Isotonic vs. Isometric Exercise: What’s the Difference?

Did you know that you can build muscle strength just by trying repeatedly to lift weights that are actually too heavy for you to move? And what is the point of holding the dreaded “plank” exercise for a minute at a time? The answer lies in the difference between isotonic and isometric exercise, and you’ll want to include both in your strength training routine to receive maximum health benefits!

Many people are aware that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all healthy adults engage in some type of physical activity each week. These recommendations are not just important for maintaining a healthy weight and metabolism, but also for maintaining cardiovascular, muscle, and bone health that are so important for healthy aging, disease prevention, and a long life. Even if you never lose a single pound, exercising regularly in accordance with the CDC guidelines can improve overall health tremendously.

But it’s not just as simple as going for a brisk walk or a jog a few times a week; the CDC recommendation for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week) AND doing muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.1 These two categories can overlap if you’re doing a Pilates class that uses weights and raises your heart rate, or if you participate in the Absolution or Lower Body Conditioning group fitness classes at the SRC on campus,  for example. But the point is that it’s important to include muscle strengthening exercises into your routine. These exercises help you to maintain muscle tone, which helps to prevent a decrease in metabolism over time, and also increase bone strength and reduces calcium loss and risk of osteoporosis as you age, especially in women.

Now that we know that muscle strengthening exercises are important and recommended by the CDC for all healthy adults, we can talk about the two categories of muscle strengthening exercises: isotonic and isometric exercise.

Isotonic exercise is probably the type completed most often, which is when a muscle faces a resistance that it is strong enough to overcome, so when the person uses their strength to resist the weight, the muscle contracts and shortens and there is motion in the attached joint as it does so. Isotonic exercises build muscular strength and endurance, but they aren’t too hard on the cardiovascular system, so depending on the weight, your heart rate may or may not increase. Simply lifting a bag of groceries is an example of isotonic exercise.

Isometric exercise, on the other hand, is when a muscle faces a resistance that it is not strong enough to overcome, so even when the person uses all of their strength to resist the weight, the muscle contracts but doesn’t shorten, and therefore the attached joint doesn’t move either.2 Think of the feeling when you do squats with the barbell loaded close to your maximum weight, then you do a few and eventually you reach a point when you squat down, but it seems like no matter how hard you push your feet into the floor and engage your legs, you just can’t stand back up and that’s when your spotter steps in. The squats before that one were isotonic exercises, but the last squat was an isometric exercise. If you were familiar with the feeling in that example, you’ll recognize that while isotonic exercises don’t always raise the heart rate, isometric exercises definitely do raise the heart rate, and are therefore more taxing for the cardiovascular system and cannot be done for as long or as often as isotonic exercises.

Here is a 1 minute video that demonstrates the difference between isotonic and isometric muscle contraction if you’re a visual learner:

Here are some examples of isotonic exercises that you can incorporate into your workout routine:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Crunches or sit ups
  • Triceps and biceps curls with dumbbells
  • Squats (be sure to maintain proper form and keep the knees behind the toes)
  • Russian twists
  • Supermans (where you lay on your stomach and lift your hands, chest, feet, and legs off of the ground; try three sets of 10 or 15 repetitions)
  • Reverse crunches (lay on your back with legs together and pointed straight up toward the ceiling, feet flexed, and use your abdominal muscles to lift the gluts off of the floor and push the feet straight up toward the ceiling)
  • Burpees
  • Bench presses

And here are some examples of isometric exercises that you can incorporate into your workout. Notice that many isotonic exercises engage the abdominal muscles, which is great because they are the ones supporting your spine and trunk all day, every day! This just becomes especially noticeable when you’re holding the position and can actually feel the abs working compared to when you’re just walking around or sitting. If you want to know which muscles an isometric exercise is working, just hold the position for long enough and I promise you’ll start to feel the burn.

