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Dietary Improvement: Why Do Strict Diets Report Health Improvement?

How many strict diets exist out there? It seems as though every couple of years a new one comes through the woodwork with all of the same claims. These claims start out with the creators of said diets, but eventually move on to the people who take up and follow these nutritional changes with sometimes ideological levels of following. With this multi-week investigation on dietary improvement that I’m currently pursuing I figured this was the next logical step in my research.

            Now, why are there often benefits for people when they start following these new diets? I found that there are actually a couple of reasons that I could see, so let’s dig right in to them.

The Exclusion Effect

(Just to be clear, we don’t suggest taking part in any of these diets, and doing so should be a decision you make for yourself after educating yourself on the matter.)

            Picture the average North American diet. What does it consist of? Do you see hamburgers, pizza, fries, pasta, and breakfast pastries? Do you see a daily dose of sugar in the forms of pop, flavored waters, ice cream, and confectioneries? Well, if you do, you’re actually not far from the truth. As a population we consume an average of 57 pounds of added sugar per person per year [4]!  This makes sense when you note the ever-growing obesity epidemic, alongside the almost 1 in 3 people that now suffer from a metabolic disease related to sugar consumption.

10 Top Foods America.png

            Now, what if you were on a diet that excluded added sugar or carbohydrates like the carnivore or ketogenic diets? Instantly that flood of sugar is gone. Within a few weeks your joints feel better with less inflammation, less oxidative stress in your body, and no more rollercoasters of energy highs followed by an early afternoon sugar crash. With sugar gone that also means alcohol is out as well, preventing that hangover, poor sleep quality, and removing a portion of empty calories from your diet.

            Next, imagine yourself on a diet that restricts the intake of processed meats such as the vegetarian or vegan diets. There go the poor saturated fat choices that the majority of people make when reaching for hot dogs, hamburgers, or salted and smoked meats. Over night this reduces the amount of artery clogging saturated and trans fats coming into your system. Many vegans also remove processed white sugar from their diets as well, getting a two-for-one deal on exclusion in their diet.

            But, in our opinion the above are not the healthiest way to go about making a lifestyle change. Although you’re excluding negative health contributors, you’re also excluding essential nutrients with these exclusion diets or at least making it harder to get these without supplementation. You can get similar benefits by removing the things that detract from your overall well-being, while still taking in the nutrients that contribute to your health. It just takes a little bit of effort and investment in your health.

Dietary Tribalism

            How often do you hear people self-identifying as a vegan, or as a ketogenic follower, or even as a carnivore? It seems that more and more these days people are touting their dietary choices as passionately as religion. But how much of their elation is due to this ideological following as opposed to purely benefits to their health? Sure, these exclusion diets each have their positives, but can it be argued truthfully that one is better than the other with broad sweeping strokes? Especially when the diverse genetic variability that exists in the world is taken into account, where people have food allergies, microbiomes that differ from person to person, and a multitude of contrasting lifestyle pursuits that require certain nutritional intakes. Then why is there a constant conversion effort by the masses following these diets and why are arguments breaking out about strangers’ dietary choices?

            In part this can be explained by the phenomenon of the echo chamber. If you haven’t heard the term before, it refers to a group of people reaffirming their own pre-existing convictions by stating them to people that they know hold those same ideas. By doing this they get the positive emotion that goes along with feeling as though you’re correct, and hold the high ground in a dietary argument. The problem with these echo chambers is that the ideas that these groups hold can never be challenged. This slowly builds into an ideology that’s held with religious fervour, and you eventually get the veganism, carnivore, and ketogenic movements that, by their own followers’ convictions, are infallible and above questioning.

            Another reason for this dietary tribalism is the feeling that people get from belonging to a group. Many in our society are lonely, and searching for something to belong to. Some of them find what they’re looking for in these dietary followings. They have social groups online that they can belong to, and with the added excitement of conflicts between rival tribes driving this bond they feel to their faction, this is exactly what many are looking for.

            The problem with the above is that once something is beyond questioning, it becomes a very close-minded viewpoint. If we aren’t open to information that can be brought to our attention then it’s very easy to approach situations of controversy with a confrontational demeanor. Another problem with this is if we are unwilling to accept new information then we stand with the belief that we already know everything, and how boring would that be if we already had everything figured out?

What’s The Goal?

            In essence, the masses don’t seek out these dietary followings to be confrontational. The majority of people in these groups are seeking health. They see claims online of cured chronic illness, disease and auto-immune disorders. It’s hard not to notice the positive changes that those following these diets exhibit. But they’re not the best way to go. There’s too much diversity in our human population for one broad sweep diet to be the ‘one’ for everyone, and arguing the opposite is just irresponsible. Our human diversity is a good thing. It means we don’t need these exclusion diets to see health benefits. We just need to make the conscious decision to educate ourselves and listen to what our bodies are telling us to the best of our abilities. That’s how we’ll find health as a group.

 

 

 

           

References:

 

1.       Common Foods Diets Exclude

https://thehealthyfish.com/common-foods-diets-exclude-eat-instead/

 

2.      Australian Exclusion Diets

http://theconversation.com/the-exclusive-on-exclusion-diets-12214

 

3.      Fat Loss and the Carnivore Diet

https://www.kevinstock.io/health/fat-loss-and-the-carnivore-diet/

 

4.      How Much Sugar is Too Much?

http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.XEVQ3FxKjIU

 

5.      Diabetes in North America and the Caribbean

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24321468

 

6.      Dietary Tribalism

https://grist.org/sustainable-food/lets-put-an-end-to-dietary-tribalism/

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Dietary Improvement: Is It All The Same?

            As someone who’s constantly in the pursuit of improving the content of what I put in my body, dietary modification is both interesting and slightly overwhelming. It’s importance in everything from performance in sport, academics, and decision making to it’s effect on our own longevity. This is a subject that can seem overwhelming, but is a very entertaining and informative process to learn about.

            There are continually new diets and fads coming to the forefront of popular culture. From as far back as the 1820s with the Vinegar and Water Diet (which was popularized by Lord Byron and entailed drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar) to our modern-day Vegan, Ketogenic, and even Carnivore diets which vary across the spectrum in what they allow us to consume. The only consistency being their firm restriction and almost religious level of ideological following. But there are many problems with these. The main one being that there is an enormous amount of genetic diversity from person to person, and suggesting a broad stroke recommendation for all of society to eat is irresponsible to say the least. On top of this is the enormous amount of conflicting information out there on the internet, making it difficult to make informed choices. Because of this, deciding on a healthy nutritional path takes several steps and considerations. (This will be a multi-installment subject)

What Do We Need To Cut Back On?

            The most important step before worrying about what to add nutritionally is what to take away. By and large we all consume way too much sugar, processed meats, and refined carbohydrates. We all hear that statement over and over again, reiterated by everyone from our healthcare practitioners, personal trainers, friends, and family. What it’s going to take to remove these from our diets is a small bit of effort. We need to begin to read the nutritional information on labelled food products while we’re shopping, to stop going through drive-thru restaurants, and to watch what we’re drinking.

            When reading nutritional labels and ingredient lists there is a lot of information included, and it can all end up being a bit overwhelming, but the main ones I like to focus on are trans fats and sugars.

