physical fitness

Physical activity for prevention: how much, how often, how long?

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in physical fitness, women's health | 0 comments


Physical activity. You can’t beat it for preserving bone, maintaining weight and boosting endorphins and mood. Lord knows that there are reams and reams of data demonstrating its value. But confusion remains with regard to how much, how often and how long, i.e. what do you need to do to prevent physical and cognitive decline during menopause and thereafter?

A new systematic review of the literature appearing online in Menopause journal attempts to answer this very question. In it, the authors searched the literature published between the years 2009 and 2014 specifically as it related to physical activity and women’s physical and mental health and ultimately settled on 21 studies. The findings?

  • In postmenopause, body composition and higher physical activity levels are associated with better physical functioning however, because frailty may actually begin in midlife, developing or maintaing a health lifestyle during the middle years is imperative.
  • The higher the level of physical activity, the more significant the decrease in the odds of dying from any cause. Importantly, this remained true even after the researchers took into account factors like age, education, ethnicity, depression and comorbidities. Conversely, women who were more sedentary had a 98% higher risk of dying than their physically active peers!
  • Exercises that improved cardiorespiratory capacity had the greatest impact on physical health. Cardiorespiratory capacity refers to the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen and remove CO2 to/from the skeletal muscles during physical activity. Here, higher is better. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not the prescription for cardiorespiratory boosting exercise change as we grown older?
  • A key difficulty with activity is adherence.  Consistently, women report that they abandon exercise due to time constraints, or personal, cultural or environmental factors.
  • All of the studies found that physical activity was associated with lower rates of cognitive decline but the magnitude of this effect was inconsistent. Also unclear was the impact of physical activity on health-related quality of life.

The bottom line is that you need to MOVE, often, intensely and frequently. Do exercises that boost your cardiorespiratory capacity, e.g. jogging, running, swimming, cycling, kettlebells or interval training. And lose the excuses; make the time now or you’ll suffer later. It truly IS an either/or!


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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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Mirror, mirror, on Guyside’s wall…

Posted by on Mar 26, 2014 in aging, appearance, Boomer, diet, exercise, Guyside, men, physical fitness, weight, weight gain | 0 comments

CC-licenced image by Flickr user RacchioI recently came upon a photo of me that was about 10 years old or so. I didn’t think much of it, but then I took a closer look to see if I could spot the telltale signs of aging in it. It was hard. I’m a little heavier now than I was then (about 192 compared to about 185); there are more than a few gray hairs in my facial hair, but not much on top; I couldn’t see the advance of wrinkles.

Trust me. I am not Dorian Gray. But I think that guys are able to see exactly what they want to see in mirrors or photographs. A classic Canadian folk song called “Lies” is about a woman confronting her face in the mirror, with one couplet: “She shakes off the bitter web she wove / Gently puts the mirror face down by the stove.” From the outside, at least, I think women look at themselves and see flaws, while men look at themselves and see an idealized version of themselves.

I don’t think I have to argue that for many women, body image is a big problem. But I want to argue that the male tendency to ignore reality isn’t an asset. If we “can’t see” the toll that time and our choices take on our body, then men could be opening ourselves up to health issues.

I was recently part of an online discussion where a mother was talking about how quickly her daughter would look at herself and wonder if she was too fat (this in elementary school!), while the girl’s quite-average-shaped younger brother would come to his mother and demand she demonstrate awe at his huge biceps and muscles! While I suspect that everyone in adolescence is hypersensitive to body issues (why don’t my boobs look like hers, why can’t I get rid of these pimples, why am I 6’1″ and weigh under 140 — that last one was me, by the way), it’s disconcerting to think that even in early childhood, there are already seeds of dissatisfaction with who we are, and the willingness to rely on our fantasy vision of ourselves rather than to simply acknowledge reality.

Since the 1980s, when I was thin enough, as my dad used to say, “to have to run around in the shower to get wet,” I’ve put on about 55 pounds. I needed some of that. But maybe not all of that. Even my idealized eyes can see that. I’ll never be a bodybuilder, never be “musclebound.” Given the raw material, I would have to either become an utter gym rat, or I’d end up using dangerous methods like steroids to achieve some level of muscularity. And I’m not willing to risk my health for an image. I like feeling fit, I like feeling toned. But for me, the “Men’s Health” six-pack or the arms of a pro wrestler aren’t worth it.

But the question then becomes: if you recognize the need for change, then how to make that change. Next week, I’ll be talking about cosmetic surgery for men.

(photo CC-licenced by Flickr user Michele di Trani)

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Use it or lose it!

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 in physical fitness | 0 comments

Time to Move - Clock

I’ve said it countless times and I will say it countless times more until you hear and share the message:


Even if you move everyday at the gym, move!

