Are your workouts too intense? Pros and cons of intense exercise

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Does excessive exercise exist?

For most people, the response is a big NO. In developed countries, we eat too much, sit too much, and center our life around sedentary activities. Framed this way, excessive exercise does not exist. Most of us benefit from more walking, more running, more biking, and more weight-lifting, any time of the day.

What happens if we don’t listen to our body and try to push our limits? Let’s go through recent studies to see the consequences.

First, intense exercise is usually defined by prolonged exercise at more than 85% of our maximum heart rate. For example, a 35 year old male would typically have a maximum of 185 beats per minute (bpm). 30mn of running, boxing or biking at more than 157bpm is a session of intense exercise. A common formula to get your maximum heart rate is 220 – your age. This is also equivalent to zone 4.5 to zone 5 on a watch with a heart rate monitor. This can give you a rough estimation if you usually do moderate or intense exercise.

Past the definition of intense exercise, results differ greatly, depending on what you are looking at.

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Why Processed Foods Make You Sick And Fat

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When buying food, we see the benefits of processed foods: they are more practical, look amazing, taste delicious, can be stored for weeks, if not years and children love them. These reflect the hard work of the principal instigators: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Unilever, General Mills, Nestlé, Mars, Kellogg, Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.

Yet it is obvious that the prevalence of chronic diseases has grown in parallel with the growth of processed food. There’s no question obesity, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 Diabetes have increased sharply and we are now paying the costs of increased processed food consumption.

Why are processed foods inherently bad for health?

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Exercise alone does not offset sedentary lifestyle

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Many meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

However, most modern day jobs such as engineering, marketing, call centre, retail or other office based work involve long periods of sitting — sometimes up to 95% of the day for jobs such as programming.

In those cases, research increasingly show that even if you achieve the recommended amount of weekly exercise, you still cannot reverse the negative effects of 8+ hours per day sitting down.

Add television watching, video games, reading on tablets, sitting while commuting, eating prepackaged foods instead of cooking and the long-term health picture is bleak.

Specifically, with 150mn of weekly moderate exercise, with an otherwise sedentary job and lifestyle, your mortality rate is still increased by +35% (sources). Long periods of sitting increase the risk of heart disease by 50%. Sitting life escalates chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. Simply, the human body is not designed to sit 8 hours per day nor is it designed for office work.

When looking at your lifestyle, it is then important to recognize the 2 factors independently. Physical activity is the time you spend exercising, and sedentary lifestyle is how you characterize the majority of your time outside physical activity.

Step one is to optimize physical activity. Are you doing enough physical activity daily? weekly? Are you enjoying it or is it more of a chore? Are activities diverse and enjoyable?

10,000 daily steps or 150mn of weekly moderate exercise is the minimum recommended by institutions. But in most cases, you can do more, and you should. I would recommend a mix of intense exercise complemented by long moderate physical activities, such as commuting by bike or nature walks.

Step two is to decrease risks of sedentary job. Cut periods of prolonged sitting by having a stand-up desk. You can also get a watch with a “move” reminder. Take short walks, or find a place to do a series of lunges or push-ups. If that sounds unnatural and ridiculous, think about the fact that you’re sitting unnaturally for 8+ hours per day.

These small differences can make a big difference. The secret is to move regularly.

Step three is to change your sedentary life. Most of us cannot change our jobs. However, it’s up to us to take the necessary steps to have a healthy lifestyle. What does it mean in practice?

  • Cooking instead of ordering or buying precooked dishes
  • Having hobbies with minimum physical activity such as dancing, photography or gardening instead of passive entertainment such as TV or video games
  • Biking, running or walking for commuting as often as possible instead of driving the car

It is necessary to go through each step. I have never seen so many people with sports watches or gym memberships, and believe they are good with two or three weekly gym sessions. However, it is the loss of physical activity during the many other hours of the day that is having a profoundly negative effect on our health. Don’t just focus on the exercising hours, make sure to move regularly during the day, every day.

Why Your Weight Loss Plan Is Not Working

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There’s the case of the college guy who wants to look chiseled for Spring break. But no hard how he tries, the scale won’t move.

There’s the other case of the busy professional who’s seen a series of specialists, nutritionists, doctors, consulted with fitness trainers. She has wonderful meal plans, and a training plan customized to her needs, but she can’t shed a pound.

