13 great ways exercise can help prevent disease and boost health.

Alzheimers. Type 2 Diabetes. Breast Cancer. Colorectal Cancer. Prostate Cancer. Heart Disease. Depression. What do these major health conditions all have in common? Exercise can prevent, lower the risk of, or in some cases even reverse the effects of the condition.

How?

We all know that this is what researchers say but how does exercise actually change us on a cellular level?

Aside from preventing disease I’ve long been an advocate of using exercise as medicine or at the very least to complement it.

Following on from the talk I gave a few weeks ago aimed at Breast Cancer survivors (evidence now points strongly towards using exercise to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back), I’ve collated some of the coolest science snippets about how exercise actually changes us, beyond our skin and bones.

Prepare yourself for some serious dinner party human biology titbits!

  1. When we exercise our mitochondrial production increases. Mitochondria are the body’s battery cells, they are what give us energy. So exercise literally gives us more energy. [KELLY et al, 2006].
  2. When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to synthesise protein. This means our body can convert protein much more readily.  [HANDS, 2009].
  3. When we exercise we increase our lean tissue (muscle mass) or sustain what we already have. Lean tissue naturally decreases with age so we can halt the ageing process [HANDS, 2009].
  4. When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to regulate glucose [Adams, 2013]. This is an important factor in managing diabetes, or reversing type 2 diabetes.
  5. Exercise helps activate muscle fibres which would otherwise be reduced due to lack of use and age related atrophy (sarcopenia). The best treatment for sarcopenia is exercise. With the right programme, you could see a difference in as little as two weeks.
  6. Pre-habiliation, so getting strong or being fit before surgery can help operation recovery. This could also be true for some injuries or illnesses.
  7. When we exercise our body’s natural anti-oxidant levels up-regulate. This helps us to fight off disease. It’s like boosting our natural defence mechanisms.
  8. Gentle exercise, like yoga or walking can help manage stress. This is measurable through heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is an excellent way of measuring the early signs of stress.
  9. Any exercise which increases our heart rate for 20 minutes increases blood flow to the heart and the strength of the heart wall.
  10. Learning a skill helps with myelination. Myelin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. Our ability to learn a skill stays with us (although it gets harder as we age). Kids are programmed to myelinate more so they can learn how to survive. They have specific windows of opportunity for doing this such as learning to eat, crawl or walk. Myelin never unwraps (although there are rare diseases like Guillard Barre Syndrome or conditions like Multiple Sclerosis which may cause this). We can enhance myelination by learning a challenging new skill and also by eating foods rich in Omega 3 and B vitamins (think brain food).
  11. Exercise which is fun produces dopamine, a happy hormone. Some intense exercise also produces endorphins which make you feel good. This can improve emotional health.
  12. When we exercise we use more oxygen. Oxygen is the natural way to alkalise the body.
  13. Any movement or simply standing is good for us. Non Exercise Activity Thormogenesis (NEAT) refers to the way our metabolism increases through any activity, not necessarily a specific type of exercise. So our metabolic rate increases just by standing rather than sitting. Brushing your teeth standing up is better for you than performing the same task seated.

And here’s one more thought to leave you with … our cells are constantly regenerating. It’s estimated that human cells are completely regenerated every 7-10 years. All of the above, plus what you eat, drink or expose your body too will affect cell regeneration. Does that motivate you to get moving? It does me.

So there you have it. Human biology to amaze your friends with and proof that what you choose to do with or to your body on a daily basis affects your health.

If you’d like to take disease prevention a stage further, Fit School offer DNA testing. DNA testing can give you a better idea of what foods or exercise are optimum for you (the individual) and how to tailor your programme in line with these results. Tests are currently available at the discounted rate of £190 (usually £270) and Chris is one of a handful of trainers in the UK who offer this type of testing.

 

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We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane. How exercise helps the mind.

I like to lift weights. Heavy weights. It makes me feel great.

For me, going to the gym, lifting weights and finishing off with perhaps a ten minute swim or sauna and a shower (in complete peace) is like switching a re-set button in my brain.

I feel calm.

I like to run too. Running gives my heart and lungs a great workout, airs my legs and allows my thoughts to roam. Sometimes I run without music so I can just think but on sunny mornings like today, I’ll tune into some great running beats and just immerse myself in my little running world.

I like to practice Pilates. I might take ten minutes before a class to have complete, flowing, peaceful practice time. There’s a tranquility and peace I find in silent, solo practice that I don’t get from other types of exercise.

But – when it’s just me and the bar and the lift – that’s when I can totally zone out.

No distractions. No kids. No thoughts.

