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Healthy Exercise & Lifestyle Plan (HELP)-Great Alchemy

Healthy Exercise & Lifestyle Plan (HELP)

By | Blog, looking good, Men's Health, women's health

Use the information included in this document as a general guide. Each suggestion is designed to help you get started on a healing journey.

healthy-excercise-planThere’s no guarantee that if you integrate one (or all) of these suggestions that your body will spontaneously heal itself; however, if you put these healthy exercise & lifestyle suggestions to work, we can promise you that will start to feel healthier, happier, stronger, and more alive.

Exercise and Lifestyle

Get outside, oxygenate your body, fell the sun on your skin and face, crank up your body’s natural Vitamin D machinery. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking, six days a week can make a tremendous difference. Looking for something more strenuous? Try cycling, hiking, swimming, running, or tennis?  If you can’t exercise outdoors (during the winter or maybe you live in an unsafe neighborhood), join a gym, sign up for a CrossFit or Fitwall class, join a salsa or tango dance class (super fun), buy a mini-trampoline and jog on it while watching your favorite TV show, crank up the music and dance in your living room like no one’s watching, work up a healthy sweat — it feels good.

Move Your Pelvis

A healthy pelvis is the key to a happy body. Activities like yoga, Pilates, and Qi Gong activate all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, and lymphatic system in and around the pelvis. When your pelvis is open and balanced, the lymph fluid (plasma) moves easily, which boots your immune system and allows the interstitial fluid to circulate freely. A stagnant, misaligned pelvis will multiply (and in some cases cause) your urologic symptoms.


A plant-based, whole food diet like the Paleo Diet is the vital to a health body. The Paleo Diet is based on how humans ate in their native state 15,000 years ago — before the agricultural revolution shifted us from hunter/gathers to grain eaters. The Paleo Diet is comprised of approximately 65-80 percent fruits and vegetables, (which tend to alkalinize your body) and the rest is lean animal protein. We can’t say enough about selecting animal products that are free of all the chemicals, antibiotics, and other junk associated with conventional agriculture. We highly recommend that all your meat be grass fed, hormone-free, antibiotic free — preferably wild (fish) or organic if you can afford it. Also, we strongly recommend against eating soy in any form: soymilk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and so on.

Digestive Enzymes

If you haven’t already, start taking digestive enzymes such as Bromeline (from pineapples). Pancreatic enzymes also help with digestion. Once these enzymes are done breaking down the protein you ate for lunch or dinner, they go to work on cancer in your body.

Community Heals

Connecting with your community (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, religious group, people who share your interests and values) is critical when it comes to feeling vibrant and alive. If you tend towards isolation (TV and books), social media (Facebook and Twitter), reach out to real live human beings and invite them to join you for a cup of coffee or tea, the movies, a trip to a local museum, or an excursion on a local hiking trail. Whatever you do, do it with a friend. Being part of something outside yourself promotes friendship and a feeling of belonging. Community heals. Disease festers in isolation.

Help Others

Nothing snaps you out of a funk faster than helping people who are less fortunate than you. Volunteering is an excellent way to feel better about yourself. Do you enjoy spending time with seniors, children, pets, veterans, people with disabilities, or people in recovery? Do you have a special skill or talent that you could offer a local nonprofit or religious organization (medical, carpentry, accounting, taxes, organizing, marketing, you name it)? Just a couple of hours per week of helping other people will take the emphasis off your own worries and concerns.

Environmental Estrogens

Avoid estrogenic compounds in food (soy), water (most plastic water bottles leach estrogen-like chemicals into the water), and personal products (lotions and shampoos). Maintaining a healthy estrogen balance is critical to your health, especially as you age. Environmental estrogen exposure has been linked to breast cancer in women and a host of prostate issues in men.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

The World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen since 1988. Regular heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk for seven different types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon, oral, and liver. We strongly recommend that you limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day.

Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoking is harmful for every body — the smoker, the people near the smoker, even the smoker’s unconceived offspring. Smoking doubles the risk of death from all causes between the ages of 35-69. Smoking while you drink is a lethal combination that amplifies the worst aspects of both habits. There are numerous ways to stop smoking. Click here for more information.

Biofeedback/Stress Reduction

Stress is associated with every major illness, including cancer. Lowering your stress level is perhaps the most important thing you can do to avoid cancer and other urologic diseases. It’s easier than you think. In addition to the anti-stress programs we offer at Choices in Health, there are several excellent books, audio programs, and DVDs on the market. Click here for more information.


The antidote to stress is meditation. The healing power of meditation is greatly underplayed in Western cultures. A great story about how meditation heals is that of Australian author, Ian Gawler, who healed himself of bone cancer through meditation. All it takes is 20 minutes twice a day.