This label is from a jar of strawberry jam, and fortunately there are no trans fats. But what does 8 grams of sugar really mean? Well, the rule with sugar is about 4 grams to a teaspoon, and the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends less than 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. So, having a tablespoon of jam on your toast in the morning has you at around 17% of your daily allotted sugar intake. Do you have 2 sugars with your coffee? That’s the equivalent of another 2 teaspoons, so you only have 8 teaspoons of sugar left for the rest of your day. It quickly adds up, and that’s only breakfast. This just shows how careful we have to be with sugar.

            What are processed meats? They’re any meat that has been modified to improve their shelf life or taste, these include sausages, hot dogs, beef jerky, cold cuts, and bacon. Why avoid them? They are usually very high in salt, and the World Health Organization states they are carcinogenic (increased cancer risk).

            What are refined carbohydrates? They’re any grain product that has been modified in its production process to be less bulky and softer as a final product.

Refined Carbs.png

Why avoid them? They’re often high in sugars and solid fats, and usually have a higher caloric load to them, and unless fortified are often nutritionally empty.

How Do My Genetics Affect What I Should Be Getting In My Nutrition?

            Let’s do a thought experiment. Picture an Inuit village in the north. It’s cold, the main dietary intakes are mostly protein and fat coming from fish, whale, caribou, and seal. There are a few vegetables that grow during the summer, but for 10 months of the year this is the diet. Now picture a town in southern Japan. It’s much warmer than the Inuit village. The diet is also vastly different, consisting of mainly rice, both cooked and pickled vegetables, fish and some meat. Now, after picturing these two vastly different living environments and dietary intakes, do you think that over the thousands of years that the people have lived there that their bodies might have developed an ability to glean nutrition from different types of diets? Well, you’re correct. The Inuit people exist on a very high fat diet, and genetically they have a higher ability to metabolize saturated fats. There are very low instances of cancer or dietary related illnesses in the Inuit people even with the low vegetable and fruit intake. Does this mean that everyone should exist on an almost carnivorous diet? Of course not! But people with their genetic heritage in the Inuit areas can exist on a high saturated fat diet, as long as that saturated fat is from healthy sources.

            Now, just to ensure caution. The above is not a dietary recommendation. It’s just a thought experiment to show how dietary recommendations should differ on a person to person basis. There should be no general broad-brush diets, and we should all make an effort to figure out the best diet for ourselves. Some people need to have a diet high in vitamin D, while others can synthesize the majority of their requirements from sun exposure. Some people can subsist on a vegan diet, while others require a portion of meat to be healthy. It’s important that we eliminate the negative things in our diets first, and then we can make small changes to see how the way we’re feeling changes along with it. Once you have the negative things out of the way, and the sugar is gone, we can listen to the way our bodies feel and the cravings we have as a good indicator of what we’re missing from our nutritional intake. One step at a time is the best way to go, as longer lasting changes seem to have the most sticking factor when they’re done piecemeal as opposed to all at once.

 

           

References:

1.       7 Small Changes to Improve Eating Habits

http://www.eatingwell.com/article/280967/7-small-changes-with-big-results/

 

2.      Diets Through History

https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20653382,00.html

 

3.      How Can Stages Of Change Best Be Used In Dietary Interventions?

https://www.cceb.med.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/chbr/1999-Kristal-HowCanStagesofChangebebestusedinDietaryInterventions.pdf

 

4.      What Are Refined Carbs?

https://www.verywellfit.com/what-are-refined-carbohydrates-3495552

 

5.      Genetics and Nutrition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14512029

 

6.    Inuit Diet

https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2015nl/apr/eskimos.htm

 

7.       Japanese Diet

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/why-japanese-diet-so-healthy

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Lack of Sleep: What’s The Cost?

I’m definitely guilty of skimping on my own sleep, always thinking to myself “what’s one or two nights really going to hurt?”. But it turns out that sleep deprivation adds up, something that was completely unknown to me.

            Sleep is a necessary function in the body, and getting quality sleep, getting enough of it, and at the proper times is as important as food and water to the human body. Considering you’ll spend almost a third of your life sleeping (if you’re doing it correctly), it’s important to know what not getting enough sleep can do to you. It actually affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body.

How is Each Body System Affected By Poor Sleep?

Central Nervous System:

            This is the information highway of your body, and sleep keeps it functioning properly. But, eventually sleep deprivation builds up. This negatively effects how the body sends information. Without enough proper sleep the brain can’t form or maintain pathways to learn and create new memories. It also becomes harder to concentrate and response time decreases.

            During proper sleep pathways form between neurons in the brain to help you remember new information. Without this the brain becomes exhausted and unable to function. The signals the body sends throughout become delayed, leading to decreased coordination, compromised decision-making, and creativity. This can also lead to (if sleep deprivation becomes extreme):

-hallucinations                       -impulsive behaviour                         -depression

-paranoia                                -suicidal thoughts                              -microsleeps

            Microsleeps are intermittent moments of sleep lasting only a few seconds in duration. They are completely out of your control, and are especially dangerous if driving, working, or moving about.

Immune System:

            While you sleep, your body produces protective, infection-fighting substances such as cytokines. These substances protect against outside invaders like bacteria and viruses. They also help you sleep, improving your ability to defend yourself, and increasing energy.

            Sleep deprivation prevents this process from occurring, and can increase the rate of infection, decrease your immune function, and increase the total time it takes to recover from an illness or infection. Long-term sleep deprivation can increase your chances of developing a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease, and getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night actually increases the rate of early death by up to 12%.

Digestive System:

            Your sleep is responsible for regulating the levels of two important hormones in your digestive system. Leptin, which tells the brain that the stomach is full and stops you from overeating, is decreased due to sleep deprivation. Ghrelin increases your appetite, and is increased due to sleep deprivation. These together increase the chances that you will overeat at night, and can actually cause you to store more calories as fat.

            Insulin release after eating is also increased by sleep deprivation. This is particularly bad due to the fact that over time this increased presence of insulin can lead to insulin resistance, and eventually Type 2 Diabetes.

Cardiovascular System:

            Another important function of healthy sleep is to keep the heart and blood vessels in good working condition, and to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels in the circulatory system. This is all vital to heal the heart and blood vessels from any negative symptoms that may occur over time.

            Sleep deprivation increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes over time.

Endocrine System:

            Hormone production is also reliant on sleep. In fact, testosterone production requires 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep (this is basically the equivalent of your entire first REM cycle). Sleep deprivation also negatively affects growth hormone production, especially in children and adolescents, which is why it’s very important for them to get as much sleep as they need. It also prevents the building of muscle mass and the repairing of cells and tissues.

            Cortisol (stress hormone) is also released by the body if you have a poor sleep. Not only influencing how you deal with stress, this hormone actually increases how many of your consumed calories will end up being stored as fat.

How Do We Improve Our Sleep?

            There are actually quite a few ways to improve your sleep quality. They’re all fairly straightforward and easy to remember.

