Category Archives: exercise

Balancing Exercise and Calorie Restriction

Building abdominal muscles

Calorie Restriction (CR) reduces the nutrients available to the body and limits its growth.  We lose weight when the nutrients that we eat are insufficient to meet the requirements of the body.  Conversely, we gain weight when we eat more calories than we burn through our activities.

Exercise stresses the muscles and stimulates them to grow.  With adequate nutrition, the muscles will strengthen and gain mass.  Since the muscles consist mostly of protein, they need additional protein to grow.

Exercise tones the muscles while Calorie Restriction keeps their growth in check.  The combination of dietary restriction and exercise establishes an equilibrium that can be monitored with a bathroom scale.  If your weight increases, you are eating too much.  If your weight decreases, you are not eating enough.

March Madness, Spring Training, and Easter

Forsythia in Bloom Forsythia in Bloom

March is the month when the Northern Hemisphere starts to come out of hibernation. The trees are starting to show some buds, crocuses and daffodils are in full bloom, and forsythias are showing their yellow splendor. March is also the time when the basketball season ends with a frenzy of championship games. Sports fans go crazy as the indoor game season ends and baseball and other outdoor sports start a new season.

Easter is celebrated with eggs to symbolize new life and resurrection. The date for Easter is based the cycle of the moon. Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon which occurs after the vernal equinox; it falls between late March and late April each year. This year, Easter falls on the 23rd of March. Since spring usually starts around the 21st of March, this is about as early as Easter can happen. The U.S. Naval observatory has an explanation of how the date of Easter may be different in some parts of the world as a consequence of the International Date Line conventions.

On the topic of Spring Training, one of my neighbors is training for a marathon. Not too long ago, his cholesterol was 204. He improved his diet and started to use grape seed oil, an oil high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, in his salad dressings. His cholesterol level is now 140. It is good to see that dietary interventions can make a big difference in the biomarkers for health. Every time that I see one of those TV commercials where an actor says “I exercise and watch my diet, but it is not enough.” and concludes that he still needs some statin to lower his cholesterol, I keep thinking: “NO! NO! NO! You cannot just WATCH your diet, you have to eat foods with the right fatty acid balance, you have to eat less, and you have to exercise.” It is actually very simple. Diet is a major factor.

Five years of Calorie Restriction Diet

It has been a little over five years since I adopted a Calorie Restriction (CR) diet.  I am always aiming to make it a CRON diet, i.e., CR plus Optimum Nutrition, but it is difficult to know what is Optimum Nutrition because scientists continue to argue about the ideal level of nutrients.  Vitamin D, for example, has been in the news as a significant suppressor of cancer, but like any complex problem, it is not easy to establish the cause and effect, and it is much more difficult to quantify it.  Just in case, I take 1000 IU of Vitamin D as a dietary supplement.

Many members of the Calorie Restriction Society argue that the optimum Body Mass Index (BMI) for a CR practitioner is between 18.5 and 21.  Although I could cut down my calories to go down to a BMI of 21, I have decided that as long as I have good musculature, the best BMI for me is just below 23.  At this BMI, my percent of body fat is 13 percent which keeps me in the “athlete” category, according to the American Council on Exercise.  I weigh myself almost daily.  If my average weight goes up by half a pound, I decrease what I eat.  If my weight drops by one pound, I increase my food.

What I eat now is very different from what I ate before the CR way of life.  Before, I would always have a sweet dessert, I baked pastries such as “Napoleon” (flaky puff pastry with butter cream), I did not read labels, and in ignorance, I ate hydrogenated fats.  Today, I read labels, I eat large salads, and my dessert consists of fruits, nuts, or dark chocolate.  I am not a vegetarian; I eat everything, but in moderation.

I recently watched a TV show which showed a researcher who studied more than 500 people over 90 years old.  The researcher said that there was not a single vegetarian among them.  He also pointed out that most of these old people were slightly overweight, but active.  He concluded that genetics was the most important contributing factor to a long life.  Like most research, this finding is likely to be contradicted by some future research project.  I believe that a balanced diet, exercise, and weight management all contribute to longevity.

