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The X’s and O’s of Weight Loss

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Womans feet going on weighting scale at home

For every smart ass who’s ever said, “put your fork down,” thanks for being so insightful…

Yes, while eating less is sometimes necessary in order to lose weight or, better put, decrease body fat, there are many other things that factor in.  Not to mention there is definitely a right way to eat less and a wrong way to eat less, and many people are doing it wrong.

Now, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to go into a little more detail on energy balance, which we touched on in my last post on 4 Reasons Why Counting Calories is Worthless.

 

What is Energy Balance?

 

Energy balance is simply the relationship between our body’s energy intake and energy expenditure.  Or, in other words, it’s the well-known concept of calories in versus calories out.

We provide our body with energy in the form of calories through the food and drink we consume.  Since we know energy cannot be created nor destroyed, the body must either use these calories or store them.  The calories we consume through food and drink are used to perform exercise or physical activity, as well as the numerous complex tasks that occur within our bodies down to the cellular level.

So where does the balance part come in?

If you consume more calories than you expend, then you have created what is referred to as a positive energy balance.  A positive energy balance will result in weight gain, which may not be a positive thing for some of you.

Conversely, if you expend more calories than you consume, then you have created a negative energy balance.  As you may have guessed, a negative energy balance will lead to weight loss.

Finally, if energy consumption and expenditure are equal, it will result in weight maintenance.

Now, I’m sure this is not new information to many of you.  After all, this is pretty much the focal point behind almost any weight loss program, or weight gain program for that matter, that you’ve ever been exposed to.

However, once again, you cannot merely take this at face value.  There is most definitely a right way and many wrong ways to go about creating a negative or positive energy balance.

 

Creating a Negative Energy Balance (Weight Loss)

 

Knowing the premise of energy balance, on the surface level, we are left with three possible ways of creating a negative energy balance:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more (or better put, expend more energy)
  3. Eat less and exercise more

 

On a bit deeper and more practical level, we can accomplish this objective in many ways, including:

 

  • Building muscle through weight training and nutrition
  • Using high-intensity exercise to increase post-exercise energy expenditure
  • Making changes in your training program to stimulate new adaptation or changes
  • Increase non-exercise physical activity
  • Developing proper dietary habits
  • Not engaging in extreme dieting methods
  • Increasing sleep quality
  • Sleeping 7-9 hours per night
  • Managing stress levels

 

For a number of reasons, I highly recommend you begin to work on these before beginning to make any significant cuts to your caloric intake.  If you need help with any of the above, you may benefit from working with a quality coach.

That said, lets take a look at where to go once nutrient deficiencies are accounted for, and sleep and stress management are on-point.

 

The Next Steps:

 

  1. Increase the Exercise Volume

The next step for you, ideally, is to increase your exercise volume to 5-7 hours per week.

If possible we want to begin with an increase in energy expenditure.  This will allow you to begin to create a negative energy balance, while maintaining a fairly high or relatively normal energy intake, full of health-promoting nutrients, minimizing concern for nutrient deficiencies.

 

  1. Decrease Calorie Intake

If your results stagnate once again, the next step is to decrease your caloric intake.

Now, it is very important that this be done conservatively.  If calories are cut too drastically and a severe negative energy balance is created, it will cause a decline in metabolism, reduction in bone mass, thyroid hormones, and testosterone, and impair concentration and physical performance.

This is why “crash diets” and, when administered poorly, very low-calorie diets are not only ineffective, but also counterproductive.

Instead, when creating a conservative or moderate negative energy balance, our body senses this small shortage in energy and uses our fat reserves to cover the difference.

When attempting to decrease your caloric intake, start small.

One place to start is eliminating your intake of caloric beverages. 

I know you love that grande caffè mocha you pick up at the Starbucks drive-thru every morning.  However, that creamy-caffeinated goodness is packing over 300 calories, which by itself can make a significant difference in creating a negative energy balance.

So instead, try to keep your beverage choices to black coffee, water, and unsweetened tea.

Another way to decrease your caloric intake is through eliminating your use of condiments.

