Fitness & Well Being

 

Working 9 to 5 doesn't have to mean sacrificing fitness. Here are exercises you can do throughout the day to boost your physical and mental health.

 

Let’s face it: It’s easier not to exercise at work. After all, the famous law of physics states that an object in motion stays in motion; an object at rest stays at rest.
 
But with a recent high-profile medical study concluding that sedentary people face ahigher risk for premature death, even if they exercise regularly, it’s become imperative that office workers get out of their chairs more often.
 
Here are some chair exercises you can do in the office. If fighting belly fat on the job is one of your goals, choose chair exercises that will help you burn the most calories. This will be accomplished if you pick traditional strength-building exercises that activate the largest muscle groups. For best results, wedge your chair against a wall or door.
 
1. Chair squats
chair squat starting position
Start from a standing tall position. Reach your arms out forward, preferably at least at heart level. Stick your rear end straight back, maintaining a flat, non-rounded back. The weight of your feet should be toward the heels, not the toes. Make sure your knees stay roughly in line with your ankles. (Look at the photo above to make sure you're properly aligned.) Squat until you feel contact with the chair (see photo below) and then stand back up to the original position.
 
If you have bad knees or need support, you can hold on to your chair. Try to squeeze your glutes (buttocks) and the front of your thighs when you come up to the starting position. The movement will be made easier if you use your hips for momentum (think pelvic thrust forward). Your glutes are the largest muscles in your body, so if you engage them often, you’ll be rewarded with greater calorie burn and firmer buns.
 
chair squat second position
 
***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2. Chair dips
chair dip starting position
About the only area of your body that gets a workout at the office is your fingers. Involve the largest muscles of your upper body — shoulders, chest and triceps — by performing simple chair dips. Place both hands on the edge of your chair, roughly shoulder width, and bring your tailbone one or two inches off the chair. Your fingers should be pointed forward or slightly at an angle. Stick your chest out and drop your hips a few inches toward the ground. Use your upper-body strength to propel you back to the starting position. Try to squeeze the back of your arms (triceps) at the very top of the chair dip.
 
For beginners or those without much upper body strength, go down only one or two inches; if you’re stronger, try to come down to the point where your elbow and shoulder form a 90-degree angle.
 
chair dip second position
 
***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
3. Chair lunges
chair lunge starting position
Laurie Bachner, a self-proclaimed corporate chair yogacise expert based in New York City, recommends chair lunges to her corporate clients. “Start your day being on your chair, not in it,” she advises. One way to get the blood flowing into the lower extremities and strengthen the glutes and thighs first thing in the morning is chair lunges. Either on the side of the chair or placing the back of the chair in front of you, place one leg in front of the other. The front leg’s knee should be in line with the ankle. Drop the rear leg’s knee to the ground, stopping when the knee and hip make a 90-degree angle. Repeat until a comfortable burn is felt. Switch legs.
 
You can also do alternating legs, lunging one at a time. “Your chair shouldn’t be an added adversary but rather a tool to use in a therapeutic way and chair lunges are a perfect example of how to do that,” says Bachner.
 
chair lunge second position
 
***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4. Chair pushups
 
chair pushup starting position
You might want to consider following these exercises in this specific order and perform them as a circuit. So far, you’ve done a lower body exercise, followed by an upper body, then lower body, and chair pushups focus the blood flow and strengthening back to the upper body. Place your hands on the side of the front edge of the chair. You should immediately start from an ending push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart with your shoulder blades spread out and your back in a straight line. Make sure to activate the front of your thighs (quads) even though this is primarily an upper-body exercise. This will help keep your core abdominals engaged. Slowly lower down to the chair.
 
Similar with chair dips, if you lack strength, drop down only an inch or two, but do remember to squeeze the back of your arms when you push back up to the beginning position.
 
chair pushup second position
 
***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
5. Chair crunches
chair crunch starting position
Sit toward the edge of your chair. Your fingers should face the ground. Lean backward until you feel your core engaged (even if you don’t, just lean back a few inches). Extend both legs out slowly. Bend the knees, bringing them toward your chest.
 
chair crunch second position
 
***
 
There you have it: two lower-body exercises, two upper-body movements and one for the core. Try to perform at least three circuits every day. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

 

Shots of wheatgrass

Advocates say the chlorophyll in wheatgrass can rid the body of toxins, strengthen the immune system and improve how the digestive track functions.