  • The humble plank (Can be a full plank, with arms straight, or a forearm plank. Just make sure to keep arms parallel instead of hands clasped together for maximum benefit to the forearm plank. And keep that butt down and in line with the rest of your body!)
  • The dreaded wall-sit (Hold for 1 minute, three times and your thighs will understand the meaning of isometric exercise.)
  • Squat holds (Exactly what it sounds like—squat down and hold it there for at least 30 seconds before you stand back up.)
  • Side plank (Holding a proper side plank, or side forearm plank, with the top arm extended up and held pointed toward the ceiling is one of the most intense and difficult isometric exercises, in my opinion)
  • Abdominal cross holds (Laying on your back, extend one leg out and keep the other knee bent toward the body. Then cross your opposite elbow to that knee, hold for 30 seconds, and switch to the other side. Repeat 5-10 times.)
  • Tree pose (Stand on one leg and cross the other leg so that your food rests right above the knee on the standing leg. Bend the standing leg as much as you can so that you are sitting back with your tush, and bring upper body down with the palms pressed together so that elbows reach the knees if you wish. Hold for 30 seconds-1 minute on each leg.)
  • Yoga warrior two (Feet are spread wide apart, left foot facing forward and right foot perpendicular to left. Bend the right leg until the thigh is parallel to the floor, extend arms straight out toward each side, and look toward the right middle finger as you hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side. Almost like a side lunge.)
  • Chair pose (Stand with legs and feet pressing together, and then sit back as if there is a chair behind you. Tuck the tail bone to engage the abs, and extend the arms above the head. Sit as low as you can and hold for 30 seconds)
  • Push against a sturdy wall (This one is super simple: stand with feet hip-distance apart, face a sturdy wall, and push against it as hard as you can for 30 seconds. It seems silly, but it’s a good workout! I say “sturdy” wall because it’s important to choose a wall where you’re not going to push a hole in the sheetrock if you’re strong enough.)

People with high blood pressure should be careful about doing isometric exercises because they can raise the blood pressure while you hold the position. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if purposefully doing isometric exercises regularly is safe. Whether or not you have high blood pressure, don’t forget to keep breathing as you hold the position!! (And remember to include both isotonic and isometric exercises into your strength training routine, at least two days a week! :)

Sources:

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
  2. Harvard Public Health Glossary of Exercise Terms. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2008/September/Glossary-of-exercise-terms

YOU Decide What We Build: The New UNC Campus Rec

Old Well SLIDESHOW

Beginning this year, Campus Rec will be making HUGE changes to our facilities. We’re calling this giant undertaking the “Facilities Master Plan” to figure out the direction of our changes. This could include a brand new gym with updated equipment, better pools, or even a ramped-up outdoor recreation center. The reason we haven’t decided exactly what to build yet…?

 YOU! Tell us what YOU want from a university fitness experience.

If you are a UNC student, faculty, or affiliate, we want to hear your opinion about Campus Rec’s facilities. Imagine the fitness possibilities! Your voice will be heard loud and clear through a survey we have created to hear your feedback.

The survey will be open September 29th – October 3rd. You can share your opinions online through a link, or in-person at the SRC or Ram’s Head Rec Center.

Your homework this week: think about what you like about Campus Rec’s facilities, and what you think could be changed.

And GET READY for the survey next week. You could receive free Campus Rec swag!

“That’s [NOT] So Bad For You!”

Mayonnaise, butter, pizza, and white bread: we’ve all heard it said, or been the one to say, “that’s so bad for you!” The reasoning behind this statement often comes from other common statements and preconceived notions, including “it’s full of fat,” “it’s pure sugar,” and “it’ll go straight to your thighs.” But a little more examination into what these statements and notions imply shows that by saying and thinking these things, we’re really saying “fat/sugar/etc. is a detrimental nutrient” and “particular foods will inherently make you gain weight while others will not.”

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In fact, neither fat nor sugar is a detrimental nutrient; both are necessary for life and health and the key is simply moderation of both. The three macronutrients, or main nutrients that we need in the largest quantities each day, are carbohydrates (sugar), lipids (fat), and proteins. They are called macronutrients to contrast them with micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which we only need in tiny amounts to maintain our health. Fad diet programs over the years have touted cutting out nearly an entire macronutrient group as the magical secret to losing weight, such as the Atkins diet, which is an extremely low-carbohydrate plan. Often, such plans are either unsuccessful or only successful because of the dietary awareness they promote among their participants that helps them to cut excess calories.

Carbohydrates (sugar)

Carbohydrates are simple and complex sugars from our food and are the body’s main source of fuel. They are easy for the body to digest and use, and if we have a shortage of carbohydrates in our diet, the body will use other mechanisms to convert parts of the other macronutrients, fat and protein, into glucose (a simple carbohydrate) for the body to use to produce energy. Why would the body go through the trouble of converting one macronutrient to another instead of just using fat or protein for energy directly in the case of a carbohydrate shortage? It seems terribly inefficient, but it quickly becomes necessary because some of the most important parts of the body, including the central nervous system, kidneys, brain, and heart REQURE carbohydrates to function. Now we see why that conversion process might be worth our time and effort. Carbohydrate-rich foods also frequently contain a particular type of carbohydrate that our bodies cannot actually digest, but which is necessary proper digestive function and is known simply as fiber. Not only do diets low in fiber cause digestive problems, but they have also been shown to increase risk of certain diseases when compared to high-fiber diets.

