Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nuts About Nuts?

Many of us grew up with the notion that all nuts are oily and make you break out, and thus are bad for your health. This notion is not directly true but we’ll talk about that later in this post. Don’t totally discount nuts. Besides the fact that they contain oils, there is so much more to nuts. There are so many different kinds, flavors, shapes, sizes; some are better for you than others. But all in all nuts do contain positives as well. What are they?

Protein Powerhouse: Nuts, when eaten in moderation, just like many other natural foods, are great for you. They contain a ton of protein, which the muscles need to recover after workouts. So if you're working out, add this to your list as a great source of protein.
Good vs. bad cholesterol: Nuts usually contain good monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which promote the good kinds of cholesterol.  According to the FDA, eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. So they can’t be all bad, right?
Brain power: Nuts have also been known to increase mental capability. They help you focus and think more clearly.

Negatives of the nuts readily available to us
Loss of good oils: Nuts are created in shells for a reason. The shells protect the nutrients. This is not to say that they are bad when unshelled, but it they have been sitting that way for a while, they may have lost all their good nutrients. And a lot of the nuts available to us are shelled and have been sitting that way for ages.
Salt: We all know that processed nuts are usually roasted with tons of salt. This salt is good for the manufacturers because it increases our addiction to the product, but it is bad for us because salt in that quantity really holds no nutritional value, and just makes us eat more than we should. Plus, salt makes you bloated as well.
Calories: All nuts are high in calories, no doubt. Some have less than others, but they are mostly high. So when I say nuts are great for you, I don’t mean go cray-cray. I mean eat them in moderation. Nowadays, some nuts come pre-packaged into 100 calorie packs. And if you’re in Nigeria (or somewhere else where you can readily get freshly roasted unsalted nuts in their shells), you have it really good, but make sure you buy little quantities so you don’t go ‘nuts’ with it.

So what’s this about nuts and acne?
Well, the truth is that nuts themselves don’t directly cause acne. In fact, studies from several organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology and the Journal of the American Medical Association have come up with results that show that diet does not directly affect acne. So why do you break out after eating some foods, including nuts? Foods that are high in protein and fat content are usually difficult for the body to digest. If these foods don’t digest properly, the body automatically produces certain antibodies. These antibodies tend to inflame sebaceous glands and may cause pimples. So though the nuts themselves don’t cause pimples, they could lead to pimples if they are not properly digested. How can you avoid this? Try roasted rather than raw nuts because the roasting decomposes some of the protein.

So what are some of the best kinds of nuts?
Walnuts: Highest in omega-3 fatty acids, so they help to lower cholesterol
Almonds: Contain calcium in addition to the protein, so they help build strong bones
Chestnuts: Contain the least calories of any nuts
Pecans: Contain over 19 vitamins and minerals

In summary, what am I saying? Don’t eliminate nuts from your diet because you think they contain a lot of calories. Rather, eat a little bit only lightly salted (or better yet, unsalted) because they do contain a lot of other health benefits. Limit your consumption though – moderation is key – especially if you are trying to lose weight, because they do contain a ton of calories that only help to pile on those pounds in the wrong places.

So, what are your favorite nuts?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Skechers Shape-Ups: Innovation or Ruse?

Kim Kardashian’s face has been following me everywhere since she became the spokesperson for Skechers’ Shape-Ups. That “It’s not someone else, it’s something else” line makes me want to slap random people. But then this review is not about the Shape-Up commercial, but about the actual product. From the name, you can probably tell that it is supposed to tone your bum and legs and help you lose weight. And if their sales numbers are any indication of the success of this product, we should all go to the store and buy a pair. But in reality, do Shape-Ups actually work?

Here’s a little background on the technology in this shoe. Shape-Ups actually come in a variety of styles, some more expensive than others. I believe new ones start somewhere around $70 and can go up to a couple of hundred. However, whatever style you buy, the technology behind the shoes, and the soles of the shoes remain the same. What’s different is the look of the shoes. Unlike most sneakers, they have a hard layer first making them a little heavy, and then a spongy layer right on the bottom to give you that padded feel. One thing that really differs with these shoes is that the highest point of the sole is actually in the center of the shoe (about 2 inches high) and then the part of the soles beneath the heels and toes are lower. So you feel like you’re balancing on the balls of your feet. Constructing the shoes this way is supposed to help with balance, which makes workouts more effective. The shoes come with a DVD that shows you how to use them effectively.

