incorporates 20 minute workouts with a 4 minute high intensity interval.  Find the program here.

Now the caveats - you should be in reasonably good shape to do these workouts safely.  If you are a beginner, have any pre existing conditions that affect exercise, or are over the age of 55, I strongly recommend getting clearance from your doctor. 

Please also consult with an exercise professional, whether exercise physiologist, personal trainer or athletic trainer.  A certified professional  can modify a high intensity program for you and progress it safely. This can be the best investment you've ever made and will insure you wont get injured early in the game.

 Another Tip:  Move Purposefully   You're on your feet anyway, so try to do little "sprints" of activity. Think about where you can get your heart rate elevated a bit.  Get in brisk walks whenever possible  from the parking lot, or from one building to another.  Use the stairs & take them two at a time.  You might also do a quick set of lunges.  This might keep you ready the next time there's a Code called in the hospital, or when the emergency alarm goes off at work or school. Sneak in other focused activity wherever possible - take the stairs with high knees, try parking further away, take in one grocery bag at a time or do a few squat lifts with them - get creative by being aware of the need to move all your muscles.  Stretch to get out the kinks that can form from using the same muscles constantly.

Lastly:  When youre couch surfing or resting in front of the TV, keep those dumb bells or leg weights handy for commercial break exercise. Do leg lifts.  Try planks or triceps dips on the sofa.  Rip off a quick set of crunches. This is also a good time to stretch.  Get your viewing companion to join in, and youll both be ahead of the game.  Watch your posture & form, however. No dumbbells?  No problem!  Lots of ways to improvise.  More on that next time!

As always, please e-mail comments or questions to   

©Fitness Spark Personal Training, Jan. 1, 2015.