How to Live to 100

A recent article by Dr. Mark Liponis[1] listed several things that can increase your life expectancy. Three items of advice were related to food:

Eat a heart-healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and whole grains reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The average lifespan in France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Israel rank in the top 25, whereas the U.S. is in 45th place.

Drink up. Moderate wine consumption (up to 5 ounces a day) have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other beverages like green or black tea, as well as coffee, also contain substances that lower death rates from cardiovascular disease.

Watch your waist. There are virtually no obese centenarians. Excess body weight contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. (Learn how to stay trim.)

Other suggestions for living longer were related to life-style:

Read the Newspaper. Centenarians keep abreast of current events and remain engaged in society. Isolation can lead to deterioration and loss of function. Mental activity will help to keep your brain in good working order. (Try some Puzzles)

Buy a farm. Studies show that living in the country extends life compared to living in urban areas. Is it just the clean air that makes farmers live longer? Not necessarily. Farmers are always physically active. Staying physically fit is important for longevity.

Get Married. According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, people that never married were 58 percent more likely to die earlier than an age-matched group of married people. Divorced or separated people were 27 percent more likely to die earlier than married people.

Have Children. Women who have children after age 40 are four times more likely to live to 100. Men who father children and start raising a family at a younger age also live longer.

Have Faith. Dr. Liponis points out that most centenarians have some kind of regular religious practice or belief, and that researchers have found that clergymen and nuns tend to be long-lived.

The article by Dr. Liponis is based on statistical correlations which sometimes can lead to strange conclusions. I know a married couple, both in bad health, who keep alive hoping to outlive each other because they do not agree on the disposition of their assets after they die. That is an incentive for longevity. I just hope that it is not too late for me to become a clergyman.

[1] Parade Magazine, March 9, 2008, p. 10.

How do you start Calorie Restriction?

Calorie restriction has been shown to extend the maximum life span of many species, but you have to start cautiously. Many people start calorie restriction with such zeal that they worsen their health instead of increasing their longevity. People who start with high degrees of calorie restriction and don’t monitor their nutrition sometimes find out that they have lost bone mass, resulting in osteoporosis. My specific recommendations about how to start on Calorie Restriction are these:

  1. Read Dr. Roy Walford’s book Beyond the 120 Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years-. This book describes the science which we hope will help us live longer, although this has not been conclusively proved for humans.
  2. Download CRON-o-Meter (spaz.ca/cronometer/). This is a free nutrition-tracking program that will help you to analyze your food so that you can learn to optimize what you eat. You don’t have to start a diet, but you have to start measuring and weighing what you eat. In this way, you will learn how many calories you are now consuming on a daily basis, and you will also get a summary of your macronutrient ratios. The program will also point out any nutritional deficiencies.
  3. Get some lab tests to establish a medical baseline including lipid panel, CBC, blood pressure, bone density, etc.
  4. Join the CR Society. This will give you access to support from many members who can answer your specific questions.
  5. Concentrate on Optimum Nutrition. Try to devise daily menus that meet 100% of the RDA of all vitamins and minerals. You may find some recipes in Dr. Sears Zone Diet books. Try to get your nutrition from foods rather than supplements.
  6. Exercise 30 minutes per day with emphasis on strength-building exercises, but don’t overdo it to avoid getting injured.
  7. Use the Calorie Restriction Calculator to determine the number of calories required to achieve 5% Calorie Restriction. Start with a 5% CR diet, but make sure that you still achieve Optimum Nutrition on the lower calorie diet.
  8. Once you are familiar with measuring your food and optimum nutrition, you can gradually reduce your calories, but I would not recommend going below 16% CR.

It takes a long time to fine tune your nutrition. It is a way of life.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid – Fighting fat with fat

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLAA)

For over 20 years, studies of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) have shown that this fatty acid may actually help to reduce abdominal body fat while preserving lean muscle.[1,2,3]  CLA is found in animal fats like cream, butter, and the fat marbling of grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as in vegetable oils such as safflower oil.

