Category Archives: News

Healthy Christmas dinner

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It’s the time of year where we all over-indulge, but follow these tips for a more healthy Christmas dinner.

Turkey – the bodybuilders’ favourite bird is packed with protein and low in fat if you stick to breast meat. If you can afford it, go for a crown without the fattier legs and wings. Either way, cook the bird on a trivet to allow fat to drip out, rather than having the turkey sit in it. You can still baste it to keep it moist.

Roast potatoes – if you were being uber good, you could replace these for baked potatoes and cut out a hefty chunk of calories. If not, try roasting them in coconut oil. Coconut oil is said to be metabolised rather than stored by the body – and studies show that people who consume two tablespoons a day burned more calories than a group who didn’t.

Cranberry sauce – make your own rather than store bought. It takes little time and all you need are cranberries and a natural sweetener such as stevia or agave nectar. Ensure you don’t put too much in by boiling the cranberries first and then adding and taste testing a couple of spoonfuls a time so you don’t overdo it.

Veg – eating more Brussels is a good start. But simply steaming them and not slathering them in butter (a little won’t hurt) is a good way to do.

Desert – try a fruit salad with Greek yoghurt instead of the usual stodge.
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However you cook it – and who am I to tell you not to have a day off the health kick – have an absolutely brilliant Christmas.

 

Cancer is not just down to bad luck

cancer

A study earlier this year caused quite a storm by suggesting that cancer in human beings is down to inherent issues such as genetics.

Of course, the media had a field day, covering the story as cancer being down to ‘bad luck’.

But a new study this week challenges the findings of the first. The study, published in the journal Nature shows that environmental factors such as diet, overexposure to the sun, tobacco and alcohol, as well as viruses such as hepatitis B and C impact between 70 and 90 per cent of cancer incidences – pretty high odds.

The high percentage risk factors “provide direct evidence that environmental factors play important roles in cancer incidence and they are modifiable through lifestyle changes and/or vaccinations”, the researchers wrote.

That doesn’t mean that if you stay healthy, exercise regularly and have a good diet that you won’t get cancer – but it does mean you can reduce the risk.

And it makes sense. If you look at the engine in your car, combustion engines have been around for a little over 150 years. We know that if we service them regularly, the car is less likely to break down. If we feed them the right fuel, they’ll keep running. You don’t pull up at the petrol station in a diesel car and fill it with with unleaded – you know the car will stop working – and you know that if you leave the car rusting and don’t take it for a run every so often, some of the parts will begin to seize up.

Conversely, humans have been around for around 2.5 million years. In that time, the body has evolved into a highly efficient machine adept at burning the right fuels and adapting to environmental changes and stimulated by exercise.

Yet so many of us don’t exercise our bodies and don’t feed them the right fuel (Think how long processed foods, refined sugars and trans fats have been around in comparison to humans…. it’s unlikely the body has adapted to these manmade nutrient-light ‘foods’).

Whenever I have this debate with people, someone will inevitably roll out the friend of a friend’s granny who chain smokes, sinks a bottle of gin a day and has lived to get a telegram from the Queen – that’s past 100 for younger readers who might not know what a telegram is 🙂

And that might be true (although I can come up with loads of other examples of people who have done  the opposite and still live long healthy lives.

But here’s another was of looking at it  that I read in one of the reports about the new study this week. Think of your chances of getting cancer as a game of Russian Roulette.

You have a revolver and there’s a genetic bullet in it – this is your probability of getting cancer from intrinsic factors, ie genes, your family history etc.

There are other bullets… the extrinsic factors: things like a lack of exercise, bad diet, environmental pollution, smoking, drinking too much…

How many of those do you really want to load into the chamber before you pull the trigger?

 

 

Christmas Insanity Live! classes

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean we don’t want to stay fit, so here the Insanity Live! Classes coming up over the next few weeks:

December 21 – St Giles Church, Bramhope at 7pm. See here for more

December 28 – St Giles Church, Bramhope at 7pm. See here for more

December 30 – Mercure Parkway hotel at 7pm. See here for more. This is a special one-off class organised by myself after popular demand. The class will start at 7pm and payment will be £5 for members and non members.

January 4 – St Giles Church, Bramhope at 7.30pm. See here for more. Please note this one-off later start time.

