Category Archives: Xtra Fitness

Exercise Types Affect the Brain Differently

Plenty of research has determined that regular exercise benefits brain health. A recent large review got more specific and looked into how different types of exercise affect the brain.

In this review, published in British Journal of Sports Medicine (2017; doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096587), the researchers assessed results from 39 studies. The scientists focused on five forms of physical activity—aerobic training, resistance exercise, “multicomponent training” (combination aerobic and resistance), tai chi and yoga—and studied how those modalities affected brain capacity, attention, executive function, memory and working memory. They also evaluated exercise session duration.

To be included in the review, studies had to have included participants aged 50 and over who exercised in supervised training sessions for more than 4 weeks. There were no baseline requirements for cognitive ability; however, studies were excluded if the participants presented with a neurologic disorder or mental illness.

What did the researchers find?

Aerobic exercise, resistance training and multicomponent training were all associated with gains in cognitive function when exercise intensity was moderate or vigorous, and gains were also seen with tai chi. Optimal session duration was 45–60 minutes. “When exercise mode was examined as a moderator, all modes of exercise produced significant and positive effect estimates, except for yoga,” the authors said.

They concluded, “This meta-analysis showed that physical exercise interventions are effective at improving the cognitive function of older adults, regardless of baseline cognitive status. Interventions of aerobic, resistance training, multicomponent training and tai chi were similarly effective. The findings suggest that an exercise program with components of both aerobic and resistance-type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 minutes per session, on as many days of the week as possible, is beneficial to cognitive function in adults aged >50 years.”

Exercise Has Significant Impact?

Researchers have recently shed light on how exercise benefits the body on a cellular level. What’s more, they’ve determined a type of exercise that’s best for boosting cell health.

Published in Cell Metabolism (2017; 25 [3], 581–92), the study included 36 men and 36 women categorized as “young” (aged 18–30) or “older” (aged 65–80). Each participant was assigned to one of three training programs for 12 weeks: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on an indoor bike; strength training with weights; or a combination of the two. Study leaders took muscle biopsies from the volunteers—who also underwent lean-mass and insulin-sensitivity tests—and then compared the results with those from a sedentary control group.

Data showed that the exercise groups experienced improvements in cellular function and in the ability of mitochondria to generate energy; this adds further evidence that exercise does in fact slow the aging process at a cellular level. Muscle mass and insulin sensitivity improved with all three training protocols. However, outcomes did vary.

“HIIT revealed a more robust increase in gene transcripts than other exercise modalities, particularly in older adults,” the authors explained. Specifically, HIIT increased mitochondrial capacity by 49% in the “young” group and 69% in the “older” group.

The authors added, “HIIT reversed many age-related differences in the proteome, particularly of mitochondrialproteins in concert with increased mitochondrial protein synthesis.”

For best benefit, according to the study, a combination of strength training and HIIT is recommended. While HIIT proved best at improving cellular health, it was less effective at increasing strength and muscle mass than the strength training protocol.

“We encourage everyone to exercise regularly, but the take-home message for aging adults is that supervised high-intensity training is probably best, because, both metabolically and at the molecular level, it confers the most benefits,” concluded K. Sreekumaran Nair, MD, PhD, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and senior researcher on the study.

Does Rolling Increase Blood Foam Flow?

One claim about the benefits of foam rolling is that it initiates an increase in blood flow to the treated area. But do those claims hold water? A study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2017; 31 [4], 893–900) aimed to find out.

Researchers recruited 21 adults aged 23–27 who were instructed to foam-roll the lateral surface of their thighs. Each subject underwent lateral-thigh arterial blood flow measures via spectral Doppler and power Doppler ultrasound on three occasions: before rolling, immediately after rolling and then again 30 minutes later.

According to the findings, claims of increased blood flow are correct. The researchers determined that arterial blood flow was significantly higher immediately after foam rolling than at baseline and was still elevated 30 minutes later.

“An increase of arterial blood flow suggests a role for the acute phase after foam rolling,” the researchers said. “Our data may contribute to the understanding of local physiological reactions of self-myofascial release. The advantages of enhanced blood flow might be important for warm up and recovery, and our data support the implementation of foam rolling in sports if tissue circulation is required.”

Latest Research on Cancer and Exercise

Cancer can be deadly. However, research is showing promising data on how physical activityhelps the body and mind heal—and prevent—this disease. A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Moore et al. 2016) indicates that physical activity lowers the risk of 13 types of cancer.

