Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Benefits of Exercise – Beyond Fitness: Part 1

So, as we all know, to be fit we need to exercise. However, exercise goes way beyond just fitness and has many other benefits to our lives. In today’s blog entry we will look into a number of other benefits that we get from exercising other than the physical benefits that get talked about regularly.  

Psychological Benefits

Often, the psychological benefits of exercise go unmentioned when discussing physical activity. It is strongly suggested that regular exercise can help to both prevent depression and be used as a cure for depression. Stress relief is another psychological benefit of exercising. As little as a ten minute walk, it is suggested, can help to reduce stress levels in our body due to endorphins being released. Some studies indicate that regular exercise will reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease too.   

Aids Sleep

People who regularly exercise appear to have a better nights sleep. However, exercising just before we attempt to go to sleep will keep us awake!


In a similar vein to the psychological benefits of exercise, there are emotional benefits too. The release of endorphins leaves us feeling happier and more optimistic and surely we all want to be happier.

Fighting Disease

Much research suggests that regular exercise can help in the fight against a number of diseases. Studies seem to indicate that regular, vigorous exercise can help to prevent heart disease. Research completed by Queen’s University Belfast along with Glasgow University suggests people taking part in more vigorous exercise on a regular basis suffer fewer heart attacks than those who did not. Research also suggests that regular exercise can lower our risk of developing diabetes, hypertension and colon cancer (plus other forms of cancer).

Monday, 27 February 2012

Weight Loss Facts

I think that it is fair to say that some people just do not ‘get’ weight loss. Weight loss is not as difficult, in principle, as it is sometimes made out to be. Some things that I have mentioned in previous blog entries will also be discussed here but it never hurts to refresh the memory.

Calories are the key – the really key to weight loss is calories. The simple science is that to lose weight we must use more calories than we consume and it really is as simple as this. To lose weight we need to create a calorie deficit (burn more calories than we need). To lose a pound we must burn off 3500 extra calories, so a 500 calorie deficit a day will see us lose 1 pound per week.

Fat does not make us fat – this is a common misconception that is still around today and ‘low-fat’ food products are being produced. The simple truth is that we need fat in our diet. It is true that not all fats are created equal (avoid trans fats for example) but we must not cut fat from our diet.

Fat contains the most amounts of calories – although we should not cut fat out of our diet, it is true that, per gram, fat contains more calories than protein and carbohydrates.

Excess energy is stored as fat – when we eat more calories than we need we store the excess as fat. So basically, do not overeat!

Crunches does not lose belly fat - we can do as many crunches as we want, but the calories we burn from this will simply not be enough to burn belly fat and/or lose significant weight. This rule applies to other abdominal exercises too. 

Reduced risk of diabetes – through weight/fat loss, we reduce the risk of developing diabetes and for men, it is suggested that weight loss reduces the risk of heart problems.

You should eat when you are hungry – this is such a key one for me. I have heard so many people say they skipped a meal or that they felt hungry but didn’t want to eat because they are trying to lose weight. This is so ridiculous to me. Our body is giving us a sign that we need to eat, so we should eat. A major problem of skipping meals is that we send a sign back to our body that food is not available when we need it. Starving ourselves leads to the body storing fat for other times when we do not eat.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

New Challenges

Do we need to challenge ourselves for fitness and health?

I think it is important to keep challenging ourselves in order to keep our fitness levels up. Challenges change over time as we develop. The second part of this blog will address a new challenge of my own, but the first part will look into challenging ourselves with regard to our fitness and health goals.

Why Challenge Ourselves?

The first reason that we should challenge ourselves is to improve. The only way we can develop and improve is to keep challenging ourselves and our body. Once we can do, for example, five press ups the only way we can develop our body further is to increase the challenge of press ups. This can be done through increasing the number of repetitions we can do and/or adding to the weight we are pressing (weight on the back, for example). These principles can apply to all fitness and health goals.

Secondly, having targets and goals gives us motivation as we have something to aim for. Motivation is one of the key things with keeping fit and staying healthy. Without motivation we would sit around all day and eat poorly. Simple!

Having challenges also makes it easier to see progress and performance. With having targets we have something that we can measure. For example, if we are aiming to be able to run for 20 minutes within 2 months this can be measured. After 1 month we can see how much progress we have made.

Achieving challenges is another great thing for our body and mind. When we complete the challenges we set ourselves our confidence grows and this leads to more challenges and more improvement!!

