Fitness & Well Being



Hate to run but love to walk?

Then rejoice in this study accepted in February by the American Heart Association’s Journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, which concluded, “Equivalent energy expenditures by moderate walking and vigorous running exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly CHD.”

In other words, at least according to the study, walking was just as effective as running in relieving stress, high cholesterol and heart disease and diabetes.

But beyond the parallel benefits, is walking actually better than running in some ways?

Yes. Here’s how:

1. Running can stress the immune system: Walking, unlike running, especially long distance running, does not seem to tax your immune system. Long-distance runners are more susceptible to developing infections, Dr. Uwe Schutz, from University Hospital of Ulm, Germany, told Reuters Health. Training for, or doing a marathon not only burns fat but also muscle tissue as well. This places undue burdens on the body’s immune system.

2. Running can damage your heart: In the journal, Circulation, researchers performed echocardiographic measurements of cardiac function in 60 recreational runners before and 20 minutes after the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon. What they found was that prior to the race, none of the runners had elevated serum markers for cardiac stress. After the race, 36 runners, or 60 percent, had elevated markers of a certain triplet of proteins called troponin. Troponin is a major component of cardiac muscle but elevated levels of subtypes of these proteins can lead to cardiovascular damage.

If that’s not enough to discourage a long-distance run, consider that the researchers also discovered that 24 runners (40%) developed signs of myocardial necrosis, irreversible damage to heart muscle cells. The researchers also discovered at least 10 studies from 2004 to 2006 alone that documented increases in myocardial damage; there is no evidence that brisk walking can destroy heart muscle or cells.

3. Running may cause osteoarthritis: The study of risk versus reward when it comes to exercise is ongoing. In terms of the effects of exercising on our knees, hips and other joints, the verdict is still undecided. It seems that at a certain “dose,” as researchers in a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, put it, running does not cause osteoarthritis, but after a certain point, reduced risk of disease is offset by an increased risk of injury and osteoarthritis. If you’ve been running for a long time and have had injuries--and most runners have--then you’re more likely to “to deplete the joint of the lubricating glycoproteins, disrupt the collagen network, slowly wear away the cartilage, and cause numerous microfractures in the underlying bones.”

4. Running can also damage cartilage:  Although authors of a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine state that there is continuing controversy as to whether long-distance running results in irreversible articular cartilage damage, this specific study concluded that through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), biochemical changes in articular cartilage, remained elevated after three months of reduced activity. The patellofemoral joint and medial compartment of the knee showed the greatest wear and tear, suggesting higher risk for  degeneration.

5. Running in hot weather can lead to heat stroke: With summer approaching, runners need to be careful not to overdo it. Running in hot weather can lead to multi-organ dysfunction. Although walking in hot weather can also lead to heat stroke, there is probably less chance of developing organ failure when walking versus running.

Although the benefits of walking are numerous, keep in mind that it’s the  minimum someone should do if they want to get in shape; shorter bursts of moderate intensity exercise is probably the most beneficial way to get fit.  

Copyright Judd Handler, 2013


Best way to maximize your workout if you’re short on time

Great news for those that know they have to get in better shape but don’t like to exercise all that much: less is more.

The best way to maximize your workout if you’re short on time is to do shorter bursts of moderate to moderately-high exercises. There are highly-effective and relatively simple exercises you can do that will help you burn more fat than if you were to do a much longer workout, say a 60-minute jog.

More and more research is confirming that shorter bursts of exercise do indeed help you burn more fat. One Japanese study in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded, “[R]epeated bouts of exercise cause[d] enhanced fat metabolism compared with a single bout of prolonged exercise of equivalent total exercise duration.”

