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The "Core" Essentials

Over the last few years, core training has become a staple of exercise routines, though it has been the focus of ancient practices such as yoga and tai chi for centuries. Yet many people don't have a good understanding of what exactly the core is, and the importance of core strength not only in your workout, but even in everyday activities such as walking or lifting groceries.

Many people mistakenly interchange the terms core and abs. Actually, your core runs the entire length of your body's trunk and torso, and includes the muscles in your back, abdomen, pelvis and hips. These muscles form the foundation for all your body's movement, your posture and your balance by helping to stabilize your spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. If your core is strong, you are more stable during movements, your posture is better, and you have greater strength and power during your activities. A weak core can result in poor posture, injury, and lower back pain.

So now that you understand the importance of a strong and stable core, how do you incorporate core training into your workout? A good core training program should target all the muscle groups that stabilize the spine and pelvis. Though there are several pieces of equipment such as stability balls, balance boards and kettle balls that can help with core training, you can build core strength without any equipment. The strength required to hold a pose, coupled with the gravitational pull of your body weight are enough to effectively work your core muscles. Push ups, squats, lunges and crunches are basic exercises that can help you get started on building core strength; pilates, yoga and tai chi classes also focus on exercises that develop your core, or consult with a trainer, who can help you develop a personalized core strengthening regimen.

Successful Weight Management

Having a weight management strategy benefits pretty much everyone-whether your goal is to maintain your weight or get better muscle definition. Make a plan and remember it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor about your weight goals and before making any significant changes in your diet or exercise routine. Here are some tips that may help you get a plan together.

We know the basics-to manage your weight you need to burn more calories than you're taking in and if you're eating more than you're burning you'll gain weight. The secret to making the jump from knowing how to change your weight to actually getting results is to make a commitment to a lifestyle that supports your goals. It may sound like a full time job, and there's no doubt that when you're starting out with a new plan, it takes a while to find what works for you.

When you're figuring out your strategy you should always keep a few questions in mind:

  • will your diet include plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein and foods from the other major food groups?
  • whatever the idea behind the diet, does it feature foods that you can afford and can find easily?
  • will you be eating foods that you like and will commit to eating for the long term, not just a set amount of time?
  • do you have the time to prepare these foods?
  • will you get enough nutrients and calories on this plan?

That takes care of the food, but you also have to be balancing your diet with exercise. If you have a personal trainer, ask what kinds of exercises are right for your body and your goals. Always speak with an expert before trying new techniques so as to avoid injuries.

Remember, though, that research shows whatever kind of exercising you're doing, it should be done regularly.

Drop Pounds By Making Smart Choices

Little things mean a lot—whether you're trying to sculpt and tone or improve your health, making small changes in your day can help you drop a few pounds with very little extra effort. Take a look at the tips below for some ideas.

1. Cut out the empty calories. Find some empty calories in your daily routine that you can eliminate. For example, if you cut out one can of cola a day, you'll knock off about 136 calories per day.

2. Drink water. It may help you eat less and burn more calories. Drinking a glass or two of water before a meal will fill you up and can help you eat less. And researchers are now reporting that water consumption may increase the rate at which people burn calories.

3. Lighten up your omelet. It's an easy way to cut out over 100 calories a serving. By using ½ cup of egg whites in your omelets instead of ½ cup of whole eggs, you can cut out 120 calories.

4. Team up. People who exercise together are more likely to stay motivated. Find a friend and put together a realistic exercise plan, even if it's just a 20 minute walk during your lunch time.

5. Slim down your poultry. Thinking of using chicken thighs? Think again. By switching to white meat and removing the skin, you take an eight ounce serving from 560 calories to 375 calories and cut out 24 grams of fat.

6. Get your Z's. Sleep deprivation may be packing pounds onto your waistline. Research shows that a lack of sleep may make weight loss and weight control more of a challenge because it alters metabolism by increasing the production of cortisol (a stress hormone). Also, you're more likely to eat more if you're feeling fatigued.

7. Only have 15 minutes? You don't have to commit hours a day to make a difference. Add a brisk 15 minute walk to your day and burn extra calories. If you want to challenge yourself and pick up the pace - switch to a 15 minute run and burn even more calories.

8. Get portions under control. Cut your poultry or meat portion from eight ounces to five ounces just once a day and you'll eliminate around 138 calories.

9. Eat several small meals a day. Frequent, small meals will actually increase your metabolism. Eating small meals every few hours during the day can help keep your metabolism revved up and that means you'll burn more calories overall.

10. Choose whole grain products. This is an easy way to reduce your caloric intake significantly. A small muffin made with white flour contains about 259 calories. If you were to replace it with an oat bran muffin of the same size, you'd cut out about 81 calories.

