Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's a Game Changer! Here's Why You Need to Check Out Environmental Working Group

I *love* the Dollar Store. I'm a sucker for their Halloween decor and...deodorant. Dollar Store deodorant smells like the kind I started using in 7th grade. Ever since I was a 13 year old brace-face, I've slathered my armpits with copious amounts of aluminum, every day, automatically. Who knows what effect all that aluminum has now, and how it will affect us in the future? Having worked in different types of research including clinical trials, I know how flawed, and flat out fake, studies can be. Like Puff Daddy said back in '97, It's All About the Benjamins, Baby.


So unless a study appears solidly reliable and valid in my own research on their research, I don't jump to apply findings to my life. And...I happen to like cheap deodorant. Also too, I strongly believe all the fretting and controlling we do...the psychological stress over how toxic everything is...can harm us even more than the toxic stuff. So I figured I'd take my chances on aluminum-spiked deodorant. But then I found a website that appears to be reputable from the folks at Environmental Working Group.

I love you hippies, but EWG isn't just for you and granolas ;) Everyone will be impressed by EWG's evidence-based product ratings.
EWG rates all kinds of skin care products according to each product's ingredient list. You can put the name of a product in their search box and pull up the overall toxicity rating as well as a list of individual toxicity ratings for each ingredient in the product. I searched for my beloved deodorant and let's just say you’d better run if I raise my arms. My pits are pretty much shooting out radioactive lightsabres...but at least they don’t go “Pew Pew!” :)

I also searched EWG for a tinted lip balm I've used for years, and found the particular color I use is more toxic than other colors of the exact same brand and type of lip balm. I gotta say, seeing all the weird ingredients with ratings was eye-opening. It made me wonder why we need all that crap in one product? I found a lip balm on EWG with just three ingredients, checked the price on Amazon, and couldn't believe it's a little cheaper than the one that's emitting tiny lightsabers in my makeup bag right now. So go check out EWG. It's been a game changer for my skeptical self, I hope it will be for you, too. <3

Saturday, September 1, 2018

7 Safe Steps to Starting a Weight Lifting Routine with Arthritis

As an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and RN, I get lots of questions from people with arthritis about how they should approach exercise. Their doctors tell them to include weights in their workout routine, but they’re not sure how to do it without making their arthritis worse or getting injured.

Do me a favor before you get started…run this by your doctor to ensure it’s safe for your particular medical condition. Just because this workout plan is something that has been generally accepted as safe and beneficial for most people with arthritis does *not* mean that it’s safe for you.

So you’ve seen your doctor, and s/he gave you the green light. Here are answers to your questions about how to get started at home or in the gym.

1. How often should I lift weights?
  • 2 to 3 times per week
  • 20 to 30 minutes per session
  • You’ll get visible benefits in 4-12 weeks!
  • In 6 months, most people increase strength 40% or more!
2. How much time do I need to recover between sessions?
  • If you’re training one muscle group hard, wait 48 hours to train that muscle group again (that said…some people may need more recovery time, especially if you’re new to the type of exercise you’re doing)
  • If you’re not really hammering a muscle group, rest at least 1 day between sessions (again…some people may need more recovery time)
  • Remember:  exercise is the architect, recovery is the builder
3. How much weight should I lift?
  • Start with a pair of light dumbbells (2 to 3 pounds for women and 5 to 8 pounds for men)
  • If you can’t do 12 repetitions, the weight is too heavy
  • If you don’t feel tired after 12 reps, it’s too light
  • Adjustable weights that can be strapped to wrists or ankles may be helpful if you have arthritis in your hands
  • You can also use weight machines, cable machines, and resistance bands
4. How many reps and sets?
  • The American College of Rheumatology and American Council on Exercise recommend completing one set of 8 to 12 reps
  • Work the muscle to the point of fatigue by the last few reps of each set
5. How should I organize my workout?
  • Work all major muscle groups, starting with larger muscles
  • Always include exercises for opposing muscles…work the biceps and triceps of your arms…work the quadriceps and hamstrings of your thighs
6. How should I lift the weight?
  • Lift slowly and smoothly, counting 4 counts up and 4 counts down
  • Don’t lock (fully straighten) knees or elbows...this puts stress on the joints and can permanently damage joints
  • Deliberately exhale when lifting, and inhale when lowering
7. Which exercises should I avoid?
  • Avoid above-the-shoulder exercises if you have arthritis in your upper body
  • Talk to your doctor before using leg press machines if you have arthritis in your knees or hips

Saturday, August 18, 2018

9 Phenomenal Health Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

When you go hiking, do you sense that taking a walk through the trees is good for you? As it turns out, there’s a contingent of researchers who are dedicated solely to research on hiking in forests.

