Monthly Archive: July 2014

Fitness 101: The Essential Guide

Fitness 101If you’re trying to get back into shape, keep it simple. People tend to have an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude when it comes to fitness, and that’s why many fail. You shouldn’t have to push yourself to extremes. You don’t need a fully-researched, complicated plan before you begin. And you don’t even need to “join” something. What you need is to move. Here’s some Fitness 101 for you!

Walk 20 Minutes a Day:
Here’s an easy place to get started. Walking is good for your waistline, your blood pressure, your stress levels and your brain. Plus, it costs nothing and you’ll get outside more. Walk to the store when you’re only picking up a few items (and carrying is a great exercise too). Take the stairs. De-stress with an after-dinner stroll. Hold a ‘walking meeting’.

Many experts say to aim for 10,000 steps a day. I find that a bit like counting calories — it’s interesting to track once in a while, but it’s no way to live. Instead, aim to walk for at least 20 minutes a day — all at once or broken up into segments.

Sprint Intervals Once a Week:
We should walk for distance but run for speed. Note I say run, not jog. While jogging may be better than no movement at all, there’s nothing natural about it. It’s a made-up exercise. If you don’t believe me, watch some kids playing and observe how they run. In fact, most kids can’t jog unless they’re taught how, while running fast comes naturally to them.

Ditch the treadmill, headphones and fancy running gear and just head outside. Try walking for a bit, then really “open it up”. Your body will let you know when you have to slow down again. It should feel good! No stress, no boredom, no stopwatch and natural scenery everywhere.

Run in short intervals. Try sprinting for just 15 seconds, then walk for 15. Repeat. Do this and gradually build up your endurance to 5 minutes. Experienced runners can go up to 10 minutes. Sprint intervals only need to be done about once a week to be effective.

Bodyweight Exercises 3 x a Week:
Being able to push and pull your own bodyweight is an essential and practical skill. Again, stick to the proven basics for maximum results. You don’t need a fancy routine — just some pushups, pullups and squats.

Scale pushups by doing them from the knees or by doing them off a wall. Maintain a flat back and keep your elbows tucked into your sides.

For pullups, mix up your grip (overhand, underhand, mixed) and make sure you use a full range of motion (chin over the bar and arms fully extended at the bottom). Scale pullups by jumping up to the bar and lowering yourself or by assisting yourself with your feet by standing on a box or chair. You’ll need access to a pullup bar, but playgrounds and even tree branches make great substitutes. You can also do body rows to scale a pullup. Use a rope, strap or even a towel — loop it over the bar and pull yourself from a more horizontal angle (with your heels on the floor) to effectively lower your bodyweight.

To squat, keep your weight solidly on your heels. With your torso upright, push your hips backwards before you bend the knees. Then lower yourself down so that you effectively squat between your legs (feet shoulder-width apart), reaching below parallel before reversing the direction. Keep your knees tracking over your toes, but don’t allow them to extend beyond in front. Practicing a full-depth squat is a great mobility and strength exercise.

You can put a simple workout together using a 1-2-3 ratio with the above three movements (i.e. 1 pullup to 2 pushups to 3 squats). Try doing 2 pullups, 4 pushups and 6 squats. Or 5 pullups, 10 pushups and 15 squats. Repeat 5 times. Don’t fly though the movements, do them with control and with proper breathing. Fitter people can try this routine for 10 minutes or even longer (up to 20).

Lift Some Weights Twice a Week:
Lifting heavy things is good for us. It makes us strong in a way that bodyweight exercises can’t, and it’s a perfectly natural and instinctive thing to do. It not only increases strength, it’s good for bone density (ladies, that’s why you need to lift heavy too). If you have access to a barbell or a set of dumbbells, use them for compound (multi-joint) movements. Deadlift. Squat. Press. Stick to the basics — you don’t need bodybuilding exercises or curls to be fit.

When strength is the goal, build up how much you can safely lift over time. Trying to add 5 pounds to your previous lift attempts is a great way to get started. And keep your sets short — 5 reps at a time is perfect.