            Firstly, it’s important to set a routine before bed. Your body develops a sleep rhythm known as the Circadian Rhythm, that it follows daily. This rhythm is a combination of several contributing factors, but one of the major ones is the time that you consistently go to bed and wake up at. Even if you have a late night, it is healthiest for your Circadian Rhythm to get up at the same time as you normally would.

            Second is to ensure you don’t have caffeine or alcohol near your bed time (most suggestions say within 6 hours). These are for different reasons. The caffeine is an obvious one, as even if you do manage to go to sleep, your brain doesn’t, and will wake you up and ensure a restless sleep. The alcohol on the other hand is a bit more deceptive. You may feel as though you sleep better after a ‘nightcap’, but this is actually only partially true. You do fall asleep more easily, but while you’re asleep your body is preoccupied with processing the alcohol in it’s system, and won’t allow your brain to go into the most restful parts of it’s sleep. In the long term this is actually equivalent to sleep deprivation.

            Our third suggestion is to keep electronics out of your bedroom. Most handheld electronics, computers, and televisions emit blue light. As we went into deeper detail in our last article about blue light, we hope you’re up to date on this. If not, I’ll give you a brief refresher. Blue light mimics sunlight to your brain, causing you to remain alert and awake much later than you should. This confuses your internal body clock and can lead to poor sleep.

            Fourthly, is to sleep in a cold room. It doesn’t have to be freezing, but your body’s core temperature actually needs to drop several degrees before it can go to sleep. This is why it’s always much easier to sleep in a room that’s too cold, as compared to a room that’s too hot.

            Our last suggestion for improving sleep is to set up a scene that you associate with sleep. Using white noise or earplugs if you prefer are great for sleeping in a room that’s too loud or quiet. Sleep in familiar surroundings is always of a higher quality, and therefore setting up a familiar, comfortable scene night after night can help to improve sleep quality.

            Don’t let yourself get stressed out about your sleep. If you worry, it definitely makes it harder to get into that restful state. Even though it’s a natural function that we’re all born with, learning healthy sleep practices, and unlearning the unhealthy ones can be a long and arduous process. But, don’t worry, it’s easier to get back to healthy sleep than it is to get to unhealthy sleep, just take it step by step and you’ll get there.

 

           

 

 

References:

1.      Effects of Sleep Deprivation

https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#3

2.     Understanding Sleep

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep

3.     Effects of One Night of Sleep Loss

https://www.sleepjunkie.org/what-one-night-of-sleep-loss-can-do-to-you/

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Light: A Guide to Health, Sleep, and Productivity

You probably know that it’s hard to sleep with the lights on, but you may not be aware of the extent of your health that is affected by being exposed to light after dark. To the point that even a night light can have negative consequences.

            Firstly, light comes in many different forms (wavelengths). We see these differences in wavelengths as the different colors in the visible spectrum, ranging from red to violet. But, did you know that the different wavelengths of light have different effects on your brain? Some tell the brain to wake up and remain in an alert state, while others tell your brain to calm down and prepare for sleep. Why is this? Well, it turns out that sunlight, while being high in UV light (the wavelength of light beyond violet, that we can not see) it is also high in wavelengths of blue light. Special receptor cells in your eyes sense this blue light and pass it on to the part of your brain that regulates your sleep-wake cycle (or Circadian Rhythm) and tell your brain to stay alert. This is great when you’re trying to get work done during the day, but it can negatively affect your sleep schedule if you’re exposed to blue light around your bed time, or late into the night like so many of us are.

light fixtures.jpg

            In fact, light is one of the most significant factors affecting your Circadian Rhythm. When there was no such thing as artificial light, or even up until we progressed beyond the incandescent bulb, the parts of the brain responsible for regulating the Circadian Rhythm were a lot healthier. Modern fluorescent, CFL, and LED bulbs emit light with a high percentage of blue wavelength light, constantly telling the brain that it needs to wake up. This is helpful for maintaining productivity at work or school, but can be dangerous around the times when the brain should be naturally producing more melatonin, and preparing for sleep (once the sun goes down). This is having lasting negative effects on cognition, short-term memory, metabolism, mood, and even immune function!

Sleep and Cognition/Memory

            Our sleep cycle is responsible for maintenance and recuperation of many different functions throughout the body. When we don’t sleep at the appropriate times, or have blue light exposure too close to our sleep, it can lead to our body resisting the natural flow through the sleep cycles of Slow Wave Sleep and Rapid Eye Movement Sleep. These are incredibly important, as they are how your brain stores memories, compiles newly learned tasks or abilities, and regulates multiple functions throughout the body. Also, lack of sleep makes it difficult for brain cells to communicate effectively, often leading to mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception. In fact, a study from Tel Aviv found that parts of the brain will actually exhibit behavior normally seen only when asleep, implying they were “dozing, causing mental lapses” during the day [3].

Sleep and Metabolism

            Another problem with this lack of proper sleep, is that it throws off your body’s hormone levels that are related to hunger and satiety. Being sleep deprived leads to too little leptin and too much ghrelin in your system. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain when it’s full, and when to start burning more calories. Ghrelin, on the other hand is the hormone that tells your brain that you need to eat, when to stop consuming calories, and when to store calories as fat. Obviously, when these are out of sync, it can play havoc with your metabolism [5].

Sleep and Mood

            I think we’ve all come across a friend or loved one who exhibits behavior similar to a grumpy bear coming out of hibernation. Often, in our modern sleep deprived world, we can attribute this, not to a naturally grumpy disposition, but to a lack of proper sleep. It turns out that being a little out of sorts is the least of the issues related to mood and mental health. Lack of sleep can lead to much more severe issues such as anxiety, depression, or panic disorders.

Sleep and Immune Function

            Yes! Sleep even has an effect on your immune system. When you sleep, your immune system releases cells called cytokines. Certain cytokines are needed to increase when you have inflammation, an infection, or when you’re otherwise under stress [4]. Sleep deprivation decreases production of these cytokines, and can also reduce antibodies and immune cells in times when you’re under sleep deprivation [4].

Using Blue Light

It’s true, blue light does have it’s benefits. Utilizing it can be tricky though. Blue light increases alertness, cognition, and forces the brain to wake up. This makes it great for study, work, or staying awake when absolutely necessary (like in the case of shift workers). There is the downside to keep in mind though, that using blue light for long periods of time does decrease short-term memory. We' aren’t actually sure why this is, but a recent study out of PEC University of Technology showed that when exposed to blue light from LED screens, test subjects experienced a decrease in mood, attention-span, and memory performance [2].

How to Utilize the Power of Light

            Wow, light sure has a massive effect on the body. Let’s use what we know. How can we utilize our body’s close relationship with light to our advantage:

-Use bulbs that range on the side of the visible spectrum that is closer to red in the bedroom and bathroom.

-When working or studying, use LEDs and interact with your computer if possible.

-If you’ll be using a device with a screen for long periods of time over the course of the day, think of utilizing a blue light blocking device, such as computer glasses, or a blue light setting on your device.

-Avoid using devices or being exposed to blue light within 3 hours of bed time if at all possible (again utilize blue light blocking devices).

-Use devices with blue light for pleasure as little as possible (especially near bed time).

-Ensure that any lights used for night time visibility are close to the red end of the spectrum.