There’s more positive news about exercise and cancer. A report from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center states, “Multiple studies show that regular physical activity is linked to increased life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer, in many cases by decreasing the risk of cancer recurrence” (Grisham 2014). The American Cancer Society, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, American College of Sports Medicine, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are just some of the organizations that advocate physical activity for cancer patients and survivors (Grisham 2014). Thus, it is not a question of whether exercise helps, but rather of how much works—based on dosage, quality, conditioning and cancer type.

There are three ways to look at battling cancer. For those who don’t have it, lowering risk is the primary goal. For those who’ve had it, successfully recovering and of course reducing the chances of recurrence are of utmost importance. For those who currently have it, the priorities are getting rid of it and minimizing the harmful effects that both the disease and the treatment have on the body. Exercise has been shown to help with all three.

Cancer and Exercise Research: An Overview

Cancer is simply a collection of abnormal cells that are dividing without stopping; in other words, their growth is out of control. Most often (not always), the result is a tumor. Some tumors are benign and will stay localized, but cancerous tumors are malignant and may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

The immune system houses the forces that keep cancer at bay. In fact, we have a potent inflammatory agent called tumor necrosis factor that can be friend or foe, depending on the situation (Wang & Lin 2008). When our immune system is strong, we battle cancer successfully. When immunity is not strong, or if the cancer is potent, we may lose the battle and develop noticeable symptoms of cancerous growth.

Taking an “active approach” to fighting cancer is indeed the best choice. In a 2005 Harvard study, breast cancer patients who exercised at moderate intensities 3–5 hours per week (high volume) lowered the odds of dying from cancer by about half, compared with sedentary patients (Holmes et al. 2005). Even a little exercise improved patients’ odds, regardless of stage or diagnosis timing.

Studies have also shown that those who exercise early in life have a lower chance of breast cancer later in life. Chinese women who exercised an average of 70 minutes per week during their teens reduced their chances of dying from cancer by 16%, and those who kept exercising as adults had a 20% lower risk of premature death from all causes, compared with other women (Nechuta et al. 2015).

The amount of exercise to aim for, particularly during or just after dealing with a bout of cancer, is a delicate balance of getting enough to make a difference and not getting too much—an amount that could suppress immune function. The reason for this yin-yang relationship is linked to the endocrine system and the body’s perception of exercise as stress.

Epinephrine—released during exercise—helps to circulate natural killer cells in tumors. The NK cells move into the bloodstream and infiltrate tumor cells, causing them to shrink. Researchers confirmed this theory using several different methods, including using mice with no NK cells, blocking epinephrine flow and injecting mice with epinephrine. All studies led to the same conclusion: Epinephrine caused NK cell infiltration (Neiman et al. 1995). Further studies found that it was Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known inflammatory marker, that served as the immune cell signal. Only IL-6 sensitive NK cells showed this response, and IL-6 helped guide NK cells to the tumors.

Your Best Stretching Program?

In nearly 40 years as a fitness educator, I have never been sidelined by a significant injury, in spite of decades of high-impact classes, rigorous weight training, participation in competitive aerobics, and group exercise schedules that sometimes exceeded 25 hours per week. I attribute my longevity in this grueling business to one thing—cross-training all aspects of fitness, including flexibility.

We place great emphasis on cross-training cardiovascular and resistance conditioning, but flexibility is still an afterthought on many schedules. Although most facilities provide some kind of flexibility-oriented programming, options are often limited. Yoga is popular, and participants enjoy various degrees of flexibility while practicing it. However, while yoga improves range of motion and some aspects of flexibility, cross-training this aspect of fitness would lead to greater gains.

Today’s workouts are dominated by high-intensity, physically challenging movements. The rise of these programs has led to more injuries. A more effective stretching regime could help to minimize damage from overuse. On the other end of the spectrum, sedentary people may be dealing with muscle dysfunction and atrophy, along with limited ROM in some areas of the body. A varied stretching routine may remedy many of their difficulties. Regardless of fitness level, flexibility training is vital. Fascia makes up as much as 30% of a muscle’s total mass, and accounts for about 41% of a muscle’s total resistance to movement (Rahman et al. 2015). Fascial restrictions contribute greatly to mobility limitations, so a comprehensive program that includes a variety of stretching techniques should be part of any fitness regimen.

Stretching Techniques

There are many different stretching options to choose from, and the right program depends on genetic makeup, personal preferences, injury history, age, gender, weight, body type and activity level. Because movement occurs through many planes, not just forward and backward, it’s beneficial to stretch in as many positions as possible. Not all techniques are right for everyone, and some stretches are contraindicated for people with specific injuries; however, mixing and matching leads to the best results. Here are some of the most popular choices:

    • Ballistic stretching uses a fast bounce to push the body beyond its normal ROM. While this practice may be beneficial for certain athletes, it can increase the risk of injury for average fitness enthusiasts.