Resolve Past Traumas

The mind-body connection between unresolved emotional issues and illness is well documented. For example, feelings of helplessness generate an inflammatory response that facilitates the growth and spread of tumors. If you know you’re dragging around some demons from your past, there are lots of different kinds of therapy that can help. For more information about these techniques, click here.

Have Fun

Last but not least, have fun. Life is short — even if you live to be 100. If you delay happiness by saying, “I’ll let myself be happy when (I get a new job, a new car, the kids move out, we buy a house, pay for the house … and so on), it might never happen. Instead of waiting, we recommend that you give yourself a little dose of happiness every day. Take 20 minutes out of every day to (It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day):

  • Finish reading that novel you started last year (or start a new one)
  • Play with your kids
  • Practice playing a musical instrument
  • Study a second language
  • Paint
  • Write
  • Dance
  • Sing
  • You get the idea

You’ll be surprised what an impact this simple practice will have on your level of happiness

If you have any questions, be sure to call me at 303-554-4444.

Thank you and be well,

Dr. Emilia Ripoll M.D.

The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar

By | Blog, looking good, women's health

By Dr. Emilia A. Ripoll, M.D.

Sugar 2If you’ve ever visited Dr. Joseph Mercola’s Web site and viewed any of his articles on sugar, or seen Dr. Robert Lustig’s The Skinny on Obesity series on You Tube, then you already have a good understanding about how toxic sugar is and how America’s addiction to it has hijacked our national health.

Both Mercola and Lustig focus on fructose as one of the main culprits behind the decline in the health of Americans and the rampant rise in diseases linked to obesity (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer). I agree, and I would like to broaden the discussion to include simple carbohydrates such as sugar and other sweeteners.

As I mentioned in a previous article, “What’s the Best Diet?”, it’s not that carbohydrates are inherently bad. They’re not. The real villains in the consumption of simple carbohydrates are the rise in blood sugar, which is followed by increased levels of the hormones insulin and leptin.

The aging and inflammatory effect on our bodies caused by elevated levels of insulin and leptin are both sad and preventable. As a physician, I feel compelled to inform my patients and friends how to avoid these pitfalls and enjoy fuller and healthier lives.

Let’s take a look at five prevailing myths about sugar and see how debunking these myths liberates you from old unhealthy habits.

Myth #1: A Calorie Is a Calorie

A calorie is NOT a calorie.

The antiquated “calories-in versus calories-out” model that treats all calories as equal is thoroughly dismantled and discredited by Gary Taubes in his best-selling book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in health or has ever struggled with their weight.

As Taubes points out, different amounts of the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates may all contain the same number of calories, but these calories are not metabolized the same way in the body. This often misunderstood, yet extremely important, concept is the key to understanding why diet is so important to your health. As Lustig puts it, different foods may be “equi-caloric, but not equi-metabolic.”

Most carbohydrates are metabolized with the help of Insulin. (Fructose is metabolized though a different pathway — more on that in a minute — and green leafy vegetables generally have such a low glycemic index that they require only minute amounts of insulin). I should also add that Insulin is not normally involved with protein or fat metabolism.

For example, let’s use the simplest carbohydrate your likely to eat: refined sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is that wonderful white stuff that turns normally bitter coffee into sweet seduction. Sucrose is made up of two smaller sugar molecules: glucose and fructose. It is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.

With the help of insulin, glucose is metabolized by every cell in your body (bones, brain, and everything in between). This process happens even before the first molecule of glucose in your coffee hits your bloodstream.

Like Pavlov’s dogs that drooled when they heard a bell, the mere anticipation of receiving sugar is enough to cause your pancreas to start producing insulin. Once the sweet receptors on your tongue signal that something yummy is on the way, insulin production shifts into gear.

This adaptation is essential to your health, as it is insulin’s job is to move glucose out of your blood stream, where it can cause all sorts of problems (diabetes being the most dramatic), and into your cells where it is either used right away or stored for later use.

Fructose follows a different pathway where it is metabolized only in the liver and stored directly as fat.

So eating sugar (glucose plus fructose) is a double whammy in the fat production and storage department. If you take home only one thing from this article, let it be this: The more simple carbohydrates you consume, the more fat your body stores.

For people trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, cutting back on foods and beverages that contain sugar and other insulin-producing sweeteners is much smarter than restricting their consumption of proteins and fats (even though fats contain twice as many calories per volume as carbohydrates).

If you just said to yourself, Wow, that’s so simple. You’re right. It is simple… but it’s not easy.

Why? Because sugar tastes really, really good. So do all of sugar’s metabolic equivalents: evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, and fruit juice concentrate. Food manufacturers have been taking advantage of this simple biological fact for decades, which is why sweeteners are so prevalent in processed foods.

