Archive for the ‘Strength’ Category

Daily walks, mental challengers, nutrition can help stave off Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases.

A fast spin on the dance floor or taking daily walks might help keep the brain in top shape as people age – and might reduce the risk of developing age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, experts now say.

Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are degenerative, incurable diseases of the brain. Both are more common in older people; together they afflict more than 5 million people in the United States. Alzheimer’s causes memory problems, and Parkinson’s leads to tremors and shakiness, but the diseases often overlap: Some people with Parkinson’s also have memory loss.

Growing evidence now suggests that lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and challenging activities, might help ward off or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, possibly by building connections between brain cells or even spurring the production of new brain cells. People who power up the brain in this way may have a better shot at reaching old age with a brain that still performs at top speed, says Elizabeth Edgerly, a brain expert at the Alzheimer’s Association.

To keep the brain healthy:

Stay fit. Physical activity boosts the blood supply to the brain, and that keeps brain cells well nourished.

Edgerly recommends taking a walk, swimming, yoga or anything that’s physically active three to five days a week. Spend about 30 minutes a day on such activities if you can, but a study suggested that even a 15-minute daily walk could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

“My guess is that we’re going to discover that we should be exercising most days of the week,” said Michael Zigmond, a Parkinson’s researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.

He and other experts say workouts that involve a mental challenge might be better for the brain than those that are routine. So learning a series of complex dance moves might be better than zoning out while riding a stationary bike; a 2005 study found that older men and women who learned to tango got measurable improvements in balance and memory, skills that might help compensate for early signs of a brain disease.

Challenge your mind. The mental decline that goes along with old age can be traced to altered connections between brain cells, Edgerly says. But stimulating leisure activities can help keep those connections strong. Activities such as playing chess or card games such as poker, going to the theater, reading a book or learning how to play a musical instrument might help keep older brain cells agile and less vulnerable to damage, she says.Eat a healthful diet, one loaded with colorful fruits and vegetables.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are tied to damage done by free radicals, highly reactive molecules that are byproducts of metabolism, says James Joseph, a researcher at Tufts University. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, powerful substances that combat free radical damage and might help protect the brain, he says.

His studies of diets rich in such foods show that older rats get a boost in the ability to remember and stay balanced. He says humans might get the same benefit and recommends adding blueberries, strawberries, spinach and other colorful fruits and vegetables to a whole-grain diet that includes low-fat dairy foods and very little junk or fast food fare.

Originally published in the IHRSA Wellness Report and Gannett News Service

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You’ve heard the term, but what exactly does the word “superset” mean? Traditionally, a superset is two or more exercises performed consecutively to work opposing muscle groups. “These days, the term has been used a lot more loosely,” says Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer Adam Friedman. “I tend to follow the traditional approach myself.” Supersets increase intensity level, heart rate and calories burned because you are doing two exercises consecutively. Plus, they amp up your mental toughness with more challenging gym time, and you have to push yourself to do continuous sets with less rest.

“I enjoy doing them because it’s more challenging from a conditioning standpoint, it’s time efficient, and it’s an excellent way to work opposing muscle groups to keep balance,” says Friedman. In a healthy body, the muscles that move and stabilize the bones have a natural reflex to relax when their opposite muscles are working. Doing supersets can help guarantee that you’re working all your muscle groups.

Here are five supersets you can use to supersize your routine. Beginners should start with three sets of 5 to 8 reps, while more experienced gymgoers can try three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Count to three on the way down, and go back up on two. “At the beginner level, the weight lifted during a superset should be a little lighter than what you would normally use during an exercise,” Friedman says. “This is just for safety reasons until you become better mentally and physically.” Intermediate to advanced should use the same weights you typically do with an exercise to maintain their strength levels, which may mean that they go down in repetition to start, but then increase as conditioning improves.

Dumbbell flat chest press
Begin by lying on a flat bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms extended upward at shoulder width with dumbbells in hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades against the bench and lower the dumbbells level to your chest.

Dumbbell back row
Stand in a split stance, bend over until your back is parallel with the ground. Keep back in a neutral alignment, arms fully extended with dumbbells in hand. Pull dumbbells up to waist.

Dumbbell incline chest press
Begin by lying on an inclined bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms extended upward at shoulder width with dumbbells in hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades against the bench and lower the dumbbells level to your chest.

Lat pull-down
Sit on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley, legs at 90 degrees. Grab the bar just outside shoulder width. Pull bar down to the top of your chest, bringing your shoulders down and back.

Shoulder press
Stand with feet hip distance apart, knees soft, dumbbells in hand. With elbows straight, extend arms above head. Lower dumbbells to earlobes.

Pull-ups
Mount the assisted pull-up machine. Grab bar, lower body down, extend your arms, and pull up, aiming your chest toward the sky.

Chest fly
Begin by lying on a flat bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms fully extended above shoulders with dumbbells in hand. Bring arms down to your side, with a slight bend in your elbow. Straighten elbows and squeeze your chest muscles on the way back up.

Reverse Fly
Begin by lying chest down on an incline bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms fully extended with dumbbells in hand, thumbs facing down. Bring arms out to your shoulder.

Biceps Curl
Stand with knees soft, feet shoulder-width apart, with dumbbells in hand. Press your elbows into your sides. Bring the dumbbells ¾ of the way up to your shoulders.

Triceps Extension Machine
Stand with knees soft, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows stationary for the full move. Grab the bar and extend you arms downward to fully contract your triceps. Pause for one second at the bottom of the movement before bringing arms back up to the starting position.

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With so much to choose from when it comes to fitness, we decided to zero in on five moves that cannot be missed. So we asked three Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainers to weigh in. Here are their picks.

For each move below, we suggest trying three sets of 10 reps.