Even if you don’t have access to any weightlifting equipment, there are plenty of alternatives. Lift some heavy rocks. Deadlift a 20 litre water bottle. Even resistance bands can have their place in training and get you started.

If you don’t have much experience in lifting or are prone to injury, be sure to get some instruction from a qualified professional.

Work on Mobility Often:
We tend to neglect joint mobility work, but it’s one of the factors that can contribute to a long and healthy life. If you want to move pain-free for many years, you’ll want to practice and train your mobility. Joint mobility can be done daily, and you don’t need a big block of time to do it all at once. Waiting in your car at a stoplight? Roll your head around and work your neck mobility. Bend your hands and fingers back towards your forearms and work on your wrist mobility. Standing in line? Lift one leg slightly and draw a circle with your toes to work on your ankle mobility.

Play!
Play with your kids. Throw a ball for your dog. Take up a sport. This is likely one of the biggest factors that contributes to longevity — having a creative spirit for play. Get outdoors in nature and move! Your body and brain will love you for it.

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July 24, 2014 No Comments

From Sickness to Wellness to Fitness

Before and After

So I’ve arrived at middle age, and I’m happy to say that I’m healthy, strong and fairly capable. I’ve learned to fall in love with movement and physical challenges, and while I may not be the best at everything I attempt, I can still inspire.

It hasn’t always been that way. I’ve pretty much been through the wringer in terms of health challenges most of my life. This post, in a very small nutshell, is my story — as I transformed from sickness to wellness to fitness.

As a child, I was often sick. And as a young adult, I suffered numerous spontaneous lung collapses and underwent more than one pleurectomy (a procedure to remove the lining between the lungs and chest wall), was hospitalized for anemia, spent hours in an oxygen tent, and seemed to contract each and every major ailment that was going around at the time.  Even my later years were plagued with health problems — mostly stemming from chronic inflammation and the result of my body breaking down after having been through so much trauma.  Joint pain, stiffness, aching extremities, chronic fatigue, and an overall foggy feeling (as if I was slightly disconnected from reality) were my norms for quite a few years. Lupus was suspected, as was fibromyalgia, but never officially diagnosed.

Even as recently as 2006, I weighed 20 pounds less than I do now, but was carrying much more body-fat — over 20%. My sleep was poor, my stress levels were high, and my energy levels were low. I struggled to keep somewhat active, but wasn’t able to keep up with my workouts as autoimmune disease got the better of me. I was eating Advil like candy in order to manage the pain (mostly in my joints and limbs). Every four or five hours the pain would return — it felt like I had the flu for about 3 years. Multiple trips to various physicians didn’t shed much light on the problem, tests came up negative and all they could do was to continue to monitor my situation.

I decided I needed to turn things around.

I took my case to functional nutritionist and alternative health expert Bryce Wylde. I knew that Bryce approached problems from a holistic perspective and, based on his reputation and successes in treating people, I was intrigued to see what he could do with my case.

After a thorough consultation, booked in several sessions where we covered my individual issues, history, habits, lifestyle, etc., an evaluation was completed and a plan for treatment was given to me.  While chronic inflammation wasn’t the only culprit that was nagging me at the time, it was certainly thought to be paramount.  Given the link between diet, nutrition, and inflammation, Dr. Bryce wasted no time in sorting out my ‘gut’.

Digestive support was the first thing to tackle.  We started with a pharmaceutical-grade probiotic to restore the healthy bacteria in my stomach.  I was given a list of nutritional supplements to take, and instructed to take two teaspoons of fish oil per day.  Finally, I was given some general guidelines for an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet, which restricted certain grains, dairy products, nightshades and other ‘trigger’ foods that may have contributed to a reaction of some sort.

What a difference a few months made!  All joint pain, leg pain, creaky knees, stiffness in the joints disappeared completely. I was able to stop taking pain relievers within a month of starting the treatment – and haven’t taken a single dose since – almost three years later.  When I started adding regular exercise into my regime, things improved even more (I’d been ‘going to the gym’ for years, but was sidelined for a long time due to pain).   Heavy lifting, kettlebells, conditioning, mobility and bodyweight workouts – I hit it all now.  And my joints and muscles have never been stronger or healthier.

