Here are some key takeaways from recent research on training, health and nutrition.
Nighttime Workouts No Longer a No-No
The standard advice for insomniacs is to avoid exercising in the evening, but according to a research review published in the journal Sports Medicine, late-day workouts might actually enhance sleep: Study participants who did an evening workout spent 20 percent more time in the deep-sleep phase that same night than those who hadn’t exercised in the evening. “When people spend less time in deep sleep, it negatively affects your sports performance the following day,” says Christina M. Spengler, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Institute of Human Movement Sciences and Sport at ETH Zurich.
It is worth noting, however, that when participants engaged in vigorous workouts such as high-intensity interval training one hour before bed, it did have a negative impact on their sleep quality. Position your sweat sesh at least two to three hours before hitting the sack to mitigate any negative effects a tough session might have on sleep.
Lift for Longevity
Experts have touted the heart-healthy benefits of aerobic exercise for decades, but now weightlifting shares the spotlight: According to research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, those who trained with weights just once a week for less than an hour reduced their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 29 percent and their risk for high cholesterol by 32 percent — even without any accompanying aerobic exercise. More is not better, however: Resistance training more than four times a week or for durations longer than 60 minutes didn’t decrease heart-health risk any further.
Only the Lonely
Research published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics found that people in their 20s, mid-50s and late 80s suffer the most from loneliness. These sad, solitary feelings come with several health implications, and experts believe the reduction of life span linked to loneliness is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: Using a series of surveys, researchers measured participants’ levels of loneliness, mental and physical health, and wisdom. However, there is a silver lining: Those who ranged highest for loneliness ranked lowest in wisdom — a factor you can control and improve. Build your wisdom bank by practicing meditation, trying new things, talking to more people and seeking out some mentors.
The Eternal Carb Question
It’s the never-ending debate among nutritionists and athletes — how low should you go with your carbohydrate intake? When it comes to maintaining your weight, a recent study in the journal BMJ may have the answer. Since metabolism tends to slow down after people lose weight, researchers wanted to test whether diet composition could combat this effect. They supplied 164 adults who had recently lost weight with meals controlled for protein and fat content but contained either 20, 40 or 60 percent carbs. After 20 weeks, the researchers found that the low-carb group torched roughly 250 more calories per day than the high-carb group, and they theorized that the low-carb group had reduced levels of ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite and promotes the storage of body fat.
However, a diet that is low in carbohydrates is difficult to follow long term, and the number of carbs you need greatly depends on your goals (weight loss, maintenance, muscle building, performance) as well as your age, genetics and activity level: Some athletes do well on a low-carb diet, but others need more to maintain their fitness routine. “It might come down to trial and error to figure out what works for you,” says Holly Wyatt, M.D., associate professor of endocrinology, metabolism and diabetes at the University of Colorado, Denver. “But in general, the more active you are, the more carbs and calories you can have in your diet.”
Eat Organic, Beat Cancer
A French study that examined the diets of nearly 70,000 volunteers (mostly women) found that those who ate organic food had 25 percent fewer incidences of cancer — especially lymphoma and breast cancer — than adults who never consumed organic foods. However, Frank B. Hu, Ph.D., chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard, says eating more fruits and vegetables overall — organic or not — is the best way to prevent cancer. If your access to organic foods is limited or if they are financially out of reach, pick and choose your organic produce. Foods that contain the most pesticides include strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, sweet bell peppers and hot peppers.
Food for Thought
Research examining the correlation between nutrients and brain health isn’t necessarily new, but how they are examining the connection is: Instead of inferring brain health from a cognitive test, researchers at the University of Illinois directly examined participants’ brains using high-resolution brain imaging. Subjects with good brain connectivity had higher blood levels of omega-3s, omega-6s and carotene, indicating a more healthful diet. And since faster brain connections boost energy and immunity and help reduce the risk of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, eating foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, leafy greens, sweet potatoes and squash could be the key to good mental health.
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Make meals that have less impact on the environment in six easy steps.
