Morning Exercise Has Changed My Life

I finally figured out how to make myself go to the gym: Working out in the morning.

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This was a very unexpected circumstance for me. I am emphatically not a morning person. Like, not at all. I also don’t like working out, I don’t like eating late dinners, I don’t like skipping happy hour so I can go to the gym. I did join a gym, but at best I can drag myself there maybe one or two days a week. At most.

I often have a hard time sleeping, so it seemed impossible that I could ever become one of those people who gets up at 6:00 am to hit the gym. But then I tired it one time. And it was awesome.

Sure, I felt like crap when I woke up. But I always feel terrible in the morning. On my way to work I felt great. Even though I hadn’t slept very sell that night, I felt shockingly focused and awake at work. After trying this out for a few days, I started noticing that my focus and concentration at work were sharper than normal. When I hit the gym after work I don’t feel any different. Just tired and sweaty.

Now that I’ve started going to the gym in the morning, I actually feel pretty good during the day-definitely better than days when I don’t hit the gym-which makes it a lot easier to feel motivated to exercise.

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Interestingly, there’s a little bit of research about building better habits. Jawbone, the fitness tracker company, recently released some data showing that morning exercisers tend to be more consistent than people who workout in the evening.They tracked over 1 million people, and determined that the folks who worked out at 6:00 am were the most consistent exercisers.

I have to eat before working out, or else I get nauseous and faint, but there’s some research suggesting that exercising before breakfast can seriously help people lose weight, especially around the holidays:

“So, unpleasant as the prospect may be, set your alarm after the next Christmas party to wake you early enough that you can run before sitting down to breakfast. ‘I would recommend this,’ Dr. Heilbronn concluded, ‘as a way of combating Christmas’ and those insidiously delectable cookies.”

I guess the takeaway I have from this post is that if you’re trying to find something that works for you, you really do have to try different things. There’s no way I would ever have anticipated that I could ever become one of those people who wakes up at 6:00 am to get to the gym, but if I hadn’t given it a shot I would never have known.

At this point, I’ve been going for about a 25 minute spin on the elliptical about 3-4 days a week. Usually I get about 2.5 miles. I’m hoping to switch over to the treadmill soon, now that I’m feeling a little less bad at exercise.

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Cleaning Fruits and Veggies with Vinegar

I just saw this really great thing on Pinterest about how plain old white vinegar is a great rinse for cleaning fruits and veggies. I figured I would do a little research to see how effective it really is.

Photo from Flickr user Jason Popesku

Photo from Flickr user Jason Popesku

I had always thought that just rinsing things in the sink was fine, so why the extra step? According to the CDC, produce is actually the biggest source of foodborne illness outbreaks. Fresh produce has a lot of opportunities for contamination during its long journey to your plate from contaminants in the soil and water, to unhygienic handling during harvest, transit, and stocking. By the time that apple makes it home with you, it has probably already been handled by several people. 

Contribution of Different Food Commodities (Categories) to Estimated Domestically-Acquired Illnesses and Deaths, 1998-2008

Contribution of Different Food Commodities (Categories) to Estimated Domestically-Acquired Illnesses and Deaths, 1998-2008

So, does a vinegar solution really do anything to help clean produce? A 2003 study from the Journal of Food Protection showed that a vinegar wash of 10% vinegar reduced the numbers of bacteria present on strawberries by about 90%, and reduced the numbers of viruses by 95%. They also tested products that are sold as veggie washes and found that plain old vinegar was often more effective.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/attribution-image.html#foodborne-illnesses

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12597475

http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm256215.htm

 

Sugar on the Brain: What’s the Deal with Sugar Addiction?

“We don’t abuse lettuce, turnips and oranges…But when a highly processed food is eaten, the body may go haywire. Nobody abuses corn as far as I know, but when you process it into Cheetos, what happens?”

Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

 There are a lot of books and diets out there that talk about food and addiction, but what does research on this actually show? A Princeton study from 2009 made the argument that sugar can act on the brain in similar ways as addictive drugs. The study argued that rats who were fed sugar showed signs of addiction such as bingeing, withdrawal, craving- even neurochemical changes to the brain-  in a similar fashion as they would to addictive substances such as cocaine.