What can you do to keep inflammation at bay?

Proper nutrition plays a key role, as many foods are inflammation protagonists.

Here are some pointers:

  1. Take a good omega-3 supplement twice a day. I use liquid Nutra-Sea fish oil from Ascenta Health.
  2. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from natural sources, including fresh wild salmon or canned sockeye salmon, sardines, herring, omega-3 eggs, avocados, hemp seeds and/or sprouted flaxseeds.
  3. Include nuts and other seeds in your diet, including walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Watch your portion sizes; it’s easy to overdo it.
  4. Avoid trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, margarine and vegetable oils and shortenings like the plague.  Use a good olive oil for salads and low-temperature cooking.
  5. Avoid processed or manufactured foods at all costs. Jack LaLanne used to say “If man made it, don’t eat it!”
  6. Reduce intake of foods high in saturated fat.  Not all saturated fat is necessarily bad (in fact, your body requires it), but saturated fat should be eaten in moderation.  Better sources of saturated fat are coconut milk and virgin coconut oils, and traditionally-rasied meats
  7. Eat carbohydrates with a low glycemic load. This will mean the majority of your carbohydrates will come from vegetables, and to a lesser extent, fruits.  Restrict your consumption of grains and eliminate wheat.
  8. With every meal, choose a lean protein, more than one serving of vegetables, and get some good fat daily.  For vegetables, include plenty of dark leafy greens and brightly-coloured vegetables.  Eat cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.  Limit consumption of the nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, etc.) until the inflammation is under control.
  9. Eliminate all sugary drinks, including  juices.  Drink water and green tea instead.  Avoid diet drinks and beverages that are filled with chemicals and additives.
  10. Regularly eat ginger and turmeric, and include these spices in your recipes.  They have been shown to lower inflammation.
  11. Supplement your rich diet with a good anti-oxidant vitamin formula. There are some specific immune support formulas that are excellent too; consult your natural doctor.
  12. Choose organic, and local produce, where possible.  Eat clean and stay well!

Following these guidelines helped me, and I hope they help you as well.

– Greg

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July 23, 2014 No Comments

Active Travel in Greece

Active Travel GreeceLast month, 12 of us saw Greece like few tourists get to see it….

www.travelsbynature.com

Most people picture the whitewashed cubist houses and the caldera of Santorini or the cosmopolitan flare of Mykonos. But there is another side of Greece — the “real” Greece as I call it. Places where old-world charm still exists and where locals live out a peaceful existence in harmony with their surroundings.

Our group (we were referred to as “the fitness group” by the locals) arrived in Athens in the morning of June 6th, and had some time to visit the Acropolis and take in the atmosphere of the city. We were pretty exhausted after our overnight flight, but the excitement of being in Greece kept us going. We met for dinner that evening at a little restaurant near the historic Plaka district. In true Greek fashion, the food here was kept in large steam tables and we could choose what we wanted. The fresh grilled seabream (tsipoura) was excellent and we finished up the evening by doing some of our own Greek dancing.

The next morning, we got in a great workout on the top of Filopappou Hill, southwest of the Acropolis. The view there was stunning! The city and the ruins of the Parthenon were literally at our feet, and we could hear the sounds of a distant clarinet and the occasional ringing of church bells. Our post-workout breakfast at the hotel was well deserved – especially the fresh fruit and wonderful thick yogurt with honey.

Our next stop was Nafplio on the southern Peloponnese mainland. It’s a beautiful town – full of bougainvillea and Venetian inspired architecture. The best way to see the city and the surrounding countryside is from the top of the Palamidi fortress, so that evening we hiked to the top. From below, it seems almost impossible that there are stone stairs (999 of them according to legend) leading up the cliffside. You can barely see them and they seem pretty steep! But once you get on the path, it’s actually very manageable. The climb felt great and it was good to get in some more movement after a few hours of driving earlier in the day.

