Coffee vs Exercise. Which is better for Energy and Focus

During the month of April, we will explore all the ways you can increase your energy levels.

Coffee Beans in form of a Running Man

Coffee gets you going in the morning, providing a little oomph to clear the cobwebs and get your day started. This common comfort has been shown by many studies (and our own experience) to improve focus, increase energy, and improve mood as well. This is on top of the fact that coffee’s essential minerals (chromium, potassium, niacin, vitamin E and magnesium) and powerful antioxidants make it exceptionally good for you.

But what if you want more energy in the morning or mid-afternoon and don’t drink coffee. Or perhaps you want to wean off the coffee?

It turns out that exercise provides many of the same energy-boosting benefits as coffee. Even brief bursts of exercise increases alertness, makes you think more quickly,  and improves memory. And you can get this improvement whether you are an athlete or not.

But which is better for improving energy, coffee or exercise?

coffee by running shoes and jump rope

In a head to head comparison between between these two, reported here in this Harvard Article, it was found that “just 10 minutes of stair-climbing boosted self-reported levels of energy far more than a moderate dose of caffeine (50 mg).” 

At this point you’re thinking that you happen to like your hot coffee in the morning, and the caffeine jolt it brings to your sleepy brain! Why would you give that up just for a little extra energy benefit.

But where coffee provides short term benefits (2-4 hours), exercise has many long term benefits not only for your energy levels. The same short term gains you get from coffee on thinking skills, energy, and mood are also gotten as a result of exercise. The effect of exercise is longer lasting.

As you develop more muscle tone from being active, this can wake up your sleepy metabolism in the long term, thus giving you an energy boost in the long term as well.

So maybe the best solution is to have a little coffee if you love it, but then be active as well. That way you get the best of both energy boosting benefits.

The One Thing You Eat That Saps Your Energy

During the month of April, we will explore all the ways you can increase your energy levels.

When I was young, I played all sports but baseball was my favorite. And each afternoon on the way to the game we’d get a “Tigers Milk Bar” from the new Health Food Store in the mall. Basically a candy bar that contains the following:

multiple kinds of sugar
various sugar in cubes and granulated

Peanut Butter (roasted peanuts, salt), High Fructose Corn SyrupCorn Syrup, Carob Coating (Sugar, Palm Kernel and Palm Oil, Carob Powder, Whey Powder, Milk, Nonfat Dry Milk,Soy Lecithin [as an emulsifier], Salt, Natural Flavor), Nonfat Dry Milk, Soy Protein Isolate, Brown Sugar … and other stuff.

At the time we thought this was GREAT because your body needs sugar for energy. This should give me an extra boost as I round third and head for home.

Unfortunately for this homely little slice of Americana, although glucose is used as energy throughout the body, eating foods high in sugar — and in this case a candy bar with FOUR unique sources of sugar — actually has the opposite effect.

 

How Your Body Responds When You Eat Sugar

When sugar moves into your blood stream, it has to get into the muscles and organs. This is done through the molecule called insulin. But insulin isn’t just waiting around to scoop up the sugar and dump it into your tissues for energy. It is released into the blood stream in based on how much your body things you need.

woman holding donut and glucose meter

If you have a little sugar, your body senses that and produces a little insulin in response.

But if you have a lot of sugar, your body assumes that you need a lot more insulin. To keep up with how much sugar you’re pumping into the blood stream, it will actually overproduce insulin. This means that ALL of the sugar consumed will go into the tissues and into storage, leaving none in the blood stream for later.

If you’ve ever eaten to the bottom of the Girl Scout Cookie box and then noticed that you find yourself tired and hungry (a.k.a. hypoglycemic) in 90 minutes, this is why.

So if you want to increase your energy levels, slowly pull back on the excess sugar found in packaged foods, high-sugar beverages, and other overly sweetened foods. This will prevent the over-production of insulin that can leave you tired and hungry … moving less and eating more!

Socialize To Energize

During the month of April, we will explore all the ways you can increase your energy levels.

One of the great ironies of our modern world is that with the vast capability that we now have for constant connection, people often feel more lonely than ever. In fact, according to the Kaiser Foundation, over “a fifth of adults in the U.S. (22 percent) and the U.K. (23 percent) say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others, about twice the share in Japan (nine percent), referred to here as those reporting loneliness or social isolation.” (ref)

A recent study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry demonstrates that social isolation causes low mood, fatigue, and depression (ref). Unfortunately the effect of isolation becomes greater as we age.

