How to Help with Back Pain

heat_0Pain in runners’ bodies is usually tied to the leg (knee, hip, IT band), but often runners incur back pain at some point. With spending time in front of computers, slouched over the steering wheel, and lazily sitting on the couch watching television, most of us have developed improper posture over the years. When we run, we take that bad posture into our exercise. Thus comes the back pain. Here are a few remedies I discovered to help combat the inevitable back aches after a long run:

1. With an office job, you sit for hours in one particular position hunched over a computer. Bring in a towel or a small pillow and place it behind you. Also, try to keep your feet flat on the floor to stay in the most upright position possible.

2. Extra core work. One of the best ways to work your core is by incorporating a stability ball into your workout routine. This requires you to engage your core simply for balance alone. I like to do as much weight lifting while on it as possible because it works multiple muscles groups at once–you get more out of a gym session. Also, I like to do my standard crunches on it (much tougher than lying on a floor).

3. Not resting too much with back pain. If you are suffering from simple back aches, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Surprised? I was. Turns out, not moving can make back pain worse. The best thing to do is a non-weight baring exercise, such as swimming.

4. Tailored stretching. I’m used to stretching my legs after a long run, but I’ve tried to incorporate more back stretches. I lie on my stomach and raise my legs and arms straight into the air. This engages my back and core. I hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat five times. It’s a body part I didn’t pay attention to until recently and noticed a difference.


How Accurate Are Medical Talk Shows?

It’s pretty common that I get asked various health and fitness questions – and this is likely true of most fitness professionals – that begin with the words “Doctor Oz says…” or “I saw on the Doctors…” And, most of the time, this puts me in an awkward situation because I usually disagree with the advice being dispensed on medical talk shows. But, since I don’t regularly watch those shows and definitely don’t research each and every claim they make, I’m not exactly fair or unbiased.

A new review published in the British Medical Journal, however, took the time to do exactly that. For the article, a team of researchers randomly selected 40 episodes of The Dr Oz Show and 40 episodes of The Doctors. Every recommendation from each episode was then isolated. Of the resulting pool of recommendations, 80 were then randomly selected from each show. The team then went to work evaluating the research on each of those 160 recommendations to conclude whether the science supported the claims, contradicted them or was simply non-existent.


The Results

Taken as one large sample, the talk shows did not stand up well under scientific scrutiny. Of all 160 recommendations made on the two shows combined, only 54 percent of those claims actually had science to support them. But the paper also looked at each show individually.

For The Dr Oz Show, the evidence supported about 46 percent of his recommendations, contradicted 15 percent and simply did not exist for the final 39 percent. The paper also reports that Dr. Oz makes about 12 recommendations per episode on average. Lower quality evidence, termed either “believable or somewhat believable,” was found for 33 percent of the claims made by Dr. Oz.

The Doctors had slightly better results – but it was a very small advantage. A total of 63 percent of their recommendations had solid scientific backing, 14 percent were opposed by the research and the remaining 24 percent had no related studies to be found. However, 53 percent of the Doctors’ recommendations could be tied to believable or somewhat believable evidence.

It’s also worth noting that any potential conflicts of interest were disclosed only .4 percent of the time, between both shows.


 The Take-Away

Clearly, then, medical talk shows don’t seem to fair well when placed under scientific analysis. Although a 15 percent error rate might not seem like much, think about it this way: That equates to 12 incorrect recommendations made in every 80 – the sample size. On average, Doctor Oz makes 12 recommendations each episode. This means that, statistically speaking, one entire episode of The Doctor Oz Show could be incorrect.

The numbers work out about the same for The Doctors, as well.

Of course, there’s still the fact that over half of the information provided on these two medical talk shows is correct; It’s not all bad. But the paper rightly concludes by saying, “The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

Instead of taking the recommendations presented on medical talk shows as absolute truth, then, allow it to be your starting point. If you hear something that piques your interest, do your own research.






Running and Yoga: New Goals for 2015

I want to love running again

I want to love running again

“Namaste” is not a word in my daily vocabulary. I don’t cart around yoga mats and wake up each morning feeling centered and at peace; I lace up my running shoes and click on my iPod to Metallica or Muse. As a finality to this year, I vowed to lock up my yoga timidness and sign up for a class–without any negativity and an open mind.

Runners sing the praises of yoga everyday. “Yoga changed my running,” I heard countless times. I hear of half marathoners who cross the finish line and head straight to the yoga studio to stretch out that lactic acid.

I was not one of them.

