GUYSIDE: Keep a weather eye out for dubious claims.

Posted by on Dec 24, 2014 in aging, exercise, Guyside, health, general | 0 comments

Take a hint from Pepe, and be skeptical of medical claims — the more grandiose the more skeptical!



I was watching my local newscast recently and heard about an innovative new treatment for “winter blues”, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. As someone who strongly dislikes 4 pm sunsets, I was interested enough to keep watching.

The treatment is a device called the Alpha LED Light Spa. This device, which resembles a tanning bed, offers a variety of programs that combine light, heat, and oxygen to treat a variety of symptoms. The owner of this particular device told the reporter that it was an effective treatment for more than 1000 disorders — and that REALLY got me interested. Here’s the list:

“Energizing Whole Body, Mind and Spirit, Cold/Flu, Sleep/Insomnia Improvements, Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Mind Clarity, Meditation, Pain Relief, Lymphatic drainage, Wound Healing , Immune Boost, Stress Relief, Detoxification, Weight Loss, Cellulite Treatments, Skin Care – Acne Treatments, Skin Care – Anti-Aging, Addictions, Balances hormones, Migraine relief, Soothes nervous system, Lowers cholesterol, Infertility, Psoriasis, Anxiety, Inflammation, & more.”

Unfortunately, there’s no links to evidence on the site. And I haven’t been able to discover any in my time looking around. There is little doubt that SAD, disruptions in sleep due to circadian rhythms, and depression can be treated effectively by light therapy. But on the face of things, it seems unlikely that this device would be able to successfully treat more than 1000 problems.

Claims like this need to be taken skeptically, not least because at the Ottawa spa offering these treatments, it’s $75 per session.

And there’s no shortage of claims that need to be given the side-eye. Also this week, an article in the British Medical Journal looked at medical recommendations made on the Dr. Oz show and The Doctors. In the case of Dr. Oz, fewer than half of the medical recommendations provided had any sort of supporting evidence backing them up; 1 in 6 were actually contradicted by medical evidence.

It’s easy to make a medical claim, and ones that fit into what we want to hear (eat this and your belly will magically shrink!) are much more readily consumed by us humans than ones that are a little more work (eat less, move more, and stop with the Big Gulps).

You owe it to yourself to ensure the actions you take to preserve and improve your health are ones that have a basis in fact.

For those who’ve just finished celebrating Chanukah, and for those who are anticipating a visit from Santa, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

(Photo is CC-licenced from Flickr user Yiie)

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Guyside: Do you have recovery time covered in your exercise?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in aging, exercise, Guyside, humour, Inspiration, joint pain, men, yoga | 0 comments

Yoga. How hard can that be, right? Just a bunch women accessorizing and lying around on mats, right?

Yogis practicing Kunalini yoga

Sitting on a mat? How hard could that be?

Uh-uh. As I type this, my large thigh muscles are complaining, and my abdominal muscles are providing harmony vocals. All this after an “ambitious” session of Kundalini yoga on Monday. As in so many instances, my pain is my fault, for two reasons:

  1. I have had a fairly indolent fall, with not nearly the same level of activity — yoga or otherwise — that I might expect normally.
  2. Being reasonably competitive and interested in seeing what others were doing in the class, I wanted to show that I wasn’t some Kundalini newbie. So I pushed myself.

And here I sit, waiting for my muscles to stop being mad at me.

Time was that such foolhardiness on my part wouldn’t have been NEARLY as big a deal. Gluttony, sudden spurts of exercise, alcoholic overindulgence, nights with very little sleep — it all was part of the game, and I (or at least I think) was able to perform quite fine under all sorts of self-imposed constraints. Now, it’s a different story. I can have late nights, but there will be a price to pay. The days of 80-chicken-wing sprees accompanied by pitchers of beer? Gone. And as my yoga experience has shown me (not for the first time), I need to gauge my level of effort when exercising and prepare for recovery time.

And it’s not just me. Science says so. An article in the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science states baldly that “The recommended dose of exercise should do no more than leave the participant pleasantly tired on the following day. Recovery processes proceed slowly, and vigorous training should thus be pursued on alternate days.” And a Harvard Men’s Health Watch article points out (too late for me this time) that it’s best to “Work yourself back into shape gradually after a layoff, particularly after illness or injury.”