           

            Like everything in life, light utilization is a learning process. Pay attention to what works for you. Make conscious decisions in your light fixture usage, and where in your home they’re located. Do your own research on the fixtures or devices that you plan on using, as sometimes the device you’re using can be misleading. Do your best to stick to the 3 hours within bedtime rule, as it’s the most important to your overall health. I’m excited to implement these guidelines into my life and routine, and I hope you’ve found value in this as well.

 

 

References:

 

1.       Health Impact of Light

http://www.healthimpactoflight.com/

2.       Light’s Effect on Cognition, Mood, and Circadian Rhythm

https://www.irjet.net/archives/V4/i6/IRJET-V4I6475.pdf

3.       What Happens if I Don’t Sleep Enough?

https://www.livescience.com/60875-sleep-deprivation-sluggish-brain-cells.html

4.       Can Lack of Sleep Increase my Chances of Getting Sick?

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757

5.       Sleep and Obesity

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/sleep-obesity.htm

6.       Sleep and Mood Disorders

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

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Sugar Over the Holidays

It’s that time of year again. Snow is falling, Christmas decorations are everywhere, and uh oh… what’s this? Sugar is everywhere as well! Actually, this isn’t something to panic about. Eating healthy during the holidays can be a stressful thing to even consider when everyone is offering delicious confectioneries, beverages, and snacks. Fortunately, I have several helpful pointers for maintaining your healthy habits.

            Many Canadians look at the holidays as a time to let their nutrition stray with thoughts like, “I’ll eat what I want now, and make it up in the new year…”. It turns out that this is flawed thinking. 1 in every 5 Canadians suffer from a metabolic syndrome that include:

                -Insulin Resistance

                -Visceral Obesity

                -Low HDL Cholesterol

                -High Triglycerides

                -Hypertension [1.]

                Eating too much sugar can permanently damage your metabolism, and the more often you indulge your bad eating habits, the quicker insulin resistance builds in your body. This has gotten to the point where greater than 50% of the American population suffers from a metabolic syndrome due to overconsumption of sugar [1.]. Of these, insulin resistance is one of the most powerful risk factors for cancer, heart attacks, and neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimer’s and dementia [2.]. No matter what point in your fitness journey you’re at, your age, weight, medical or psychological history, limiting sugar intake is important. Keep in mind though, it’s not about perfection. It’s only about making healthy choices and ensuring that you don’t judge yourself or others. It’s hard, but we have some great suggestions that can help you over the holidays.

1.       Set Your Goals for the Holiday Season:

 -Maybe consume sugar only at parties. You can limit yourself to just work parties, just at a New Year’s Eve party, or only when you’re spending time with a certain loved one.

 -Are you going to aim to go the distance over the holidays and stay low sugar?

 -Will you decide to take a break from your diet? Do you have rules? Are you going to take part in specific indulgences? Or will it be an all out free for all? (I don’t suggest this last one)

 -Make your goals specific. Specific goals are much more likely to be stuck to and followed.

 2.       This Shouldn’t be a Solo Mission:

-Commitments are always easier to stick to when you have support. If you have at least one other person on your side avoiding sugar with you, it doesn’t seem like such a daunting task.

-You can share your struggles together, your recipes you like, moments of triumph. It all seems simpler with a comrade.

-The journey can be made much more fun with an ally on your side. Hanging out with this non-sugar friend (whether it’s at parties where sugar is present, or at home without the temptation) is a great way to achieve your goal.

 -Support is especially important if you’re the only person in your household that’s avoiding sugar. If your family members are going all out, it can be especially difficult to stick to your guns and tough it out.

 3.       Bring Your Own Food to Parties, or Eat Before You Go:

 -Parties often have many delicious, sugary foods that can make meeting your holiday low sugar goals difficult. Arriving with a full or partially full belly can help you to avoid these temptations.

 -You can also bring foods that are fine for you, and others, to enjoy like: spiced nuts, gourmet olives, charcuterie, smoked salmon, or deviled eggs.

 4.       Be a Respectful Role Model

If your Grandma were to make a sweet apple pie, when she offered you a piece you wouldn’t be rude. You’d be respectful and complimentary, stating how much you’d love to have a piece, but also how committed you are to your health. Explain that you love pie, but must refuse because of health reasons. This is a great policy to bring to events where you may have to say no to sugary foods. Practice setting a healthy example for others. Your family members may be prompted to change their diet in the future and to follow in the footsteps of the many people who have committed to their personal health in the past. (Especially if they notice the positive changes that you experience.)

5.       You’re Not a Machine, You’re Human:

Humans make mistakes, or slip up every now and again. It’s important that you don’t beat yourself up. Sugar is an addictive substance that sometimes slips under the radar, and most peoples’ formative years are spent indulging in sugary foods (they’re well loved). Trying not to eat them can be difficult, as we’re constantly having advertisements, social media campaigns, social messaging, and convenient sugary foods and drinks everywhere we go. Do your best, and let the mistakes go, this is the best advice I can give.

  Make a commitment to your health this holiday season. If it’s a small commitment that’s fine, next year you can aim even higher. It’s a continuous journey to optimizing your health. But, as long as we support one another and focus on the improvements we can make, as opposed to our shortcomings, we’ll get to a healthier lifestyle. One step at a time. Happy Holidays from all of us at GoGet.Fit!

 

 

 

                References:

1.       About Metabolic Syndrome

https://www.metabolicsyndromecanada.ca/about-metabolic-syndrome  

 

2.       Tips for Limiting Sugar

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201612/5-tips-limiting-sugar-during-the-holidays

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Winter Running

            Running in the winter is not something I had a lot of experience to draw from. Growing up on the west coast, there weren’t an awful lot of opportunities to go running in temperatures below zero. After getting to experience my first -20 run this past week, I feel like it’s a good time to draw from the experience of people who have run in these temperatures for a bit longer.
           

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What to wear?


            It’s important to dress properly for this weather, as runs often become uncomfortable if you’re not sufficiently prepared. Depending on how hard you plan to run, you’ll likely want to dress for warmer weather than you think. When you’re running in the cold the last thing you want is to sweat, as this makes you lose body heat much quicker. Instead, try to dress as if you were going for a light walk in 10-degree warmer weather. You want to be slightly cool when you start out [1]. Dressing in layers is a learned technique.

An example:
-A base layer that wicks moisture
-A mid layer that’s warm
-An outer layer that is wind and waterproof, and has zippers in the armpits to vent air in case you get too warm


            Wool socks that wick moisture are a great thing to have for the winter months. They come in a variety of thicknesses and lengths, I suggest at least a crew height or taller to prevent snow getting up your legs. Think about the surface that you’re running on. Is it going to have ice or compact snow? Yak Trax are a great piece of equipment that can fit in your pocket until you need them when the ground gets slippery.
            Being visible is important as well. Using reflective or fluorescent gear is necessary in the winter months, especially in the north, as we have shorter days and running in the daylight may not always be a viable option. Headlamps and flashlights are something to think about as well, especially if you’re trail running, you’ll need to see where you’re placing your feet. Running in areas with tall snowbanks can be dangerous because traffic can’t always see you as well.  
           