CLA acts by inhibiting lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that breaks down dietary fats and enables fat to be stored in the body.  CLA decreases the amount of fat that ends up stored in the abdomen by reducing the amount of fat that is broken down.  CLA nutritional supplements are being promoted as a magic bullet to reduce body fat, to burn calories more efficiently, and to increase the percentage of lean muscle mass.

Realistically, taking one pill per day is not likely to make you thinner and leaner.  If you are overweight, you need to evaluate your complete diet and exercise program.  You can lose one pound every 12 days simply by cutting 300 Calories per day from your diet.  Exercise will build up your muscles and increase your strength.

[1] Brown JM, McIntosh MK., Conjugated linoleic acid in humans: regulation of adiposity and insulin sensitivity. J Nutr. 2003 Oct;133(10):3041-6.  PMID: 14519781

[2] Gaullier JM, Halse J, Høye K, Kristiansen K, Fagertun H, Vik H, Gudmundsen O., Supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid for 24 months is well tolerated by and reduces body fat mass in healthy, overweight humans. J Nutr. 2005 Apr;135(4):778-84. PMID: 15795434

[3] Risérus U, Berglund L, Vessby B., Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) reduced abdominal adipose tissue in obese middle-aged men with signs of the metabolic syndrome: a randomised controlled trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Aug;25(8):1129-35. PMID: 11477497

Yoga: stabilizing the Mayurasana posture with a belt

Mayurasana Posture (the Peacock)
Mayurasana Posture (the Peacock)

Yoga is an ancient practice from India which tries to unify the spiritual and physical world. The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate”. Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West because it can lead to better health by stretching the muscles, increasing flexibility, and improving strength. Hatha Yoga also includes breathing techniques and meditation. Physical poses are called Asanas, and the breathing techniques are called Pranayama.

Many of the postures in yoga can only be achieved by regular practice to gradually build the required flexibility, coordination, and strength. Mayurasana, the peacock posture, requires maintaining the body horizontal while the torso is supported by the elbows. Perspiration or slippery hairy arms may prevent you from achieving this posture even when you have the necessary strength and flexibility. This can be frustrating and dangerous because if your elbows slip, you can hit your face on the floor.

The Mayurasana position may be stabilized by using a belt at the elbows as shown in the photograph below. The belt keeps the elbows from slipping on the torso.

Belt to stablilize Mayurasana yoga posture

Questions about the Calorie Restriction Diet

Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner

Cecilia J. Kim, a journalism student at New York University, recently asked me some questions about my practice of Calorie Restriction.  This is a transcript of the interview:

Q: Why did you start CRON? How did you come across it and do you advocate it to others?

A: I needed to lose some weight at age 60, and I started researching several diets to determine which might be the best one for me.  I liked the scientific foundation of the CRON diet as described by Dr. Walford.  The CRON diet puts emphasis on Optimum Nutrition which is what you need to do when you reduce your calories.

Q: Are you aware that most research has been conducted on lab mice, simple unicellular organisms and non-human primates? Some scientists believe that extrapolating findings based on experiments with such animals is not valid for humans, but from your experience do you feel physically younger?

A: You are right, the longevity studies for CRON have been conducted on laboratory animals, but CRON is not only about longevity.  It is about longevity in good health.  There is already substantial scientific evidence that being overweight or obese leads to many health problems.  CRON helps you to stay thin and avoid the problems brought on by excess weight.  Even if humans cannot live longer with CRON, they can stay healthier longer.  That is already beneficial.

Q: Do you experience perpetual hunger? or has your hunger subsided with the duration of your practice of CR?

A: I am not perpetually hungry.  I am quite satisfied for several hours after I eat. 🙂   However, I eat only three times per day and I don’t snack.  This means that I am hungry for an hour or two before my next meal.  I think that these periods of hunger help my body burn excess fat and keep my blood glucose from increasing as I age.  If I don’t lose weight on a day-to-day basis, I know that I am not starving myself in spite of being hungry.

Q: How many additional years (approximately) do you expect to gain from from your practice of CR, basically how old do you expect to live to?