Again, this is another simple strategy that can be hugely impactful. Just take a look at these stats:

 

1 tbsp ketchup = 19 calories

1 tbsp light mayo = 35 calories

1 tbsp BBQ sauce = 29 calories

1 tbsp ranch dressing = 73 calories

 

Now, a couple of these numbers may seem small and insignificant, but once you take into account serving size, things really add up, especially if you’re someone who likes a little hamburger with their ketchup… like me.

One last tip on moderately cutting your caloric intake is to simply cut your meal size down by roughly 10%.  This may be ideal for some, requiring little or no change to the types of food you are consuming; however, it does take a concerted effort to make sure the appropriate decrease in intake is applied at every meal.

If that’s too complicated, try simply leaving 1-3 bites of your meal left on your plate.

You may not prefer to throw a couple bites of food away, but like very quotable grandfather told me when I was a chubby, little kid, “It’s better to go to waste than to your waist.”

 

  1. Increase Exercise Volume… Again

If results stagnate once again, your third step is to once again, moderately increase exercise volume.  Generally, a 1-2-hour increase is appropriate.

 

  1. Decease Calorie Intake… Again

If your progress becomes stagnate yet again, make another small reduction in your calorie intake.

 

Hopefully you are beginning to see a pattern emerge.  Simply alternate small increases in exercise volume and small reduction in caloric intake, as long as is necessary.

Make sure, however, you cap your weekly exercise total at around 10-12 hours.  Once you have reached this point, if your progress stagnates, all further measures taken should consist of small, periodic reductions in calorie intake.

 

As we close, it is worth noting that weight loss is a complex topic.  The exact answer to the question, “what is my next step?” really depends on where you are as an individual.  Some of you may need to simply follow the steps contained within this article, others may need to consider seeking the help of a coach.

That said, remember that first step in regards to nutrition is eating more nutrient-dense, whole foods.  Along with this, improving sleep habits, reducing stress, and increasing activity will all contribute to a negative energy balance.

Finally, to all of those who are want to hop aboard the gains train and pack on some pounds, and who for some reason made it all the end of this article, I haven’t forgotten about you.  I’ll be back soon with my next post on eating for weight gain.

4 Reasons Why Calorie Counting is Worthless.

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caloriecount

 

Beach season is done (at least in the Midwest), but it still seems that everyone and their mother is looking to drop a few pounds, or, not to leave the bros out, looking to chisel out that six-pack.

Regardless of the time of year, there’s always someone out there looking to trim up or get “shredded.”

And what do they do?

They hit the gym, or try to run themselves skinny, and then they start watching their diet, specifically their calorie intake.

What’s wrong with this?

Well, while energy balance (calories in vs. calories out) is a huge determining factor if you’re looking to gain or lose weight, for most people, focusing on calorie consumption is putting the cart before the horse.

You see, before you can concern yourself with calorie intake, you need to establish habits of eating the right types of foods, eliminate nutrient deficiencies, and improve metabolic function through improved sleep and stress management.

If you’re a weight loss client and you go to a coach or trainer with poor eating habits and nutrient deficiencies, they will only be doing you a disservice by immediately focusing on reducing your caloric intake.

Often time they will compound this with having you do the tedious work of counting your calories.

Now, in this short series of articles, I am going to cover how to properly create the correct energy balance in order to gain or lose weight.  However, before we get into that I want to tackle this topic of calorie counting.

In my sometimes not-so-humble opinion, I firmly believe that calorie-counting should be a last-resort.  Unless you are a hardcore bodybuilder or figure athletes preparing for a competition, calorie counting is simply unnecessary and can be quite unreliable.

To be blunt, it is a waste of your time.

Why is counting calories a waste of time?

 

Since I’ve opened Pandora’s box by allowing myself to write on this topic, I’m  going to try my best to keep this short.

 

  1. It sucks

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute.  Not many people like to do math.

Because clinical studies show that math absolutely sucks.

Now, I’m sure there are the select few who are giddy at the idea of dusting off their old TI-89 calculator to crunch those numbers.  However, I’m fairly confident a vast majority of you are growing nauseous at the thought.

Counting calories is tedious, time-consuming work, requiring you to measure serving sizes, look up certain food items on less than reliable apps and databases, deal with constant eye-rolling of friends and family, and then add everything up at the end of the day.

