Body weight, like so many of our individual characteristics, is the combined result of the genes we’re born with and the way we live our lives — how much and what we eat, and whether we exercise. The question is, how much does one influence the other?
In a new study, reported at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting on Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism in San Diego, researchers offer evidence that lifestyle can actually change the effect our genes have on the number on the scale.
Qibin Qi of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues say that walking for about an hour a day can reduce the weight-promoting effect of certain genes by 50%. What’s more, the scientists say, sedentary activities like watching TV can trigger the weight-gaining effect of the same genes.
The study involved more than 12,000 men and women enrolled in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which track lifestyle behaviors and health outcomes among doctors and nurses and other health care professionals. In order to determine how much influence the weight-gaining genes had on the participants’ weight, Qi and his colleagues focused on 32 genes that have previously been linked to body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height and weight that is used to determine overweight and obesity.
The researchers plotted the participants’ BMI against their so-called weight-gene score, a measure of how many variants of the 32 genes they possessed. Because we obtain one copy each of every gene from our mother and father, the maximum number of weight-promoting variants a subject could have was 64, and the minimum was zero. It turned out that no one was burdened with two copies of every BMI-increasing gene; the maximum number of variants in the study subjects totaled 43, while the minimum number of variants was 10. Based on this comparison, the researchers determined that for every genetic variant, the effect on BMI was to increase it by 0.13 kg/m2.
But among those who walked briskly for about an hour a day, this genetic effect was reduced by 50%, to 0.06 kg/m2. It’s the first study to bring the effect of exercise down to the genetic level, and to measure how physical activity can change the way genes work — in this case by inhibiting the activity of genes that promote weight gain.
The study also documented an increase in the activity of these genes among those who were more sedentary. For every two hours spent in front of the television every day, there was a 0.3 kg/m2 increase in BMI.
The fact that walking and TV watching each had independent effects on BMI hints that it’s important both to increase exercise and reduce sedentary time in order to lose weight. In other words, it’s not enough to be physically active most of the day if you’re still sitting on the couch watching TV for several hours. “We suggest that both increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior can lower the genetic predisposition to obesity,” says Qi.
The authors acknowledge that it may not be the act of TV watching itself that enhances the activity of the weight-promoting genes. It may be that people who watch more TV also tend to eat more and exercise less, for example. But the latest findings provide some hope that even if you’re not blessed with lean genes — and not many of us are — you can modify the fattening effect of your DNA by changing how you live your life.
In: Exercise, Fitness, Health
Moving the body demands a lot from the brain. Exercise activates countless neurons, which generate, receive and interpret repeated, rapid-fire messages from the nervous system, coordinating muscle contractions, vision, balance, organ function and all of the complex interactions of bodily systems that allow you to take one step, then another.
This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled. What’s more, the finely honed energy balance that occurs in the brain appears to have implications not only for how well the brain functions during exercise, but also for how well our thinking and memory work the rest of the time.
For many years, scientists had believed that the brain, which is a very hungry organ, subsisted only on glucose, or blood sugar, which it absorbed from the passing bloodstream. But about 10 years ago, some neuroscientists found that specialized cells in the brain, known as astrocytes, that act as support cells for neurons actually contained small stores of glycogen, or stored carbohydrates. And glycogen, as it turns out, is critical for the health of cells throughout the brain.
In petri dishes, when neurons, which do not have energy stores of their own, are starved of blood sugar, their neighboring astrocytes undergo a complex physiological process that results in those cells’ stores of glycogen being broken down into a form easily burned by neurons. This substance is released into the space between the cells and the neurons swallow it, maintaining their energy levels.
But while scientists knew that the brain had and could access these energy stores, they had been unable to study when the brain’s stored energy was being used in actual live conditions, outside of petri dishes, because brain glycogen is metabolized or burned away very rapidly after death; it’s gone before it can be measured.
That’s where the Japanese researchers came in. They had developed a new method of using high-powered microwave irradiation to instantly freeze glycogen levels at death, so that the scientists could accurately assess just how much brain glycogen remained in the astrocytes or had recently been used.
In the first of their new experiments, published last year in The Journal of Physiology, scientists at the Laboratory of Biochemistry and Neuroscience at the University of Tsukuba gathered two groups of adult male rats and had one group start a treadmill running program, while the other group sat for the same period of time each day on unmoving treadmills. The researchers’ aim was to determine how much the level of brain glycogen changed during and after exercise.