One solution to this modern trend is to socialize, so you can energize.

This turns out to be very effective for increasing one’s energy. Measures of social connection are some of the greatest predictors of happiness, lower stress, and higher productivity. Connecting with others matters!  We are social animals with the need for connection laced into our DNA.

We all lead busy lives, but we also need to recognize the importance of sharing time with others. You don’t have to be a party animal or social butterfly at all. Just hang with the people you enjoy, eat meals together when possible, play games, get exercise partners, get in sports leagues or craft clubs.

The outlet doesn’t matter nearly as much as finding something you enjoy doing with people you enjoy being with.

The French, Their Wine, and Cancer. An Interview with Will Clower

The Telegraph of London asked me to comment on the recent kerfuffle on the French, their wine, and cancer. Below is the article. Please let me know your thoughts!

______________

When Dr Will Clower moved from his native Alabama to work at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Lyon, France, one of the first things he noticed about the French was their advanced attitude towards wine. Sitting with his fellow scientists in the university’s lunchroom on his first day, he spotted a cask of red wine alongside the juice, water, and sandwiches, from which members could pour themselves endless refills.

“It struck me as odd – we [in the United States] see wine as an intoxicant, it’s the sum of its pharmacological properties, so why on Earth would you serve it over lunch? But as I watched, I never saw anyone going back to get more. For them it’s considered food, so of course you’re going to have it with your lunch – it’s a no-brainer.”

For Dr Clower, it was the perfect illustration of the “French paradox” – the idea that French people can drink as much vin as they like without ever seeming to suffer from the associated health problems. France’s love affair with wine reared its head last week when Sante Publique, the country’s public health body, prompted outrage after it advised adults to limit their wine intake to two glasses per day.

The advice was greeted with a resounding non from government ministers, one of whom – Agriculture Secretary Didier Guillaume – said: “Wine isn’t alcohol like the others.” Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has previously admitted to drinking wine with lunch and dinner every day: “There is a public health danger when young people get drunk on strong alcohol or beer, but not with wine,” he said.

Are they correct? Are the health impacts of wine any different to those of beer, spirits, and other alcohols? And, on this side of the Channel, can we afford to drink wine as much as the French without shaving years off our life?

Ask a British government official, and they’ll probably tell you that there is no such thing as a  ‘good’ level of any alcohol. All booze is harmful, they say, and that includes wine, the drink adored so much by middle-class midlifers.

Launching its new guidelines in 2016, which advised adults to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week, Public Health England said: “The benefits of moderate drinking for heart health are not as strong as previously thought … The risk of developing a range of illnesses increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis.”

Their advice is backed up by studies linking even a small intake of alcohol to an increased risk of various cancers, including liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

But Dr Clower, who has written two books on the so-called ‘French Paradox’ since moving away from Lyon, isn’t so sure. If you look at it country by country, he says, the data does not show that higher wine consumption means higher rates of cancer. “There’s a closet full of caveats to that, but what it does say is that the relationship between wine consumption and cancer is overly simplistic and doesn’t tell the whole picture,” he says.

He says that one-off studies can only tell us so much about the health impacts of wine – it’s far more useful to look at individual countries that are doing it well and try to emulate them. “It’s frustrating, [a study comes out saying], ‘Drink wine because science shows it’ll make you live ten years longer’. And then a month later, ‘Don’t drink because it’s going to kill you’. There are cultural habits and cultural behaviours, and if those behaviours lead to lower weight, longer lives, healthier bodies, then the reason why is truly academic.

“The French live longer, they don’t have the cancers that [other Western countries] do, they don’t have the heart disease we do, they don’t have the diabetes that we do. Whatever they’re doing, they should keep doing it because it’s working for them, and the reasons will be revealed over time.”

In words that will come as even more of a delight to vino-lovers, he also thinks that wine can indeed be good for the heart, due to their high levels of antioxidants.

This is a view shared by Toral Shah, a nutritional scientist and chef who specialises in cancer prevention after overcoming the disease in her twenties. She says there has been “really mixed research” into the impacts of wine on cardiovascular (heart) disease, but thinks that the high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols found in wine (particularly red wine) help our heart and immune system.