    • Dynamic stretching employs active movements through full ROM to stretch and prepare muscles and joints for activity. It helps to increase blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion.

    • Active Isolated Stretching involves extending a muscle, holding that position for 2 seconds and then returning to the starting position. This targets and lengthens the muscle without triggering the protective stretch reflex and subsequent reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction, since the isolated muscle achieves a state of relaxation. If stressed too far too fast, however, the body will react. Therefore, AIS calls for multiple repetitions to build the body’s awareness.

    • Passive stretching uses outside assistance to achieve results. This “assistance” could be body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person or a stretching device. The key is to relax through the stretch while continuing to maintain pressure as the muscle lengthens.

    • Reciprocal inhibition involves stretching a muscle and then actively contracting the opposing muscle group. With this technique, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch, and you rely on the opposing muscle(s) to initiate the stretch.

    • Static stretching requires holding a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds.

    • Isometric static stretching involves no movement. The technique is based on tensing the muscles that are being stretched.

    • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training that involves stretching and contracting targeted muscles. It consists of a passive stretch, then a muscular force or contraction, and finally a second, deeper passive release.

  • Myofascial release uses stretching, compression, direct pressure and other techniques to release restricted areas of fascia, ideally creating a biochemical and mechanical change that allows for more efficient movement. Foam rollers and other niche products assist in targeting and releasing the tissue.

U.S. Yoga Injuries Increasing

Yoga injuries in the United States are on the rise, particularly among older adults, according to data from hospital emergency rooms nationwide. Researchers from the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), Alabama, examined data from 2001 to 2014 to establish the injury risk involved in yoga participation.

Data analysis revealed that the injury rate overall among adult participants increased from 10 for every 100,000 yoga practitioners in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 practitioners in 2014. However, when looking at specific age groups, the data told a more varied story. Among those aged 18–44, the injury rate rose from 10 per 100,000 to 12. For those 45–64, the rate jumped from 10 to 18. But for those aged 65 and older, the injury rate increased 8 times—from 7 per 100,000 in 2001 to 58 in 2014.

These figures do not capture all injuries. The data included only emergency- room incidents reported as yoga-related and did not count those classified under “sport or recreational activity not listed elsewhere.” Additionally, many other injuries may have been resolved by doctors or self-treated by individuals.

During the time frame examined, an estimated 29,590 yoga-related injuries led to emergency-room visits. Almost half were trunk injuries; 45% were sprains or strains. “The incidence of fracture was highest in the older population,” said lead study author Thomas Swain, MPH, in a UAB news release. “Yoga is harder and more demanding than some people believe,” said co-author Gerald McGwin, PhD, director of the Center for Injury Sciences, in the same news release. “You need a realistic view of your own abilities and you need to understand that some poses might be too challenging and inappropriate. A qualified, certified yoga instructor can help you with that assessment and is essential to a safe experience.”

Since injuries increased among all age groups, a lack of qualified instructors may have been a contributing factor, the researchers observed. They further proposed the creation of national standards for yoga instructor certification and urged more aggressive training in safety and injury prevention.

“There are many benefits to yoga, and overall our findings show it is relatively safe,” said McGwin. “But, there is an injury risk, especially for older populations, and that risk should not be ignored.”

Don’t Give Frozen Foods the Cold Shoulder

People tend to frown on frozen vegetables and fruits, but fresh isn’t always best. In a paper published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, researchers measured the nutritional content (vitamin C, vitamin A and folate) of three types of produce—fresh, frozen and fresh-stored (purchased fresh and then refrigerated for 5 days)—over a 2-year span. Items examined were broccoli, green beans, blueberries and strawberries.

In the majority of cases, vitamin content did not vary among the three categories, but when there were significant differences, frozen fruits and veggies bested fresh-stored versions more often than not. While fresh produce is typically most nutrient-dense at harvest, nutrients degrade during shipping, while foods sit on store shelves and until we retrieve the items from our refrigerators. On the flipside, the frozen counterparts are flash-frozen almost immediately after harvest, which locks in nutrients and keeps them from degrading.

The takeaway? Buying fresh fruits and veggies from local sources and eating them pronto is probably still best, but convenient and budget-friendly subzero produce is a nutritious fallback. Besides, people who work subzero fruits and veggies into their diets have been shown to benefit from higher produce intakes overall than those who shun them, and the former also have loftier intakes of essential nutrients like potassium and calcium, according to research supported by the Frozen Food Foundation.