Preparing for Your Run


            You should try to warm up inside before you start. Get the blood flowing, but make sure you don’t break a sweat. Going up and down the stairs a few times, jumping rope, doing some jumping jacks, or giving the house a brisk cleaning are some great ways to do just that. You’ll quickly realize that outside doesn’t feel as cold when you’re warmed up.
            If you’re meeting friends or a running group at the start point, don’t get out of your car until everyone else is ready to start. You don’t want to start your run cold.
            Know where the wind is blowing from, some places have worse wind than others. Outsmart the wind by running 10 minutes into the wind and 5 minutes away from it, then repeat. Start your runs by running into the wind, as you don’t want to be running into the wind if you’ve worked up a sweat. Know your route and plan to seek out natural windbreakers. If you’re running in the city, plan to run the longest portion of your route on streets that don’t have wind blowing down them. Using Vaseline on your face is something that runners in Alaska do. They spread a thin layer of the petroleum jelly on the sensitive parts of their face to prevent chapped skin. A buff will also help to protect your face from the wind.

 

 

On Your Run


            Be flexible with the pace and mileage for your run. Running in the winter is more about maintaining your physical activity than setting distance or speed records. Try to run in the middle of the day when the temperature is highest. Always try to run with a buddy or group. That way, if anything goes wrong you have someone there with you.
           

After Your Run


            Change out of your clothes as quickly as possible, especially if you’ve gotten really cold during your run. Your core temperature will drop quickly after your run and getting into a warm, spare pair of clothes is very important. Bring a warm drink along in a thermos for the drive home afterwards. Maybe even end your run at a coffee shop and change your clothes in the bathroom there. Hydration is important both before and afterwards.


            Alternatives?


            You can always use the treadmill to stay inside if it’s especially cold outside. Swimming and rowing are also great for cross-training and getting a good cardio workout in.
           

Looking for Motivation?


            Promise yourself a reward for after your run. There’s nothing wrong with having a hot chocolate and a nice snack afterwards. Maybe reward yourself with a night out at the movies, or catch up with a good friend. I find that at this time of year running through town to see all the Christmas lights is a great way to get out and explore new routes. I also find that if I make a commitment to a running partner it’s a great way to make sure I am accountable to someone else, so I’m less likely to miss my run. Running partners can add a social connection to running in the winter, which makes you more likely to get out there. It’s also helpful having someone to witness and compliment your achievements in running. In Edmonton every year they hold the Hypothermic Half-Marathon, a race that has been run in temperatures as cold as 50-below! They reward themselves with a free meal afterwards including bacon, eggs and pancakes. That’s motivation enough for me!

https://www.hypothermichalf.com/register-s14923


            If winter running isn’t for you, that’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of other great activities out there where you can get your weekly active minutes in. But for those of you who are excited about running in a winter wonderland, do your research, and be safe out there. Most importantly, have fun with it!


 

 

 

References:

1.       Running in Winter Pointers

https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a20825038/10-tips-to-make-winter-running-less-miserable/?source=nl&utm_source=nl_rnw&utm_medium=email&date=111518&utm_campaign=RNW%202018-11-15%20--%20New%20Day%2016&utm_term=New%20Day%2016

 

2.       Running Room Winter Running Pointers

https://www.active.com/running/articles/winter-running-tips

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Fall Awareness

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Fall prevention isn’t something most of us need to worry about until later in life… Or is it? I used to think the same thing until I did a little bit more reading for fall prevention month. It turns out that we can actually do a lot to prepare ourselves for elderly life and reduce that fall risk that many carry into their later years.

            In my opinion, education is incredibly important when it comes to any situation we’re unfamiliar with. Falls are the number one cause of injury in elderly adults in Canada, and every year 1 in 3 Canadians will have at least one fall [5]. Among seniors who fell last year, 61% were women, and 39% were men, and both their risk and instance of falls increased with age [5]. But, a big point is that we don’t want to be afraid of falling, only to know the risks, as an exaggerated perception of fall risk actually led to a higher instance of falls [5]. Therefore, we don’t want anyone to be afraid, only aware.

            Strength and aerobic exercise are a couple things that will both help your overall health now, as well as later in life. A recent study showed that strength and aerobic exercise that is established at a young age is easier for individuals to carry on to elder life, as opposed to when it isn’t established earlier in life [4]. Along with this, you can also prepare yourself by watching out for the older members of your family. Educating yourself and them while helping to ensure that they have led their life with a mitigated fall risk.

            As we age there is quite a variability in the overall quality of life from person to person. Some individuals age quite well and maintain their strength, and independence. With others there seems to be an accelerated onset of weakness, disability, and frailty. Why is this? Well, in some cases it’s genetics, some are unlucky, while others have led lifestyles that have been non-beneficial, or even harmful to their own longevity.

What are some things we can do to mitigate the risk of falls?

1.      Make an Appointment with Your Doctor: 

  • Doctors can educate us more thoroughly about the medications and supplements we are taking:

·         Any side effects that may increase the fall risk

  • Be honest with them about whether or not you’ve fallen before

·         Write down the details of your fall or near fall:

v  When

v  Where

v  How

·         These can help prevent further falls

  •   Ask them about any health conditions you may have that could increase your risk for a fall:

·         Eye or ear issues

·         Your comfortability with walking

·         Any dizziness, shortness of breath, or numbness in feet or legs when walking

·         Get them to evaluate your strength balance and gait

2.     Keep Moving 

  •   Physical activity is very important, and with your doctor’s OK you can put together a program to stay healthy:

·         Walking, water workouts, or tai chi are just a few ideas

  •   A good exercise plan should help you improve your balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility

 

3.      Wear Sensible Footwear

 

  •   High-heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles are all fall hazards that can cause a slip, stumble or trip

  •   Do not walk on slippery floors in stockinged feet

  •   Replace footwear before it wears out

  •   Wear properly fitting shoes with good ankle support and soles that are non-slip

4.      Remove Home Hazards

  •   Check all of the rooms in your home (living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, stairways, hallways, etc.)

  •   Remove boxes, papers, cords, and cables that are in the walking area

  •   Coffee tables, plants, and magazine racks should be kept out of high-traffic areas

  •   Secure any loose rugs with slip-resistant back, tape, or tacks to avoid tripping hazards

  •   Repair floorboards or carpets immediately

  •   Clean spills right away to avoid a slip

  •   Use non-slip mats in the bath tub/shower

5.      Light 

  • Keep your home well lit:

·         Use night lights throughout the bedroom and bathroom

·         Keep a lamp by the bed within easy reach

·         Clear paths to light switches that are not near the entrance to a room

·         Install glow in the dark light switches or illuminated switches

·         Always have the lights on when using the stairs

·         Keep flashlights in easy to access locations in case of a power outage 

6.      Assistive Devices 

  •   Ensure that there are hand rails on both sides of the stairs

  •   There are non-slip treads on any wooden steps

  •   Use a raised toilet seat with handles

  •   Install grab bars in the bathtub and shower

  •   Use a sturdy shower seat in the shower or bathtub

  •   A hand-held shower nozzle is important as well

Ask your doctor about referring you to an occupational therapist who can help you to brainstorm about different ways to mitigate your fall risk.