On top of that your going to either have to pay for a test to find your resting metabolic rate (how many calories you burn at rest), or use one of many equations that, more often than not, have huge margins for error.

In addition, if you choose to go the route of the test or use an equation that doesn’t factor in activity level, then you are going to need to count your energy exposure as well.

When all is said and done, this is probably just going to be more stress added to your daily routine with, what will be for most, very little return on investment where results are concerned.

 

  1. Variables for measuring “calories in”

 

In case you want me to provide a bit more information than, “it sucks,” it’s worth noting that there are many variables that skew measurements for calorie consumption.  Some would say the margin for error is even as large as 20-25%.

How?

For starters, there’s human error.

Are you truly measuring out every serving?  Are you using scales to weigh your food?  Are you leveling-off every measurement?

You get the idea.

In addition, there’s also the fact that both nutrient and caloric density of food can vary significantly based on how they are grown.  Growing methods used, soil quality, and other variables all factor in.

Finally, there’s the FDA.

If you’ve read many of my articles, you may know by now how much I love the information put out by government run and funded organizations…

In all honesty though, this is a matter of widespread unreliability of calorie totals on food labels and restaurant-provided nutrition information.

To give you an idea of what you’re dealing with, it’s well worth noting that research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that calorie totals of nearly 20% of tested menu items at chain-restaurants were underestimated by more than 100 calories.

On top of that, our good old friends at the FDA consider it acceptable for some foods, specifically frozen foods, to be under-estimated by up to 20%.

There you have it, The Food and Drug Administration: “Protecting and Promoting Your Health.”

Yeah… about that….

 

  1. Variables for measuring “calories out”

 

No government organizations to bash here.  There are just lots of variables that affect the accuracy of measuring caloric expenditure or “calorie burn.”

So, what exactly contributes to energy expenditure?

Literally everything you do.

First off, there is your resting metabolic rate, which I mentioned earlier.  However, even with an accurate estimate received through proper testing, this number can vary regularly through the influence of hormone balance, ambient temperature, and other factors.

There’s also something called the thermic effect of food (TEF), which I discussed in my article on protein.  TEF includes the energy it takes to digest, absorb, metabolize, and store the food you consume.  Or, in other words, the amount of energy it takes for your body to process the food you eat.  This number, itself, varies depending on the types and quantity of food consumed.

Of course, let’s also not forget physical activity.

This category not only includes your training session, but also your walks to the bathroom, the trips up and down the stairs, the restless leg syndrome you have sitting at your desk, and all the other small physical activities we engage in throughout the day.

Nowadays, there are many tools available to us that give us estimates of these numbers.  However, I hate to break it to you, while your heart rate monitors and FitBits are great and helpful tools, there are simply just too many variables for them to accurately calculate energy expenditure.

Considering these and other variables that go into energy expenditure, it’s hard to make an argument that calculating energy expenditure, especially on a regular basis, is going to be time well-spent for most people.

 

  1. Calories are not created equal

 

A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie.  Not every calorie consumed by the body is as useful as the next, nor is it treated the same.

 

Q: Are 2000 calories of donuts going to be promote function and performance to same degree as 2000 calories of a balanced diet?

A: Nope.

 

As much as I loathe this expression, at the end of the day, calorie intake doesn’t matter until certain habits are established.

Over-fed or under-fed, a nutrient deficiency is still a nutrient deficiency.  Worrying about creating a caloric deficit for weight loss or caloric surplus for weight gain, for all intents and purposes, in senseless if it cannot be done properly.

So, while quantity absolutely does matter, worrying about it will only get you so far without quality.

So, keep your cart in front of the horse.  Then, keep your eyes open for my next two posts as we will discuss how to manage energy balance in order to create weight loss or weight gain.

The Sitting Epidemic

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Rear view of man in formalwear walking away from his working place

We sit a lot.

We sit down to eat our breakfast in the morning, then we sit in the car as we fight through traffic to get to a job where we sit most of the day.  We then, of course, sit in our cars as we once again fight traffic to get home, where we sit and do more work, go through the mail, binge-watch our favorite show on Netflix, or whatever else we choose to fill our time with before going to bed and repeating the process the next day.