Back in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture coined a term for what people have always been doing. They called it shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or "forest bathing.” The Japanese Ministry has issued public service announcements encouraging people to go to forests to relieve stress and improve health. I wish we Americans would’ve had a PSA on forest bathing. The only PSAs I remember on health during the 1980s were “exercise your choppers” and “a hanker for a hunk-of-cheese.” If you’re a Gen Xer you know what I’m talkin’ about! ;)

Anyhoo…back to shinrin-yoku. Studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting and looking at trees reduces blood pressure and reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic effect. Studies have compared walking in forests vs. walking in urban, unplanted areas, and the urban walkers showed no reduction of stress-related hormones. Forest bathing also significantly decreases people’s scores on a standardized inventory for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue.

Another effect of shinrin-yoku is that it boosts our immune system. Here’s how it does that. When we breathe in fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, which are airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, people who spent three days and two nights on a forest bathing trip increased their natural killer cell activity for more than 30 days following the trip. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

Yet another awesome benefit:  shinrin-yoku may help you focus better. Our lives are busier than ever, and attempting to focus on many activities can mentally drain us. Even maintaining focus on a single thing for a long period of time can deplete us mentally. This is a phenomenon called “Directed Attention Fatigue.” Spending time in nature, looking at trees, plants, water, birds, and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, which allows us to focus better and renews our ability to be patient.

Here’s a quick recap of shinrin-yoku’s health benefits:

1.     Lowers blood pressure
2.     Reduces stress
3.     Boosts the immune system
4.     Increases ability to focus
5.     Enhances patience
6.     Improves mood and sense of well-being
7.     Increases energy level
8.     Improves sleep
9.     Accelerates recovery after surgery or illness

Research shows that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits. Even spending just five minutes around trees or in green spaces has the power to improve your health. Think of shinrin-yoku like a prescription with no negative side effects…and it’s free!


Saturday, August 4, 2018

HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio for Your Best Body

Are you thinking about joining a gym or starting a new exercise program? Do you wonder if you’ll get better results with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or steady-state cardio? A recent study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) just might answer your cardio conundrum.

ACE’s study compared three different types of cardio:  steady-state vs. Meyer vs. Tabata. Study participants were 65 men and women aged 18 to 28 who were relatively sedentary…meaning that in the 3 months before the study, they didn’t exercise more than twice per week, and when/if they did exercise, it was low-to-moderate intensity. Participants were randomly assigned to 3 groups:

Steady-state Group:  20 minutes of continuous exercise at 90 percent of the participant’s ventilatory threshold, which fits into the moderate-to-vigorous intensity category as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Meyer Group:  Moderate-intensity interval training consisting of 20 minutes (13 sets) of 30-second work intervals (100 percent of the participant’s peak aerobic power) paired with 60 seconds of activity recovery.
Tabata Group: This is very brief, very high-intensity interval training consisting of four minutes (eight sets) of exercise consisting of 20 seconds of work (at 170 percent of the individual’s peak aerobic power) paired with 10 seconds of unloaded pedaling.

So which group had the best results? All of them! The two HIIT workouts (Meyer and Tabata) didn’t produce significantly greater improvements in markers of aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance compared to steady-state cardio. Participants in all groups showed improvements in cardiorespiratory health at a very similar rate over the course of the study.

Hold up. Before you choose to do four minutes of Tabata rather than 20 minutes of steady-state cardio, here’s another interesting finding from this study. On a weekly basis throughout the study, participants completed a survey called the Exercise Enjoyment Scale (EES). Results from the EES showed that exercise enjoyment declined progressively across the duration of the study for all three groups. In addition, the Tabata group’s EES scores were the lowest of the three groups. Tabata is really, realllyyy hard…so it’s unlikely to be perceived as enjoyable. Sticking with a program and making exercise a part of your lifestyle is one of the keys to long-term health. If you’d rather stab yourself in the eye than do Tabata, you’re probably going to stop working out. Especially for fitness newbies, the drop-out rate from any exercise program is high.

