[Fitness Friday] New Research Shows Exercise as good as Medicine for heart disease, diabetes and stroke

written by john c ashworth, ma, cscs, ces


Bottom Line?

Exercise is really good for you.

So good, in fact, that in a recent comprehensive study published in the British Medical Journal, regular exercise worked as well as prescription drugs in terms of their effectiveness in improving mortality outcomes (secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, rehabilitation of stroke, treatment of heart failure, prevention of diabetes).  Medically, “Secondary prevention of heart disease” is attempting to prevent additional heart related events in those diagnosed with heart disease or who have had a heart attack or both.

Stroke & Heart Failure

When it came to stroke, exercise was more effective than drugs.  While the diuretics used in the treatment of heart failure were the only drugs that outperformed exercise in this review.

To this point, not much research has placed exercise and prescription medicines side by side and compared their ability to positively affect outcomes for common diseases like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.  In this meta-analysis, however, investigators reviewed a large number of studies of both drugs and exercise.  And the volume of data they have reviewed is stunning.

Where the Data Came From:

  • Researchers included 16 (four exercise and 12 drug) meta-analyses.
  • Incorporating an additional three recent exercise trials, this scientific review collectively included 305 randomized controlled trials with 339,274 participants.

Considering the volume of data collected, and the results that point directly to the benefits of exercise on mortality outcomes, it is clear that exercise, whenever possible, should always be a part of the treatment plan for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.  And that even though drugs outperformed exercise when it came to heart failure in this review, there is plenty of data that documents the benefits of exercise in the treatment of heart failure.*

*While it might seem counterintuitive to the casual observer, exercise and even strength training can be very beneficial in the treatment of heart failure.  In its most simple terms, the stronger and more fit the body, the less strain on the heart during one’s activities of daily living.  Training adaptations in the skeletal muscle are extremely valuable to the patient diagnosed with heart failure.

PS  This piece got a little scientific which I like to do here from time to time.  If any of the terminology is unfamiliar or confusing, just post your question in the comments section below.

Thanks for being a reader and fan of my NBC 15 fitness segment with Leigh Mills. I would love to hear from you below using your facebook profile.…

You can also become a fan on facebook of The Fitness Nomad Report at: http://www.facebook.com/fitnessnomadreport

[Fitness Friday] How to lose more weight with less exercise


written by john c ashworth, ma, cscs

There is a juxtaposition sitting on the corner of Whitney Way and The Belt line highway. It is the glowing view of the top floor of the local YMCA where the treadmills and their loyal riders come to saddle up. The same experience is apparent during certain times of day depending on the light, as one passes the Princeton Club a couple miles away on the belt line.

The images of treadmills and other pieces of cardiovascular equipment, poised at the window, holding their riders. All of them potentially ready to break free from the shackles of the gym at any moment. And then they don’t. They just keep on, keeping on…

The reason I label this as a juxtaposition is that I believe if you look at this scene a certain way. A scene that repeats all day, every day in every gymnasium across America. You might see it as just a little quirky yourself. And new research, may in fact help me make my point. Stand by…

If you have read this blog before, you may be familiar with my concept of “The Bohemian Athlete.” The average every day fitness enthusiast who is working hard to balance life and pursuit of increased health, fitness and excellence in their life. Guess what? It can’t all happen in the gym. And really, it shouldn’t.

Here’s the proof…

A recent study of Danish Men revealed that the men in the study who only exercised for 30 minutes instead of 60 were the ones who lost more weight.

How could this be?

Well, because more is not always better, first of all. You’ve surely heard that landmark axiom before. Secondly, through additional qualitative analysis where researchers learned more about each research subject’s activities of daily living (ADLSs), they discovered two very important nuggets of detail. One that leads you to the other.

The men who exercised for 30 instead of 60 minutes felt more energized, vital, and excited about finding opportunities for additional physical activity during the day. Activities like taking the stairs, taking the dog for an extra walk, or cycling to work to name a few. This, of course, led to an even more energy infused day, and more calories burned overall.

There was no mention of it in the study, but I would bet that if resting metabolic rates were measured pre and post, that you would find a slight “up-tic” of their basal metabolic rates too. I’ve seen this effect in my own practice.

All of this led overall to in increased level of weight loss for the 30 minute exercise group. They exercised for 30 minutes per day, every day.

