Adequate Sleep is Serious Business

Gaining weight, fuzzy thinking and premature aging are all possible results from inadequate sleep. Why and how much do we need and why the big deal?

Dogs certainly know how to get some shut eye!

Lots of big-time health issues are related to lack of sleep. Studies show a strong correlation between gaining weight and lack of sleep. This is probably because insufficient sleep whacks out our hunger hormones.

Leptin, (which suppress hunger) drops and Ghrelin, (which stimulates our appetite), increases. If you wake up tired or get tired during the day, you often start a vicious cycle riddled with less resiliency to stress and more reliance on carbs and caffeine. And, since snacking and slurping down the Joe only helps temporarily, you may find yourself reaching for more again and again. Getting to sleep at night might not be so easy afterwards.

That’s a big deal because studies show that consistent sleep deprivation may increase the onset and/or severity of age-related issues such as hypertension, memory loss and diabetes in addition to obesity. According to Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., at the University of Chicago, the metabolic and endocrine changes that result from inadequate sleep mimic many of the hallmarks of aging and researchers are also finding that our brains need sleep more than any other part of our bodies. The hippocampus is important for spatial learning and has the unique ability to generate new brain cells throughout life, a process called neurogenesis.

Sleep plays a role in making sure those new cells can survive which leads to the obvious conclusion that a lack of adequate sleep could prohibit the cell rejuvenation. Learning new things that require spatial memory keeps our brains young because it increases the survival rate for new brain cells in the hippocampus. Not sleeping enough eliminates that process due to the suppression of the neurogenesis, meaning long-term sleep deprivation could be detrimental to neural functioning. And, it doesn’t stop there. Adults who sleep less than they should are more prone to car accidents, depression and alcohol abuse.

Did you get get enough sleep last night? What is enough sleep? How many of you can get by with less sleep than you know you need? Just too much to get done in a day, right? Getting adequate sleep is serious business and you don’t want to mess with it on a long-term basis. I saw a segment on Good Morning America with a heart specialist who said that women are at a much higher risk for heart attacks when they get either not enough or too much sleep. Her recommendation was between 7-9 hours with 7-1/2 being optimal.

Yet, others swear by as little as five and as much as 10 hours. So, how does one know? One way is to take a long vacation and after a couple of days of catching up on your sleep debt, see how many hours you need to wake without an alarm clock. Or, if you often feel like you need coffee midday to remain functional, you’re probably not getting enough. One other thing. Properly timing out exercise is a critical part of maximizing the benefits. Vigorous exercise right before bedtime can lead to a poor night’s sleep. Sleep experts recommend exercising at least three hours before bedtime, and the best time is usually late afternoon because body temperature rises during exercise and takes as long as six hours to start dropping.

Cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset so it’s important to allow the body adequate time for this process. What else? Quiet time before bed; cool, dark and quiet rooms and no electronics for at least 30-minutes prior to sleep. Researchers believe that computer screens, fluorescent lights and TVs cause our brains to think it might be morning, prompting the release of cortisol. Now you know better. Sweet dreams!


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How Many Calories Did You Really Burn?

Wonder who is burning the most calories on these treadmills?


I often get asked how many calories one might burn in a cycling class, for example, since the person asking me the question has usually experienced an outrageous calorie burn on a treadmill or elliptical – like 600 to 800 calories, etc.  I wonder how many people run out and have an extra large serving of dessert thinking they have excess calories to burn. Or, on the flip side, wonder why they aren’t losing more weight, based on what the treadmill is telling them.

Manufacturers of cardio equipment have improved the accuracy of calorie-burning estimates but there are far too many factors involved to achieve precise numbers. What we are really getting is their best estimate. The newer, more expensive the machines, the better chance of improved accuracy, especially if you have to input a lot of personal information but each manufacturer uses a different formula to calculate our precious burn. For example, Precor USA, created their formula in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Generally, those formulas include weight and age, along with speed of the workout and incline or intensity level. But, there are many other factors that the machines do not factor in to their formulas. What are some of the variables that affect our calorie expenditure? Let’s see. The minor ones like gender, body fat, your metabolism, how long – or consistently you’ve been using the machine; how efficient you are using the machine and of course, your age! And yes, I tested my Bodybugg several times and yes, the cardio equipment was usually about 25-percent higher than my monitor.

According to, machine calorie counts tend to overestimate by 10 to 15 percent up to as much as 50 percent. (Holy Hell!) Why, because muscle burns more calories per minute than fat; because men generally burn more calories than women, because older individuals typically have a slower basal metabolism than their younger counterparts; and, because interval training may show less calories burned than steady state but that configuration excludes the important after-burn that can make a huge difference in the long run. Fitness levels vary greatly between members of the same height, weight, gender, and age. Those of us who have been consistent exercisers are probably burning less calories, too, unless getting on the treadmill or elliptical is part of our cross training routine. Therefore, it is IMPOSSIBLE to account for the athletic efficiency and/or biochemistry of one user over another.  And then there’s dehydration, chronic illness, stress and innumerable other factors that can alter your ability to burn calories at any given time. Even the most gifted mathematician with detailed information about an individual cannot correctly predict with 100% accuracy the rate at which calories will be burned during a specific activity.

So, why use them? Motivation and benchmarks. These indicators definitely give you a ball park figure by which to estimate your calorie expenditure. And, in case you’re a bit curious as to those estimated numbers, here a few based on an average elliptical trainer:

  • 150 pound woman/30 minutes: 387 calories
  • 180 pound man/30 minutes: 464 – 500 calories
  • 120 pound woman/30 minutes: 310 calories

So, what else can we do to maximize calorie burning on our beloved cardio machines? Try the reverse direction on an elliptical and by all means change your incline levels and speeds on a treadmill. Unless you are dealing with an injury or medical condition, you need to be at 1.5 incline on your treadmill to somewhat replicate outdoor walking.  If you are one of those walkers at level zero, time to hit the up arrow!