My New Challenge

When I first started with the gym and training it was to get in better shape for playing football. I then had weight issues and I got myself back down and in decent shape. Over the last couple of years I have been maintaining a healthy weight and fitness level, which is good, but I have had no real new challenges. I have decided, therefore, to do a 6mile charity run for Sports Relief. The money raised goes to help people in the UK and some of the poorest countries in the World.

What is Sport Relief?

Sport Relief is a charity event from Comic Relief that is associated with BBC Sport and aims to bring together the sporting world and the entertainment world in the name of charity. The event that I am taking part in is known as the Sport Relief Mile (participants can select whether to do 1, 3 or 6 miles). Sainsbury is the official sponsor of the Sport Relief Mile.

I’m No Runner

Although I do run for football, I am certainly not a runner. I have always tried to avoid running (not while playing football though) at all costs. However, recently I have had a change of heart and I have become quite interested in wanting to do a long distance run. This is the first of (hopefully) many runs that I will be doing. It is a fairly short one, but you’ve got to start somewhere! I am thinking of writing updates and posting in my blog of my training. 

My first training session will be tomorrow!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Single Leg Squats - Pistols

Today I am going to talk about my new favourite exercise – Single Leg Squats. This exercise is also known as The Pistol! Now, I will say right off the bat that these are an incredibly difficult exercise to perfect, but are also very beneficial for leg power. Ok, single leg squatting is one of the most demanding exercises out there, but also one of the most beneficial.

How to do Single Leg Squats

To do the exercise, we begin by standing on one leg, with the other out in front of us. We keep our hands/arms to the side. We then bend at the standing knee, lowering our body as low as possible. When we are at the bottom, the foot is flat and our hamstrings will be resting on our calf. We then push back up to the original position, and this completes one rep. Easy?

Benefits of Single Leg Squats

There are a good number of benefits to the pistol and here are some:

Strength – the main benefit (in my mind) to single leg squats is the strength that we can gain from doing them. The muscles that will benefit are; glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and core.

Balance – another major benefit from doing single leg squats is the improved balance that can be developed. Our balance is challenged immensely while completing this exercise.

Co-ordination – linking in with balance, slightly, is the benefit that our co-ordination can be improved through completing the exercise. As we have to focus our body to multiple different actions our co-ordination is challenged and therefore can grow and improve.

Flexibility – through the exercise we can become more flexible in the legs and glutes.

This exercise is a fantastic exercise to include in our workout. As we progress we can add weights to make it more challenging and continue progress. Our legs become so powerful through these exercises, but we also receive many other benefits.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Frustrating Experience

I contribute to another website regularly and read through other people’s work on this website. I came across a page that was titled ‘The Top 5 Exercises to Burn Belly Fat’. This list included exercises such as crunches, sit ups and stomach twists. As I have mentioned on this blog before, to burn fat, including belly fat, you have to burn more calories than you take in and it is as simple as that. I sent the author a reply suggesting that these exercises will not really burn the belly fat, but will help to tone the abdominal muscles.

I said:

“These exercises don't burn belly fat! They just tone the abdominal muscles.”

His reply:

“In order to tone you need to exercise. Exercise burns fat. Just noting that.”

I sent another reply, trying to explain myself, suggesting that aerobic exercises, that burn more calories are better for reducing the belly fat and that these exercises are good, but are not the best for ditching the gut. I have yet to receive another reply as of writing this. I really hope that I do get a reply as I am very intrigued to what he has to say.

I have nothing against the exercises that the guy was writing about but I really disagree with him promoting (probably in order to make money) these exercises as the top five to burn belly fat when they really are not. Another thing that I did not really understand was the fact that the profile picture suggested that he was…… ahem, fat.

It is really frustrating that people are putting pages like that on the web with seemingly no research behind it at all. I am quite happy to admit if I have made a mistake, but I will have put research in at least.

Rant over!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012



I have previously posted blog entries regarding carbohydrates, fats and dietary fibres. This entry looks to discuss protein.

What is Protein?

Proteins, as a nutrient, are chains of Amino acids that contain around 4 calories per gram. Amino acids can be divided into either essential amino acids or non-essential amino acids.

In nutrition, protein is broken down in the stomach in order to provide amino acids to the body, including essential amino acids that cannot be created by the body itself. Our body does not store protein so it is important that we eat it on a daily basis for a number of reasons.

Protein is needed by us humans in order to grow and maintain our condition. Experts advise consuming between 0.8 grams and 1.1 grams of protein per pound of your body weight, per day.