So what does all this mean? Here’s my opinion. Hypothetically, if HIIT were far superior to steady-state cardio, delivering much better, faster results…I’d recommend you do HIIT because the amazing results would potentially keep you from dropping out. Studies show that seeing results over a short period of time keeps people motivated to exercise. Whether or not less enjoyable exercise with far superior fitness results would correlate with a lower drop-out rate when compared to more enjoyable exercise with inferior fitness results has not been studied. What we do know is HIIT doesn’t appear to be superior to steady-state cardio for relatively sedentary young adults…and apparently steady-state is more enjoyable than HIIT. So I recommend you do steady-state workouts with a smile on your face rather than balls-to-the-walls Tabata. You’re welcome. ;)


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Your Complete Guide to Group Fitness Instructor Certification

So you want to teach group fitness classes? There are so many Group Fitness Instructor (GFI) certifying agencies out there, it boggles the mind! Let’s un-boggle together, shall we? I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. Just think of me fondly when you have extra free time!

Here’s my criteria for narrowing down GFI certifications to ACE and NETA:

1. National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation
  • Although you don’t have to get certified with an agency that’s NCCA-accredited, all of the fitness center managers and GFIs I talked to said it’s better to go the NCCA route. After researching which GFI certifications are and aren’t NCCA accredited, I was shocked by how few actually are. From my research, only ACE and NETA offer NCCA-accredited GFI certifications.
  • NASM offers a Group Personal Training Specialist (GPTS) certification. I called NASM and listened to elevator music for 25 minutes before a rep answered. I was put on hold after each question I asked because the rep had to ask someone else for the answers. I asked “is the GPTS program NCCA-accredited?” The rep said she didn’t know. Then she told me to call NCCA and ask them myself. After my next question and potentially inaccurate response, she transferred me to another rep. After a series of questions, I was told that the GPTS program isn’t a certification, it’s a specialization. Since it’s not a certification, you never have to recertify. You pay $499 for the study materials and exam. That’s it. You never have to submit continuing education (CE) credits to NASM and you never pay recertification fees. I told the rep I was confused because all other certifying agencies require 20 CEs every 2 years. I asked the rep if you have to get your Personal Trainer certification first (which requires CEs when you recertify) and then do the GPTS program. I was told you don’t have to have a Personal Trainer certification or any other certification prior to the GPTS. So…long story short, I ruled out GPTS as an option.
  • AFAA is a popular GFI certifying agency. All of the fitness center managers and GFIs I talked to have heard of AFAA. NASM completed acquisition of AFAA in 2015. Before AFAA was acquired by NASM, AFAA held AFAA Apex events, where you could get GFI certification for $99. I called AFAA and was told that Apex events are no longer offered since NASM acquired AFAA. In addition, AFAA isn’t NCCA-accredited, so I ruled out AFAA.  
2. Long-term cost
  • Remember you’ll need to recertify every 2 years, so don’t just rely on initial cost of the exam to decide which certifying agency to go with.
  • Watch out for CE course petition fees! See the table below for the scoop. I hope I save you some hard-earned dough with this info!
3. Certifying agency’s reputation
  • Is the certification valued by high-quality gyms/hiring organizations? I asked fitness center managers which certifying agencies they prefer to see on a potential GFI’s resume. I also looked at job postings to see which certifications are listed there.

Group Fitness Instructor
(888) 825-3636
Certified Group Exercise Instructor
(800) 237-6242
On NCCA website’s list of accredited certifications?
Yes, through 10/31/2018
Yes, through 7/31/2017
Cost of initial certification exam only
Cost of bundled study materials + initial certification exam
Three levels (all with shipping cost included):
Pro Advantage $499
Pro Plus $349
Pro Essentials $299

Two levels:
Basic package $79 + $12.50 shipping + $239 for initial certification exam = $330.50

Premier package $99 + $14.50 shipping + $239 = $352.50

How long valid until recertification
2 years

Note:  you need 20 CE credits every 2 years to recertify
2 years

Note:  you need 20 CE credits every 2 years to recertify
Cost of recertification
Online $129

Fax or Snail Mail $139

Note about other possible fees: I didn’t find this info on ACE’s website. When I called ACE to confirm that the numbers in this blog are current and correct, I asked the ACE rep if there are any fees in addition to the $129 to get recertified. The only extra fees are for CE courses that are not ACE courses or ACE vendor courses. If you have taken a CE course that is not an ACE course or ACE vendor course, you have to petition the course for credits. ACE charges a $25.00 fee for each course you petition.