The biggest reason I exercise is to clear my head. Through exercise I can process thoughts or get creative. Sometimes I might need to run hard to get rid of pent up stress or anger. Sometimes I need to just chill. The way exercise makes me look is always secondary to how it makes me feel. And having spoken with so many women in the fitness industry and women who are exercisers (rather than non-exercisers) it always comes back to mental wellbeing.

I can’t speak for men on this one but I do know that for the majority of women, the exercise hook is feels not looks.

We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane!

Every exercise form gives us an opportunity to zone out or re-set, to process thoughts or to meditate.

Here are a few ideas on how you could use exercise to zone out or work out.

  • Yoga can be both challenging exercising and challenging meditation. The postures in yoga were originally based on the meditation. This is why it’ s often recommended during addiction therapy or rehabilitation.
  • Pilates is more of a conscious workout. Joseph Pilates originally called his method, controlology. The control of muscles through the mind. We are very mindful of technique during Pilates exercises.
  • Swimming can feel like re-birth. Yes you can go hard and workout your circulatory system (swimming is a great challenge for the lungs) or you can enjoy the simple pleasure of weightlessness and water. It’s rhythmic and repetitive and no phones are allowed.
  • Running can feel hard or could let you go for a great chat with a friend. When running alone you can internalise by focusing on how your body feels or you can let your thoughts wander.
  • High energy classes like martial arts or boxing can literally allow you to fight off your stresses.

Of course there are always ways of exercising optimally but the most important thing with exercise is to find something you love and find balance.

Enjoy x

Are you so driven that you can’t see the daffodils?

Driven. Ambitious. Go getter. Super fit. High energy.

These terms are usually viewed as positive attributes. Perhaps how we might like to be described. Certainly, if I’m honest, I love living life with a sense of direction towards goals. Yes I’m ambitious but it isn’t necessarily good for us.

At home, in our careers, in our workouts, sometimes even in our leisure time we can swing too far towards the ‘success’ or ‘aim’ of it that we forget to enjoy it and life swings a little out of balance.

  • ‘When the house is tidy/decorated/re-developed I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve achieved noteriety/published my book (make that my tenth book)/got a promotion, I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve burned 500 calories/lost a stone/run 5k in under 30 minutes, I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve got my golf handicap down/outings for every day of the kids’ school holidays/booked the optimal vacation resort, I’ll be happy.’

Isn’t it funny when you look at it like that?

But this is what we do to ourselves on a regular basis.

Our environments are saturated with messages that encourage us to be ‘driven’ and it can be hard to slow down or even recognise our need for more balance.

At the weekend I was privileged to be invited, as a guest, to the inaugural WIFE conference in Guildford (Women in Fitness Empowerment – hosted by Jacqueline Hooton). Of all the speakers, the one that spoke to me most clearly (and that if I’m honest – I wasn’t expecting to) was Nicola Hobbs. Nicola is a yogi and a GB weightlifter. ‘Now wow – that’s balance,’ I thought.

Nicola reminded me of the ancient Eastern wisdom of yin and yang. It’s not a concept recognised by modern medicine but has been used in healing and wellness for centuries.

Nicola had practical suggestions for creating more yin, if your life has got a bit yang. And woah I thought – I think I’m a bit yang.

When, in my conference chair, I considered all the thinks that truly make me feel happy and blessed, it’s all those little things that I absent mindedly just do because they make me feel balanced:

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  • Hanging out the washing (yes – don’t start me on laundry).
  • Walks out in the forest or round a lake, spotting wild fowl with my kids.
  • Just running – for little purpose – just to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Reading – being absorbed in the moment.
  • Down time with the kids, when nothing is planned. Just playing with bubbles, having a bath, or having family hugs/tickle time/rough play.
  • Baking – at a time when I can really get lost in the process.
  • Inversions, like the shoulder bridge or rollover in Pilates.
  • Swimming and enjoying a shower alone (perhaps the main reason I have a gym membership at the moment)!

And guess what. All these things are yin things. So rather than doing them absentmindedly, I plan to keep doing them. They aren’t big things that take time, money or planning. These are things I do on a weekly or daily basis.

This is what I really got from Nicola. You don’t have to change your life to get yin. You just need to change the way you think about it or the way you do the things you are already doing.

So for this week – I challenge you to take one area of your life, perhaps your workout and just enjoy it, for the love of doing it. Nothing else.

It’s Spring and it’s beautiful out there. So perhaps just take a walk and spot the buds and the daffodils. For yin’s sakes.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Chocolate Cake and why women are f*bomb brilliant #WIFE2015

Today I’m brimful of energy and enthusiasm. Which is strange considering I started the weekend on very little sleep (children with coughs related), drove over 100 miles in a day on my own (I’m a nervous motorway driver) and spent yesterday digesting a ton of information. I should be exhausted.