“If you look at people over a long period of time, the people that have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease are the people that drink one glass of wine a day,” she says. “There’s a U-shaped curve: drinking one, maximum two glasses of red wine, three of four times a week, can be beneficial to longevity. The French haven’t got it wrong: they’re normally drinking wine rather than hard alcoholic cocktails.”

What’s more, the French drink their wine much more socially than the British, she says, usually chatting to their friends and family over a meal. “The [French] social health is much better, they’re sitting with more people, they’re interacting with more people. In France they still have a proper lunch break, they sit down away from their desk, eat something and drink wine.

“It’s not like us [in Britain], where we’re not really eating well, we’re necking a load of alcohol when we go out and not having any food.”

‘Social health’ has now become such an accepted part of medicine, she says, that it is listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) under its definition of health: “It impacts our health so much more than we realised ever before, and it’s only now that we have a broken social network in the Western world that we’re really starting to see the impact. It’s only a product probably of the last 30 or 40 years.”

Before you run to your local wine merchant to set up a daily order of Pinot Noir, however, Shah also recommends limiting yourself to one glass a day, with some alcohol-free days each week.

This makes Emmanuel Macron, who claims to drink a glass with lunch and dinner every day, something of a bad example. “It’s a bit too much”, she says of the French president’s habits. “He’s 41, he looks in shape for his age, but he needs to consider that your metabolism changes a lot at that age. Maybe he should have a few days [each week] where he doesn’t drink alcohol – that’s a recommendation from the WHO.”

Effect of High Cocoa Chocolate on Energy Levels

During the month of April, we will explore all the ways you can increase your energy levels.

How Chocolate Boosts Your Energy — from my book, “Eat Chocolate Lose Weight” (

Rodale)

Chocolate can increase your energy levels through the specific kind of antioxidants most abundant in cocoa: catechins and epicatechins. These antioxidants do two very important things to increase your muscles’ ability to create more energy for you to use. First, they increase the amount of nutrients your muscles have to work with, and then they further increase the micromolecular organelles that produce the energy itself.

To nourish and power your muscles in the first place, you have to get the nutrients into the muscular fibers. This, of course, happens when the oxygenated blood in your large arteries flows out into the smaller arteries, then into the smaller arterioles, and finally inside the muscle tissue via tiny capillaries. The diameter of a capillary is about 0.0003 inches, or about the width of one single red blood cell. In other words, your red blood cells have to go through the capillaries in a single-file line.

This spidery array of branching capillaries is so small that nutrients can pass from the bloodstream into the tissue. So, if you need more energy, you’ll need more nutrients, and you’ll need more capillaries to infiltrate the tissue.  That’s the first need.

The second requirement is to be able to turn those extra nutrients into extra energy. For this, you need the mitochondria, which are tiny organelles. What’s an organelle? You know how Pluto recently got demoted from a Planet to a “Planette,” or mini-planet? Well, an organelle is basically a mini-organ—a self-enclosed structure that performs a function for your body. Organs like the liver and kidney may be bigger and doing more things that are more central to your living another day, but your organelles are just as critical—only smaller!

The most prominent roles of mitochondria are to produce the energy currency of the cell.

The mighty mitochondria organelles are the power plants that make the energy that make you move. Without them, you don’t move. And, if you are feeling lethargic and don’t want to do anything but veg out on the couch, you can blame your mitochondria. It won’t do you any good, and it’s not their fault anyway, but it will certainly make you feel better to blame something that you can’t see or touch, and most people don’t even know what they are.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“Just being a slug on the couch. It’s my mitochondria.”

“Oh, that sounds awful. What is it?”

“Mitochondrial malaise, you know, a medical condition with tons of syllables.”

You’ll be so impressive, right up until the moment your friends discover Google.

Chocolate may be what you turn to during your attack of mitochondrial malaise, but it also happens to be a solution for that very same affliction. Not chocolate per se, but the cocoa in chocolate, which has the highest levels of epicatechins. That’s because sustained cocoa consumption produces a happy downstream effect on top of the increased capillary formation in your muscles: new mitochondria formation. [ref 1 below]

In other words, the epicatechins you get when you eat high-cocoa chocolate do both things that you need in order to increase your energy. This is definitely good news for athletes, and also for anyone who wants to eat chocolate.

But here’s a mistake you cannot make. Yes, high-cocoa chocolate can create energy for you at the cellular level. Yes, this can give you the energy to get off the couch in the first place. It can also give you more energy to take whatever activity you are doing to the next level. However, chocolate is not going to save you. It can’t hoist you off the couch. It can’t run you down the street or get you to move. It is no more and no less than your most delicious activity support system ever. If used as a support system for your activity, it can help you help yourself.

