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The Beast of Christmas Past…

… It is back and hiding in the corner of a gym near you…!

The holiday challenge is upon us again. Row 100,000 meters between Thanksgiving and midnight Christmas eve and Concept2 will donate money to a charity that you can chose from a list they provide. You must row a minimum of 100,000meters. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. You will be surprised at how quickly you progress with consistency and frequency. Work to an average of 5,000meters/day. Register for free at Concept2.com and start logging your meters. Logging your workout is a good way to monitor progress and stay motivated. Every single gym has at least 2 of these beasts resting unchallenged side by side! Go on! Take it on! Start rowing and logging your meters in the free log. Watch and see how you measure up against your age/gender peer groups.

Before you venture towards this creature, it’s important to exercise good form to get the most out of this species of equipment. Get a trainer to review your form and tell them of any muscular-skeletal issues so they can best advise you and keep you injury free.

Start out by building your endurance by rowing 1000m and gradually build on the distance you row… Row 2-3 x per week. Rowing sprints of 300-500 meters between weight-training exercises is a good way of keeping your heart rate up. Logging those sprints will help accumulate those meters towards your 100kms and improve your performance. You will activate those fast-twitch muscle fibers which will help increase performance over any distance. The neuro-muscular learning that takes place during sprint training will rollover into anything else you do that involves fast-paced movement using the same muscles.

The benefits of using the rower on a regular basis is that it has several components all rolled into one: Core strength and development; improved cardiovascular fitness; development of upper and lower body strength, and toning. The regular exercise will help maintain a healthy body weight and assist with weight-loss goals.

Slay the Beast!

Taming the beast!

Taming the Beast


New Book on the Science of Overeating.

No, this is not just another book on the latest pseudoscientific fad that tends to populate the bookshelves and online stores. The latest issue of New Scientist reviews a book by former Food and Drug commissioner David Kessler who battles the endemic problem of obesity in a new book, The End of Overeating.

He discusses the biology behind how, why and what we eat. He describes how the food industry manufactures food so people crave foods rich in fat and sugar. These foods stimulate neurological reward pathways in the brain. We therefore learn how to eat badly by associating certain foods with mood, location and the time of day.

Its refreshing to see a book dealing with the issue of nutrition and health that is not full of self-help psycobabble, but is based on real science.

Fighting Parkinson’s with the Sweet Science

A recent report by ABC news shows how boxing helps people suffering from Parkinson’s disease improve their quality of life. Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurological condition that severely reduces people’s quality of life. Deterioration of brain cells responsible for synthesizing the neurotransmitter dopamine causes tremors, deterioration of motor skills, coordination and balance.

Kristy Rose Follmar, formerly the No. 3-ranked boxer in her weight class and Golden Gloves champ Vince Perez started a boxing program for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. Participants in the program at the Rock Steady Gym in Indianapolis experienced less tremors and improvement in functional movement after several months of boxing training. The reduction in the participant’s symptoms that include anxiety and depression improved their quality of life significantly.

Newman, a member of the program says, “Every day the disease does not get worse, we win that round. We go to the corner and we wait for the bell for the next round.” Hopefully, Newman wins with a total knockout.

Starting Exercise Later in Life Still Helps Heart – Scientific American

Another article, Starting Exercise Later in Life Still Helps Heart from Scientific American cites more evidence showing that beginning an exercise regimen later in life can still help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier?

The article Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier? by Coco Ballantyne in Scientific American endorses my response to last week’s New York Times article, Does Exercise Really Make You Healthy? (See my previous blog.)

Although both articles have similar titles, they differ greatly on the benefits of exercise. The Scientific American article highlights the benefits of exercise on the cardiovascular, immune systems and bone health.

The only “disappointing” aspect of the article was what it had to say about weight-loss, “Contrary to popular belief, working out at the gym every day will not necessarily lead to weight loss.” Unfortunately, it is very true that it is difficult to lose weight and there is no quick fix. According to the American Council on Exercise personal training manual, 50% of people fall out of an exercise program within the first six months and only 9% of people engage in exercise at a high enough levels of duration and intensity for enhancing cardiovascular fitness. To burn one pound of fat in a week, you need a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day. This is not an easy task, since it involves a combination of diet and moderate to vigorous exercise of an hour or more per day. The upside is this, if weight loss is lost using a combination of diet and exercise over a long period of time, the weight is more likely to stay off.