To maximize your short workouts, follow these principles

  • Pick movements/exercises that utilize as many major muscle groups as possible

  • Allow your heart rate to elevate at a level where maintaining a conversation is slightly difficult (with your doctor’s clearance and after you’ve built up to that level)

  • Let your heart rate come down until you feel almost fully recovered

  • Perform movements that combine strengthening and stretching, and stimulate the cardiovascular system

  • Challenge yourself but don’t exercise to exhaustion as that will stress your body (Read: 16 signs you’re working out too hard)

The 3-5 minute warmup

Warm-up by moving major joints around in different directions such as hip circles, arm swings, knee lifts, ballet leg swings, shoulder rotations, etc. These movements are called dynamic stretches and will help lubricate the joints better than stationary or static stretching. (Static stretching will not hinder muscle performance, contrary to some contemporary studies, but only if the stretches are under 60 seconds, so says one study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.)

The 15-minute workout
After your dynamic warmup, climb a deep flight of stairs. Skip every other step and make sure you are pushing off with your entire foot and activating the buttocks and hips as you push off. If your heart is pounding at the top, rest for 30 seconds until your breathing is back to normal or almost back to normal. Perform a set of pushups until near failure at the top of the steps (modified if necessary, for example, on the knees). Run back down the stairs. Immediately come back up.

When you have worked up to it, try sprinting up a segment of steps until your breathing is significantly labored. Pause, whether it’s quarter-way or half-way up the steps, if you’re out of breath. Rest. Repeat until you reach the top. Repeat pushups. Do this for 15 minutes and you’ll feel like you’ve been at the gym for an hour.

Alternatives: rope jumping to a count of 100, then perform a downward dog yoga stretch, then do bodyweight squats, followed by cat-cow yoga stretch. Repeat for several cycles.

The 30-minute workout
You can simply choose to do additional cycles of the 15-minute workout; you’ll certainly get in better shape once you’ve gotten used to the 15-minute short burst workout. Or you can perform the first 15 minutes doing short bursts of bodyweight strengthening exercises followed by 15 minutes of power yoga. For example, 15 minutes of pushups, dips, squats and lunges, then, 15 minutes of sun salutations or eccentric (lowering phase) pushups to a jump-to-standing position. After 25 minutes of this, you’ll feel spent. Take the last 5 minutes to do static stretching.

The 45-minute workout
If you have 45 minutes or longer to exercise, you’ll still want to interval train, i.e. get your heart rate up, way up, to approximately 160-180+ beats per minute (bpm) and then let your heart rate gradually drop to, say, 100 bpm. Sprints are excellent for fat-burning and increasing your lung capacity. Rather than jogging for 45-minutes, which although might seem like a great fitness activity, you’ll be maximizing your workout by varying your speeds from sprinting to slow jogs. Every few minutes, drop to the ground and crank out a set of pushups.

Got any other ways to maximize your workout if you’re short on time? Write a comment.

Judd Handler is author of "Living Healthy: 10 Steps to Looking Younger, Losing Weight and Feeling Great" and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Of the 600+ skeletal muscles in the human body, which one is the most important to stretch?

If I had to choose, I’d stretch the iliopsoas, which is actually comprised of two muscles: the psoas major and ilacus. These two muscles, collectively known as the iliopsoas are very deep abdominal hip flexors.

Fail to stretch the iliopsoas (“so-as” for brevity’s sake) and you’ll end up stooped over. Overly tight psoas puts tension on the lumbar spine, placing severe stress on the lower back.

The usual culprit, sedentary lifestyle, is responsible for a tight psoas. Yes, a tight psoas will make you have a sore ass: the buttocks and psoas work in conjunction when doing leg or hip twists or kicking across your body.

Your psoas is a deep hip flexor, so, say you enjoy aerobics and do a class loaded with knee lifts, that action is hip flexion. You’ll want to make sure you stretch the psoas, which does the opposite effect: hip extension.

An easy psoas stretch: place one knee on the ground (use a pillow or cushion for support) and bring the other leg’s knee directly over the ankle. Lean forward ever so slightly. If you feel an intense stretch, stop here, otherwise, you can reach both arms towards the sky and tilt slightly back for a deeper stretch. Breathe deeply five times. Then switch sides. Repeat two or three times on each side.