This week, I brought my bike in from the garage to set it up for winter training. If I have learned one thing from Monday’s yoga class, it’s that while I can do stuff, I can do stuff better if I do it with an eye to gently bringing myself up to speed, rather than exploding out of the gate.

And the benefits of physical activity are so great and diverse that there’s no argument against moving a bit more. Now, can someone pass the Ben-Gay?

Photo: cc-licenced image from Flickr user Jamie Ramos.

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Guyside: How to diet and exercise like your life depends on it.

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in exercise, Guyside | 4 comments

HeartsYou would think that surviving cancer would be enough, but it’s not. Completing cancer treatments or undergoing surgery is only the beginning. Most cancer survivors are eager to return to good health, but aren’t always ready to think beyond recovery.

It’s even more challenging for anyone who discovers they have additional health complications prior to being diagnosed or as a by-product of recovery. The last thing you want to hear as a cancer survivor is that you’re also a high risk for heart disease.

That was me. Despite resuming my regular exercise schedule six weeks after surgery, I was disappointed to discover both — the high cholesterol prior to being diagnosed with kidney cancer was higher and my borderline high blood pressure had become high, a common by-product after a radical nephrectomy.

My previous doctor was already convinced that diet and more exercise wouldn’t help. He said my cholesterol, particularly my LDL (the so called “bad cholesterol”) was too high to bring down. In fact, had I not been diagnosed with kidney cancer, he would have prescribed a regimen of medication, statins or likely some alternative.

“As high as your cholesterol is? You’ll never do it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. You‘ll be able to eat what you want and these little pills will take care of it.”

When my new doctor noted the same findings, he almost reached the same conclusion. The only reason he didn’t? I had six months to prepare a counter offer, promising to increase my cardio and incorporate any diet pointers that he was willing to offer up.

“All right,” he said, printing off an article on a high fiber diet. “I think your previous doctor was probably right, but read this, do what it says, and I’ll see you in three months.”

Developing a diet and exercise program like your life depends on it.

Three months didn’t seem like a very long time to me. I even asked for him six months, but he wasn’t interested in negotiating. So I left with his three-page diet article and researched some cardio exercise options. That was the plan. Diet and exercise.

Exercise. Not everything is easy for me. In junior high school and the first year of high school, I learned the hard way that I am prone to shin splints. It is the result of being born with congenital talipes equinovarus (club feet). While my feet were corrected, running long distances places additional stress on abnormally short tendons.

As an alternative, I adapted a two-minute workout that required less running while delivering more intensity. The fast-paced routine suggested 20 seconds of six different exercises: high knees, jumps, mountain climbers, single leg hops, squats, and jumping jacks. Once it felt easy, I adapted it to forego the 20-second timer.

By changing the time system to a count system, I no longer had to rely on a timer or glance at a clock. The adapted routine simply includes 100 high knees, 12 jumps, 24 mountain climbers, 20 side-to-side single leg hops, 12 squats, and 20 jumping jacks. I used to do it a few times every day until I started to repeat the cycle (after one cycle felt too easy).

This cardio exercise now augments my regular weight-lifting schedule. I usually perform my cardio in the morning and weight training in the afternoon. Everyone has preferences.

Diet. While my doctor suggested becoming a vegetarian over the long term, I focused instead on what felt realistic and attainable. For me, someone who was raised on a meat-and-potatoes Midwest diet, this simply meant making lateral changes that increased fiber while decreasing saturated fats and proteins that are high in fat or cholesterol.

By lateral changes, I mean that I changed out cereal with milk or eggs for oatmeal and a protein bar. I changed out deli sandwiches on wheat for peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat or shredded turkey on salad and then added an apple or a pear. I changed my family’s weekly dinner entrees from one or two beef, one or two pork, and the balance chicken or seafood to mostly chicken, one or two seafood and fish, one turkey, one pork (or less), and beef every other week. Since I cook the majority of our dinners, it was easy to swap olive oil in recipes calling for butter and other oils. I reduced my dairy intake.

