Four Ways to Improve How Your Body Handles Stress

I think it’s important to provide some background on how physiologists look at stress. In physiology, the term that most accurately describes your ability to tolerate stress is “vagal tone.” Let me explain. When “fight or flight” kicks in (whether you are being chased by a lion or late for work), it’s up to your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system (vagal tone) to bring your body to homeostasis and get you calm.

rspnutrition.com/blogs/training/four-ways-to-improve-how-your-body-handles-stress

Work Your Ass Off

According to professor Anthony Musto, University of Miami’s director of fitness programs, the glutes are one of the most important body parts to work for overall health. From performing heavy lifts to walking up stairs, humans need to engage these muscles for a variety of functions—but modern day life may be getting in the way.

www.distractionmagazine.com/work-your-ass-off/

 

006: Self-Awareness for Love, Happiness, and Success with Romero Britto

Based in Miami, iconic pop artist Romero Britto is the most licensed artist in history whose work has been in museums and galleries in over a hundred countries. He has collaborated with international brands, creating public art installations for public spaces and events like the Super Bowl XLI. This easygoing man is also an activist who has dedicated time, art, and resources to more than 250 charitable organizations worldwide.

In this episode, Romero shares anecdotes from his life—his transition from law school to art and his trajectory following the Absolut Art campaign—and his personal beliefs. Despite the struggles he has overcome, he remains bright and optimistic as he offers advice for aspiring artists and people who want to experience wonder in their lives. He even quotes Marvel comics legend Stan Lee and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Romero is proof that it is possible to be happy and successful at the same time if you embrace your personal journey. 

Episode Highlights:

  • 07:08 – Romero’s personal struggles before becoming an artist
  • 10:10 – Surround yourself with people who have good values and inspire you
  • 13:15 – On fame and beating self-doubt
  • 18:00 – Find what you love doing and just go for it
  • 22:08 – How pressure from expectations can lead to regrets or resentment
  • 25:38 – Why artists should to go to business school (if they can)
  • 29:48 – Committing to projects and outdoing one’s self
  • 33:45 – How Romero’s lifestyle affects his art
  • 39:07 – Be patient, consistent, and believe in what you’re doing
  • 42:34 – The importance of family

Show Links:

 

How Fish Can Lead to Better Fitness

Fish is extremely high in Protein, Omega-3, Vitamin D, Calcium, B12, Selenium, Iron, Zinc and Magnesium. Notice how these are some of the most commonly supplemented nutrients in the world… and yet they can be attained more sustainably without supplementation.

However, most fresh, wild and sustainably caught fish is expensive, hard to get, spoils quickly and can be relatively high in toxic metals such as mercury. Many people are turned off by canned options, but the reality is that they may just be the healthiest alternative for you and the environment. You just have to know what to look for.

Salmon and Foragers (small prey fish) like sardines, herring and anchovies are superfoods. They are rich in many healthy nutrients, but one of the most noteworthy is selenium, which detoxifies any heavy metals that the species may contain. They should be a staple in your diet under any circumstance, but for the quarantine they couldn’t be more perfect.

They are inexpensive, have a long shelf life, are easy to buy in bulk and stack in your pantry. They are extremely dense in nutrients, very filling and help limit excess weight gain, and can help preserve lean muscle mass. I’m not done yet, either. They can also lower inflammation and serve as a very versatile food ingredient.

Sardines are classified as one of the World’s Healthiest Foods due to the many health benefits that I listed above. The World’s Healthiest Foods organization created a rating system to identify foods that have a large amount of nutrients for the calories they contain. As you may have guessed due to all my raving, sardines ranked “excellent” and “very good” in many key nutrients, without nearly the amount of calories that you might expect. In order to get the same amount of nutrients from many other foods, you’d have to consume much larger portions. If you’re now considering adding some more sardines to your diet, you’re making a great choice.

One thing you should always be on the lookout for (which I mentioned earlier) is mercury toxicity. However as long as a fish contains selenium, mercury isn’t an issue. A medical study (Lazarini et al., 2019) showed that selenium provides a “protective effect on the mercury species.” This table is a good reference of possible mercury toxicity.

High quality, wild-caught, and sustainable options from brands like Wild Planet Foods are delicious without the fishy taste. You definitely have to make sure you buy from a brand (even if it’s not this one) that isn’t loaded with preservatives. But there is nothing to be afraid of when you choose a brand like this one. I personally enjoy them plain, or with olive oil daily and I did not get paid any money to state these facts. If you have any further questions about fish consumption and how fish can improve the quality of your diet, feel free to ask in the comment section below.

