Sunday, February 15, 2009

This I Believe About Health and Fitness

Are you going to write a book? That one in my email box surprised me. No, not any time soon, but this blog is something like a book- maybe even better. It's interactive and very current.

For those who often ask for a summary of what I believe about health and fitness, well, here are some things I think are important to know.

First I'll start with this disclaimer. I'm not a doctor. I'm not giving any advice on how to treat any particular medical problem. Doctors are good at spotting a disease, a little less good at figuring out a healthy way to cure one and almost no good at all in promoting health and fitness.

I'll be promoting health and fitness.

There is a lot of information out there. Thousands of books and now mega gigs of info on the net. Some of it is conflicting but patterns are emerging. My research and my experience is this. Eat food that is as close as possible to the way it was in the pre-industrial world. If your great grandmother didn't use it (thank you Michael Pollan) or if our cro-magnon ancestors didn't wander across it (thank you Dr. Citron) - don't eat it.

In his book In Defense of Food Michael Pollan details the simultaneous rise of processed food products and heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes in post WWII America. His book is exceptionally well researched and the best book you can read if you want to understand diet in our American culture.

Almost all of the notions about diet and health in the past 50 years are fading away and we are left with the fact that modern food products are bad for our health and food in its natural state is good for our health.

So I eat food, I don't eat food products. (Well, hardly ever) I feel the same way about sports drinks. I don't take any vitamin or mineral supplements. Information on vitamin supplements is overwhelming now, too. No major study outside the supplement industry itself is showing that vitamin supplements work in improving health or treating illnesses. The American Heart Association and The American Cancer Society both spent many millions studying this and found that eating vitamin rich foods helped prevent and treat these diseases but taking vitamin supplements did not. Some studies found that some vitamin supplements (specifically anti oxidants) were detrimental to your health.

Ever since I gave my first bit of advice to someone about exercise, I've been hearing this: easy for you to exercise, you have lots energy. Sorry, that isn't true. It's the other way around. Because I exercise I have all this energy. Let me explain.

The physiology of fitness can be complex but there are some useful simplifications. Here's my favorite: heart health.

I'll start with me as an example. The two numbers that we need are my maximum heart rate and my resting heart rate.

The best way to get the max is to be hooked up to the EKG while on a tread mill and running like hell but a useful approximation is to subtract your age from 220. I'm 48 so that means I have an approximate max of 172. The resting heart rate should be taken after waking in the morning but before getting out of bed for best results. Last time I did this with a heart rate monitor it was 42.

Physiologists have discovered that the human body repairs tissue, grows muscle, and replaces glycogen when the heart is beating under approximately 50% of the maximum. Glycogen is the body's way of storing energy. If you don't have any reserves of glycogen you'll be feeling tired, fatigued and generally low energy and you won't be wanting to exercise. So in fitness terms being under that 50% of your max heart rate is rest. We all need it.

If my max is 172 then half of that (50%) is 86. I'm "resting" when my heart is beating less that 86 times a minute.

I exercise a lot. My heart is efficient and strong and it moves blood with less beats than someone who doesn't exercise. Thus, my low resting rate of 42.

My neighbor, we'll call him CP (Couch Potato) doesn't ever exercise. He is the same age as I am and thus he is resting when his heart rate is under 86, too. BUT he is starting out with a couch potato resting heart rate of 75. His heart is not strong and has to beat more often to move his blood around.

It probably won't occur to him but if it did and he wanted to walk to the store (a mile away) to get some beer his heart rate would go over 86 and he would not be resting. I do it all the time and my heart rate is still way under 86. Yeah, I walk a mile to the store and back and I'm still resting. Lots of things can spike my heart rate from stress to an exciting movie, from being sick to being scared but Ive got 44 beats to play with ( the difference between my resting heart rate of 42 and the 50% mark of 86) before I stop resting. CP only has 11. Being sick can spike his heart rate by 15 beats per minute and guess what? It will take him forever to get over it and it will drain him of any energy reserves. Many athletes do get sick and just keep going. They can be active and still rest.

I may exercise three hours a day but the other 21 I'm resting.
CP never exercises and may get only a few hours of rest if any from his 24.

Athletes have more energy because they rest more. They rest more because they have a stronger heart measured by a lower resting heart rate. You want more energy? Exercise.


Anonymous said...

I learned about "rest" years ago in an Anatomy and physiology class. I like how you explain it better. Makes exercise seem mandatory for even average health. Love your website.
Donna K

Anonymous said...

Fabulous article! Now you need an affective way of teaching this to the average person. How about leaving a copy of this on the CP's doorstep?

Koz said...

I'm hoping this blog will be a good way of teaching this but if you have any other ideas, let me know.