Using their glycogen detection method, they discovered that prolonged exercise significantly lowered the brain’s stores of energy, and that the losses were especially noticeable in certain areas of the brain, like the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, that are involved in thinking and memory, as well as in the mechanics of moving.
The findings of their subsequent follow-up experiment, however, were even more intriguing and consequential. In that study, which appears in this month’s issue of The Journal of Physiology, the researchers studied animals after a single bout of exercise and also after four weeks of regular, moderate-intensity running.
After the single session on the treadmill, the animals were allowed to rest and feed, and then their brain glycogen levels were studied. The food, it appeared, had gone directly to their heads; their brain levels of glycogen not only had been restored to what they had been before the workout, but had soared past that point, increasing by as much as a 60 percent in the frontal cortex and hippocampus and slightly less in other parts of the brain. The astrocytes had “overcompensated,” resulting in a kind of brain carbo-loading.
The levels, however, had dropped back to normal within about 24 hours.
That was not the case, though, if the animals continued to exercise. In those rats that ran for four weeks, the “supercompensation” became the new normal, with their baseline levels of glycogen showing substantial increases compared with the sedentary animals. The increases were especially notable in, again, those portions of the brain critical to learning and memory formation — the cortex and the hippocampus.
Which is why the findings are potentially so meaningful – and not just for rats.
While a brain with more fuel reserves is potentially a brain that can sustain and direct movement longer, it also “may be a key mechanism underlying exercise-enhanced cognitive function,” says Hideaki Soya, a professor of exercise biochemistry at the University of Tsukuba and senior author of the studies, since supercompensation occurs most strikingly in the parts of the brain that allow us better to think and to remember. As a result, Dr. Soya says, “it is tempting to suggest that increased storage and utility of brain glycogen in the cortex and hippocampus might be involved in the development” of a better, sharper brain.
Given the limits of current technologies, brain glycogen metabolism cannot be studied in people. But even so, the studies’ findings make D.I.Y. brain-fuel supercompensation efforts seem like an attractive possibility. And, according to unpublished data from Dr. Soya’s lab, the process may even be easy.
He and his colleagues have found that “glycogen supercompensation in some brain loci” is “enhanced in rats receiving carbohydrates immediately after exhaustive exercise.” So for people, that might mean that after a run or other exercise that is prolonged or strenuous enough to leave you tired, a bottle of chocolate milk or a banana might be just the thing your brain is needing.
In: Equipment, Exercise, Fitness, Health
Below you will find four different treadmill workouts that will not only keep you in tip-top shape, but they will also help you become a stronger, faster runner. When running on a treadmill, keep two things in mind: (1) don’t do more than two of the workouts per week (the rest of the time, just run easily); and (2) set your treadmill’s elevation at 1 degree. This compensates for the lack of air resistance in treadmill running and makes your speeds roughly equivalent to similar speeds outdoors.
1. The Speed Demon:
Run easily for 10 minutes, then set the treadmill at a speed about 20 seconds per mile faster than your best recent 5-K pace. Run three 3-minute repeats at this speed, alternating with 3 minutes of very slow jogging. After completing a set of three repeats and recovery jogs, rest for 5 minutes by jogging. Then run a second set of three repeats and recovery jogs. When finished, run easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
2. The Progression:
Begin with a 10-minute warm-up, and then set your treadmill at a speed about 15 seconds per mile faster than your best recent 5-K pace (this new pace becomes your 5-K goal pace). For your first treadmill workout at this pace, run continuously for 5 minutes. Finish the workout with 10 to 20 minutes of easy cool-down running. For each of the next 10 weeks, run the same workout but increase the time you spend at your goal pace by 1 minute per week. At the end of 10 weeks, you should be able to run a 5-K race at your goal pace.
3. Indoor Hills:
Warm up for 10 minutes, then set the treadmill at your approximate marathon pace. (If you’ve never run a marathon, estimate your marathon time by multiplying your typical 10-K time by 4.65.) With the treadmill elevated 1 degree, run for 2 minutes at marathon pace, then elevate the incline to 2 degrees and run for 2 minutes. Next return to 1 degree for 2 minutes, but then climb to 3 degrees for 2 minutes.