 

The principles of exercise

jamesgroup2

I was wondering what to write about this week when I went out for my morning run…. And 12 miles later, I knew what it would be: the principles of exercise.

No, I didn’t have some kind of epiphany while trudging around Bramhope and Adel in the rain, it’s just that by the end of the session, I was blowing out of my backside, which reminded me of what is probably the most important principle: ‘use it or lose it’.

It’s just two short months since I ran Spartathlon and in the lead up to that, I was probably in the best running condition I’ve ever been in – 100-mile training weeks and knocking out 40-mile runs in one go – but there I was this morning, struggling to complete a distance less than a half-marathon. That’s a long way to fall in just two months.

Even worse, psychologically, I’m finding it hard to push myself further, which means I’ll probably lose more fitness unless I can pull myself out of the rut: In short, training less has led to a vicious circle of declining fitness that I need to arrest.

We’ve all been there: We take a week or so off for any number of reasons: a cold, a big event, stress at work or whatever. Suddenly, getting back on the horse gets more difficult the longer it goes. The snooze button seems more attractive than a run… “Start again on Monday” we promise ourselves… but when Monday comes we find another excuse.

There’s no easy way to reverse the trend either, if you’re suffering from similar. You simply have to grit your teeth and force yourself to start again, though there are some techniques that can help.

  1. Tell yourself you’ll feel better after. I absolutely promise you that barring injury, you always feel better about yourself after exercising. There are biological reasons for this such as the rush of endorphins you get from exercise, but also psychologically, the fact you’ve beaten a demon will get you smiling.
  2. Set yourself a goal. I keep banging on about this, but goal setting keeps you on the straight and narrow. If you exercise to just maintain a base level of fitness, that’s fine but you are more likely to find a reason to stop than if you are exercising to achieve a specific aim. Think of what you want to achieve and set a marker. It could be a 10km race, dropping a percentage of body fat or beating a 3-minute step test result * But find something to aim for and go for it.
  3. Use visualisation. Where do you want to be in five years time? Exercise and good diet have been proven countless times to help people stay healthier, feel better and ultimately live longer. Think forward to where you want to be, then think of the alternative. Keep the ‘good’ image in your mind. Make it another long-term goal. Focus on it and use it to spur you on.

There may be other ways that work for you… but (and this is not a plea to come to classes or take up PT sessions) make sure you stay active. By sacrificing an hour of hard work NOW you could be adding years to your life, ultimately staying healthier and more active for longer.

The six principles of exercise

While, I’ve only focussed on one above, here are the six principles of exercise *

The Principle of Individual Differences – we are all different and therefore, we should find exercise programmes that are bespoke to ourselves. This doesn’t mean you have to go and employ a PT (but it would be nice if you did!!), but you should at least be trying things for a couple of weeks, and if they aren’t working for you change them.

The Principle of Overload – a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for your body to adapt to training.

The Principle of Progression – there’s an optimal time where that overload will make a difference. When you hit it, you need to increase the overload.

The Principle of Adaptation – the body will adjust to increased physical demands (and to decreased ones for that matter). In short, practice makes perfect, but it’s also why you might get muscle soreness when you first start a programme for the first time in a long time.

The Principle of Use/Disuse – your muscles will get stronger (hypertrophy) with exercise and atrophy (weaken) with disuse. It’s important here to remember muscles are not just about building big biceps – probably the most important muscle you have is your heart, and by doing cardiovascular exercise, you can improve the performance of the heart and lungs.

The Principle of Specificity – exercise needs to be specific to the kind of sport you want to excel at. For instance, if you want to excel at a sport where there are lots of changes of speed and direct, training for it by running long distances is probably not the way to go. That doesn’t mean running long distances would be bad for your overall fitness, but you would not be performing sports specific training.

* Three-minute step test: Check your heart rate and note it down. Find a step and step on and off vigorously for 3 minutes. Check your heart rate again and record it. Keep doing regular aerobic exercise for a month and take the test again. See if your heart rate at the end has improved.
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** Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.

 

Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016

hanks baldwin

The New Year is almost upon us and with it comes a host of resolutions, often about food. As such the British Dietetic Association has released it’s list of Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016.

They are:

1.  No Sugar diet (last year’s number 3)

Celebrity Link:  Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin (who appeared together on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, above) have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  The Sugar Free Diet is when you exclude all types of sugar (and often carbohydrates too) from your diet.