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In the study, rats were shown to “binge” on sugar when they were hungry, which provokes a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Even after only a month, the brain structures of these rats had changed due to the increased dopamine levels. Dopamine is a key mechanism for the brain’s reward and motivation systems, and similar changes to the are also seen in the brains of rats given addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin.

When the researchers took away the sugar supply, the rats showed signs of withdrawal. The brain levels of dopamine dropped, which caused symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety, teeth chattering, paw shaking, and disengagement. When sugar was reintroduced, the rats worked who had binged on sugar worked harder to get it and they consumed 23% more sugar than they had before.

One thing that has been shown to ease cravings for food is…exercise! Several studies have shown that exercise can also modulate the brain’s motivation and reward structures. A study reported in the New York Times showed that after beginning a regimen of regular exercise, in this case running, participants started feeling satiated faster without even realizing it:

“A related study published in December looked at the effects of moderate exercise, the equivalent of brisk jogging. It found that after 12 weeks, formerly sedentary, overweight men and women began recognizing, without consciously knowing it, that they should not overeat.

But after three months of exercise, the volunteers consumed fewer calories throughout the day when they had the high-calorie shake than the lower-calorie one. Exercise “improves the body’s ability to judge the amount of calories consumed and to adjust for that afterward,” says Catia Martins, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who led the study.”

 

Probiotics 101

“To say a product contains Lactobacillus is like saying you’re bringing George Clooney to a party. It may be the actor, or it may be an 85-year-old guy from Atlanta who just happens to be named George Clooney. With probiotics, there are strain-to-strain differences.”

Gregor Reid, director of the Canadian Research and Development Center for Probiotics

George Clooney wants to make sure you get live and active probiotic cultures

George Clooney wants to make sure you get live and active probiotic cultures

I’ve definitely noticed that there is a lot of new research is looking at probiotics and how they may be involved in helping with everything from stomach issues like IBS to improvements in stress management and strengthening the immune system. But is there any research to back these claims? Is there a difference between regular old yogurt and yogurt that is advertised as having special probiotic benefits?

Probiotics are living microorganisms (often bacteria but they can also be other types of microorganisms like yeasts) that are shown to have some sort of health benefits. I most often think of probiotics as being in yogurt, but they are also in all kinds of fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and kimchi (future posts on specific probiotic foods to come!). Probiotics can also be taken in a pill or powdered form as a supplement.

Look for "live and active cultures" on the label

Look for “live and active cultures” on the label

The American Gastroenterology Association provides a great comparison of different probiotic products specifically tested for gastrointestinal disorders. This is important because different strains of probiotics have been shown to be helpful for different conditions. It is also important to note that the FDA has not yet approved any health claims for probiotics.

 

SOME RULES OF THUMB FOR PICKING A PROBIOTIC

  • In yogurt, look for the phrase “contains active cultures” on the label to confirm that the product includes the living organisms that make probiotics work. Lots of products, like pickles and sauerkraut, are pasteurized before being sold which kills the live bacteria. If the bacteria aren’t active, they can’t do their thing.  (USA Today)
  • Some of the common strains to look for include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species such as: bifidobacterium lactis HN109; lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730; lactobacillus rhamnosus GG9LGG; and lactobacillus casei DN-114 001. (USA Today )
  • In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don’t all work the same way. Each group of bacteria has different species and each species has different strains. This is important to remember because different strains have different benefits for different parts of your body. For example, Lactobacillus casei  has been shown to support the immune system and to help food move through the gut, but Lactobacillus bulgaricus may help relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance. (American Gastroenterological Association)
  • Beware of products that promise a specific health improvement. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any specific health claims for probiotics. Many probiotic products are sold as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval prior to marketing (which also means the product hasn’t been tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness). (NIH)
  • Remember to store your probiotic according to the package instructions and make sure the product has a sell-by or expiration date. Probiotics are living organisms. Even if they are dried and dormant, like in a powder or capsule, they must be stored properly or they can die. Some require refrigeration whereas others do not. They also have a shelf-life, so make sure you use them before the expiration date on the package. (American Gastroenterological Association)

 

For more information on probiotics here are some great articles:

American Gastroenterological Association – Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/probiotics#Choosing a Probiotic

American Gastroenterological Association – A Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probioticshttp://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(12)00369-2/fulltext#tbl2

NIH National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine – Oral Probiotics: An Introductionhttp://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm