In this current day we are spending far too much of our lives being sedentary. Sedentary behaviour is described as a distinct class of behaviours (e.g., sitting, watching TV, driving) characterised by little physical movement and low energy expenditure. But is sitting REALLY the new smoking? Around 15 studies looking at the relationship between sitting and all-cause mortality indicate people who had the highest levels of sitting (around 8-9 hours/day) had ~20% increased risk of premature death compared to those people who sat the least. For smoking, however, smokers had around a 200% increased risk of premature mortality compared to non-smokers, and this risk increased to 400% for those who had the highest rate of smoking! As you can plainly see, the difference between smoking rate and mortality risk is MUCH higher than those who are sedentary. This is not to say that sedentary behaviour is not concerning to health. Risks are said to include:
- Decreased Metabolism
- Decreased bone mineral content
- Decreased vascular health
- Increased cardiovascular disease
- Increased plasma triglyceride levels
- Decreased levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
- Decreased insulin sensitivity
- Increased obesity
- Increased cancer risks
- Increased psychosocial problems
Being seated for long periods of time also increases pressure on your lumbar spinal discs which can increase the chance of disc bulges and herniations. This position also tightens up your hip flexor muscles and contribute to an anterior pelvic tilt that will lead to lower back pain. So try and break up long periods of sitting, and get up from your seat more often throughout the day. Stand up whilst taking phone calls, do calf raises whilst seated, take exercise breaks every hour where you get up and walk around. Think of creative ways to get up and about. Lots of little behavioural changes can contribute greatly to improving your health and reducing morbidity and mortality.
One of the most common questions I have been asked over the past 30 years is “Gina….what are the best abdominal exercises for getting a six pack?” For any of you other fitness professionals out there you will understand my reluctance to answer such a complicated question with a few word answer. It is so frustrating for me to comprehend that so many people would think the human body is such a simple machine, where-as in reality it is quite the opposite. There are so many considerations to make before giving an adequate answer to such a complex query, and yet I hear so many trainers give inadequate advice as if there is only one way. That is just pure ignorance and something that I struggle with ignoring if I experience it.
OK, so when I put my exercise physiologist hat on, my first consideration is “what are your current limitations/injuries/abilities?” An exercise that is quite safe for one person can be absolutely destructive for another. Lets take crunches….an exercise I have done for over 20 years when instructing my group exercise classes, but one I never program to clients today nor do anymore myself. My concern with crunches is the amount of disc pressure caused during spinal flexion, and the gradual wear and tear of the disc rings (annulus fibrosus) that can lead to deterioration and eventually predispose the person to a prolapse. But does that mean that no one should ever do a crunch? No! But lets be honest here….no exercise is quite done to death like the crunch! It’s the excessive repetition that causes concern.
Lets look at planks…..the gold standard exercise for developing core strength. Well I occasionally perform dynamic planks (moving from forearm to hand and vice versa) but even planks have their risks. In a horizontal position the vertebrae are not as stable as when in a vertical position (where gravity provides a compressive force from one to the other keeping facet joints more stable) and this can also provide increased risks. So should planks be banned for everyone? No!
As a functional strength trainer myself, I have my OWN favourite exercises that I choose for MY abilities and injuries, and I have to admit I don’t really work my abs in isolation. I prefer to choose exercises where the body works as a unit, so I may not implement abdominal exercises specifically. In every strength training workout I always perform some kind of uni-lateral exercise (i.e. one arm, one leg) for example a one arm cable or dumbbell row, lunges, cable wood-chops, half kneeling single arm overhead dumbbell press. Any exercise where my torso has to stabilise itself in order to perform the exercise properly, and trying to stay in the vertical as much as possible (except for the one arm dumbbell row of course). Explosive exercises are also great for activating the abdominal muscles – box jumps, stair runs, sprinting, boxing, kicking (the last two are awesome as they are explosive through rotation). Rope training is also amazing for working the abs, as too are some kettle bell exercises…..and it can go on and on.
So do your WHOLE body a favour and train the WHOLE body harder and you may be surprised at how much those abs turn on!
My biggest deciding factor when choosing exercises for a person (and for myself…remember I also have a chronic disc injury that I have to live with), is what is the benefit to risk ratio? If an exercise gives me greater benefit and has lesser risk I will choose it over another that is higher risk with less benefit. Elite athletes and a lot of bodybuilders will sacrifice risk to gain that little bit more benefit – so can you see that yet again, one size does NOT fit all. So what ARE the best ab exercises? It will be different for everyone, but yes…… some are definitely better choices over others.
Oh and lets not forget the biggest deciding factor for determining whether you can SEE those abs……your eating habits! If you want to see all that hard work then you will need to do something about your food and drop some body fat.
So that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If your trainer thinks everyone should train the one way….then it might be time to upgrade to a more understanding trainer.
It would have been my late fathers birthday a few days ago and reflecting back on his life gave me the idea for content for today’s blog. Coupled with a Precision Nutrition reading that finished with the words “Don’t just survive – THRIVE!” I was compelled to discuss this subject matter in detail.
Ok, so firstly let me set the scene with some family history. Both of my parents were born early last century – my father in 1920 and mother in 1926. Sad;y, both have now passed and each of them lived to around the age of 80 (so lifespan was very similar). However, they lived their lives VERY differently. By the time I was born my mother was in her early 40’s. All I remember growing up is her sitting in her chair watching TV and smoking like a chimney. She suffered depression quite badly and never left the house. Whenever she did anything remotely active she would be in pain for days afterwards. In my eyes, my mother was always old and frail, and though I loved her with all my heart I cry for the life that she had. My father, on the other hand, was forever out and about. He never smoked and was always out taking numerous walks or scenic drives. He was strong and capable and forever present with life and nature. Clearly, their lives were completely opposite to one another.
Quality of life is something that is very precious and often people neglect to make the effort to enhance theirs. Genetics is an important indicator for longevity and disease but your behaviour matters! Your genetics will not counteract bad behaviour. Quality of life principles are really quite simple, but like anything worth having, it requires dedication and effort.
- Physical activity. Get moving! Move more, and move with intent. Work the heart and lungs, strengthen muscles, and improve range of motion by stretching regularly.
- Nourish your body. Eat natural healthy foods with a balance of nutrients amongst all food groups; drink plenty of clean water; get adequate sunlight (without burning the skin); enjoy quality replenishing sleep;
- Nurture your mind. Take time out to relax and unwind the mind; be present with nature (earth yourself on grass, sand, sea). Explore ways to de-stress and be at peace.
- Avoid toxins. Minimise toxic foods (processed, high sugar, trans fats, additives and preservatives); give up cigarettes and control intake of alcohol. Look for other alternatives to prescription medications if needing to take them long term (some medications can be alleviated by change of lifestyle!). Research toxins that surround you everyday – your toiletries, sunscreen, household cleaning agents etc and see if there are healthier alternatives.
Yes this all takes time and effort and it isn’t going to happen all at once. But once you start focusing on health and see the results healthier behaviours can yield then the snowball effect will stem into other areas of your life. I don’t just want to exist. I want to enjoy the time I have on this earth. If quality of life is something that you are lacking, then look for ways to make improvements and bit by bit you yourself may find yourself starting to thrive!
Everywhere you turn there is some “expert” promoting another magical diet that will help shed the excess kilos lightning fast, or else they are raving about a miracle super food that can cure any disease known to man! When we are desperate to achieve our goals it is easy to be hypnotized by these marketing magicians and their fantastic claims. So….which diet IS best?
