Workingout Through the Winter Blues

With cold, short days and one stress-filled holiday after another it’s no wonder that many people struggle with depression during the autumn and winter months. Combine this with the frustration and disappointment that can come along with struggling to meet your fitness goal during this part of the year and things are that much harder. These common bouts of depression that many people face are called frequently the “winter blues.”

For about six percent of the American population, though, things can take a much more serious turn and result in a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Triggered by all seasonal shifts, SAD can occur at any point in the year. In the case of winter-onset SAD symptoms might include depression, anxiety, oversleeping and weight gain. Interestingly, summer-onset SAD exhibit almost completely opposing symptoms like irritability, insomnia, weight loss and an abnormally increased sex drive. In either situation, the depression can be deep enough to cause suicidal thoughts.

Regardless of what form your seasonal depression takes, it’s important that you consult a doctor to determine the best course of treatment. The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood and proper treatment may require prescription medication. However, there is significant evidence that small changes in your diet and exercise routine could help you get through the trying winter months.


The Right Type of Exercise

Since seasonal depression can result in decreased energy levels and the cold weather will make getting outside challenging, it’s easy for your fitness program to be interrupted. This could only worsen your depression so it’s important to stay active.

The American Council on Exercise recommends increasing your activity levels by thinking outside of the box a little. This means adding things to your day besides conventional exercise and looking for little things to change in your routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take short walk-breaks and avoid shortcuts.

Since all exercise stimulates the release of several endorphins which will help you regulate your appetite, sleep better and feel less stressed, increasing your activity level will help fight off depression. Exercising outside, though, has the additional benefit of exposing you to sunlight which will increase your levels of serotonin and melatonin. Both of these neurotransmitters help to maintain a healthy mood balance.

While all exercise will have these mood-boosting effects, it seems like cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercise modes like yoga are especially useful. These types of exercise place a strong focus on breath-control and have been shown to be extremely effective at reducing stress.

Mind Games

As is often the case in the fitness realm, your thought patterns can have a powerful effect on your ability to maintain your workout schedule despite SAD or winter blues.

To that end, look for ways to keep yourself motivated. Remembering your past successes will help to reassure you of your ability to overcome the challenges you’re currently facing. Joining a class or involving yourself in some other support system will also give you invaluable motivation.

Learning to enjoy winter sports will also give you something to look forward to when the leaves start to change and snow starts to fall. A close friend of mine dreaded the winters when she first moved to Alaska. That is, before she learned how to cross-country ski. Now she gets excited at the first snow since she can finally going skiing after waiting all year.

Our next post will discuss foods and supplements that you can add to your arsenal to fight off the winter blues!

Have you manage to stay active during the colder months and stave off depression? Please share your experiences with us in the comments!





The Flat-footed Runner

Here’s a bomb-shell for you: every single one of us was born with flat feet. In fact, all human children have flat feet until they’re about three years old. The characteristic arches on the insole of your feet are caused by tight tendons that hold your feet together and lift that portion up. For the first few years of your life, though, these tendons were loose which allowed the entire foot to hit the ground.

In some cases, however, these tendons never tighten and the arches never form. Others, too, can lose the arch due to injury or just through the aging process. Regardless of exactly how it happens, when these tendons loosen flat feet develop. While many people live with this condition, flat feet can make exercise – especially walking or running – extremely painful.

The Full Effect

We frequently overlook just how much control our feet have on the rest of our body. The simple truth, though, is that if our feet aren’t operating properly, the problem will radiate up through our ankles, hips, knees, back, shoulders and neck.

Most of the problems associated with flat feet come about because flat footed runners are more likely to overpronate than people with healthy feet. Overpronation refers to a negative stride pattern in which the ankle roles inward immediately after the heel hits the ground. This, and other complications arising from flat feet, can not only force unnatural angles on your joints and pain throughout your body but it also makes walking more physically demanding. Writing in the journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International, several researchers operating out of the School of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation in Turkey found that people with flat feet actually work harder and consume more oxygen when walking than people with normal arches.