A: I probably already increased my life expectancy by at least 10 years by learning how to eat right.  Before CRON, I was eating a lot of pastries, hydrogenated fats, and fried foods.  Since I started eating the right foods in the right proportions, my cholesterol and my weight have both normalized.  Being lean reduces your chances of getting cancer, but if you want to live long you also have to avoid risky activities like mountain climbing, driving without seat belts, and riding bicycles in the streets of Washington, D.C.

Q: Is exercise a part of your CR lifestyle? If so, do you believe that exercise or your restricted diet plays a larger role in your general health?

A: I exercise approximately 30 minutes per day.  I do vigorous, strength-building exercises to try to stay fit.  Exercise has improved my lung function and eliminated some of the allergies and sinus problems that used to bother me.  Scientific studies have confirmed that people who exercise regularly have a lower death rate than sedentary people.  Exercise and diet are two different aspects that contribute to overall health.  You cannot really separate one from the other.

Q: I’m also interested in how CRONies handle American traditions like Thanksgiving.  Can you describe your Thanksgiving dinner (how it was prepared, the thought that went into it) if it were indeed prepared to fit the CR diet?

A: Holidays can be celebrated with healthy meals.  A nice plate of roast turkey with stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a mixed salad fits very nicely into a CRON diet as long as it is prepared wholesomely.  This means no butter or hydrogenated fats.  Avoid double helpings. Stuff the bird, not yourself.  With modern conveniences like freezers, you can have a nice Thanksgiving dinner and save the leftovers for many, many meals.

Keeping track of our fitness with a scale

Antonio Zamora - Age 65Antonio Zamora – Age 65

We have been conditioned to think that we will gain weight as we get older. This is only true if we do not adjust our diet for the reduced number of calories that our body uses as it ages. A good bathroom scale is our best friend. A scale will not tell us that our double chin or the bulge in our midsection makes us look better — it just shows our weight. We should be thankful for the honesty of the scale.

Using a scale regularly, we can keep our weight fairly constant. If our weight goes up by a few pounds and it stays up for several days, we know that it is not just water retention. We are getting fatter! It is time to eat less. We have to choose nutritious foods that will satisfy our hunger and provide all the nutrients that our body needs.

I am thankful to my sister for having pointed out several years ago that I was getting fat. Who? Me Fat? I weighed myself and calculated my Body Mass Index, and sure enough, I was overweight! We change so gradually that we do not notice the small increases of weight that add up to many pounds over the years.

So, here I am, 65 years old and at the same weight that I had when I was in my twenties. I have had to learn a lot about nutrition and exercise to achieve this. It is hard for me to believe that I am now officially on Medicare insurance. I am going to continue to try to stay in good health in order not to use it.

Calculate your Body Mass Index

Stressful exercise can be fatal

Chicago Marathon Chicago Marathon

It happened again. A Michigan police officer died during the 2007 Chicago Marathon. An autopsy showed that a heart condition, and not the record-setting heat and high humidity, was what killed him. The temperature was 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31°C) by 10 AM, which broke the previous record of 84 degrees set in 1979. However, at least 49 people were taken to hospitals, while another 250 were treated onsite, many for heat-related ailments. The high heat index and the large number of casualties prompted director Carey Pinkowski to stop the race at 11:30 a.m., about 3 1/2 hours into the run, when the organizers became concerned they would not be able to cope with additional heat-related injuries as the temperature continued to soar. According to the organizers of the Marathon, approximately 45,000 runners registered for the race, but 10,000 did not show up. So, of the 35,000 who actually raced, about 300 required treatment or a hospital visit. That is about one percent.

Exercising during extreme heat and humidity causes a loss of body fluids as the body tries to keep cool by sweating. Drinking only water can be fatal because it results in hyponatremia, a sodium deficiency that may cause abdominal cramps and convulsions. Profuse sweating requires replacing sodium and potassium, two essential electrolytes. Drinking a glass of water with 1/4 teaspoon of salt or sports drinks helps to restore the electrolytes lost by sweating.