Note about other possible fees:  if you have taken a CE course that has not been NETA approved you have to petition the course for credits (you need CE credits in order to recertify). NETA charges a $15.00 fee for each course you petition. I called NETA to confirm this. The NETA rep said that ACE, AFAA, and NASM courses do not have to be petitioned, but 6 of your 20 credits must be NETA courses.
Do high-quality gyms/hiring organizations value the certification?
I didn’t see NETA listed as a preferred certifying agency on job postings. This may be because NETA is based in the Midwest and I’m looking at job postings in California. When I talked to fitness center managers and GFIs here in San Diego, they weren’t familiar with NETA. This could be a potential issue if you’re looking for a job in a location where NETA isn’t well-known. However, NETA adheres to all NCCA requirements and appears highly reputable to me.
How’s their customer service?
Excellent. I called on a Tuesday at lunchtime (12:15pm PST). Got a live rep on the phone immediately. He was knowledgeable and answered all of my questions.
Excellent. I called on a Tuesday at lunchtime (12:30pm PST). Got a live rep on the phone immediately. She was knowledgeable, she provided even more detail than I asked for which was awesome, and she was a pleasure to talk with. She genuinely seemed to care that I got all my questions answered.
Do they offer any discounts?
Military 20% off

Salute You™ Scholarship provides study materials and an exam seat to qualified service members who plan on starting a new career in fitness once military service ends

Post 9/11 GI Bill

Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA)


I hope this helps you make an informed decision about which organization to get certified with. Best of luck to you on your new adventure as a GFI!


Saturday, July 7, 2018

5 Best Booty Lifting StairMaster Tips

Are you, or do you have a loved one who hunches over on the StairMaster? Do they cling on to the handlebars for dear life, stepping on their tippy toes like a poodle with something stuck in it’s paws? If so, forward this blog post to them. Friends don’t let friends have bad form on cardio equipment. It’s time for a StairMaster intervention.

There are two types of stair machines at the gym. The StairMaster (aka StepMill, also called the StairMonster or “The Gauntlet” due to difficulty level) is like an escalator-to-nowhere. Stair steppers are a lot like StairMasters in that they simulate climbing stairs, but they have two separate platforms, or pedals, where you place your feet. As you push one foot down, the other foot rises, and the feet are in contact with the pedals at all times. Both machines work all of the major leg muscles, but I recommend the StairMaster because you can’t get away with taking shallow steps like you can with the stepper. Here are 5 tips for getting the most out of your time on the StairMaster.

1.     Slow it down to a level where you can stand up straight for the entire workout. Pull your shoulder blades back and down. Do a shoulder roll every so often to remind yourself to keep your shoulders back. We spend so much of the day hunched over our desk at work and on our cell phones. Think of your time at the gym as an opportunity to undo some of that forward posture.

2.     Rest your hands lightly on the handlebars for balance only. Once you have your balance, try resting just your fingers on the handlebars. You can also try resting just your right hand on the right handlebar, then switch to your left hand on the left handlebar, alternating every minute. If you have good balance and this will be safe for you, you can place both hands at your sides, on your hips, or behind your back. I feel safer with one hand on a handlebar. Whenever I remember to do a shoulder roll (see #1) I also check in with how much pressure I’m putting on my hands. When I notice I’m starting to use my arms too much, I adjust by hovering my fingers, barely touching the handlebars.

3.     All the fitness competitors at my gym do this. Push your heel down with every step. Really drive down through your heel. Keep your entire foot on the step. If you have larger feet, your heel might hang off the edge of the step a bit, but you should still be able to keep your foot level and push through your heel. This seems like a small detail, but it will make a big difference in how much your glutes are activated, and how cute and round your butt’s going to be.

Keep the StairMaster on a reasonable level where you can maintain good form and da booty will turn it's frown around!

4.     Just by standing straight and not propping yourself up on your arms, you’re working your core as well as your legs. Maintaining balance engages core muscles with every step. Your instinct will be to look down and watch each step go by, but instead, keep your head looking straight ahead, your shoulders away from your ears, and your core tight.

5.     Warm up (5-10 minutes) and cool down (another 5-10 minutes) by adjusting the intensity level to half or less the intensity level of your usual workout. I know it’s tempting to get right to your usual level of intensity or higher if you’re doing intervals, but the literature on injury prevention has concluded time and time again that simply warming up and cooling down prevents injury. Schedule in the extra time to warm up, cool down, and do some foam rolling and static stretching at the end of your workout.