 

Reference:

Lazarini, T. E. D. M. (2019). Selenium, total mercury and methylmercury in sardine: Study of molar ratio and protective effect on the diet. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30755081/

Four Ways to Improve How Your Body Handles Stress

I think it’s important to provide some background on how physiologists look at stress. In physiology, the term that most accurately describes your ability to tolerate stress is “vagal tone.” This refers to the activity of your vagus nerve, which has sensory and motor functions, and runs from the brain stem to part of the colon. A medical study (McLaughlin et al., 2013) describes vagal tone as “a measure of cardiovascular function that facilitates adaptive responses to environmental challenge.”

The “fight or flight” response by the sympathetic nervous system is designed to prepare you for perceived danger. In the body, the manifestation of stress doesn’t discriminate. The innervation of neural pathways is essentially identical between varying stimuli. When “fight or flight” kicks in (whether you are being chased by a lion, late for work, or partaking in cold immersion), it’s up to your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system (vagal tone) to bring your body to homeostasis and get you calm.

Strong vagal tone means you can handle stress well and relax faster. Poor vagal tone means sympathetic activity (elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing) remains heightened after a stimulus has passed, making you far more susceptible to the many negative effects of stress over time. This is why I am writing this article- to help you improve your vagal tone and thus your quality of life.

“I tried to come up with a haiku to describe my 30-minute cold plunge experience, but ‘sympathetic expedition’ exceeded the syllable count on the third line. A shame.”

Number One: Cold Exposure

Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and activate cholinergic neurons through vagus nerve pathways. Exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve. Finishing a shower with cold water, taking a dip in the cold plunge at the spa, cryotherapy, or an ice bath will do the trick.

Number Two: Deep and Slow Breathing

According to a medical report (Wang et al., 2010), “slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback is an effective intervention to manage prehypertension. The possible mechanism is that slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback could reduce sympathetic activity and meanwhile could enhance vagal activity.”

The conclusion to draw from this is to perform diaphragmatic breathing. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation. Learn more about my recommended breathing techniques here.

Number Three: Meditation and Yoga

A medical report (Breit et al., 2018) about the vagus nerve stated that “since the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms.” Yoga also increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain, by stimulating vagal afferent nerves, which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a very effective way to help your body deal with stress more effectively.

Number Four: Exercise

“Elite endurance athletes display exceptionally high parasympathetic vagal tone,” according to a report (Machhada et al., 2017.) They also concluded that “indirect measures of high cardiac parasympathetic activity correlate with enhanced exercise capacity and lower all-cause mortality in athletes and the general population.” To paraphrase, exercising regularly has been scientifically proven to help your body deal with stress.

If you have any questions about vagal tone or stress management, feel free to leave a comment below and I’d be happy to discuss.

 

References:

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Jungmann, M., Vencatachellum, S., Van Ryckeghem, D., & Vögele, C. (2018). Effects of Cold Stimulation on Cardiac-Vagal Activation in Healthy Participants: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Formative Research, 2(2), e10257. https://doi.org/10.2196/10257

Machhada, A., Trapp, S., Marina, N., Stephens, R. C. M., Whittle, J., Lythgoe, M. F., Kasparov, S., Ackland, G. L., & Gourine, A. V. (2017). Vagal determinants of exercise capacity. Nature Communications, 8(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms15097

McLaughlin, K. A., Rith-Najarian, L., Dirks, M. A., & Sheridan, M. A. (2013). Low Vagal Tone Magnifies the Association Between Psychosocial Stress Exposure and Internalizing Psychopathology in Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44(2), 314–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.843464

Wang, S.-Z., Li, S., Xu, X.-Y., Lin, G.-P., Shao, L., Zhao, Y., & Wang, T. H. (2010). Effect of Slow Abdominal Breathing Combined with Biofeedback on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Variability in Prehypertension. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(10), 1039–1045. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2009.0577

How to utilize High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Looking to fight chronic disease, lose belly fat, maintain muscle, and live longer? Look no further than High-Intensity Interval Training, also known as HIIT. Scientific consensus indicates that it is far more effective than Moderate- Intensity Continuous Training, also known as MICT or simply as a traditional cardio workout.

What is HIIT?

As explained above, HIIT means high-intensity interval training, a form of intermittent cardio workout where one is working out in the range of high aerobic intensity and has phases of low aerobic intensity in between. There are several types of protocols that one can always perform according to this HIIT session’s goal. The main parameters to adjust are the following:

  • Length of the work interval
  • Length of rest interval
  • The intensity of work interval
  • The intensity of rest interval
  • Number of sets
  • Number of reps
  • Art of exercise performance

One can adjust the art of metabolic outcome and has points upon which the daily and weekly training can be periodized.

