The idea that brain and brawn are mutually exclusive is fairly well embedded in our culture; the popularity of phrases used to describe weightlifting enthusiasts, like “dumb jock” or “meathead,” make its pervasiveness pretty clear. But is it true? In a word, no. Anyone who’s ever heard Mark Rippetoe assess a novice squatter like a master mechanical engineer, Keith Norris wax poetic about the savage grace of physical culture, or Robb Wolf employ a Battlestar Galactica reference to explain the biochemistry of a glutenous assault on your intestinal tract knows it to be false, but the rest of society tends to lag a bit. Luckily, a few recent studies suggest that resistance training actually promotes neurogenesis – the growth of new neurons in the brain – while another links overtraining to impeded cognitive ability later in life. It may be high time to start disseminating the image of the dumb jogger instead.
We eat while reading the newspaper. We eat while watching T.V. or checking email. We eat while packing the kids’ lunches (over the sink, Moms?), breaking up sibling scuffles, or trying to keep an unruly toddler from throwing every bit of her dinner on the floor. We eat while working or cleaning up or driving. Necessary multitasking, we call it. If we want to eat at all some days, we just have to work it into the mix. I know how it goes. I have my Big Ass salad at my desk nearly every day while I write. The pattern, however, has the potential to sidetrack our best goals, not to mention spoil a good meal. Researchers have increasingly found that the more noise, the more stress, the more distraction we face when we eat, the less satisfied we are.
The result of this constant distraction is easy to guess. We lose track of what we’ve eaten. We end up eating more. We enjoy eating it less. Subjects in a recent study, for example, were instructed to play a computer game while eating. Not surprisingly, they didn’t recall what they ate as well as subjects who ate their lunch uninterrupted. The game players also reported feeling less full and ate more at a second snack time 30 minutes later.
Like last week’s stress post, I’m not going to delve deeply into why sleep is so important. I’ve done it before, and doing so again would simply take up valuable space that’s better used for action items – for actual sleep hacks that you can put into effect immediately. Just rest assured that it’s crucial to health, longevity, immunity, recovery from training, cognition, aptitude while operating vehicles and/or machinery, insulin sensitivity and, well, do I need to go on? If you want to enjoy your limited time on the planet, you better get your Zs.
Despite the long list of health benefits, sleep is one of those things that people skimp on, whether by necessity (work, traffic, kids, busy schedules) or because they figure they can simply “power through it”. The supposed ability to lower our sleep requirements through sheer will is pervasive. “Tough it out” is a popular slogan, as are “Sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Then there’s Virgil’s “Death’s brother, Sleep” (or, alternately, Nas’ “Sleep is the cousin of death” – thanks, Worker Bee). What we end up with, then, is a nation of overworked, overly fatigued men, women, students, and even children shambling through days dotted with Starbucks Ventis and ridiculous energy drinks. If you count yourself among their numbers, or perhaps you just want better sleep, read on for some tips and tricks:
Do I need to really even say the holidays are a stressful time of year? Every lifestyle blog, magazine, evening news program, and newspaper will have a stress-related feature right about now. I bet Dr. Oz has a “holiday stress relief” show airing. It’s part of the culture – we expect holiday stress and seem to love wallowing in it. So I’m not going to go on and on about how stress is a problem, or even why it’s a problem (I’ve already done that), because we know it. So, how do we avoid it and, once it’s here, how do we deal with it? That’s the important part. How do we hack it?
Well, we don’t want to hack it all to pieces. We need stress, too – just not too much. It bears mentioning that many things can be considered stressors depending on the context. Lifting heavy things is a stressor, and the right amount causes muscles, connective tissue, and bones to respond by getting stronger, which are desirable; too much, or too little recovery, and muscles, connective tissue, and bones suffer and atrophy, which is undesirable. It’s about context, quantity, and quality. With that in mind, I’m going to break down anti-stress strategies into categories.
I’ve always been a bit leery about the overwhelming amount of attention paid to high-fructose corn syrup in the media and among the online health-conscious community. Sure, it’s bad stuff, maybe even especially bad when compared to other forms of sugar, but it is not enough to simply ditch the “corn sugar” and use “healthy cane sugar” (even if it’s evaporated!) instead. Sugar is the issue – fructose. Namely, excessive amounts of it (I’m not going to lambaste blueberries and raspberries) are what you need to avoid. Focusing on HFCS alone and not the general “fructose” is an incomplete and, frankly, counterproductive mode of opposition.
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