Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

9 Mar

Mat Magic

Introducing a new feature at Mark’s Daily Apple:

Sara Shops (it’s a tough task, but she’s up for the challenge.)

I recently took to yoga and have had quite a bit of fun (make that hip pain) finding the ideal mat. I’ll spare you the pain and eyebrow-raising I endured by sharing my newfound knowledge of rubber rugs with you.

In case you’ve never tried yoga, or think it’s for hippies or Madonna, I highly recommend it. Not only will you glow like a little glowworm, you’ll feel relaxed and loose. Bonus: you’ll lose a few pounds around your middle after just a few sessions (yoga really does massage your organs and flush toxins). It can be pricey, but I’ve managed to find a few spots that offer great package deals, and I even learned about a group that gets together for free – and apparently, this goes on all over the place. Cool!

There are many different types of yoga, of course. Personally, I’m loving good old hatha for increasing my flexibility and sense of relaxation. Although, the two hours being pushed and prodded in iyengar by a very serious husband-and-wife team – easily in their 70s – was more entertaining than anything the Wilson brothers have come up with lately. He was good cop, she was bad cop (I’ve never been so intimidated by someone who weighed, at most, 85 pounds soaking wet).

On to the mat. Not knowing if I would want to stick with yoga, I chose the cheapest mat available. Not a move I’d suggest following (unless you want to put up with some smirks and a lot of pain). After the first session, I knew that I would definitely want to stick with yoga. Unfortunately, I also stuck to my new mat. Though it only cost about $15, the lightweight, all-synthetic foam was far too thin (only about 1/8″) and not nearly squishy enough. Being so thin (the mat), all my joints ached like the dickens the next day.

So, I upgraded to a vinyl sponge mat for $25. This one was a little more generously proportioned (72″ instead of 68″) and is the standard mat most folks go with. It’s still just 1/8″, but it’s squishy, waterproof, and closed-cell non-Latex (this just means it’s better for you because it won’t harbor bacteria). It also has a nice meshy grid that helps you grip. However, after a few weeks with this guy, I was seriously hurting. Maybe my joints are a little too princess-and-the-pea, but I decided to see what else was available.

vinyl

I began really investigating the world of yoga mats. All yoga mats break down with use, which actually tends to make them more comfortable (sort of like shoes). And there is a mat for everyone: there are breast cancer mats (a mat for every cause), organic mats made of jute and bamboo (ego-friendly!), temperature-sensitive mats, travel mats, microfiber mats. There are probably even mats that read your mind (ok, maybe not).

The eco-mats are typically made of a thermal plastic elastomer that contains nothing chemical, synthetic or metal. A lot of instructors I asked are really into this new material (prices tend to be a little higher – around $40-60). I wasn’t as sore after using it, and I did feel very, well, close to the ground, but it just wasn’t squishy enough for my tastes. I’m willing to give up a little grounding to feel completely comfortable.

eco

After spending many hours of eye-glazing surfing at various web sites, I decided my best bet would be visiting a few different stores. The private yoga boutiques had the latest organic, eco and super-comfy offerings – but at really high prices (no surprise there).

Eventually, I settled on a mat from Big 5 that didn’t even claim to be a yoga mat. It’s a meshy, waterproof, 1/4″ wonder that is so comfortable, I could hug it. Though this $40 wonder didn’t come with any special marketing or branding, a similar one is available online (and for much less).

tapas

Various instructors suggested different mats, but they all agreed on one thing: my initial selection was totally inferior. If you’re new to yoga, I suggest borrowing a mat (just clean it!) until you know if yoga is for you. Then be sure to splurge on the most comfortable mat you can afford. It’s well-worth it.

Yoga clickativity

9 Mar

Dr. Lei: “I do?”

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This week, I featured Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei’s b5media blog, A Hearty Life, in my weekly round-up of my perusings in the blogosphere. After checking out several of her posts, I proceeded to offer my opinion: Dr. Lei, while admittedly a very knowledgeable blogger with seriously impressive medical credentials, seems to be pretty traditional when it comes to heart health. (Well, actually, my exact wording was more along the lines of “another site that likes pills!”)

