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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Did you get your 20 minutes today?

I don’t like to say I told you so but … scientists said last night that a brisk daily walk of at least 20 minutes could add years to your life?

You don’t have to run a marathon to stay healthy – you just need to do something!

How much have you moved today?

Does the thought of pounding away in the gym or running through your town at school run time put you off from doing anything? Both of those thoughts have entered my head today!

A massive Cambridge University study (of 334,000 people) found that even a small amount of extra activity could add days to your life expectancy and that the least active had the most to gain.

But the key finding was that inactivity kills more people than obesity.  The lesson being that even if you aren’t massively overweight, the way you look or fit your clothes isn’t a marker for health.

Studies have consistently found that visceral fat (the stuff that sits around your organs) is one of the key markers for diseases like heart disease or cancer and increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes. And if you think about it, a sluggish system doesn’t make you feel great.

Would you rather drink from a stagnant pond or a briskly running mountain stream? So how would you rather your blood vessels be?

This study does not say (as I’ve heard some radio reports suggest today) that if you do more than this you should stop. On the contrary the study along with government guidelines encourage more activity than this. But don’t be put off because you’re a novice exerciser.

So what if your bum looks jiggly in a pair of workout leggings? At least you’re getting off it and doing something.

This week started with the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and has been closely followed by today’s research findings. So put on your trainers and sports bra and go get some fresh air to your cheeks!

https://www.youtube.com/user/thisgirlcanuk

Are you predisposed to be fat, fit, fast or ill – what your DNA says about you.

It’s all in your genes.

By guest blogger, Chris Laing, director of Fit School

The health and fitness industry normally trots along spurting out fads and hype to anyone that will listen. But every now and then, the industry makes a stratospheric jump in information that will genuinely be of benefit to everyone that listens. Cue: genetic testing.
Genetic testing is nothing new. We test for congenital diseases, DNA damage and we can see genetic differences in people (albeit less than 1% variation that separates you from me). In fact we are genetically similar to a banana! However, these variations are what determine whether we live life as a banana, or a human.Gene variation plays a big role in who we are and we now have the technology to determine how we work through our own individual genetic variations. I believe this is currently the most powerful tool in individual health and fitness customisation. If you know what directly affects your health, you can kiss the scaremongering headlines goodbye, for good.
ChrisPushUpStudio

How does your body cope with saturated fats, or carbohydrates? Do you have the fat gene? Does milk work for you?  All these things can now be tested to see if your DNA and your lifestyle are in harmony for optimum health.

This isn’t about being told you are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Or being told that you need to stop drinking and live a virtuous life of mountain spring water and vegetables. I found it to be quite the opposite. I found it really empowering and quite cool to see how I work.So my genetic profile brought up some things which I already knew. Milk could be an issue, which it has been since I was a teenager. I don’t clear coffee from my system very well (hence my shakes after a strong coffee). I have a possible predisposition to hypertension, especially with excess sodium. My dad had high blood pressure, so this is pretty accurate. When completing a medical health questionnaire, people tend to be red flagged if there is a family history of high blood pressure. So it’s common sense that there must be a genetic element at play.What does it mean to you? Finding out your genetic profile will not tell you that you will live to 100 or you’ll get ill next week. It simply tells you how your body works and joins up the dots. It will tell you how genes are expressed or not in relation to managing risks for optimum health. It will once and for all confirm things that you’ve felt but couldn’t really explain. Finally, it will give you stepping stone to define for yourself how you want to be healthy.
The main test can tell from your DNA things like your body’s ability to process alcohol, toxins and gluten. You might find you have a high risk of certain chronic diseases but by tweaking your diet, based on this information you can minimise your risk. Put simply, the tests will enable you to supercharge your diet for your specific genetic makeup in order to live well and support your health.
This isn’t a patch test you can do at home or drop into the chemist for but then this is DNA testing which has only previously been available to elite level athletes and there are only a handful of professionals in the UK who can interpret your results. Fortunately I’m one of them.
If you’re interested, drop me a line. There’s no obligation.
I am however offering a £25 discount to the first eight people who get in touch and book in. I will go over your results myself and relay the findings via an on-line group.This will enable me to explain your report and help to create a programme going forward. Everyone will receive a meal plan, recipes and nutrition guide.The price for the first 8 people is £180 (£205 after) for the basic test, £225 for full test (£250 after). Please e-mail fitschoolessex@gmail.com,Chris.

Chris Laing is a personal trainer specialising in luxury, comprehensive lifestyle/fitness training packages. Chris is co-director of Fit School with his wife Karen, Fit School offers accessible group training programmes including ladies only training camps, online detoxes, P.E. classes and Pilates (including pre and post natal Pilates) in Essex.