There are dozens of smaller changes that worked out well too. For instance, since I have always enjoyed potato chips, I added a handful of natural sea salt kettle chips at lunch and sunflower seeds at any other time. Rather than having ice cream or some other sweet at night, I might have an apple or a pear. Nuts can help reduce cholesterol too.

It seems to me that the real key was finding an appropriate substitute to satisfy any craving. When that wasn’t possible, I chose moderation over scarcity and sacrifice. If I ate an apple and still craved ice cream, one spoonful would do it. Other times I had a restaurant dessert, lunch-pack bag of chips, or whatever I else wanted. It’s no big deal.

“Keep doing what you are doing,” said my doctor after three months. “Stay on the path, Obi Wan.”

Succeeding with a new exercise routine or changing your diet isn’t won with fads or sacrifice because it’s not a race. It’s a marathon, which makes process goals more important than performance goals. Focus on doing and not what you want done.

Yes, this can be frustrating at times. I had no idea whether my exercise and diet shift was working or not. Only blood pressure checks and a blood test would eventually prove it.

After three months, my blood pressure normalized despite having one kidney and a reasonably stressful job. My cholesterol (including LDL) dropped within two points of normal, enough to prompt my doctor to talk more about studies that are starting to question the logic of treating borderline high cholesterol than those recommending statin alternatives. I also lost ten pounds without giving up any muscle gain as a bonus and have currently adjusted my fitness program to include more core exercises to trim up my waistline because my goals have changed. I’ve lost two inches in four weeks.

Sure, what I did over the course of three months won’t necessarily work for everyone. But if you are like me and would prefer to remain med free, always remember that you don’t really know what exercise and diet can do until you try it. Your body might even surprise you. Mine continues to surprise me. I’m studying to become a personal trainer.

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Guyside: A brief self-congratulatory pause

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in exercise, Guyside, health, general, Inspiration, men, physical fitness | 0 comments

I don’t set out to make Guyside the “what’s happening with Bob” column. Because really, how many people would care. But today, I want to talk about me a little.

In the winter, I was looking forward to cycling season, and I happened upon a brochure for the Ontario Ride to Conquer Cancer. I usually use a long ride as a training goal for me to keep on my bike, so this appealed to me for a number of reasons. My usual goal ride is the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, a two-day, 220-mile ride from my home town of Ottawa to Kingston and back. But I’ve done that ride probably 10 times, and had a couple of bad experiences — one with heatstroke, one with the opposite, when single-digit temperatures and rain took their toll.

So I took the Ride to Conquer Cancer brochure home. The ride was a reasonable length — two days, about 125 miles total. It was in an area of my province I’d never ridden in — starting in Toronto, ending in Niagara Falls. The support was more than I was used to; organized rest stops?! But there was one new wrinkle. This was a fundraising ride. They expected each rider to raise at least $2500. That seemed like a lot. But I could direct the funds I raised to urogenital cancer research. That appealed to me as someone with bladder cancer, and as the son of a man who had bladder, prostate, and kidney cancers.

So I thought about it for a while, then I signed up.

I felt like I needed some mechanism to get people to donate, to get their attention. So I decided that if someone gave $100 or more, I’d find a song with their name in it (if Barbara donated, I’d grab Barbara-Ann), learn it, and record myself playing it for them on ukulele (uke has gotten to be an obsession, and no, I’m not a hipster.) So…

To make a long story short, I’ve raised over $5,000, which is amazing; I’ve put up 16 Youtube videos and have a lot more to do, and the ride is this weekend. I’m proud of myself for getting to my goal and looking forward to a new ride. I’ve even lost a little winter flab and gotten myself into better shape.

It’s made me feel really good to do this. And there’s an important point there – not for me, but for you. There’s a value in setting yourself a goal and working to achieve it. Not a work goal. A project for you, that has meaning for you and does something for others. A way to make something a little better and improve yourself in the bargain. Find it. Do it.

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Guyside. It’s spring! (It’s spring?!) Take advantage.

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in diet, exercise, Guyside, health, general, Inspiration, men, physical fitness | 0 comments

These t’ai chi practitioners in Beijing have the right idea about spring – get outside and let it buoy you up.