BDA Verdict:  Not such a sweet deal! Confusion reigns. Cutting down on free sugars, reducing the amount of sugar you add, and consuming fewer products already containing added sugar, in addition to being label aware is definitely a positive. However, some versions of the No Sugar/Sugar Free Diet promote cutting out all sugar from your diet which is not only almost impossible, but would mean eliminating foods like vegetables, fruit, dairy products and nuts – leading to a less than healthy diet.  Also it is important to be aware of some substitutes these diet plans recommend like agave, palm sugar, maple syrup or honey, as these are actually just sugars in another form and a huge contradiction.

2. The all-kale and chewing gum diet

Celebrity Link: Jake Gyllenhaal reportedly followed this ‘diet’ to shed weight for a film role.

What’s it all about? There isn’t much to this one, as all you can eat is kale salad and chewing gum.

BDA Verdict: Kale-amity! This diet is extreme, socially isolating, unbalanced, hard to sustain and potentially harmful. An actor would be carefully monitored and supervised to shed weight for a role. Many people get drawn in by so called ‘super foods’ but no one food can provide all the nutrients you need. These foods are not a magic bullet, neither does balanced nutrition work by a ‘good’ food cancelling out other poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Nothing is wrong with kale, but if that is all you consume all day, every day, then problems will arise – it’s all about balance, a healthy relationship with food (not obsession) and variety.

3.   Bulletproof diet

Celebrity Link:  Harry Styles and Shailene Woodley have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  This quirky diet plan includes a daily ‘Bulletproof coffee’ which is essentially a black coffee with 2 Tbsp butter,and a Tbsp MCT oil added totting up at around 400kcal per cup. Foods are classified as bulletproof, suspect or kryptonite with rules on timing of meals

BDA Verdict:  While the idea of minimising alcohol and processed food is positive, the classification of foods is at odds with health recommendations and lacks evidence. Time restricted eating is also at odds with many lifestyles. The negative of the recommended Bulletproof coffee is that consuming 400+ calories from one beverage provides a lot of energy but few nutrients from a drink, rather than individuals choosing food and drink with more nutritional content for the same calorie value. 

 4.   The Super Elixir

Celebrity Link: This product is endorsed by Elle McPherson.

What’s it all about? ‘The Super Elixir’ is a food supplement aiming to change body tissue from an acidic to an alkaline state. It comes in the form of a green powder and contains just over 45 ingredients including a number of powdered fruits and vegetables, sweeteners, several Chinese herbs and some digestive enzymes. The recommended dose is 2 teaspoons (or 10g) per day meaning a month’s supply will set you back – brace yourself – £96 for 300 g.

BDA Verdict:  How much?! The benefits that this costly powder claims to provide can easily be obtained from fruit and vegetables and a balanced diet, without the hefty price tag. Moreover our bodies are naturally capable of regulating acidity levels. Why not save your £1152 per year, spend it on some delicious fruit and vegetables and a splurge on a ‘Super’ holiday instead! 

5.   Trim Secrets

Celebrity Link:   Baroness Michelle Mone OBE, founder of lingerie brand Ultimo and life peer in the House of Lords, established Trim Secrets with a Scottish naturopath. Chanelle Hayes (former Big Brother star) has reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about? Trim Secrets is a pill which claims to suppress appetite whilst boosting the metabolism, allegedly aiding both men and women to lose weight when combined with the Trim Secrets 5-stage diet plan. The diet plan includes a balanced diet of 1500 calories per day along with a Trim Secrets capsule taken three times a day before each meal, 1.5 litres of water daily, regular exercise and avoiding stress.

 BDA Verdict:  By consuming 1500 calories per day, most individuals should lose weight regardless of whether they are taking this pill, and that’s no secret. The pill has echoes of the grapefruit diet and includes guarana which is high in caffeine yet states it’s caffeine free. Beware of pills and potions and make sure you know exactly what you are buying and taking.

Speaking about these and other fad diets, Sian Porter, consultant dietitian and Spokesperson for the BDA, said:

 “Maybe it’s not as exciting but the truth is if you do want to lose some weight do it by eating a healthy, balanced diet that you can stick to, watch your portion sizes and be physically active. Think of it as a marathon approach to achieving your goals, as opposed to a sprint approach.  Aim to make permanent changes to your diet and lifestyle that are sustainable for you in the long term, not someone else’s lifestyle, nor abandoned by the end of January.”

