Archive for February, 2011


Jack LaLanne, who sadly passed away just this January, is often referred to as the founding father of the fitness movement here in the U.S.   He opened what is considered the first gym in 1936 in Oakland, CA and before the likes of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, he was publicly preaching and instructing on the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition through his talk show that aired between 1951 and 1985, as well as numerous books and videos.  He invented many common exercise machines we see in gyms today, as well as the “Jumping Jack”  – a standard exercise move aptly named after him.  He is also well known for some of his amazing feats of fitness, including swimming from the notorious Alcatraz island prison to San Francisco while handcuffed and towing a thousand pound boat — on his 60th birthday no less.

I didn’t realize until researching this blog post that Jack LaLanne was sickly as a child.  When he was a teenager, he dropped out of school for a year because he was ill.  He was thin and weakly and wore a back brace.  He was also very shy and withdrawn and avoided being with people.  He was depressed and felt hopeless.  He even contemplated suicide.  That’s hard to imagine when all you know of Jack LaLanne is the exuberant, happy, and go-get-‘em person we all loved.  According to him, that side of him didn’t emerge until he got healthy by eating better and exercising daily.  At age 15, his mother took him to a nutrition lecture with Paul Bragg, pioneer nutritionist.  The lecture changed his life.  After that day, he stopped eating all the cakes, pies and ice cream that had dominated his diet before.  He ate only whole, non-processed nutritional foods, no meat or dairy, occasionally fish.  He exercised every day.  He lived a vibrant life until age 96.  Not bad at all.

What we, in our modern times, can easily forget is how revolutionary some of his ideas were at the time.  He was often viewed as either a phony or a total nut.  For instance, when he encouraged the elderly to lift weights, the doctors of the day thought it was a terrible idea.  They thought it would be a good way to break bones, nothing more.  Now, of course, we know Jack was absolutely right and that it actually helps the elderly to NOT break their bones.  When Jack advised women to also lift weights, doctors of his time thought it would hurt their ability to bear children, and popular opinion was that it would make a woman less attractive, i.e. too masculine.  Of course, we now know that neither could be farther from the truth.

In researching this blog, I had the pleasure of watching some clips of Jack LaLanne’s television show back in the 50s, when it was still black and white.  (I’ve provided links below for two of my favorites, but there are many more on You Tube.)  I was struck even more by how ahead of his time he was.  He was talking about things that even now are not completely accepted by the entire general public, although I think more and more are coming around.  Even then, he understood the connection between the mind and the body, most likely in a very organic way as he lived both extremes in his life -  completely unhealthy and depressed as a child and then completely healthy, happy, and full of zest as a man.  I think that’s why he could speak with such authority about it and many other related topics.

More than anything, I find myself inspired by Jack LaLanne’s life and legacy, for not only was he successful in his career and a positive influence on America, but he also had a loving family and home life.  He fills me with hope because, while there are still many things and ideas today that the general science and medical community still has not quite embraced as they should, I know that if we just follow his model and continue to speak out and stand in the truth as we know it, science and popular opinion will eventually catch up.

You Tube Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEboAJf9UVc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupXp7Tlsqg

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-robbins/jack-lalanne-dies-who-the_b_812902.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne

http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness/exercise/2011-01-25-lalanneobit24_ST_N.htm

http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/133175583/jack-lalanne-founding-father-of-fitness

America: OD’d on Salt

Let’s be clear.  Salt/sodium is not evil.  In fact, a certain amount is necessary for our bodies to function properly.  It is a key mineral in all our bodily fluids, including our blood, and helps maintain the balance of fluids throughout our bodies.  It also plays an important role in muscle strength and nerve function.  A person can actually be sodium-deficient.  Some symptoms of salt deficiency are lethargy, weariness, low blood pressure, and muscle cramps.

In America, however, most people are suffering from too much sodium in their diet, not a lack of it.  Primarily that is because, on average, Americans consume a lot more processed foods than from-scratch home cooked meals.  According to the American Heart Association, up to 75% of the sodium Americans consume comes from the sodium that is added to processed foods by the manufacturers.