 
Photo: stevendepolo/Flickr
Mosey up to the bar at a health food café or juice bar and you’ll likely find someone ordering a shot. Not a shot of tequila, mind you, but of wheatgrass.
 
For some people, shooting a shot of wheatgrass offers a sense of well-being, the feeling that they are gulping down something with numerous health benefits. Let’s review some of purported health benefits of wheatgrass and medical studies.
 
According to the American Cancer Society, proponents of wheatgrass claim that it can help cure:
 
  • Bronchitis (and other respiratory conditions)
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Skin disorders
  • Digestive disorders
 
Wheatgrass nutrients
On a macronutrient and micronutrient level (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals), wheatgrass doesn’t seem like a health food to get excited about. A typical one-ounce serving contains only seven calories, no fat and virtually no carbohydrates and protein. Wheatgrass contains no essential omega-3 fatty acids nor does it have much vitamin content with the exception of 7 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C. A one-ounce shot also contains 10 percent DV of iron, but only a trace amount of any other well-known vitamins and minerals.
 
So why all the hoopla over wheatgrass? Chlorophyll — the green pigment that plays a critical role in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from the sun — is touted by natural health advocates as an all-star health compound that increases the blood’s oxygen content.
 
It’s the chlorophyll, wheatgrass advocates claim, that helps rid the body of toxins, strengthens immunity and improves the micro-flora ecology of the digestive tract.
 
Is there any proof to back these claims?
Many cancer survivors swear by wheatgrass. But is consuming wheatgrass any more effective than, say, eating copious amounts of fresh vegetables? To date there is little scientific evidence to support wheatgrass’ nutritional merits. According to New York University’s Langone Medical Center, a small study of 24 patients with ulcerative colitis concluded that those who took a wheatgrass supplement improved their conditions versus those who took a placebo.
 
Another small study in the journal Indian Pediatrics concluded that patients with a form of anemia (thalassemia) required fewer blood transfusions after consuming 100 milliliters of wheatgrass daily.
 
An Israeli study of 60 patients with breast cancer concluded that wheatgrass juice may reduce myelotoxicity and chemotherapy dosage. The study’s preliminary results need confirmation upon further testing.
 
One shot of wheat grass = 2 pounds of vegetables? 
Several natural health articles and websites claim that consuming two ounces of wheatgrass contains the same nutritional composition as several servings of vegetables. But no clinical trials support this claim or other validations of wheatgrass’ positive effects on tumor shrinkage, prevention of heart disease anddiabetes, or its role in the elimination of heavy metals from tissues.
 
A natural health website claims that Bernard Jensen, a naturopath and chiropractor who passed away in 2001 at the age of 92, wrote several natural health books and claimed that he was able to double the red blood cell count of his patients by having them soak in a chlorophyll bath. However, there are no medical studies to support Jensen’s.
 
Dr. Chris Reynolds, an Australian-based doctor who goes by the alias "Dr. Wheatgrass," tells Mother Nature Network that he’s had tremendous success over the last 18 years in his practice by having his patients take a chlorophyll-free wheatgrass sprout extract.
 
But isn’t chlorophyll supposed to be the compound that gives wheatgrass its healing properties?
 
“Although chlorophyll is essential for keeping us all breathing, it has little if any physiological or positive effect on human health,” says Reynolds in an email. “The benefits of wheatgrass are largely biological, not nutritional as most purveyors of wheatgrass in its various forms would have one believe.”
 
Reynolds argues that there is plenty of evidence to support wheatgrass extract’s role in supporting biological functions, including one preliminary study in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research, which suggests that fermented wheatgrass extract “exerts significant antitumor activity.” The study concludes that the extract requires further evaluation as a candidate for clinical combination drug regimens.
 
What do you think of wheatgrass? Let us know in the comments section.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

A pregnant woman in a pose from the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga

If you're new to yoga, there are many different styles to consider. Understanding which one matches your fitness style is a good place to start.

 
STRETCH AND HOLD: A pregnant woman holds a pose from the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga. (Photo: gbSk/Flickr)
Unlike Jazzercise, Tae-Bo, sauna suits, and shake weights, yoga doesn’t seem like an exercise fad that’s going away anytime soon. About 16 million U.S. adults regularly practice yoga, according to a poll conducted for the Yoga Journal.
 