You’ve already made recycling a lifelong habit, you proudly reject single-use plastic straws and bottles on the daily, and you carpool or take public transportation whenever possible — if Earth could talk, it would thank you profusely for doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint, prevent global warming and save our oceans. But is there even more you could be doing to help? Yes, and it starts with your food choices.
Choose Your Ingredients Wisely
Fueling your body and brain with the best nutrients possible doesn’t have to take a back seat to a mission of sustainability. In fact, these two initiatives easily go hand in hand. And unlike abs, which we all know begin in the kitchen, sustainably sourced ingredients actually start in the fields.
“Over the last 100 years, our food system has gone through a significant transformation from small local farms to a large industrial system,” explains Margie Saidel, MPH, RD, LDN, vice president of nutrition and sustainability at Chartwells K12. “As our lifestyles have evolved, so have our eating habits. We now demand a large variety of inexpensive foods, at all times of the year, which are heavily processed and preserved. It turns out that the way we’ve all enjoyed eating for so long is damaging our environment and planet. Unfortunately, the result is the onset of climate change and the impending struggle to feed our growing global population.”
Thankfully, it’s not all gloom and doom. Saidel says we can all do our part to eat more sustainably, and one by one, we can create change — starting with the following:
1. Put plants first. It’s healthiest to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables because plants can provide the protein your body needs, along with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to maintain health and protection from disease. But this isn’t limited to leafy greens — don’t forget about legumes, lentils, tofu, tempeh and seitan, which are a few examples of excellent plant protein sources.
2. Focus on seasonal and local. Have you grown accustomed to having a wide variety of fresh produce available at your supermarkets at all times of the year? “As a result of our global economy, we import fruits and vegetables from around the globe to make them available to us even when they are out of season locally,” Saidel says. “Eating seasonally means that you eat produce when it is grown in your local area.” This approach puts more emphasis on supporting local farmers and reduces the time and distance between harvest and market. Look for farmers markets and community-supported agriculture in your area. You’ll enjoy fresh products that were grown in your community or nearby that taste great — and if there are certain items you crave year-round, you can preserve them by canning or freezing.
3. Select sustainable seafood. Choose seafood that is either caught or farmed in a way that protects the harvested species and other species, as well as the ocean itself. It’s a lot easier than you might think to determine how sustainable your seafood is — the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch helps you make sustainable choices with a free mobile app that classifies fish in “best,” “good” or “avoid” categories for a healthy ocean.
4. Eat whole food. Whole foods mean as close to their natural form as possible (read: less processed). Some easy substitutions to ease you in include mixing half whole-wheat flour with half white flour the next time you make cookies (the kids won’t notice!) or mixing half brown and half white rice with your favorite meal. In addition, Saidel says fresh produce, seeds and nuts in their natural form are fantastic choices to provide the widest variety of nutrients possible to maintain your health and prevent disease.
5. Reduce animal protein. “Many people don’t realize that animal food production has a devastating impact on the environment because of greenhouse gas emissions, land used for livestock feed instead of food to feed humans, and the vast water requirements of animal food production,” Saidel explains. “This doesn’t mean you need to give up eating meat — but there are a number of things you can do to play your part in protecting the planet.” She says that eggs, dairy, poultry and pork have a lower environmental impact than red meat, so switch up your animal protein sources to eat fewer hamburgers, steaks and roasts. You also can reduce your usual portion size of animal protein by combining both plant and animal sources (e.g., blend your burger with mushrooms or legumes or have a beef and bean burrito). You also can experiment with recipes such as a plant-focused stir-fry, salad, grain bowl or pasta dish in which animal protein is not the star of the show but plays a more supporting role. Finally, when you do purchase meat, always choose grass-fed, pasture-raised organic meats.
6. Reduce food waste. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that a whopping 30 to 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in landfills. “You can do your part to reduce food waste starting in your own home with a few changes to your routine,” Saidel says. “Start with planning meals for the week and take your ingredient list to the grocery store. Even better, plan your meals with the intent of utilizing the food that is in your refrigerator or pantry. You also can freeze leftovers to use another day.” Finally, store food correctly to extend its life by using the free FoodKeeper mobile app from Foodsafety.gov.
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