On average, Americans consume 3436 mg of sodium daily.  The recommended amount is no more than 2300 mg (approximately a teaspoon) of salt and, realistically, more than half of Americans should probably be on a low-sodium diet of about 1500 mg a day.  The health risks of a diet high in sodium are serious and fatal.  A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.  It has also been shown to greatly increase the risk of gastric cancer.

In 2006, the AMA (American Medical Association) called for a minimum of 50% reduction in sodium in processed foods, fast foods, and non-fast-food restaurant meals within a decade.  That shows how serious a health risk large daily doses of salt is.  The good news is that studies have proven that even a modest reduction of salt intake can greatly lower the risk of heart disease.  A mere 20%-30% reduction will do wonders.  This fact will be a boon to many Americans whose palettes have gotten used to a lot of sodium in their diet and who view cutting out salt as the end of food tasting good.  The truth is that as you lower your salt intake gradually, your palette will adjust and “require” less and less salt.  At the same time, all the health benefits of a lower sodium diet will be kicking in.  It is recommended that as you are lowering your salt intake, you begin to introduce your palette to other flavoring methods like garlic and spices.  This way, your taste buds will never want for flavor and you won’t see the reduction in salt as a sacrifice.  Rather, it will be seen only as the benefit it is.  Plus, you’ll have much more variety in your palette, and food will actually taste better.  With a high salt diet, the only flavor you really taste (and crave) is the salt.  Pretty one-dimensional.

When attempting to decrease sodium intake, be on the lookout for “hidden” sodium culprits.  There are many foods you might not think are high in sodium that actually are quite high.  Jarred tomato sauce, for instance, is usually ridiculously high in sodium, as are many salad dressings and soups.  Read the labels on EVERYTHING.  Pay particular attention to the serving size because even if the sodium per serving is low, the serving size itself might also be really small, meaning you’ll probably eat more and thus, consume more salt.  It’s also important to look for salt pseudonyms on food labels, like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium alginate, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Cut down on fast food altogether.  Fast food is usually not only high in salt, but also in other heart disease producing ingredients like saturated fat, trans fat and sugar (mostly in the form of white, refined carbohydrates).  If you are dining out at a non-fast-food restaurant, you can ask that your meal be prepared without salt.  On a whole, stay away from sauces, as they will most likely have a lot of sodium.  The other thing you can do when eating out is to compensate by eating a diet extremely low in salt the day of, as well as lowering it moderately the day before and the day after.

Finally, one of the biggest steps you can take to help reduce sodium in your diet is to cook more of your own meals.  This is the best way to completely control your sodium intake.  I know many of us lead very busy lives and it is hard to find the time, but if there is any way to incorporate a little more home cooking in your life, it will be beneficial on many different levels.  Some of my friends manage it by cooking a couple different meals on Sunday when they have more time, and then freezing most of them to be re-heated during the week.  Rachael Ray has a show on the Cooking Channel dedicated to just this idea called “Week in a Day”.  I also know people who have created a network of friends to help share in the cooking.  Each week they figure out a menu and then divvy up the meals so that each person is responsible for only one night.  Sure, you have to make a lot more because you’re cooking for quite a few families, but it makes the ingredient list much smaller and the amount of time it takes to cook much shorter.  A final option is to simply pick a few days a week that are less busy for you and cook on those days only.  On the other days, try to do “easy” things you can control the sodium in – like eggs, or sandwich night with low-sodium turkey.  If you ever make soup from scratch, make A LOT so you can freeze it and simply reheat, which is as easy as opening a can.  The slow cooker is a great option as well, as it will cook your meal for you while you are busy doing other things.

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/diet/slideshow-salt-shockers

http://factoidz.com/the-health-benefits-and-health-risks-of-salt/

http://www.umm.edu/features/salt_Q&A.html

http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20070419/cut-heart-risk-by-eating-less-salt

http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/gastric-cancer-prevention-health-professional-information-nci-pdq-evidence-of-benefit

http://hubpages.com/hub/Health_Benefits_of_Sodium

I recently came across an article in Psychology Today[1] that discussed the link between sugar consumption and depression.  According to this article, there are two ways sugar can affect a person’s risk factor for depression.  First, sugar inhibits or hinders the expression of a key growth hormone in the brain called BDNF.  BDNF is largely responsible for neural development.  In other words, BDNF is what maintains the health of your neurons as well as what triggers the growth of new connections between neurons.  Without BDNF, you could not create new memories for instance, or change patterns of behavior.  If a person (or animal) were to suffer chronically from a condition that is characterized by low BDNF (such as chronic depression), they may in turn suffer brain atrophy in key areas like the hippocampus.  In other words, you lack the hormone for growth in the brain, so it shrinks.