Why? Because a gymnast I am not.  I also suffer from workout ADD, which explains my love of running–it suits my lack of flexibility and need for speed. Therefore, I felt sincere trepidation stepping into a yoga class. The students’ sinewy arm muscles screamed “yoga devotees” and their perfectly toned backsides left me even more self-conscious. How would I survive?

As I arrived, the yoga instructor laid out her mat, took off her socks and shoes, laid them carefully to the side and walked over to an iPod dock and pushed play. Soothing spa music filled the air–definitely not my loud, normal workout music.

I mirrored the other students and removed my socks and shoes and stood face forward on the mat. The teacher asked us to move into a series of poses with names like Downward Dog and Forward Bends. I’d actually completed most of these very poses in my stretching after a long run. We then shifted into plank poses, which I do almost daily to strengthen my core.

I started to feel empowered, as if I just experienced the best stretching workout of my life. I didn’t feel intimidated any longer. Most of the yoga session consisted of moves I already incorporate into my running routine. Only this time I tried harder and pushed my body a little further into each stretch–the skillful students with ballerina litheness made me desire to keep up and come as close to their level as possible. Perhaps the running competitor in me felt pressured to keep up.

In the past, I looked at yoga as a non-sweat form of burning some calories, not as exercise. Exercise means sweating! I take it back. Yoga caused my muscles to shake, which because of running, could take the pain.

Had I not been a runner, that yoga experience would’ve felt entirely different. Running helped me appear a yoga devotee.

Now maybe someday I will be.

Shortness of Breath After A Workout

Vitamin C has been a star player on the natural remedy scene for a long time now. The humble vitamin, found in many otherwise healthy fruits and vegetables, has been touted to cure just about everything from cancer to nail-biting. Unfortunately, many of these claims just don’t hold up under the lens of scientific study.

A recent review of the available research, however, suggests that vitamin C might just be the answer to a frustratingly common problem among athletes and casual exercisers alike: Shortness of breath.

Post-exercise Shortness of Breath

Specifically, what the researchers were looking at is called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). As the name suggests, this refers to the cluster of respiratory problems that happen after strenuous exercise and are caused by a narrowing of the airways. Typically, this manifests itself as a cough, sore throat and – of course – difficulty taking deep breaths.

Most commonly, EIB is an issue for asthmatics but many endurance athletes struggle with it as well – regardless of whether or not they have asthma.

For the purposes of the review in question, nine randomized trials were analyzed and all of them had positive results. Looked at together, the studies found that vitamin C supplementation – in fairly small doses that we’ll discuss later – halved the duration and frequency of EIB in both trained and untrained individuals.

Obviously, these findings are pretty encouraging for those of us who deal with asthma or other respiratory problems associated with exercise.


Putting It Into Practice

So, if you fall into the group of people who deal with EIB, should you start taking vitamin C. And how much?

Much more research is needed before the experts out there can really pin down any dosage recommendations. That being said, the positive results cited above were all found with doses ranging from .5 to 2g daily. Unfortunately, I could not find any information regarding the timing of the dose – whether the vitamin must be taken within a certain time-frame of the workout or can be taken at any point during the day.

It’s also true that you could be suffering with respiratory problems not associated with EIB. If that’s the case, you may see no relief at all from vitamin C supplementation. Here’s the good news, though: Vitamin C is cheap and has a fairly short list of risks associated with it. Especially when compared to other supplements. Because of that, you may want to experiment to see if a little extra vitamin C could help you deal with shortness of breath after a workout.





Setting New Running Goals

B2lCRhvCEAEI-BO.jpg largeIt’s been said before and I’ll say it again: Goals are achieved when properly set. With the new year right around the corner, this time of the year is best to revisit the goals you set this year and assess how you did. It’s also time to set new ones–starting the year with fresh objectives and new aspirations.

The best way I believe in setting goals is following S.M.A.R.T.


I don’t believe in lofty goal setting, such as “I want to make it to the Olympics.” This is a realistic goal for a select few. I also like non-abstract goals. “I want to do a marathon” isn’t specific. “I want to do such and such marathon in 2015” is specific.

Let’s go through S.M.A.R.T.

Specific: To set specific goals Top Achievement, recommends asking the “W” questions:

Who:      Who is involved?

What:     What do I want to accomplish?

Where:    Identify a location.

When:     Establish a time frame.

Which:    Identify requirements and constraints.

Why:      Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

See my paragraph above. “I want to run such and such marathon in 2015.” This is specific.

Measurable: Add in something concrete to your goal, such as “I will run a marathon in under four hours.” This is quantifiable and you know you will need to add speed workouts in, probably tempo runs, etc. to reach your goal.