Workouts in Nafplio were done before breakfast at a local park and playground. It was a great spot with lots of options for pullups and inverted rows. The neighbourhood dogs must have heard me say “down dog”, because when we did our yoga-inspired moves, a few came running to check us out. They were friendly and loved our company. We also provided some entertainment for a few locals…

Theodoros, our excellent driver, took us to see the 4th century BC theatre of Epidavros (where we just had to try some stair sprints and bear walks) and the nearby healing centre of Asciepieon — complete with ruins of its ancient hostels and gymnasium. The natural environment of the region was thought to be important for the treatment of patients, especially with its surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. We also visited Mycenae, an incredible archeological site dating from 1600BC.

Upon leaving the mainland, we flew off to the Eastern Aegean island of Ikaria. I’ve blogged about this traditional island plenty of times, so I will only say that it’s a destination that has to be experienced to be believed. The smells of lavender, rosemary and pine are everywhere. It’s a wonderful mixture of mountains and sea, with incredible beaches, forgotten hiking trails, quiet villages and strong local customs.

Our island workouts were mostly done on the beach (which we had all to ourselves), on the terrace and near the waterfront. And we had a few great partner workouts using the Lebert Buddy System. Combined with all the hiking and daily activity, the morning workouts were just perfect. We had most of the day to explore and really get a feel for the island.

Hiking around Greece is an incredible adventure. That’s when people realize that Greece isn’t just barren rock islands with whitewashed houses. There is so much pristine nature, and the mountain breezes make temperatures just right. One morning found us hiking from the shore almost to the top of the island, to a tiny village called Agios Dimitrios. We followed a gorge and made our way past incredible vistas, rivers and waterfalls — and came out several hours later to this tiny hamlet nestled in the mountains. After an iced coffee, we continued up to the next village of Christos where we ate an incredible (and well deserved) lunch at the taverna just off the village square. The walk back was long, but leisurely.

Additional adventures included our cooking class, led by the wonderful Thea Parikos. We made tzatziki, zucchini fritters, Ikarian soufiko (like a ratatouille), and lamb chops done in wine. We visited a local winery  (locals swear by it and attribute it to their healthy aging), stopped off at a beekeeper’s honey production facility, visited the monastery of Theoktistis, soaked in the natural mineral hot springs of Levkada, and spent a bit of time on the south part of the island. The south has some incredible hidden beaches, and we managed to spend a bit of time at Seychelles, likely the best undiscovered beach on the island.

One more thing before I go to the rest of the pictures…

If you are interested in joining me on the next active travel adventure in Greece, we still have a few spots left for September 2014 (but time is running out).

Visit www.travelsbynature.com for more information on the trip, and please don’t hesitate to contact me. Remaining spots will be filled and there won’t be another opportunity until mid 2015.

 View more pictures by clicking here and check out the video below!

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July 23, 2014 No Comments

Staying Young: My Workout Practices

Staying YoungI’ll admit that I was a bit of a mess at the beginning of this year. I chalk it up to a long and particularly harsh winter, but in the end that’s an excuse. Work had overtaken my personal life, and I was losing focus. Realizing this, I had to re-prioritize my goals and routine.

While I think it’s important to establish and re-evaluate goals, it’s likely even more important to determine the “why”, or the real reason for wanting change. Thinking of an end state is fine, but as a species, we’re not really good at focusing on the long term. That’s why New Year’s resolutions rarely stick. I think it’s much better to focus on daily positive habits and practices.

For me, this is what is improving my day-to-day life:

  • Working on squat, thoracic and shoulder mobility;
  • Taking my fish oil and other supplements;
  • Eating heaps of vegetables and greens;
  • Getting outside every day for at least 30 minutes;
  • Training 4+ times a week;
  • Supplementing my heavy lifts and training combos with a bit of bodybuilding;
  • Moving as much as possible. Running, walking, jumping over rocks, taking stairs 3 steps at a time.

It’s not hard for me to think of the “why” when I look at this list. I want to feel young, not old. I want to be able to move, pain-free, in my 60′s, 70′s and beyond.  And I really enjoy working on these practices, every day. If I didn’t, I obviously wouldn’t do them or prioritize them. If my nutrition and workout practices were just check boxes of calories, macronutrients, sets and reps – I’d likely despise the routine and lose sight of the overall objective. That’s why I really think it’s important to love the process of working towards a goal — not just staking your happiness on some future desired state. And if it helps in staying young, that’s just the bonus.