Continue in this manner, raising the grade on every other 2-minute repeat until you’ve reached 7 degrees (the inclination pattern is 1-2-1-3-1-4-1-5-1-6-1-7). If you feel exhausted before you reach 7 degrees, stop, and don’t let it worry you. Try the workout several more times and you’ll develop the ability to handle the hills. Finish the workout by running an easy 8- to 10-minute cool-down.
4. The Broderick Crawford:
This workout gets its name from its “10-4″ pattern, a familiar phrase to fans of the old Highway Patrol TV series. Begin by warming up for 10 minutes, then run for 10 minutes at your current 10-K race pace. Jog very easily for 4 minutes to recover, then surge again for 10 minutes at your 10-K tempo. Recover for 4 minutes, and complete the workout with 10 minutes of easy cool-down running.
By regularly running treadmill workouts like these, you can develop a better sense of pace, increase your running economy and learn to deal with hills more efficiently. Best of all, come this spring, you’ll be ready to set some new PRs.
In: Equipment, Exercise, Fitness, Health
Remember the endless hours you spent jumping rope with friends around your neighborhood or on the playground at school? Well, I recently picked up rope jumping again. I thought I would add something different to my workout routine…something fun. I was in for a surprise after my first day of jumping. I was shocked at just how difficult it was. Not that I couldn’t jump anymore, but the coordination required to swing the rope and jump at the perfect time proved to be more difficult than I remembered. I would (a) whip my shins or (b) land on the rope once every 30 seconds during my first few days of jumping. However, with a little practice I think I am bringing back my skill that has been suppressed since I was 10 years old.
Another shocker that came with my rope jumping—I was surprised to feel my heart rate increase, my breathing became heavier and little buds of sweat dripped down my face… after only a few minutes of jumping rope. Not only was it fun, but it was a great workout! TRY it!
Benefits That Come With Jumping Rope:
-Jumping rope will improve your agility, hand/eye/foot coordination, jumping, fluidity of movement and timing, hand and foot speed as well.
- Jumping rope skills transfer to most athletic endeavors.
-It’s small and light-weight. Perfect for traveling!
-A jump rope is possibly the most inexpensive exercise accessory out there.
-You can jump anywhere—work, home, school, etc.
-Rope jumping works every major muscle group in your body! It tones and strengthens upper and lower body muscles.
-Jumping rope is one of the best ways to blast away cellulite.
Things to Know When Jumping Rope:
-To size your rope so that it is fit for you, make sure the handles reach your armpits when standing on the rope.
-You will need at least a 4’ x 6’ area to jump. If it is difficult to find an open space in your home just take your workout outside.
-It is ideal to jump on a wood floor, impact mat, or piece of plywood.
-Check with your doctor if you have any doubts about your ability to withstand the impact and high aerobic intensity of jumping rope.
Jump Rope Exercise Routines:
To begin, warm-up then jump for 20-30 second intervals then rest for 1 minute in between each set. After you become comfortable this basic workout move on to something more technical.
Warm up—brisk walk for 2-3 minutes
Jump rope—20 to 30 seconds
Rest for 1 minute
Repeat nos. 1 to 3, five times.
Jumping Rope With Intervals:
Build up strength and dexterity by continuous jumping for 3 minutes, with a basic interval workout that alternates between fast jumping and slow jumping:
Jump rope fast for one minute.
Jump rope slowly for 20 to 60 seconds, you may increase the speed gradually.
Repeat 6 times.
Advanced Jump Rope Workout:
When you have developed focus and stamina, you can proceed to advanced rope routines. Jumpers skip for 15-20 minutes. You can opt to add more time when jumping becomes effortless. Here is an intense fat-melting workout:
Jump rope for 5 minutes
25 push ups
Repeat 10 times
The fat-burning effect of jumping rope comes from improved footwork. Once the hop, or running in place is spot on you can try these fat-buster routines:
Line hop – achieved by drawing a line on the ground with chalk and through the hopping motion, jump over the line facing forward or side to side.
Diamond: draw a diamond pattern using your feet when jumping rope. Can be done both clockwise and counterclockwise.
For an additional butt-kicking workout check out this article from Fitness Magazine.
Need a Jump Rope?
If you are like me, I hadn’t owned a jump rope since grade school. For a great deal you can get this 9’ EZ jumprope from ProForm®, which is currently on SALE. This rope has a weighted mid-section and swivel handles. Happy jumping!
