Thursday, 31 December 2015

More about Sarcopaenia

First, the bad news:
As we age we tend to lose muscle mass unless we engage in physical exercise or some other activity that uses the muscles in ways that maintain strength and mass. This loss of muscle mass is called sarcopaenia. If this occurs it is nearly always in conjuction with loss of bone mass and density. The loss of bone and muscle mass is dangerous. It can lead to death. Very often, an elderly person will fall and will break their hip or wrist because their muscles and bones are weak. The shock to their system can be so great that they never recover fully. Muscles act as a reservoir for amino acids which the body can call upon when it needs them and when they are not available in enough quantity from food. If the muscles are reduced in size they won't have enough surplus amino acids for the body to use. Severe illness often results in a drain on the amino acids in muscles and various studies have found that people with greater muscle mass have a better chance to survive severe burns, trauma and lung cancer. Better muscle mass will also help to ensure that the bones are strong.

These changes to muscles begin at about the age of forty, but can happen earlier, and they accelerate with the passing years.

Ageing also results in genes behaving differently. Gene expression changes with age. Gene expression is the production of proteins by genes to do specific jobs in the body.

Now, the good news:
Studies have proved that people in their eighties and nineties can regain or maintain muscle mass and bone density by doing resistance training. They can develop bigger and stronger muscles. There is also an added bonus because this training can make many genes begin to work as they do in younger people. That's right, resistance training makes your muscles younger - well, it makes the muscles function as if they were younger. It can begin to happen within a few weeks of starting resistance training.

By resistance training I don't mean the type of training done by the French Resistance during the war - things like learning how to blow up railway lines and assassinate Nazi generals. No, resistance training is exercising with added resistance in the form of free weights, weight machines or strong elastic bands. My personal choice is free weights - dumbbels, barbells, kettlebells, weighted knapsacks, etc. My favourite way is to do bodyweight exercises but with added weight. Things like pull ups, squats, dips and press ups.

Aerobic-type exercise is also useful in the prevention of sarcopaenia - and in life generally. It can help to maintain the body's ability to synthesise protein (which, amongst many other processes, includes the repair and building of muscles) and can increase the number of mitochondria - the energy-producing power plants in nearly all our cells. More mitochondria will give you more energy. Resistance training doesn't seem to increase the number of mitochondria but, as we've already seen, is very important for strength and muscle mass.

Other things can lead to or exacerbate sarcopaenia. These include inflammation, insulin resistance and oxidative stress. Exercise and meditation/relaxation techniques can help to allieviate or prevent at least the first two of these. Inflammation can be caused by an underlying disease, viral or bacterial infections and mental stress. Insulin resistance, where insulin is produced but the cells don't respond to it properly (part of the metabolic syndrome), can be caused by being overweight, being inactive, and by excessive stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response and other excitatory responses to stress). Oxidative stress, at the molecular level, is where a molecule loses an electron as part of metabolism and energy production and that causes a chain reaction because that molecule 'steals' an electron from a neighbour so it can rebalance itself and then that neighbour needs to steal an electron, and so on. The end result is damage to a cell. Anti-oxidant foods prevent this by generously donating one of their electrons. Too much sunlight, smoke and smoking, and toxins in food and water also lead to oxidative stress. A good diet with lots of fruit and vegetables will provide abundant anti-oxidants. The catechins in tea, especially green tea, are powerful anti-oxidants.

Vigorous physical exercise also causes oxidative stress. What!? I can hear someone at the back asking how it can be healthy if it causes this stress. Well, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks AND the body adapts to exercise in such a way that it protects itself from this stress by producing its own anti-oxidants. So don't worry about that - as long as the exercise is not excessive everything will be tickety-boo. Many professional athletes have constant viral infections because their immune systems are weakened by their training. If you smoke, give it up. smokers are more likely than non-smokers to suffer more from sarcopaenia.

Another factor in sarcopaenia can be reduced food intake as we get older. It is important to continue to eat enough to supply the amino acids and all the other nutrients we need. Having an active lifestyle and taking regular exercise should ensure that your appetite for food and for life stays healthy. The amino acid leucine seems to be very important in the prevention of sarcopaenia. Soya beans have the highest content of leucine. I wouldn't advise taking leucine supplements as excess amounts are toxic. Get it from food and you will be safe - unless you eat two bucketsfull of soya beans a day.