Protein

Protein consists of thousands of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. Proteins are necessary for everyone, but are particularly necessary in larger amounts for people who are growing and building new body structures on a regular basis, including children and pregnant women. As I mentioned before, some amino acids from protein are called “glucogenic,”which means that they can be converted to glucose for energy production when carbohydrates are in short supply. Immune antibodies, hormones, and enzymes necessary for every bodily function are also proteins themselves, so consuming protein in the diet is important to replenish the amino acid pool from which these necessary protein structures are built. Protein can come from both plant and animal sources, and in fact, most of the world consumes the majority of their protein from plant sources, even though Americans typically do not follow this pattern. Proteins are also important for maintaining lean muscle mass, which is great for the metabolism, and for tissue repair in times of injury.

Lipids (fat)

Ahh fat, the most hated, misjudged, and avoided of all the macronutrients. Without thinking about it too much, it makes sense that because they share the same name, people would assume that fat makes you fat. However, I’d like to spread the joyful news that this is not the case any more than carbohydrates and proteins will make you fat, and if you decide to cut out all three macronutrient groups, well then you can probably spend the entirety of your next yoga class in corpse pose.

Fat got it’s bad reputation in the 1960s and 70s when the USDA began suggesting that cutting fat was the key to helping Americans reduce their risk of heart disease. Additionally, carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram, so it makes intuitive sense that if you replace fat with protein or carbohydrates, you’ll cut calories and then lose weight. However, what is usually not discussed is the fact that fat is important to feeling satiety, or a feeling of satisfaction and fullness after eating. A diet extremely low in fat can result in feeling less satisfied after meals and being hungry again more quickly than you might have been had the meal contained some fat. Even though there will be more calories in a high-fat meal, the feeling of fullness can actually help people to eat less overall and require less calories than if they were getting them only from carbohydrates. Interesting stuff! Fat is also just as essential as proteins and carbs for proper growth, reproduction, absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins (which is most of them), and maintaining cell membranes. Considering the fact that every bit of our bodies is made up of cells, I’d say that maintaining those cells if pretty important if we want to keep what is inside our bodies inside and what is outside, outside.

But what about the research, dietary guidelines, and thousands of publications that say fat contributes to increased cholesterol and risk of heart disease? Earlier this summer, June 2014, TIME magazine published an article called “Don’t Blame Fat,” by Brian Walsh. It seems that the war on fat may not be based on research as solid as we would like to think it is and that more research is being done and is needed in the future to prove that there is actually a benefit to the low-fat diet Americans have been told to eat for years. As evidenced by the age-old system that still requires American kindergarteners to learn that there are 5,280 feet in a mile, it will take a lot of work, research, money, and time to change what people have been thinking about fat and food for basically their entire lives.

Warning: This Is Emily’s Opinion

Some foods are high in carbs, some are high in fat, and some are high in protein; it’s just the way things work. Just because a food is high in a particular macronutrient doesn’t make that food “so bad for you,” and we shouldn’t say things and phrases that might make people feel guilty or uncomfortable with what they’ve chosen to eat unless you’re a registered dietician that they’ve asked to tell them such things. It’s true that if you were to eat a diet that consisted strictly of the mayonnaise, pizza, butter, and white bread that I mentioned before, that diet as a whole might indeed be bad for your health. But there is nothing “so bad” about eating pizza every now and then and putting mayonnaise on your ham sandwiches or butter on your dinner roll. I don’t think that people should feel bad about eating the foods that they love in reasonable quantities or avoid foods entirely simply because they’ve been told that that food is “bad.” If a chef never cooked with anything that he or she has heard was “so bad for you,” they would never get a job because the food would be bland and sad. Sometimes the combination of carbohydrates, the texture of protein, and the flavor of fat is exactly what we need to fulfill our body’s requests and enjoy the experience of a delicious meal, and that’s perfectly OK.

Sources

  1. http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/macronutrients.htm
  2. Introduction to Nutrition class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  3. http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Kids ROCK: Teaching Youth That Fitness Is Fun

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Run, Kick, and Score! Last Saturday, the UNC Women’s Soccer Team held a special training session- just for kids and families. The 2-hour event left the kids with not just smiles, but also a positive mentality towards physical activity.

“My daughter had a great time! She’s four, and we are definitely going to do Kids ROCK again next year,” said one mom. She says her daughter has expressed interest in playing soccer more after the event, so mom plans to look into soccer camps.

The soccer team set up several drills and demonstrations, to teach the kids basic soccer skills. It wasn’t just the activities that made the event so lasting; it was the positive cheers and infectious attitude of the soccer athletes. It was apparent that the UNC soccer team truly cared about these kids and what they were doing.