            Now, what about strengthening your body to decrease your risk of falling? Well, I actually found a list of great exercises to do at home that, if done regularly, can help to improve your strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility.

(Remember to always consult your healthcare or fitness professional before changing your exercise program)

Exercises to Help Prevent Fall Risk:

1.       Alternating Lunges

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Place a sturdy chair to one side to hold for balance. (As you gain strength, you can perform this exercise without holding onto a chair.) Keeping your back straight, step forward with one foot. Bend your front knee until your back knee is almost touching the ground. Make sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your front toes. Then, push through your front foot to return to standing. Repeat with the opposite leg. Start with five reps per leg before increasing to 10 reps per leg. Once 10 reps feel easy, add 5-pound weights.

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2.      Single Leg Stands

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you progress at this exercise, you can perform it without holding onto anything.) From here, lift one foot an inch off of the floor while keeping your torso straight and without leaning toward your planted foot. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then slowly return it to the floor. Repeat on the opposite leg. Perform five repetitions on each leg.

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3.      Sit-to-Stands

Begin seated in a chair with arms. Then, brace yourself on the arms and push your butt up in the air using as little help from your lower body as possible. Once you’ve lifted your body out of the chair, slowly lower yourself back into a seated position. Perform 10 repetitions.

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4.      Tricep Kickbacks

Begin standing to one side of a sturdy chair or bench, holding a 2-pound weight down by your opposite side in one hand. With your back straight, hinge forward at the waist to place your free hand on the chair or bench. Then, bend your opposite arm at the waist. Keeping your elbow planted at your waist, extend only your forearm behind you. Pull the weight back to your waist. Perform 10 repetitions per arm, and work your way up to a 5-pound weight.

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5.      Chair Leg Raises

Begin seated in a sturdy chair. Then, holding on to the bottom of the chair with both hands, extend one leg straight out and bring your knee in toward your chest without moving your upper body to meet it. Extend your leg back out and lower your foot to the ground. Repeat with the opposite side. Start with five reps per leg, and work up to 10.

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                Remember, everything above is helpful, but just because you do your best to prevent a fall there is still a risk. It’s important to check in with your healthcare and fitness professionals regularly, because as we age there are constantly changes going on in our bodies that we might not notice right away. If we’re vigilant and do the best to keep our bodies as healthy as possible, it’s surprising how much influence we can have on the effects of aging.

References:

 

1.       Fall Prevention: Simple Tips to Prevent Falls

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/fall-prevention/art-20047358

 

2.       Preventing Falls: Injury Prevention and Safety

https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/injprev/Page15787.aspx

 

3.       6 Best Exercises for Preventing Falls in Older Adults

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/2017-12-04/the-6-best-exercises-for-preventing-falls-in-older-adults

 

4.       Physical Activity in Older Age: Perspectives for Healthy Aging and Frailty

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4889622/

 

5.       Understanding Seniors’ Risk of Falling and Their Perception of Risk

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2014001/article/14010-eng.htm

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Exercise and the Immune System

I have always struggled with the belief that aerobic exercise can lead to a decrease in the ability of the immune system to function. I just didn’t see how something like exercise, which benefits our bodies in almost every system, could somehow be damaging to our integral immune system.

There were many studies throughout the 80s, and into the 90s, relying on athletes to self-report instances of illness (an inaccurate system of measurement), that led us to believe that this was the case. As endurance races would be going on, the bloodstreams of the athletes would be chock full of immune cells. This continued until a few hours after the strenuous endurance exercise was completed and suddenly the immune cells would vanish to the point of their levels being lower than before the race even started. Scientists believed that this meant the strenuous activity had killed the immune cells, leaving the athletes’ bodies vulnerable to infection.

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Fortunately, as of April this year, the truth of this issue has finally been brought to light. Scientists at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom performed a study on endurance athletes, testing their saliva for markers that would indicate an illness. They found that upper respiratory illnesses that are generally reported by athletes are often misreported. After a marathon the athletes were tested in the following weeks and were found to have the same instances of illness statistically as the rest of the city the marathon was hosted by. Further tests were done on mice, where scientists dyed the immune cells in the mouse bodies and were able to follow them as they moved throughout.

The findings were that during exercise the immune cells move into the bloodstream and are transported around the body. Once exercise is finished, they are brought into the gut and lungs to help with immune function in areas of the body that are vulnerable after strenuous physical activity. Some of the immune cells are also transported to the bone marrow to initiate production of additional immune cells from the stem cells within. This shows us that exercise is good for the immune system in mice, so there should be benefits in the human immune system as well.

              Now you may be asking, “why should we care what happens inside the bodies of rats and mice?”. That’s a great question, and one that I used to ask myself all the time when doing research. The majority of studies I read involving humans always seemed to either include or refer to rodent studies.  Finally, the curiosity built to a breaking point and I went back to the books.

It turns out that the genetic and biological make up of rodents are very similar to those of humans. In fact, mice and humans have 4/5 of their genes in common with each other [5]. Because of this, we can infer results and effects on these creatures and apply them to humans. It’s not incredibly kind sounding, but rodents are also very inexpensive, can be bred to have almost uniform genetic make up to remove variance, and are small, which makes it easy to house and handle them. In fact, 95% of all animals used in lab research are mice and rats [5]. There is actually a monument to laboratory mice in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia. We do certainly owe them a lot for the vast knowledge they’ve helped us to obtain.

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Now, what about once you’re already afflicted with an illness?

It turns out that there is plenty of information on what to do in this case. First of all, I would like to state that exercise levels should always be decreased when you’re sick. You exercise to how well you’re feeling, don’t push yourself to what you normally do.

Mild to moderate exercise is perfectly fine when the symptoms of your illness occur above the neck, but intensity and duration should be (again) decreased. Strenuous exercise is NOT okay if your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, hacking cough, upset stomach). It should also be decreased if there is a fever, or widespread muscle cramps or weakness. Use your body as a guide, as your condition improves you may begin to resume your regular activity levels. This being said, exercise is good for your immune system, and if you’re feeling up to it, getting up to walk and move about is not going to seriously harm you, and should actually help to circulate your immune cells, as long as you don’t push yourself [2].

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How much is too much under normal circumstances?

When it comes to aerobic exercise, as long as you’re not running a total weekly distance greater than 42 km, your incidence of upper respiratory illness should be improved [3]. So, if you run more than a marathon a week you need to decrease your training levels, which is not something most people have to worry about.

Although it seems that the most immune function benefit stems from moderate aerobic exercise, a combination of activities is the best plan to get an assortment of benefits from your body. Include strength, aerobic, and anaerobic activities into your weekly regimen. Use a combination of moderate, leisurely, and vigorous exercise. As long as you’re getting out there, you’re bettering yourself in more ways than just one. Some of these are, a decrease in upper respiratory illness, a decrease in heart disease, increased bone health and strength, improved cognitive function, and slowed release of stress hormones. It may still be unknown to scientists how immune function is improved through exercise, but what is not up for debate is the fact that it is improved.