Are you going to make a New Year resolution? You could do no better than to be committed to start a programme of resistance training. This will help to ensure you can celebrate many more happy new years.

I haven't written for the blog for about a year due to other time commitments and I wanted to post something before the year ends. I've covered most of the information in other posts but new readers might not see them and it's worth repeating because preventing this terrible condition is so important. Everything here is accurate and is supported by scientific and medical studies but my notes are unavailable to me at present. I will be writing regularly for the blog this year.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Meditation for Health

There are many benefits to be had from regular meditation. One is improved health. Meditation and relaxation can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These cytokines, a form of protein, are necessary when the body is responding to some injury or disease but excess pro-inflammatory cytokine production has been linked with many diseases including heart disease.

Meditation can reduce inflammation. Inflammation is the cause of many disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, acne vulgaris, inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and asthma. Inflammation also has a role in the continuation and spread of cancer and probably in heart disease.

Taking time each day to sit quietly to do simple mental techniques is not only enjoyable: it is vital to good health. This is especially so in this modern, hectic world.

Stress is a normal part of living and can help us to improve our performance or to be more alert when we need to be. That kind of stress is helpful but continual stress can lead to ill health. Long-term stress - the kind we perceive as unpleasant - gets us ready for a dangerous situation that never occurs. The chemicals released at this time are not used to fight off some danger or to run away to escape it. One of them, cortisol, suppresses bodily activities that are not immediately needed to cope with the emergency - such as digestion and the immune system - and increases the energy supply to the heart and muscles. It's easy to understand what frequent and prolonged stress will do to the body when parts of it are reglarly suppressed and their activities interfered with. The stressful situation can be real physical danger or some emotional response to something unpleasant. It doesn't matter what the stressful situation is. It could be a violent attack, the thought of giving a speech or having to do a job you hate. The same chemicals are released in response to the stress.

Meditation Can Reduce The Feelings of Stress.

It's all very well that meditation can improve health but what about the feelings of stress? Can it stop people feeling stressed? Can it quieten that nervouse flutter in the abdomen when you think about doing something stressful or when you are in a stressful situation? Can it stop you shaking with nerves before stepping up to the podium to give a speech? Can it reduce the feelings of despair in having to do a demanding job you hate? Yes, it can.

A recent large review looked at dozens of randomised controlled trials that had used various meditation and relaxation methods to reduce or manage stress (1).

The review was looking for ways to provide combat troops with methods that: 'prior to deployment might preempt or attenuate the posttraumatic stress response, depression, anxiety, and other consequences of overwhelming stress.'

The studies they reviewed included, amongst others, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Autogenic Training, and Relaxation Response Training. If they could help people undergoing other stressful events they should be able to help those who would face the stresses of combat.

As this article is about meditation I'll only mention the results of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) studies:

' high-quality reports were found to produce statistically significant effects on outcomes of distress in 63 rheumatoid arthritis patients; perceived stress in 47 undergraduate students; anxiety and perceived stress in 109 cancer patients; anxiety and distress in 78 premedical students; anxiety in 20 heart disease patients; distress in 104 premedical students; and distress and perceived stress in 103 volunteers with high levels of perceived stress (1).'

That's very impressive. Those subjects found that MBSR reduced their feelings of anxiety, stress and distress. Just simple techniques made stressful situations feel much less stressful.

MBSR uses mindfulness meditation combined with yoga, stretching exercises and group dialogue.

In mindfulness meditation you concentrate on something - such as your breathing or bodily sensations - to cultivate conscious awareness of whatever you are experiencing in a nonjudgmental and accepting manner, without being concerned about whatever it is you are experiencing. In this way you can sit quietly and reduce or eliminate unwanted thoughts. If thoughts do intrude you merely put your attention back on your breathing. The thoughts will continue to come but you keep concentrating on your breathing whenever they do. In time, the thoughts will lessen.

Mindfulness meditation can also be done whilst walking although I don't like that idea. I prefer to sit quietly.

Meditation for Medical Conditions

Studies by the originator of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn who is now the Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, have found that mindfulnesss meditation can reduce the feelings of pain in people with chronic pain from conditions as diverse as neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, facial pain and headaches (2), (3).