Kids ROCK was created to help combat the rise in juvenile diabetes and obesity. By creating a positive environment where kids can be active with their parents, the hope is that they will learn how fun exercise can be. And from the looks of this year’s event, the UNC Women’s Soccer Team met and exceeded these expectations.

Another mom says the inclusive attitude of this soccer event empowered her daughter to believe in herself. “At her school during recess the boys play soccer and (according to her) won’t involve the girls,” mom explained. “Spending Saturday morning with female role models is helpful in building her confidence and belief that she can be as strong an athlete as anyone else.”

The soccer team also stuck around to sign autographs and talk with the kids 1-on-1. As much of a success as this event was, you won’t want to miss Kids ROCK next time around! The next event is planned for November 22nd and is with gymnastics. Learn more here.

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Men vs. Women: Is Losing Weight an Unfair Race?

First off, let’s clarify one thing: weight loss isn’t “easy” for anyone; it requires a lot of hard work, consistency, lifestyle change, and dedication to make it work. However, weight loss commercials and campaigns often seem to be one sided and target women, women, and more women. These commercials serve to support the assumption that men lose weight and gain muscle more easily than women. I even saw one weight loss commercial a few years ago that featured a cartoon woman complaining about how she and her husband started dieting and exercising at the same time and while her husband lost 40 lbs., she lost one. I didn’t want to include the commercial in the post because it advertises a diet supplement that I didn’t want to advertise here, but it portrays the perspective that if losing weight is a race, men have an unfair advantage. Is it true?

Several studies have actually been done where two groups, one of men and one of women, were put on the same diets that were tailored to their bodies to be as equal as possible. One study, done by Evans EM, et al. compared four groups of people, two groups of men and two groups of women, with one group of each sex eating a weight loss diet based on carbohydrates, and the other group eating a weight loss diet based mainly on protein. When they looked at percent weight change from the start, males and females lost weight in amounts that were not statistically significantly different after twelve months. However, at the end of the diet period, percent body fat was still significantly different with gender. The men carried more of their total body fat on their midsections, while the women carried more total body fat on their legs. The men lost more weight around their midsections than the women, but both gender groups lost a similar amount of fat in their legs. By the end of the study, they found that the protein based diet was more effective for weight loss than the carbohydrate based diet for both groups, but that men lost a greater percent total body fat and more trunk fat than women.

What does this particular study show about the truth behind what we perceive to be the differences in weight loss success between men and women? The most fair summary of the research I can give is to say that the studies showed that men did indeed lose weight faster than women AT FIRST, but over long term periods on the same weight-loss plans, the field evened and men and women lost weight at similar rates and in similar quantities. For example, another study put the two groups of men and women on popularly advertised weight loss plans such as Weight Watchers. At two months, the men had lost twice as much weight as the women and three times the amount of body fat overall! However, by six months, the rate of weight loss had become equal between the genders. It also seemed to me from reading the article that the group of men started out with a higher percentage of excess body fat than the women, so this could also have an effect on the result. However, women always had a higher total body fat percentage at the end of the diet period.

How can this be!? Why do the men start to lose weight more quickly than women and also lose more body fat overall? A large part of this dichotomy has to do in the inherent differences between the typical body composition and hormone levels of men and women. Men typically have more lean muscle mass than women and men typically have a higher body fat percentage than men (by 6-11%). The levels of sex hormones that differ between the two sexes have some bearing on this difference in body composition: higher testosterone may help men to store less fat, but higher estrogen levels may increase fat storage in women. The simple answer that no one wants to hear is that women’s bodies appear to store more fat throughout life because having a slightly higher percentage of body fat makes conditions better for childbearing and lactation.  It makes sense, then, that the women always had a greater percentage of body fat, even at the end of the weight loss comparison trials, because a healthy and fit woman should have a higher body fat percentage than a healthy and fit man by 6-11%.

Another factor that contributes to the perceived differences in weight loss is the fact that men tend to store more fat on their abdomen than women, but they also lose weight more quickly in this area. This makes male weight loss more noticeable than female weight loss in some cases, because they lose weight from a concentrated area while a woman may lose the same amount of weight spread across her whole body, and thus you might see a less dramatic visual difference in the woman. Think of a potato: if you peel the potato, it doesn’t look that much smaller than it started. However, if you cut off the end of a potato, it is visually obvious that the potato has gotten smaller, even if the piece you cut off of the end had the same mass as the peeling. Lame comparison, I know, but I was trying to illustrate a point.