There are many styles of yoga to choose from, so if you’re new to yoga, it might be confusing to know what style you should try.
 
There are dozens of styles and contemporary interpretations (some would say “bastardizations” — think hip-hop yoga, laughter yoga, Yogalates, etc.), but we’ll stick with the most common styles available at yoga studios.
 
Keep in mind that all physical forms of yoga fall under the “Hatha” tradition. Yoga was developed in India several thousand years ago, but back then, the various teachings strengthened mind and spirit. Physical yoga that emphasizes union with breath and alignment in certain poses, or asanas, was first developed around 1,000 years ago. Here’s a breakdown of some specific types of yoga and the types of people they might appeal to:
 
Ashtanga: Try this style of yoga if you are very physically fit and want a fast-paced challenge. If you’re stiff, inflexible and out of shape, don’t try Ashtanga until you have lots of experience with gentler forms of yoga. Created by Pattabhi Jois about 60 years ago, Ashtanga integrates asanas into a rapid flow. If you’re trying Ashtanga for the first time, bring a couple towels and lots of water with you to class. “Ashtanga and other ‘power’ or ‘flow’ styles of yoga are more for the young and restless crowd,” says Larry Payne, Ph.D., co-author of “Yoga for Dummies” and creator of a new style of yoga for people age 40 and older called Prime of Life Yoga.
 
Iyengar: If you want a slower style of yoga that holds each pose and focuses on proper alignment, Iyengar could be the right style for you. Rachel Krentzman, a physical therapist and owner of Embody Physical Therapy & Yoga in San Diego, recommends talking to the teacher before class, especially if you have a current or past injury that affects your flexibility. “Learn proper alignment in the  poses correctly before you try a quick-flow class; if you don’t, that may lead to an injury,” says Krentzman, who adds, “Iyengar is best for many newcomers to yoga because it focuses on alignment and the teachers are trained to instruct all ages and injuries. If you’re tight and inflexible, I’d especially recommend Iyengar, because it implements blocks and other props.”
 
Hot yoga: Any style of physical yoga (or meditative yoga) in a heated room can fall under the “hot yoga” umbrella (or sauna, to be more accurate). The temperature can vary from 80 degrees to in excess of 100 degrees. If you are in excellent physical health and like to sweat profusely, give hot yoga a try. With more than 300 centers around the world, Bikram yoga is one of the most popular types of hot yoga. Founded by Bikram Choudhury — who has been criticized for his unabashedly lavish lifestyle — this yoga style focuses on a series of 26 asanas performed twice during a 90-minute class. Felicia Tomasko, editor of LA Yoga Magazine, says Bikram might be a good fit for Type A personalities who are sedentary during the day and want an invigorating class where they can be on autopilot. Proponents of hot yoga cite detoxification and greater flexibility as two major benefits; detractors argue that sweating doesn’t release toxins, only electrolytes (toxins are eliminated through urine and feces). Also, opponents claim that there is no scientific evidence that proves hot yoga leads to greater flexibility. Avoid hot yoga if you are menopausal or have medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, advises Payne.
 
Vinyasa: Good for those who require something between entry-level gentle yoga and power classes, vinyasa allows for more spontaneity and variety than fixed disciplines like Ashtanga and Bikram. Popular sequences like sun salutations and cat/cow are staples of Vinyasa. Though the pace can be challenging for a newcomer, it will likely be easier than a heated power flow class.
 
Restorative: If you have injuries, limited mobility, or are significantly overweight, restorative yoga may be a good style for you. It utilizes lots of props like pillows, straps and blankets to help hold a gentle, passive stretch for longer periods. This type of yoga might be good for triathletes and other extreme athletes because it may help the body heal. Don’t expect to burn many calories in a restorative class.
 
Know any other styles of yoga that are good for newcomers? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Two seniors biking in Copenhagen

Want to live a healthy life and reach 100 years of age or beyond? If so, you may want to follow some of these anti-aging tips.

 
Photo: mikkelwilliam/iStockphoto
The most recent life expectancy data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (from 2009, the last year which statistics are fully available) say that if you’re an average American, you’ll live 78.5 years.
 
If you want to live another 20 years beyond that, you’ll need to address the more obvious lifestyle factors first: don’t smoke, do exercise regularly and eat a diet rich in whole foods, especially vegetables. Also avoid fried foods, trans-fats and hydrogenated oils and foods loaded with added sugar.
 
