Monday, November 14, 2016

Raisins are a convenient and portable way to get my fruit, right?

As a derivative of fruit, it makes sense that most people think of raisins as a healthy food. My clients are usually quite surprised when I tell them that dried fruit needs to be strictly limited.

The problem with raisins arises during the drying process. Drying a fruit increases the sugar content dramatically and decreases the fiber. 

As you probably know, raisins are dried grapes. A serving of grapes (4 ounces) has a glycemic index of 43 and a glycemic load of 7, both of which are on the lower end (Reference 1). However, a serving of raisins (2 ounces) has a glycemic index of 64 and a glycemic load of 28, both on the high end (Reference 1).

The key to eating for weight loss is to maintain a stable blood sugar. This strategy helps to keep insulin at a reasonable level and significantly reduces hunger and subsequent energy intake.

Despite having some nutritional upside, eating raisins is very similar to eating candy when it comes to your blood sugar. If you are trying to lose weight, a much better choice is to go for fruit in its whole and natural form.


Religious service attendance and mortality

The Study
Over 74,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study had their religious service attendance assessed repeatedly by questionnaire and were followed for 20 years. By the end of follow-up, women who attended religious services more than once per week had a statistically significant 33% lower rate of mortality when compared to women who did not attend religious services. The association held after controlling for all known predictors of death in this cohort. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016; 176:777-85

Take Home Message
This is a fascinating study to me. You don’t see a lot of literature on the subject of religious beliefs and health outcomes, but the reduction in risk of mortality in this investigation is strong and impressive.   

The mechanism for the reduction in risk of death in the religious is not known. However, the authors suggest several possibilities:

 1) Increased social support

2) Lower levels of depression

3) Higher levels of optimism

4) Religious coping mechanisms

5) More purpose in life

6) More self discipline

7) Higher psycho-social resilience

It is certainly beyond the scope of this blog to make recommendations of a religious nature. However, I just wanted all of my readers to be aware of this association, because it appears to be a very important predictor of long-term health.

Can lifting light weights effectively build muscle?

The Study
In this study, 49 men that lifted weights regularly performed 12 weeks of resistance training. The men were randomly allocated to one of two training groups; the first group used very heavy weights (75-90% of 1 rep max) for 8-12 repetitions per set, the second group used much lighter weights (30-50% of 1 rep max) for 20-25 repetitions per set. Each group lifted weights 4 times per week. At the end of follow-up, there were significant increases in muscle mass in both groups with no difference between groups. Journal of Applied Physiology 2016; 121:129-138.

Take Home Message
This study shows that you don’t have to lift very heavy weights in order to build muscle. You can get similar increases in muscle mass with lighter weights and higher repetitions. I use lighter loads with most of my clients, for a bunch of reasons: 1) I find there is a lower risk of injury. 2) It is my opinion that it is safer (lower spikes in blood pressure and heart rate) than using much heavier weights. 3) I find there is a lower risk of overtraining with lighter weights. 4) Generally, it is more enjoyable. Experienced weight lifters actually enjoy the fatigue and “burn” that comes with lifting heavy weights. Most people that are new to weight lifting and that are deconditioned do not. 

This study shows us that you can build muscle quite well with lighter loads, as long as you increase your repetitions.

Product Review: PT Pro Fitness Bench

As a trainer and nutritionist working with weight loss clients, I have noticed for years that clients who exercise at home get much better results than those that go to a gym.

If you want to stay in shape and at a healthy weight as you get older, exercise has to be a daily event. Most of my clients do cardio every day and hit the weights at least two or three times per week. Given our busy lives, is it realistic to expect to get to the gym every day? For just about everyone, the answer is no.

There are several reasons why working out at home is better than joining a gym:

1) It takes much less time to workout at home. If you have to get in your car, drive to the gym, get changed in the locker room and then do the same thing in reverse, you have just turned your 40 minute workout into an hour and 20 minute ordeal. It’s just too easy to blow off. 

Furthermore, at a gym you may have to wait for someone to finish using the cardio or weight training equipment you want to use. This adds even more time.

2) It is just more convenient. If I am watching my kids, I can take them downstairs to play while I hit the weights for 20 minutes. I can’t bring them to the gym. I can also combine my exercise with something I need to do if I workout at home. I can return phone calls, check my email, read the paper, watch the news, etc, all while doing cardio. When I was in grad school, I even used to study while doing my cardio. It is hard, if not impossible, to do these things at the gym.

3) It is much cheaper over the long term. Gyms can be quite expensive. The cheaper $10 a month gyms that are popping up are great, but they may not be convenient to you. Say your gym costs $70 per month, or $840 per year. In 5 years, you have spent $4,200. You can set yourself up with a really nice home gym for a fraction of that amount that will last you for decades.

A great place to start for any home gym is a set of dumbbells and an exercise bench. Enter the PT Pro Portable Fitness Bench. This bench is perfect for people that don’t have a lot of space and/or don’t want to look at their exercise equipment on a regular basis.

Here are some of the benefits of this bench:
#1) It folds up for storage. The legs of this bench fold up so you can store it in a closet or under your bed. This is a great feature if you live in an apartment and don’t want your bench taking up valuable space. For most of my time in Boston, I had a tiny apartment and this feature was critical.

#2) For fitness professionals; this bench is light weight and portable. You can bring it to a client’s home if you are an in-home trainer.

#3) The bench has both incline and decline capabilities, so you can add a lot more variety than you can with a simple flat bench.

#4) It is very well made. I’ve had mine for years and it is holding up extremely well. In fact, it looks and works as well today as the day I got it, which was 7 years ago.

Cost: It is not cheap at $299, but it is a one time expense. You will likely never have to buy another bench. It’s also a cost saver if it allows you to cancel your gym membership. 

For more information, here’s the manufacturer’s website:

Note: I have no relationship with this company and do not make any money for promoting their products. I just have been really happy with my PT Pro and recommend it highly.