The easiest way to test if you have an arch or not is to look for one. While standing normally on the ground with your feet about shoulder-width apart, the insole of your feet shouldn’t touch the ground. You can also test your stride by walking with wet, bare feet on a level concrete surface and examining the resulting prints. The footprint should have a sharp curve around your insole, indicating that it isn’t touching the ground.

It’s important, as well, to be sure which type of flat feet you have: rigid or flexible. The best way to determine this is to see a podiatrist, whose trained eye will be able to see whether or not an arch forms when you stand on your toes. If an arch does form, your have flexible feet. If not, they are rigid.


Arch-supporting orthotic inserts are usually the easiest treatment option to give your feet the arches that they are so sorely missing. These can be purchased over-the-counter or custom made.

As with most athletes, but especially those with flat feet and stride problems, your choice in footwear is incredibly important. Selective stability or motion control shoes can be purchased which will help to retrain your step and stop you from overpronating. To test whether or not you overpronate, inspect the soles of your old running shoes. If you’re an overpronator you’ll see increased wear on the toes and inner edges.

Physical therapists, orthopedic specialists and athletic training experts can generally perform a gait analysis for you to check for overpronation or other problems with your stride.

If you do have rigid flat feet, treatment can be a little more difficult. In some instances, surgery many even be necessary.

Listen to your body and pay attention to your stride and running technique. With the proper form and equipment, flat feet don’t have to slow you down.

Have you overcome flat feet? Please share your experience with us in the comments!






Red Wine and Heart Disease: What’s the Connection?

Once again, the holiday season is upon us, bringing with it all of the traditional meals. While these large meals, with all of their trappings, can generally be a major stumbling block to fitness enthusiasts, one feature of your holiday meals may have the potential to actually improve your health: red wine.

It’s true that the potential of red wine to improve heart health isn’t really news, but several new studies have appeared recently that shed some light on exactly how red wine could be beneficial as well as some considerations.

Paradoxical Beginnings

Red wine has a long history of medicinal use in many cultures across the globe but the clinical research into its benefits really only recently began when doctors noticed what’s come to be called the “French Paradox.” Despite the relatively high concentration of unhealthy saturated fats in most French cuisine, the French people have a noticeably low incidence of heart disease. The theory that arose from a preliminary examination was that red wine, which plays a major role in French diet and culture, could be counteracting the negative potential of the food.

Since this theory was initially proposed, many observational studies have shown a definite statistical connection between red wine and a low risk of cardiovascular disease. But, these findings beg the question: How does red wine do it?

Potential Heroes  

Early in the exploration of red wine, the antioxidant polyphenol called resveratrol was pushed forward as the source of red wine’s health benefits. In just a few years, this previously obscure chemical become a $30 million per year supplement industry. However, recent research has challenged resveratrol’s claim to fame. A study published in the medical journal Cell Metabolism tested the results of resveratrol supplemention on several markers for heart disease. The supposed cardiovascular hero produced no positive results which suggests that resveratrol isn’t the portion of red wine that can be improving heart health.

In the wake of resveratrol’s fall from grace, alcohol has also been proposed as the reason for red wine’s healthfulness. But, this too, has been shot down by emerging research. Over the course of a 12-week study, subjects were given wine, dealcoholized wine and gin for 4 weeks each. Their blood pressure was measured at the end of each 4 week period and, out of all three substances, the alcohol-free wine showed the most improvement. In fact, the gin which contains the most alcohol by volume, produced the least benefit.

Considering the entire body of research surrounding red wine, including the above studies, it’s obvious that something in wine is absolutely good for our hearts. Unfortunately, it’s currently unclear exactly what the medicinal portion is.

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation

Given the vague nature of red wine’s health benefits, the American Heart Association doesn’t recommend that anyone begin drinking red wine regularly in hopes of improving their heart health. However, for those who do already enjoy an occasional glass of red wine moderation and discretion are stressed. In this case, “moderate drinking” is defined as between five and ten ounces of wine per day. It’s worth remembering, though, that even more benefits have been observed by drinking alcohol-free wine and even grape juice than traditional red wine. This means that you can receive the cardiovascular benefits while limiting your alcohol consumption.

Have you experienced the health benefits of red wine? Please share your experience with us in the comments!