A study was conducted to compare MBSR with another technique to assess their ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation (4). To find out if the mindfulness component of MBSR is important, the other technique was designed to match those aspects of MBSR which are known to promote positive outcomes but without any mindfulness. The other technique - Health Enhancement Programme (HEP) - has 4 components. Physical activity, such as walking. Balance, agility and core strength training. Nutritional education. Music therapy. The participants were randomised to either the MBSR group or the HEP group. The study didn't say if the MBSR mindfulness component involved walking or sitting meditation but, as those in the HEP group did a walking exercise to control for the physical benefits of walking meditation, it may have included walking meditation instead of, or in addition to, sitting meditation.

The participants had an inflammatory response induced in the skin on their forearms by the application of capsaicin cream and the creation of blisters by suction to test their ability to deal with physical inflammation. They also took part in a test designed to induce mental stress. This involved facing a panel of 'judges' for whom they had to plan, prepare and give a presentation. After this they had to count backwards from 1,022 in steps of 13.

'Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones.'

Meditation Causes Changes in the Brain

The brains of subjects who took part in an 8-week programme of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) were analysed with an MRI scanner before and after they started the programme. There were increases in their brain grey matter within the left hippocampus, the temporo-parietal junction, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the cerebellum - areas involved in memory, learning and regulation of emotions. The other group who didn't do MBSR, showed no such changes (5).

The brain structures of 25 men who practised loving-kindness meditaton (LKM) were assessed by MRI. Loving-kindness meditaton, very simply explained, is a meditation in which thoughts and feelings of love are held and sent out into the universe with the intention of reaching and affecting all life forms.

Ten of these men had practised the technique for at least 5 years. Compared with the men who had only recently started the technique, there was more grey matter volume detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in the longer-term meditators (6). The right angular gyrus is believed to have a role in empathy - which suggests that LKM can help to increase empathy. Not surprising to me that practising a feeling or emotion can strengthen it. As the authors of the study said:

'It is well known that the human brain is a malleable organ. This suggests that intense training can induce structural changes in brain regions that are needed to produce the trained behavior.'

The authors quoted other studies which found:

'Abnormalities such as decreased gray matter volume or altered activity in these two regions (the parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala) are linked with various conditions of emotional dysfunction, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.'

Meditation affects the activity of the brain. A study using a special form of MRI - pulsed arterial spin labelling - found that there was activation of certain parts of the brain: the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior insula during mindfulness meditation (7). The subjects of the study had no meditation experience before embarking on 4, 20-minute training sessions in meditation. They all had normal levels of anxiety but none suffered from anxiety disorders.

After learning meditation most of them reported decreases in anxiety.

I think meditation techniques will one day become commonly prescribed for many physical and mental/emotional conditions. And not before time. So much is being found out about the benefits of meditation including the ones mentioned above and now there is evidence that it can alter gene expression. The next article on meditation will deal with that.


1.  Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;2013:747694.
A Systematic Review of Biopsychosocial Training Programs for the Self-Management of Emotional Stress: Potential Applications for the Military.

2.  General Hospital Psychiatry. 1982 Apr;4(1):33-47.
An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results.

3.  Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1985 Jun;8(2):163-90.
The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain.

4.  Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2013 Jan;27(1):174-84.
A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation.

5.  Psychiatry Research. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43.
Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.

6.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2013 Jan;8(1):34-9.
Increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators.

7.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2014 Jun;9(6):751-9. 
Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Increase Your Reps

I have written about Greasing the Groove and today I will write about a similar method. Both methods can be used to quite easily increase the number of repetitions you can do.

This one involves doing more repetitions than you can currently do. If you can do 7 repetitions of pull ups, you will do 15 in this method. You will do them one at a time with a few seconds rest between each rep. In the case of someone who can do a maximum of 7 pull ups and who uses 15 reps with this method I suggest rest periods of 6 seconds. As each individual is different you might want to take a slightly longer rest. Try it and see how you feel.

You do all 15 reps - with the appropriate rest between each one - and that is it for the day. If you really strain to do the last 2 or 3 it will mean your rest periods are too short. It is, however, acceptable if the last couple of reps need a bit more effort than earlier reps - you might need to do them a bit more slowly but they shouldn't be unpleasantly difficult. You should be able to do all 15 without too much effort. You shouldn't feel any pain the next day.

If you do really strain to do the last couple of single reps you can either take a longer rest between each rep or just for the last 2 or 3. You will have to decide based on how you feel throughout that whole session.