Why: ”Your glutes are the most important part of your core,” Robert Reames, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member and author of Make Over Your Metabolism, explains. “And if your glutes are strong, that helps your lower back and knees.”
How: Lie on your back, with arms comfortably at your sides and knees bent. Press your heels into the floor and raise your hips, shifting pressure to the upper shoulder. No pressure should be felt in the neck or back. For advanced-level positions, try touching your fingertips to the back of your shoes or clasping your hands behind your back and drawing your shoulder blades together. For added difficulty, place a Pilates ring between your knees and squeeze your legs to hold it in place.
Helps: Zeroes in on your butt.

Why: ”This move really helps to establish that power needs to come from the glutes and abdominals,” says Adam Friedman, celebrity trainer and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member. “Engaging the midsection in the movement first will help you to be more stable, strong and powerful when and where it’s needed.”
How: Place a kettlebell between your feet. Bend down as if you were sitting and pick it up. Snap your hips and swing it up to chest level.
Helps: Strengthens your core muscles.

Why: ”We constantly ignore the muscles we don’t see in the mirror—a big mistake,” Tracey Mallet, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer and author of Super Fit Mama, explains. “It’s important to counteract what most of us do every day, which is sit in front of a computer at a desk.” To do that we need a strong back and core for better posture, and this move works all the extensors and the mid-upper back, glutes and hamstrings.
How: Lie on your front on the floor with your neck parallel to the ground. Lift your right hand and left leg off the floor simultaneously. Repeat with the left hand and right leg, then continue switching back and forth.
Helps: Makes sure you are working your back and butt muscles.

Why: ”Works your whole body in one move, especially your arms and core,” Mallet says “A strong core is really important—if your center is weak then the rest of the body will be weak.”
How: Lie facedown with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart and your feet together. Keeping your body straight, push up. For less effort, lower your knees onto the ground. For more difficulty, try it with a BOSU, an inflated rubber hemisphere attached to a rigid platform. (It resembles a stability ball cut in half.) Place the BOSU soft side down and hold on to the edges while you perform the push-up.
Helps: An all-over body exercise

Why: ”The most important thing is doing a correct squat,” Reames says. “Then I add in the upper body rotation with a medicine ball to emphasize everyday-life movement.”
How: Place your feet hip-width apart. Hold the medicine ball at chest level. Keep your chest high, draw in your abdominals and slowly squat down until your butt is parallel with the floor (and never further). Have a firm foot plant, and put emphasis on your heels. Make sure to keep your knees directly over your ankles, and never in front. As you stand up, hold the medicine ball out in front of you, shoulder-high, and slowly twist to the right, then back to center, then to the left.
Helps: Guarantees that you’re building your lower core muscles.

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Now, two new studies uncover the wisdom in that tried-and-true advice. And they find that success may come quicker than most people realize.

In one study, Christian Roberts and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that lifestyle changes helped reverse serious heart disease risk factors in less than one month among 31 obese men they studied. That study was published online Jan. 10 in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

A second report — this time by Stephanie Chiuve and colleagues at Harvard University — found that men who followed five healthy habits had an 87 percent lower risk of getting heart disease than men who ignore these behaviors. The health habits included eating a prudent diet, exercising regularly, controlling weight, not smoking and drinking in moderation.

That study, which tracked more than 51,000 men for over 16 years, was published in the July 3 online edition of the journal Circulation

While both studies were done in men, the findings are expected to apply to women, said Chiuve. She noted that a separate study of women, published about five years ago, found that healthy behavior quickly reduced their risk of heart disease.

Following all five healthy habits is best, she says, but even if you change one or two habits, that’s good, Chiuve said. The most important one to change: smoking.

“Not smoking was associated with the lowest risk for heart disease,” Chiuve said. Next up was maintaining a healthy body weight — that means sticking to a body mass index (BMI) below 25. For reference, a person 5 feet 5 inches tall who weighs 145 pounds has a BMI of 24, for instance. Statistical overweight begins at a BMI over 25.

“The other three [factors] — exercise, eating a healthy diet, drinking in moderation were all equal,” Chiuve said, in terms of reducing heart disease risks.

Some changes can reduce risks particularly quickly, she said. “Within two weeks, eating a healthy diet can reduce blood pressure.”

Roberts’ group found relatively speedy results from healthy changes, too. In his study, he followed men who had recently entered a residential program for improving their health. They ate a high-fiber, low-fat diet, taking in more than 40 grams a day and less than 15 percent of total calories from fat. They also walked for about 60 minutes a day.

After just three weeks of this behavior, about half the men reversed their tendency to type 2 diabetes or a cluster of other heart risk factors — such as elevated blood pressure, insulin levels or high cholesterol — that together are called the metabolic syndrome.

“We measured 15 or 20 different things,” he said. “The lipids [such as cholesterol] tend to change very quickly,” he said.

“Body weight [reduction] has a much longer course,” he said. While many people focus on body weight reduction, thinking it’s the prime factor driving health-related changes, that’s not always so, Roberts said.

“Some people think the body weight [change] causes the cholesterol to drop. It’s not the body weight per se, but many other mechanisms. The cholesterol can drop independent of body weight,” he said.

Simply adding more fiber to the diet and taking out saturated fat, he said, could be beneficial for your lipid profile, as can regular exercise.

“An editorial written in concert with this paper suggests the concept that you have to change for several months is erroneous,” he said.

What is needed, he said, is to consider the changes a new life plan, not a temporary fix.

More information:
For more on heart-healthy lifestyles, visit the American Heart Association.

Stephanie Chiuve, Sc.D., research fellow, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Christian Roberts, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor, physiological science, University of California, Los Angeles; July 3, 2006, online edition, Circulation; Jan. 10, 2006, online edition, Journal of AppliedOriginally published on Healthday.com

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