 

What are the benefits of HIIT?

People who performed HIIT saw more significant benefits with 40% less time training than MICT groups, they were better able to lose fat (especially intra-abdominal fat, the most dangerous and most highly linked to chronic disease), better-maintained muscle, gained strength, decreased fat storage, increased insulin sensitivity, and the list goes on and on.

A medical study (Weston et al., 2013) demonstrated that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) strongly determines morbidity and mortality. In athletes and the general population, it is established that high-intensity interval training is superior to MICT in improving CRF. Multiple studies (Perry et al., 2008; Talanian et al., 2007) also showed significantly higher fat burn after only 2-6 weeks of HIIT training 3 to 6 times per week.

 

Let’s delve a little further into the fat loss aspect of this type of workout. Everyone hates intra-abdominal fat: Doctors hate it due to the link to chronic disease; regular people hate it because it can be very challenging to get rid of, especially as you age. Weston et al. (2013) showed that HIIT was better for losing intra-abdominal fat and visceral adipose tissue.

Visceral adipose tissue is fat tissue surrounding the organs. It is considered the most dangerous and most highly linked to disease, but fortunately, it’s also the easiest to lose. My take on this is that there may not be any difference in body composition with matched energy expenditures between groups throughout the study. Still, there was likely better body fat reduction long term with HIIT due to higher mitochondrial biogenesis and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

EPOC is another reason for the effectiveness of this training format which results in high post-exercise energy expenditure that leads to more calories burned during recovery (LaForgia et al., 2006). Essentially, if you train your ass off, your body will burn more calories even after you’re done with your workout. Imagine burning calories while you hit the showers. This is scientifically possible with this training regimen. It also leads to an increase in the size and number of mitochondria, thus leading to more energy being used towards working muscles and a higher force production over time (Hawley & Gibala, 2009).

The last point to touch upon is the improvement of glycolytic activity. Intermittent intensity and energy requirements lead to heightened and lowered glycolytic activity metabolic patterns. What is meant by that? The metabolic rate of converting stored energy in glycogen in your muscles and liver into glucose which is then further metabolized for ATP production. By performing exercise in a high intensity, anaerobic energy supply is increased and, over time, enhanced, which is an adaptation to HIIT (Buchheit and Laursen, 2013).

What does a typical HIIT session look like?

As you can see, this is a 10×1min HIIT session (with a short warmup before) where the intervals consist of the same intensity of about >87% VO2max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise) followed by rest intervals of about 20% VO2max. You could also adjust the intensity by your peak heart rate, exercising at approximately >90% max heart rate, as both are methods for endurance intensity workload determination (Karvoonen & Vuorimaa, 1988).

How do I adjust my HIIT training?

There is no ‘one fits all solution; this always comes down to specific requirements and training goals. Generally speaking, one can say that the longer the intervals, the more it taxes on your glycogen stores, and the more reps/sets you do, the more they demand of you.

One way to start your routine for general CRF and fat metabolism improvement is with a 5-minute warmup, followed by 4×4-min intervals at approximately 85-95% of your peak heart rate and 3 min recovery in between. You can participate in this workout between three and six times per week, and your lifespan-boosting activity only has to last twenty to thirty minutes.

I like to go for 170 beats per minute (bpm) and higher and then allow my heart rate to drop to about 100-110 bpm before the next set. Your numbers don’t necessarily have to be so specific. Get your heart rate up high and down low as long as the interval is.

If you want to get more severe and double down on your aerobic capacity improvement, here is something for the intermediate athletes of you:

A rule of thumb (scientifically proven to be beneficial for VO2max improvement) is a 2:1 work:rest-ratio (Rønnestad et al., 2015, Rønnestad et al., 2020). 30:15sec or 40:20sec work:rest-intervals in a 3×13 or 3×10 setting, respectively, with 3 min breaks between sets, increase your VO2max even more than effort matched longer intervals of 5 min work and 2.5 min rest for four series.

Is there an ‘ideal’ version for a HIIT workout?

That is probably another question that has to be decided individually regarding the desired outcome of your training.

Studies have shown that HIIT in the format of 87-100% VO2max is the most effective method for increasing your overall VO2max (Buchheit & Laursen, 2013a) and, therefore, metabolic fitness. Also, the work:rest-ratio is a factor to consider when planning your HIIT session.