The two cases above are real, and the issues are common. Here’s what I’ve found after lengthy discussions.

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66% of Packaged Foods Have Sugar

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Think you are eating healthy? Think again.

A team of researchers went through ALL products sold in a typical north american food retailer. What they found was a surprise: 66% of packaged foods had sugar as an ingredient. (see reference #1 below for more)

This excluded such as vegetables, fruits, or other raw foods such as water, rice and grains.

Sugar was found as an ingredient in 86% of snacks and 79% of beverages. It also showed up unexpectedly in foods generally seen as healthy such as yoghurt (73%) or baby infant formula (47%).

What does it tell us?

First, it tells us that if you pick an item randomly at a food retailer, it most likely has sugar. That’s what will happen next time you are going to a grocery store, if you are not careful.

Second, even if you pick “healthy” foods with nice big labels on it (such as whole wheat, 0% fat, fortified etc.), it most likely has sugar or an equivalent in it. Read the ingredients list to confirm. Even organic food have sugar in them.

Third, this also means that if you buy food on the go, it most likely has sugar in it. Fast food restaurants have the same suppliers as food retailers. The difference is that you won’t get to read the ingredients label.

Finally, this shows that our society is ADDICTED to sugar. We are relying on an industrial food industry that likes to sprinkle large amounts of sugar on any food it produces, and not just sweets, in order to sell more. This addiction leads to inflammation. 10 years or 20 years later, it leads to obesity, and then chronic diseases.

Eating sugar continuously is equivalent to a permanent attack on our body’s system. Whenever we eat sugar, cells around our intestines produce Interleukin-1beta, a messenger substance that can cause chronic inflammation, increase insulin production and also causes insulin-producing beta cells to die off in patients with diabetes. (See reference #2 below)

 

What should we do?

As long as it is impossible to identify the presence of added sugars using nutrition labels and impossible to identify amounts of added sugars in packaged foods, a general guideline is to stay away as much as possible from packaged foods. Get raw foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, simple water etc. Those are the foods without any paper or plastic packaging. This way, you also stay away from food chemicals, additives and emulsifiers. If you really have to pick a packaged food, take 30 sec to read the ingredients list. Pick the ones that have ingredients you know (and not an unpronounceable chemical), with the least amount of sugar, corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

If we all do this together, perhaps it will encourage a few food suppliers to actually care and offer healthy prepared foods!

References:

  1. Rachel B. Acton, Lana Vanderlee, Erin P. Hobin, David Hammond. Added sugar in the packaged foods and beverages available at a major Canadian retailer in 2015: a descriptive analysis. CMAJ Open, 2017; 5 (1): E1 DOI: 10.9778/cmajo.20160076
  2. Erez Dror, Elise Dalmas, Daniel T Meier, Stephan Wueest, Julien Thévenet, Constanze Thienel, Katharina Timper, Thierry M Nordmann, Shuyang Traub, Friederike Schulze, Flurin Item, David Vallois, Francois Pattou, Julie Kerr-Conte, Vanessa Lavallard, Thierry Berney, Bernard Thorens, Daniel Konrad, Marianne Böni-Schnetzler & Marc Y Donath. Postprandial macrophage-derived IL-1β stimulates insulin and both synergistically promote glucose disposal and inflammation. Nature Immunology, January 2017 DOI: 10.1038/ni.3659

Healthy Snack Alternatives

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My general rule : don’t snack. It is much easier to eat junk food when snacking. We also dismiss easily calories from snack but they easily add up. It is better to sit down with others and take a significant and balanced meal.

There are cases where snacking is ok. Endurance & strenuous exercise is a good case. Missing breakfast or a meal is another case. Eating something to prevent hypoglycemia or decrease effects of strong alcohol are other good cases.

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The Vertues of Slow

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Faster & Better.

This is the motto of modern western countries. Entrepreneurs, corporations and governments live by it, and brought many inventions: plastic packaging, engines, planes, frozen meals, fast food, 4K TV, e-commerce, white (refined) flour, hamburgers, coke, antibiotics, genetically-modified food, laptops and VR headsets.

At every iteration, the faster and better products are celebrated. Every year, we get more pixels, more speed, more calories per gram, more fat and sugar per gram, more caffeine in a can, and more social notifications in a day of Facebook than our grandparents would ever get in a lifetime. Amazing, isn’it? And addictive.

 

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