I invite you to walk down any isle in any supermarket and start looking at the labels. Pay attention to the ingredients and “sugars,” listed in grams. Both Mercola and Lustig recommend no more than 15 grams of fructose per day. Depending on the sweetener, fifteen grams of fructose means approximately 30 grams of total sugar, which is enough to shift some people out of fat burning mode and into fat storage mode.

For a real shocker, begin your exploration of product labels in the breakfast cereal isle.

Myth #2: “Natural Sweeteners” are Better for You than Sugar

Life would be so much easier if this were true.

Sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and high fructose corn syrup all contain roughly equal amounts of glucose and fructose.

This may be a particularly difficult concept to get your mind around because we’ve been taught that honey and maple syrup are “natural” products, so they have to be better for you than high fructose corn syrup. Sadly, that’s not the case. Evaporated cane juice is a natural product too — before it is further dehydrated and refined into table sugar.

Agave syrup has a low glycemic index (GI = 30, which is lower than apples), and its high fructose content makes it “sweeter” than sugar. In fact, agave can be upwards of 90 percent fructose (table sugar is 50 percent fructose). Because fructose is metabolized into fat in the liver, even with agave’s low glycemic index, it still promotes fat storing instead of fat burning.

There are three natural sweeteners that don’t contain fructose at all: brown rice syrup, stevia, and luo han guo. One of them is laden with arsenic, one is available in health food stores, and the other I’ve only seen on the Internet.

Brown rice syrup is a nutty, buttery tasting syrup created by cooking rice (usually white rice) with enzymes derived from barley sprouts and then decanting the excess water. Brown rice syrup’s glycemic index is relatively low (25), but its composition is weighted heavily towards glucose; hence, it triggers an even larger insulin pulse than regular sugar.

Brown rice syrup’s biggest health problem is not the insulin production it triggers but the arsenic it contains. Beginning in early 2012, the FDA reported large amounts of arsenic showing up two infant formulas whose main ingredient was brown rice syrup. These formulas had six times the recommended arsenic levels for drinking water (10 parts per billion). Subsequent reports have shown that some organic brown rice samples also contain alarmingly high levels of arsenic.

The high levels of arsenic in rice and rice products (brown rice syrup, rice cereals, rice cakes) are thought to come from rice fields that once grew cotton. According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, lead-arsenate pesticide residue continues to linger in soils were cotton was once grown, even though these chemicals were banned in the 1980s.

The smart thinking on brown rice syrup is to avoid it until this arsenic issue is resolved. For more information, I highly recommend this Consumer Reports article on rice, brown rice syrup, and arsenic.

Stevia is derived from the leaves of plants in the sunflower family that are native to semitropical and tropical areas of South and Central America. Stevia contains no sugars, no calories, has a glycemic index of zero, and is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Some people don’t like the taste of stevia; they find that stevia doesn’t satisfy their sweet tooth. Fair enough. But it won’t make you fat or increase your chances of developing a host of inflammatory diseases related to elevated insulin and leptin exposure (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and others).

From a health perspective, Stevia is one of the better sweeteners. Nevertheless, the pancreas’ reaction to the stimulation of the sweet receptors on the tongue still causes an increase in insulin production — even if the anticipated glucose never arrives.

There were some studies in the 1980s that showed that daily Stevia use was linked to cancer of the penis in rats; however, the vast majority of subsequent studies has contradicted these early findings.

Since 2000, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, and the FDA have all consider stevia as “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS.

Like stevia, sweeteners made from the luo han guo fruit (sometimes called Buddha fruit or monk fruit) are 300 times sweeter than sugar, contain zero calories, and have a glycemic index of zero. Luo han guo is a member of the gourd family and has been cultivated by Buddhist monks in southern China and northern Thailand since the 13th century; however, it did not appear in North America until the late 20th century.

Traditionally, luo han guo has been used in beverages designed to cool the body (hot weather, fever, hot flashes, and inflammation). In 2009, the FDA granted luo han guo GRAS status. No restrictions were placed on consuming the fruit or using its extracts as sweeteners.

As of the writing of this article, the only place I’ve been able to find Luo han guo is online.

Myth #3: Drinking Sugar Is OK

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take a trip down the beverage isle of your local market and look at how many grams of “sugars” are in Coke, Pepsi, AriZona Tea, Monster Energy Drinks, Red Bull, and the like.

According to Lustig and other experts, drinking one 12 oz. can of Coke per day for a year (that’s 10 extra teaspoons of sugar a day or roughly 30 pounds of sugar per year) will result in 15 additional pounds of fat — just from drinking one sugary soft drink every day.

Maybe New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was right after all.