I have to give it to the Skechers marketing team though. They know how to play on the minds of people. These shoes seem to be made to make workouts more effective, but they are being sold as if just wearing them is a workout. Everyone wants a great body, but most people don’t want to put in the time and effort to get it. So why not tell people they can get great bodies without stepping foot in a gym? Yes, exercise DVDs do that too, but this is different. They tell you you don’t even have to spend an hour trying to have your own aerobic class at home. All you have to do is take a walk. Genius!

For a moment though, I want to just let you know what you’ll experience when you do wear the shoes. Obviously, whenever we introduce our bodies to something new, we feel it in our muscles for the first few days. Your ankles, your lower back, your neck, and your knees would definitely hurt because those are the main muscles we use for posture. Also, because they are heavier than the regular pair of sneakers, you probably burn a few calories from lifting them with your feet. You will feel different when you wear them, no doubt, because you have to focus on keeping yourself balanced. The most important thing to do over the first few weeks though is to limit the period of time you have them on your feet. Don’t wear them 24/7, but rather just for a couple of hours each day. Ease in to the shoes.

After a while, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with the shoes. But doctors have come back with conflicting theories about the long-term effects on our bodies. Some doctors say that it helps with lower back and hip alignment to prevent problems that may be caused by poor posture. Others say that long term wear of these shoes actually make it difficult for you to wear other shoes because of the way they force your ankles and heels into a certain position. People who use the Shape-Ups for months have reported pain in their ankles and heels when they take them off. So it seems they are fine when you wear them, but cause problems for your legs when trying to get into other shoes.

Give all this information, what’s my verdict? I think it may be better to stick to regular sneakers/trainers for your daily workout routine, and use Shape-Ups just for periodic walks to give yourself that little boost. If you were already working out before, and just want to occasionally make it a little more effective on your lower body by getting the proper alignment, these shoes seem like a good idea. But if you haven’t been going to the gym, and you are hoping that buying these would magically give your bum a lift, I don’t believe that’s ever going to happen. The only caveat I would add is this: if you think buying these shoes would make you want to start going to the gym and then you can slowly ease away from them and work out on your own, then you have my full support.

What is your own opinion about shoes that tone? Have you tried any?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yoga-nese: Learning the Basic Moves

Last week, we talked about the popular types of yoga and how they are different from each other. This week, let’s talk more about the basic moves you need to learn to get into yoga. Let me preface this post by saying that contrary to what you might have seen when you peek into a yoga class, not every consistent yoga student can lift their legs above their heads and twist their bodies like a pretzel. The more you do yoga, the more flexible you should become, but about 40% of our flexibility is based on our bone structure so some people might go to yoga classes every day and not be as flexible as you think they should be. How much you get out of a class should not be based on how far you were able to bend compared to the next person. It should be based on how far you body allowed you to bend.

That said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try hard. Don’t force your body till you feel intense pain, but push yourself as you try these poses. You body is probably capable of more than you think. Remember, keep your stomach and bum tight and your posture right, and you’ll be good :)

Mountain pose (a.k.a. Tadasana): This is usually around the beginning of any standing yoga series. It is meant to help to fix the posture and clear the mind. Here’s how you do it. Stand tall with your chest out, shoulders down, and arms to the side. Keep your neck and chin level by looking straight ahead (not down or up). Place your feet either with your big toes touching, or with your feet about hip width apart. If you can’t figure out how wide your hips are, you can put two fists between your feet to gauge the distance. Here is a picture of how it should look below. However, remember that everyone’s body is different, and because yours doesn’t look exact does not mean it is wrong.

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The mountain pose is the basic beginning to standing poses like the tree pose, extended mountain pose, (see image above) eagle pose, and chair pose.