A study by Seiler and Hetlelid (2005) showed that 4 min breaks do not offer a significant increase in restfulness over 2 min breaks. Shorter intervals (<1.5-2 min) do not tax so hard on the metabolic, mainly glycolytic, system. Beyond that, you can implement shorter rest intervals to increase overall intensity.

For speed improvements, such as in running or cycling, one could summarize: longer intervals improve speed endurance maintenance. In comparison, shorter intervals enhance anaerobic glycolysis and speed endurance production.

How do I get started?

Unfamiliar with your peak heart rate or even VO2max? Estimate your peak H.R. with this easy formula: 220 – age = max. BPM. My max is about 193 because I’m 27 years old. Therefore, 85% for me would be 165 bpm. Via [211 – 0.64 x age], you will get a slightly more precise result, adjusted for generally active people. Don’t have a wearable device to conduct measurements? Take your pulse. 25 beats in 10 seconds equal 150 bpm (simple multiplication).

The best way to get your heart rate up is to use as much musculature as possible. Examples include sprints (running or cycling), burpees, and squat jumps. There are also plenty of other examples to choose from. The logic is that the more muscles are used, the greater the cardiovascular demand, and thus your heart rate. No matter how hard you go on isolation exercises, it will be unlikely to get your heart rate where you want it because small muscles don’t require a high demand.

My favorite HIIT exercises are sprints, 100 rep sets of weighted jump rope as fast as possible, and burpees. Here is a picture of my recent HIIT workout. That’s my heart rate data tracked with a BioStrap device. I highly recommend using wearables to track your heart rate for maximum accuracy. The ones manufactured by Biostrap are very reliable and helpful to my workout regimen.

If you have any questions on my routine or how you can improve yours, feel free to ask below!

References:

Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013a). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 43(5), 313–338. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0029-x

Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013b). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle. Part II: anaerobic energy, neuromuscular load, and practical applications. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 43(10), 927–954.https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0066-5

Hawley, J. A., & Gibala, M. J. (2009, June 26). Exercise intensity and insulin sensitivity: how low can you go? Diabetologia. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-009-1425-5?error=cookies_not_supported& code=7b9628ca-d570-4c91-816d-4cb4afd415b2

Karvonen, J., & Vuorimaa, T. (1988). Heart rate and exercise intensity during sports activities. Practical application. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 5(5), 303–311. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198805050-00002

LaForgia, J. (2006). Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17101527/

Perry, C. G. R. (2008). High-intensity aerobic interval training increases human skeletal muscle fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19088769/

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Vegge, G., Tønnessen, E., & Slettaløkken, G. (2015). Short intervals induce superior training adaptations than long intervals in cyclists – an effort-matched approach. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25(2), 143–151. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12165

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., & Lundby, C. (2020). Superior performance improvements in elite cyclists following short-interval vs. effort-matched long-interval training. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(5), 849–857. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13627

Seiler, S., & Hetlelid, K. J. (2005). The impact of rest duration on work intensity and RPE during interval training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 37(9), 1601–1607.https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000177560.18014.d8

Talanian, J. L. (2007). Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17170203/

Weston, K. S. (2013). High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24144531/

Four Ways to Manage Stress on The Spot

The most harmful thing about stress is your negative perception of it. A study by Keller et al. (2012) assessed 28,753 people’s feelings and attitudes towards stress and correlated this to death records. The study shows it isn’t stress that kills people, but rather the belief that stress is harmful. The people who were found most likely to die were more stressed, but also believed stress was harmful. People who were highly stressed but didn’t believe it was harmful were least likely to die. A quote about stress that has always stuck with me was when Kelly McGonigal said at her TED Talk, “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”

The fact is that stress prepares you. The “fight or flight” response by the sympathetic nervous system is designed to prepare you for danger. In the body, the manifestation of stress doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re being chased by a lion or preparing for a final exam, the physiological response is the same. Your heart rate increases, you start breathing faster your palms get sweaty, and your pupils dilate… you’d think these are signs that you’re not coping well. But the reality is that your body is preparing you for a challenge. How you think and how you act can change your experience of stress. The next time you are stressed, think about it as your body preparing you for the challenge.

These four techniques are used by police officers, Navy SEALs, Athletes, Nurses, and the likes to relieve stress and improve mood and concentration immediately. They work by acting directly on the vagus nerve. The main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate (Breit et al., 2018).

Way Number One: Box Breathing

The slow exhale and holding of breath create a buildup of CO2 in the blood. This buildup causes a cardio-inhibitory response by the vagus nerve, slowing heart rate and relaxing the lungs. For best results, box breathing must be deep and slow, diaphragmatic, and performed through the nose.