So yeah, we definitely sit a lot.

In fact, the average American sits for over half of their waking hours.  If you work a desk job, you’re likely easily pushing 10+ hours per day.

But, how can something as simple as sitting be harmful?

Well, this tremendous amount of sitting is damaging our bodies in many ways that go far beyond simply burning fewer calories from being inactive.

In fact, long-term sitting is strongly linked to over 30 diseases and conditions.  These include obesity, several metabolic conditions, cardiovascular conditions, as well as sleep and psychological disorders.   If that laundry list doesn’t cut it, chronic sitting has also been to shown to screw up sex hormones and increase systemic inflammation.

Furthermore, studies have shown that chronic sitting increases risk for these conditions and diseases independent of obesity.  Meaning that, regardless of if you are underweight, normal weight, or obese, you face an equally increased risk for these conditions and diseases if you sit for prolonged periods of time day after day.

Think you’re safe because you work out on a regular basis?  Think again.

While regular exercisers may face lower risks than those who are purely sedentary, research has shown that regular exercise does not entirely counteract the risks associated with chronic sitting.

In addition to the increased risk for many diseases and other health conditions chronic sitting also leads to a litany of structural issues as well.

You should begin to recognize by now that our bodies are magnificent masters of adaptation.  So, if you’re sitting for 8, 10, or 12+ hours per day, your body will recognize this position as the norm, and thus adapt itself accordingly.

What does this look like?

Well, to save you a headache let’s just say, in short, it can lead to a whole heap of issues involving the hips, spine, shoulders, and other areas of the body.  This, in turn, yields dysfunctional patterns when you actually are mobile, opening you up to a greater risk of injury and/or diminished effectiveness of your workout.

 

The Standing Solution?

So what is the solution?

Many would like to jump to the conclusion of simply standing more.

After all, there is roughly a 30% increase in metabolic activity in standing versus sitting.  Not to mention it gets those abs working a little bit more, it gets other muscles out of a chronically shortened state, and it potentially puts your spine into a better position.

So, standing has to be better than sitting, right?

I would say, to some degree, yes.

However, I would argue the problem rests (pun intended) not merely in sitting, but instead in the absence of movement.

Our bodies are designed for movement.  And, while there is definitely reason to believe that standing is a better than sitting, the difference seems to not be all that significant.

Yes, metabolic activity is a fair amount higher in a standing individual, however it is far from optimal.  Plus, in all likelihood, becoming a chronic stander will do anything but make your body immune to mechanical dysfunction.  As with sitting, idle standing will also reinforce poor postures and thus decrease quality of movement and performance.

 

Movement Intervention

So what is the real solution?

Move!

A profound conclusion, yeah?

As if you hadn’t gotten there on your own.

Honestly though, breaking up sitting time throughout the day can go a long way.

After just 30 minutes of sitting your metabolism slows down about 90%.  Simply getting up and moving essentially gets things going again.

Getting out of your chair for merely 5 minutes can do profound things like activate mechanisms within molecules in your muscles that improve your body’s handling of insulin, or increase blood flow, and thus oxygen delivery, to the brain, trigging release of mood-enhancing chemicals that will also increase your productivity.

Being in a better mood.  Getting more work done.

That all sounds good, right?

So, how do we get you off your ass?

Here are 5 simple suggestions to help increase your non-exercise daily activity.

Employing one or several of them will have you well on the way to drastically-improved health.

 

  1. Traditional methods

You know the ones I’m talking about.   These are the tips you see in one of those slideshows you scroll through after curiously clicking on the link at the bottom of that article you were reading on your favorite website.

As generic as it sounds, doing simple things like taking the stairs, parking in the back of the parking lot, and going for a brief walk after a meal all add up over the course of the day.

 

  1. Get an activity tracker

This a great way to encourage you to actually use some of these methods we are discussing.

Get a heart rate monitor, FitBit, or whatever.  Wear it for a day or two while maintaining your normal activity level, then set goals to gradually become more and more active.

This may also sound a little simple and stupid, but honestly there’s something about watching your steps accumulate throughout the day that makes you want to take that slightly longer route to the break-room.