Why you should keeping a health and fitness diary

If you’re serious about improving your well-being, you really should be keeping a health and fitness diary.

The big health news this week is that finally a study has proved what many in the fitness industry have been saying for years: there’s no one-size-fits all diet (and funnily enough, no one-size fits all exercise plan either).

The Personalised Nutrition Project by Professor Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science looked at 1,000 volunteers who had their blood sugars checked every five minutes for a week while they ate their normal diet.

They also had their gut flora checked and answered questions about what they ate, their exercise and their sleep patterns.

“The first super surprise was how differently the response was to the same food,” said Elinnav… and the big headlines from the study were along the like of Is this the future of food?, Obesity may be misunderstood and There really is no one size fits all diet plan.

But to myself, fellow PTs and nutrition therapists, that’s no surprise at all.

We are all individuals so it makes sense that our bodies react in different ways to different stimuli, whether that be diet, exercise or our environment.

Even the job you do can have health ramifications – a hairdresser in a busy salon breathing in hair spray and dye chemicals all day will be affected in a different way to a gardener who spends all day in the open air.

And it’s why keeping some kind of a fitness/diet record is so important.

We’ve all been there before: doing what we are supposed to do with a fitness regime or a diet and found it’s had little or no effect – and it’s largely because while we are generally genetically the same, all of our bodies react differently.

Short of doing a barrage of (expensive) tests, the only way that can work for you is by trial and error. And that doesn’t mean flitting from one exercise/diet program to another, but by accurately recording what you are doing … and if it’s not working, tweaking things slightly to see if it has an effect.

Employing a fitness professional should help you reach your goals quicker – a good PT or a nutrition therapist would recognise some of the imbalances and be able to target better the things to change… but this is not a sale pitch, everyone can benefit from keeping a health and fitness diary.

Set yourself a goal, pick a program or diet and record everything you do accurately… and if things don’t improve and they do or you reach a plateau, change one thing at a time and give it a week or two to see what effect it has. By keeping accurate records, you’ll be able to quickly see what’s working and what’s not.

Technology can help too, there are dozens of apps and websites out there now so as MyFitnessPal that can help, making the process easy, accurate and, above all, second nature.

 

Holiday sale: discounted personal training sessions in North Leeds

slidervaried

Black Friday, Christmas, New Year… it seems everyone has a sale on, so here’s my pitch for discounted personal training sessions in North Leeds.

From today until January 31, I’m offering a whopping 25 per cent off block bookings for one-on-one PT sessions, so if whether you want to get fit for the office party, or shed the pounds in the New Year, here’s your chance.
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Sessions can take place in your own home, in the fitted gym at my home or in the open air, our lovely weather permitting of course. Sessions are held in the North Leeds and Harrogate area: Pool, Otley, Harrogate, Adel, Bramphope etc.

 

New prices are:

5 sessions for £150 (save £50)

10 sessions for £290 (save £110)

In both cases, your health check and mini session (1 hour in total) are free. And I’ll also throw in free Insanity Live! sessions at my Monday class in Bramhope for the duration.

So you get:

  • FREE health check, consultation and mini session
  • Full diet analysis, tips and home training plan
  • Body composition analysis (body fat, visceral fat, hydration levels, metabolic age) prior to starting and at the end of your program to check progress
  • A block of 5 or 10 one-on-one PT sessions
  • 5 or 10 FREE Insanity Live classes

Contact me here to sign up or for more details

Unfortunately, block booking discounts can only be redeemed for one-on-one sessions. For groups prices, please see here 

Polenta porridge

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Delicious polenta porridge is a great way to start the day…

Most fitness pros will tell you you can’t beat a bowl of porridge in the morning. There’s slow-release carbs, protein and lots of fibre – the latter essential for good gut health.

Even when I’m low-carbing, I usually start my day with a bowl, getting most of my allowance for the day out of the way at breakfast.

It can become a tad staid though, so I was glad to come across this idea in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Light & Easy: Healthy Recipes for Every Day, a book I’d recommend to anyone looking to go gluten and/or lactose-free.

It borrows from Jamaican breakfast porridge to use polenta, or cornmeal, instead of oats.. Incidentally, cornmeal is also the main staple of the Tarahumara, the Mexican tribe with near-mythical running strength and energy who are the stars of the excellent book Born To Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen.