You can do this 3, 4 or 5 days a week. Again, as we are all different with different recovery abilities and different lifestyles, you will need to decide how often you do it. As with Greasing the Groove, you can do the reps on the same day as you train the same muscles in weight or resitance training but don't do it the day after which will need to be a rest day for those muscles.

After you've done the 15 reps for a few sessions - again, you will have to decide how many sessions - you will reduce the rest period to 5 seconds. A good way of knowing when is that when you first start, the 15th rep will feel harder than the 14th. The 14th probably will feel harder than the 13th. When the 15th feels as easy or almost as easy as the few before it you will be ready to reduce the rest time. You should never have to really fight to do the last rep. The whole session should feel fairly easy but should also feel as if you've done some work.

A few sessions/days later, when it feels easier, reduce it to 4 seconds. Then 3 seconds. When you get down to 2 seconds and have done that for a few sessions you can take a few days off and then test your maximum in pull ups. You will probably be able to do more than 7. You might be able to do 10.

If there is no great improvement you could increase the reps to 20. Perhaps with 4 seconds rest between them. Or more rest for all the reps or just the last few. By the time you reduce that to 2 seconds you really should be able to do 10 reps in one go. You would certainly be able to do 10 if you reduced the 20 reps' rest period to only 1 second. You should even be able to do 9 or 10 if you could do 15 with 1 second rests.

This method is best used for bodyweight exercises because it could be difficult and dangerous to set a barbell down safely and pick it up again when the rest period is only 3 or 4 seconds.

It can be used for press ups (push ups in the USA), single-arm press ups, squats and single-leg squats, handstand press ups, tuck front lever pull ups, dips, etc.

You will be able to do more reps for leg exercises (say 25 or 30 for squats) and fewer for arm exercises. More when using 2 limbs than when using 1 limb. For example, say you can do 4 single-leg squats and you want to be able to do 5 or 6. You would start with between 8 and 10 with the appropriate number of seconds rest between each one.

You could add a bit of weight once you reduce the rest periods to 2 seconds. Just a few pounds on a belt or in a backpack and then go back to 6 seconds. By the time you get back down to 2 seconds your maximum reps without the added weight will have increased.

The combinations of number of reps, rest periods and added weight (if any) are many and varied. 

It is similar to Greasing the Groove (GTG) but, as you only do it once in a day instead of 4, 5 or 6 times a day as with GTG, it is more convenient because you can do it and then forget about it until the next day you plan to do it. You won't have to interrupt your daily activities and you won't get sweaty many times in one day.

It is a fairly easy method of training but effort is needed. When you get down to just a few seconds rest between reps it will get harder and will take longer until you can next reduce the time. Be patient and don't try to rush things. Injury lies in wait for the impatient and could very well turn the impatient into an in-patient. Sorry, I couldn't resist that.

If you are new to exercise you should use this method with caution until your muscles and tendons are used to the strain. It doesn't put a tremendous amount of strain on them because the intensity is not too high but it might put too much strain on muscles and tendons that haven't been tested in the fires of hard work.

Rough Calculations of Reps

Do approximately double the repetitions you can currently do. This is for arm exercises. You could do a bit more than double for leg exercises. But keep in mind that single-limb exercises might need smaller increments of added reps.

For example, if you choose to do double your current pull up reps, we have already seen that you would do 15 if you can currently do 7.

Another way of calculating it is to do between an extra 50% and 100% of the repetitions you would like to be able to do.

Using this percentage method, if you can do 7 but want to be able to do 10, you would do between 50% and 100% of your target reps. That is 15 or 20 reps, which are respectively 50% and 100% more than 10. Each rep with the appropriate rest period between them.

If you can only do a few reps, say 2 or 3, you should not try to do too many more reps. Going from 3 reps without pause to 6 without pause in a short time will be difficult especially in arm exercises.

The exact numbers don't really matter. This is more of an art than a science. Just ensure you do quite a bit more than you can currently do - with adequate rest periods between each rep.

This is not a miracle plan but it works. You need to put in enough effort but it will be worth it.

Give it a go and watch the repetitions jump to new levels.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Time Travel for Health and Happiness

It's possible to travel back in time to change how you feel now about such things as food and exercise. And how you feel about other things, too. Let me make it clear that I'm not talking about real time travel. This travelling is all in the mind - you just imagine you travel back in time - but it can be just as effective as real time travel would be.