 

  1. Walking meetings

Have an afternoon meeting with a colleague?  Go for a walk while you discuss how to improve on your numbers from last quarter.

Taking a phone call?  Get up and go for a walk while you talk or simply pace around the room.

 

  1. Stand instead of sit

Yes, moving is the ultimate goal.  However, again, there are some small benefits to standing versus sitting, and every little bit makes a difference.

Now, you don’t necessarily have to get a standing desk, but try working from a standing position for short bouts periodically throughout the day.  But, don’t use this as an excuse not to move!

 

  1. Get up for five minutes every hour

 If you make this a habit, then a big thumbs-up to you!

While moving more overall is the general goal, moving more frequently is ideal.  Remember that after just 30 minutes of sitting, metabolic activity decreases by roughly 90%, hormones can begin to fluctuate, there is a decline in insulin response, the list goes on.

If you get an activity monitor, several of them are programmed to remind you to every-so-often.  If you choose not to go that route, you can simply download one of several apps on your phone that will give you reminders, set reminders to pop up on your computer, or simply set an alarm.

If you want to challenge yourself further, once you’ve managed to get up every hour, try to take frequent breaks to move every 30 minutes or so.

Regardless, getting up and moving frequently will do amazing things to help improve your health, mood, and productivity.

 

Try This:

Try to employ one or more of the aforementioned methods to increase your daily activity levels.

How much?

Shoot for a minimum of 30 minutes of non-exercise activity every single day.

Yes.

Every. Single. Day.

If you’re on a training program currently, that includes your “off-days.”

To reiterate, this is NON-EXERCISE activity.  This can include running around with you kids, helping a friend move, walking around the office on your break, or anything when your moving.  Just make sure your bouts of movement collectively reach a minimum of 30 minutes.

 

So there you have it, my ground-breaking, revolutionary lesson of the week.

Moving is good for you.

So do what I’m about to do, after sitting way too long working on this remarkable piece of writing, and get up off your ass.

5 Ways to Decrease Stress & Increase Productivity

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Young beautiful businesswoman meditates on the table in office

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

I’d say I’m safe in assuming many of you don’t have the slightest clue who Sydney J. Harris is, and that is perfectly fine.

As far as this lesson is concerned, it’s quite inconsequential.

That said, of the innumerable profound and witty statements he made over the course of his illustrious career as a writer and journalist, this quote sticks with me more than any other.

If you’ve read my article on Managing Stress, then you remember that each one of us is constantly surrounded by all sorts of different stressors in our daily lives.

And, unless you’re an unemployed, millionaire trust fund baby, you likely face a bulk of these stressors during your workday.  In fact, its quite possible that most of your bodies are consistently operating under a stress response throughout a bulk of the day.

This may very well be leading to fatigue, lack of focus, poor memory, headaches, aching necks, shoulders and low backs, or possibly some other equally undesirable symptoms of a stressful work day.

Getting to the point, our next step is to work on breaking up the chronic activation of our body’s stress response at some point, or points, throughout the day.   So, we are going to discuss 5 methods you can implement into your daily routine to decrease stress, increase productivity, and leave you feeling refreshed and recharged.

 

5 Workday Recharges

 

  1. Power Naps

Now, I’m aware there is a negative stigma surrounding naps.  Some believe it shows laziness or promotes unproductivity.

However, this guy held quite a different view on napping:

“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

 – Winston Churchill

Yeah, that’s right.

Winston Freaking Churchill was a napper.

Churchill, however is not the only brilliant or well-accomplished, documented napper.  In fact, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein all included napping as part of their regular routine.

That’s pretty much a who’s who of people that kicked ass at life.

Einstein even firmly believed his regular napping contributed greatly to his creativity and ideas.

So, were these men correct in believing that regularly taking time out of their busy lives to nap contributed to their success?  Or, was Winston Churchill a lazy nut-job for taking daily naps even at the peak of World War II?

Well, as you might expect, the research is on their side.  In fact, studies have shown napping to have a laundry list of benefits.

Midday naps have been shown to decrease fatigue and sleepiness, while improving physiological alertness and performance on mentally demanding tasks.  There is also significant evidence that naps may help with mood stabilization, control of inflammation, and recovery after a training session. Finally, because the state of sleep experienced during a naps is that of where memories, especially from new tasks, are consolidated, midday naps can be beneficial in learning new tasks and committing to new information to memory.

