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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Pilates isn’t about sculpting body beautiful

I’VE been teaching Pilates for at least 10 years now and I confess, I look back at my early days and cringe a little at how I taught or what I focused on. Of course at the time, my theory and practical knowledge was up to date but modern science combined with Joseph Pilates’ original exercises, my own experiences and education (most recently from the brilliant JPilates) have created a very different ‘Karen’s Pilates’ from what I taught 10 years ago. I was also much more likely then to be swayed by the more vocal participants in my classes!

As in all professions, experience and training influences and shapes you. I believe that where I’m at now would hopefully let Joe P rest easy under his daisies. It’s true to me and to the participants I work with.

Of course as my experience evolves I get a bit ‘fussy’ about what other forms of ‘Pilates’ are out there. I don’t believe in one size fits all but I am in this profession to improve lives and health. Wellbeing.

So I’m penning a series of articles about what Pilates isn’t. That doesn’t mean if you enjoy your chosen class it’s wrong – it just might not be Pilates. And there is a brilliant magic and flow in the process of Pilates, which you, your body and your wellbeing might just be missing out on.

PILATES IS NOT ABOUT SCULPTING BODY BEAUTIFUL. PILATES ISN’T AESTHETIC LIKE A FIGURE MODEL’S GYM PROGRAMME. PILATES COMES FROM THE INSIDE OUT. PILATES WON’T MAKE YOU THIN AND IT WON’T WHITTLE YOUR WAISTLINE.

  1. THE FAT THING.

Fat is fat. No amount of roll ups, teasers or gym crunches will drop belly fat. Fat loss starts in the kitchen, continues in the gym (with weights or interval training), is massively complemented by Pilates and graduates with a happy symbiosis of all of the above.

  1. PILATES IS INSIDE OUT

If we focus first on the outside, we are likely to neglect the inside. By inside I mean back and joint health, muscle imbalances, pelvic floor health, hips, shoulders, breathing, stress and TENSION. In fact years of experience have shown me that the Pilates participant who comes from the physiotherapist, where pain has motivated them is generally much better at Pilates (if there is such a thing) and progresses quicker than the gym bunny who wants to get thin.

  1. PILATES ISN’T ABOUT BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

You know what I mean. All those stock photos of models looking serene and just occasionally doing a bit of Pilates in a well lit studio without a squidge of fat or under-eye baggage in sight. Now I’m not anti-pretty (I should say I consider all my participants beautiful) but I am anti putting anyone off exercise. In my classes we have fat rolls, we have ‘retro’ workout gear and the occasional hairy leg (sometimes a little parp too) but we are all doing it. Striving to look after our bodies, not just to show them off.

Of course, I’m not ignorant to the fact that how we look is a driving factor behind exercise but let’s not lose sight of wellbeing and let’s not lose sight of Pilates.

Focusing on toned tummies to the detriment of our backs will not serve us long term. And when your motivation is looks over health you are far less likely to stick to exercise.

If you DO want to change the way you look, then yes do Pilates but do HIIT training, eat clean, cut out alcohol and processed sugars, sleep more, unwind, train with weights and have fun.

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/04/sit-ups-the-fastest-way-to-a-flat-tummy-after-having-a-baby-i-lied/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/10/22/want-a-flat-tummy-my-top-5-dos-and-donts/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/07/10-golden-rules-for-a-flat-holiday-ready-tummy/

Next up … Pilates is’t an ab workout.

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.fit-school.co.uk

Black Eyed Bean Chilli (Vegetarian)

WHILST I’m a confirmed meat eater I’ve recently been dabbling with vegetarian meals. When we’ve had an excess of meat or rich foods, we like to have the odd non-meat dinner. We’re also aware that whilst we are happy omnivores, not everyone is.

So here’s my latest veggie recipe. It appealed to me because I had some ripe plantains, so wanted a rice and bean dish to go with it but Chris’ mum’s African black eyed beans we had lurking in the freezer were way too spicy for my palate. This is sooooo quick (literally ten minutes to prepare and less than 30 minutes to cook) that it makes a great store cupboard, easy dinner and only requires a chopping board, knife and a tin opener. Plus the black eyed beans are really meaty. I used beef stock to meat it up (obviously veggies can use a non-meat equivalent).

We aren’t dieticans or nutritionists so would always recommend if you are following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s really important for you to seek the advice of a nutritionist to ensure you are still getting enough amino acids, protein and fats into your diet.

