Rest and Recovery

Although it can be pretty difficult to get a workout routine started, it can be just as challenging to stop once you pick up momentum. Frustratingly, though, making sure that your body has time to fully recover between workouts is just as important, if not more important, than the workout itself.

The fact is that those bicep curls is wasn’t going to get you big arms, that’s just the stimulus. It’s the reaction to those curls that builds the muscle, and that only happens during recovery. But you have to give your body a chance to do its job and repair the damage you did while working out. That’s what makes you stronger.

And the same principle is true of cardiovascular training. Your heart is a muscle and it needs to recover, just like any other muscle.

So what’s the difference between rest and recovery? What counts as quality rest? How can you make sure that your body is getting enough time between workouts?


Drawing the Line

Simply put, rest is just one aspect of recovery. The actual process of recovery is, in reality, pretty active and involves making sure your muscles are rebuilt to prepare for the next challenge while delivering the needed nutrients.

Rest is specifically any non-training day that gives your tired muscles the opportunity to recuperate. That means that you could be active in some other way, as long as it isn’t training. This may come as a shock to many people who view rest as sleep or just general inactivity.

In fact rest can be really active.


Not Just Laying Around

If, for example, you’ve just spent your workout targeting your arms, your rest day could involve an easy game of Frisbee. A light walk or easy bike ride could also be acceptable ways to spend your rest days.

While it might not seem very fair that you have to spend your rest days being active, it’ll help you in the long run. As mentioned, an extremely vital part of recovery is making sure your muscles are properly fed. Your blood has to being moving to deliver those nutrients where they need to go. So, slightly elevating your pulse will help your muscles get fueled even more efficiently.


When and For How Long

Rest when you need to; it’s that simple. If you’re having muscle soreness or just feeling generally exhausted take the hint and take some time off. Give your body time to completely recover and don’t get back to your regular routine until the muscle in question is no long sore.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t workout at all. Just favor the sore muscle. For example, if you worked your chest on Monday and are dealing with soreness, you can work your biceps, shoulders or legs in the meantime.

While many workouts get you to push yourself so hard that your muscles are sore for five day to a full week, some experts say that this type of workout is just too challenging. Celebrity trainer Jonathan Ross, writing for the American Council on Exercise, advises that any soreness should only last about one or two days.




The Trouble With Trans Fats

Trans fats are, or were, everywhere. This artificially created form of fat has been used to fry foods, to flavor foods and even as a food itself. You’re probably most familiar with trans fats as shortening or butter substitutes but you’ve likely eaten a lot more of these sneaky fats than you realize. In the 1990s, though, research revealed just how bad for you trans fats are and since them the FDA and other organizations have been working to limit the amount of trans fats in our foods. Most recently, the FDA has taken the initial steps towards what could effectively be a ban on trans fats. What are these maligned substances and why is everyone out to get them?


What They Are and What They Do

As mentioned, trans fats don’t generally occur in nature, apart from a few very rare occasions. Usually, trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to a vegetable oil to increase its shelf-life. This carries over to the food that the oil is then added to, acting as a preservative while giving the food a less greasy feel than other fats.

Here’s the problem: Trans fats are terrible for you. Although scientists aren’t really sure why, the simple addition of hydrogen gives the oil the dangerous ability greatly increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. In the long run, this can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.


Tricky Labels

It’s pretty plain, then, that trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. So, like the health-conscious consumer that you are, you’re going to carefully check all the labels on your foods, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The FDA has a strange little rule that allows food manufacturers to label their product as containing 0g trans fat as long as the food has less than 0.5g per serving. While a half a gram really isn’t much, if you have multiple servings that could easily add up and bring you way above healthy levels.

In fact, many experts don’t think there are any “healthy levels” of trans fats and insist that the substance should be avoided completely.

To get around these tricky labels and bring your trans fat intake closure to the healthy level of zero, try sticking to whole foods. Be especially careful with processed, mass-produced baked goods like cookies or cakes.

Look out for “partially hydrogenated oil” as well. This invasive ingredient could also means that there’s a touch of trans fat lurking in your meal.



The Dublin Marathon

imagesCA32IXH9Ireland conjures up images of green rolling hills, Irish pubs and beer–I can attest all of those are true. Two weeks ago, I participated in the Dublin Marathon hoping for a little bit of the luck of the Irish to pull me through the 26.2 miles. My luck paid off that day and I crossed the finish line–with a very slow time due to injury. However, I recommend this race for a number of reasons, all of which relate to the Irish spirit.

The crowds–Chanting “Well done” and “Good on you” constantly throughout the race, the Irish spirit came alive in support of all the thousands of runners. They lined the streets singing, cheering and playing Irish music to pep up the step of the marathoners. In fact, of all the places I’ve traveled to in the world,  Ireland tops the list of friendliest people. Plus, if you want a country loved ones will enjoy while you attend the expo and spend a half a day running, the Irish citizens’ smiles are ready and waiting.