The second, equally disturbing, effect of high sugar consumption is that it triggers an onslaught of chemical responses in the body that lead to chronic inflammation.  Chronic inflammation in the body greatly increases your risk for a host of not-so-fun things like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and periodontal disease.  It also greatly increases your risk of depression.  A diet characterized by the excessive consumption of refined sugar will also wreak havoc on your immune system, not to mention lead to some awful mood swings.  Your brain works best on a steady supply of energy, not the frantic highs and debilitating crashes caused by refined sugar.

It is important to note here that refined sugar does not just mean candy and chocolate. Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, white rice, potato chips, pretzels and the like act the same as sugary snacks do in the body, causing the same inflammation, blood sugar spike, and BDNF inhibiting qualities.

The implications of this are vast and broad considering the obesity rate in this country and the easy access Americans have to these types of refined sugar foods in general.  Factor in the ever-rising childhood obesity rate and there is even more cause for concern.  The growing brains of children need that BDNF hormone desperately, their developing immune systems are more vulnerable than adults and should not be compromised by chronic inflammation, and no child struggling with obesity will be helped by the onset of depression triggered by the very food that caused their weight gain.

While consuming large amounts of refined sugar on a regular basis is indeed a contributing factor to depression, it is by no means the only factor.  That is why if you or a loved one is suffering with depression, the recommendation is to seek the counsel of a licensed therapist.  There are often underlying emotional issues and patterns of thought and behavior that need to be addressed as well.   We recommend seeking a therapist who looks at the person as a whole – their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, diet, lifestyle, physical activity and spiritual life.  All these aspects in a person are deeply connected and cannot be adequately addressed in a separate, compartmentalized fashion.


[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-depression-cure/200907/dietary-sugar-and-mental-illness-surprising-link

Parenting is not easy, as any parent reading this blog knows all too well.  With the rapidly rising childhood obesity rate in this country, many parents struggle to instill sound and healthy fitness and nutrition habits in their kids.  Factor in the onslaught of commercials for readily available and tasty sugary, salty, and fatty foods, coupled with the recent technology bursts of computers, TV, and video games that entice kids to spend way too much time sitting down, not to mention school lunches that often lack the nutrition your growing children so desperately need, it is no wonder parents feel overwhelmed – like they are fighting a losing battle.

However, take heart.  It is easier than you might think.  After all, it was not all that long ago that these processed foods didn’t exist, nor did all the technology, and children were somehow still capable of being entertained and having fun.  It may take a little bit of effort at first to make some of the necessary changes, but as soon as your kids realize that these new changes are actually fun, they will stop fighting and start enjoying the new activities and foods, just like you did when you were little!

There is a great book on the market today titled 365 Activities for Fitness, Food, and Fun for the Whole Family.  The author, Julia Sweet, is both a mother and a fitness expert.  It is a wonderful book filled with creative and innovative activities to help your whole family adopt a healthy and fit lifestyle together.   Some examples include obstacle courses using everyday household items, “commercials” exercising where you and your family do different exercises during commercial breaks, fun and nutritious foods like “gummy jewel necklaces” made with an easy, homemade fruit juice gems recipe, or “tree house banana butter” (you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is!).  Plus there are some great relaxation activities to help calm your children and teach them the importance of quiet time, innovative birthday party ideas like the “Health-Spa Birthday Party”, fun and different activities to do while on family vacations, and much, much more.  It is a book I highly recommend to any and all parents who wish to instill good nutrition and physical health in their kids and family.  Plus, as a bonus, all these activities will help bring your family closer as you do them together, unlike TV, computers, and video games which are sadly solo-oriented and not something families often find themselves enjoying together.  Above all, I think this book can help unlock you and your family’s imagination to create your own unique family fitness activities and fun, nutritious foods.

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