After that, consider these not-so-obvious anti-aging behaviors:
 
1. Floss: Periodontal disease might be directly related to systemic inflammation and cardiovascular risk, according to an article in The Lancet. The strength of association between tooth-brushing, flossing and heart disease has not been 100 percent clinically proven, but according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease. What’s the connection? There are a few theories, including that inflammation of the gums can cause the arteries to accumulate plaque.
 
2. Eat Indian food: Curcuminoids are the active ingredient compounds in the yellow spice called turmeric, which is found in Indian curry. For more than a few thousand years, curcumin has been used as a healing agent in Eastern medicine. Western medicine has recently caught on, with a plethora of scientific studies backing curcumin’s anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and liver-cleansing properties. Dr. Johnny Bowden, author of the anti-aging book, “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer,” and a speaker at the first annual anti-aging conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2010, advises, “Put turmeric on as much food as you can, but because it’s not super-absorbable in food, you should buy a curcumin supplement as well.”
 
study in Clinical Cancer Research advocated for curcumin being evaluated for the prevention or treatment of cancers. Another study in Phytotherapy Research magazine presented the first evidence for the “safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA).”
 
3. Take an aspirin: If you’ve previously had a heart attack or stroke, popping an aspirin a day may extend your life. Though daily aspirin consumption remains controversial — some doctors recommend it across the board, while others prescribe aspirin only for those with a heart condition — one study published in The Lancet concluded that taking an aspirin a day could significantly reduce the risk of dying prematurely from cancer. After five years, the group taking aspirin had developed almost a 40 percent lower chance of developing cancer than the control group, which did not take any aspirin. Take caution with aspirin, though, as it may promote gastro-intestinal bleeding, and always speak with your doctor before starting a new regimen.
 
4. Eat omega-9 fatty acids: Almost everybody has heard about the heart-healthy and other myriad benefits derived from eating essential omega-3 fatty acids. Lesser known are the omega-9’s. Though they are not essential because our bodies make them naturally, eating foods, specifically monounsaturated oils like olive oil may extend your life. A study in Neurology suggests that high olive oil consumption plays a protective role by reducing the risk of stroke in older subjects. “Inflammation is the root cause of every degenerative disease and omega-9 oils are extremely anti-inflammatory. They do a great job penetrating the cells and getting cells and neurotransmitters to communicate with the brain faster,” says Bowden.
 
5. Eat dark chocolate: According to a study of more than 2,000 people published in the British Medical Journal, the blood-pressure lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular problems in a population with metabolic syndrome. Another study in Nutrition concluded that flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption significantly improves blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid profiles. Flavonoids are the antioxidants found in chocolate.
 
6. Check your hormone levels: Dr. Gary London, who practices the relatively new Western medicine concept of anti-aging in Hollywood, Calif., suggests that those over 40 who want to live out the second half of their lives with vigor should consider getting their hormone levels tested. “If your energy levels and sex-drive are low, if your muscle tone is deteriorating, bio-identical hormones may help,” says London. “Hormones are chemical messengers that are critical for making healthy cells. Our peak hormone level occurs at ages 25-30; afterwards, our hormone levels drop,” adds London.
 
7. Don’t have low cholesterol: A study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science concludes that low cholesterol is associated with mortality from cardiovascular diseases. UCLA researchers concluded in a study published in 2009 in the American Heart Journal, that more than 75 percent of 136,905 heart attack patients had healthy cholesterol levels, suggesting that cholesterol levels do not have a direct correlation with developing heart disease; don’t worry yourself sick about cholesterol.
 
Have any other anti-aging tips? Let us know in the comments section below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

A man purchases dietary supplements from a vitamin store.

Sure you know the obvious ones, like eating vegetables and not smoking, but there are other expert-suggested ways to reduce your risk.

 
SMALL HABITS MATTER: A man purchases dietary supplements from a vitamin store. Supplements consisting of selenium and calicum can help your body guard against cancer. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly 12 million people in the U.S. were living with cancer in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. This year, the ACS estimates that there will be more than 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed.
 