In Defense of Fat

Generally speaking, the human body runs on three types of dietary nutrients: proteins, carbs and the infamous fats. Even though it is necessary to our health, though, fat tends to get vilified and targeted as the source of all of our health and fitness woes. Recent research suggests, though, that eating the right kinds of fats in the right balance can actually help to improve your health. So, let’s examine the role that fat plays in our bodies and how we can keep fat in its proper dietary role.


The Vital Role of Fat

All of the vital nutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrates – provide fuel in the form of calories. Interestingly, fat offers 9 calories per gram while the other two nutrients only contain 4 calories per gram. This means that fat is a much richer source of fuel for your body.

The fuel from fat has a specific purpose, though. While it’s true that fat, mixed with carbs, is used all the time for fuel. the ratio favors fat more and more heavily after long periods of exercise. The exact limit is different for everyone but most people switch more towards burning fat after about 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. So, for longer bouts of cardiovascular training, fat needs to be present in your body otherwise you risk your body turning on your muscles for fuel.

But fat is useful for much more than fuel. Fatty foods provide the essential linoleic and linolenic acids, which your body cannot produce on its own. Both of these acids help to control blood clotting and inflammation. They also contribute to healthy brain development.

At this point it’s important to draw the line between dietary fat and body fat, which is more correctly called adipose tissue. What we call fat on our bodies is the biological method for storing excess calories, whether they come from protein, carbs or fat. This means that fatty food isn’t necessarily responsible for the fat that you’re struggling to lose.


The Good and the Bad

In the most general terms, fat can be divided into two categories: saturated and unsaturated. Of course, these groups can be split down even further into several subgroups.

Unsaturated fats are the “good” fats and are actually connected with several health benefits. This group also includes poly- and mono-unsaturated fats which both help to improve overall cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol and prevent the formation of arterial plaque. These benefits fats are found in olives, most nuts and fish. The much-celebrated omega-3s also fit into this group.

The so-called “bad” fats are the saturated fats, which includes several different types. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats should only account for about 7 percent of your total daily caloric intake. Not only do these bad fats obviously have the opposite effect as good fats on cardiovascular health but, recent studies show that it could increase the risks of prostate and colon cancers. The infamous trans fats are classified as saturated fats. These unhealthy fats are found in fried foods, baked goods, red meat and diary products.


Timing Is Everything

A recently published study, conducted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem set out to test the effects of meal timing on body composition. For 18 weeks, a group of mice was fed a high-fat diet on a strict schedule where they had the same meal time and duration every day. There were also three control groups that had a low-fat, scheduled diet, an unscheduled, low-fat diet, and an unscheduled, high-fat diet.

By the end of the study, the high-fat group not only weighed less but there bodies had developed a different form of metabolism in which they burned dietary fat immediately and didn’t store it as fat deposits.

Although this study was conducted on mice and there are no parallel human studies, these findings do suggest that a properly controlled and maintained diet that includes fat can actually aid in weight loss. This information both clears the name of fats as a nutrient but helps to shed light on exactly what is a health diet.

Have you experienced the benefits of healthy fats? Please share your experience with us in the comments!




Running a Marathon in Iceland

Running in the Land of the Midnight Sun offers majestic views of a country with little civilization. A step into Reykjavik is a step into another world–one full of Euro-trendiness, peaceful scenery, no skyscrapers, and oceanside seafood restaurants. Running through this rather unknown city was a dream come true as I adore new marathon adventures.

The Reykjavik Marathon is the perfect course for beginners and elite runners alike. Here are the pros and cons of this race I absolutely adored:


Little elevation change. Reykjavik is not an intensely hilly city and thus the marathon remains relatively flat. I did run (or walk) a couple of low grade hills, but nothing substantial. Therefore, if hills are not your forte and you are looking for an obscure international race, Iceland fits the bill.

Close to the U.S. While Iceland seems like such an afterthought when dreaming of Europe, it’s actually closer in distance than the mainland. It’s just a short five-hour flight from JFK in NYC or Logan in Boston–the two international hubs for Reykjavik. If you’re a runner short on vacation time, you can take just a few days off of work to partake in an entirely new running experience.