Benefits of Protein for Weight Loss

Protein is an essential thing for the body in general, but it can also be extremely important to people wanting to lose weight or fat.

An important factor of protein is that it takes longer to digest and leave your stomach. This leaves us feeling fuller for longer, and this means that we are less likely to unnecessarily snack between meals, therefore we eat fewer calories. 

Protein also burns more calories through digestion, and general use, and so this can aid in any weight loss we are attempting.

It is important to note here that this blog IS NOT promoting an Atkins/high protein diet, or anything similar. I do not agree with these types of diets and am merely showing how through eating the right way protein can help lose weight.

Benefits of Protein for Muscle Growth

When weight training, our bodies need protein to develop and maintain muscle. Protein is used to repair the tiny tears that are made when we exercise. The protein also helps to increase the muscle mass. Because amino acids can be burned by the body during exercise it is essential that we refuel our muscles with protein, as well as carbohydrates.

Research appears to suggest that it is important to have protein shortly before and shortly after weight/resistance training to fuel our muscles and allow them to repair and grow.

Other Benefits of Protein

Protein, as well as the benefits previously mentioned, has a number of other benefits too. These include, but are not limited to;

  • Repairing injured/torn tissue
  • Protein also helps build skin, hair, nails and cartilage
  • Prevention of various conditions such as anaemia and hypotension
  • Helps with circulation
  • Heals injuries

Be careful with Protein

As with all food intakes there are things to be careful of. There is, of course, a risk of eating too much protein. This can lead to excess calories, and potential weight gain. Also, if we eat too much protein and not enough carbohydrates the body can form ketones and release them into the blood.


Protein is something that we need to intake everyday. It is so important for our everyday health, but can also help us with weight loss and muscle building. As with all food, it is important that we do not over eat it though.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fat Is Not The Enemy

Today this blog looks to discuss fat(s). The idea of a low fat/no fat diet is often branded around for weight loss. The truth is that fat DOES NOT make us fat. The simple science is that is we eat more calories than we burn off they get stored by our body as fat. So it is (excess) calories that make us fat. If we eat too much, we put on weight/fat. It is also true that we need fat in our diet; most fat is good for us. However, it is true that gram for gram, fat contains more calories (9) than carbohydrates and protein (around 4). It is; therefore, fine to include fats within our daily calorie allowance.

There are four different types of fat out there; Trans fats, saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats.

Trans Fats

Ok, these are fats that we should definitely try to avoid as much as possible. These are man made fats. According to the National Academy of Sciences suggests that trans fats contain no known benefit to humans with regards to health. It is also suggested that trans fats lower the amount of good cholesterol in our bodies, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease. There are other suggestions as to the adverse affects of trans fats. There is a suggestion that the risk of type 2 diabetes increases with trans fat consumption. There is also investigation into theories suggesting that risk of cancer may be increased with eating trans fats. A study published in Archives of Neurology looks into the theory that the consumption of trans, and saturated, fats promote the development of Alzheimer disease.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are animal fats, and really do have a fairly bad press. Saturated fats are nowhere near as bad for us as trans fats, or as bad as they are sometimes made out to be. Saturated fats have been linked with diseases, such as cardio-vascular disease, for example. In reality, in moderation, and eaten with good fats, saturated fat is not a huge problem to our health.

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated

These are the best fats that are good for our bodies. Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is great for us. It is also possible that these fats help to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. However, this is still in debate.

Ultimately it is all about moderation. Fats are certainly not our enemy, so looking at the fat content of food is not what we should be doing. We should, however, be aiming to cut out trans fats as much as possible, and we should be more focussed on the calorie intake of our food. Fats are an important part of our diet, but should not make up more than 30% of it.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Drinks and Calories

I regularly listen to the Jillian Michaels Podcasts and there is a regular guest doctor who appears on the show. We all know that fizzy drinks/sodas/pop, or whatever else you may call them, are not good. However, the doctor suggested that what we drink has had a major impact on weight gain, and suggested another major drink that can really hinder with regards to calorie intake. The drink(s) in question is fruit juice. I decided to investigate all of this further and so this blog will look into drinks and calories.

Fizzy drinks/sodas/pop

Firstly, fizzy drinks/sodas/pop. A medium coke at McDonalds (this is based on UK data) contains a massive 170 calories. For a drink this is quite remarkable to me. Too many of these drinks and the calories really begin to mount. It is really important, with regards to weight control, to not drink too many of these drinks.