So, what’s the best application for a midday nap to experience these awesome benefits?

Well, the most realistic option that many of you should be able to fit into you daily routine is a quick 15-30-minute power nap.

Even in this short period of time you can experience the many benefits of napping without interfering with your regular nighttime sleep. Regardless of if you actually fall asleep or not, giving yourself some time in a preferably dimly-lit, quiet, and secluded area will allow your body and mind to recharge and give you the energy to dominate the rest of your day.

Do be careful, however, not to exceed 30 minutes.  As enticing as a 45-60-minute nap may seem, this will often result in you being awoken from a deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and possibly more fatigued than before.

 

  1. Meditation

If there are any alpha-male, meat-heads out there reading this, I’m sure they are rolling their eyes right now.

“Pssh… no way you’re gonna get me to meditate, bro.”

Well, bro, meditation is for more than just yoga-moms and kung-fu masters.

Major corporations including Target, Google, and General Mills have all instituted midday meditation practices that have yielded improvement workplace productivity.

These improvements can be contributed to the fact that meditation can decrease stress, improve memory, and help workers stay on-task.

Whether it’s 5 minutes here and there or a 10-15-minute break somewhere in your day, find a place to relax and let your body shut down for a few minutes.  Close your eyes, quiet your mind, and perform a string of good, quality breaths.

If you need a little help, download an app like Brain Wave or Headspace to help you relax or you go online to find a meditation program to help guide you through.

 

  1. Release & Reset

Those of you who have completed or currently are performing one of my programs, these terms should be a well-ingrained part of your vocabulary by now.  However, for the remainder of you, let’s briefly cover meaning of the terms release and reset.

Release work consists of “shutting off” overly-toned muscles in order to restore mobility.  Reset work involves realigning major joints to a more optimal position and unlocking greater range of motion.

Taking time out of your day to perform some release and reset work will help alleviate some of the aches, pains, and stiffness that build up over the course of the workday.

Here is a quick and simple routine that will get you feeling better and ready to tackle the remainder of your day:

  1. Release (15-20 seconds each)
    1. Lats
    2. Hip Flexors
    3. Glutes
  2. Reset (8-10 breaths)
    1. Breathing Reset (pick one: bear breathing, crocodile, supine 90-90, wall squat)

So, if you have a little bit of an open area at your disposal, grab a lacrosse ball or foam roller and get to work.

 

  1. Mobility Circuits

As a whole, we sit WAY TOO MUCH.

Even if you work out regularly, or even if you don’t work a desk job I can almost guarantee you’re sitting or stationary far more than you are moving.

For a number of us, this has contributed to chronic aches and pains, as well as an inability to perform even some of the most basic movements.

Honestly, it’s alarming how many adults I’ve encountered in my still relatively young career that are unable to coordinate simple skipping and crawling movements. However, that’s another rant for another time.

Want a simple solution?

Add a quick mobility circuit to the middle of your workday.

Here are a couple quick routines you can perform:

Option 1:

The Full Body Recharge

(8-10 Reps each)

Option 2:

The “I Don’t Want to Blowout My Dress Pants” Routine (8-10 Reps each)

1. Core-Engaged Straight-Leg Raise 1. Bear Breathing
2. Core-Engaged Leg Lowering 2. Reach, Roll, & Lift
3. 90-90 Mobilization 3. Yoga Push-Ups
4. Yoga Push-Ups 4. Broomstick Pec Mobilizations
5. Reverse Lunge with Rotation 5. No Money Drill
6. Pull-Back Butt Kickers
7. Bodyweight Squats

 

If you have a little bit of time left after performing your routine, try finishing with some crocodile breathing.

Pick the routine that works best for you, find a time a place to perform the exercises, do it on a daily basis, then feel the difference!

 

  1. Walking

If none of the aforementioned methods stick, you can always just simply take a walk.

There’s plenty of research, double-blind test studies, and all that wonderful stuff out there that show a bevy of benefits to be gained from talking a regular midday walk.

But, instead of boring you as I usually would, we’ll keep it simple.

