People vary in their level of fitness, and opinions about what it means to be physically fit can diverge widely as well. A 60-year-old man who does moderate, low-intensity exercise four times a week might feel he's very physically fit compared to everyone else his age, but a 22-year-old woman engaging in the same fitness routine might not be considered superbly fit by anyone's standards.
Still, it is incredibly hard to pinpoint how well you are doing physically compared to other people your age because fitness can be hard to quantify. Sure, you can track your minutes per mile, your number of pushups or your length of time on the elliptical each day, but these numbers means little from person-to-person because we differ on metabolism, height, weight, health issues and needs.
But researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have come up with an easy algorithm to measure one's "fitness age" – or, as a recent New York Times article puts it, "how well your body functions physically, relative to how well it should work, given your age." Previously, these numbers would be determined in an exercise-physiology lab. However, the Norwegian researchers found a way to come up with someone's VO2 max levels – the peak oxygen intake, which measures how well our bodies get oxygen to the cells. VO2 max can tell someone's fitness age.
The researchers took resting heart rate, HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels, body mass index, height and resting heart rate. Then, they had each person run on a treadmill until they were completely exhausted in order to determine VO2. If you're interested in learning your fitness age, try out the university's VO2 calculator for quick, accurate results.
The good thing about learning your fitness age is that if it is older than your actual age, you can make some easy adjustments – such as working out more frequently – to lower it.
Have you heard of intermittent fasting? Basically, it's a diet that involves a period of regular eating followed by one of fasting. The fast can last as long as 24 hours and involve only drinking water, black coffee or tea, or it can last for just eight hours. In other iterations, the fast period involves a restriction of calories – such as consuming only 600 calories on the fast day – which is much more feasible for many people. After all, who can get any work done on a hungry, empty stomach?
Fasting has been around for ages and is often part of religious practice. In general, fasting is healthy if not taken to extremes and dieters get sufficient nutrients and enough calories to function. So, moderate fasting is fine for most people, but is it effective for weight loss?
A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that intermittent fasting in combination with calorie restriction and liquid meals helped obese women both lose weight and lower their risk of coronary heart disease. A 2007 clinical review found that intermittent fasting could likely protect against Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. A controlled trial in 2007 found that fasting for normal weight subjects was not effective without calorie restriction. However, more research is required to determine which patterns of fasting and calorie restriction are most effective, and in turn, if intermittent fasting is more effective than other weight loss strategies.
Other research has shown that fasting could be positive for brain aging and function. Still, until there's better research, for adults of regular weight who are trying to get in shape, it's probably better to stick to healthy eating and exercise for weight loss.
We all know sleep is very important for immune, physical and mental health because it's the body's period of restoration. But much research shows that the amount of rest we get each night has implications for weight loss and gain. A long-established study revealed to researchers that getting less than five or six hours of sleep per night put one at increased risk of being overweight.
However, more recent studies reveal the mechanisms of the effect of sleep loss on weight, and some of the results are almost frighteningly, especially for people who are sacrificing sleep to get in an extra workout or plan healthier meals.
According to one 2012 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, sleep loss changes the biology of fat cells, making them more insulin-resistant. The small study involved seven subjects who switched from sleeping 8.5 hours per night to 4.5 hours per night. After just four days of the new sleep schedule, researchers found profound effects: The lack of sleep aged the subjects' fat cells 20 years!
Aside from signaling our bodies to keep more fat, lack of sleep also increases the likelihood of gaining weight because less sleep lowers the body's leptin levels – a hormone that controls appetite. This causes someone to crave carbohydrates. A recent University of Colorado study found surprising results after participants had just one week of inadequate sleep. Turns out, sleep-deprived people burned 111 extra calories per day and had an increased metabolism. However, this is misleadingly positive. In fact, the people who got less sleep (the control group was allowed nine hours) consumed many more calories – about 6 percent more – than others throughout the day and gained an average of two pounds.
The good news
In contrast, a 2012 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that for people enrolled in a weight loss program, both quality and length of sleep were important in predicting their weight loss. That is, adequate sleep can contribute to weight loss.