But yesterday I attended a fitness event like no other.

I was at the #WIFEconference 2015. The brainchild of Jacqueline Hooton who also reminded me of the main I’ve forged a career in fitness. I hated school P.E. too. Especially the misery of bitterly cold and humiliating cross country running through Epping Forest.

KarenJacquelineHooton

I’m in fitness because I want to inspire people, women mainly, to find enjoyment in activity. You don’t have to be brilliant at tennis to play it recreationally. There’s no need to run a sub-25 minute 5k to enjoy going out for a run. In short. I’m in fitness to encourage as many people as possible to just get a little bit fitter and hopefully not pee themselves in the process (post natal health is my passion).

This really for me was also the ethos of the day (not the peeing – the inclusivity). Every fitness professional is unique but our role as a corporate body is to make fitness available. As Jacqueline said, ‘If we think we [fitness professionals] are an exclusive tribe then we should be ashamed of ourselves.’

So why just women?

The weekend coincided with International Women’s Day but mainly it was because women are massively under represented at the majority (if not all) major fitness events. And we’re good. In fact if the minds, careers and energy of the women presenting at yesterday’s event are anything to go by. We’re f*bomb brilliant.

As women, we have a unique ability to nurture and encourage, we don’t have to try to be men to be at the top of our field.

There was no man bashing (well perhaps a little between the lines man bashing) and no glass ceilings. I’ve been at events before designed to inspire but only really selling a franchise. Yesterday I absolutely felt I could and am going it alone. I felt and feel inspired.

No one was on a pedestal. Everyone has accepted my friend request. And everyone who I tag will share this post (please).

As for content and learning, I have inspirational notes, already re-written on giant pink post its enough to last me some time. And yes, Charlotte Ord, I will re-visit them at least annually and I’ll be re-evaluating my idea of success. Love that idea.

Christianne Wolff reminded me of the importance of passion, that’s what draws people to you. The magic.

RachelHolmesWIFE

From Rachel Holmes, the standout idea was chocolate cake (you had to be there)! I already have an idea brewing on that one. And speaking of ideas, Rachel’s top tip to get the ideas from my head onto cards, so I can actually sort them out, was genius. As a working mum I have periods where ideas are like popcorn in my head and it can be hard to know how to process them.

KarenKatieBulmerCooke

The brilliant Katie Bulmer-Cooke made me cry. Her story reassured the ‘guilty working mum’ in me that building my own business and breaking the ‘slave to the pay cheque’ mould could be the best gift I ever give my children in terms of their education.

In half an hour Yvonne Radley made me believe I’ll be on the radio before the month is out. I’ll let you know.

And then there’s balance. Thank you so much Nicola Hobbs for reminding me of the importance of balance. Today I took a muddy walk in Epping Forest with my family to help find some yin and made bread with my four-year-old – and, thanks to the fantastic Rachel Anne Hobbs I added extra flaxseed and walnuts!

Thanks Jacqueline and thanks to everyone involved. I can’t wait to come back next year for #WIFE2016.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Three simple exercises which could predict early death

IF you’ve had your eyes on the health news recently you might have noticed the new study which has revealed three everyday exercises, could be a predictor of early death.

According to the study published last week, grip strength, balance and squats are key indicators of early death.

And guess what? Squatting, balance and grip strength are all things that can be developed through regular (you’ve guessed it) Pilates and exercise, especially resistance training.

The study, by the Medical Research Centre, published the results of tests performed on 5000, 53 year olds but they also said that the exercise results on younger participants could also predict a reduced life expectancy.

So what are the exercises and how can you test yourself?

TEST ONE: Balance

Stand on one leg with your eyes closed. How long can you do this for?

The study found that men and women who were able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die early than those who could hold it for ten seconds of more.

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TEST TWO: Squats (the chair test)

Using a dining chair, sit down and stand up as many times as you can in one minute.

The study found that men who could stand up from a chair and sit down again less than 23 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in the following 13 years than those who could 37 or more.

Among women those who could stand up and sit down again less than 22 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in that time than those who could do the test 35 times or more.

TEST THREE: Grip strength

Participants gripped a special device, like a bike brake. Those who had the strongest grip had the longest life expectancy.

You can measure your own grip strength by your ability to hold on to monkey bars, hold a heavy weight or open and close a jar.

For the full story visit:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10795230/Standing-on-one-leg-may-predict-which-53-year-olds-at-risk-of-early-death.html