Healthy Holiday Spirits

At the end of the year, feasts with family and friends commonly encourage consumption of food and of drink. How do you make sure this annual occurrence doesn’t turn bad for you? You simply have to manage quantity AND quality.

Drinking Quantity

Wine makes the point. For example, is red wine good for you or bad for you.

* One to two glasses per day is said to be good for your heart.

* One to two bottles per day will turn your liver into a brick.

The bottom line is that wine is NOT good for you, and wine is NOT bad for you … until you make it that way. Over-consumption changes this drink from one that is healthy, to one that is not.

The same is true for all spirits, and the holiday season is the perfect time to make the point: controlled consumption keeps the holiday happy, but also healthy!

 

Drinking Quality

There are differences in taste between different beers, wines, and spirits, but that’s not what I’m talking about. In this sense, quality doesn’t apply to the flavor of the drink but to the nutritional aspects. And once you have the quantity issue worked out (see above), improving the quality of the drinks is the next piece of the puzzle.

  • It’s very simple. Cut the sugar.
  • A standard egg nog is like twelve thousand calories.
  • If you have mixers, don’t used colas or other sugar sweetened drinks.
  • Drinks served at restaurants sound wonderful on their menu descriptions, but are very commonly over-sweetened.

This is important because sugar consumption is not only high in calories, but it also can affect your insulin balance in a way that makes you more tired and hungry in the long term — moving less, and eating more!

So this November, if you have drinks with alcohol at all, limit the volume. A good solution is to have a glass of water between each drink. Also, if you make a commitment to remove the sugars from your drinks you’ll be just as likely to reduce your caloric load as you will to reduce your food cravings!

The New Freshman 15 Is The “Fitbit 15”. A Cautionary Tale.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

They say that “No good deed goes unpunished.” In this case, it’s definitely the case. You get the schmancy wearable device complete with flashy lights, beeps, reminders, apps, it tells you your calories, steps, heart rate and billions of other things you didn’t even know that you needed to know!

So you invested in the tech. With all this data right on your wrist, you’d think that it will help you control weight. Unfortunately, the opposite turns out to be true. For individuals in weight management studies, those who have wearable devices often gain weight compared to those who do NOT have those devices.

What the, what? How can that be? First of all, you’d naturally think the device would assist in weight control. Second, why would it work against your efforts?

The Data Behind All That Data

It turns out that the information you receive on those devices may actually be responsible for the weight control failures. How?

Studies measured the accuracy of wearable device data  and found that “wearable devices had a rather high measurement accuracy with respect to heart rate, number of steps, distance, and sleep duration … whereas poor measurement accuracy was observed for energy consumption (calories)….”

Here’s a systematic review of many studies, that agreed that there was a “higher validity of

 steps, few studies on distance and physical activity, and lower validity for energy expenditure and sleep.”

 

Vanity Sizing, But For Calories

If you finish your daily walk and look down at your watch to find that you burned 2000 calories already this morning, you feel great! You LOVE this device! And you can totally justify a bacon triple cheeseburger! By systematically over-estimating the calories consumed, people over-compensate by over-eating over and over.

Hence the problem.

 

Ditch The Device?

Does this mean you should get rid your wearable? No, just be aware when you wear a wearable. The estimates you get from the device are just that … estimates.

What to do now? Do not use your estimated calorie burn to justify that Venti Caramel Macchiato. That said, if you want to use this information in some way, just be conservative and cut the number in half. Better yet, don’t modify your dietary intake based on perceived calorie offsets at all. Continue eating clean, and doing that in control. At that point, your schmancy device data becomes a wonderful little FYI, but not much more.

 

What’s the Matter With Your Gray Matter? More Than Just Brain Strain.

It’s 50 shades of gray for the matter of your gray matter. As you age, little by little you start dropping threads. Then you have to retrace your steps, physically and mentally to force yourself to remember the things you forgot. This is as inevitable as it is normal.

But as in any normal distribution bell curve, there is a range of age-related dysfunction: some people seem to start forgetful, others develop it over time, and others seem to just keep going like an EverReady Bunny.

What makes the difference between those who lose it early, and those who lose it late? Probably 32 factors, only a few of which are even known at this point. Oh great, right? That said, there are things we can do to tilt the needle away from this steep senility Slip-n-Slide. Most people would think I’m going to say brain exercises, crosswords, Sudoku, and other forms of brain strain.