In a nutshell, you visualise or imagine yourself when you were younger doing what you would now like to be able to do. This is a very simple but very powerful technique due to the way the brain and nervous system work. If someone who believes in and fears ghosts is told a certain building is haunted they will feel fear when near the building. Our imagination can create real feelings for good or bad. The imagination can create confidence and also terror. 

I should say at this point that if you have any mental condition which causes you to see or hear things that other people don't, this technique is not advisable for you to use. All imaginings, all visualisations, should be under your control and should only occur when you decide to have them. There are meditation techniques where you wait expectantly for some image or idea to appear but they are different to this technique. This one is for you to send your own chosen ideas into your subconscious mind.

You will imagine your younger self behaving in a way that would be appropriate for how you would like to feel now or how you would like to behave now. You decide before starting what the appropriate age was for the change you want to make. If you can't decide, you can wait in the relaxed state until some age suggests itself. If no age comes to mind, you go to a fairly young age but one at which you would have been able to understand how to behave differently to how you actually behaved at that time.

Learn to Love Exercise

If you hate exercising you would imagine a younger you, aged perhaps 12, doing some exercise and enjoying it. Spend enough time seeing, feeling or imagining this 12-year-old 'you' really enjoying their exercise. Know that they will continue to do regular exercise. Then imagine perhaps a 16-year-old version of you still enjoying it. Clearly see or feel the younger you enjoying being fit and strong and being able to exercise in a healthy manner and relishing the ability and opportunity to exercise whenever they want to. And they do want to exercise regularly. They know they are laying down good foundations for continued good health. When you feel you have fully 'connected' with this you who is aged 12 or 16, and you can know they will continue to exercise regularly, you can move on to a slighty older version of you. Continue doing this with different ages until you reach to within a year or two of how old you are now.

If you do this with clear feelings of how each younger version of you feels - if you can feel their enthusiasm and commitment - you will be laying down memories of being a regular exerciser. False memories, it is true, but they will stir something in you when you think about exercising because you will have those memories from over the years and decades of being an exerciser. If you imagine them clearly they will be encoded like real memories. You will have seen or felt those other versions of you exercising and enjoying what they do. If they are not real memories they will be real feelings.

Choose Healthier Food

If you want a healthier diet, you can imagine your younger self choosing a salad instead of some unhealthy meal. You can see, or feel, the younger you enjoying this salad and can appreciate how nice they think it tastes. You can see or feel them refusing the offer of a pudding or cake. They know they don't need it and they can easily do without it. They can stop eating when they feel satisfied and they rarely eat between meals. Then imagine another you slightly older than that one. They continue to eat healthily and still refrain from eating unhealthy or unnecessary foods. They could very occasionally have a special treat, such as cake or apple pie and custard, but only on rare occasions.

You will then have lots of memories or feelings of eating healthy food and rejecting unhealthy food or meals. In the present time, these memories will help you to choose wisely and healthily.

Develop Motivation

Can you easily motivate yourself to do what you need to do? If not, travel back in time to lay down memories of being motivated. See a younger you easily summoning up the energy and the enthusiasm to get something done. Feel their relief or pride or satisfaction when it's done. Have them accomplish lots of things - tidying their bedroom, doing their school homework, going to the library, learing a new skill or doing something active instead of watching television. Build memories of doing things that are necessary or desirable at the times they should be done so that now you will be more easily motivated to get things done.

Banish bullies

This technique can be used to deal with bullying. If you were bullied or if you're being bullied now, you can imagine your younger self - perhaps the first time you were bullied - reacting in an assertive and determined manner. Your younger self stands their ground and won't give in or give up. The bully eventually goes away knowing they've picked on the wrong person. If you were physically attacked at that time you can imagine your younger self blocking the punch or moving away from it. If you think it's appropriate, your younger self can counter attack. If your younger self punches the bully, make sure the punch is not to the head. Never punch to the head unless you are wearing boxing gloves or you could break your knuckles. Even in your imagination you should not expose yourself to injury. You might find yourself in real life one day having to use physical force so ensure you don't injure yourself if that time comes.

Only ever use appropriate force. Violence must always be the last resort, even in your imagination. Don't become a bully, even in your imagination.

