Sometimes clients ask me, “If I only have time for one type of exercise, what should I do?” Truth be told, all three components of fitness – aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training - are essential for different reasons, but getting your heart rate up is likely the most effective for weight and fat loss. At least that’s the conclusion of newly released research, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In the study, over 230 previously inactive overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 18 and 70 were randomly assigned to one of three eight-month fitness regimes. The first exercised aerobically at about 70-85% of their maximum heart rate for 45 minutes three days a week. The second performed resistance training three days a week, which included three sets of 8-12 repetitions on eight machines, to target major muscle groups. The third performed both workout routines.

Scientists found that the volunteers who exercised aerobically, and those who performed both aerobic and strength training, lost greater amounts of weight and body fat, and whittled their waistlines more than those who simply completed resistance training. In fact, the resistance only group actually gained weight, due to an increase in muscle mass.

Based on this study, if your number one goal is weight loss, grab your walking shoes and get outside, or jump on the treadmill. But for but optimal health, carve out some time for strength training, which you can accomplish without going to the gym (check out my previous post about the worthwhile benefits and a simple home-based program) and end each session by stretching, for all the reasons outlined here. If you’re having trouble getting started, check out my post about readiness. And if you have a personal success story, or you’ve found a new favorite way to be active, please share it with me via Twitter or Facebook.

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The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.

Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:

Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.

A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.

Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!

One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”

Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.

I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video  - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)

 

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It’s pear season, which in my opinion is one of the bright spots of the chilly season. Right now my local market is overflowing with pears of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and I’m happy to report they’re all amazingly good for you. This member of the rose family is a great source of dietary fiber, which is one of the reasons eating pears can prevent you from becoming pear-shaped (a higher fiber intake is tied to less belly fat)! In fact, roughly 20% of the carbs in a pear come from dietary fiber – about 5-6 grams for each medium sized piece, a fifth of the recommended minimum intake.
 
That fiber also makes pears filling. Think of your digestive system as a long tunnel that goes through your body. Nothing really gets into your body until it’s absorbed from your GI tract into your bloodstream. Because your body can’t digest fiber, it never gets absorbed into your blood, where it either has to be burned off, or stored as fat. Instead, fiber just keeps on traveling, through that long and winding tunnel, where it does a number of healthful things. Fiber:

  • Slows the digestion and absorption of natural sugars and complex carbs, which keeps you fuller longer, and helps regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Reduces the absorption of cholesterol from your GI tract into your blood, which slashes the risk of heart disease.
  • Exercises your GI muscles, to keep them strong and healthy, which helps you stay  “regular.” 
  • Binds to cancer causing substances in your digestive system, so they can be swept out of your body.  

There are hundreds of varieties of pears grown throughout the world, but in the U.S., the fantastic four include Bartlett (red and yellow), Anjou, Comice, and Bosc. I recommend mixing it up. And for the most antioxidant bang per bite, eat them when they’re fully ripe. A recent Austrian study found that as pears fully ripen, almost to the point of spoilage, their antioxidant levels rise.

A few of my favorite quick fix pear recipes from S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches include the Pear Ginger Almond Pancake and the Chocolate Pear Ginger Smoothie.

Fun facts: placing a pear in a paper bag will help it ripen faster; one medium pear provides 10% of your daily vitamin C needs; one quick way to tell that any type of produce is organic is to check the code – if it’s a 5 digit number that starts with a 9, it’s organic.


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