Downward facing dog: When you watch movies, there is never a mention of yoga without the downward facing dog. This is because this is such a great pose for your arms, legs, shoulder, core, and back. However, it is hard to hold for an extended period of time, especially if you don’t have much upper body strength. Here’s how you do it. Start on the floor on your palms and knees. Lift your knees off the floor so your bum is pushed upward, and you’re left just on your palms and feet. Make sure your fingers are spread out, and your bum is pushing upwards. Now, even though your bum is pushing up, make sure your stomach is not sticking out so you don’t hurt your lower back. Your palms should be about shoulder width apart, and your feet should be about hip width apart. Try to bring your heels toward the floor (emphasis on “try to”. They don’t have to touch the floor).

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Variations of poses that you can learn from perfecting the downward facing dog: upper pushup position (or plank), lower pushup position, dolphin pose, up and down cat poses, and much more.

Upward facing dog: Isn’t it funny how a lot of yoga poses come from animal stretches. Makes you wonder… Anyway, the upward facing dog is a really good pose for your lower back, arms, stomach, and bum. Start by lying on your stomach with your toes pointing back. Place your palms right under your shoulders and roll your torso up resting on just your palms. Some teachers say to leave your legs on the floor, and other say to take your legs just a couple of inches off the floor. I don’t believe it matters too much either way. Push your chest out and drop your head back so you feel the stretch right from your shoulders down. Try not to strain your neck by pushing too far back though.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the upward facing dog: cobra, crane, bow.

The Warrior poses: There are three warrior poses Warrior I, II, and III), but I’ll talk about the two major ones you’ll find in every yoga class. Warrior I starts with standing in the mountain pose, and then stepping one foot back. The front leg should be bent at about a 90 degree angle and the back leg should be straight. Turn the back foot somewhere between a 30 and 60 degree angle so that your heel touches the floor, and your hips are comfortable in the position without your front knee bending to the side. Lift your arms up straightening your torso. Your arms should come straight over your head as you lean your body back from your waist (so your legs shouldn’t move back).

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For the Warrior II, stay in the same position, but bring your arms down to shoulder level. The arm on the same side as the front leg should be stretched forward, while the other arm should be stretched back in a straight line. Look over your front arm, but don’t lean forward.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the warrior poses: triangle, inverted warrior.

Child’s pose (a.k.a. Balasana): If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, this is always the pose people assume when they need a minute to rest or give their muscles time to breathe. It’s sort of like a bowing pose. Start by kneeling on the floor with your knees and toes about hip width apart. Sit back with your bum on your heels and extend your toes towards the back of the mat. Now, extend your torso into a bow position with your arms stretched out in front of you and your forehead on the floor. Arms extended might be uncomfortable for some people, so you can also have your hands extended back beside your body. See an example below.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the child’s pose: camel, and cow.

Corpse pose (a.k.a. Savasana): I hear you go “What the … ?” Yes, there is a pose called the corpse pose. It’s the relaxation pose at the end of most yoga classes. Now, you might think it is easy to be in a state of total relaxation, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lie flat on your back with your arms beside your body. Now, neutralize every muscle you can feel. Seriously. Try to clear your thoughts completely. Relax your feet and they’ll drop slightly to the side, relax your shoulders and they’ll fall back, relax your stomach, your arms, and even your face. Relaxing your face is kind of difficult because our faces are usually a reflection of what is going on in our heads. Relax your jaw muscles, your eyes, your tongue (yes, I just said relax your tongue). Make sure you lie for about 5 minutes at the end of every class to give your muscles time to recover. If you have lower back problems, or if it is uncomfortable to lie on the hard floor on your back, you can do this position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. This puts less pressure on your back.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the corpse pose: fish, happy baby, and bridge.