The post-race parties–While I didn’t find any official “post-race party,” no worries. Any street in the City Centre (where all the Dublin action happens), will supply a choice of Irish pubs and pints of Guinness Beer. The Irish call it “strong tea,” as evidenced by their ability to out drink any tourist. You’ll resupply your energy with plenty of liquid calories.

Pre-race food–I was hard pressed to find spaghetti–typically the runners’ pre-race food of choice, although the marathon itself did offer an extra-cost carbo-loading dinner. But the pubs offered hearty Irish stews with flavorful potatoes and your standard Irish soda bread. Carbs aren’t hard to find!

The course–Taking you down O’Connell Street, the widest street in Dublin, the course traverses throughout the city, through a quiet park, next to the Dublin Zoo, and up the hills of the city. The only bad news: headwinds and rain. I didn’t face too much rain, but 40 mph headwinds greeted me for a few miles. 

The 2014 Dublin Marathon awaits! Happy training!

DIY for Heart Health

More and more people are jumping on the Do It Yourself bandwagon, and for several good reasons. Depending on where you’re applying your DIY interest, you could learn any number of new skills while saving yourself money. One of the most popular DIY past-times, especially with the rise in organic food’s popularity, is gardening. It turns out, according to a new study, that tackling these normal activities yourself could be even better for your health than you might have realized.


The Study

The research in question was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and took 12.5 years to complete in Stockholm, Sweden. Over the course of the study, 4000 volunteers all around 60 years old, were observed to see what sort of activities they busied themselves with and how these choices affected their health.

To start things off, the subjects were tested for cardiovascular health by looking at risk factors like BMI, blood fats, blood sugars, and blood clotting factors. Unsurprisingly people who had active lifestyles were rated as having a very low risk of heart disease. The same was true for people who had a routine of formal exercise, even if they weren’t necessarily active with chores. Even more unsurprising was the fact that people who both lived active lives and worked out had the lowest risk to worry about.

The study progressed by observing how the health of each subject changed over time and how that statistically related to their activity levels. The numbers showed a 27% lower risk of a heart attack or stroke and a 30% reduced risk of death from all causes in the most active participants.

What really stands our about this study, though, is the fact that regular exercise had no effect on those numbers. To clarify: people who were active in daily chores and exercised saw no more benefits than people who only took care of DIY tasks.


What It Means For You

So does that translate to a “Get Out Of Gym Free Card?” Probably not.

All this study proves is that, to be healthy, you don’t necessarily have to workout in the traditional sense. You can garden, or work on your car, or fix up your house or any other hobby that gets you up and moving.

These findings also give hope to those who find it difficult to achieve the desired intensity from their workouts, since the target audience of the study was people over 60. If you have a hard time keeping up at the gym because of health problems, then, you don’t have to feel bad as long as you find another way to stay moving.


Consider Your Goals

Like I said, though, this doesn’t mean everyone can stop hitting the gym. If you’re looking to bulk up on muscle or train for a marathon, tending to your tomatoes just isn’t going to give you the challenge you need.

If you simply want to keep your heart healthy, though, some DIY projects might be exactly what you need.




New York City Marathon

I_Love_New_York_svgYesterday I participated in the famous New York City Marathon. Due to injury, my finish time was less than stellar and I struggled most, if not all, of the race. However, my opinion of the marathon did not get swayed by the pain of my body. Rather, I hold this race in the highest esteem. Here are a few reasons to participate:

1. Running through all five boroughs. How often do you travel outside of the standard touristy areas when visiting the Big Apple? Most visitors head to Broadway and Ellis Island, and perhaps Ground Zero and the Empire State Building. But the 26.2-mile course offers sweeping views of the New York City skyline and traverses through untapped areas such as the Bronx and Harlem by tourists. You’ll have a much more complete New York City experience.

2. The music is unparalleled to any other marathon course. A gospel choir on the steps of a cathedral, neighbors serenading runners as they stand on the edge of their walk-ups, bands and drummers…all can be heard just in Brooklyn alone.

3. The crowds run three-feet deep. As runners turn into Manhattan along 1st Avenue, cheerleaders line the streets screaming and shouting for marathoners. Brooklyn also offers plenty of racing fans. Children hold out their hands asking for “high fives” and New Yorkers step out with candy, fruit and paper towels for runners, just out of the goodness of their hearts and love for what the marathoners try to accomplish.

4. Ending in Central Park. As the race falls in the autumn, you run under the colored leaves and watch them float around in the wind. This makes for endless picturesque photo moments.

5. Plenty of medical tents, aid stations and anything a runner needs is readily available. Coming from European marathons in which you receive water maybe every 5K, the NYC Marathon offered water at least every mile, often more.

It took me three years to get in, so if the NYC Marathon is on your bucket list, start signing up now to win the lottery.

Good luck!