I am not a giant fan of winter. So even a spring as tentative and tantalizing as 2014’s is a welcome thing. You can feel the sun’s warmth on your face, and maybe even on your bare arms. Things begin to bud out in the gardens, early flowers show themselves, and everything seems new again. It’s wonderful.

If you feel the way I do, why not take this opportunity to make a fresh start on some personal care? Here are some ideas:

  • I have a fairly substantial bike ride coming up, so that means that I am getting out on the road more and more to get the legs in shape. In my city of Ottawa, there are lots of 12-month cyclists, but I’m not one of them. I ride inside, but that’s never quite the same as being out on the road.
  • I also find myself walking to places that a month or two ago I would have driven, because it’s not boneshatteringly cold out and it’s pleasant. Are there types of exercise that winter makes more difficult that you can start doing (or restart?)
  • We’re lucky enough to have a garden and a patio, so don’t discount the raking, hauling, sowing, weeding, gopher-chasing, and other outdoor things that you have to do to get your garden started. If you’re reading this where things are far beyond our early garden phase: I hate you.
  • If you’ve been relying on comfort foods and root vegetables (or worse, sports on TV and chicken wings!) to get you through the winter, start thinking about finding leafier greens to eat, from the closer the better. Farmer’s markets start opening up this time of year, offering us fresher produce and the opportunity to revisit our diets.
  • Relax. Whether it’s on my own patio or whether I’m at a coffeeshop or pub, patio season is a wonderful thing. Take opportunities to sit, unplug from the devices, be with yourself. Or be with other human beings, enjoying the time of year. Make the most of the season as an excuse to resume social life.

The businessman Sir John Templeton was once asked when the best time to invest was. His answer was “when you have money.” The best time to invest time and energy in yourself is when you have time and energy. Let the changing season fill you up with some of that energy, and make the time. You’ll be thankful.

Photo: creative-commons licenced by Flickr user Faungg’s Photo

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Can you exercise those hot flashes away?

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in exercise | 0 comments



It’s no secret that exercise is an integral part of my daily life and  to maintaining some semblance of balance. I have long said that without some form of activity, you’d probably find me crumbled in a corner in a sea of unease. To put it quite simply, I don’t feel well when I don’t exercise. However, as much as I would like to believe that my daily workouts are somehow keeping those flashes at bay, the evidence is not there. In fact, the most recent information out of the MsFLASH (Menopause Strategies: Finding Lasting Answers for Symptoms and Health) Research Network may put the question to rest.

In a quest to tease out the answer, researchers compared the effects of tri-weekly, moderate intensity aerobic exercise to no exercise in 248 women in late perimenopause or postmenopausal sedentary women. And while they hypothesized that regular exercise would significantly reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes, what they found was the opposite. The reported decline in flashes was equal between the two groups. Moreover, the reduction in how bothersome the flashes were relative to activity was minimal and not significantly different between the two groups.

On the flip side, exercise did seem to benefit sleep quality, reduce insomnia and depressive symptoms but only to a small degree.

So, what to make of these data? First, exercise is important to overall health and wellbeing and has been shown to help maintain an optimal weight, benefit the heart, boost muscle strength, prevent bone loss and assist with balance. There is no doubt whatsoever that exercise is an essential part of living, particularly as we age. The conclusion? It’s not time to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Still, in so far as exercise and vasomotor symptoms, research has repeatedly provided compelling evidence that all bets are off; exercise does not alleviate menopausal vasomotor symptoms, particularly in women who are usually sedentary. Yet, there is a silver lining in this story as experts don’t know if a single bout of exercise can benefit hot flashes in the short term. Moreover, physiological and psychological factors may also skew results; in this study, the effect of exercise on the frequency of vasomotor symptoms varied significantly by race, with white women experiencing declines relative to usual activity and African-American women experiencing no benefit.

The benefits of exercise to health outweigh its null effects in the vasomotor department. And, pushing the heart rate up a bit may help boost those nightly 40 winks. Don’t stop believing or moving. But when it comes to flashes, it’s time to look for help elsewhere.

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