Friday, February 15, 2008

How to live to age 90

From the ArcaMax Publishing, Health & Fitness Newsletter:

Study: How to live to age 90

BOSTON (UPI) -- Five modifiable factors can give a 70-year-old man a 54 percent probability of living to age 90, U.S. researchers found.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, also found five factors that add up to an unhealthy lifestyle, which reduces that probability to 4 percent.

"Smoking, diabetes, obesity and hypertension significantly reduced the likelihood of a 90-year life span, while regular vigorous exercise substantially improved it," the study authors said in a statement. "Furthermore, men with a life span of 90 or more years also had better physical function, mental well-being and self-perceived health in late life compared with men who died at a younger age. Adverse factors associated with reduced longevity -- smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle -- also were significantly associated with poorer functional status in elderly years."

Dr. Laurel Yates of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston and colleagues studied a group of 2,357 men -- with an average age of 72 -- who were participants in the Physician's Health Study beginning in 1981 to 1984. Of these, 970 men lived to age 90 by the time the study ended in 2006.

The researchers found the probability of living to age 90 was reduced 44 percent by a sedentary lifestyle, 36 percent by high blood pressure, 26 percent by obesity and 22 percent by smoking. Having three factors together -- such as sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes -- reduced the probability of living to age 90 to 14 percent.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hit the Weights to Lose Weight

Hit the Weights to Lose Weight

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Trying to lose weight? A new study says instead of spending all of your time at the gym doing cardiovascular exercise, you need to start weight lifting. The study found weight training helps improve and control your metabolism.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine conducted the research in mice. They found the mice with more muscles lost fat and showed other signs of metabolic improvement throughout the body. The benefits were seen even though the mice were on a high fat and sugar diet and didn’t increase any other physical activity.

Researchers say type II muscle is what allows you to pick up heavy objects and it may also be key in weight loss. Researchers write, “These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues. These data also suggest that strength training, in addition to the widely prescribed therapy of endurance training, may be of particular benefit to overweight individuals.”

Study authors conclude increasing muscle mass in humans may prove to be critical in the fight against obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and cancer.

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SOURCE: Cell Metabolism, 2008;7:97-98

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter Weight Gain - Why Does It Happen And What Can We Do?

Winter Weight Gain - Why Does It Happen And What Can We Do?

Winter weight gain is a common complaint of many people. It seems that every winter we add a few pounds, and come summer we do not lose them all again either. A few of them always stick around, making us a little heavier every year. They seem to be very hard to lose extra pounds! Why does this happen and what can we do?

There are many contributing factors. First, it seems likely that we have a genetic disposition to store more fat as winter approaches. Many animals do this and it was probably vital to survival for our ancestors. Extra layers of fat on the body protect us against the cold and then supposed to be used as fuel in the late winter and early spring when food stocks would historically be very low. We probably have a tendency to eat more in the fall, when food is plentiful after harvest time, to help this process along. We may also unconsciously choose foods that are higher in fat content at this time.

Hormone levels can also influence our weight gain. The interaction of hormones and other chemicals in the brain can bring about variations in appetite and cravings. Some neurotransmitters can also influence the way we eat. People who are overweight often have low levels of these neurotransmitters and the results can include excessive appetite, depression and sleep disorders. At the same time, the lack of daylight caused by the shortening days during late fall and winter can bring on seasonally affected disorder or winter depression. One of the quickest ways to give a boost to the energy levels and emotions is to eat high carbohydrate foods including sugar treats, chips and cereals that give us a fast blood sugar 'fix'. So people who feel low in the winter will tend to overeat or eat the wrong foods, leading to weight gain, more depression and a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

So altogether, there are many reasons why we eat more high carbohydrate foods such as cookies, pies and chocolate in the winter, and of course, most of these foods contain high levels of fats. The best way to handle this is generally to substitute other foods that are also high in carbohydrate so that we get what our body craves, but which have low fat content and plenty of fiber. This means potatoes, wholegrain bread without butter, wholegrain rice, cereals, and fresh whole fruit.

It is also important to take more exercise. Often our physical activity levels drop in the winter and we have a tendency to want to stay home and rest. This is natural when it is cold outside. However, we are not cave dwellers! We have heating in our homes and can be sure that there will still be plenty of foods in the stores come February. We do not need to stow fat the way that they did. Sign up with a gym or get a stationary bicycle for the den. Transform those carbohydrates into energy now instead of keeping it on the waistline until spring. Winter weight gain is easily avoidable this way.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sports ALL Kids Should Play

Sports ALL Kids Should Play

Brian Grasso is the CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association and is considered one of the premier authorities on youth athletic development in the world. Access Brian's free database of articles and exercises at