Your younger self feels confident and powerful after seeing off the bully and you know you could do it again.

If you are being bullied now, you can imagine yourself at different ages standing up to the bully or to imaginary bullies. After doing that for a few weeks you should feel much more confident the next time your bully approaches you. You will have practised being assertive and you will have defeated the bully many times or a series of bullies many times. The feeling of confidence will be real if you make the imagined encounters and your responses as real as you can.

If you have imagined using force against bullies don't do so in real life unless your physical safety is threatened, unless there is no alternative action and unless you have trained to use self-defence.

This method, of creating memories of past success, can be combined with the one in the Happy Childhood - Second Chance To Have One post of 20th May 2011 - the one about the Loving Voice, but this time you deliberately and consciously provide the voice.

After you have imagined how your younger self behaved differently, you can talk to them and tell them how well they've done. You congratulate them on their success and tell them that they have layed the foundations for a better life. Explain the benefits of their behaviour. You tell them how good they are at exercising or resisting unhealthy food. Or whatever it is you want to change in the present.

If, for example, you want to now be more motivated to take regular exercise, you can tell your younger self how enjoyable exercise is. How enjoyable being fit is. You can tell them that being unfit can lead to ill health and a poorer quality of life. Use all your present-day knowledge to convince them that exercise is good and is necessary for a fulfilled life. Lay it on thick. Use words and explanations that you would have understood at that age. Keep talking to them until you can see or feel that they understand and that they are willing to change their beliefs. See that they will be motivated to do what you suggest so their future* will be better. Imagine that they are thinking about the future and how they will be when they do as you suggest. They might think about how strong and healthy they will be and how that will help them to have a better life.

*Their future, of course, is your present. This will not change what happened in the years prior to doing this technique. It will only change your present and your future.  This didn't happen in the past, you didn't convince yourself then to change. But doing this now can change how you feel now - as if you had always felt that way. As if you had really met your younger self and convinced them to change their beliefs or behaviour.

You will be contacting the feelings and beliefs that were formed at that early age.

When you 'see' or feel that the younger you has adopted the belief, you can imagine them months or years later in certain real situations they/you experienced with their/your new beliefs. See how differently they reacted. Feel that those beliefs have been with you since then and have become stronger over the years. 

All our beliefs come from somewhere or someone. We don't just decide to believe something. We need convincing. Your beliefs are just beliefs. You can change them and believe something else.  Our beliefs about ourselves guide how we live and how we behave. In fact, changing beliefs about ourselves can be easier than changing other beliefs. Easier than changing political or religious beliefs. That's because many of our beliefs about ourselves are false. They are the result of past misunderstandings - very often misunderstandings about what others said or did. Like the lad in the Happy Childhood post, of 20th May 2011, who was shouted at by his father. He's likely to grow up feeling less than confident. Political beliefs can also be based on the beliefs of others - some people adopt the political views of their parents - but they are more likely to be based on experience and personal preferences.

It will be helpful if you look at photographs of yourself at the right age so you can clearly visualise yourself at that age. You can also have some personal possession with you that is linked to that age - something to make you feel connected to that past. However, this is not really necessary.

You don't need to talk to your younger self but some people might feel it is the right thing to do. You can stop once you have clearly imagined your younger self behaving in the way you would have liked to behave at that time. Then go on to imagine a slightly older version, again behaving in the way you would have wanted to behave at that time. Talking to your younger selves is not necessary. If it feels wrong don't do it.

If you don't feel comfortable doing this or you think you haven't made a good connection, you can use the techniques in the Happiness Post of 2nd March, 20ll and the Happy Childhood posts

Whenever you think of your younger selves, know that they were (are?) more enthusiastic, more confident, more energetic, more assertive, more motivated, more joyful. More of anything you want to be now. Fill your mind with 'memories' of how you have always been this way.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Standing, Sitting and Health

I've written before about the need - the necessity - of being more active and of spending less time sitting*. People who spend many hours a day sitting are putting themselves at risk of serious ill health. Canadian adults, aged between 18 and 90 were part of a study (1) looking into the associations between the amount of standing time and mortality. In 1981 16,586 people were assessed for the amount of time they reported to spend standing each day. Information about alcohol consumption, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and smoking was also collected. They were followed for an average of 12 years to determine how many died. After adjustment for age, alcohol consumption, their smoking status and the amount of physical activity they engaged in, it was found that more time spent standing was associated with less risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and from all-cause mortality. There was no association between standing times and risk of dying from cancer. The authors concluded:

'The results suggest that standing may not be a hazardous form of behavior. Given that mortality rates declined at higher levels of standing, standing may be a healthier alternative to excessive periods of sitting.'