Today I got out for a run and a bit of fun with a trainer friend of mine, Tyler Sarry. We didn’t do anything intense; the goal was just to get some fresh air and a bit of movement. The week prior I was in the same place scrambling over the rocks at the beach. These are habits that don’t take a lot of time, and they keep me sharp, positive and pumped. I’m likely to repeat them…

Do you root all your goals in some imagined future objective? If so, make sure you link them with enjoyable activities and habits that you can practice every day!

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July 23, 2014 No Comments

Nutrition 101: The Essential Guide

Nutrition 101

Not so many years ago, I needed a reboot. I was waking up every morning, not fully rested and feeling lethargic. I certainly didn’t have a big reserve of energy — similar to the energy I had as a kid. Chronic stress and inflammation got the best of me.

In fact, I was so ACCUSTOMED  to living life in a compromised state, I wasn’t even aware most days that anything was wrong.

It was only when my body started to exhibit more obvious symptoms of sickness, that I decided that I had to make some big alterations to my lifestyle. In other words, I learned first hand that “change only can happen when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” And I was ready for a change…

Maybe you think you need a reboot too. Having been through it, I can tell you that the “pain of having to change” doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think.

The key to success is not making too many sweeping changes all at the same time.

If you’ve tried to tackle big health-related lifestyle changes before and failed, realize that it’s probably not your fault. Too often we dive in, get fatigued, and hit a brick wall.

What’s this got to do with nutrition? Well, I’ve seen far too many clients that have gone on diets, and ended up only drained and frustrated. It’s imperative that you be in a positive, rested state before you even begin.

So, what’s the first thing to do in order to improve your nutrition? It’s got nothing to do with diet (at least not directly)…

1) GET YOUR SLEEP.

Aim for at least 7 hours per night (more if you can manage it).

The quality and duration of your sleep has a direct effect on your energy levels and your ability to cope with stress. If you’re making changes to your diet, you’ll want to be able to handle those changes in a restful and energetic state by keeping your cortisol down.

2) DRINK LOTS OF WATER.

Most of us don’t even realize when we’re dehydrated (mistaking hunger for thirst). Dehydration can stunt metabolism, accelerate the aging process and allow toxins to build up in the body. Certainly not an ideal state when you’re trying to improve your body composition.

Aim to drink at least 8 glasses per day, whether filtered or from a spring.

3) TAKE YOUR FISH-OIL

I mentioned that it’s impossible to initiate change in your lifestyle (including a nutritional overhaul) if you’re in a fatigued and depressed state. That’s why I highly recommend taking a good quality liquid fish-oil every day. It’s good for your brain health and cognitive functions, and can help you literally “turn on the fat-burning gene”. Don’t believe some of the media hype: fish-oils are still one of the best supplements you can take. Just ensure you go for quality.

4) REBOOT YOUR DIET.

How you choose to fuel your body has a tremendous impact on your health and the way in which you age. If you’ve struggled with this issue before, remember that the key is to be prepared. You will be removing a number of foods from your diet completely (i.e. they shouldn’t be found in your house), and stocking up on nutrient-rich whole foods that are easy to prepare.

One of the best ways to maximize nutrition is to choose unprocessed foods — eaten in their natural state or cooked and prepared by you at home. In a nutshell, that means eating loads of vegetables, some traditionally-raised meats and poultry, quality eggs, a bit of wild-caught fish and seafood, a selection of fresh fruit, and some nuts. Grains and legumes are not demon foods by any means (barring some underlying medical condition), but many people thrive by eliminating them — especially wheat.

Nobody likes “diets”. Food shouldn’t be thought of as restrictive, and counting calories or macronutrients isn’t really a lifestyle for the long term. But if you do a bit of preparation, shop regularly, and keep your kitchen full of healthy food choices — you’ll optimize your health. You’ll likely optimize your budget too. While many people think that whole foods are expensive, preparing your own food at home is far less expensive than eating out.