Findings from yet another study, this time in roughly 93,000 women, some as young as age 50, demonstrate that sitting on one’s behind for hours at a time significantly shortens lifespan. In fact, when researchers looked at the amount of time spent sitting and resting over a 12 year period, they found that idle hands (and bodies) did their own bidding and not the devil’s, leading to as much as a 12% greater risk for death from all causes, even after accounting for how mobile (and physically able) the women were, current chronic disease status, demographic factors and overall fitness. This last factor is important because it implies that even women who exercise the most can be at risk for disease and death if they have large amounts of idleness/sedentary time in addition to their physical activity!

What do the researchers consider ‘sedentary behavior?’ The highest risk appeared to occur in women who spent more than 11 hours a day on their behinds compared with their peers who spent four hours or less. Not only was this group of women at risk for death from all causes, but they also had a 13% greater odds for dying from any kind of heart disease, 27% for dying from a buildup of plaque in their arteries and 21% from cancer.

The lead researcher, Dr. Rebecca Sequin, says that excess sedentary time makes it harder to regain strength and function, noting that women start to lose muscle mass as young as age 35. This change is accelerated during menopause. The best way to counteract these declines is to engage in regular physical activity that also includes weight bearing exercise. However, again, everyday movement on top of working out is critical. 

There are steps that you can take now to counteract the detrimental effects of being sedentary. First, consider the following:

  • During a usual day (and night), how many hours do you spend sitting at any given time (e.g. sitting at work, sitting at a table eating, driving or riding in a car or public transportation, sitting watching TV or being social)?
  • During a usual day and night, how many hours do you spend lying down with your feet up at any given time or sleeping?
  • Now, add up how much time you spend sitting and lying down and subtract the amount that you are sleeping. Ideally, you are sedentary less than 8 hours a day, excluding sleep.

The key to boosting activity time is to get up and move around frequently, both inside and outside the house. Take breaks during computer time and sitting at your desk; some folks I know are also trying the treadmill desks. If you are watching TV, get up during commercial breaks (that is, if you are not DVR’ing) and move. And, if you are relying on the time spent at the gym to counteract the time sitting on your butts, change your mindset. I know that I sure have to. Use it or lose it applies to all of us!



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Guyside: Buddy, can you spare some time?

Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in physical fitness | 1 comment

I am a wonderful avoider of exercise. When it comes down to it, part of me believes what Neil Armstrong said: “I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”

Last month, I wrote about winter and weight. Well, it’s winter — no doubt about it. Polar vortexes (vortices?!), snowmageddons, flight cancellations by the hundreds, North America has been walloped by winter this year.

And between the weather (which has seemed to swing like a pendulum between mounds of snow and temperatures just above absolute zero), a nasty virus that laid me out for nearly a week, and the holidays, my winter exercise resolutions are already getting tattered.

Bicycle in a rut

Ruts are dangerous things.

So what’s a guy to do if they’re feeling behind the eight-ball? In my case, I’m gonna recruit me a workout buddy. I have some experience in knowing that the buddy system works. When I went to university about a million years ago, I nearly flunked calculus. In fact, I was severely flunking it. But luckily for me, I knew a guy in my class who was struggling as hard as I was. Jeff and I became study partners, and while we weren’t exactly prizewinners by the end of the course, we made it. Jeff was a bit of a gym rat, too, and I became a gym buddy for a while too. Not enough of one to change my body shape, but better than I was.

Years later, I was encouraged by my partner, whose self-discipline and dedication dwarf mine, to take out a family membership at the local Y. And for quite a while, we were regulars there together; she’d do cardio & I’d do weights, or vice versa.

And as a cyclist, having people who will call you up and say “Hey! You ridin’ this morning?” is a very good thing. Of course, that is only really going to help when spring begins to spring.

So as I contemplate my fitness state, I know I need a fitness buddy. And researchers who have examined the Kohler effect have found that the “buddy system” works. So I have three strategies I’m gonna follow.

#1: I am a cyclist first and foremost, so step one is to get some spinning classes booked. Once I’ve spent the money on them, my cheap side will make me go, and the combination of people I’m stronger than that I can beat and people that are stronger than me that make me want to beat them will be a good motivator.

#2: I have some friends who are in similar need of breaking Neil Armstrong’s rule about heartbeats, so I’m going to talk to them.

#3: Since neither my partner and I are skiers, we’re going to try snowshoeing. The skill level should be a little lower; the cost of buying in is definitely lower; and we’re close to some lovely nature trails. And she’ll drag my sorry butt out of the house when I won’t do it for myself.

What are your strategies for breaking out of the exercise rut?

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