Strengthen the Program With Rotational Movement Training Methods

As the fitness industry continues to evolve, so must the equipment used by trainers and group fitness instructors. Many popular fitness classes and small-group training sessions feature traditional cardiovascular and weight training principles integrated with functional and flexibility training techniques. The growth and popularity of quick and efficient HIIT and total-body workouts have created a growing demand for innovative products that inspire new functional exercises and movement patterns.

The Rotational Movement Training® method can improve strength, rotation and ambidexterity, because it’s designed to be used on both the dominant and nondominant sides of the body. The RMT® Club is the perfect device to introduce RMT into a functional training program.

The RMT Club’s unique design not only makes it extremely versatile but also allows everyone, from fitness enthusiasts to recreational athletes, to use it in a wide range of exercises—from mobility to strength and conditioning. The RMT Club is portable, adaptable and extremely versatile, like other functional training favorites (kettlebells, battle ropes and resistance bands). But these additional features put the RMT Club a step above:

    • Flexible, durable club head. Built to absorb maximum impact when the user is training on padded surfaces. Also reduces the chance of injury, and limits wear and tear on the facility floor and equipment.

    • Strong, ergonomic handle. Allows for multidirectional swings to enhance an individual’s range of motion. Built to withstand high-intensity exercises, as it enhances rotational movement strength in all planes of motion.

    • Internal shifting weight. Filled with shifting weight pellets to create dynamic resistance. Allows the club to act as a counterweight and facilitate a shorter transition between acceleration and deceleration.

  • Comprehensive programming. Comes with a training DVD that includes detailed instructions for 21 foundational exercises to target the total body. Also includes FREE online access to additional videos and sport-specific workouts.

Being strong in strong positions is easy—but being strong in weak positions is a necessity for complete functional strength. The RMT Club builds the strength, core, mobility, coordination and agility needed to improve the performance of every client.

Is It Better to Exercise on an Empty Stomach?

It turns out there may be something to the gym floor “bro science” of exercising on an empty stomach to fire up that coveted fat-burning metabolism. Research published in the March 2017 edition of the American Journal of Physiology–Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that eating versus fasting before a workout can affect gene expression in adipose tissue (your fat stores) in response to exercise.

In the study, British scientists had a small group of overweight men walk at 60% of their maximum oxygen intake for 60 minutes in the morning either in a fasted or a fed state (a carb-rich meal 2 hours before exercise). The research team collected adipose tissue samples before exercise and again 1 hour afterward.

It turned out that adipose gene expression differed between the two trials. In the fasted state, an uptick in genes (specifically two called PDK4 and HSL) indicated an increase in the use of stored fat to fuel metabolism. When subjects exercised after eating, these genes decreased, which could indicate less fat-burning.

After eating, the researchers suggested, our adipose tissue is affected by the food and will not respond in the same way. The upshot is that for people who are eager to shed a few fat pounds, working up a sweat in a fasted state may bring about more favorable metabolic changes in adipose tissue to help treat Buddha-belly.

Still, it remains to be determined whether this outcome would apply to more intense bouts of exercise. Many people find it challenging to keep up the pace in a vigorous workout when their stomach is growling—and if pace suffers, calorie burning will drop overall. It’s important to note that we’re talking fat-burning here, not performance.

Ways to Target the Core from Different Angles

Essentially, any exercise that uses the anterior and/or posterior muscles to stabilize the spine—and is performed in a coordinated fashion—works the core. It’s important to include some kind of core moves in all classes, particularly those in which core training might not be emphasized. Try the following exercises in one of your next classes; the moves are appropriate in a range of settings and will be effective with various pieces of equipment. The best part: You can modify these movements to create more or less challenge with a simple body-position adjustment or equipment change. This vests attendees with options to help them flourish.

Note: Choose sets and reps based on the time allotted and preference. Switch sides on unilateral exercises.

Double-Tap Twist Crunch

  • Lie supine, hips and knees flexed, one foot on floor, other foot placed across opposite thigh (figure-four position).
  • Place fingertips lightly behind head, elbows pointing toward corners of room.
  • Flex spine, then rotate inside elbow to touch inside, then outside, of supported knee.
  • Rotate back to center, and lower to floor.
  • Progression: Lift foot off floor.

Side Plank With Rotation

  • From side-lying position, place flexed elbow directly beneath shoulder, with forearm and wrist extended, hand making a fist.
  • Maintain alignment from ear to hip and knee joint.
  • Place top leg in front of body, toe of back foot touching heel of front foot. This kinetic connection aligns the body and helps control rotation.
  • Place fingertips of top arm just behind ear, elbow pointing toward ceiling.
  • Lift hips into side plank; rotate top elbow down toward floor, touching fist.
  • Slowly raise elbow back toward ceiling.
  • Progression: Stack feet on top of each other. Regression: “Kickstand” back knee to increase base of support.