A big part to leading a long, pain-free life is keeping your spine strong and flexible. The psoas attaches to the last thoracic vertebra as well as the five lumbar vertebrae. The psoas muscle(s) should be considered a vital core muscle.

Of course it be wise to stretch more than one muscle but considering how deep the psoas lies in the abdominal cavity, and how it effects posture and gait, if there’s was only one muscle you had time to stretch, make it the psoas, so you don’t feel like you got a so’ ass!

(photo courtesy:


The name Avishek Sengupta might not mean anything to you. Last week, Sengupta, 28, participated in "The Tough Mudder," one of the most extreme endurance and strength races known to man.

Sengupta, after jumping in the "Walk the Plank" obstacle, a pool of cold mud, failed to resurface. He passed away, having been taken off life support last Sunday. One of my friends participated in the race, which was held in West Virginia. My friend said conditions were miserable: windy and near freezing with the wind chill.

At the conclusion of the race, participants were given a complimentary beer. Many people, including my friend, were so chilled to the bone that they couldn't even grip the beer. 

Why anybody would want to torture themselves in this kind of obstacle course--and pay $150 to do so--is beyond me. 

Sengupta's death is tragic and hopeully a wake-up call to Tough Mudder organizers and events like its kind. The tragedy is representative of a big fitness trend in America: military-style workouts designed to completely exhaust you. Crossfit and boot camps are two examples. 

I live a short walk from a Crossfit and see people doing ridiculous drills such as fireman carrying someone down the street. The person carrying their friend or partner has posture that looks like a question mark. That can't be good for the body. In fact, one of the services I offer as a holistic health coach is bodywork therapy. No fewer than half a dozen clients I've worked on have told me they have been injured by Crossfit workouts, which typically require you to do as many repetitions in a certain amount of time, of a certain movement, usually Olympic-style lifts. 

The problem with this is that the exercises are meant to be executed with few repetitions. When I walk by the Crossfit gym, I see people with poor form doing Clean and Jerks with rounded backs. Even if someone has good form doing it, your joints may eventually start breaking down. In my opinion, you're better off doing slow and controlled reps, and fewer of them. 

I believe in a middle path approach to fitness. Most Americans are stressed enough as it is. Extreme workouts only add to system-wide stress. While you may get in better shape doing boot camp style workouts, if you already have hormonal imbalances as many people do, due to adrenal stress, extreme workouts require release of even more cortisol, the stress hormone. 

When and why did exercise have to be a Type-A give it your all effort. Whatever happened to doing activities you enjoy? Whatever happened to a sane approach to fitness? Tough Mudder races and many boot-camp style workouts are insane. 

Paying $150 to dive in a mud pit is insane. The insanity cost someone their life. How many others will have heart attacks doing this foolish kind of workout, trying to keep up with the Joneses, and thinking that only these type of workouts get you in good shape. 

Run up and down a flight of stairs 10 times and do a set of push-ups in between. Do that every day, and trust me, you'll get in great shape and won't stress your body out doing it. 

Of course this is just my opinion, but I predict I'll see even more bodywork clients with extreme workout injuries. So, actually, people, keep doing these extreme's been good for my bodywork therapy business.

R.I.P.'s a shame you felt compelled to join your friends in this idiotic race. Hopefully, your loss will not be in vain. Maybe somebody will read this and think twice about doing the Tough Mudder. 



Getting a foot hold on plantar fasciitis
Learn how to prevent and treat this real pain in the foot.
Thu, Jan 24 2013 at 4:42 PM