The simple truth is that drinking sugar is drinking sugar — no matter where the sugar comes from — Pepsi or organic apple juice. Both beverages have the same amount of sugar per volume.

The only advantage of drinking juice is the moderate amount of vitamins and minerals. Also, if you drink apple or orange juice that contains a lot of fiber (pulp), the fiber will slow the rate of carbohydrate absorption in the small intestine, which will minimally suppresses insulin production, and induce some measure of satiety. None of which happens when drinking a Pepsi.

Perhaps the biggest problem with drinking sugar is that the fructose in high fructose corn syrup (the sweetener in most sodas and energy drinks) does not suppress the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which tells your brain that your stomach is full. This is how you can drink a 64-ounce Big Gulp of soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and still feel hungry 20 minutes later.

The other major hunger-suppression hormone, leptin, is produced by your fat cells, and works to signal your brain when your fat cells are either hungry or not. Insufficient leptin levels signal your brain that your fat cells are hungry; an abundance of leptin tells your brain that your fat cells feel satisfied.

As with insulin, if your body is exposed to too much leptin for too long, it becomes resistant to this hormone, and the once functional feedback system breaks down — and inflammation and early aging ensue.

When your body is awash in insulin from eating a high-sugar/high-carbohydrate diet, sugar is metabolized in your fat cells. When this happens, your fat cells release leptin, which should tell your brain that your fat cells don’t need any more food. However, that doesn’t happen if your brain has adjusted to this “new normal” of high leptin levels.

According to Taubes, even though your leptin levels are high (which should trigger your brain to control hunger), your fat cells actually begin acting like a tumor, requesting more and more energy (sugar), until you are essentially eating to keep your fat cells satisfied to the detriment of the rest of your body.

Experts including Mercola, Lustig, and Taubes believe that the only way to break this cycle of insulin and leptin overload is through a low-sugar/low-carbohydrate diet that includes healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil avocados, nuts, butter, and animal fats) and moderate amounts of protein.

Myth #4: Exercise is the Answer

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle; however, you cannot exercise your way to health if you are eating a high-sugar/high carbohydrate diet — even if you are exercising multiple hours a day to burn more calories than you take in.

The problem isn’t a lack of calories burned (or being weak willed or lazy). The problem is that a diet high in simple carbohydrates (glucose and fructose) stores abundant amounts of fat. Once this fat-storing condition (with its high levels of insulin and leptin), becomes your “set point,” your body will actually shift energy away from your muscles and your reproductive system in order to keep your fat cells well fed.

Myth #5: What I Eat and Drink Doesn’t Affect Anyone but Me

I understand the sentiment. The reality, however, is a different story.

The ripple effect of our dietary choices quickly goes far beyond the boundaries of our skin to include our families, our communities, our work force, our country, and even our planet.

According to the CDC, the global cost of treating metabolic syndrome (the symptoms of which include obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, hypertension, excessive fat in the blood, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and dementia) accounts for 75 percent of all global health care expenses.

The CDC also estimates that the global cost of just treating type 2 diabetes is $150 billion per year.

Here’s a little graphic from the CDC that I think brings the message home.

Year            Global Sugar Consumption                Global Diabetes Rate

1985                   98 million tons                                        30 million people
2010                 160 million tons                                      346 million people

Within one generation, the global sugar consumption almost doubled. In that same time period, however, the diabetes rate increased more than 11 times. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to see that we have reached the tipping point.

What Can You Do?

Here are five simple suggestions you can do to shift you diet away from sugar and other simple carbohydrates.

  1.  Drink water instead of sodas, energy drinks, and fruit juice. This switch might feel like a punishment for the first couple of weeks, but soon you’ll start to crave the clean, clear quenching quality of water. I recommend you drink purified water that comes in glass bottles, because plastic bottles leach phytoestrogens into the water.
  2. Read the label on any food that comes in a box, bag, bottle, or can. Select products for yourself and your family that contain the smallest amount of sweeteners and sugars. All this reading of labels may sound like it will dramatically extend the time you spend at the market, but you will quickly learn to spot products that are “unsweetened.” Actually, Spot the Sugar is a healthy game to play with your kids.
  3. Visit your local health food store and pick up some stevia. You may find it satisfies your sweet tooth. And with zero calories and a glycemic index of zero, it is perhaps the best sweetener.
  4. Introduce salads and other green leafy vegetables into your diet plan. Eating five to seven servings of vegetables a day will have a dramatic effect on your health.
  5. Replace traditional snack foods with seeds and nuts. Raw or dry roasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios make great between-meal snacks. They contain healthy oils that satisfy your appetite without raising your insulin level. Avoid “roasted” nuts because they are cooked in unhealthy omega-6 oils, which denature the proteins in the nuts.

If you have any questions or concerns, please leave us a comment.