Tips for getting enough sleep
Even if you're not looking to lose weight, getting adequate sleep is incredibly important for body function in all areas. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep to stay healthy:
- Avoid caffeine five to eight hours before bedtime.
- Use your bed only for sleeping or sex. Doing other activities in bed, like watching videos or reading, can confuse your body.
- Unplug and disconnect at least one hour before bed. Research has shown that the blue light from screens – whether that is a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone screen – can disrupt and delay the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences the circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle.
- Develop a bedtime routine that involves calming activities like reading a paperback or meditating.
- If you have a very difficult time falling asleep, try Naturade SlumberAid, which contains melatonin, magnesium and a full range of B vitamins for sleep promotion. Talk to your doctor first if you plan to try this product.
While breast feeding is one way that women can bond with their new babies, it can also be stressful. Some women cannot breast feed due to medical reasons, and for couples who have adopted a child, it is often impossible. In other situations, some women simply cannot produce enough milk.
However, many experts have praised the health benefits of breast feeding over infant formula. Unfortunately, these claims have added to the stress of couples for whom breast feeding is difficult or not possible. Thus, a number of parents have begun purchasing donor breast milk online or having it donated from well-intentioned strangers. However, an October 2013 study from the journal Pediatrics has revealed that this practice is potentially dangerous to infants' health.
According to the study, breast milk purchased over the Internet had alarming rates of bacteria. The researchers collected 101 samples from various milk-sharing websites and analyzed both the bacterial content of the milk and what the sellers said about their handling and storage methods. They found that 64 percent of milk samples were contaminated with the staph bacteria, while nearly 75 percent had other types of bacteria and 36 percent were contaminated with strep. Three of the samples even had salmonella. While staph and strep are common and relatively harmless at normal levels, nine percent of the milk samples had dangerously high levels of staph and a few had high strep levels. Regarding salmonella, which can be deadly, the study's author said this should never be found in milk.
Overall, researchers found that 74 percent of the samples would not have met the fairly strict screening standards of milk banks, which store and pasteurize donated milk for needy infants.
Because there are definite health benefits to breast feeding, many people unable to give their infants breast milk aren't content just using formula. However, there are other animals that breast feed to provide important nutrients to their offspring. The "first milk" of lactating cows – called colostrum – may be a safe alternative to donor breast milk due to its ability to support the immune system. One such product is Naturade's Proline-Rich Polypeptides with Colostrum in powder form, which can be mixed into formula. This product is considered safe for all ages, but as with all supplements, it's recommended that you talk to your child's pediatrician before using.
For most of us, the holiday season, while wonderful, can be pretty tiring as we scramble to purchase gifts, plan holiday parties, and keep our sanity. If you're anticipating a busy holiday season, here are three natural ways to keep your energy high so you can enjoy the season to its fullest:
Maybe your morning coffee just isn't doing it anymore, but you're hesitant to up your caffeine intake too much more. Aside from the usual exhortations to eat well, here are a few more tips that might boost your energy reserves during shopping marathons and baking sessions:
- Don't eat high-fat foods right before bed. Though you might get a craving for ice cream or French fries, find something 150 calories or less to satisfy your cravings. You'll feel bloated the next morning, which can make you drag throughout the day.
- Eat a hearty breakfast high in protein, like low-fat Greek yogurt, an omelet or a meal replacement shake made with Naturade Total Soy. Protein will give your brain a boost, and a big – but healthy – breakfast will keep you full without weighing you down.
- As you're running holiday errands, keep a reusable bottle of water with you at all times. Being dehydrated can make you tired.
- For a little pick-me-up after lunch, have some peppermint candy. Research has shown that it might enhance both your mood and concentration.
Get pumped up
Sometimes you just need to change gears a little. If you've been wrapping presents, cooking or doing other holiday chores, re-motivate yourself with these tips:
- Turn on some upbeat music to avoid monotony and have some background beats.
- Watch a YouTube video that is so funny it makes you almost fall out of your chair.
- Do some energizing morning yoga or pilates for a burst of energy to start your day.