I think I can safely conclude that they were being a bit too cautious in their conclusions. Spending more time standing and less time sitting is good for health. And spending too much time sitting is bad for health as many studies have demonstrated.

Another study of 4,560 adults compared their time spent sitting with various cardiometabolic risk factors (2). Cardiometabolic risk is the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes. Risk factors include obesity (particularly central), hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar), hypertension, insulin resistance and dyslipoproteinaemia (the presence of abnormal levels of lipoproteins in the blood).

At the commencement of the study their weight, height, blood pressure, fasting triglycerides, insulin and glucose, and high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), were measured. Their amount of insulin resistance, if any, and the function of their pancreas beta cells were also assessed. Beta cells store and release insulin. A majority were also given a 2-hour glucose tolerance test to determine how much glucose was cleared from their bloodstream after ingestion of glucose. Poor clearance can be an indicator of diabetes or insulin resistance.

The amount of time spent sitting was significantly associated with adverse levels of body mass index, waist circumference, HDL-C, triglycerides, insulin, existence of insulin resistance, beta-cell function and 2-hour postload glucose, but not with blood pressure or glucose level.

Similar effects of leisure time inactivity were found in a study of 369 children aged between 5 and 18 (3). Their resting blood pressure; fasting triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and glucose; waist circumference; fat mass; and abdominal subcutaneous and visceral adiposity were assessed. Cardiometabolic risk was defined as having elevated levels of 3 or more of the assessed factors.

Having a television in the bedroom and viewing time were associated with a much higher risk of high waist circumference; fat mass; and subcutaneous adiposity.  Television viewing for 5 or more hours a day was associated with higher cardiometabolic risk and high triglycerides.

When I was the age of those younger children I was out playing in all weathers and when I was in my late teens I was training for sport 3 or 4 nights a week. We didn't have a television until I was aged 11 or 12 but I did watch quite a bit though probably no more than 2 hours a day.

I know it can be difficult to find something interesting to do that will increase your activity levels but there are things that can be done. Not particularly interesting, though. At one time most people had reasonably physically demanding jobs.  They could afford to sit down for most of their leisure time, especially in the evenings when they returned from work. Women who were housewives were on the go for most of the day with housework, shopping, cleaning and looking after the children. They didn't need to find extra activities to do. It is very different today, though. Most people do spend a lot of time sitting. Including me but I make sure I get up every now and again to do some exercises or to walk up and down the stairs.

If you want to stay healthy you really need to be more active.  Be creative and do something that you can do regularly.

This was just a quick post to get back into the swing of things - it's been months since I lasted posted due to various reasons - and I wanted to publish something before the end of April.  I'll post again soon. Probably about the same subject as there are many studies dealing with it.  Or it might be about some different subject.

*See the post of the 11th May 2012, called Sitting and Death, for similar information.


1.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2013 Oct 22.
Standing and Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of Canadian Adults.

2.  British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013 Aug 27.
Sitting time and cardiometabolic risk in US adults: associations by sex, race, socioeconomic status and activity level.

3.  American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2013 Jan;44(1):40-7.
Television, adiposity, and cardiometabolic risk in children and adolescents.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Inactivity is a Killer

Inactivity reduces the ability of your body to handle blood sugar and utilise insulin effectively. It also has other potentially harmful effects.

I think most people will agree that, in the western world, we have never been so inactive. This inactivity increases insulin resistance and lowers insulin sensitivity, reduces muscle strength and volume, and increases central adiposity. Central adiposity is the fat around and in the abdominal area - a combination of the fat just under the skin and the deeper visceral fat. 

The effects of a reduction of activity have been tested and studied by having endurance athletes suddenly cease training or by studying people who have been confined to bed for prolonged periods. These studies and observations showed most or all of the detrimental effects mentioned above but they don't reflect the patterns of inactivity in most people. To that end, researchers have instructed normally active people to drastically reduce their daily activity. The aforementioned detrimental effects were, shockingly, shown after a very short time of reduced activity - in as little as 2 weeks or even 3 days. These effects have been seen in people of all ages.