High Intensity Interval Training 101

By | Blog, looking good

By Tom Bunn, L.Ac.

dreamstime_11806256Boulder, Colorado, where I live and practice Chinese Medicine, is a Mecca for all sorts of athletic training: running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, rock climbing, martial arts… you name it. There are more gyms than coffee shops. If you add up the all the yoga, Pilates, dance, and martial arts studios, they outnumber the grocery stores. Then there’s all the multi-use paths and hiking trails.

Every day, I treat people (men and women, young and old) who are trying to lose weight, improve their fitness, recover from injuries, and generally look and feel their best. As you can imagine, I field a lot of questions about how to get there.

Here’s what I tell my patients: There’s no one-size-fits-all magic pill — especially when you factor in age, injuries, lifestyle, body composition, general health, and overall fitness level. And that’s OK. Thankfully, you don’t need to be Tarzan or Jane (or look like them) to receive all the physiological, psychological, and emotional benefits of exercise.

Regardless of your age, physical condition, or schedule, you can still receive a huge benefit from exercise in about an hour a week. And no, I’m not trying to sell you the latest home fitness gizmo that fits under the bed when you’re not using it.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The idea behind high intensity interval exercise dates back to the Stone Age. Our ancestors (whose physiological prototype we’re still walking around in today), were the “hunter/gatherers” most of us learned about in elementary school. They spent the majority of their time walking from place to place as they gathered things to eat: plants, roots, seeds, nuts, eggs, fruit, insects, whatever they could get their hands on. They also sprinted in short bursts while chasing after prey (or more importantly) avoiding becoming the prey of some other animal.

Not surprisingly, the benefits of combining low-intensity exercise like walking with high-intensity exercise like sprinting has millenniums’ worth of data to support it.

Depending upon your schedule and where you live, you can do the low-intensity exercise while taking a walk around the neighborhood before work or after dinner — maybe with your partner, your children, your dog, or just by yourself. In addition to walking, gentle hiking, yoga, or bike riding at an easy pace are all good ways to get low-intensity exercise.

When it comes to high intensity interval training (HIIT), there is no master formula. Instead, there are a lot of variations on a central theme. Here is a sample of five different formulas:

  1. 60 seconds of HIIT, followed by 2 minutes of active recovery
  2. 30 seconds of HIIT, followed by 45 seconds of active recovery
  3. 30 seconds of HIIT, followed by 60 seconds of active recovery
  4. 30 seconds of HIIT, followed by 90 seconds of active recovery
  5. 20 seconds of HIIT, followed by 10 seconds of active recovery

As you can see, it’s a flexible system. The pattern with all of these formulas is short bursts of intensity followed by short periods of active recovery (moving slowly while you breathe vigorously to repay your “oxygen debt” and your heart rate comes back down).

The beauty of HIIT is you can take advantage of its benefits regardless of your age, fitness level, or schedule. The particular formula of high intensity interval training I advocate takes 16 minutes per workout and can be done while using any of the following equipment:

  • elliptical cross trainer (arms and legs)
  • rowing machine (arms and legs)
  • elliptical glider (legs)
  • exercise bike (legs)
  • stair-stepper machine (legs)

Doing an HIIT workout on a treadmill is not recommended because of the potential for falling as you focus your attention on adjusting the controls. (Remember: First, do no harm.)

HIIT can also be done while:

  • running
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • cross-country skiing
  • climbing stairs
  • calisthenics
  • speed walking
  • or whatever exercise modality works best for you

The format is simple: 30 seconds of the highest level of effort you can maintain for the full 30 seconds followed by 90 seconds of active recovery.

Each cycle takes two minutes, and you repeat the cycle eight times — for a total of 16 minutes. Add in a few minutes to warm up before and a couple to cool down after, and you’re done in 20-25 minutes.

Ideally, you want to perform this workout (all eight cycles) three times a week; however, unless you are a well-trained athlete, you will need to work up to that level of intensity.

I recommend starting with one HIIT workout for the first week. I also recommend that you start slowly with only one to four of these two-minute cycles during that first workout. During the second week, you can increase the number cycles. Depending upon your fitness level, it may take you a couple of weeks before you feel up doing to all eight cycles. That’s normal.

Once you start to see results (improved stamina, weight loss, mental clarity, and an overall feeling of wellness), I hope you’ll find that the level of exertion in these exercises becomes sweet pain — or at least not drudgery. (Note: As with all strenuous exercise, it’s more fun if you have a workout partner or a personal trainer to help you stay motivated.)

When you can do all eight cycles without excessive muscle soreness or fatigue (during or after), I recommend moving up to two HIIT workouts per week. When your body gets more comfortable with that level of exertion, you’re ready to move on to three HIIT sessions per week. Don’t be surprised if it takes your several weeks or even months to reach three sessions per week.