A few simple guidelines can go a long way for those who wish to improve body composition and physical performance:

Detox Your Kitchen:

Rid your house of sugary foods, cakes and cookies, snack and convenience foods, frozen “lean cuisine-type” meals, ice cream, all processed food products, soda pop, etc. Also ditch the cereals, pasta and other starchy processed grains. If you don’t have access to poor food choices, you won’t eat them.

Next, Become a Strategic Shopper

Plan to surround yourself with real, wholesome foods – focusing on quality. Choose organic if your budget allows it, or try and purchase things that are fresh and in-season.

A “typical” grocery list might look like this:

  • 2 dozen free-run eggs
  • berries in season (or frozen)
  • 1 container green tea
  • large container baby spinach
  • 2 bags organic carrots
  • 1 bunch celery
  • miscellaneous fresh veggies (kale, red peppers, cucumber, cauliflower, etc)
  • 1 squash (butternut or spaghetti)
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • frozen Brussels sprouts, broccoli (frozen vegetables are a great food strategy)
  • 4 lbs grass-fed beef (top round, sirloin, ground, etc)
  • 3 lbs free-range chicken (whole, breasts)
  • 1 bag frozen wild shrimp
  • 3 cans wild red Arctic salmon
  • 2 avocados
  • canned sardines, herring
  • walnuts, almonds
  • seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
  • grapefruit, apples, bananas
  • 1 lemon
  • onions, garlic, ginger
  • apple cider vinegar
  • flax oil or fish oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • virgin coconut oil

Once you have a well-stocked larder, you can focus on a few basic guidelines:

  1. Eat small meals, but don’t go hungry. Eating every 3-4 hours works well for many people. While intermittent fasting has benefits, it doesn’t work for everyone and is an advanced strategy. Try smaller, more frequent meals first.
  2. Eat protein with every meal, especially lean sources of protein. Eggs, chicken, beef, bison, pork, lamb, goat, elk, and fish are great sources. Look for wild caught fish if possible. Current farming options are not sustainable nor are they healthy. Fish lower on the food chain is best (sardines, herring, anchovies, etc).
  3. Eat vegetables every chance you get. Staples should include anything dark green and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, dandelion greens, collards, cucumbers, kale, celery, swiss chard, cilantro and parsley). Also include lots of brightly coloured vegetables like red and orange peppers, red cabbage, red onions, tomatoes and carrots.
  4. Refrain from eating too many starchy carbs. When you do eat them, make it a post-workout meal. Better starchy choices are sweet potatoes and other tubers, squash and green beans.
  5. Eat good fats, especially those rich in omega-3s. Get a mixture of good saturated fats, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fats. Better saturated fat choices include virgin coconut oil, free-range eggs, and fats from naturally raised meats. Monounsaturated fats include the olive oils, nuts and nut butters (un-roasted and unsalted almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, etc), seeds (unsalted raw pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, et), and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats come from flax seeds (must be ground), flax oil, hemp seed hearts, fish oils, nuts and nut butters. Concentrate on adding more monounsaturated fats (olive oils, nuts, avocados, seeds) and include fish oil supplementation in your diet plan. Fish oil should be taken at least once per day (NutraSea is an excellent brand – get the liquid form and keep it in the fridge).

Finally, Plan and Prepare:

Always plan your meals ahead of time. Get a food strategy and resolve to stick with it. Whether that means shopping and preparing food once a week, or getting up 30 minutes earlier, do it.

One of the key problems for people who try and follow these “Nutrition 101” guidelines is that they get caught unprepared. Having fresh broccoli and some chicken sitting in the fridge doesn’t help when you’re at work. Take the time to prepare, prepare and prepare. It doesn’t take as much time as you might think — especially if you keep things simple. In the time it takes to drive to a restaurant, order a meal, wait for it and drive back, you could have prepared a wholesome meal yourself where you are in control of the ingredients.

Finally, eat sitting down and enjoy every bite. You deserve good food!

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July 22, 2014 No Comments