Dr. Greene’s Top 8 Parenting Dos and Don’ts

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

Each day I see parents trying their best to do what’s right for their families, but no one has the perfect guidebook that tells parents what to do. Here are the top eight solvable problems that I advise parents to remedy today.

Do… Have confidence in your parenting style.
Don’t… Worry about what your parents or the neighbors or your child's teacher thinks about your parenting style.
Create a parenting style that makes you comfortable and relax.

Do… Create an exercise program for yourself.
Don’t… Skip it because you don’t have the time.
Kids follow our example. If we're not exercising, they won't learn to either. So take care of yourself and teach your kids to do the same.

Do… Take the time to create healthy love foods for your family.
Don’t… Settle routinely for food that isn't helping them build a strong body and mind.
What children eat is vitally important and the foods they learn to love when young will often be their favorites as adults. You can create healthy love foods for them by what you feed them now and give them a life-long gift.

Do… Give your kids a good multi-vitamin each day.
Don’t… Trust that your kids will get all the nutrients they need from their diet alone.
Most kids don't eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day. Kids need a good multi-vitamin each day as a safety net to help them round out their nutritional needs.

Do… Stay consistent with your rules.
Don’t… Let whining wear you down.
If you want a child to sleep in her own bed, then letting her sleep in your bed “just this once” is going to make it much harder later.

Do… Think about the things that matter.
Don’t… Pick the wrong things to worry about.
You need to pay close attention to some things, like your kids’ safety. But don't sweat the small stuff even if it means your kids sleep in their street clothes instead of pajamas.

Do… Take advantage of today.
Don’t… Wait until tomorrow to build life-long memories.
Time flies. Plan something every season that your kids will look forward to year after year.

Do… Pay attention to both your perspective and your child's.
Don't… Lose sight of your needs or theirs.

If we focus too much on whatever children want, or too much on what we want, they miss out on learning both to give and receive.

Magnesium: The Muscle Mineral

What separates the average Joe six-pack (muscle, not beer) from professional body builders? Other than genetics, and lifting heavier weights, it is probably not your workout. The differences lie in the fine details; really warming up before a workout, weighing food, counting calories, planning meals and understanding muscle nutrition.

While there are many minerals that are important for muscle growth and metabolism, perhaps the most important is magnesium.* Magnesium is an electrolyte that is critical to cellular energy, vitality and membrane integrity.* Magnesium is also a cofactor in more than 300 biochemical reactions. There is a strong link between magnesium levels and the stress hormones cortisol.1

So what does magnesium do for muscles?

Magnesium plays a critical role in anaerobic and aerobic energy production. Specifically, the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) relies on magnesium dependant enzymes (ATPases). ATP is the ‘energy currency’ of the body and fuels all muscle contractions. Extra magnesium can improve athletic performance if you are below optimal levels. 2,3,4

There are studies carried out on resistant trained and physically active people that would argue against the need to supplement magnesium5,6. However, these studies assume no deficiency in serum magnesium levels. Even when the quality of food is high and the diet is balanced, athletes often struggle to meet magnesium needs so supplementing to RDI levels (400 mg) is advisable.

Sources of magnesium include halibut, whole grains, cereals, green leafy vegetables, nuts and supplements.

1. Br J Nutr 100(5):1038-45 (2008)
2. J Nutr 132:930-935 (2002)
3. Endocrinol Metab Clin N Am 22:377-395 (1993)
4. Med Exerc Nutr Health 4:230-233 (1995)
5. Med Sci Sports Exerc 33: 493-498 (2001)
6. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 1:12-20 (2004)

Sleep and Exercise

By Thane Slagowski, Vice President, Product Development & Quality for Twinlab.

I am a great believer in the power of exercise to help you sleep better; the better you sleep the more energy you will have for exercise.

You can learn a lot about energy and sleep by observing nature. I have a hyperactive puppy (a French bulldog named Yoda) who loves to chew on socks and is often caught stealing flip flops. To protect my family’s shoes and socks from doggy slobber, we take him on a walk each day. After the walk, Yoda is mellow and goes out like a light. In parallel, I doubt construction workers have a hard time falling asleep. Why not apply this same principle to your sleep and exercise routines?

Sleep can be the perfect supplement to your exercise routine. Research shows that the release of growth hormones peaks during deep sleep, while at the same time blood flow to muscles increases and your metabolic rate slows. All this is the perfect formula for the repair and growth of muscle tissue. 1

From personal experience, you’ve probably seen many of the other benefits of a good sleep routine, including mood stabilization and increased learning and memory functions. Leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, is also directly influenced by your sleep routine. You may have a bigger appetite if you don’t get enough sleep, because leptin levels drop and increase appetite.2

Suffer from insomnia? Studies indicate that exercise—especially morning exercise—will help you sleep better.3 An hour of stretching and walking daily can help relieve many sleep problems that often stem from the stresses of regular life.