Because HIIT is a flexible system, there is a built-in allowance for those days when going “flat out” eight times in a row is not in the cards (lack of sleep, not enough to eat, too much fun the night before, whatever the reason). On those days, pick two cycles in the middle of the eight that you are only going to do at 80 percent (instead of all out). I recommend numbers five and six, which allows you to go hard on cycles one through four, ease up on five and six, and then finish strong. You could also alternate between fast and 80 percent if that pattern works better for you on those “off” days.

A few words of caution about overtraining and injuries

First and foremost, listen to your body. Even though you might be really excited about experiencing the benefits of HIIT, your body may are not on the same page. Instead of rushing in and possibly hurting yourself, go slowly and allow your body to dictate the pace and intensity of your training. As you adapt to this new form of exercise, your body will reap the benefits, and allow you safely move further into the zone of high-intensity training.

If you have injuries that flare up either during the 30-second high-intensity portion of these exercises or after the workout, you either need to make some modifications that allow you to workout without pain or find a different exercise modality that doesn’t cause problems for your injured areas. The 30-second segments of this workout are painful enough as it is; you don’t need the extra baggage of additional aches and pains on top of that.

While this type of high-intensity exercise isn’t easy, the benefits are amazing. Let’s take a look at what the experts have to say.

Fitness, Health, and Human Growth Hormone

Efficient: One of the reasons sports physiologists and coaches believe HIIT works better than traditional long, slow exercise is because all the muscles in your body are involved in an all-out effort — you are pumping your arms and legs as fast as they can go. One 2006 study found that 2.5 hours of HIIT produced similar bio-mechanical muscular changes as 10.5 hours of traditional endurance training. (That’s the same results in ¼ of the time.)

Heart Health: Numerous HIIT studies have shown improved serum lipid profiles, reduced blood pressure, and inflammatory markers, as well as reduced risk of stroke, acute coronary syndrome, and overall cardiovascular mortality. For a summary of this information, click here.

Lung Function: According to Dr. Al Sears, MD (the founder of PACE training), by the time most people reach the age of 50, they have lost 40 percent of their lung function, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke (first-time and fatal), and death from all causes. This chronic lack of oxygen leaves people feeling weak, fatigued, light headed, and out of breath. HIIT not only restores lung function, it also burns fat.

Fat Burning (aka weight loss): The high-intensity portion of an HIIT workout (especially when the high-intensity portions last longer than 20 seconds) burns the stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in your muscles. After the workout is over, the body switches to fat-burning mode as it replaces the glycogen that your muscles just used.

HIIT also lowers insulin resistance and burns fat more effectively than longer, slower workouts. Several studies have demonstrated an increase in insulin sensitivity (24 -34 percent improvement) after four weeks of HIIT training. “Insulin sensitivity” is the measure of how much of the pro-inflammatory hormone insulin is required to move glucose from the bloodstream and into the body’s cells. Reducing insulin levels in the bloodstream is a positive marker for lowering both cellular and systemic inflammation, which are pre-conditions for diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Human Growth Hormone: Research from fitness expert Phil Campbell, the author of Ready, Set, Go, shows that a 20-minute HIIT workout can increase HGH levels 771 percent for up to two hours after the workout. If it weren’t for the fact that you feel so tired after a HIIT workout, that should be considered doping.

Gets Results (even for well-trained athletes): A 2009 study by Driller et al. reported an 8.2 second improvement in 2000 meter rowing times following 4 weeks of HIIT in well-trained rowers. A 2010 study in Cell Metabolism demonstrated that DNA gene expression changed in a way that increased VO2Max (maximum oxygen consumption) in the muscles of healthy but inactive people who took part in HIIT training. Several of these affected genes are involved in fat metabolism (fat burning).

The take home message is that high intensity interval training improves health, diminishes disease, and burns fat. I recommend you give it a try. Please let us know how it works for you.


What’s the Best Diet?

By | Blog, looking good, women's health

By Dr. Emilia Ripoll, M.D.

Diet image same woman redheadPatients frequently ask me, “What’s the best diet?”

I tell them that’s a hard question to answer because everybody’s body is different. One person might do really well on a particular diet, and that same diet causes all sorts of problems for someone else.

What I can say for sure is that the word “diet” is a misnomer. If you are “dieting” to lose weight, when you lose the weight, you’ll probably go off the diet, and the weight will most likely return. This kind of yo-yo dieting will drive you insane in the long run, cripple your self-esteem, and wreak havoc on your metabolism.

The only way to lose weight and keep it off permanently is to change your lifestyle — including your relationship with food (the types of food you eat), your exercise habits, and your stress level.