One of the questions that I get asked most routinely is which sports I believe offer the best development capacity to young athletes.
This is a loaded question for several reasons…
First of all, ANY sporting activity lead by a quality-based coach is wonderful for kids.
That being said, the true crux and efficacy of that statement is based largely on the ‘quality-based coach’ comment.
It is only when poorly educated and over zealous parents and coaches (i.e. adults) get involved too heavily in youth sports that the experience can become sour. Parents often push too hard and seek success at a young age; coaches often are limited in their understanding of developmental science and routinely ‘drill’ kids with ‘sport specific’ (I hate that phrase) exercises that are too narrow in scope (not to mention that many youth sport coaches don’t know how to TEACH specific aspects of movement or speed and yet get annoyed when their athletes don’t perform a given drill to a high enough standard).
One the most prominent and problematic realities of the above comments is that there don’t seem to be many (any?) outlets for kids just to play anymore. Every young sporting activity is a life or death struggle that MUST climax in a victory… heaven forbid we actually teach developmentally sound skills in a fun and energetic way in order to promote a wholeness to our youths development – which by the way should include emotional stability (for instance highlighting the skills gained in a given season rather than the ‘wins’ and trophies accrued) and mental stimulation (in the form of engaging life lessons that instill a lifelong love for physical activity rather than a win-at-all-costs mentality which can burden kids with various complexes for years).
Having said that, I encourage parents to remove the desire to watch their 8 year olds win the weekend tournament; I encourage coaches to remove there ‘Lombardi’ hats when they walk into a practice or game situation; I also encourage strength and conditioning coaches to remove there yearning to ‘test’ young athletes from a biomotor perspective and look only to increase a child’s ability from a performance outlook.
In fact…
My message is simple…
Play sports seasonally.
Find coaches and programs that highlight skill acquisition rather than victory.
Find trainers who do the same – work towards instilling skills into kids rather than creating performance markers.
So, here than are my top four sports that all kids should play (in no particular order)–
1) Soccer
In most parts of North America, kids lack foot dexterity and soccer is a wonderful natural enhancer of both foot dexterity and foot-eye coordination. Don’t pigeon hole this ability as only necessary for soccer either. Remember, the crux of developing a ‘whole’ athlete is to engross them in as much athletic stimulus as possible at a young age. Increased foot dexterity will, in time, round out a youngsters overall ability and allow them to progress in there ‘chosen’ sport more proficiently.
Additionally, although many North Americans find soccer to be ‘boring’ (although I will need an explanation on how soccer is boring, but baseball and golf are America’s pastimes) it is a wonderfully athletic and tactical-based sport. Sudden bursts of explosive power, change of direction, looking two plays ahead, playing a ‘forcing’ based defense in which the defender uses their body/skills to change what the offensive player wanted to do – these are fantastic athletic lessons that can be filed away in the nervous system and used at a later point in any sporting activity.
2) Swimming
Unloaded shoulder and hip mobility adds a great deal of pliability to the frame of a young athlete. With so many injuries occurring due to restrictions and tightness in kids (yes… I do believe wholeheartedly that many of the youth sport injuries we see annually throughout the world could be prevented with a simple and basic increase in both systemic strength and mobility) hip and shoulder mobility initiatives are crucial.
Additionally, kinesthetic differentiation is a physical skill lacking in many kids (this refers to the knowledge of how much force is necessary to produce a desired result). My opinion on this matter is simple – everything we tend to do with kids, both in sport and training, is based on maximal efforts. In our zeal to search for those ‘performance markers’, we overlook the notion that sub-maximal efforts are both developmentally sound and build certain physical qualities not seen in high force-based outputs. Swimming is the essence of building kinesthetic differentiation – kids simply won’t last long in a pool if they put as much force as possible into every stroke.
3) Martial Arts
Almost every martial art I am familiar with is based on skill acquisition as a primary marker. Not only is that mentally and emotionally good for a child, but it infers the teaching of patience and ‘enjoying the journey’ rather than ‘searching for the destination’.
While a great deal of martial arts practices in North America have become watered down (8 year olds earning black belts – if you knew anything about traditional martial arts, you know how ridiculous that is), most organizations I am familiar with teach a wonderful style of patient skill development and discipline.
Athletically speaking, dynamic flexibility, end-range systemic strength, mobility, spatial awareness – the physical ability built through martial arts is awe-inspiring and can apply to any sport.
4) Gymnastics
Again, the physical elements that can be built through gymnastics are amazing – spatial awareness, flexibility, relative strength, dynamic and static balance – the list goes on.
If for no other reason, the ability to know where you are in space and take a fall ‘well’ is a required skill for any sport.
So… there’s my list.
Don’t get me wrong, the list is nothing without a quality coach at the helm of each of these respective sports. Martial arts instructors for instance, are often archaic in their knowledge of warm-up design as are gymnastic coaches in their practices of flexibility enhancement. Having said that, good coaches do exist and I urge you as a parent to find them. I also encourage trainers to seek out joint venture partnerships with quality coaches and augment a child’s development with solid strength and skill acquisition-based training habits.
Play soccer in the autumn.
Swim in the summer.
Participate in martial arts through the winter.
Take gymnastics in the spring.
Mix in some developmental training and play other sports recreationally for interest and development sake (basketball and baseball for example).
By the age of 13 – 14, you’ll have a solid athlete with limited injury who understands sport tactics and is strong, mobile and flexible…
Not a bad place to be!
Learn more about Brian's complete system of developing young athletes -

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Flexibility - Are We Hurting Kids?