Phew! I had thought this was going to turn out so long that it won’t fit in one post. There are so many more yoga poses, but these are the basics I think you should know. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yoga-nese: Getting Your Body to Speak a New Language

Yoga. We’ve all heard about it, heard about a class in our local gym, and maybe even passed one or two studios filled with people doing strange things with their bodies. Some of us have tried it, and just given up because we look around us and we can’t seem to move our bodies the way we  think we are supposed to. And some of us are scared to try either because we don’t want to look silly, we have misconceptions about what it really is, or we just can’t wrap our head around all the “ummm” sounds. I’ve had so many people say to me “Yoga is just for the mind” or “I’m not into spiritual meditation” or even “Yoga is not for me because I’m trying to build muscles, not just stretch”. Well, I’ll give you a little introduction to the different styles of yoga to ease some of those misconceptions. And if you do decide to try it, next week, I’ll walk you through how to do some basic yoga moves on your own.

Popular Yoga Styles
There are so many forms of yoga, especially since a lot of them are slight modifications of other versions named after the person who created the modification. But the basic forms we see in western society today are these five.
  1. Hatha yoga: Hatha yoga is a combination of all the other forms of yoga. It helps to learn all the basic yoga poses, but you’ll find yourself holding the poses for longer than you would in the other fast-pased or aerobic versions of yoga. It helps to build strength, endurance, and flexibility, and emphasizes breathing a lot. If you’ve been to any other type of yoga class, you’d see some of it incorporated in this version of yoga. One thing that is important to note is that although hatha involves a lot of stretching, this form of stretching helps to build muscle as well. If you’ve ever done any of the forms of yoga below and felt the pain the morning after, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.
  2. Ashtanga yoga: This is a very fast-paced style of yoga with six predetermined pose sequences that you do over and over throughout the class. It certainly helps improve your endurance, especially since you do the same poses over and over. I also think it improves your concentration because you tend to master the art of the class a short way through, and can try to (emphasis on “try to”) clear your mind as you keep going through the sequences. Because it is fast-paced, there is no time to get lost in the pose though. You have to keep moving, and movement burns calories, right? So doing this type of yoga frequently will help you lose weight. Plus, if you are OCD and want to know exactly what to expect from each class, ashtanga yoga is a good way to go.
  3. Power yoga: This is pretty much a westernized version of the ashtanga. Because the ashtanga is very repetitive movement, those of us who haven’t mastered the art of “just being” find it boring doing the same six movements over and over for about an hour. So this style of yoga was created to be fast moving, and to mimic the style of an aerobic class. There is some breathing, but the focus is on the movement and building muscle tone. Because of its fast pace, power yoga students sweat a lot and burn a lot of calories in the process. But one big difference is that a lot is left to the discretion of the instructor, who can make up his or her own poses, and change the order of poses to whatever seems to work for the class.
  4. Bikram yoga: This style of yoga has a defined flow. There are about 26 poses involved, and each pose is done twice. So when you attend a Bikram yoga class, you know exactly what you’re getting. The twist here is that these poses are done in a steam room sort of setting, with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (above 38 degrees Celsius) and with about 40% humidity. That may not seem that hot if you are from Lagos, but imagine having this indoors as you try to concentrate on your poses. Not so easy.  The positive about this style of yoga is that your muscles feel looser because of the heat, and it teaches you much endurance. But the negatives are that it is very very difficult to focus on the poses in immense heat, and the steam could actually leave you feeling light-headed. Because of all that sweat though, you burn tons of calories.
  5. Prenatal yoga: From the name, you can tell that it is for expectant mothers. Lamaze classes were created from this extension of yoga. This style of yoga focuses on keeping the muscles strong so that the mother can stay healthy and get her body back to normal much easier after labor. It is also structured to help with aches associated with pregnancy, and perfecting the pregnant posture.
I hope you’re beginning to see that there are different syles of yoga for everyone. And although some of the more meditative versions, like Bikram and Ashtanga, focus a lot on breathing, it is not all about the spiritual aspect. Very many people take yoga the physical benefits alone. Frankly, although there is a spiritual side to yoga, I have never tried taking it anywhere beyond the physical. For beginners, I would really encourage taking a look at

Next week, we’ll talk about a few beginner yoga poses. But till then, what has your experience with yoga been? Anything you’d like to share?

Cheers Eights & Weights!
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