Attainable: You cannot set a goal out of your reach. You’ll become frustrated and give up. Don’t shoot for something you know you can’t do. If you know 26.2 miles is out of the question, but a 10K is realistic and will get you off the couch, set that goal. You’ll achieve it and feel empowered.

Realistic: Same as above. Don’t shoot for the moon.

imely: Set goals within a certain time. “I’ll run a marathon in 2014” or “I’ll hit the gym three times a week for three months straight.” You can even add in a month: “By June 1st, I’ll have completed a half marathon in under two hours.” That’s a perfect example of a goal.

Happy goal setting for 2015!


Retrain Your Brain With Healthy Foods

It’s often been said that exercise is only a small part of the fitness equation – about 30 percent. The remaining 70 percent of your fitness progress is influenced by your diet. And, while there’s no way to really prove these numbers, experience has shown that this is roughly the way things go. Regardless of how hard your workout, it’s frustratingly easy to undo all of that good with a junk food binge.

But the sad fact is that many people simply do not enjoy healthy foods. Research into how the brain reacts to foods has shown us not only how we’ve gotten into this mess, but also how to get out of it.


Misused Reward System

To put it simply, your brain has a way of training you to repeat positive behaviors – those that it perceives as being key to your survival. To do this, your brain floods itself with dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals.

This is a major oversimplification of your body’s Reward System. Under normal circumstances, the whole process is a fantastic way of keeping you happy and healthy, since you will naturally seek out behaviors that previously earned you a reward. The problem is that modern processed foods as designed to give you a massive spike of reward hormones – much bigger than you would normally get from any food found in nature.

And this creates food addictions.

Just like most other chemicals, your body will eventually develop a tolerance to these endorphines after constantly being exposed to unusually high amounts. As a result, you begin to crave more and more junk foods to get the same high. And I’m not being overly dramatic by calling it a “high.” Multiple studies have shown that the process by which we develop addictions to and cravings for food is identical to the brain chemistry of a drug addict.

In fact, a steady diet of these foods can change your thoughts and behaviors in a way that is typical of any addict.

So there’s the problem. But – while you might not have realized the extent of the damage – you likely already knew you had to ditch the junk food. As we’ve seen, though, that is extremely difficult. It is, after all, a legitimate addiction.


Breaking The Cycle

For a long time, researchers where not sure if people could ever be fully free of these cravings once the neural pathways were established. The thought was that, even if eating habits changed, it would be a struggle for the rest of the addicts life.

To get a definitive answer, a team at Tufts University recruited 13 overweight or obese men and women for a new study on the reward system. Eight of the participants were enrolled in a weight loss program, which included a dietary overhaul while the other five remained the control group. At the beginning and end of the 6-month study, both groups received MRIs to monitor the reward centers of their brains.

Interestingly, the weight loss group showed a complete change in the reward pathways of their brains. Not only did these individuals now receive a greater feeling of reward when they ate healthy foods, they had a significantly reduced reaction to junk food.

Even though the cravings associated with years of poor dieting are powerful, and exert a surprising influence on the brain, this study give us hope that we can retrain out brains to actually prefer healthy foods.





Running Tips

race-day-720x288As mileage piles high, calories burn off and hydration disappears, it’s tough to keep mental toughness–really tough some days. So what can you do? Here is a sprinkling of advice I’ve received from professional endurance athletes over the years and what I’ve found worked for me:

If you miss a workout, don’t double up another day. If you are following a specific training program and cannot make a scheduled workout, then scrap the workout. If you try to do more the next day, you’ll throw off the training. Programs are designed to build and to relax the body in a very specific fashion. Mixing it up will throw off that delicate training program. Professional triathlete Melanie McQuaid follows this mantra. If she misses a workout, it’s gone forever.

Just stop. When I have a 15-mile run scheduled and my body takes me to mile 12 and then hits a wall, I simply stop going. I know hard-core runners will power through, but why? Unless you are in a race and must make the finish line, not making my mileage every time is okay. I’ll live to another day. But going those last three miles may be the end of me. It’s not worth it and I know I’m doing more damage than good. It destroys me physically and mentally. I become mean when I hit a wall and no one wants to be around that–so to stay mental strong, I know and respect my limits.

Walk. So much focus is on running. Why should you not walk? According to professional runner and Olympic hopeful Tere Derbez-Zacher, you should just try running for 10 minutes and then walking for 5 minutes. If you try to do too much when your body isn’t feeling it, walking is perfectly acceptable.