In addition, your interactions with other people also matter. For example, if you routinely enjoy the company of family, friends, or co-workers, you are less likely to feel stressed out about your finances, your kids,  your love life, and so on.  You’re also less apt to be lounging on the couch late at night watching TV reruns, and mindlessly grazing on your favorite comfort food.

The best lifestyle advice I can offer is this: When all else fails, take simple carbs off your plate.

Regardless which diet plan you adopt, if you want to be healthy, it’s critical to stop consuming sweeteners (in foods and beverages), stop eating fast food (yes, that includes pizza), and give up processed foods altogether (the “food” in those bags and boxes is killing people).

According to Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It, the consumption of refined carbohydrate is inescapably linked to “Western diseases” (cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, periodontal disease, and others).

“These diseases and conditions are common in societies that eat Western diets and live modern lifestyles, and they’re uncommon, if not nonexistent, in societies that don’t… Colon cancer is ten times more common in rural Connecticut than Nigeria. Alzheimer’s disease is far more common among Japanese Americans than among Japanese living in Japan; it’s twice as common among African American as among rural Africans.”

Taubes goes on to point out that when indigenous people (Native Americans, Inuit, Maasai, Kikuyu, and people from several South Pacific Islands) were introduced to flour and sugar — Western diseases (cancer, heart disease, and so on) followed.

I also cannot overstress the importance of eating several helpings of fresh vegetables (preferably organic) every day. The majority of vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of phytochemicals that fight cancer, antioxidants that inhibit the formation of disease-causing free radicals, fiber that aids digestion, and low-glycemic carbs that produce a gradual rise in blood sugar.

In my experience, a low-glycemic diet is the most successful lifelong diet plan. The Paleo Diet and the Okinawan Diet are excellent examples of low-glycemic diets because they provide your body with all the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients without bogging it down with inflammatory foods that erase all the good work you’re doing to keep your body fit and healthy.

A low-glycemic diet is different from most “diets” because it focuses on food types rather than counting calories (although calories are still important). The words “low glycemic” refer to carbohydrates that are metabolized slowly and do not produce a spike in insulin, which is a pro-inflammatory hormone that increases inflammation on both the cellular and systemic levels. Insulin also stimulates the liver to produce fat. In general, the lower you eat on the glycemic index (GI) the better. For example, an apple has a glycemic index of 40 (low), but watermelon is 72 (high); oatmeal has a GI of 55 (medium), while Cornflakes™ are 93 (high); and carrots have a GI of 35 (low), but a baked potato is 111 (very high).

The skinny on insulin is that if your body is releasing it into your blood stream, you’re not burning fat. If you want to burn fat (i.e. lose weight), it is crucial to restrict your intake of carbohydrates, which stimulate the production of insulin. Notice that I didn’t say eliminate carbohydrates. Carbohydrate restriction takes some getting used to — especially if carbs have been a big part of your diet. The idea of limiting our carbohydrate intake also goes against all the low-fat misinformation we’ve been fed by well-intended sources for decades. Many people think, “Oh my God. If I don’t eat carbs, what am I going to eat?” The answer is lots of vegetables (themselves a very low-glycemic, high-fiber, high-water content carbohydrate); a moderate amount of protein (a cigarette-pack size portion per day is fine for most people); and high-quality fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and nuts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about not eating carbs is losing that feeling of being full and still looking to satisfy the craving for something sweet like ice cream or brownies. The curious paradox about eating a low-carb diet is that you will probably take in more calories than before — and lose weight.

Perhaps this paradox really isn’t one at all, as Dr. Loren Cordain, Ph.D. explains in his book, The Paleo Diet: Syndrome X diseases (type 2 diabetes; heart disease; hypertension; high levels of fat in the blood; obesity; polycystic ovary syndrome; myopia; acne; as well as cancer of the breast, prostate, and colon) are all linked to high levels of insulin in the bloodstream. In other words, the insulin your body secretes after eating sweet, starchy carbohydrates causes all sorts of problems and makes you fat.

Plant-based, whole-food diets like the Okinawa Diet or the Paleo Diet nourish the body without producing a pulse of insulin after every meal. The proof that these diets work is in their longevity.

For example, Okinawan elders are the longest-lived and healthiest seniors in the world. When Okinawan people stray from their traditional diet or move to another part of the world, their life spans and health soon becomes similar to those of the dominant culture (or food culture) around them.

The Paleo Diet is based on how humans ate for 2.5 million years — before the agricultural revolution (approximately 15,000 years ago) shifted us from hunter/gathers to grain eaters. The Paleo Diet is comprised of approximately 65-80 percent vegetables (which alkalizes your body), a small amount of seasonal fruit, and the rest is lean protein and healthy fats.