Diet fizzy drinks

When choosing diet drinks the calorie intake and sugar intake is reduced significantly. However, other additions to the drink maybe even worse for us! So in terms of weight control these are good, but there are many issues with other things added to diet drinks.

Fruit Juice

It is pretty common knowledge that fruits contain plenty of sugar. However, this is not really a problem as fruits contain a lot of vitamins and minerals to make them worthwhile eating, plus the calories are not that high. Fruit juices, however, contain a large amount of calories. For example, 200ml of orange juice can have around 90 calories in it. The main issue, in my mind, with fruit juices is that we automatically expect them to be good for us and so have no worries when drinking them, however, the calories can easily add up through drinking them.

Overall fruit juice is the best of these types of drinks as they have far more nutritional value to them than the others but it is important to watch just how much we are drinking because of the relatively high calorie amounts.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The importance of a treat

 Treats (listened to a great playlist while writing this, find it here)

When focussing on a fitness regime and diet plan it is very easy to get yourself in a mode where you feel you must resist all ‘bad’ foods. This blog post, however, will encourage the occasional treat and explain why it is (or at least can be) quite importan to weight management. 

It is important to understand that a ‘cheat day’ is not being promoted here. A bingeing session can easily undo all the good work that has gone on before. The point of this blog is to encourage the occasional treat in order to keep our fitness aims on track.

First of all there is a simple psychological issue to deal with. The less we are allowed something, the more we want it. If we have it in our mind that we are not allowed to eat cake, we will want it even more. Having a treat now and again will help to stop this craving happening and therefore we can stick to our regime far easier, without so much temptation!

Another problem is just how easy it can be to punish ourselves is we do ‘slip up’. This can lead to things like comfort eating (a big problem that I know all too well) and overtraining (which I have discussed here). It is important to remember that if we do ‘slip up’ we can always rectify it. We can easily change the diet plan to fit in treats and we can always put in some extra exercise sessions. 

It is also possible that, through depriving ourselves completely, when we reach our fitness or weight loss goals, we simply go off our diet plan and then all the hard work is ruined.

To conclude then, as long as we still get the right energy and nutrients from our diet through fruits, vegetables, wholegrain, protein and the right fats there is still a place for a treat. It is important, however, to know that they are a treat and should not replace meals. Be aware of the extra calories and alter the diet to incorporate them. Small treats every once in a while will help us to control ourselves but depriving ourselves of all sweets will more likely lead to binge and over eating.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

10 Minute Workout

I read of an interesting workout from Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S. on the Men’s Health website. The workout is, according to the website, designed to get our body off to the right start first thing in the morning in order for us to burn fat. This is a short, explosive workout! The workout comprises 5 exercises and requires NO equipment at all. I really like the idea of this workout and, after completing it a few times myself now, it really does work the body in this short space of time. This is why I wish to share it.

1. The first exercise is 20 repetitions of jumping jacks (star jumps). To do this we begin with our feet slightly apart and hands by the side. We jump, spreading our legs shoulder-width apart, whilst at the same time raise our hands above heads, before jumping again bringing the arms down and the feet back together.

2. The second exercise in the workout is prisoner squats. To do a prisoner squat we stand with our chest out and our hands behind our head. We sit back at the hips and lower the body as far as possible by bending the knees, without moving the back. We then push back up. We should aim to complete 12 repetitions of this exercise.

3. The third exercise is one of my favourite exercises; push ups. To complete push ups we get our legs straight with our backs and rest on our hands that are beneath our shoulders. We bend our arms, maintaining the straight line from feet to head, until the chest reaches the ground, and then we push back up. This exercise requires 15 reps.

4. The fourth exercise of the workout is forward lunges. These are quite difficult to master but are beneficial. From our standing position we step forward with one leg. We bend both knees until the front leg is parallel to the floor and we hold this position briefly before returning to the standing position. The aim here is to complete 12 reps with each leg.

5. The final exercise of the workout is one that I had not come across before and is known as stickups. We stand with our back to the wall and feet slightly off the wall. We then place the back of our arms against the wall with the upper arms parallel to the floor and the elbow bent at 90 degrees. We keep the arms against the wall at all times while raising them above our head and slowly returning to the start position. We aim to complete 10 repetitions.

So this is the workout and it really is effective. I would suggest trying this out first thing on a morning once of twice a week and see what results you get from it. I would also suggest adjusting the number of repetitions to suit your needs.