Counteractiving Digital Dementia

With the advent of workout planners, heart rate monitors, calorie counters and myriad other apps, smart phones have somehow found their way into most people’s gym bags. But our dependence on digital devices goes well outside of the fitness realm. How often do you use the internet to find a recipe? Or immediately answer some nagging question that comes up in conversation? And then there’s the issue of social networks, compelling us to constantly be on the watch for comments, likes, pins and all sorts of other notifications. It turns out, though, that these helpful little devices could really be doing a number on your brain.

Digital Dementia

Up until recently, dementia was a condition that only afflicted the elderly. To the frustration of the scientific community, though, the current generation of teens and people in their early 20s, are also starting to suffer from a form of memory loss and cognitive impairment, cleverly dubbed as “digital dementia.”

In 2011, researchers from Columbia University, University of Wisconsin and Harvard collaborated on a paper entitled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips” in which they explored the phenomenon. Although some were skeptical at the time, the paper asserted that having instant access to information was ruining our brains’ ability to store and access memories.

Frighteningly, though maybe not surprisingly, many new studies have supported these early findings. A 2013 South Korean study showed that people who rely on technology to for everyday tasks suffer a deterioration in cognitive abilities, especially short term memory loss.

According to experts, these effects are likely due to a sort of retraining of your brain. When you expect to have future access to information, even if that expectation is subconscious, you are less likely to remember it. The research has also shown that, for most people, the immediate response when faced with a difficult question is to turn to a computer for help. This habit, though, doesn’t give your brain time to access the information even if you do have the answer buried away somewhere.

Internet Addiction

Sometimes, though, our dependence on those devices is more emotional than intellectual. This is especially evident when it comes to social networks. A 2012 poll published in Time magazine stated that one in four people check their cell phones every 30 minutes and one in five checks every 10 minutes. Some people even reported feelings of anxiety if they were without their phones for just a little while.

The roots of this urge to check our phones and be constantly connected, however, may be strongly intrenched, rather than just simple habits. And, according to The Atlantic magazine, companies are well aware of the compulsive power of their products and openly exploit the neurological processes at work.

The scary fact that they understand and that keeps us hooked is that almost everything we do online releases dopamine in our brains. This chemical messenger is a essentially a signal from your brain that you did something right and that you should keep doing it. This same dopamine spike is also associated with most form of addiction including drugs and gambling.

Getting someone to like your post or unlocking some new achievement, while meaningless in the real world, seems incredibly important so that you can experience that dopamine release again and again.


Detox and Retraining

Fortunately, it seems like these negative effects are both preventable and reversible. The cure simply rests in removing yourself from the situation and reintroducing healthy social and neurological habits.

Instead of constantly checking your phone, stay connected to and involved with the current environment. Talk to the people you’re with, instead of texting someone else.

When a question comes up that you can’t remember the answer to, don’t google it immediately. Chances are, you know the answer but have to give your brain a chance to dig it up. Eventually, you’ll become faster and more adept at remembering stored information.

In some cases, you may even need to go an extended period of time with no screens to completely break the habit. Since we’re constantly bombarded with these devices, it could even be worth it to regularly take time away from your digital life.




How Healthy Is Housework?

Now that you can just whip out your phone and open up any number of apps or sign on to their accompanying websites, more and more people are taking it upon themselves to track their physical activity. Based on this information, you can estimate both how many calories you need to eat and how many you generally burn. These logs can be powerful motivational tools but, used incorrectly, they can also be a major determent to your fitness goals. As it turns out, many people give themselves just a little too much credit when it comes to their daily activities.


The Potential of Housework

Even when you’re not actually working out, you’re probably working yourself pretty hard. You could be carrying groceries or moving furniture to clean or raking leaves or even just chasing the kids around but either way, you’re still living an active lifestyle. Since the general recommendations to maintain a healthy heart is a modest 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate to vigorous activity per week, most people add those chores to their log.

Unfortunately, that vague “moderate to vigorous” stipulation seems to be a stumbling block. Information collected in the Sport & Physical Activity Survey conducted by the British University of Ulster suggests that a large portion of people tend to overestimate their physical activity, showing that many don’t fully understand the guidelines.

Another interesting bit of information appeared when the researchers excluded housework from the survey. Once the subjects were no longer allowed to count it, the number of people who met the guidelines for activity plummeted from 43 percent to 20 percent.


The Struggle for Definition

Unfortunately, a brief look at the definitions provided by organizations like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control, don’t really help much. Scientifically speaking, these levels of intensity are defined by METs, a measure of metabolic activity that the average person has no accessible means of clocking.

So, we’re left with more rustic methods of deciding on what intensity level we’re working at. To confuse the matter even more, these levels are different from person to person and could even change for an individual over the course of time.

For example, walking a mile might by impossibly difficult for you now, sending your heart rate through the roof. In a year, though, after you’ve been exercising regularly and watching your diet, will that walk take the same amount of effort?