Exercise at least four hours a week and remember that any exercise is better than none, regardless of the time of day. You should note, though, that exercising right before heading to bed can lead to difficulty sleeping. It is recommended that you exercise at least three hours before going to bed, to give your body enough time to cool off. A lowered body temperature is needed for sleep onset. In order to support vigorous exercise, a positive energy balance from sleep is critical.4

So remember, to help your mind and body regenerate, reduce stress, be more alert and reach your fitness goals, get at least six to seven hours of sleep each night.

1. McManus, Mark. “How to Sleep Your Way to Big Muscles.” Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://www.musclehack.com/how-to-sleep-your-way-to-big-muscles/
2. Plotnick, Rachel. “Diet, Exercise, Sleep! The Path to a Healthier Lifestyle.” National Sleep Association. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/diet-exercise-and-sleep
3. American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 4, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm
4. Ibid.

Family Mealtime All for One and One for All

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

When I was a child and my family was gathered together for a meal, my father would sometimes look each of us in the eye and say, “All for one, and one for all.” We eagerly repeated this to each other, enjoying the sense of belonging, service, and support. Even when those words weren’t there, the meal together was a tangible expression of our connection. My childhood is now long gone. Life has been full of ups and downs, and it seems ever more complicated and busy. But the simple tradition of family meals has had a long impact. These days, when my family sits down to dinner, my wife and four children around the table, we like to clink our glasses together and declare, “All for one, and one for all!”

It’s hard to overestimate the enormous potential of families sharing meals together. Prepare to be inspired! Even without giving extra effort or conscious thought, family meals are associated with better nutrition, better health, better behavior, and happier children, parents (and grandparents). Experts today are wringing their hands about the obesity epidemic in children and depression in teens; citizens are concerned about violence; educators are distressed by falling school performance. I wish I could write a simple prescription for all families: find a way to enjoy as many meals together, especially at home together, as you can.

Dozens of scientific studies have demonstrated an impressive list of benefits associated with eating together as a family. But some people have correctly pointed out that in the earlier studies it wasn’t clear which was causing which. It made sense to suspect that eating together promoted the benefits, but it was also possible that the association found in the studies was because happier, healthier families were just more likely to eat together. The more recent studies have taken into account other measures of family connectedness and concluded that the benefits we will explore do indeed arise at the table together.

The nutritional benefits alone are dramatic. Getting kids to eat vegetables can be frustrating for many parents. As kids eat more meals at home with their parents, they naturally begin to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy dairy products than their peers do. They are significantly more likely to achieve their nutritional needs. And they eat less in the way of deep-fried foods and drink fewer sugared and carbonated beverages. Increasing the frequency of family dinners is associated with substantially higher intake of several specific nutrients, including fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E; and with lower average glycemic index; and with lower intake of saturated and trans fats. The benefits are even greater if kids are involved in mealtime preparation and cleaning.

Contrast a family-around-the-table meal at home to a meal at home with the television. The more often that children eat in front of the television, the more likely they are to get more of their calories from fatty meats, pizza, salty snacks, and soda; and the less likely they are to get them from fruits and vegetables. Children in high television-meal families also average twice as much caffeine consumption as do their peers.

And meals out are even worse! The typical kids’ meal in many restaurants is a nutritional wasteland. Fast food meals more than twice a week are associated with increased obesity and type 2 diabetes. Simple family meals are an important strategy to improve nutrition, prevent obesity, and improve health. But they do so much more!

Youth who eat more family meals perform better in school. They spend more time on homework, get better grades, and spend more of their free time reading for pleasure. And they are happier. They are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. They are less likely to engage in early sexual activity or to have eating disorders. Their self-esteems are higher, on average, and they are less likely to become depressed. Teens who eat many meals with their families are half as likely to think about suicide.

Conscious Preconception

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

The “trimester” before pregnancy is an important window of opportunity for a baby's health, whether this is a first pregnancy or a later one. And during pregnancy, the weeks between when conception happens and when a woman knows she is pregnant are especially important - where good nutrition or unhealthy exposures can have their biggest impacts.

But most women don't have a prenatal visit until after they know they are pregnant, when these windows of opportunity have already closed. In light of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made sweeping April 2006 recommendations to improve preconception health and health care. The cornerstone of these recommendations is a pre-pregnancy (and between-pregnancy) check-up, which should be covered by insurance, to help be sure your body is ready to welcome a new baby.