It’s quick and easy to make, and while polenta can be a little on the bland side with nothing added to it, chopping a banana on top, drizzling with Greek honey and dusting with cinnamon all help to spice it up.
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As a dish, there’s 4g of protein per portion, as well as 4g of fibre.

Ingredients (serves 2)

75g quick cook polenta
200ml Alpro coconut milk
1 banana
20g Rowse Greek honey
A sprinkling of cinnamon

Method

Heat the coconut milk till steaming (do not boil)
Add the polenta and whisk for about a minute until it thickens
Divide between two bowls
Top with the banana, a drizzle of honey and a dust of cinnamon.

It really is that easy!

If you want to link to the recipe on Myfitnesspal, you can do so here (you must be logged in to view)

 

Sugar – the hidden killer

Sugar

You might have seen in the news this week that there’s been a kerfuffle about a potential ‘sugar tax’ on food and drink that’s high in sugar.

You can decide for yourself on the politics of whether a price hike is the right thing to do or not – but one thing for sure is we are facing an obesity crisis, and too much sugar is at the heart of it all.

A shocking 6 in 10 British adults are either overweight or obese . And our kids are catching up – in the last year of primary school 3 in 10 kids are also overweight or obese, and dentists report that half of eight-year-olds have tooth decay from too much sugar.

So why is sugar so bad?

When we consume it, our body produces a hormone called insulin which helps the sugar get into our cells to provide energy, if we consume more than our energy needs, insulin converts that extra sugar to fat, meaning we put on weight.
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Even worse, when we over-consume for a long period of time, our insulin levels remain high and we can become resistant to it, our body doesn’t produce enough: hello type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is an awful disease for many reasons – it can cause blindness, leads to all manner of other conditions including heart attacks and strokes, and can lead to amputations. The worst part is if it comes about because of a high-sugar diet, it’s self-inflicted to a point.

The row this week has come about following a report by Public Health England that called for a sugar tax. Naturally, big business in the form of the food and drink industry don’t want this – and the government is caught somewhere in the middle of the interests of the country’s health and interests of companies who are worth a lot of money.

The report highlighted that we should take no more than 5 per cent of our calorific intake from sugar, but we typically take in between 12 and 15 per cent of our calories from sugar.

The advice is simple: if you want to live a healthy life, eat a balanced diet, reduce your sugar intake and exercise more.

There’s a great write up on the row here... I’d really advise you read it, even if you already on a low-sugar diet.

How to squat properly

Sicfit-Squat

I’m often asked what is the one exercise move everyone should do and the answer is the  squat. The problem is, so many people do the move with bad technique, so here’s my guide on how to squat properly.

In my opinion, the squat is the one exercise move every one – irrespective of age and ability should do. Alongside the lunge, push, pull, twist, bend and gait (walk/run), it’s one of the prime functional fitness moves.

What are functional fitness moves? The ones that help us live our every day lives and perform regular tasks. To try and explain them better, I always say: “think about getting into a car with a hand bag or a bag of shopping.

You open the car (pull), you lean over (bend) and twist to put your bag on the passenger seat (push), you lunge with one leg to get in and you squat to sit down… That’s six of those moves in one simple task!

So why is the squat so important? Because, it primarily works your quads – those four long muscles that run down the front of your leg. Exercise professionals call them your ‘independence muscles’ – lose use of them and you lose your independence as you won’t be able to get out of a seat.

Other muscles also hit in a squat are your calves, glutes (bum), hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thigs) and your core (mainly lower back), you it gets lots of things firing at the same time.

Depending on whether you use body weight or free weights, it also strengthens or builds some of the biggest muscles in your body – and as muscle is more metabolically active than fat, it means your body will burn calories more effectively.

What’s not to like?

Here’s how to get a basic squat right

Stand with your feet hip width apart, with your feet tracking straight in front you .

Sit back, keeping your back straight and your head up.

Bend primarily at the knees with the weight on your heels.

Go as far as you can, as you get better, you can go further (and then add weights if you wish).

Make sure your knees do not track over your toes as this will leave you unbalanced and you could fall or injure yourself.
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Push through your heels and explode back into a standing position.

Repeat.

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, 3-5 times a week.