So, yes, you do in fact get these benefits by just eating the chocolate. However, you actually get more of a boost when you combine activity with high-cocoa chocolate consumption. The number of capillaries to your muscles increases (including your heart muscle, by the way), and the number of new mitochondria increases when those muscles are activated.

By the way, the reverse is also true. I just told you that high-cocoa chocolate can increase capillary and mitochondria growth all on its own. The same is true of exercise. On its own, exercise will increase the number of capillaries to your muscles. Likewise, exercise alone will increase the number of mitochondria generated in them. Again, though, the combination of activity plus high-cocoa chocolate provides even more of them to both your skeletal and cardiac muscles.

How many more? According to one study, cocoa epicatechins alone produce a 30% increase in fatigue resistance and a 30% increase in new blood supply. However, the increase in energy that you get from combining cocoa epicatechins with exercise amounts to a boost of 50%! [ref 2 below] In layman’s terms, that’s a huge increase in your ability to complete your exercises and to go through a normal day with increased energy.

The outcome of this is simple: fatigue resistance. And think about what this would mean for you in the context of your normal day. How much would a little fatigue resistance be worth to you? For example, if someone had a pill that could reduce fatigue without also killing your liver, causing you to break out into boils, or sending you into convulsions you’d buy that. This side effect–free fatigue resistance comes from the combination of high-cocoa chocolate and moderate activity.

How long will it take for these changes to occur? It took 2 weeks for experimental animals to see a 30% increase in fatigue resistance. [ref 3 below] In a separate study, it took 4 weeks to see increased capillaries and mitochondria. [ref 4 below] And subjects with type 2 diabetes who were administered 100 milligrams of epicatechins per day for 3 months showed a significant increase in mitochondria. [ref 5 below] In fact, before taking the epicatechins, their energy-producing mitochondria had all but withered away. It was only with the addition of the high-cocoa chocolate that their mitochondria were restored.

Does that mean you have to have chocolate every day for 3 months before you see improvements in your energy levels? (Okay, worse things could happen.) No, you don’t have to wait 3 months. You’ll see an increase in energy within those first few weeks, because the increased capillaries and mitochondria are progressive and develop over time.

It turns out, too, that as you get older, chocolate’s improvement on your capillaries and energy level is even more evident. As you age, you notice yourself running out of energy more often. Where do you think that energy went? Those little mitochondria organelles and the nutrients carried in with the capillaries, erode over time. [ref 6 below] And you become lethargic.

Because of that, there are fewer of the organelles in your muscles to begin. And as a result, the improvement older individuals realize with increased high-cocoa chocolate consumption is actually greater than that of younger people. There are so very few perks to growing older. Perhaps this is one!

REFERENCES

[1] L Nogueira et al., “(-)-Epicatechin Enhances Fatigue Resistance and Oxidative Capacity in Mouse Muscle,” Journal of Physiology 589, pt. 18 (September 15, 2011); 4615–31.

[2] I Ramirez-Sanchez et al., “Stimulatory Effects of the Flavanol (-)-Epicatechin on Cardiac Angiogenesis: Additive Effects with Exercise,” Cardiovascular Pharmacology 60, no. 5 (November 2012): 429–38.

[3] L Nogueira et al., “(-)-Epicatechin Enhances Fatigue Resistance and Oxidative Capacity in Mouse Muscle,” Journal of Physiology 589, pt. 18 (September 15, 2011): 4615–31.

[4] M Huttemann et al., “(-)-Epicatechin Maintains Endurance Training Adaptation in Mice after 14 Days of Detraining,” FASEB Journal 26, no. 4 (April 2012): 1413–22.

[5] PR Taub et al., “Alterations in Skeletal Muscle Indicators of Mitochondrial Structure and Biogenesis in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Failure: Effects of Epicatechin Rich Cocoa,” Clinical and Translational Science 5, no. 1 (February 2012): 43­–7.

[6] DC Wallace (1999), “Mitochondrial Diseases in Man and Mouse,” Science 283: 1482–1488.

Defy Diabetes … Foods to Choose and Foods to Lose

Everyone knows to eat your green leafy vegetables, avoid fried foods, and basically follow a Mediterranean food plan. But there are some surprising details about certain foods and drinks that can help improve insulin sensitivity, so you can give your body the best chance it has to defy diabetes.