Way Number Two: Diaphragmatic Breathing

A report on diaphragmatic breathing (Ma et al., 2017) said that it “could improve sustained attention, effect, and cortisol levels. A different report also highlighted that “slow abdominal breathing can reduce sympathetic activity (stress response) and meanwhile could enhance vagus nerve activity (relaxation response.)”

Way Number Three: Deep and Slow Breathing

A medical report (Gerritsen & Band, 2018) provided a neurophysiological model “in which slow respiration and extended exhalation stimulate the vagal nerve.”

Way Number Four: Nasal Breathing

A clinical review (Ruth, 2016) on nasal breathing revealed that it “warms, moistens and filters the air, facilitates inhalation of nitric oxide – a vasodilator and bronchodilator that increases oxygen transport, slows airflow because of the nose’s intricate structures, facilitates correct action of the diaphragm, promotes activity of the parasympathetic nervous system.”

There certainly is a learning curve to these techniques without a doubt, but with some practice, you may just get to see why they’re used by some of the world’s most highly stressed professionals to achieve an instant state of calm focus. You can think about the underlying physiological mechanisms of action to act like the opposite of a panic attack in the body. This is just another example of how physiological awareness is the ultimate tool for day-to-day healthy decision making! If you have any questions about stress management or have any techniques you’d like to share, feel free to drop a comment below.

 

References:

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Gerritsen, R. J. S., & Band, G. P. H. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677–684. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026743

Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., Wei, G.-X., & Li, Y.-F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Ruth, A. R. (2016). The health benefits of nose breathing. Irish Health Repository. https://www.lenus.ie/bitstream/handle/10147/559021/JAN15Art7.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

How Red Wine Can Actually Help You Live Longer

You may have been told by plenty of health-conscious individuals (including myself) that alcohol is terrible for your health and should be avoided. I even wrote an article detailing the effects of alcohol on your body. There is one notable exception: red wine. Red wine is rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, resveratrol and other antioxidants which make it extremely beneficial for one’s health and longevity. Blue Zones’ (regions of the world where people live much longer on average) inhabitants habitually drink red wine.

Beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and heart cells due to red wine consumption have been identified repeatedly in research lab settings. When wine is paired with a physical exercise program, as compared to regular physical exercise alone, LDL to HDL cholesterol ratios improve dramatically. The French paradox is the observation of low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. European research has shown that red wine consumption is associated with a decrease of 24-31% in all cause mortality.

According to a medical report (Ferrières, 2004) “the only clear message is that moderate alcohol drinking (two or three times a day) has a protective effect against CHD. Alcohol intake raises high density lipoprotein (HDH) cholesterol concentrations and approximately 50% of the risk reduction attributable to alcohol consumption is explained by changes in HDL cholesterol.” A different report (Saleem & Basha, 2010) also found that “moderate consumption of red wine helps in preventing CVD through several mechanisms, including increasing the high density lipoprotein cholesterol plasma levels, decreasing platelet aggregation, by antioxidant effects, and by restoration of endothelial function.”

One of my favorite physiologists, Ben Greenfield, has long advocated for drinking red wine and reaping the benefits it has to offer. He likes to point to a European study (Snopek et al., 2018) of Mediterranean university graduates that concluded that red wine drinkers showed significantly lower instances of death and CVD when compared to beer or other types of alcohol drinkers. Like myself, he is also a big fan of how it decreases the risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

I like to recommend wines that come from biodiverse vineyards and that are organic and thus free of the 76 FDA-approved additives. Dry Farm Wines is a great place to buy wine due to their strict criteria for their ingredients. They thoroughly vet every grower and place great emphasis on purity. The wines they bring in from France, Italy and New Zealand are some of my favorites.

Then, there are of course the social benefits of drinking red wine. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “the social effects [of alcohol] may also contribute to health and well being.” It goes beyond just heart health and antioxidants. People need an active social life in order to achieve maximum health. Drinking wine in your social life tends to expose you to different places and people and this is a key part of healthy living.

Here are some wines that I personally recommend:

King Richard’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 (Russian River Valley, USA.) I give this one a 4.8/5. While it’s a bit pricy at $112, it’s the best Pinot I’ve ever had. This was a nice treat I had the chance to enjoy with my family, and it really made for a perfect evening.

Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, USA.) I also give this one a 4.8/5. It costs $95, but is quite exquisite. I do think it could use a couple more years or perhaps even longer decanting. I had this with Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished Filet Mignon, a classic synergistic combination.