Okay, so not to discourage you, but at least you know the real deal. Kind of ironic, since it seems that young, obese men who have never worked out before will take the gold medal for calorie burn. Curious. What is the most you’ve burned according to a piece of cardio equipment? I’ve pushed 600, but that was after 60-minutes of continuous hard work with killer tunes and major determination. Made me want to drink after I was done…


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The Right Perspective on Exercise

I am probably like many of you when it comes to some of the reasons I first started exercising. When we were young, it might have been organized sports or a community-based program. Some of you might have competed in college and/or currently compete in triathlons or other competitions. Others start a program after a health scare or after seeing a picture of themselves. Unfortunately, many people are exercising out of fear or as a reaction to improper nutrition, the latter being worse. Today’s blog is about putting exercise in the right perspective.

My time in the gym or wherever I’m working out is literally sacred to me. It’s a block of time to gift myself with de-aging and with a natural high that results from endorphins and tapping into my strength and power. It’s a time for me to focus on empowerment and a time to feel truly alive and connected with my body. It’s a time to release stress and concerns and block out negative or critical thoughts. What it isn’t, is a time to punish myself for eating too much or eating the wrong foods. Yes, I indulge and yes, I overeat at parties or when I’m not paying attention. But, I control my shape through nutrition the following day or longer, if needed. You can’t exercise away a bad diet and believe me, I’ve tried! When you start adding more minutes and even an extra hour or day because you’re terrified of gaining weight it can become a vicious cycle. I know more than a handful of group fitness instructors that taught eight classes a week or more not because they enjoyed teaching that much but because they were scared they would gain weight if they stopped. Having said that, adding an extra workout or a few more miles to pay it forward for an upcoming gathering or right after one is fine and makes total sense. Going harder or longer in a workout or adding extra sets because you feel like superman is the bomb and I love it when my body responds that way and I can take advantage of it. But, that’s different than feeling trapped in an arduous workout routine to prevent weight gain. Exercise to strengthen your mind and body; to reshape your body; to fix flaws and to feel better overall; to compete at your best level or even to rehab or address medical issues. And, of course, exercise to lose body fat and to help you get and maintain your ideal shape and size but in general, use your diet and nutrition to lose body fat and tackle weight loss goals.

Hope this makes a sense and helps you put exercise in perspective. I’ll end with this important reminder: exercise smart so you don’t waste your time and get even more frustrated. Smart means matching your goals to the workout along with what you enjoy. A yoga class yields very different results than a five-mile run, etc.

Assisted Pull-Up’s and Dips in the Gym

Now go exercise in peace and have a party in the gym! (BTW, I was one of those instructors but I am long since “recovered” so I speak from experience!)



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De-Aging with Exercise

Studies show that regular aerobic exercise can decrease your biological age by 10 years or more and interval training and weight training are key factors in getting there. Why? Mitochondria in our cells are responsible for energy. They transform it into a chemical form that our cells can use. Efficient mitochondria produce more energy. Even better, if they’re are enhanced our cells turn over and function at a higher level for a longer period of time, sort of like growing new (young) cells. The harder we exercise or more specifically, the larger demands on oxygen consumption, the more positive effect on these mitochondria, resulting in a larger reduction in biological age. High intensity interval training (HIIT) gives us those huge bursts of output that force our bodies to adapt and in essence, “renew and rebuild,” contributing to this overall de-aging process.

Herein lies a bit of a dilemma because we want high exertion levels but we don’t want injuries (that can result from the increases stress on our muscles and joints). The key is choose exercises that incorporate our large muscle groups and are biomechanically correct, taking into consideration the stress to the body, cross-training, our age and gender and our current exercise program. In doing so, think about these variables. Speed – obviously increasing it, for example, on an elliptical, treadmill, lifecycle, spin class; on your walks, jogs or swim – short bursts of all out effort. Resistance. Obviously, increasing it on cardio machines and adding more weight in strength training. What else? Even range of motion. Jump on a step platform at 6-inches and then 8-inches…take bigger steps, leap further, do “steps” at your local high school. Also, combine movements or body parts such as bicep curls wtih plyometrics (burpees) or combine upper and lower body exercises like a shoulder press with a squat. Not enough? Add high-stepping jogging in pace in the set. Start with the basic exercise and add one element at a time. The results can be dramatic.

I suggest two to three times a week and even once a week to get started for 20 to 40-minutes or five if that’s all you can do. Each interval  can be 20-seconds to a minute with double or triple recovery time and at 80-85% max heart or uncomfortably out of breath. (I use perceived exertion as my gauge.) Also, alternate your days or do them first if you are combining other workouts or classes. HIIT uses a tremendous amount of anaerobic energy. You want to tap into it first and do your sustained endurance work afterwards.

Weight training. Test results completed by Dr. Len Kravitz showed that after 26-weeks of weight training with subjects ranging in age from 24 to 68, 179 age and exercise-associated genes (out of 596 total) showed a reversal of their gene expression. In lay terms, the resistance training was not only slowing down their aging process but actually reversing it, too. Wow!

Eye creams and coloring your hair, surgeries and the latest “whatevers” we use to bring back our youthful self are not going to be as effective if your insides are crumbling. If your insides are 10 years younger, you will look it too!


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