This is an excellent opportunity to a look at specific issues that could affect your next baby before you know you are pregnant, including a review of any prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking, tests for key illnesses you may not know you have, checking your immunization status, considering possible toxic exposures, and thinking about lifestyle issues such as nutrition, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use. The good news is that making even small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference for your baby. Perhaps the easiest change is to begin taking a vitamin that is high in folic acid. Folic acid is a nutrient that is important for helping to prevent neural tube defects, when women get at least 400 mcg (0.4 mg) a day. It is found in many foods, such as legumes and dark leafy green vegetables, but most women in the United States only get about 200 mcg from their diets - when 600 mcg or even 1000 mcg would be better. All prescription prenatal vitamins have plenty of folic acid to supplement the diet for healthy women. Many over-the-counter prenatal vitamins contain the proper levels as well. I recommend that all teenage girls and women of childbearing age take a prenatal vitamin or the equivalent. The benefits far outweigh the cost.

Eating for Two - A Guide to Mother’s Nutrition During Pregnancy

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

During pregnancy, every ounce of baby's growing body after that very first single cell has come from her mother's own body. The brain, the heart, the muscles are all built from nutrients that were once part of her mother. The baby is quite literally her flesh-and-blood offspring. Nutrients that mom eats during pregnancy, or that she has eaten beforehand, are the exclusive fuel and the only raw material building blocks for the baby's growth. There is nothing else.

This is a special time. A mother and baby together have different nutritional requirements than either of them will ever have alone. Because the mother is the one doing the eating, we'll look at these needs from the perspective of changes needed in the mother's diet.

Sadly, nutrition has not been an adequate priority in mainline medicine. The current 2002 edition of my favorite textbook of obstetrics still contains nutritional advice based on the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances. We've learned a lot about nutrition since then, but much of it hasn't filtered into physicians' texts, much less popular parenting books. The data in this series is current as of the most recent Dietary Reference Intakes for each individual nutrient at the time of publication. Prenatal vitamins are designed with these recommendations in mind. Keep in mind that the handful of vitamins and minerals in the tablets are just the Hollywood stars of nutrition. Each organic whole food contains a cast of thousands of micronutrients that we are just beginning to understand. Some of these important “extras” don't even have names yet. A diet rich in the variety of organic foods where the “leading actor” nutrients naturally occur is probably the best diet for pregnancy.

The prenatal vitamin is a spectacular safety net. Getting more of these same nutrients from food is generally great, but taking more of them as supplements is unnecessary and unwise.

What About Seafood?

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

For an expectant mom, trying to eat seafood as safely as possible is difficult because the USDA has no classification yet for organic seafood. Therefore, seafood is a double-edged sword. On the one edge, some varieties of fish offer high levels of the fatty acids that help a baby's brain grow well. The omega-3 oils in Pacific salmon, for example, offer powerful benefits to both you and your baby. A 2007 study even suggested that women who regularly eat fish during pregnancy have smarter babies.1 But on the other edge of that sword, a number of species—including tuna, swordfish, Atlantic salmon, and Chilean sea bass—can contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, and other contaminants.

In the future I would like to see strict government regulations to control the industrial emissions that cause pollution of our rivers, lakes, and oceans. But for now, the fact is that there is a big difference between the benefits and risks of different types of seafood. So I recommend that you choose those with the greatest health benefits, the least contaminants, and the most positive impact on the environment.

The high levels of mercury found in some fish is especially troubling for the unborn baby. Mercury damages a fetus's immune system and kidneys, and interferes with normal brain development. For this reason, despite the value of seafood, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA have recommended that pregnant women avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish entirely. I agree with this, but would recommend that you also avoid canned tuna, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, marlin, halibut, pike, walleye, grouper, orange roughy, rock cod, and largemouth bass while pregnant. And of course, look for local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.

Should you eat wild or farmed fish? This is not always an easy choice. Farm-raised fish are fish raised in inland ponds, a room of tanks, or even a net enclosure in a bay, ocean, or lake. Some farmed fish are great for you; some are poor choices, especially during pregnancy. Farm-raised salmon, for example, contains significantly higher concentrations of PCBs, dioxin, and other cancer-causing contaminants than salmon caught in the wild, according to a study of commercial fish sold in North America, South America, and Europe.2 It also tends to contain lower levels of beneficial omega-3s.

1. Hibbeln, J. R., Davis, J. M., Steer, C., Emmett, P., Rogers, I., Williams, C., and Golding, J. Maternal Seafood Consumption in Pregnancy and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Childhood (ALSPAC Study): An Observational Cohort Study. Lancet, Feb. 17, 2007, 369, pp. 531–614.

2. Pianin, E. Toxins Cited in Farmed Salmon: Cancer Risk Is Lower in Wild Fish, Study Reports. Washington Post, Jan. 9, 2004. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A733-2004Jan8.