Collezione del Barone Barolo 2014. I would give this one a 4.6/5. It’s a budget-friendly Barolo at only $23. I really enjoyed it, but it’s not a Barolo I’d repeat.

Vinum Italicum No.3 Opera (Veneto, Italy.) I would give this one a 4.5/5, which at a price of $35 isn’t bad. I wouldn’t mind drinking this every day, and I gift it and bring it to friendly dinners quite often.

Cannonau di Sardegna 2018 (Sardinia, Italy.) I rate this one 4.5/5, however at a price of $18, it means it’s a really good bargain.

Governo Toscana Rosso 2017 (Toscana, Italy.) I rate this one 4.5/5, which at a price of $15 makes it the best bargain on this list.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2017 (California, USA.) I would give this one a 4.4/5. It costs $21 and is my go-to wine for casual drinking.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2013 (Montepulciano, Italy.) This one I would give a 4.3/5. It’s dry, tannic and smoother than I expected. It costs $30.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza, Argentina.) I rate this one a 4/5. It’s a nice and smooth Cabernet, and quite budget friendly at only $19.

Now, what would an article written by me be if it didn’t mention food? One of the things I love about red wine is finding different pairings with some of my favorite foods. I use the Vivino app to find wines that pair with a specific meal. Alcohol is something that can often be abused and can bring many negative effects to the body and mind. But having a glass of wine with a nice dinner isn’t something that health conscious people should feel guilty about. It brings a lot of pleasure and is actually quite healthy! If you have any questions about healthy wine drinking, feel free to ask below.

 

References:

Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits. (2020, November 12). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/

Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. (2018, July 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099584/

Ferrières, J. (2004, January 1). The French paradox: lessons for other countries. Education in Heart. https://heart.bmj.com/content/90/1/107

Red wine: A drink to your heart. (2010). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3023893/

How to Keep Your Diet Under Control During Quarantine

I don’t know if there’s ever been a time with more stress eating going on than right now. Most Americans have been mostly staying indoors for many months now and Californians are still sheltering in place. Work from home is the new normal for many people and it’s looking like it might stay that way even after the pandemic is past us. As a result, we must acknowledge the possible effects this could have on our personal fitness and adjust accordingly.

Given the limitations of these circumstances, most of us have seen a decrease in our activity levels. We aren’t just exercising less, but we’re performing less activities of daily living too. The calories we typically spend getting to work or class, walking to the store, making our way around town, etc. may seem marginal but they do add up. After all, it takes only 20 excess calories a day to gain 20lb of fat over the course of 10 years. (20 x 365 x 10)/3500 = 20.8 (There are roughly 3500 calories in a pound of fat).

Lately, my diet has been a high-protein variation of a high-fat low-carb diet (HFLC). I’ve upped my protein intake for three reasons: to keep myself full (limits overeating), to maintain as much muscle as possible (for increased performance, longevity, disease prevention), and for its high thermic effect (keeps me from going above maintenance calories). There was a pretty compelling study done a few years ago that backs this method up.

So why High-Fat Low-Carb? Because with less activity and more time sitting around at home, I’m not really tapping into my glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in muscle that we use for energy) like before. To match my typical consumption of carbohydrates would be unwise, as there’s no use, and it would lead to over-saturation of carbs in my body. This would decrease my insulin sensitivity and put me at risk for disease over time.

Fat is the least filling macronutrient, so I pick high-fat ingredients that are high in fiber too. I also consume lots of nuts and seeds which happen to be rich in protein as well. And of course, tons of plants, especially green leafy vegetables. I’m fasting 16 hours daily, eating 3 meals a day and not consuming any snacks. My last meal is the highest in carbs in order to replenish glycogen after my late-afternoon workouts. This way I can replenish my glycogen stores while I sleep and they remain virtually untapped until the next day’s exercise.

In times like these, I also advise people to try and stick to whole food. The small stuff adds up. Try to limit processed carbs and prioritize protein, greens, fiber-rich carbs, and quality fat from plant sources. It takes discipline, but it can be done if you just take it one day at a time.

A lot of people have put on the quarantine fifteen. It’s not hard to gain weight when you are working twenty feet away from your fridge and are forced to be more sedentary than ever before. But like in a sporting event, if you adjust your gameplan accordingly and have the necessary knowledge about what it is you have to execute, you can come out of this pandemic as fit as ever. If you have any questions regarding this article or if there’s something you think I missed, please leave a comment below and I would be happy to discuss it with you!