Written by Amy Jensen
In: Equipment, Exercise, Fitness, Health
We have the ultimate plan to prepare you.
Spring is right around the corner! Are you bikini ready? Whether you are hitting the Bahamas or simply your neighborhood pool you still want to look and feel your best for this swimsuit season. We have the ultimate plan to get you ready!
EXERCISE: We will start out with a few killer tips to get the most out of your workout and prep your body for the beach. We all know that cardio is one of the best ways to trim your waistline, but many tend to overlook strength training. Cardio and strength training must go hand-in-hand to get optimal results.
-Squats: If you don’t do this already, make this a regular addition to your workout program. Squats are possibly the best weight-training exercise you can do to improve your lower physique. They will tone your thighs and glutes while burning calories making this a double reward.
Tip: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and slowly bend your knees—making sure not to go over the toes. Keep your back straight and butt sticking out. Squat as low as you can go—the lower you go the more the glutes are working. Slowly return to starting position and then repeat. This move tones glutes, quads and hamstrings. Do 10-12 reps in sets of three. To increase the resistance add a padded bar of 8-10 pounds rested across your shoulders.
-Lunges: This is the best complement exercise to the squat.
Tip: Split legs—one forward, one behind, keeping the front leg bent (again, avoid letting your knee go over your toes) while the back leg is kept straight. You can do this with hands on your hips to start—and once you work up to it, add the weights at your side. Slowly lower yourself down, keep your back leg straight, until your back knee is almost touching the ground. Keep all the weight in your heels, slowly rise to starting position. Do 8-12 reps in sets of three.
-Jump Rope: Unlike creams, gels, and wishes, jumping rope is the most effective way to rid your butt and thighs of cellulite. In addition to blasting cellulite, this great workout shapes your calves and strengthens the heart.
Tip: The best way to incorporate jumping rope is in-between sets of weight training. This allows you to maximize the calories you burn in a short period of time, so you don’t have to spend hours at the gym, all while getting a better workout.
-Intervals: Doing intervals instead of slow steady cardio will burn more calories, and help you get results in a shorter period of time.
Tip: Add 20-60 second intervals of intense cardio every three minutes of your cardio workout.
-Walk at an incline. Jump on the NordicTrack x7i and increase the incline by 40% to really work your glute muscles. Walking at an incline will greatly increase the intensity of your cardio workout while toning your backside.
-Chisel those abs: Try doing more than just the basic crunch because they only target a limited area of your core. There are many moves that can strengthen and tone your core. Here are a few that will really make you feel the burn:
Plank- This is a great exercise that will build strength and endurance in your abs and back.
Tip: Lie face down on the floor. Lift up onto your toes while resting on your elbows. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from your head to heels. Pull your belly button towards your spine to contract your core muscles. Hold the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then repeat doing reps of three. As you strengthen your core you can increase the time you hold the position to challenge yourself.
Bicycle- According to an ACE-commissioned study the bicycle is the most effective ab exercise.
Tip: Lie on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head. Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck. Straighten the left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, taking the left elbow towards the right knee. Switch sides, bringing the right elbow toward the left knee. Continue alternating sides in a ‘pedaling’ motion for 12-16 reps in sets of 2-3.
-Just do it: Workout, even if you only have 30 minutes. You will feel and look better. Schedule time for a workout before going to the beach because this will stimulate your muscles to look extra toned.
NUTRITION: To be summer sexy, the food you eat must emulate how you want to feel—fresh, bright and healthy. Summer is one of the greatest times to develop healthy eating habits because there are so many delicious fruits and vegetables that are in season and readily available.
-Cut out carbonation: Carbonation leaves you looking bloated. Trade in your soda for a nice glass of water.
-Stay hydrated: Staying well hydrated not only keeps your skin looking clear, but it also helps to reduce any bloating you are experiencing from the foods you eat. Make sure you are drinking around 7-8 glasses a day.
-Cut back on sodium: Who wants to feel bloated? I didn’t think so. Where there is sodium water is sure to follow. To reduce some water weight and that bloated feeling, cut back on your sodium intake (processed foods have notoriously high sodium content).
-Increase your protein intake: Your body burns calories in the process of digestion—this is known as TEF, thermodynamic effect of food. Protein tends to use the highest number of calories, generally around 20-30%, whereas carbohydrates rank in around 10% and fat is a measly 2-3%.