Dr. Lei took issue with this, citing several of her alternative-friendly posts on non-drug heart treatments like meditative breathing and natural statin alternatives. She was clearly bummed that what I took away from her blog was an exclusively traditional perspective. While our views aren’t really much aligned (as you all know, we are really big on prevention around here), Lei’s integrity, expertise and personal style deserve a lot of credit and a closer look.

8 Mar

Greatest Hits

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

Atkins still dominates the health world today, Apples. Here’s an interesting assortment of other provocative dietary views and news, with some genetic research thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!

It’s in the Enzymes

Important Alzheimer‘s news.

Happy Meals

A fitness expert’s views on “nutritionism”.

patch

Reversing Diabetes?

The controversial health ranger is at it again. This time, with five steps to reverse type-2 diabetes (also known previously as adult-onset). Well, if that’s not controversial…
sugar

McPhilosopher

A junk-food lover philosophizes about fat fears and other food phobias. While we don’t subscribe to his views (at least, not all of them), it’s a compelling read.

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You Don’t Know You’re Fat?

Scientists postulate that the brain doesn’t know the body is fat; but the person still does. This isn’t exactly another “blame your genes” study, but it skates awfully close. This, in addition to gut bugs, does present some obstacles. Fortunately, it’s not that tough to use your brain to, well, outsmart your brain (strange, isn’t it? Since it’s the best computer on earth and all).

But seriously, you can “trick” your brain into all kinds of things: being more productive, feeling happier, and even losing weight. Those no-sugar subscribers are on to something: cutting carbs creates an effect called ketosis, which helps you shed pounds while feeling satisfied. We know we’re verging on beating a dead llama with this, but it’s really important! And you’ll feel so great, who cares if your brain catches on? (Psst…it will.)

8 Mar

Low-Carb Is Not a License to Live on Bacon

Yesterday I discussed the much-buzzed-about Stanford Atkins study…at length. As many of you know, I am very much in favor of a diet that is high in good fats, lean protein, and green vegetables – and very low in carbohydrates, particularly refined and grain carbohydrates.

“Atkins” and “low-carb” are controversial, attention-getting words because they tend to elicit images of bacon, butter and grease. While I am big on low-carb, I’m also big on doing it sensibly.

I think it’s clear that those on low-carb diets do experience both weight loss and health benefits – confounding to conventional nutrition wisdom, but evidently true nonetheless. However, that doesn’t mean a steady diet of sodium-stuffed sausage and chemical-laden deli meat is a sustainable or sensible path to health. If not done correctly, the Atkins diet is more of a vanity diet than a ticket to great health. (The good news: done properly, you can look good and feel good!)

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Recently I talked about what I eat in a day, and though you might call it “low-carb”, I think of it as simply eating the way humans should eat (humble, I know). The focus is on fiber from greens, lean meat, good fats from fish and certain vegetable oils, and yes, even some saturated fat. So long as fat isn’t refined, I think much of our dread of saturated fat is overblown. (You all know how I feel about cholesterol – I think inflammation is far more deadly for humans.) I’m inclined to believe it’s the proportion of “good” to “bad” fat that is more important than fretting over the amount of saturated fat in your steak.

The irony, of course, is that a “controversial” diet that doesn’t worry about fat – even saturated fat – and proposes avoiding anything processed, refined or grain-based, is probably closer to nature’s ideal design for the human diet than we’ve been in a long, long time.

If you live on bacon, you will lose weight. You’ll also run the risk of kidney stones…and seriously annoying your friends. But grass-fed steak? Butter on your vegetables? A hearty omelet? I don’t think there’s anything remotely unhealthy in any of these foods. The allegedly healthy alternatives we’ve been sold on for years now – bran flakes, bread, fat-free egg substitutes – aren’t any better for you than French fries, Lucky Charms and cheeseburgers, in my opinion.

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