Reference:

Halton, T. L. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15466943/

Muscle Mass Is About More Than Just Aesthetics

Muscle is the organ of longevity, and you should prioritize either building or maintaining your muscle mass for a longer and better quality of life. Without a doubt it’s easy to get “lost in the sauce,” as they say when you start to make a genuine investment in your health and well-being… but letting your ego get in the way and grinding things out to achieve a certain look or number on the scale is not a longevity mindset. At the very least, it’s important to make an effort to maintain as much as possible while you age. After all, there’s a key difference between lifespan and ACTIVE lifespan.

Accordingly, muscle mass index is a notable predictor of longevity in older adults. Muscle mass, independent of fat mass and cardiovascular risk factors, is actually inversely associated with mortality risk in older adults. These findings suggest that anabolic processes that promote muscle bulk may be associated with longer survival. Changes in body composition, rather than adiposity alone, should be considered when counseling older adults on preventative health behaviors.

On this topic, the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing cannot be understated. Increasing muscle protein synthesis via exercise or protein-based nutrition maintains a strong, healthy muscle mass, which in turn leads to improved health, independence and functionality. The importance of muscle size and strength for longevity and health in humans puts a new spin on the Darwinian idea of “survival of the fittest,” as it is clear that the strongest and fittest individuals are more likely to live longer and healthier lives.

The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs is deeply concerned with the consequences of an increasing elderly population. They estimate that the percentage of the global population above 65, 85, and 100 years of age will increase by 188, 551 and 1004% respectively by 2050. As a consequence, there is a notable increase in the prevalence of “diseases of ageing,” such as sarcopenia, a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with the risk of adverse outcomes such as physical disability, poor quality of life and death. Avoidance of such diseases might not earn you any additional likes on Instagram right now, but it’s a goal that’s a lot more worth striving for.

Moreover, our bodies store carbohydrates as a fuel source called glycogen. Most of this glycogen is found in our muscles (about 400 to 500 grams total.) The more muscle we have, the better we can store carbohydrates. Saturating our muscle mass with glycogen (this is often done by eating too many carbohydrates, and/or not performing enough physical activity) reduces our insulin sensitivity and sets the stage for a number of chronic diseases. Having little muscle means you are at a higher risk for disease. Thus, gaining muscle and maintaining an adequate amount of it as you age will promote a longer lifespan and a better overall quality of life.

Here are my training recommendations for three different categories of developing strength and muscle:

1. Hypertrophy – This can be achieved by lifting 4-6 times a week, 70-85% of 1RM for 8-12 repetitions. A high volume of 30-40 sets per day is recommended with 30-90 seconds rest in between. You will want to maintain a moderate speed, emphasize eccentric contractions of large prime movers and focus on isolated lifts.

2. Strength – This can be achieved by lifting 2-4 times a week, 70-100% of 1RM for 1-5 repetitions. A lower volume of 15-24 sets per day is recommended with 2-3 minutes of rest in between. You will want to maintain maximum speed and emphasize concentric muscle contractions of prime movers and stabilizers.

3. Power – This can be achieved by lifting 3-5 times a week, 30-100% of 1RM for 1-5 repetitions. You would want to emphasize acceleration so that you can increase neuromuscular efficiency. You are also looking to maximize fiber recruitment. The recommended volume varies based on the type of activity and the rest in between sets can vary between 30 seconds and 7 minutes. The amount of rest depends on if emphasis is on force or velocity. You also want to go for maximum speed and emphasize concentrics, power lifts, Olympic lifts and plyometrics.

Your approach to fitness should also vary based on whether you are looking to gain or maintain muscle mass. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, you should be consuming a caloric surplus of 10-20% or about 500 calories daily. You should be consuming a moderate amount of protein, about 15% of daily caloric intake. Prioritizing carbs and quality fat as opposed to protein is recommended and you should avoid or at least limit fasting.

Maintaining muscle mass requires a different approach. You want to strive for caloric maintenance and higher protein consumption. Two different ways you can measure the amount of recommended protein consumption is to either aim for .75-1 gram a day for each pound that you weigh or 25% of your intake. Not only do you want to aim for a high protein intake, but you should also aim to consume lots of complex carbs with fiber. Intermittent fasting is also recommended, from 14:10 up to 16:8.

In both cases, you want to prioritize whole food and a wide range of amino acids and complete proteins. No protein powders or mass gainers are required, although you could consider creatine supplementation for increased power output and hypertrophy. My first Youtube video from a few months back outlines the top evidence-based strategies for muscle maintenance and is worth checking out!

I hope that I was able to highlight how growing and maintaining muscle mass is more important than just for posing on social media. With careful preparation and hard work in both the gym and the kitchen, you can do what’s best for your body now as well as down the line. If you have any further questions about gaining or maintaining muscle mass, or about how to improve your training routine, feel free to ask below and I’ll be happy to help.

