Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Health and Fitness Tips of the Week

Super Food of the Week: Strawberries

Strawberries have grown wild for nearly millennia in regions throughout the world. Sometime before the Christian era they began being cultivated and were highly prized and considered a luxury to the ancient Romans. Today, strawberries are increasingly available year round to the general public in over 600 varieties that differ in flavor, size and texture. The fragrantly sweet juiciness of this little deep red fruit makes it easy for just about anyone to sink their teeth into strawberries and their health benefits are just as sweet. This little fruity heart-shaped treat is filled with phtonutrients, and other vitamins and minerals that love to love your body.

Strawberries are filled with unusual and potent antioxidants, which give strawberries their flush red color. These specific antioxidants have been repeatedly sown to help protect cell structures in the body and prevent oxygen damage in all of the body’s organ systems. These antioxidants also make strawberries a heart-protective fruit, an anti-cancer fruit as well an anti-inflammatory fruit, rolled into one beautiful red package with a green bow on top. Strawberries anti-inflammatory properties have been shown helpful with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis and cancer.

At some point in our lives, probably when we were children, we were told that carrots would keep your eyes bright and healthy. As it turns out carrots have to share this fame with fruits as well. A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology presented data that indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is the primary cause of vision loss in older adults. Strawberries are the perfect choices to fit the order, as they contain nutrients that help fight macular degeneration.

Strawberries also contain hair friendly vitamins. Strawberries are an abundant source of vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant. In addition to being an antioxidant, vitamin C has been found aid in the improvement of scalp circulation, helping to deliver nutrients to the hair follicle. Vitamin C’s antioxidant property also helps to keep your skin healthy and young looking and is also important in iron absorption. Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, is also found in strawberries. In addition helping muscles produce energy, vitamin B2 also aids in the support of hair strength and growth. Strawberries also contain vitamin B6, which functions in the formation of body proteins and amino acid metabolism as well as other important bodily functions. Vitamin B6 also helps to promote healthy skin and reduce skin and scalp inflammation. A deficiency of vitamin B6 often manifests itself in hair loss. Strawberries also contain some omega 3 fatty acids, which are needed to support scalp health.

So if you’re looking for a sweet treat that you won’t regret then strawberries are the way to go. You can eat them simply as they are or you can try adding sliced strawberries and almonds to a fresh green salad. You can also try layering sliced strawberries, whole blueberries and plain non-fat yogurt in a wine glass for an elegant and tasty parfait dessert. You can even add them to oatmeal or your favorite breakfast cereal for a sweet mix. Anyway you eat them, this is a sweet and juicy treat your body definitely appreciate.

Fit Tip of the Week: Plyometrics: What is it and how does it work?

You’re probably seen the P90X or Shaun T’s Insanity infomercials where people are jumping around or doing highly explosive movements during a particular portion of the exercise program. You’ve probably asked yourself, “What the heck are they doing?” or have said to yourself “That looks insane!” (pardon the pun). What you are seeing is a form of training that’s been around for years called plyometrics. Plyometrics is a type of exercise training designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system for the purpose of improving athletic performance. Also known as “jump training”, plyometrics involves stretching of a muscle prior to contracting it. With these movements a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence using the strength, elasticity and nerve innervation of the muscle and surrounding tissues to jump higher, run faster, throw father, or hit harder depending on the desired training goal. This type of training increases the speed or force of muscular contractions, generating the strongest contraction possible in the shortest amount of time, or simply put explosiveness.

In the 1970’s Eastern Europeans first used plyometrics to develop greater strength and power in their Olympic athletes. They based their programs on scientific evidence that stretching muscles prior to contracting them produces a stretch reflex, which enhances the power of the muscle contraction. So, for example, if you’re jumping the pre-stretching of the muscles occurs when you perform jumps one after another. When you land from a jump, the muscles in the front of your thighs stretch as the knees bend, and then quickly contract again with the next leap, which enhances the power of the second jump.

Now the next question is, is this something that is helpful? In my opinion I believe that in certain situations plyometrics can helpful and effective. Studies have sown that plyometrics training can lead to improvements in leg strength, muscle power, acceleration, balance and overall agility. However, there is a catch. Plyometrics training has received a lot of criticism due to the reported case of injury following programs of depth jumping, drop jumping, jumping up to, and down from boxes or benches that are as high as 42 inches. Plyometrics training does carry a higher risk of injury due to the forces sustained from these types of jumps onto a hard surface as well as from the explosiveness involved. With the help and supervision of a certified strength and conditioning specialist or trainer and a gradual progression a plyometrics program can be safe and effective. Keep in mind that jumps should always begin from ground level, off of and onto padded surfaces such as grass or a gym mat over a wood gym floor. These jumps are safe and easy to perform. Other techniques include jumping over cones or foam barriers.

There are some safety precautions that I feel that are necessary to mention about plyometrics. Again, there is an increased risk of injury due to the large forces generated during training and performance. Therefore, plyometrics training should only be performed by well-conditioned individuals under the supervision of a fitness specialist, therapist, or physician. Good levels of physical strength, flexibility, and proprioception are essential and should be achieved before starting plyometrics training.

That being said, plyometrics training is NOT for beginner exercisers, people with acute or chronic joint issues or injuries, obese individuals, or pregnant women. However, if you are physically conditioned and are considering plyometrics, then I strongly urge that you proceed with caution. Consult a sports medicine physician or therapist to see if this type of training is suitable for you. They can also help you get started or recommend someone who can. Remember, a safe and effective program stresses the quality, not quantity, of jumps. Safe landing techniques, such as lading from the toe to heel from a vertical jump, and using the entire foot as a rocker to dissipate landing forces are also important to reduce impact forces. Avoidance of excess side-to-side motion at the knee is also important in protecting your knees. If improving athletic performance is not a high priority or even a fitness goal, then the additional risk associated with this activity may not be worth the potential benefits. Remember to always put your safety first.

Until next week, stay happy and healthy!