If all else fails, simply take 20-30 minutes at the end of your lunch break or in the middle of your afternoon, get up, go outside if the weather permits, and just walk.

You can go by yourself or with a friend.  You can listen to music, meditate, pray, or just zone-out.  Whatever you choose, you will return to your desk refreshed, re-energized, rejuvenated, and any other redundant adjective you could insert here.

 

Listen To Sydney

There’s no denying that making one or more of these workday recharges a part of your regular routine is going to take time and dedication.  While time and dedication are required in the development of most habits, this one in particular may be difficult as it involves, for many, taking time out of busy workdays and breaking up some extremely well-engrained routines.

I’d imagine there are more than a handful of you out there somewhere who may already be writing off this lesson because you believe you are far too busy or set in your ways to dedicate the time necessary to make one of these recharges part of your routine.

However, for those of you who hold this sentiment, it comes back to that simple and profound quote from the beginning of this lesson:

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

Sydney J. Harris hit the nail on the head with this one.

In truth, the busiest of you are those who will benefit most from taking this lesson to heart.

So, regardless of what your schedule looks like, your challenge is to make time to fit one of these recharges into your routine.  If it’s 20-30 minutes, fantastic! If it needs to be 5-10, that works too.

One way or another, make the it a priority.  Give your brain time to shut off and your body to recharge and you’ll be feeling better, moving better, and more productive!

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

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Sleepy young woman trying kill alarm clock while bury face in pillow. Early wake up not getting enough sleep getting work concept. Female stretching hand to ringing alarm willing turn it off

When I was a kid one of the things I hated most was having a set bedtime.

I didn’t understand the importance of sleep and I really just wanted to cram as much playtime or fun as I could into one day. So naturally, I didn’t like my parents telling me when it was my bedtime.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like this as a kid. But, when we get older we realize our parents knew that sleep was important for our health. And, I’m sure those of you who now have kids of your own make sure they get enough sleep.

However, now that we are all grown-ups here, we no longer have mom and dad putting us to bed on time.

So what are we doing now?

Many of us are staying up to get more work done, going through emails, spending way too much time on the internet, or watching 3 more episodes of that show on Netflix than we planned to. Basically, we’re sacrificing sleep to cram as much work and/or entertainment as we can into one day.

What’s the result?

Well, 50 years ago less than 3% of working adults averaged less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Today, that number has ballooned to 30%. Overall, the total sleep time in the US has decreased 20% in the last 50 years. Meaning the average person is essentially losing about 1 night of sleep per week.

Many have conditioned themselves to get less sleep by pounding coffee or any number of other stimulants. I’m sure they think, for the most part, they are making it by alright. However, the truth is that most of us have lost touch with what it feels like to be truly rested, and the current lifestyle many of us are living is plaguing us with many short and long-term effects.

So, the next step we are going to take in propelling your toward your health and fitness goals is to work on is getting you the appropriate quantity of sleep.

 

How much sleep do you need?

Seems like an appropriate place to start, right?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for anyone 18 years or older.

Now, if you’re an athlete in intense training this number can be greater, but the take home point is that the research shows ALL adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

 

Why 7-9 hours?

Let’s answer the obvious question…

Why do you want to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night?

  1. You will retain more information

While we are asleep, our bodies cycle through multiple phases or stages of sleep, during which various processes take place to restore our bodies and minds after the activities of the previous day. In one night’s rest, our bodies will cycle through these sleep stages multiple times. Each cycle takes roughly 90-120 minutes. Research performed by sleep experts Dr. Robert Stickgold and Dr. Erin Wamsley, has shown that during all of these stages our brains work to process information learned the day before and store them as long-term memories.

Now, while this process of converting fleeting memories into lasting knowledge occurs over all of the sleep stages, according to Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, the stages of deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are especially important in the process. While memories and information are processed during the earlier stages of sleep, these memories are solidified as knowledge in the latter stages of the sleep cycle, i.e., deep sleep and REM sleep. REM sleep, in particular, has been shown to stimulate the regions of the brain involved in learning.

So, I’ve spit all this information out, but why does this make getting 7-9 hours of sleep important?