References:

McLeod, M. (2016). Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26791164/

Moore, D. R. (2009). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19056590/

Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., Prior, T., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2008). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), 161–168. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401

Srikanthan, P. (2014). Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24561114/

World Population Aging 2019. (2019). Un.org. https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WorldPopulationAgeing2019-Highlights.pdf

Pharmacological Effects of CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis sativa plant. It was discovered in 1940 and has undergone extensive clinical research ever since. Unlike THC, it’s not psychoactive (it won’t get you high), yet it exerts a plethora of beneficial pharmacological effects. Today, there are millions of CBD-infused products out there. The biggest difference between them is the speed of delivery and how long the effects last. For example, vapes work quickly but don’t last long, while tinctures take much longer, but can last all day. CBD has grown in popularity recently and I hope that I am able to provide you with some helpful information to help you decide whether it may be right for you.

There is a lot of research that supports CBD products in treating all kinds of pain, lowering inflammation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep. I personally use CBD from Kronic Releaf. What’s even more incredible is that their products contain other ingredients like Himalayan Pink Salt, Olive Oil, Bees Wax, Aloe Vera Extract, and Turmeric Root Extract which have their own set of tremendous benefits and work in synergy with CBD.

It’s also used to treat several very serious illnesses and the effects including:

 

Type 1 Diabetes and Diabetic Complications

CBD exerts beneficial actions against diabetes and some of its complications. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective actions of CBD could contribute to these protective effects (Izzo et al., 2009). CBD is known for its presumed anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and calming effects. Some reasons that people with type one diabetes are utilizing CBD include:

  • Type one diabetes-related anxiety
  • Peripheral neuropathy/chronic nerve pain
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Lowering cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular complications
  • General anti-inflammatory purposes

 

Cancer

There’s substantial evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids can decrease tumor growth in animal models of cancer (Velasco et al., 2016). Additionally, according to the National Cancer Institute, CBD may also enhance uptake or increase the potency of certain drugs used to treat cancer.

CBD has shown interesting pro-apoptotic properties in cancer cell lines. The most studied phytocannabinoid is CBD. CBD induces increases in [CA2+]I, thereby stimulating ROS production and causing apoptosis. In vivo, CBD inhibits glaucoma growth and experimental breast carcinoma (Izzo et al., 2009)

 

Psychosis

Research on the effects of CBD has been undertaken for many neuropsychiatric conditions. CBD is the only cannabinoid to have been evaluated for possible antipsychotic effects. Izzo et al. (2009) suggest that it exerts antipsychotic actions and is associated with fewer adverse effects compared with “typical antipsychotics.”

 

Epilepsy

An experimental study (Devinsky et al., 2018) has also suggested that CBD exerts anti-epileptic actions. The FDA recently approved the use of Epidiolex (a plant-based formulation of CBD) to treat seizures for people 2 years of age and older with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

 

Bone Formation

Research suggests that CBD as well as D9-THCV (via CB1 antagonism) have been suggested to exert anti-epileptic actions in experimental studies.

Standard medication has adverse effects on the body over time and you will eventually build a tolerance— requiring more and more for the same response. However, of 132 acute and chronic studies in humans reviewed by Bergamaschi et al., none reported a tolerance to CBD, and all described an impressive safety profile for a wide array of side effects.

 

Many people question whether CBD is safe to use, due to it being found in marijuana, which is still federally illegal as of this time. But the experts are really excited for the possibilities that it brings in treating patients and don’t think there is a risk of serious side effects, like other medications. A medical study (Iffland & Grotenhermen, 2017) confirmed its favorable safety profile. It was also determined that chronic use and high doses up to 1,500mg per day is well tolerated by humans.

I’m personally well-convinced of its safety and it’s positive effects. I also think that there are probably multiple readers who stand to benefit from giving it a try. If you have any further questions about CBD use, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to try and point you in the right direction.

 

 

References:

Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H. C., Chagas, M. H. N., de Oliveira, D. C. G., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., Quevedo, J., Roesler, R., Schröder, N., Nardi, A. E., Martín-Santos, R., Hallak, J. E. C., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. S. (2011). Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219–1226. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.6

Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. (2020, November 6). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq

Effect of Cannabidiol on Drop Seizures in the Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome. (2018). The New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1714631

Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 2(1), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0034

Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. (2009). Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 30(12), 609. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tips.2009.10.007

The use of cannabinoids as anticancer agents. (2016, January 4). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278584615001190?via%3Dihub