Lessons Learned

So what’s the take away from this survey?

Your average, everyday tasks may not be difficult enough to make the cut towards your weekly exercise quota. Remember that the human body is remarkably talented at adaptation and your chores aren’t likely challenging you, even if they once did. It’s better to be safe than sorry so take the time to add other, more intense activities to your routine.







Marathons and Your Heart

No one ever said that marathons were easy. That’s just not part of the equation and you likely approach your races expecting a significant challenge,  even if you’re a more experienced runner. Many have concerns, though, that marathons may be more than just difficult; Research has brought put that it might even be dangerous. What are the potential concerns associated with marathons and how can you protect yourself?


A Look at the Science

A brief review of the research may paint a pretty grim picture of your post-race cardiovascular health, especially if you peruse the headlines that feature variations on the phrase “Marathons Could Kill You!” The happy truth, however, is that this doesn’t represent the whole picture.

While it is true that marathons,  obviously,  put an immense amount of stress on your heart, it is also true that only about one runner in every 184,000 suffers cardiac arrest during or after the race. And most of these runners have had a preexisting heart condition that was either undiagnosed or ignored.

So, then, it seems plain that the average person,  with a clean cardiac bill of health,  has nothing to worry about when tackling 26.2 miles. The reality, though,  is slightly more complicated.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology discovered that several negative changes take place in a runner’s heart immediately following a marathon. Specifically,  there was an observable decrease in ventricular function on both sides of the subjets’ hearts. Significant damage was also seen in the cardiac tissue.

This might all sound scary at first, but the stuy also contained one key point: These negative outcomes were only noticed in runners with less training and preparation. Basically,  the stuy supported the very logical conclusion that the lower your fitness level, the higher your risk of heart damage.

It’s also important to note that this damage was only temporary. Again, though,  fitness level played a key role in recovery. The researchers theorized that a better trained heart is more adept at recovery from the damage and does so more quickly.


Proceed With Caution

Clearly, then, there’s a need for caution when preparing and training for a marathon. Your first step should be to see a doctor.  Not only will it be important to judge your own risk for heart disease, based on blood pressure,  cholesterol and other factors,  but your doctor will also want to consider your family’s history. If you have family members with heart disease, your risks arw significantly higher.

Then, of course, you’ll want to begin a careful training program. Your workouts should be gradual,  allowing your body ample time to adapt.




Running in the Autumn Season

fallMost people look at New Year’s Day as the time for resolutions and new beginnings. They vow to get in shape, hit the gym more often, and attempt loftier goals such as giving more to charity or being a better parent.

However, I feel fall is a time for change. Students return to the classroom for a new school year, leaves change color and the air transforms from heat to a nice crispness. At this time, I re-evaluate my athletic goals and work toward something new, whether it’s a wintertime half marathon I’ve never completed or one I’ve done before and hope for a better finish time. Here are a few ways to feel the spirit of the season and attempt something different:

Hire a coach. I’ve used running coaches in the past, but not recently. My bank account thought it best to not put forth the money. However, fall is a good time to consider one. With the summer marathons over and many looking to head indoors for workouts, running coaches may be willing to offer you a better deal.

Look for a new race in a hot locale. When the dead of winter approaches, states with plenty of sunshine offer races in January and February. If you start training now, you’ll be completely prepared for a wintertime race and you won’t feel so guilty when the holiday treats come your way–you’ll be deep into your training.

Discover a new cross-training method. While we all love to run, your body will appreciate an exercise that utilizes other muscle groups. Because fall is a time for new beginnings, head to your local gym and test out some of the group class offerings. Cycling classes help build up leg muscles, yoga offers deep stretches to lengthen your muscles and tighten your much used core, and Zumba classes allow for a more social element–a perfect complement to running, which is often done solo.

Happy fall!

All About Apples

Here in New York, we’re at the height of the glorious apple season and you almost can’t help but have an apple a day. Thankfully, it turns out that the old adage might be true. An apple a day may, in fact, keep the doctor away.

But even when it comes to something as common as eating an apple, there are many opinions. What are the health benefits? Are there any concerns when it comes to toxins? Is it better to juice the fruit or just bite right in?


Packed With Goodness

Apples are, on several levels, nutritional powerhouses. Although they’re low in total calories, the high-fiber fruit can help to fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied longer than a less substantial snack. All that fiber can also help you lower your cholesterol, keep your heart healthy and improve digestion.

While it’s true, and worth noting, that fiber could help you lose weight by means of appetite control, apples might help you slim down another way: ursolic acid. This compound has been found to increase metabolism, burning more fat and building more, in mice. Of course, more human studies are needed to confirm and fully understand these results but eating more apples won’t do you any harm.

In fact, your entire body could thank you for it. The specialized antioxidant called quercetin can improve respiratory problems, including asthma, while the vitamin C and army of other antioxidants may boost your immune system.

All those helpful substances could even prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Even your brain can benefit from your daily apple, since the fruit spikes your levels of acetylcholine, improving memory and lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.