BLACK EYED BEAN CHILLI

(serves 3 hungry people or 2 with leftovers for lunch)

blackeyedpeas

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tin chopped or plum tomatoes
  • 1 dessert spoon tomato puree
  • 1 450g tin black eyed beans
  • 1/2 tin chickpeas (optional)
  • 100mls water and stock cube (I used a Knorr beef stock pot)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

METHOD:

Fry the chopped onions in a pan with a slug of olive oil (be generous to add fats to this recipe) until soft and slightly coloured. Then add the chopped garlic and fry for a few minutes taking care not to catch the garlic.

Make a space in the pan and add the tomato puree, cook it off then incorporate.

Add all the dry spices (to your taste) and cook for another few minutes.

Add the tomatoes and stock cube plus a little water (rinse out the tomato tin) then bring to a simmer. Season well with salt and lots of black pepper.

Add the beans and chickpeas if using and cook for around 20 minutes, or until the beans are looking a little soft.

You can add more water if it’s a little dry for you.

Once you’ve finished cooking add the balsamic vinegar to taste. It brings out the flavour.

Serve for dinner with steamed rice, fried plantains and a green salad with avocado (extra fats) or this is also great for lunch with a baked sweet potato.

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/

Hearty Chicken, Carrot and Squash Soup – with a super greens twist

On Monday I wrote about rain. Or rather how to fight the rainy day, wintry blues. As much as I love the summer with all its warm sunshine, there are certain things about the kitchen in autumn that just don’t work for me in 30 degree July heat.

One of those things is soup! Hearty, homely, warming soup. Thick, inviting, steaming broths, concocted from bits and bobs and leftovers.

Perhaps what is most satisfying about soup is its unpredictability. No soup is bad soup (apart from a baby weaning pea soup I once made which was just lumpy, tasteless, green water) but some soups turn out better than others.

Well, today I whipped up a batch of what is lovingly known in my family as Christmas soup. So called because a few days after Christmas, my mum would strip the last of the meat from the Christmas turkey and throw it in the pressure cooker with vegetables. The resulting smell which greeted me as I came downstairs promised thick, orange, flavour filled soup. And this is perhaps why I still make most of my soups in the pressure cooker. That smell is unique.

Nowadays I stick to a superfood, clean version of the soup which I can give to Isaac, offer to guests, shove in the freezer in batches or serve for a light dinner with hunks of home made walnut bread. It’s packed with protein and pressure cooking seals in nutrients. So here it is with my super greens twist.

Ingredients:

1 large/2 small onions, roughly chopped

2 chicken legs (you can also make this with leftover chicken and bones from a roast)

4 medium carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1/3 of a squash, scrubbed or peeled and roughly chopped

3 stalks of celery, scrubbed and roughly chopped

Broccoli stalks (this is my super greens part), roughly chopped

A pinch of peppercorns

2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Bay leaf

Fresh thyme (you can use dried but sometimes it’s a bit woody)

Method:

Soften the onions and seal the chicken in your pressure cooker or pan with a few tbsp of olive oil/butter/coconut oil.

Add all the remaining ingredients and stir around a bit while you add the herbs etc.

Half fill the pressure cooker with water, or just enough water to nearly cover the ingredients.

Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes. If you’re cooking this in a pan it would take about 1h30mins on a simmer.

When it’s finished, take the bay leaves out and discard bones/skin/bits from the chicken then add the meat to the soup and whizz it with a hand blender or in a blender.

ENJOY! 

Ease back to health: Clear out the junk

So I’m going to admit it. My diet for the past month or so has got pretty rubbish. I like to think that I operate on an 80/20 rule, where 80% of my diet is good quality protein, fruit, vegetables and oils and 20% is enough of the naughty stuff to make me normal.  However, the past few months have seen lots more toast, biscuits and crisps on the diet plan than is good for me.  And whilst I’ve not got fat, my mood, my energy levels, my skin and my digestive system have suffered.

Hopefully you don’t think I’m some awful fitness fraudster for admitting this. Just a working mum who has been putting her own wellbeing last for a little too long.

So day one (which accidentally started with marmalade on home made toasted buttermilk bread) is about cutting out the junk.  No drastic fasting or dieting but an absolute ban on rubbish.  I’ve already noticed that usually, after getting back from my morning class with Isaac, starving hungry (me, not him) that I would grab a digestive biscuit and then forget lunch. So today we lunched together on scrambled eggs, toast, olive oil and tomatoes.

Anything shop bought or processed is bound to be full of sugars and trans fats that clog up the system, so they have to be the first things to go.  And as soon as you decide to eat better you quickly notice what triggers you to reach for processed snacks.

My triggers are:

  • Not planning my meals;
  • Skipping meals;
  • Not eating enough good quality protein;
  • Sugar;
  • Tiredness; and
  • Lack of structured exercise.

Do these ring any bells with you?

Tomorrow we’ll hit the activity trail but for now I’ll leave you to enjoy your lunch and some Vitamin D time!