Here are eight lifestyle behaviors to help you avoid cancer, and keep in mind that these more obvious lifestyle factors are not included on the list:
 
  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise regularly, but not too intensely
  • Eat natural foods, particularly lots of vegetables
 
1. Don’t panic about getting cancer: Dr. Robert Weinberg, professor of biology at MIT and a pioneer in cancer research most widely known for his discoveries of the first human oncogene — a gene that causes normal cells to form tumors — tells Mother Nature Network, “Aside from the big elephant in the living room, ‘lung cancer,’ cancer rates have been constant over the last half-century with other cancers. There’s a diagnostic bias that makes it seem like we’re experiencing a surge in cancer as new diagnostic techniques have screened cancers that would have been previously undetected.” Weinberg concludes, “But we are not in a cancer epidemic.”
 
2. Don’t overeat: Dr. Min Guo, assistant professor of cancer biology at Scripps Research Institute’s Florida campus, studies cancer metabolism. He tells MNN that tumors grow much faster than regular cells. Overeating can encourage tumor growth. “Tumors require a lot more energy to absorb nutrients and grow and divide faster than a normal, healthy cell. One of the best ways to prevent tumors is to control your own diet. Eat sufficiently but not more than you need. Control your calories and protein intake,” recommends Guo, who adds that it’s probably OK to eat a little chicken at lunch, some fish for dinner, but not three cheeseburgers at the next barbeque. Controlling your weight can prevent cancer. After tobacco usage, obesity is the second leading lifestyle factor contributing to cancer rates.
 
3. Don’t eat a lot of red meat: MIT’s Weinberg says that although scientists don’t completely understand why eating red meat can encourage tumor growth, there are a couple of theories: cooking at high temperatures (another reason to curb your barbecue cravings) and red meat’s natural glycoproteins, which induce chronic inflammation in human tissue.
 
4. Don’t eat too many carbohydrates: Although some vegetarians and vegans might feel validation about their diet after hearing red meat’s potential deleterious nature, eating too many carbohydrates can also lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn, could encourage tumor growth. There are numerous studies linking high carbohydrate intake to metabolic risk factors, including this Dutch study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that concluded that a low glycemic load diet, which is high in dairy and fruit but low in potatoes and cereals, is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism and reduced chronic inflammation.
 
5. Don’t panic about eating organic: Again, MIT’s Weinberg: “There’s no evidence that eating organic food makes you any healthier,” he says. But when asked about conventionally grown produce containing pesticides and harmful fumigation that could potentially encourage tumor growth, Weinberg says, “It’s only a risk for people exposed in large quantities such as agricultural workers … there is no shred of evidence that pesticide-contaminated food has ever given a single person cancer in this country, not a shred of evidence.”
 
Another prominent oncologist, David Hoffman, M.D., partner at Cedars-Sinai’s Tower  Hematology-Oncology Medical Group, echoes Weinberg. “There is absolutely nothing scientific to support the benefit of an organic diet and the risk of developing a malignancy.”
 
6. Take supplements: Selenium, according to Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide, may protect against prostate cancer, though further research is needed. And according to research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a team from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University concluded, with some reservations, that calcium supplements may guard against the development of large colon polyps and colorectal cancer. In an editorial on the calcium-colorectal cancer study, doctors from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., said, “This study does not yet prove that a causal relation between calcium intake and colorectal cancer exists. However, studies are now in place with the potential to provide a compelling — almost proven — case that a nutritional factor (calcium) can alter the occurrence of [colorectal cancer].”
 
7. Avoid toxic environments and practice safe sex: Cedars-Sinai’s Hoffman says, “There are certain exposures that are strongly related to the development of malignancy, such as asbestos (mesothelioma and lung cancer), benzene(leukemia), and viruses (such as human papilloma virus and cancers of the anus, cervix, and throat). 
 
8. Get screened, but not too often: The ACS now recommends that women ages 21-29 get screened for cervical cancer every three years instead of every year as previously advised. If you’ve never smoked, don’t get screened for lung cancer. Invasive lung biopsies could be harmful. Since 2009, women over the age of 50 have been encouraged by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force to get mammograms every other year instead of annually.
 
“There continues to be a vigorous debate about the utility of screening with mammograms and PSA testing and the benefit with respect to overall survival for breast and prostate cancers, respectively,” says Hoffman.  “What is clear is that colon and rectal cancer are frequently preventable with screening colonoscopy that routinely starts at age 50 for those considered to be at average risk,” Hoffman adds.  
 
Can you think of any other ways to avoid cancer? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer based in Encinitas, Calif.

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