Another difference could be difference in general dietary preferences. While this is a generalization and definitely doesn’t apply to every man or every woman, men often eat more meat and protein than women, and women may eat more sweets and carbohydrates. The previously mentioned study by Evans EM, et al. showed that the protein based diet group was more successful at losing weight than the carbohydrate based group, so this may have some bearing on weight loss differences between men and women if they have preference differences. Disclaimer: I am by no means suggesting that anyone take up a carb-less, high protein diet. I am merely theorizing possible reasons for the weight loss differences between men and women.

And if we backtrack and recall that men have significantly greater testosterone levels than women, it’s important to note that this is part of what allows men to typically have greater muscle mass and less fat than women. People with more lean muscle burn more calories when they do the same exercises compared to people with less lean muscle and more fat.

In summary, there are differences between the metabolism of men and women that can cause different patterns between the two sexes when it comes to weight loss. Body fat and lean muscle percentages, sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), physical activity, and dietary preferences can all contribute to differing rates of weight loss, but both sexes are equally capable of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. And, to even up the playing field, I did verify in several places that storing excess fat in the hips and legs (typical pattern for women) causes less increase in risk for heart disease than does storing fat in the midsection (typical pattern for men.) Ladies, don’t be discouraged and don’t turn to crazy diet pills that target women experiencing this exact frustration. Stick with it, and remember the study that showed that in 6 months, weight loss had evened out between the male and female group, so it’s possible for everyone!

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22691622

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24103395?report=abstract

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/weight-loss-wars-men-vs-women

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/20/health/upwave-weight-gender/

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090302115755.htm

Live to 100: Do This, Not That

With the advent of improved scientific and social structures, it’s easier today than ever before to live well. But so often we neglect the healthy choice for the more convenient (and often less healthy) one. Let’s take a look at simple switches you can make to live longer- maybe even to 100.

 

Do This: Exercise 5x per week 

Not That: Avoid exercise because, like, who wants to get all sweaty

Regular exercise has been scientifically studied for its role in increasing lifespan. Here’s a list from heart.org of the benefits of regular exercise:

  • Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Keeps weight under control
  • Helps in the battle to quit smoking
  • Improves blood cholesterol levels
  • Prevents and manages high blood pressure
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Boosts energy level
  • Helps manage stress
  • Releases tension
  • Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
  • Counters anxiety and depression
  • Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Improves self-image
  • Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
  • Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
  • Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
  • Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
  • Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
  • Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors

Do This: Floss daily

Not That: Floss only when you feel like

Picking up the dental floss and cleaning out the gaps between your teeth nightly can add up to 6 years to your life! How can this be? The line of thinking is that flossing reduces harmful bacteria between your teeth, reducing inflammation. And less inflammation means a healthier heart and a reduced risk of stroke. Make it a habit, and reap the benefits. You’ll even get a prettier smile as a side benefit.

Do This: Sleep 7-8 hours a night

Not That: Stay up late every night, because sleep is for the weak!

There’s this belief that when you sleep, you’re missing out on life. This idea isn’t just flawed logic- it’s dangerous to your health. Sleep is reparative, necessary, and can make your waking hours feel better. When you sleep, your brain and body repair cells in preparation for the next day. Aim for 7-9 hours, depending on your age and activity level.

The Health Benefits of Walking

Albert Einstein said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” In our increasingly sedentary world, it’s easy to go through a whole day without much effort to move on your part. You walk to the bus stop to catch the bus that will take you as close to your class as possible. Then you take the escalator in the Student Store as a cut-through to get you to the pit instead of walking up the stairs that are just a few feet away outside. Then you take the elevator up to your lab room on the fourth floor. Then you repeat in the opposite order to get home, where you sit at the table and do your homework until you’re tired and decide to go to bed.

You may just think of walking as a necessary means to an end: a useful skill that can take you from one place to another. Sometimes, if those places are far apart, walking can even get pretty annoying. However, walking has many of the same health benefits as other forms of physical activity, so maybe it’s about time that we stop being lured into the easy, sedentary patterns of life simply by walking a bit more every day.

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The American Heart Association guidelines for suggested physical activity tell us that we should be doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times per week, or we should do high-intensity exercise that brings the heart rate up to 70-85% of its max three times per week. In addition to this, it is also suggested that muscle-strengthening exercises are completed twice a week. It seems like a lot of people focus on the 70-85% maximum heart rate suggestion and translate that into “to achieve effective exercise, I need to do something that is going to get my heart beating pretty hard, such as running or playing soccer.” However, note that there is a clear alternative to this way of thinking written out in the suggested guidelines—moderate physical activity. If you’re training for a marathon, preparing for a VO2 max test, or practicing for an athletic competition, then high-intensity aerobic exercise might be the best route for you. But if you’re just trying to establish healthy patterns in your ever increasingly hectic life, activities as simple as brisk walking are excellent forms of moderate physical activity.