And those are fine, but something else you can do is far simpler. Here’s some data:

 

exercise breaks promote attention and improve your ability to learn (STUDY),

they can improve memory and executive function (STUDY),

and “exercise training may be a promising approach to improve [blood flow in the brain], as increases may contribute to the beneficial effects on cognitive functioning observed following increased physical activity levels (STUDY).

Bottom line? Bend the curve in your favor! Hold back the decline as long as you can! And to do that, remember to active every day in every way. Otherwise, you’ll slip faster down that slope. And no one climbs back up a Slip-n-Slide.

Enough Is Enough, But How Much Is That?

I was going to write a big long post about overdoing exercise, it’s potential bad effects on your heart, and just the impossibility of keeping up with that unless you’re already Joe Athlete. So in stead, I just thought I’d answer the basic questions.

If you’re not running marathons, completing triathlons, or Iron Man competitions do you need to step it up and do more?

No.

If you’re doing some activity, anything really, with only moderate intensity for 21 minutes per day, are you getting the recommended amount of activity?

Yes.

The bottom line is that the “right amount” of exercise will be different for every person. You need to move while doing something you enjoy. But whether you should do 30 minutes of badminton or 30 minutes high octane spinning turns out to be more about your preference than anything else.

Don’t over-complicate, overthink, and certainly don’t feel like you have to overdo your exercise.  21 minutes per day, moderate activity. Get that in, and you win.

 

Never Chew On A Tree

 

“Do what you love, love what you do?”

Even as I write this, it sounds like a cartload of kum bay ya ya sisterhood of the traveling meaningless aphorisms. It just needs Sarah McLaughlin warbling in the background to tie-dyed retro hippies dancing in some field.

That said, and as much as it elicits my mental gag reflex, as far as exercise goes it actually makes sense.

We are coached to think of exercise as a way to crank out the calories you need to balance that forklift sized Portion of Texas fajitas that could feed Rwanda. Calories in, out. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. Think of it like the bitter pill you have to take for those 2 margaritas you tacked on to your “working” lunch.

So exercise is presented almost like an atonement you deserve, and definitely not something you should love necessarily. But except for hard core athletes, most people really don’t like this kind of perfunctory, no pain no gain mentality.

In fact, one very Southern woman once looked at me and said, [when you read this, it’s totally better if you do it with a drawl] “Dr. Clower I would rather chew on a TREE than git on that treadmill and bounce my big blobby body here and there for 30 minutes in the gym in front of God and everybody!”

Agreed.

We have to get over that way of thinking, because doing something you don’t like or love is the exact wrong strategy. When you are exercising and hate it, you can create cortisol stress hormones that work against the very beneficial effect of the exercise that you’re trying to achieve. In other words, you’ll get less out of it if you hate it, not to mention the fact that you’ll only do it until your full-sleeve-thin-mint guilt wears off.

But if you find what you love to do and do that, whatever that activity is will happen longer, you won’t create the stress response that works against you, and you’ll more efficiently burn calories. Think about how fun it is to ride a bike, play on a sports team, hike a trail with your family, walk with your friends. WHICH activity matters far less than how you feel about it.

Bottom line? For your activity, find what you love. Do that.

A Geenie Grants Your Wish You Don’t Want

Okay, bear with me. Let’s just say you’re a normal person leading a normal life with the normal litany of gripes: my KID wanted this dog, but now I have to walk them every day?; if I have to mow this grass one more time I’m just going to pave it and paint it green; AND OMG Philadelphia airport(!!), why do you have to put  every single terminal 5000 miles away in its own zip code??

Then rummaging through your attic one day, you lift up a board to uncover a lamp that had been there probably since the invention of attics. Being dusty, you rubbed at it with some old nasty sham wow in the corner to clean it up a bit, and it starts smoking. You’re like, whaaat it’s a bomb!, spike it, turn to get out of there when you hear a deep sonorous voice.

“Whoa there cowboy. I’m not a bomb. Just a Geenie.”

A Geenie?? Shut up!

“I don’t think you actually want that.”

Right! Sorry, there Aladdin. Can I call you Al?

“No. Not even a little bit.”

[big pause as the nameless Gennie just stares with his big brown droopy eyes]

Alrighty then, I get 3 wishes right?

“Whoa again, you get 1 wish, and I already have it picked out for you.”

One? What a ripoff! What happened to three??

“Geenie’s Union.”

That’s not a thing.