With each cycle you go through in a period of sleep, the time spent in REM sleep increases. The first cycles of sleep contain very short durations of REM sleep, while the later cycles contain considerably greater periods of REM sleep. Studies at the National Center for Neurological Disorders and Stroke concluded that most REM sleep occurs between the 6th and 8th hour of sleep. This means many Americans are missing out on this valuable sleep that is vital to solidifying memories and retaining information.

  1. You want your brain to function properly

When you are sleep deprived, whether from several nights of insufficient sleep or one all-nighter, there is a decrease in activity of the brain’s prefrontal cortex and an increase of activity in the amygdala.

In other words, your rational, discerning brain shuts down and your emotional brain runs wild.

Sleep experts, such as, Dr. Czeisler of Harvard, have likened the brain impairment resulting from sleep deprivation to that of being legally drunk. In fact, 24 hours without sleep or a week of 4-5 hours of sleep per night has shown to induce brain impairment equal to that of a BAC (blood-alcohol content) of .1%.

Now, let’s be honest…

If you’re trying to perform at a high-level at work, ace a big exam in school, or train hard in the gym, showing up legally drunk likely isn’t going to get things done.

  1. You fellas don’t want plummeting testosterone levels

The release of several important hormones is among the many vital processes that occur in our bodies during sleep. Testosterone, quite an important hormone for all you fellas out there, is one of these hormones released during sleep. In fact, the Journal of American Medical Association maintains that a vast majority of testosterone release occurs during sleep.

A study performed at the University of Chicago, showed just how important sleep quantity is to testosterone levels. The study showed a 10-15% percent drop in testosterone of adult males who slept 5 hours or less each day for a week. Leaving their testosterone levels equivalent to that of a pre-pubescent, 11 year-old boy.

Ok fellas, save yourself a trip to the Low-T Center and get yourself 7-9 hours of sleep.

  1. You want to train better, recover faster, and maximize your performance

Well-balanced hormone levels, proper brain function, better retention of information, and simply being well-rested are going to go a long to help improve your training, quicken your recovery, and help you maximize your performance in all walks of life.

If you want some more awesome details on this point, check out my article, 3 Reasons Sleep is Stealing Your Results.

To give you the very abridged version, sleep is the cornerstone of recovery, and how well you recover is going to heavily dictate how much progress you make. 

 

Take Action: Make Sleep a Higher Priority

We’ve covered numerous reasons why getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is of the utmost important to your health. Some of you may still be wondering how in the world you’re going to fit this into your busy schedule.   Some of you probably have every intent to make it happen.

Well, now it’s the time to come up with a plan of action, to overcome the obstacle of your busy schedule and to turn intent into action.

To achieve this I want you to start doing two things.

 

Work backwards

In order to plan ahead, we are going to work backwards.

First, determine what time you need to wake up the next morning. Then, since I want you shooting for 8 hours of sleep, we are going to move the clock back 8 hours.

If I’m setting my alarm for 6am, I’m going to be in bed no later than 10pm.

 

Cut out the excess

If you’re still having trouble its time to examine how you’re spending your time in the evening. Yes, you may be busy, but to be honest you are probably wasting a good chunk of time in there some where.

So, here are a couple strategies to use to free up some time and get more sleep.

  1. Cap your computer time.

Give yourself a time limit of 30 minutes to get in all your e-mails, facebooking, tweeting, etc. If you have a bit of work you need to get done it may take a little bit longer, but by giving yourself a limit you are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand instead of wasting time doing something else.

  1. Use your DVR

There’s this awesome new technology called DVR. It allows you to record your favorite shows and watch them later. You can even fast-forward through the commercials!

That may have been a little overly sarcastic.

Seriously though, take advantage of technology. Just because you record a show that’s on at 8pm doesn’t mean you have to watch it later that night at 9:30. You may be afraid of getting spoilers of the latest episode of Game of Thrones at work, but remember what’s most important.

Record your favorites shows during the week, and then wait to watch them until the weekend or your day off.

And remember, you can always cut back on the number of shows you watch as well…

 

Recap:

Sleep is not only going to play a huge role in you achieving your health and fitness or performance goals, but also on your long-term health.

Turn intent into action, feel better tomorrow, and start getting the proper amount of sleep today.