In some areas, walking is not an ideal method of transportation due to the landscape, safety issues, or large, impractical distances between locations. In these cases, you might have to allot some times specifically to going for a walk in a designated park, greenway, or even on a treadmill while you watch your favorite show or read a book. Think about how quickly the time goes by when you sit down to watch a 30 minute episode. You could be investing in your body simply by walking while you watch it.

In other areas, especially in Chapel Hill, there are walking areas and opportunities galore—you just have to be willing to take advantage of them! It’s a little sad to me that even though most of us wouldn’t go for a 10 mile walk to work every day (which is completely understandable because in both directions, that would take all day and leave you no time to work), most of us also won’t go for a ½-1 mile walk to class every day either! I understand that timing is an issue for many people because no one seems to have enough of it, but fitting short bursts of walking into your day as you go to places that you have to get to eventually anyway can be a lot more manageable than setting aside an hour to go to the gym some days. That walk from Hojo to Chapman Hall might take 20 minutes, even at a brisk clip, and there you are already, starting your day out with 2/3 of your minimum recommended physical activity.

Yesterday, I didn’t think I was going to have time to go to the gym and exercise, but then I started out my day at the School of Public Health (I did take the bus to get there so I’m counting it as my starting point), then walked to Dey Hall, then Phillips Hall, then to Bottom of Lenoir Hall to grab some lunch, then back up the giant hill to the School of Public Health, then to Chapman Hall, and then home. Just by looking up the distances between those places online, I figured out that I walked for a total of about an hour and a distance of about 2.5 miles. That’s actually a pretty good amount of moderate physical activity in my opinion and all I did was walk to where I needed to be all day!

Still not convinced that adding more walking into your day can improve your overall health? In 2011, a study showed that people who walked briskly for an average of 2.5 hours per week saw a 19% reduction in all-cause mortality and reduced risk of cardiac events, some cancers, (the greatest risk reduction was in breast cancer, with a risk reduction of 20-40% shown in those who exercised five days per week) high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, mental stress, and even erectile dysfunction. An article published on the Harvard Medical School website cites a meta-analysis of research on walking published between 1970 and 2007 to show that “Among 72, 488 female nurses, walking at least 3 hours a week was linked to a 35% lower risk of heart attack and cardiac death and a 34% lower risk of stroke.” The same article also noted that randomized clinical trials (often the most reliable type of research), showed that in 8,946 patients that already had heart disease but who walked for a minimum of 30 minutes, three times per week, the risk of dying from heart disease was reduced by 26%! This just shows what a powerful effect something as simple as walking can have on your health. The little choices really do have huge outcomes!

Overall, it seems that this simple form of exercise that most everyone already knows how to do can walk the walk (haha!) when it comes to improving our health. If you aren’t already determined to add more steps to your daily routine, consider the fact that walking can be done inside or out, requires no special equipment, and doesn’t even require any special clothing or shoes if you’re just walking at a gentle pace. In our busy days, many of us march back and forth from place to place all day and even reserve time to go to the gym sometimes, yet when was the last time you just decided to go for a walk just for the intrinsic enjoyment of it? So get a friend or your dog to join you, or even a friend with a dog to join you, and just go for a 30 minute walk together one evening. It’s a great way to catch up with people you don’t see very often, and it’s better for both of you than just sitting at home watching TV. Even if you’re just going out to eat together on the weekend, consider walking together instead of driving, and as you’ve probably heard a million times, choose the stairs instead of the elevator when you can. The benefits of walking correlate more to the time and the distance walked than the speed, so whether you exercise regularly or not, you can improve your overall health and reduce your risk for a variety of diseases starting with the first simple step.

Sources:

1. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2009/August/Walking-Your-steps-to-health

2. http://www.c3health.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/C3-report-on-walking-v-1-20120911.pdf

3. freedigitalphotos.net

What Happens In a Boot Camp Class?

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Boot camp… the name sounds foreboding, even reminiscent of military-style intensity. But my first class with UNC Campus Rec’s 5 week Boot Camp was far from this! As the sun rose, a group of us Tar Heels met in Ram’s Head Recreation Center for some early morning exercise. Set to the tune of upbeat music, Sabrina (the fitness instructor) took the group through a series of upper body workout stations.

The class began with a 5-minute warm-up to get the blood flowing and muscles moving. We jogged back and forth across the gym several times, followed by high knees, butt kicks, and lunges. By the time the warm-up was finished, I was feeling light and ready to work out.

The boot camp had 8 different stations, each with a different upper body exercises. From pushups, to seated rows, to triceps dips, each stop had its own isolation challenge. In total, this first rotation took about 15 minutes. Although there were many stations, my body felt like it was getting a great workout.