      

References:

1.       Gretchen Reynolds. How Strenuous Exercise Affects Our Immune System. (April 2018)

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/25/well/move/how-strenuous-exercise-affects-our-immune-system.html

2.       Edward R. Laskowsk, MD. Is It Okay to Exercise if I Have a Cold? (February 2017)

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20058494

3.       Thomas G. Weidner, PhD, ATC; Thomas L Sevier, MD. (1996) Sport, Exercise, and the Common Cold. National Center for Biotechnology Information (Volume 31)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1318446/pdf/jathtrain00018-0060.pdf

4.       Linda J. Vorvick, MD. Exercise and Immunity (November 2018)

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm

5.       Remy Melina. Why do Medical Researchers Use Mice. (November 2010)

https://www.livescience.com/32860-why-do-medical-researchers-use-mice.html

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Alternative Sweeteners

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Do you ever wonder where your calories come from? Most of us know that we’re supposed to be aiming for a certain caloric intake, but how much and where they’re coming from might be beyond our usual thoughts. When it comes to sugar, I’ve started being more cautious of late, trying to limit the amount that’s in my diet. It’s difficult though, many foods are sweetened beyond their raw components, sometimes with natural ingredients, and sometimes with artificial. But sugars are not all created equal when it comes to the glycemic index (the ranking system used to show how much a certain carbohydrate affects blood glucose levels), and limiting sugar consumption can be complicated.  

The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) recommends that less than 10% of your diet come from sugar[1]. In a 2000 calorie diet, this means that less than 12 teaspoons of sugar be consumed per day.

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Yet a study of 18 developed countries found that the percentage of daily calories that come from sugar ranged from 13.5%-24.6% in adults (and these studies are generally underreported) [5]. You might be asking, “why should I worry about my sugar consumption or my blood glucose levels?” well, other than the eventual tooth and gum disease, there is the distinct risk of eventual heart disease, arterial plaque build up, insulin resistance, etc. Then, shouldn’t we switch to sweeteners that don’t include glucose and sucrose?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was created to be a replacement to sucrose, which just made the whole situation more confusing (having an even higher glycemic index than sucrose), and between 1978 and 1998 the foods that used HFCS went from 16%-42% in the United States [5].            

Then came the move to artificial sweeteners. Thought to be a food of the future, hardly being metabolized by the body, and having no affect on blood sugar levels. Saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, and sucralose are just a few of the names given to these “miracle chemicals”. But the truth has turned out to be enormously different. From cancer in lab animals, to an increase in fat storage, sugar cravings and insulin resistance, these artificial sweeteners seem to be anything but a blessing [7].   

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With all of this information it seems daunting and impossible. Sugar based (and artificial) sweeteners are in everything. What options do we have? We need to educate ourselves, and to read the labels of the items we buy. It’s important to limit the intake of sugar sweetened beverages (drink more water), to eat mostly whole foods, and to try to fill your diet with more healthy fats and vegetables. With the education part, that’s what we’re attempting to do here.

Sources of sweetness are: Simple carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, amino acids like alanine, glycine, and serine which are considered mildly sweet [3]. Sweetness can also come from high intensity sweeteners.  

These high intensity sweeteners are 100 to 25, 000 times sweeter than sucrose and come in two forms: artificial/chemically-synthesized (such as sucralose, alitame, cyclamate, aspartame, neot etc.) and natural/extracted from plant sources (such as Stevia, rebaudiana, Luo Han Guo, and glycyrrhizin from licorice) [3]. 

          In the end, we can only do our best. It’s not impossible to be healthy, but sugar will be difficult to quit. If you care about your health, and would like to put an effort towards improving, it’s not as hard as it seems. Take little steps. Start by decreasing the sugar content in one of your meals per day. Aim towards the goal of reaching and moving beyond the CDA recommendation of less than 10% of caloric intake from sugars. If we improve what we can, and take it day to day, we’ll get there and be healthy. Good luck, we’re rooting for you!

REFERENCES

 

[1] Canadian Diabetes Association: Sugars Position Statement https://www.diabetes.ca/getmedia/9d0baffb-6268-4762-acc7-e52575c40c55/cda-position-on-sugars.pdf.aspx

 

[2] How Healthy is Stevia as a Sugar Substitute?

https://www.yeshealth.com/how-healthy-stevia-sugar-substitute/

 

[3] Sweeteners and Taste Modification https://www.foodprocessing.com/assets/knowledge_centers/WILD_Flavors/assets/sweeteners_and_taste_modification.pdf

 

[4] Effect of Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986486/

 

[5] High Fructose Corn Syrup Information https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/88/6/1716S/4617107

 

[6] Getting to Know the Glycemic Index

http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Carbohydrate-and-Sugar/Getting-to-Know-the-Glycemic-Index.aspx

[7] History of Artificial Sweeteners

https://www.saveur.com/artificial-sweeteners

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Prostate Cancer Awareness

       Since it’s the month of “Movember”, I figured a fine way to show my support was to cover the subject of prostate cancer. I’ve always had questions about this disease, but no one has ever broken it down for me. So, in typical fashion for myself, I decided to do some research and share it with the world (to my best ability).

What is the Prostate?

The prostate is a gland that resides in front of the rectum, and just below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine and semen, and is usually about the size of a golf ball. It is responsible for adding nutrients and fluid to sperm. Cell growth (both normal and cancerous) of the prostate is controlled by testosterone, a hormone produced mainly in the testicles.

            What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is something that seems to be set far back in men’s minds, as far as worries go. I rarely think about it more than a couple times a year, and mostly with questions about how it works, more than actual worries.

            Sometimes cells in our body begin to grow abnormally, different from how they’re intended. Generally, this is caused by either a hormone imbalance or a mix up in the genes of the cells. As these abnormal cells replicate, they can either become benign (not harmful) or cancerous.

            Prostate cancer can be slow growing, and often men live for years without any symptoms or detection. But if the cancer spreads outside of the prostate, it can enter other tissue and lymph nodes. It can also spread through the blood to bones and organs, disrupting their functions (also known as Metastatic Cancer), this is how it kills.

            What are the causes?

There is no singular known cause for this disease, but there are certain things that increase risk factors. The first is that the risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age, less than 1% of cases are diagnosed in men under 50 and risk begins increasing at this age, with most diagnoses being made in men over 65 [3]. Being overweight, smoking, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and eating an unhealthy diet all increase risk factors [3]. A risk factor that I was personally unaware of is that there are higher rates of prostate cancer in men of Caribbean or African descent [1].  

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            What do we need to watch out for?

            Some of the symptoms of prostate cancer consist of:

  • Pain, or a burning sensation when urinating

  • Frequently having to get out of bed to urinate in the night

  • Difficulty or an inability to urinate

  • Problems with stopping or starting the flow of urine

  • Pain when ejaculating

  • Blood in the urine or semen

What decreases the individual risk for this disease?

Men of Asian descent have decreased rates of prostate cancer compared to the general population, although it is unknown as to whether this is due to genetic factors or to the diet that is consumed in Asian countries is generally considered to be healthier than the standard Western diet [1]. Losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly have all been shown to reduce your risk.

What can we do?

Even with these known decreases in risk, the disease is still unpredictable, and it is completely possible to develop it without any symptoms or risky behaviour. Because of this it is incredibly important for us to inform ourselves, and to speak with our doctors.