Photo: Shutterstock

Recreational running and jogging, as well as marathon and ultra-marathon participation are at an all-time high. According to statistics released last summer by Running USA, about 20 million Americans run or jog at least 100 days a year. With the increase in running, however, comes the increase of a nagging, sometimes debilitating foot injury: plantar fasciitis.
Other people besides runners develop plantar fasciitis, such as workers who stand for prolonged periods of time, which is why most supermarkets supply thick, cushioned mats for cashiers. But runners seem to be taking the brunt of plantar fasciitis injuries.
It’s estimated that up to 10 percent of all running injuries are caused by plantar fasciitis.
What is plantar fasciitis?
Fascia refers to the connective fibrous tissue that supports muscles, tendons, ligaments and organs in our body. In the foot, the connective tissue runs from the bottom of the heel to the toes creating the arch. When the fascia of the foot becomes irritated from overuse, it can lead to inflammation, which can be painful.
If you think of the main arch of your foot as a bow, the fascia under the foot is the arrow. If the string is pulled back too tightly, the arrow is going to misfire. To further the analogy, you can think of the plantar fascia as a guitar string. Wound too tightly, the guitar will emit a cacophonous sound, perhaps equivalent to the wail of a runner experiencing a painful bout of plantar fasciitis.
What causes plantar fasciitis?
Most literature on plantar fasciitis blames inflammation caused by stress,  perhaps by suddenly jogging 12 extra miles instead of gradually increasing your distance over time. Obesity, excessively flat feet or unusually-high arches are also blamed. Perhaps one overlooked cause is the deterioration of collagen, a protein-rich fibrous connective tissue. As we age, collagen becomes weaker. Worn-out shoes are also thought to be a cause of plantar fasciitis. Some runners believe wearing shoes, in general, while running, can cause the problem. 
Prevention of plantar fasciitis
While it’s probably not prudent to run without shoes on asphalt or pavement if you don’t want shards of glass embedded in your feet, running barefoot on natural surfaces (dirt, grass, sand) strengthens the small muscles and connective tissue of the feet as nature intended, mimicking the primordial biomechanics of early mankind — say barefoot running advocates. 
Passive, gentle stretching of the Achilles tendon and calf muscles may help prevent plantar fasciitis. And ladies, here's something you should know: wearing high heels shortens the calve muscles and tightens the connective tissue adjacent to the heel.
Treatment of plantar fasciitis
Most treatments of plantar fasciitis will work for almost every sufferer, albeit temporarily. Suggestions include resting, an obvious treatment, though avid runners may find that suggestion as painful as the condition. Icing and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may also provide relief. Don’t use heat treatments for the first 48 hours after pain develops. Night casts, which provide a gentle stretch for the fascia, keep the toes pointed up at night while you sleep. The cast keeps the toes at a 90-degree angle to the ankle joint.
One study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that a treatment comprised of a heel pad, stretching program, anti-inflammatory drugs and a tension night splint provides treatment of plantar fasciitis.
For longer-term treatment, also consider strengthening the muscles that support the arch, namely those of the toes. Most runners stretch the calf muscles and Achilles but neglect exercises like toe pulls and walking on the toes.
Exercises to prevent and treat
  • Walking on the toes: One of the easiest ways to strengthen the plantar fascia is to make sure the minuscule muscles, tendons and ligaments of the toes are strong enough to support the medial arch. Simply walking down the length of a room and back on your toes can prevent plantar fasciitis, or possibly reverse the mild pain associated with it. 
  • Walking on the beach: If you live anywhere near sand, go take a walk barefoot. This will strengthen the supporting structural joints and connective tissue of the foot. Wearing shoes does not allow the proper activation of these smaller but critical muscles. 
  • Calf raises: Unless your calf muscles are extraordinarily tight, try to hang your feet off a stair. Hold a rail for balance and lower your heels towards the floor. You will feel a stretch down to your Achilles' heel, which is where the plantar fascia is connected to. 
  • Tennis ball roll: Not so much an exercise as a therapeutic remedy, stepping your bare feet on a tennis ball from a standing position will provide you with a massage of the plantar fascia — without having to pay a hefty spa fee. This will soften the fascia of your medial arch and may help alleviate plantar fasciitis symptoms. 
Do you suffer from plantar fasciitis? What do you do to treat it? Let us know in the comments below.
Judd Handler is author of "Living Healthy: 10 Steps to Looking Younger, Losing Weight and Feeling Great" and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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