Next was the cardio section of the workout. For 10 minutes, Sabrina guided the group through simple exercises to increase our heart rate and work the body. Jumping jacks and burpees were just 2 of the different exercises we did together.

After cardio was the second set of rotations. This time, the exercises were a little more challenging, as the group was really warmed up now. For 15 minutes, we cranked out the final set of exercises before slowing down for the cool down.

The class concluded with relaxing stretches and basic yoga poses. The cool thing about this class was that the music changed with the intensity, so by the time we were finished, soothing new-age tunes eased me through the stretches. I had already exercised for an hour… and it was only 7:30 in the morning!

Does this kind of upbeat, inspiring boot camp sound like the class you’ve been looking for? Check out http://www.campusrec.unc.edu/group-fitness-classes for more workout classes perfect for your schedule and your goals.

Wellness Wednesday: A Body in Motion

Photo from Flickr

Photo from Flickr

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. This is a quote which I have often heard when people try to encourage others to get active. Essentially, when you get your body moving, a habit forms, and eventually your body will keep up the momentum for the days to come. However, too much of a good thing is not always best.

In today’s society, our appearance is often heavily tied to our perceptions of self-worth, and exercise tends to couple with this way of thinking. Often times, the media glamorizes exercise, as can be evidenced by the tons of workout and exercise clothing commercials. Even our own family and friends have been known to play into the idea of using the gym to get fit for numerous reasons such as, for that bikini you’ve been eyeing for spring break or to fight against the dreaded “Freshman 15”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking fabulous; however, when your life and emotions begin to revolve around your workout schedule, the impact that this has on your physical and emotional wellness should be examined.

So how do you know when you’re exercising too much? :

  • Emotional strain (increased anxiety, depression)
  • Fatigue
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Amenorrhea (lack of menstruation in women due to lack of body fat)
  • Reproductive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Dehydration
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stress fractures and sprains
  • Kidney failure
  • More info here

If you are an avid gym warrior and also experience any of these symptoms, consider stopping by UNC Campus Health Services to set up an appointment. If you notice or are told about a friend who is experiencing these symptoms who also engages in exercise which might be considered excessive, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Often times over-exercising is a means to sustaining an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

With all of this in mind, exercise is not inherently a bad thing; it’s quit the contrary. As with anything, doing things in moderation is key!

“Wellness Wednesday blog posts are written by Student Wellness or Campus Health Services staff members. Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on healthyheels.wordpress.com.”

No Weights, No Problem: Get a Great Arm Workout Without Them

It seems like it can be pretty easy to get great cardio and lower body workouts without needing any gym equipment at all! All you need is some outdoor space to jog or run and a clear area indoors for jumping jacks, squats, crunches, and a variety of other simple and well-known exercises. But when it comes to arms, sometimes it seems like your only options are to neglect them or relinquish the extra time and money to delve into the clanking, grunting world known as the fitness center weight room. I promise that though it may seem this way, you can get a great workout to tone and work your arms at home with absolutely no weights or other gym equipment. Everything you might need, you probably have in your room, such as a towel if you want some extra padding and a chair for certain exercises. Here are some great arm exercises that will build your strength and leave your workout feeling balanced and complete:

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1. Arm circles: Start with the basics to warm up your arm muscles with this simple exercise. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, raise your arms to make a 90 degree angle with your body, and start rotating both arms in tiny circles forward. Do this for at least 60 seconds or until your arms start to feel heavy or tired, and then pause and do the same small rotations in the opposite direction. When you’re worn out going this direction, lower your arms, take a short break, and try to do two more sets of rotations in each direction.

2. Push-ups: Here’s another familiar classic to start with after your warm-up. Start in plank position with your feet together and your hands shoulder distance apart. You can also feel free to start on your knees if your arms feel shaky or you’re new to push-ups! While engaging your core and holding your body straight and keeping your hips in line (don’t let them sink!), bend your arms to lower your body as close to the floor as possible before pushing back up. You can also take other variations of pushups to target less-accessed arm muscles such as yoga pushups, where your keep your upper arms squeezed tightly against the side of your body as you lower down to the floor and only lower until your elbows create right angles, and triangle pushups, where you bring your hands together to create a triangle with your thumbs and pointer fingers before lowering down to try to bring your nose to the middle of the triangle. This one is especially challenging because it requires extra engagement of the abdominal muscles to maintain your balance as you lower down to the small base created by your hands.