The 60 minute exercise group still lost weight, but they didn’t live quite as much like a Bohemian Athlete 🙂


PS I couldn’t quite work it into this shorter piece, but there is a secondary point to this story that I believe is very important. It is that of recovery. In twenty plus years of work as a fitness coach, I can say with certainty that almost everyone needs to build more active and passive recovery into their health and fitness programs. Your body gets worn down, tired, fatigued, sore, and in need of some serious rest and recovery. When you avoid recovery, you limit your body’s performance. And in a case like the study I’ve just discussed, it is likely that one of the reasons that 60 minutes of exercise daily led to less weight loss is that this program left a lot less time for recovery. Just a thought…

PSS You can search “Recovery” or any other health and fitness related topic on this blog by using the form in the upper right hand corner of this site. There’s a ton of great stuff here after 4 or so years of writing about it 🙂

[Fitness Friday] The Myth is Dead..study shows there is no such thing as a dumb jock

written by john c ashworth

Being fit, it turns out, makes you smarter…

Dr. Bob Rauner, lead author of a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, compared standardized test scores of 4th to 8th grade children in Lincoln, Nebraska. Through analaysis of body mass index (BMI), aerobic fitness levels, and standardized test scores, Dr. Rauner discovered that kids who were fit were more than twice as likely to demonstrate improved performance on standardized tests.

Logically, this makes sense. When you’re more fit, you have more energy, you can concentrate more effectively, your head is clearer, and your ability to focus on the task at hand is significantly improved.  When you’re fit, you know this to be true.  But if you put it into the context of school curriculums that continue to cut physical education programs and recess in an effort to focus on academics, these results begin to call into question the merits of such decisions.

In addition to cutting physical education and recess from school curriculums there was at least one other factor that prompted the work of Dr. Rauner, and that was that inside his own medical practice he was noticing a correlation between his most obese adolescent patients and the fact that they were the ones in the schools where recess and physical education had been cut.

Even more interesting was that even for disadvantaged kids who came from socioeconomic backgrounds that present their own set of obstacles to success in school, performance on tests was still improved by increased levels of fitness. Which means that regardless of background, a higher overall fitness level produced a more optimal performance on standardized tests.

An important distinction in this study was the fact though BMI levels (BMI being essentially a measure of weight or obesity) were measured as part of the investigation, it was overall fitness level that predicted success. Which means that even though obesity remains a grave problem for our kids, even obese fit kids were able to improve their performance on tests.

Also important is the point that while socioeconomic factors are important and need to be addressed, improving levels of fitness provides a much easier immediate strategy for helping these students do better in school.

So often, pursuit of improved levels of health and fitness get moved too far down on the priority list because it is often difficult for people to connect the relationships between improved levels of health and fitness with improved levels of academic performance or performance in life overall. In fact, in our culture, more work or in the case of this example, more studying…is often the go to solution for improving performance.  When in fact, very often what is necessary is the achievement of a more optimal balance of academic time and physical activity time.

We must honor the body’s need for physical exercise, rest and recovery. More is not always better. And in fact, this investigation shows us just that.  Our dire need as human beings and Bohemian athletes for an optimal balance of physical exercise or activity and academic or other intellectual pursuits.

Ask any adult who is unfit, overworked, stressed and exhausted what they would excel at most at 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon…

I guarantee you it won’t be an algebra test.


[NBC Fitness Friday] “Should I Bike or Run – Which is better?”

written by john c ashworth


If you’re one of the Iron men or women that have landed here this weekend to compete in the annual Ironman endurance event, you don’t have a choice between biking or running. In order to finish this grueling event, you must bike 126 miles and run a full marathon or 26.2 miles.  In addition to swimming 2.4.   And if you’re one of these select few hard core athletes, you’re probably not as concerned about your weight and body composition as the rest of us.

For the rest of us, the question of whether or not to run or bike is a good one, because each has it’s own set of benefits and drawbacks. And as always, your choice about which one to incorporate and when in your fitness regimen, is in large part dictated by many other factors, such as your joint health, physical limitations, possession of a good bike or comfort level on the bike itself, how much ice you have available (explained below) etc. For example, I don’t do a lot of running anymore. Twenty years of highly competitive soccer forced me to use up all my ‘running credits’ too soon in my life. In addition, my back does not always respond kindly to time on the bike anymore either. It turns out my spine is a lot more sensitive to the saddle time than it used to be.  Soccer was a blast, but it comes at a cost.

For you, it is likely that these same exercise and training limitations don’t exist to the same degree. However, it is also likely that too much running (especially if you’re overweight and over 40) might not be a good idea either. At least not after long periods of inactivity, and until you shed a few pounds. Your choices about which activity is better for you can only be determined by you and your fitness coach. In the mean time, I thought it would be helpful if you had some basic information about some of the subtle differences between the two.

The first thing you need to remember is that both running and cycling are excellent forms of cardiovascular exercise. Your choice to perform one or the other will come down more to logistics and to what makes the most sense for you on any given day or during any given period of time. It’s hard to ride your bike through a snow storm, for example :).  And it’s even harder to run when carrying an extra 30-50 pounds.