There are countless diets all purporting to be the “best”. Paleo, Atkins, Vegetarian, Vegan, 5:2……….. How do we mere mortals know which one to choose? The promoters use scientific terms and claim that “research has proven………” whilst further supporting their recommendations with numerous testimonials of people who have tried their method and loved the results! Before and after shots are used to lure us in because if others have done it…then so can we! But it’s really not rocket science. The basics are quite simple. When someone puts in less calories than the body uses, the net result is usually weight loss! If you add resistance training to the equation then the body will reshape and the results can be amazing. Individual results are varied due to a wide variety of factors including genetics, hormones, sex, age, health, and physical activity.
If we look back in history we will see that tribes around the world have all flourished on very different diets. Inuits have a base diet of fish, and jungle tribes have a base diet of plants. Some have high fat diets whilst others have low. Some higher in carbs, some higher in protein. To think that there is only ONE right diet for every person on the planet or there is ONE magical super food that will cure all our health problems is just ludicrous! The one thing they all have in common is their diets are “natural” and free of processing and high concentrated sugars. I am a nutritional “atheist” and I believe that the diet best for YOU is the diet that WORKS for you. We have to be our own guinea pigs and experiment with different foods to see the ones that work for us. Variety IS important with food to ensure we get a good range of not only macro but micro nutrients as well (vitamins and minerals). How often we eat should be determined by our bodies and activities and not on misinterpreted scientific data.
It is important to note however that whatever you DO decide to do with your eating, gradual alterations are best for making lifetime behaviour changes. The way you eat (i.e. your diet) shouldn’t have an end date. It should be something you attempt to achieve every day for the rest of your life. Stop making it more complicated than it has to be.
Ok so you have decided to get healthy and/or lose weight. You purchase new workout clothes, restock your fridge and pantry, possibly join a gym and may have even bought some exercise equipment. You are going to finally make this happen! Woohoo for you! But your good intentions may hit a brick wall down the road. You may feel tired so miss an exercise session (which turns into two, then twenty). Food temptations linger to lure you off your path and you convince yourself that “one won’t hurt” or “I’ll burn it off tomorrow”. And after a short while when you don’t see any results you just think “what the hell – I give up!” Sound familiar? So how do we keep motivated to do the right thing? Well it is different for everyone and you will need to try a few different things to find which motivational strategy/ies works for you. Here are a few ideas that I have found quite successful for my clients:
SEE your goal self. Put up a picture of what you want to look like and have it where it constantly reminds you what you want to achieve.
2. Practice positive self-talk.
Avoid putting yourself down and saying condescending comments to yourself. When we are in this state of mind it is difficult to practice positive habits. When we feel emotional and low we often adopt behaviours that are self-sabotaging. Identify when you are saying something negative – stop – and replace it with a positive statement about yourself instead.
3. Use affirmations.
Affirmations are powerful positive statements that can guide your behaviours. It can be difficult to buy a chocolate bar when you are consistently telling yourself “I eat healthy wholesome foods”. Affirmations can reprogram your thoughts.
4. Surround yourself with like-minded people.
It is difficult to stay focused on health when everyone around you is doing the exact opposite thing to you. Find a group or person who has similar health interests and motivate one another to do the right thing.
5. Be accountable to someone.
This could be the same person/people in the above point, or it can be a partner, family member, friend, or even a personal trainer. Let this person know your goals and what you are trying to achieve. You are less likely to do the wrong thing if you have to tell them you have done so.
6. Make your health a priority.
This is MY main motivational strategy that I use to keep myself on track. As I have a history of weight gain and injury I remind myself how horrible it was when I was overweight and unhealthy. I would rather endure a few hours pain a week to exercise than suffer the life I had when I was unhealthy. I see my exercise sessions as “not negotiable” and view them as part of my normal day whether I want to do it or not. I see it the same as my job. I HAVE to do it. It is all about changing your mindset. Don’t give yourself an option.
These are just a few strategies that I have found extremely effective. Try one and see if it works for you. You CAN achieve amazing things if you really want to.