I also cannot say enough about selecting animal products that are free of all the hormones, antibiotics, and other chemical junk used in conventional agriculture. I highly recommend that you select meat that is grass fed, hormone-free, antibiotic free — preferably wild (fish) or organic if you can afford it. (In general, sheep, graze on pasture land and are not raised in feed lots; therefore, their meat is free of hormones and antibiotics.)

In addition, I strongly discourage my clients from eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) of any sort. Crops that are genetically modified to resist a particular herbicide (glyphosate) are not part of a healthy diet because we simply do not have any long-term data about the affect of this type food on people; likewise, genetic material from a flounder and blue-green algae have no business being in a tomato. In the natural world, such genetic combinations would be impossible. Who would want to eat a tomato that’s part fish?

Also, I advise men and pre-menopausal women to avoid eating soy in any form: soy milk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and so on. Why? The primary reason is that soy is full of phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in the body. Men need to eat estrogen-rich foods the way Superman needs kryptonite. High levels of estrogen are also linked to breast cancer, which is a great reason for women to avoid soy. The second reason to avoid soy is that 91 percent of soy grown in the United States is GMO. Finally, soy blocks pancreatic enzymes, which not only help digest our food but destroy cancer cells as well. When you combine phytoestrogens with genetically modified food and a compromised immune system, the result is a gastronomical time bomb.

Because almost everyone in the United States cooks their meat (When was the last time you eat steak “tartar”?), we denature all the fats and proteins in the meat. So most people also need to supplement their diet with small amounts of high-quality oils (a perfect oil combo is equal parts butter and olive oil) and a protein shake now and then.

When my patients argue that whole grains are part of a healthy diet, I tell them that our insulin system was not designed to be our primary fuel mechanism; fats were. Think about it this way, the human body is like a flex-fuel car: It can run on several fuel sources.  If you train your body to burn carbs for energy, you’ll burn carbs for energy. If you train your body to burn fat for energy, you’ll burn fat. When your body burns fat, there’s no insulin response because insulin is only involved in sugar metabolism. On a moderate diet of healthy fats, proteins, and vegetables, there’s little-to-no weight gain and much lower incidence of major disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so on).

Scientists estimate that Paleolithic man ate only 27 teaspoons of sugar per year — hardly using insulin at all. As of 2010, the average American was consuming 11.9 teaspoons of sugar per day (43.5 pounds per year). That’s obscene! By eating so much sugar, we are consuming counter to nature and asking our poor pancreas to make up the difference — which is a recipe for disaster.

The take-home message is simple: Change the types of food you eat, change your life.

Here are five simple lifestyle tips that will have an immediate impact on your health:

  1. Avoid sweeteners (white sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, turbinado, even low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame). Stevia is acceptable because it contains zero calories and no sugar; however, the body still produces small amounts insulin whenever the “sweet” receptors of the tongue are stimulated. Even with stevia or aspartame, the body prepares itself for a dose of sugar that never comes — so a small pulse of insulin goes into the blood stream, which contributes to insulin insensitivity, cellular and systemic inflammation, and the body storing more fat than it burns.
  2. Experiment with slowly eliminating carbohydrates from your diet. No carbs means no insulin in your bloodstream, which has an amazingly healing impact on your body. I realize that this suggestion is a big shift for most people, especially athletes, and I do NOT suggest going off carbs “cold turkey.” It takes several weeks for you body to shift over from carbohydrate metabolism to fat metabolism, and there is a real science to replacing carbs with healthy fats and protein. After the initial break-in period, however, your food cravings go away — and even though your calorie consumption goes up — your weight will go down.
  3. If restricting your intake of carbohydrates feels like a daunting task, try taking a vacation from fast foods and processed foods. Replace these non-foods with vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and fruit. Take this holiday for a week and see if you body feels different.
  4. Move your body every day for at least 40 minutes. Exercise reduces stress, decreases cortisol levels (which allows your body to burn fat better), and increases insulin sensitivity (so you metabolize carbohydrates better). Research shows that the only group of people who lose weight and keep it off permanently are the ones who get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise at least six days a week. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you get as long as you are breaking a sweat and pushing your heart rate. It’s important to realize that the “calories-out” portion of exercise is not what makes most people lose weight. It is, however, what keeps them feeling happy, stable, and sane (instead of reaching for a doughnut) as they go through the ups-and-downs of life.
  5. Consider this: Humans are the only species on this planet that consumes milk after they have been weaned from their mothers. We are also the only species that drinks the milk of another species (cows). Our bodies weren’t designed to do that. Can you imagine a pack of early humans trying to tackle a buffalo so they could get a drink? Try giving up dairy for a week and see how your body feels. Chances are you’ll discover that you feel lighter and have fewer allergic reactions.