 

Biscuit SOS – how to beat the mid-afternoon munchies.

Fesh Chocolate Chip Cookies with Rapsberries and Hot Chocolate

Peckish? Is your 3 o’clock appointment with the biscuit barrel ruining your good intentions? If so, you’re not alone. From lack of protein, to sleep deprivation, dehydration or just your body’s own clever chemical hunger warfare sending your brain ‘feed me’ signals, the mid-afternoon munchies are sabotaging svelte waistlines everywhere. It’s time we did something about it. Here’s my how, why and emergency guide to the mid-afternoon munchies.

THE GHRELIN GREMLIN

Think of your body like a finely tuned eco-system. It fights for equilibrium. You get thirsty or feel sleepy, that’s just your clever body looking after itself.

The same goes for hunger. Our tummies produce hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin makes us feel full but the ghrelin gremlin is all about hunger. Like most of our hormones, they regulate themselves during our restorative sleep hours. So a lack thereof can wreak havoc with our hunger signals.

Scientists know that sleep deprivation will increase ghrelin levels in the body. The 2008 study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that just one night of sleep deprivation can lower leptin levels and raise ghrelin levels.

The ghrelin gremlin peaks in the afternoon and signals the brain to eat, and to eat high calorie foods. Hence our visits to the vending machine or corner shop.

Scientists have also discovered that ghrelin is not good for waistlines. A study published in 2009, in the International Journal of Obesity, found that ghrelin favours an accumulation of fats around the tummy and also in the fatty tissues around our organs, especially the liver. Specifically those areas that put us at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So if the gremlins strike, aim for healthy, happy fats which are much easier for your body to use as fuel and help prevent the unhealthy fat gain around your tummy.

REGULATE

If you are finding yourself hungry in the afternoons it’s also worth analysing your morning food intake. Did you skip breakfast? Did you nip out of the door with little more than a slice of toast and jam? In order to regulate your appetite and blood sugar levels, the best thing you can do is have protein with every meal. A boiled egg, nuts with your yoghurt or a tuna sandwich will all serve your dietary needs better than a teensy rice cake!

You may also be genuinely hungry? Sometimes a craving for high calorie food is just your body’s way of saying ‘EAT’ – so rather than reaching for a cake, eat something more substantial instead.

FIVE RULES TO BEAT THE MID-AFTERNOON MUNCHIES

1. Aim for at least seven hours sleep a night.

2. Eat breakfast – if you skip it then make sure your first meal contains a balance of proteins and good fats.

3. Eat protein with every meal and every snack – that might just be a few nuts (see below).

4. Drink at least two litres of fluid a day – if you feel hungry, try a drink first (you might just be thirsty).

5. Consider an omega oil supplement – it helps in the battle against unhappy fats.

EMERGENCY GHRELIN GREMLIN BUSTERS

If the hunger has already kicked in, here are a few suggestions for damage limitation:

1. Drink a herb or fruit tea, or a fresh vegetable juice – it can take away the sweet craving and quench your thirst.

2. Have a square of dark chocolate with a few nuts.

3. Eat oatcakes with nut butter or avocado.

4. Have an apple with a small piece of cheese.

5. Have some granola yoghurt.

Why can’t I stop eating sugar?

I know. It’s hard. Without decisive action I can quickly slip into a sweet and sugary space. Going cold turkey seems like the hardest thing to do. We are programmed with a sweet tooth (mother’s milk is slightly sweet) it gives us energy. In fact studies consistently show that sugar is a harder addiction to crack than cocaine. So why is it that we get so obsessed by the white stuff?

1. LOW FAT CULTURE HAS TAKEN OVER YOUR BRAIN.

Years of low fat diets have a lot to answer for. We used to think reducing fat in our food would reduce the fat on our thighs and consequently make us healthy. Research is consistently proving that this is absolutely not the case and far from making us healthy, removing the naturally occurring fats from food has led to a rise in the amount of rubbish taking its place. Including sugar. Take a Starbucks Skinny Stem Ginger Muffin. It has twice as much sugar as a standard Blueberry Muffin. A low fat or skinny label does not mean healthy – it’s a clever marketing tool to make you want to buy it.

2. YEAST OVERGROWTH IS FUELLING YOUR CRAVINGS.

Nice! Candida is a naturally occurring yeast which lives in our guts. Too much is toxic but really hard to diagnose. One of the key signs is the need for sugar. Candida thrives on sugar and needs it to grow. The more it grows, the more sugar it needs. Frequent bouts of thrush, digestive complaints (including lady pumps), headaches and rashes or itching are also common signs.