Healthy vs Unhealthy Foods
Foods to choose and foods to lose.

Tea For Type 2

A great deal of research has demonstrated that drinking plain green tea may make our cells more sensitive to insulin. Black tea has shown positive effects as well, although green tea is the clear winner. Increasing insulin sensitivity is especially crucial for type 2 diabetics as their cells can become resistant to the work that insulin performs.  Increasing this sensitivity helps the cells metabolize sugar more effectively, which can help keep blood sugar levels within a normal range.

Put Out The Fire

Inflammation is closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. If that inflammation goes on for a long time in your body, you get chronic inflammation. This is strongly associated with insulin resistance and obesity itself.

Foods the Feed The Fire:

  • High Sugar Confections
  • Fried Foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • red and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • Margarine, and foods with hydrogenated oils

 

Foods the Fight The Fire:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
  • nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
  • fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges

 

Do Desserts. Just Do Them Right.

In order to control sugar consumption, often diabetics will feel like they have to avoid desserts altogether. This is just not true. They will need to avoid simple sugars, but there are many wonderful options that are low in sugar and do not require a lot of effort.

  • Homemade hot chocolate (use more cocoa, less sugar)
  • Heated milk flavored with vanilla and/or cinnamon with a tiny bit of sweetener
  • Dark chocolate with some nuts or nut (or seed) butter.
  • Fresh fruit with a dollop of natural whipped or clotted cream
  • Baked apples sprinkled with toasted walnuts, a tiny bit of brown sugar, and cinnamon
  • Baked peaches or pears topped with melted dark chocolate.

 

The bottom line is that some foods can tilt your physiology in a healthy direction, while other tilt it in an unhealthy direction. Know which is which is critical to sustaining a healthy glucose balance and defying diabetes in your life.

Defy Diabetes … with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation.

Can mindfulness help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D)? A number of research articles, like this one, show that those with higher “Mindfulness Scores” have lower risks of having T2D. But read beyond the title and into the thick of the paper. These authors correctly point out that this is a correlation only. Those who are more mindful ARE less likely to have T2D, but why is that?

It it just practicing mindfulness that reduces risk? Or is it something that mindfulness does for you, that allows you to reduce risk.

One possibility comes from the research literature: those who have higher Mindfulness Scores also tend to follow through on health regimens, diets to help control weight (80% of T2Ds are overweight or obese), and activity programs. In other words, mindfulness may be a key tool to can help patients follow through on the healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Based on this theory, the healthy lifestyle behaviors such as eating well, being active, and controlling stress actually reduce the risk of T2D. Greater mindfulness may just make those easier to follow through on. Think of it like one step on the path. Once you’re there, it helps you get closer to a healthy body and healthy mind.

 

 

Defy Diabetes … by Knowing The Signs

Word Cloud – Diabetes

Let’s just put this into perspective: Diabetes is reported as the underlying cause of death on 79,535 death certificates, and 252,806 list it as a contributing cause. That makes it the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.

Do you have this disease? If you did how would you know if you did?

The symptoms are not obvious, and short of going to a physician and getting your blood tested for its glucose levels, it can be hard to tell. In this article, we’ll talk about the common symptoms you need to be aware of. Keep in mind, that most of these symptoms may seem perfectly benign, or may actually be symptoms of some other condition altogether.

The Blahs: Your body needs you to convert the food you eat into energy. After digestion happens and that fuel gets absorbed into your blood, glucose is suppose to get into your cells where they’ll use it  do its work. For diabetics, your body has trouble getting that energy into your cells, so you may feel more hungry and tired than usual.

Fluid Loss: On average, a person has to urinate between 4 and 7 times per day. But diabetics have higher levels of sugar in their blood, which affects the kidneys by making them produce more urine. So if you are diabetic, you may have to pee more often. This, in turn, has other downstream effects as well.

  • It can make you thirstier.
  • You can get dry mouth.
  • You can get drier, itchier skin.
  • You can get blurred vision, as the fluid loss can make your eyes change chap and lose their ability to focus.
Long Term Changes: If you have had high levels of blood glucose for a long time , both men and women can experience increased numbers of yeast infection, nerve damage that can cause sores to be slower to heal, and pain or numbness in your feet or legs.The bottom line is to notice when you perceive any of these signs, and then reach out to your doctor for advice.