Aside for getting as much sleep as you can, there are some other things you can do to feel energized when you wake up:
- Do your best to hop out of bed right away. If you hit the snooze button frequently, put your alarm clock or phone in a place that you can't reach from the bed and turn the alarm on high so you'll be forced to actually get out of bed.
- Open the shades or turn the light on immediately in the morning. Light tells our internal clocks that it's time to wake up, so do yourself a favor and don't walk around in a dark room.
Humans have had pet canines for thousands of years, and there's a reason why this perennial "world's best pet" is human's best friend around the world. In fact, 47 percent of households in the U.S. own at least one dog. Everyone that has a pet dog knows that they're loyal, loving creatures that are always happy to see you when you get home. And recent research furthers the cause of having a pet dog – as it turns out, whether you're a child, adult or senior, there are some major benefits of having a pooch by your side. Aside from an abundance of love and loyalty, here are some of the reasons that dog ownership is good for your health:
- Get more exercise. As a dog-owner, you'll get a great workout every day by taking your little Fido out on his walks.
- Live longer. Research has shown that people with dogs tend to live longer than others, which is likely due to the fact that they get more exercise than others and gain the emotional benefits of having a pet.
- Stave off loneliness. Dogs as companions can help us feel less lonely. This is especially important for people who live alone, such as seniors, according to recent research. Aside from being good company, pets can also help you meet new people. Dogs serve as an easy topic of conversation: when you are out walking your dog, people are more likely to come up and talk to you, and if you go to parks you can meet other dog owners. The reduction of loneliness is a very important benefit because loneliness has been shown to decrease overall health and longevity.
- Keep your heart healthy. Though surprising, research has shown that simply petting and talking to a dog or cat can lower one's blood pressure noticeably. Petting an animal can induce relaxation and calm people, which is why dogs are often used in hospitals as therapy animals.
- Learn empathy. Having a pet dog can teach children empathy. It allows them to learn to care for something and recognize others' needs if they are involved in the feeding, brushing and other care of the animal.
If you're considering adopting a pet, make sure you will have ample time and energy to care for that animal first, but know that, aside from being loved on by a furry friend, you'll benefit in so many other ways.
Dietary fat gets a bad rap, but there are several different types and not all are bad. The key to eating healthfully is knowing which fats are good, and to eat them in moderation while avoiding the unhealthy ones. Saturated fats are unhealthy and should be minimized, while unsaturated fats are very good for the cells. Here's some more information to help you make healthy food choices and keep your cholesterol in check:
These "bad" fats raise both total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein – or unhealthy cholesterol – levels. They clog up the arteries by sticking together in the bloodstream and forming plaques, which can cause heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Saturated fats stay solid at room temperature and are found in animal products like eggs, meat, dairy and seafood. Palm and palm kernel oils are two very common saturated fats used in processed foods, so if you see these on the label, avoid them.
Another type of fats, which are even more unhealthy, are trans fats. Most trans fats are artificially created by partially hydrogenating unsaturated fats. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated" on a package, avoid eating that food ingredient because it contains trans fats. These artificially produced fats can increase levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood and lower the levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol.
In contrast, unsaturated fats are the "good" fats when, in eaten in moderation, are very important for heart and overall health. They fall into two categories: polyunsaturated fats, which are found in sunflower and fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fats, which are found in almonds, walnuts, avocados and olive oil. Unsaturated fats can actual lower the body's levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. Unsaturated fats are easy to recognize because they are liquid at room temperature.
The questions arise occasionally: How much running is too much? Is running actually bad for your health? Is it stressful on the heart? The questions aren't being asked by serious couch potatoes as an excuse to stay off their feet, but by health scientists, medical experts and long-distance runners who want to make sure they're making the right choices for their bodies.
Among the most curious are the increasing number of health- and fitness-minded individuals and groups attempting to return to our ancestors' roots. These people advocate a lifestyle based on how our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors supposedly lived thousands of years ago: Eating things like grass-fed meats, fish, nuts, seeds and fresh vegetables and fruits, which is the basis of the Paleo or "caveman" diet. In attempting to discern how our early relatives might have lived, people have turned their attention to distance-running and asked the question: Is it really natural? The reasoning is that our ancestors would have had no reason to run long distances – rather, they would need to run in short, intense sprints for the purpose of hunting.