The race takes place on Culture Day. The Reykjavik Marathon occurs on Culture Day, Iceland’s equivalent of Independence Day. Thousands and thousands of Icelanders come to Reykjavik in droves to dance in the streets, listen to well-known bands on stages set up around the center of town, watch a fireworks display late at night, and enjoy the festive scene with their comrades. The year I did the race even Russell Crowe made an appearance at one of the stages to sing. You never know who or what you will see! It’s a way to celebrate the accomplishment of another race on the city’s most festive day. Be sure to save enough energy to party until late in the evening–it doesn’t get completely dark until almost midnight.

It’s not cold. Despite its name, Iceland in the summertime offers perfect temperatures of 70 degrees. It does get chilly at night, so bring a jacket to partake in the Culture Day late-night festivals.


You run alone.  Because it is such a distant, far-off land, the marathon isn’t like a New York City Marathon or even a smaller city race. Only around 1,000 individuals sign up for the full 42K (26.2 miles), which leaves runners to face the course alone. I completed approximately five miles all alone without seeing another runner. A few miles traverse through a city park and due to its winding path, you aren’t in view of others in front of you. If you like lots of crowds, this may not be a race for you. Some American runners told me they found it a bit lonely.

One con is all I can think of…so Reykjavik comes highly recommended by me. If a full marathon is too ambitious, a half marathon is offered and you’ll have plenty of company as the full and half run together.

Happy running!


Training Goals: Stay Motivated By Setting Proper Training Goals

Many people, in fact I might even say most, who begin an exercise routine have a hard time sticking to it. According to the American Council on Exercise, over half of people who begin a fitness program quit within the first six months, for a variety of reasons. In my personal experience working with clients, I most often see people become discouraged with a perceived lack of results and subsequently, exercise becomes a lower priority.

Fortunately, there is one simple step that can remedy this problem: Setting Proper Goals. Several studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of this seemingly simple mental preparation and come up with overwhelmingly positive results. A review of these studies, conducted in 2004, concluded that goal setting was a promising way to promote healthy lifestyle change.

The reason for this is simple and can be illustrated this way: Imagine that you were given a gun, assigned a sort of vague target and fired in the general area without aiming. You would get some effect, maybe not the desired one, but you would waste a lot of time and resources on guesswork. That’s essentially what happens when someone start exercising without a goal – you’ll accomplish something but it may not be exactly what you wanted and you’ll spend a lot of time fiddling with trial and error.

Setting an appropriate goal gives you something to work for, and a sense of empowerment when you reach it which can give you the confidence to gradually set more and more challenging goals.

But notice that I specified that it should be a proper, or appropriate, goal. To explain what that means, the American Council on Exercise uses the acronym S.M.A.R.T.

What’s A SMART Goal?

Specific – Define exactly what you want to accomplish by exercising. The goal should have no room for individual interpretation so, if a complete stranger were to read your goal he would knew, without any doubt, what you meant. This means that you shouldn’t use vague statements like “I want to be more fit,” but should same something like “I want to run a 10-minute mile.”

Measurable – In order to really be able to track your progress, your goal should be easily measurable. Keep a log of your improvements over time, whether it be weight, measurements, speed or mile time. While these objective measurements tend to be easier to track, you can also use relative things like how your pants fit you or how you feel.

Attainable – These aspect of goal setting takes some real thinking and balance. Your goal needs to be challenging enough to make you push yourself but also realistic so that you don’t get discouraged. This will depend heavily on your time-frame and beginning fitness level. For example, if you’ve only just started running you shouldn’t expect to run the New York marathon in a month.

Relevant – Your goal should perfectly fit your fitness level, interests and sport of choice. Remember that, while cross-training has its place, don’t get distracted and do anything that can be counterproductive.

Time bound – Having a definite deadline will help you stay focused and make good use of your time.Without a specified completion date, you’re likely to procrastinate and lose focus.

Remember as well that smaller goals can be used to lead you up to bigger, more challenging accomplishments. Maybe you would like to be able to run a marathon but have only been running consistently for a month. Setting small goals of running a 5k, 10k and half-marathon using these same SMART guidelines will help you to progress gradually towards your ultimate goal.

Have you been able to use goals to change your lifestyle? Please share your experience with us in the comments!