EXTRA tips to help you look your best in your bikini:
-Avoid Horizontal Stripes: When choosing your bathing suite, avoid wearing horizontal stripes. These will make you look wider than you are which is something most want to avoid. Solid colors tend to look the best and then remember to keep things simple around any areas you are less than confident about (for example, if you feel you have large hips, avoid anything that ties around this area—it will only draw more attention to it).
-Moisturize: Dry skin gives off a dull appearance which will underplay that muscle tone you have worked so hard to get. Make sure to use a good hydrating lotion or oil before going to beach.
-Practice good posture: This is the simplest thing you can instantly do to look better. Pull your shoulders back and keep your head up, this will help you pull your stomach in and improve the curvature of your back.
-Be confident: Your number 1 accessory is your confidence!
Keep these guidelines in mind to get you summer ready inside and out.
Written by Amy Jensen
Sources: www.bodybuilding.com, www.thebrokenheeldiaries.com, www.exercise.about.com
In: Exercise, Fitness, Health
Not only is February the month to celebrate LOVE—it’s also American Heart Month and we couldn’t think of a better time to get heart-healthy! Whether it is for you or for a loved one—do what it takes to be heart-healthy this year! Regular exercise and a healthy diet are two of the best ways to benefit your heart, but there are many little things you can do each day to boost your heart health. Here are a few tips:
Say “Yes”: Does your sweetheart want to take you out for a night on the town? Did you get an invite for a girls/guys night out? Say YES! Socializing benefits your emotional well-being and level of happiness. When you opt to stay in and hibernate solo you risk allowing stress, loneliness and depression to take over—all of which can raise your blood pressure, damaging your heart.
Catch those Zs: Sleep is an essential thing that we all need in order to survive and function each day. If you aren’t getting enough you could be damaging your heart—lack of sleep raises your blood pressure and puts unnecessary strain on your heart. Not only is lack of sleep bad for your heart, but it could also affect your weight, mood and productivity level.
Housework: Do you apathetically stroll through your house doing those necessary “chores”? Put a little zest into your housework and make it a fun work out instead of a dreadful chore. You will be surprised how hard you can push yourself when cleaning. Turn on some tunes while cleaning and bust a few dance moves along the way. It will get your heart pumping and even boost your mood.
Walk instead of drive: Do you live in walking distance to the local grocery store? Walk. If you don’t live close enough to walk you can always choose to park in the last parking stall in the lot and get a few extra steps in.
At work: Do you sit all day in an office or at a desk? If so, get up and move as often as possible. Get up and grab a drink at the water cooler, walk to your co-workers desk to ask a question instead of simply paging them or even worse, yelling across the office at them. Use the on-site gym, if you have one, for breaks to clear your mind and get your heart pumping.
Written by Amy Jensen
In: Exercise, Fitness, Health
What are you doing to accomplish your health and fitness goals for 2012? Why not make your health and fitness goals for 2012 last a lifetime? When you purchase your own ProForm home fitness equipment you can make your goals become a lifestyle. Below are the tops three reasons you should own home fitness equipment:
1-Work out ANYTIME you want: So, your gym is only open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.? And closes even earlier on weekends? These gym hours could complicate any early morning, late night or weekend workouts. Eliminate this issue for good with your own personal fitness equipment at home! ProForm has the right machine for you—whether you are in need of a treadmill, elliptical, exercise bike, stay ball, free weights, etc. We have it all!
2-Save Time and Money: How long does it take you to reach your nearest gym? How much do you spend per month on a gym pass? When you purchase home fitness equipment you eliminate multiple costs and save a bundle of time by doing so. Save that gas money and monthly gym fee and put that towards your own home fitness equipment today and never pay for another gym membership again. Not to mention, the commute time to and from the gym—take that extra time and workout a little longer at home on your ProForm fitness equipment.
3-Eliminate All Excuses: When you have the convenience of working out in the comfort of your own home you have no excuse to miss a workout. This could also serve as a great motivational tool—you will have a constant reminder to work out every time you pass your treadmill. (*Tip: Put your treadmill in front of your TV…the only way you can watch TV is when you are on the treadmill—preferably, while moving!)
Do you own home fitness equipment? Has it helped you to become more consistent with your workouts?
Written by Amy Jensen