The important thing is not to be discouraged when you do not see results right away. It takes time. It takes time to form the habit of exercising regularly and the cardiovascular endurance necessary for maintaining the exercise and intensities necessary for weight-loss. Most people when starting an exercise program report feeling better generally and having more energy. The bottom line is that exercise is about life-style change and the evidence to support the benefits of exercise is overwhelming.

Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?


Fortunately, for the most part, Gina Kolatas’ article, “Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?” in the Health Section of The New York Times agrees with the associated health benefits of exercise. However, I am going to focus on specific areas where the article casts a shadow of doubt upon some of the benefits of exercise.

“While exercise can boost mood, its health benefits have been oversold.”

Two thirds of the US population is overweight or obese. Half of these are obese. The World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Overweight and Obesity cites a sedentary lifestyle as a major contributor to excess weight. Since these conditions lead to an increase risk of coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, it makes sense that physical activity helps decrease these risks.

Though the evidence is mixed, exercise may also provide benefits for people with osteoporosis.

The evidence showing positive effects for weight bearing exercise on maintaining bone health is overwhelming. Studies show that strength training shows significant gains in bone density, especially in older male and female adults. Where the evidence “is mixed,” is exactly what volume, intensity, and exercise are most effective at helping to prevent osteoporosis. The American College of Sports Medicine’s Position Stand on Osteoporosis and Exercise supports the benefits of strength training on bone health.

For better health, simply walk for 20 or 30 minutes a day, boosters say…

Any increase in activity helps with a calorie deficit and this recommendation may be a good starting point for people with weight issues who do not have the cardiovascular capacity to exercise for longer periods. The point is to start out in manageable steps and build endurance and intensity as you get stronger. This type of regimen also helps with exercise adherence which is necessary for the consistency necessary for results.

Despite trying hard, those who dieted and worked out lost very little weight.

The recommended amount of weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week. There are no details of the Federal study so we do not know the length of the program, the precondition of the subjects, duration or exercise intensity of the diet and exercise group who “lost very little weight.” With respect to the weight loss, we do not know whether the loss is relative or in absolute terms.

Lifting weights builds muscles but will not make you burn more calories.

Building muscle will help burn more calories at rest. Muscle mass is related to BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate.) Muscle tissue has a high energy requirement. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle) is a reason for weight gain as we age. Our BMR decreases because we do not have the same energy requirements as when we were younger with more muscle mass. According to the American Council on Exercise personal training manual, muscle loss in non-training adults leads to a 5% reduction in BMR for every decade of life. We also lose a half pound of muscle every year after the age of 25 if we remain sedentary. Studies have shown that regular resistance training can stem weight gain associated with sarcopenia and even reversed the process. The bottom line is the old adage, if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

Jack Wilmore, an exercise physiologist at Texas A & M University, calculated that the average amount of muscle that men gained after a serious 12-week weight-lifting program was 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds. That added muscle would increase the metabolic rate by only 24 calories a day.

Increasing your BMR by 24 calories per day is equal to approximately 672 calories per month. That is the equivalent of running for approximately an hour. Twelve weeks of training is a relatively short period since the first six weeks of a beginning strength program tends to be low in volume (Low weight and high number of repetitions of between 12-20 repetitions) and focuses on muscular endurance. It is mostly neuromuscular learning and not hypertrophy that accounts for strength gains during this phase. There are no details of the subjects such as experience and exercise prescription.

…it is impossible to know with confidence whether exercise prevents heart disease or whether people who are less likely to get heart disease are also more likely to be exercising.

Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that challenges the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This type of exercise helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Cardiac muscle responds in the same way as skeletal muscle to exercise by getting stronger. One of the many chronic adaptations to cardiovascular exercise is an increase in stroke volume because the heart chambers can increase in size by 40%. Studies show that cross-sectional area of coronary arteries increases in proportion to ventricular size increases. Stroke volume is the amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle in one heartbeat. Since the heart is pumping more blood in a minute (cardiac output), than the heart has to beat less times in a minute at rest. A lower resting heart rate is a good measure of level of fitness as well as how quickly the heart recovers from exercise. Resting heart rate refers to the number of heart beats per minute (bpm.) Just like skeletal muscle, if cardiac muscle is stretched regularly, it will have greater contractibility. Cardiovascular exercise also increases HDL (good cholesterol) levels in the blood. HDL helps remove LDL “bad”cholesterol from the blood and also helps reduce body fat which would otherwise coat artery walls and eventually form plaque. The American College of Sports Medicine considers low levels of HDL in the blood a coronary artery disease (CAD) risk factor.