Before the development of farming our ancestors will have at least occasionally experienced feast and famine. Some periods provided them with an abundance of food and at other periods they went hungry. Any excess fat they laid down would have been burnt off during the hungry days or when they next went out looking for food. You don't see many overweight modern gatherer-hunters. After the development of farming most people had to work hard in the fields. Up until about 1960 there weren't many overweight people. In industrialised nations we now have an excess of energy-dense foods and greatly reduced physical activity. Put the two together and you get ill health. Humans are very efficient at storing excess calories in the form of body fat - a blessing for our ancestors who sometimes didn't know where their next meal would come from but a bit of a curse today in the countries where few people worry about getting enough to eat.

A recent study (1) found that reduced activity for just 14 days led to many signs of potential ill health in a group of healthy men aged about 72. For the study, they reduced their daily step-count by 76% to an average of 1,114 steps a day. This would be the equivalent of walking less than a mile a day. The results were quite alarming, considering the short time of the study:

Their insulin sensitivity after meals was reduced by 43% and their insulin resistance after the food was digested was increased by 12%. They also had an increase of 25% in C-reactive protein and an increase of 12% of TNF-alpha - signs of inflammation. There was a loss of lean leg mass of 4%. Their rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) after meals was reduced by 26%. This is a very important finding especially concerning older people because reduced muscle protein synthesis can lead to sarcopaenia*. The time after meals is important for creating or repairing muscle.

*You can find more information about sarcopaenia in the article Sarcopaenia, Ageing and Strength Training, posted here on 29th June, 2012.

Similar results were found in another study in which 10 healthy but non-exercising men, with an average age of 24, reduced their daily activity from an average of about 10,000 steps a day to about 1,400 for 14 days (2). This found a 7% reduction in cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max) and a significant reduction in insulin sensitivity as well as a loss of lean leg mass.

There was also a significant reduction in their ability to handle glucose during a test by using infusions of insulin and glucose - an indication that insulin sensitivity was reduced. When the body habitually experiences reduced insulin sensitivity there's a danger that insulin resistance will develop.

Insulin is released in response to a meal, mainly to handle carbohydrates but also protein.

Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how well the body responds to insulin.

Insulin resistance is when insulin is not handled properly which results in glucose not being adequately transported from the blood into muscles and other tissues. The pancreas produces more insulin in an effort to get the job done. But when a certain level of insulin resistance is reached not enough insulin can be produced to clear glucose out of the blood stream.

As the authors of the study said:

'The parallel losses of peripheral insulin sensitivity, leg lean mass, and VO2 max are clinically relevant as all three independently increase mortality.'

If 14 days of inactivity can produce such potentially harmful changes imagine what years of inactivity will do.

In another study (3), reducing daily activity for just 3 days led to increased glucose in the volunteers' blood after a meal. Three days! Blood glucose rises after a meal but is usually back to normal 2 hours later. There were 12 of these volunteers, they were all healthy and active. They normally took about 13,000 steps per day but reduced that to about 4,300 steps per day during the 3 days of the study. Their blood glucose was higher after meals during the 3 days of reduced activity than it was when they were normally active. Their postprandial (after meals) glucose excursion (the amount of change in glucose levels) nearly doubled an hour after meals compared to their normal active state. This was only for 3 days but millions of people are relatively inactive every day for years on end. The authors of the study say that blood glucose after meals

'is an independent predictor of cardiovascular events and death, regardless of diabetes status.' 

Just 3 days of reduced activity! So, here is more proof of what inactivity does to the body and things can deteriorate very quickly.

The message is clear: Become more active. Walk every day. Do formal exercises a few times each week.

It's never too late to start but it is always to early to stop.

For more information about inactivity see Blood Sugar and Physical Activity, posted on 11th April, 2012. And for more info on how being active is important and how to increase it you could look at Fat Loss Every Day, posted on 18th March, 2012.


1.  Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2013 Jun;98(6):2604-12. 
Two weeks of reduced activity decreases leg lean mass and induces "anabolic resistance" of myofibrillar protein synthesis in healthy elderly

2.  Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010 May;108(5):1034-40.
A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. 

3.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012 Feb;44(2):225-31.
Lowering physical activity impairs glycemic control in healthy volunteers.