In general, running burns more calories per minute than cycling, although those differences are minimized if you are physically able to bike vigorously and spend as little time as possible coasting. According to calculations published by The American College of Sports Medicine, a 150 pound person who runs at a brisk 7 minute mile will burn approximately 1,000 calories per hour. The same person maintaining an average pedaling speed of 16-19 mph will burn about 850 calories per hour. You can compare that to your walking program which will burn about 300-360 calories per hour. As you make these comparisons, however, be aware that the rates of both running and cycling cited above are extremely vigorous and the average person, especially when beginning an exercise program for the first time or after a long hiatus, will move much more slowly and therefore burn far fewer calories. Still, the general ratios apply.

The big downside of running, however, is that it is extremely hard on your joints. Hence, my inability to perform very much of this joyful activity anymore without serious need for stretching, recovery, and lots of ice 🙂

On the other hand, cycling is what we know as a “non-weight bearing activity.” Which means that the bike is doing much of the work to hold you up against gravity. As such, you not only burn fewer calories, but you also don’t much of a stimulus that is going to promote bone growth and maintenance. The flip side, of course, is that you don’t need as much ice.

In closing I would like to point out that my good friends like to call discussions like this one, “Ashworthisms.” Meaning, you never really get a straight answer when you ask John a fitness related question.

The reason is that you are a unique individual with unique and constantly changing needs when it comes to your health and fitness program. That’s why I’ve made it my life’s work to be a fitness coach. I remain passionate about helping you navigate your needs and create fitness programming that is dynamic, individualized, and designed to make you stronger than you were the day before, every time!

As for which one is better? Take a personal inventory of your current physical state, lifestyle challenges, and likes and dislikes, and let me know what you came up with. I’ll bet it’s a combination of the two…


PS  I have personally found juggling a soccer ball to be an excellent way to get my heart rate to a level similar to that of running, but without so much pounding on my body.  And small taste of the ecstasy that the game provided me in my youth.

[Fitness Friday] Fast Track Your Health and Fitness Goals with this important and vital strength training program design technique

written by john c ashworth

If you haven’t updated your strength training program in awhile I suggest you try this next time you’re in the gym. Because unless you’re working directly with a trainer, or working diligently on your own to provide the necessary variety to keep your fitness program results coming (rare), it’s likely you’ve been on the same boring strength training program for quite some time now. Or worse, you gave it up long ago because it got stale and boring and you got sick of it.

Tonight on NBC 15 with Leigh Mills I’m talking about SuperSets. Two exercises, alternated with little or no rest in between. These exercises can either target the same muscle groups or work opposing muscle groups, or both, and this training technique can do wonders for the results you achieve from all your hard work in the gym.

Supersetting has many benefits. Here are the BIG ones…

1. Supersets make your workout more time efficient – you will accomplish more work in less time and let’s face it, we can all benefit from this.

2. Supersetting allows one muscle group to rest while you work another one. Again, saving time and keeping you moving, which helps increase the intensity of your workouts too. You have the potential of getting twice the work done in half the time, and in gaining greater benefits from your work.

3. Burn More FAT – I mean, come one, that’s what most of us are after right? And there are many ways that supersets help you do this.

Here are the main ones:
You’re minimizing your rest time (as described above) by working opposing muscle groups back to back. Not only does this save time, but it also allows you to work harder because when you workout your chest, for example, and then turn around and workout your back, your chest muscles are now even more relazed because they’re fatigued, and your back work will be that much more intense as a result.
-Secondly, a 2010 Study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that supersetting burns more calories than does traditional training where you wait around and rest just as much as you work.

Here’s the last thing to keep in mind when adding the technique of supersetting into your workouts. No matter what two moves you combine, you’re going to benefit from the added intensity and efficiency of these workouts. However, consulting with a professional at your local gym can help you identify which combinations of moves might work best for you. And in general, which combinations of moves might be best overall.

According to Lee Boyce, a Toronto based strength coach quoted in the September Issue of Men’s Fitness, certain moves compliment each other better than others.

Here’s one example from page 34 in the referenced article in the September Issue of Men’s Fitness:

The Moves: Leg Press and Bulgarian Split Squat

By performing the Bulgarian Split Squat first, you stretch the hip flexors. This opens your hip a little more so that when you go to do your leg press, you can move through a deeper range of motion. In addition, these are both lower body moves, and the split squat focuses more on the hamstrings and glutes while the leg press focuses more on the thighs and glutes. If you perform these two moves back to back three times with very little rest in between sets, you can complete a killer lower body workout in about 10 minutes or less – not bad.

For more of the best combinations of super set moves, become a client today, or consult the referenced article in Men’s Fitness.