Flexibility - Are We Hurting Kids?

Brian Grasso is the CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association and is considered one of the premier authorities on youth athletic development in the world. Access Brian's free database of articles and exercises at

Flexibility remains a mysterious avenue within the sport industry, cluttered with myths, half-truths and opinion. Questions purvey in many trainers’, coaches’, and parents’ minds as to the type of flexibility training one should perform, when they should perform it, and for how long. Of critical importance to this conundrum is the young athlete and how flexibility training should be applied to this demographic. This article will not answer every question you may have, but it will shed some light on a few key points.
The scope of confusion regarding flexibility can be seen when considering the assessment tools most commonly used to test one’s suppleness. The standard ‘sit & reach’ test is most often incorporated into pre-training assessments as the ‘flexibility test’. In fairness, many coaches and trainers I have worked with cite the fact that the sit & reach is an indirect assessment of flexibility at best, and does not give a truly accurate picture as to the ‘global’ suppleness an athlete may posses considering that flexibility is joint specific. Also, it does not allow us to assess any dynamic qualities, which is important because static flexibility is quite different than dynamic flexibility, and dynamic flexibility is critically more important in sport.
The degree of flexibility a joint exhibits is not entirely determined by the tightness or pliancy of the muscles that act on that joint. While elasticity of the muscle is a key component to flexibility, so is the elasticity of the corresponding ligaments and even the emotional state of the individual. Additionally, the physical length of a muscle can play a very large role in determining the flexibility or ROM of a joint. Muscle length is largely determined by genetics, but can also be positively influenced through strength training. This certainly contradicts a common myth that strength or resistance training INHIBITS flexibility. Furthermore, as the elasticity of a muscle reduces with age (which we generally accept as true), strength training can also positively influence this concern. Yes... Strength training has a positive impact on flexibility and suppleness! In fact, when working with younger athletes, basic static stretching habits can increase the length of a ligament and lead to joint instability. This can lead to poor posture and increased dependence on muscles for joint stability. Strength and flexibility (through full ROM) must work hand-in-hand to ensure optimal development and decreased injury occurrence.
In terms of young athletes, flexibility develops in correspondence with growth. In terms of training, type, frequency and duration also change with age -
Ages 6 - 10:
Hip and shoulder mobility declines, resulting in the need for dynamic ROM exercises within these two joints (multidirectional raises and rotations). Maximum flexibility of the spine is reached by the age of 8 or 9 - increases beyond normal ROM can be made, but is unnecessary and considered potentially harmful.
Within this age group, STATIC STRETCHING SHOULD BE AVOIDED. Excitement within the nervous system is much more pronounced than inhibition, which means that kids this age cannot truly execute a held stretch. They cannot gain the appropriate feedback from their body needed to ensure the safety and optimal effectiveness of the stretch.
Additionally, Isometric stretches (as found in Yoga) should also be avoided completely in this age category. These kinds of stretches may increase the resting tone of a muscle, which can negatively affect movement skill and coordination. Remember - Fitness fads come and go, but the critical science of athletic development and human physiology is what it is. Yoga has its place to be sure (although I know many skeptics who disagree with that), but coordination and movement MUST dominate this age bracket.
Ages 10 - 13:
Children incur gains of body mass at a quicker rate than gains in height at this age, which leads to an increase in strength. Flexibility training should intensify in this age category. Increases in strength and changes in body mass can combine and lead to poor biomechanical habits - most critically in not using full ROM during movement. Ensure that kids incorporate full ROM and dynamic exercises into their training.
Ages 13 - 15:
Height can increase as much as one inch per month during the growth spurt. Muscles and supporting connective tissue do not grow as quickly as bone, which can result in general pain throughout the body. Flexibility training can and should target the areas most prone to pain - this would include quadriceps, hamstrings and muscles of the lumbar spine specifically. Poor posture, reduced movement skill and injury are all potential concerns of rapid growth, but can be limited with appropriate flexibility habits.
Ages 15+:
Now is the time to start adding sport-specific means of flexibility training into an athlete=s routine.
Flexibility, especially with young athletes, is not at all just a matter of ‘stretching out’ before or after practice. Hope this article shed some light on a few things for you!
Learn more about Brian's complete system of developing young athletes -