Whole or Juiced?

With all that apples have to offer, it makes sense to try to cram down as many as possible, as often as possible. And juicing offers many opportunities to sneak fruits into your day so, it’s often assumed that you should opt for juicing.

Unfortunately, most of the benefits of apples are associated with the skin, which is removed when you juice. Losing the majority of your fiber content could do more than just limit how many antioxidants you get, though. That fiber found in the skin and pulp of the apple slows down your absorption of all that sugar, causing a spike in insulin and the resultant crash.

But there’s also good reason to fear the nutrient-rich skin: pesticides. Apples have, year after year, topped the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for pesticide-contaminated foods. The solution, then, is to opt for organic apples. They may be a little more expensive but your entire body will thank you for a burst of toxin-free nutrients.




Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Photo courtesy New Jersey 101.5

Photo courtesy New Jersey 101.5

Every October, we all see seas of pink everywhere. From products with pink packaging to grocery store clerks wearing the pink ribbon, it’s all in honor of breast cancer awareness. I even saw model Rachel Hunter on a reality show last year who dyed her hair pink for the cause. Lucily, as a runner, plenty of opportunities are available to you to support breast cancer awareness. Here are few of the most popular, but you should check with sites like and to see what is available in your city.

1. Susan G. Komen 3 day. Taking place in cities all over the country, women and men can walk 60 miles in three days (or 20 miles each day). Marathon runners have an advantage–you can even run the thing. As per any Susan G. Komen-named event, expect loads of crowd support and plenty of aid stations and massages at the end of each day. If you’re not up for the challenge of completing 60 miles, volunteers are always needed. Participants of all shapes and sizes trained for months, making it truly inspiring.

2. Race for the Cure 5K. Also in cities throughout the country, participants wearing pink–from pink shirts to long pink socks–dress up in support of breast cancer awareness. It’s more of an event than it is a race. With more than 20,000 entrants in some cities, people are crossing the finish line before others even cross the start line. Be prepared for it take longer than a typical 5K, but you’ll feel so much better for it. You can even fundraise if you’re feeling particularly charitable.

3. Breast Cancer Awareness 5K.  The Breast Cancer Awareness Race will allow the particpants’ registration fees and any subsequent fundraising to benefit women with breast cancer by supplying them with wigs, prosthesis and educational supplies.

Happy running for the cure!


Kale: Myth, Reality and Practicality

Kale has become one of the most widely touted “superfoods” out there. In fact, yesterday was declared National Kale Day by some of the leafy green’s more zealous disciples, a festival to be celebrated with a kale dance party and kale cocktails after a kale health summit. And there’s good reason for kale to be a featured part of a healthy diet. But, let’s get this out of the way first: It is not a magic-bullet or a cure-all.

Where does the fact about kale, though, separate from the fiction? Despite all of the positive press, are there any health concerns associated with the nutritional powerhouse?

The Good

“Powerhouse” really is an accurate description of kale, too. Just one cup of chopped kale packs 9% of your daily intake of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and an amazing 684% of vitamin K. The majority of kale’s health benefits are connected with this bouquet of powerful anti-antioxidants, which health to fight both cancer and heart disease.

That doesn’t even account for the large quantities of copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. These minerals are all essential to nerve function, immune health and several other equally important bodily systems.

There’s also a variety of plant chemicals which work to promote eye and brain health, along with adding to the fight against cancer.

Of course, kale is loaded with, actually made of, fiber. While not actually offering any caloric fuel, fiber can lower your cholesterol, improve your overall cardiovascular health and aid in digestion.

The Not-So-Good

Often, when it comes to health, there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Specifically, in the case, the main concern is the extremely high level of vitamin K stuffed into just a little kale. Vitamin K promotes clotting and can interfere with certain anticoagulant medications, like warfarin.

Another source of concern when it comes to overdoing it on kale are the naturally occurring chemicals called oxalates, which block calcium absorption. These substances have also been shown in lab tests to cause kidney and gall stones.

All that fiber could be a bad thing, too. Especially when the kale is raw it can be very hard on your digestive system, causing gas, bloating and other issues.

Another compound found in raw kale could cause thyroid problems in some people, as well. If you have any preexisting thyroid issues, you should talk to your doctor before drastically increasing your raw kale intake.

What To Do

Obviously, there are some stark differences between consuming raw and cooked kale. The research is mixed, though, frustrating the issue. Because of the above-noted concerns, however, many experts recommend not juicing or eating the veggie raw more than twice a week.

No such warnings are necessary when it comes to eating cooked kale, fortunately.

The only problem that pops up, then, is that of trying to find the best way to cook your kale. The raw-food supporters are right in saying that many of the nutrients are removed when you overcook the greens but, there are ways around it.

For example, if your cook your kale in broth or water, make sure to eat the leftover broth. That delicious liquid will now be infused with many of the healthy compounds that escaped the leaves.

How can you been enjoying your kale? Please share your tips with us in the comments.