How to stop it? The best course of action is to go cold turkey. Cut out the hard stuff and see how your energy shifts.

3. SUGAR OVERLOAD HAS SWITCHED OFF YOUR BRAIN’S ‘I’M FULL’ MESSAGES

The past ten years have seen massive developments in the study of hunger hormone, ghrelin and full hormone, leptin. Scientists used to believe that one of the hormonal causes of obesity was a lack of the ‘I’m full’ hormone leptin but new research is suggesting that it could instead be a resistance to leptin. So your body produces it but the brain somehow bypasses the signals and instead sends out ‘I’m starving – feed me’ signals making you crave sugary, high energy food. Professor Robert Lustig (University of California) has recently found it could be sugar which is causing leptin resistance. Professor Lustig and his team have shown repeated sugar spikes cause insulin resistance (the body no longer responds to sugar in the same way) and in turn, leptin resistance, which means your brain simply doesn’t recognise the fact that you are actually full. The findings were published in his book Fat Chance.

4. YOU ARE SLEEP DEPRIVED

While we’re on the subject of ghrelin and leptin, your body resets itself over night. Too little sleep and your hunger hormones get out of whack, meaning you don’t get that full up feeling and just crave sugary, energy dense foods all day. This is one of the reasons why sleep deprived, new mums hit the biscuit barrel!

5. YOU’RE PREGNANT

Pregnant women are necessarily less sensitive to insulin. It’s the body’s clever way of ensuring enough energy gets to little bubba’. Also, pregnant ladies are growing a whole new person, which takes a lot of energy. When you don’t eat enough good stuff to fulfil your pregnant energy requirements, you crave sugar.

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/07/13/why-do-we-get-fat-when-we-get-pregnant/

6. YOU’VE GOT YOUR PERIOD

A bit like pregnancy, when you’ve got your period, you’ll be more sensitive to blood sugar highs and lows so it’s even more important to eat well and eat regularly. Some women swear by raw chocolate when it’s their time of the month to get them through. I love Om Bar coconut chocolate, it’s the least weird tasting raw chocolate I’ve ever eaten and there’s no sugar or dairy in it either.

7. YOU’VE GOT DIABETES

Craving sugar could be an underlying sign of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes happens when cells fail to use insulin properly or become insulin resistant. Some nutritionists, like obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe (author of The Harcombe Diet) believe type 2 diabetes is the result of your body no longer being able to process the levels of sugar you are pumping in. It just, gives up.

8. YOU ARE EATING SECRET SUGARS

So you don’t have sugar in coffee, you rarely eat biscuits but you still seem to want some of the white stuff. It could be those hidden sugars that are fuelling your sweet fire. When did you last check cereal packets? You’ll be hard pressed to find a commercial breakfast cereal which does not contain sugar or invert sugar syrup (don’t start me on that stuff – it screws your body’s system up on a whole new level to sugar) and yes, we like to feed this to our little babies too?!? Processed foods like soup, baked beans, or ready meals (yes the branded diet variety especially) all contain sugar too. And then there’s alcohol – which is sugar, refined to make you drunk. It’s everywhere!

What to do? Great piece of advice I recently heard, don’t eat anything that has a TV advert.

9. YOU ARE CONSUMING ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

Ooh, now I’m not going to go deep on this one. There’s just too much science involved for a little blog (which is already pretty long). So aside from the whole heap of chemicals doing weird things to your body (like make you store fat) when you consume artificial sweeteners, eating sweet stuff that isn’t sugar confuses your body’s sugar response. It gets so used to expecting sugar when you guzzle diet drinks and then not getting it that it ultimately doesn’t respond as well to sugar when it finally comes. It gives up hope! So then you need more of the sweet stuff to get the hit etc etc… Just don’t do it. Aspartame is one of the worst culprits and oh, most artificial sweeteners will give you bad guts too.

What to do? The best replacement we’ve found is a product called Z-Sweet. If you really need the hit!

10. YOU’RE HUNGRY

I learned this the hard way before I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. When you are hungry, you crave sugar. If you eat refined foods when you are hungry, you’ll get a high, shortly followed by a dip, then want more refined foods.

What to do? Eat good food and don’t skip meals (yawn). But if you are stuck and starving, go for a piece of fruit with some sort of protein. Nut butter, cheese (a little piece) or nuts are a good option.

For more information on food to make you feel good take a lot at my other posts:

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/09/24/say-no-to-rainy-day-blues/

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/06/25/mood-food/