“Oh, it’s totally a thing. We’d gone thousands of years giving 3 wishes until Millennials came along.”

Millennials?

“Yeah, they starting wishing for infinite wishes. They found a loophole. And we were putting in SO much overtime granting silly wishes like job security without actually DOING anything, participation trophies without actually DOING anything, living in their parent’s basement without DOING anything, that we created the new contract. One wish. I pick.”

Damn Millennials.

“Right?”

Wait, so how do you know what my wish is?

“Um, Geenie! I know what you’ve been thinking this whole time. Sooooo …”

At that moment, a cloud of smoke poofed and a sound like Rice Crispies crinkled in the air.

“I’m going to write into my official log that I gave you 30 seconds to get down stairs and onto the couch, because you’re going to need it, and I’m just a nice guy like that.”

My couch?

“Tick tock, brother!”

Giddy with possibilities, this was like Christmas morning. Quickly you settled in and waited the 30 seconds. Nothing. HEY GEENIE, you yell up to the attic, WHAT THE …

“You don’t have to yell. I’ll keep my voice in your head for a bit. And because I like you, I have granted you many of your wishes all in one. You no longer have to mow the yard. You no longer have to walk the dog. And you no longer have to suffer through the endless bad planning decisions of the Philadelphia Airport Authority. Congrats, man.”

You feel awesome! Then, when you try to get up to get the phone to call your wife and try to explain this little X files dream sequence, you realize you can’t move. It just doesn’t work. None of it. You’re paralyzed.

Geenie, wait! Put it back, you plead like George Bailey calling out to Clarence, I want to move. I want to mow and walk the stupid dog and I know zero people want to be in Philly’s airport, but I’d even go there!

“Nope. One and done. Plus, now I gotta go. Union rules.”

But Geenie, I can’t play with my kids any more. Can’t go where I want when I want to. I’ll have to be waited on by others for the rest of my immobile life, I hate this!

[crickets]

Here’s why we need to change how we think about movement. It is a gift and a miracle that, if some tragic magic befell us and we suddenly lost it, we would long for the inconvenience of movement.

Here’s how to start thinking about movement. You move because you GET to, not because you HAVE to. Hold on to that blessing with both hands, because the more you move, the more you will be able to move through your life.

Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” Just seemed an appropriate wrap up to this article.

How (and why) To Change How You Think About Fitness

If fitness lives for you like a chore or something you just really hate doing, then you have to think about it differently. If it is not something you love doing, do something else.

It’s easy to see where this all comes from. We’re told that you need to “gut it out”. You’ve got to hit the gym. No pain, no gain. But if you would rather chew on a tree than run on a treadmill, then you may think exercise is just not for you.

That would NOT be because you shouldn’t or couldn’t be active, but because of how we are coached to think about it by our culture. In healthy cultures, they think about it differently. They don’t associate it with heroism, but fun.

So change how you think. Go against the grain and reject the cultural training. Find something that gets you moving, something you really love doing, and make that your activity. You’ll stick with it longer and get more out of it in the process.

Building a Better Brain. Don’t Be A Slug.

In my former life as a neuroscientist (over 25 years ago), I did physiology research on certain aspects of the brain and behavior. At some point after a long week of working with monkeys, a few of us went out for a beer at the local place. And I guess because we just hadn’t had enough brain-speak during the week, we started talking about what it would take to build a better brain. Imagine that, a bunch of brain researchers using their brains to talk about how to improve our brains.

My friends thought it was the beer talking, but I piped up that exercising improved your brain whether you used it for thinking, doing puzzles, or not. After I offered my little hypothesis, it was like one of those moments in a group where someone says something SO non sequitur that everyone all stops talking, looks, pauses during the extended blank staring epoch, and then goes back to their conversation.

To their defense, the brain IS a unique system from the musculoskeletal system. Why in the Universe would these two be linked?

We’ve learned a lot since then. Like, for example, the increase in blood pressure that happens when you exercise, also happens within the brain. And that increased pressure and flow can help keep those passages open, providing more oxygen and nutrients to this cold gray cerebral organ that also happens to need more glucose than any other organ in the body (by far!).

That’s why its so important to keep the arteries clean as a whistle. And a good way to help with that is to move. In fact, we now know that regular physical activity improves your cognitive skills, prevents you from sliding into that old age phase of having to act like you still remember things, and it works for any age level as well.

So, if you want to build a better brain. Don’t be a slug. Get out and move!