Cross train. Any runner knows running causes injuries and yet, we still keep doing it because it’s an addictive sport. Sometimes it’s okay to leave the track for a day and join a group aerobics class or even just meditate. You’ll still burn calories and taking a short break will make your running even stronger. It’s possible to come back faster and better–both mentally and physically.

Stay Hydrated.  On a rafting the Grand Canyon and the guide said three important and profound words to me, “hydration is happiness.” Sometimes mental issues stem simply from being not properly hydrated. Wellness doctor Yoni Whitten tells clients to drink two glasses of water when they wake up. This ensures you start hydrating properly immediately and hopefully that will cause you to begin your day with good habits.

Accept my lot in life. I’m not a professional athlete, not even in the same stratosphere. Marathons don’t come easy for me, even running in general doesn’t. While I want to better my time and push through that side stitch for a PR, I know I’m not going to cross the finish line first and should just be grateful I crossed it at all. That’s how I stay mentally strong–I try to just be happy and grateful I’m out there doing it.

Placebos Improve Running Performance

In several past posts, we’ve discussed the amazing impact that your mind can have on your athletic performance. And, for generations, athletes from any number of sports have known about – and exploited – this fact. But it’s also true that many things that athletes thing to give themselves an edge really have no reason to work. Yet, sometimes it seems like these expected placebos may actually be making a difference.

A new study, published in the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, explored the full impact of the placebo effect on runners. It even sheds some light on how you can use this phenomenon, which is usually seen as a negative thing, to improve your performance.


The Switch

A group of 15 male suspects who were all trained runners with 10k times averaging out at 39:15, were enrolled in the experiment. Over the course of the study, the men ran several 3k races. During a specific week of the study, the subjects gave themselves daily injections of what they were told was a performance enhancing drugs called OxyRBX. In reality, the drugs was a simple saline solution.

At the end of the “doping” week, the men participated in another 3k race. Believing that they had been taking a powerful performance enhancer for the past week, the runners finished an average of 9.73 seconds faster. The comes out to be a full 5 seconds off each mile – a very significant improvement.

What’s probably the most interesting aspect of this study, though, is how expectation effected the final results. The men who anticipated the greatest improvements from OxyRBX, saw the greatest improvements. On the other hand, those subjects that expected little-to-no change experienced just that.



But what’s the real world application for you? Clearly, your belief and expectations can be powerful ways to improve your performance drastically but you can’t trick yourself into injecting fake drugs into your system.

But you can use positive self-talk to encourage yourself and build anticipation. The key is adding an element to your training that you truly believe will improve your performance. Maybe it’s a specific goal for the month or incorporating strength training or regular hill-running. Either way, make it something that you genuinely believe in and will do regularly. Your positive outlook going into your new routine will give you both motivation and confidence. You will also be more positive and quick to recognize even small improvements that you may have overlooked as insignificant in the past.

There’s also another side to this, though, that I would be remiss if I did not mention: You can also have this sort of effect on other athletes – for the positive or negative. If someone introduces a new aspect to their routine that they wholeheartedly believe in, you may be doing them a huge favor by allowing them to continue to think that way.





Breakfast Food for Runners

cornstock‘Tis the time of year to eat. After this weekend of Thanksgiving and all the trimmings festering in my body, I need to get out and run–and watch what I eat.

One of my favorite breakfasts on race day or when I schedule an early-morning run is yogurt. I find it easy on my stomach and don’t experience any gastro intestinal problems when I eat it before working out. It’s light and tastes better than some of the standard go-to protein/carbohydrate bars. Not only is it one of my favorites, but researchers recently found out how beneficial it is to the body.

In the November 24, 2014 issue of BMC Medicine, researchers found yogurt can help reduce diabetes risk–up to 18 percent. Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, and his team of researchers pooled the following histories of medical professionals:

1. The Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, which included more than 51,000 male health professionals.

2. The Nurses’ Health Study, which included more than 121,000 women nurses.

3. The Nurses’ Health Study II, which followed nearly 117,000 women nurses.

In these studies, they discovered about 15,000 cases of type 2 diabetes–the type of adult onset diabetes stemming from diet and lifestyle choices. When they zeroed in on diary intake, one serving a day was linked to a 17 percent reduction in risk of diabetes.

They did not differentiate what type of yogurt is best, but Dr. Hu did state “yogurt seems to have a place in a healthy diet.”

Try adding yogurt in to your runner’s diet and find yourself reaping the benefits: the probiotics for your immune system, potentially lessening your chances of diabetes, and a better digestive system for running.