Another cool pushup variation that I recently learned looks like doing pushups while moving your body in a circular motion. We’ll call them circular pushups. In pushup position, with your choice of feet or knees against the floor, lower down to the ground with only your right arm first. Once you cannot go any lower, then lower down with your left arm. Once you are at your lowest, push up with only your left arm first and then with your right. Once you get the hang of it, when you do this motion more smoothly you’ll be feeling a circular flow with your upper body.

3. Plank and Side-Plank: Place your feet hip-distance apart and hands directly beneath your shoulders for plank position. Hold each plank for at least 30 seconds. Forearm planks are also great and the arms should be held parallel with the forearms and palms pressed into the floor instead of hands clasped and creating a triangle with your arms. Side planks, in my opinion, are hardest of all, so don’t be surprised if you start off with a ridiculously shaky arm. When you start, you may want to place your feet directly beside each other to have a steadier base. As you increase in strength, you can stack your feet directly on top of each other or lift the top foot off of the bottom foot to make a “starfish” plank and challenge yourself.

4. Tricep dips: For this exercise, you will need a sturdy (no wheels!) chair as your only piece of equipment. Sit on the edge of the chair and grip the edge of the seat with your hands as you stretch your legs out straight in front of you, keeping the thighs together. Now move your body forward so your arms and feet are supporting your body weight and your butt is no longer on the chair. Slowly raise and lower body using your triceps, (the back, upper part of your arm muscles), and try to do three sets of 10 or more if you feel up to the challenge.

5. Balanced wall push-ups: Stand facing a wall and place your hands out in front of you and against the wall. Take a small step back, and then lean forward so your hands are again touching the wall with some of your body weight leaning behind them. Lift one leg out straight behind you at hip height, if possible. The slowly bend your elbows and lower toward the wall until your forearms meet the wall, then push back out until your arms are straight. Try 15 repetitions on each leg.

6. Inchworm/dolphin: I’ve heard this exercise called both names, and it’s great for your arms and abs. Inchworm is typically done starting in full plank position, and dolphin starts in forearm plank position. Be sure to keep those forearms parallel and hands unclasped in that forearm plank! Now slowly inch your feet up as close as possible to your hands or elbows. Once you can’t go any further, hold this awkward, inverted V position for 30 seconds. If you’re in full plank position, walk your arms out in front of you until you’re back in plank position, and if you started in forearm plank, slowly walk the toes back out behind you to reset to plank position. Try 5-10 repetitions.

7. Inverted row: I had to look up a more technical name for this exercise than “chair pull-ups.” Lay flat under a sturdy desk or chair with the edge of the chair/desk above your chest. Grip the edge of the chair and pull your upper body off of the ground, trying to keep your upper arms close to your sides. When you’ve lifted your upper body as high as you can, hold for ten seconds and then lower back down. You might not feel it at first, but after a few repetitions you’ll notice your biceps working! Do as many as you can, take a break, and then do as many as you can again!

8. Headstands: This arm exercise is a personal favorite because it’s both fun and challenging. Only try this exercise if you feel that you can do it safely or you have someone to spot you if you feel that you need it. I definitely suggest doing your headstand against a wall so that if you decide that you need the extra support, it’s right there for you just a few inches away. To start, crouch down in front of a clear wall and clasp your hands together against the floor with your elbows shoulder-distance apart; then lower the top, flattest portion of your head to rest between your elbows in the little triangle you’ve created. You can lift your knees up onto your elbows into tripod position first, if this helps you, and then slowly lift your legs up one at a time above you and you can rest them both against the wall if you wish. Engage your ab muscles to support your back and keep your body straight, and be sure to push against the floor with your arm muscles so that your arms are supporting the weight of your body. Despite the name, your head should just be brushing the floor, if touching it at all, and you should not be supporting body weight on your head. This is an arm workout after all! It’s a difficult exercise to get the hang of, so you may have to try several times! Hold for as long as you can and then take one leg down to the floor at a time. As you get stronger, you might not even need to place your feet against the wall anymore!

Whether you’re trying to achieve a more toned appearance or just wanting to increase your upper body strength, these exercises are great for your arms and many of them even work your core and legs simultaneously! Increased upper body strength will help you in ways as simple as moving heavy things around the house, as well as in more noticeable ways such as improving your yoga or Pilates practice by reducing the inevitable shaking of your arms when holding a pose for an extended period of time (which, as you may have already noticed, can definitely throw off your balance). And, if you decide that you do want to hit the gym on your own or with some friends in the future, you’ll be more prepared to start off with heavier weights or to be able to do more repetitions than if you start from scratch the moment you walk into the weight room. Remember that toned arms don’t necessarily equate to strong arms, and strong arms don’t always have that yogi-toned or bulging appearance that some people seek; don’t worry so much about appearance and focus on improving your own health and strength in all workouts you do!

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