Early detection is key to survival, and because of this there are a couple different tests you can do:

·         PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test:

  • a blood test that is easily completed while testing for other things like cholesterol levels (all it takes is to tick a box on the request form for the blood test)

  • usually these antigens show up in the blood in small amounts

  • elevated amounts can signal prostate cancer

·         DRE (Digital Rectal Exam):

  • this test is performed by the doctor to check that the prostate is soft, smooth, rubbery, and symmetrical

  • if they feel lumps, hard areas, or irregular shapes they can then send you for further tests

Things are improving, as shown in the death rate, which has been decreasing in Canada by about 3-4% per year since 2001 [4]. This is mainly because of increased education, early detection, and improved treatment options. There’s still a lot that we don’t know, which is why funding is important for research. If you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to speak to your healthcare professional about prostate cancer.

To Donate To Prostate Cancer Research In Canada Visit: https://prostatecancercanada.donorportal.ca/Donation/Donation.aspx?F=1621&T=GENER&L=en-CA&G=290&NFP=1&cscid=WEB_DonateButton

 

 

 

 

References:

1.       About Prostate Cancer

http://www.prostatecancer.ca/Prostate-Cancer/About-Prostate-Cancer

2.      About the Prostate

http://www.prostatecancer.ca/Prostate-Cancer/About-Prostate-Cancer/The-Prostate

3.      Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

http://www.prostatecancer.ca/Prostate-Cancer/About-Prostate-Cancer/Risk-Factors

4.      Statistics

http://www.prostatecancer.ca/Prostate-Cancer/About-Prostate-Cancer/Statistics

5.      Signs and Symptoms

http://www.prostatecancer.ca/Prostate-Cancer/About-Prostate-Cancer/Signs-and-Symptoms

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How Can Exercise Help My Stress Levels?

Everyone reaches points in their life when they feel stressed out, anxious, or worried about current and future events. But how do we deal with them? I’ve tried many different “destressing” tactics. Everything from taking a nap, to spending a night out at the bar with my buddies. While the things I tried helped in the moment, nothing had the long-term benefit that I felt from exercise. If you’re anything like me, then you’re wondering why this is. Lucky for you, I enjoy doing a bit of research on this stuff.

  We know that regular physical activity has a range of health benefits. Everything from our cardiovascular system, to our digestion relies on staying active to remain healthy. But, previously unknown to me, our stress response systems need us to take part in regular activity as well! Anxiety and stress are controlled, partly by the central nervous system, and partly by the endocrine system. When you’re exposed to something that stresses you out, the hypothalamus in the brain gets going and signals the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol [4]. When the situation that the brain is detecting goes away, this response should disappear.

  Now, in our modern society, it’s not just once in a while that we find ourselves exposed to something that triggers a response. If you find it easy to manage the stressors in your life, then well done! If you don’t, this next bit is for you.

  Whether you’re running late for work, freaking out about an upcoming date, or maybe cutting it close for an upcoming rent payment. These are all things that add anxiety to our lives. If you don’t have a way of mitigating the effects of the stressors you’re faced with, they can lead to several negative health effects.

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So, how can we avoid letting the stress build up to the point where we’re getting beaten down? Well, one great way is to maintain a regular active lifestyle. Before you say “I don’t have time, I have to get to the things that are stressing me out first!” and, if you do get to those things, that’s great! But, after exercise you are way more productive.

Why is this? When you exercise, it drives blood flow to the brain, which increases alertness. There’s also the added benefit of an increase in dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine which all help to elevate your mood. Exercise even increases your cognitive ability and problem-solving functions [5]. All of these together end up making it much easier to tackle any problem or stressor that is bringing you down. Wow, those are some pretty awesome benefits! Well, what’s more amazing than just the benefits, is the fact that it only takes 5 minutes of activity to see these results (which increase further as your bout of activity continues). So, if you’re feeling stressed out, get out there and go for a quick jog, get a few rounds of walking up some stairs, or maybe do few sets of squats and push ups wherever you are. It only takes a minimum of 5 minutes!

Now, what if you’re someone who’s developed an anxiety-related disorder? Well, for anxiety and panic disorders, there are a range of benefits that stem from different levels of activity. When a person with these disorders engages in vigorous physical activity it can be considered to fall under the title of exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a type of treatment where a person is repeatedly exposed to a trigger with the knowledge that this will lessen the effects of said trigger over time. With vigorous activity the heart rate is elevated, which can lead to certain stress responses e.g. Panic/anxiety attacks; evidence suggests that over time these stress responses will decrease in frequency and severity. Of course, it’s best to speak to a healthcare professional, and get their opinion on your specific situation. When engaging in any level of activity endorphins are produced, which help with reduced perception of pain, increases in sleep quality and ability, and reduced feelings of stress. These are all shown to be contributors in reducing the negative effects of panic/anxiety disorders. Although most people experience benefits from physical activity, researchers agree that it may not be 100% mentally beneficial to those with anxiety and panic disorders; like all forms of therapy the results may vary. With this in mind, there is no dispute over the physical benefits of leading an active lifestyle and therapists suggest being active if at all possible.

If you’re just starting to implement your healthy active lifestyle, it’s good to start out easy. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that there are notable differences in stress levels and demeanor after as little as 5 minutes. They also express that a good initial objective for regular exercise should be 3-4 sessions per week ranging between 20-30 minutes in duration of moderate aerobic physical activity [1]. This is a good start, but eventually you want to aim towards hitting at least one 30-minute session a day of moderate to vigorous exercise to get the most psychological benefit.  Good luck, and hopefully you’ll soon begin to enjoy an active lifestyle as much as I do!

 

 

References:

1.       Exercise for Stress and Anxiety

https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

 2.       Study: Physical Activity and Anxiety: A Perspective from the World Health Survey

Stubbs B et al, 2017, Journal of Affective Disorders

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27802893

 3.       Study: Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety

Elizabeth Anderson, Geetha Shivakumar, 2013, Frontiers in Psychiatry

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/  

4.       Effects of Stress on the Body

https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#3

5.       Exercise Increases Productivity

https://www.livestrong.com/article/422836-how-does-exercise-improve-work-productivity/

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Artificial Sweeteners... Friend or Foe?

Kicking sugar and processed foods is no easy feat. It will take a serious amount of effort and self talk for you to get past the cravings and your brain wanting that quick fix of sugar. Don’t be tempted to “replace” your sugars by slipping in “fake” sugar instead. While it may seem like a good idea, using “fake” sugar (such as aspartame) actually has the opposite effect than intended. 

When your body initially receives the “fake” sugar, it confuses your insulin producing cells and leads them to think: “Hey, here comes the sugar”. Your insulin levels shoot up anticipating that they will have to combat the approaching sugar rise. But there’s no actual sugar. There’s only fake sugar. Your cells are confused. They’re activated, waiting, and waiting, and waiting and over time they end up getting used to the excess insulin in the bloodstream.

 With time and repeatedly being faked out they “down-regulate” their response to insulin, requiring more and more insulin to be activated when there is glucose. Eventually your cells become Insulin Resistant. (*Psst* That’s the early beginnings of Diabetes). Just because it says it’s “Sugar Free” it still doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

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