So, is running actually bad for your health? That depends on who you ask. Most people agree that running reasonable distances is excellent exercise provided your body is well-fed and you're in good shape. But what about the endurance runners who seem to take it over the top? After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day – a far cry from the 10 miles a day that some people run. But getting exercise is very important – it reduces your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's, obesity, heart disease and dementia, among other things.
However, according to Dr. James O'Keefe, the director of Preventative Cardiology at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, we must impose healthy limits on our exercise:
"Your body is designed to deal with oxidative stress that comes from exercise for the first hour," O'Keefe said. "But prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems."
Thus, the best answer is to consult with your doctor to determine what amount of running is right for you. If you have knee or back problems, consider trying other high-intensity exercises like swimming or skating, which are easier on the joints.
Kids' lives these days seem almost more busy and scheduled than ours are or ever were. Whether you're chasing a toddler around the living room, playing t-ball with your preschooler or chauffeuring your pre-teens to after-school soccer practice, your life probably couldn't get much busier. Here are some exercises to boost your energy, get you ready for the day and help you keep up with the kids:
Kids are flexible little humans, so if you're going to play backyard soccer or tag with them, you need to keep up. Start your morning off right with these energizing stretches:
- Cat-Cow yoga pose: Lay a mat down on the floor and get on your hands and knees, with your knees in line with your hips and your hands aligned with your shoulders. As you inhale, lift your tailbone and head and push your stomach toward the floor. Exhale and drop your head, tuck your tailbone and arch your back toward the ceiling. Do 10 reps for a good back stretch, and remember to breathe deeply.
- Hamstring stretch: If you often have tight hamstrings, give them a nice stretch so you're ready to rock for the day. Lay on your back with your legs straight and your lower back and hips pressed into the mat. Then, lift your leg with your knee bent and hold it parallel to the floor. Stretch your leg straight up, keeping your hands behind your knee to make sure your leg is now perfectly perpendicular to the floor. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before switching to the other leg. Do three repetitions.
- Neck and shoulder stretch: Sit on the floor with your back straight and your legs crossed. Keep your shoulders straight and tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder, feeling a pull. Hold for 20 seconds before doing the right side. Then, roll your shoulders back and forward to loosen up tight muscles.
Feel the burn
Some of the best exercises to keep up with the kids are squats. Here are two excellent variations:
- Split Squat: This gets your hips and thigh muscles ready for a long day. With feet shoulder-width apart and hands at your sides, take a step backward and drop into a lunge, moving slowly into it until your front knee is at a 90-degree angle. Hold it for a few seconds, then push yourself back up with your knees slightly bent. Do 20 reps on one side before switching to the next leg.
- Squat thrusts: These are good for your chest, triceps, hamstrings and quads. With your feet hip-width apart, squat and put your hands on the floor in front of your feet. Jump backward so you're in a pushup position, don one pushup and then jump back toward your hands and stand again. Do 10 reps on each side and this will surely get you ready for the day!
Proline-Rich Polypeptides are a mouthful to say, but if you don't know what they are, you probably should – especially with cold and flu season upon us. PRPs come from colostrum, the first milk of newly nursing cows, and PRPs are the component largely responsible for providing a quick dose of immunity to new calves.
PRPs are actually found in all other mammals' colostrum, and humans can benefit from bovine colostrum too. One good source of PRPs is Naturade's Proline-Rich Polypeptides with Colostrum Plus supplement, which is safe and effective for people of all ages. It's used to help balance the immune system and to provide a boost when you feel challenged or stressed. Naturade's PRP enriched colostrum product is antibiotic-, hormone- rBST- and pesticide-free. It comes as a powder that you mix into your morning or post-workout smoothie – 1/3 a scoop, twice per day. You can triple this amount if you're experiencing a time of increased stress.
Consider PRPs and colostrum to give your immune system a kick in the pants before winter rushes in!