Exercise is Medicine by ACSM

February 2024 // Archive

Date based archive
28 Feb

Oh, who doesn’t like chocolate? Any excuse to eat some and then have a little more seems to make reasonable sense. Any occasion will do for chocolate consumption in some form or another. Luckily, there actually have been proven health benefits to eating chocolate. These include lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk for diabetes, boosting brain health, and even fighting inflammation in the body. Sounds too good to be true and the catch is that not all chocolate is created equally and not every form of chocolate is created the same. So, let’s compare what the benefits and/or consequences of eating half a bar of dark chocolate vs milk chocolate are…..

Dark chocolate vs milk chocolate

Pros – cons

A half bar of dark chocolate contains about 250 calories, 26% fat, and 50% saturated fat, and 5 grams of monosaturated fat. A half bar of milk chocolate contains about 220 calories, 18% fat, 40% saturated fat, and 3 grams of monosaturated fat. Dark chocolate’s key winning attribute is that it contains fewer carbohydrates at 6% as the result of a few factors. It has 10 grams of sugar compared to 21 grams of sugar in milk chocolate, so that’s practically 50% less sugar. Dark chocolate also has four times the amount of fiber (16 grams) compared to milk chocolate (4 grams). You could have guessed with the name milk chocolate that is contains more calcium at 8% compared to 3% in milk chocolate. Fiber and calcium are certainly needed in our diets so dark chocolate as a source of these is quite appealing.

Believe it or not, chocolate does contain iron so you could say that chocolate makes you stronger. Dark chocolate has 28% iron and milk chocolate has 6%. Dark chocolate also has more magnesium at 23% compared to 7% in milk chocolate. Potassium is also higher in dark chocolate (8% versus 4%) and has much less sodium (0.3% versus 1.3%). Dark chocolate also more zinc (9% versus 6%) and has less cholesterol (0.3% versus 3%). For caffeine lovers, dark chocolate also wins at 32 mg compared to 8 mg in milk chocolate. Finally dark chocolate wins again as it contains 324 mg of theobromine versus 82 mg in milk chocolate, which is the element of cocoa that helps lower blood pressure. Over and over, dark chocolate beats milk chocolate among these comparisons.

If we were to tally up the scores, dark chocolate would be the winner.

You might also feel less guilty buying and eating dark chocolate because of all the antioxidants it contains which are great for your heart. Always look at the amount of sugar any type of chocolate bar contains and even some dark chocolate brands are better options than others. Look at the ingredients and aim for those that have higher cocoa percentages (preferably 10% of more).

Oh yeah, and keep in mind that portion control. The score card above was based on only eating half of a bar. Sugar is sugar whether dark or milk chocolate so even though natural sugar found in fruit might be nutritionally better for us, the body still recognizes sugar in any form in the same way. Nutrition labels are there for a reason, so read them and decide the best option out of the selection.

Best benefit

Flavonoids are a type of phytonutrient found in chocolate and they’re also found in fruits vegetables and wine. So just like the debate about wine being good or bad for us, chocolate can fall under that controversial category similar to wine because of the phytonutrients. Flavonoids have the power to reverse cellular damage especially those associated with heart disease. Because flavonoids help with vascular function, this in turn can help lower blood pressure. The research on this is limited, but at least in the short term is credible. Chocolate is sometimes served in the shape of a heart, so not only is it a sign of love, passion, and affection, but the heart can be symbolic of helping your heart health.

Not that you need it, but here are 5 other reasons you can make the case to eat chocolate, preferably the dark kind:

1. Stress relief – the feel good hormone, serotonin, is released when you enjoy chocolate. This is because chocolate has magnesium which has a calming effect. Many people turn to chocolate when cortisone levels rise as tension gets high in their personal matters. The feel good effect of chocolate seems to suppress the stress and there actually is reason behind this.  

2. Weight loss – seems contradictory, but some studies have shown that eating chocolate can reduce insulin resistance because of the healthy fats it contains. The healthy fats slow down how sugar is absorbed in the bloodstream which helps control spikes in sugar. This in turn can help keep blood sugars stable.

3. Antioxidants – chocolate has plenty (included are flavonoids) which help fight free radical damage. Damage to these cells can contribute to heart disease, cancer, aging, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Every day as we perform functions, we are breaking down the cells that we use, so replenishment and repair are important, and of course, the quicker the better.

4. Curb your appetite – some dietitians claim that eating a small amount of dark chocolate everyday (yes, everyday) can help curb cravings for sugar and other candy. Sometimes knowing that you can have something doesn’t leave you feeling deprived. Rebellion can lead to binging so pacing yourself with a little nightly treat can ward off your appetite for desserts galore.

5. Make you smarter – it’s a stretch, but the association has been made that the countries who have the highest amount of chocolate consumption per capita also have the highest number of Nobel Prize Winners. Cognitive and visuals functions have also said to improve. Cocoa flavanols (CF) influence physiological processes.

Latest chocolate health trend

Drinking chocolate milk has hit the workout scene by storm. Now instead of eating chocolate in a solid form, you drink it typically in powder form or syrup mixed with milk. It is most popularly used now for exercise recovery although some do use it for a boost in energy pre-workout. Mixing chocolate with milk now adds the nutrients from milk to those benefits of chocolate. These include high amounts of calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin A and D, protein, and potassium.

Benefits of chocolate milk

1. Nutrients – chocolate milk contains all of the following: phosphorus, Riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, iodine, B1, B6, and B12. All of these help with growth and body functioning.

2. Carbohydrates – although given a bad rap, carbs are actually needed for energy. Your brain functions on glucose found in carbohydrates. Unlike other energy drinks, chocolate milk has a 4:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio.

3. Calcium – This is a must for strong bones, which milk contains and this wards off osteoporosis, as well as the risk for fractures and bone diseases. Having a little chocolate mixed in adds taste to this benefit.

4. Protein – chocolate milk is loaded with protein which is great for our muscles. Some bodybuilders even add chocolate flavored protein powder to their chocolate milk for an added bonus.

5. Electrolytes – part of chocolate milk’s post workout recovery use is the replenishment of electrolytes. This drink provides water, but also magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium. Magnesium is particularly useful for muscle recovery.

Reading nutrition labels is necessary when it comes to chocolate milk as some might be higher in sugar and carbohydrates than others. The sweeter it is, typically the more added sugar there is for taste, which is another case of something being too good to be true. There’s a nutritional difference between chocolate milk sold for children and that on the shelves sold for adults and families.

Final thought

Dark chocolate is the reining champion when it comes to the healthiest chocolate choice. It appears that dark chocolate milk (which is not readily found or considered) would be the overall winner with the combination of benefits. Dark chocolate wins, but that doesn’t mean you can skip out on the calories and fat on whatever that dark chocolate is covering or part of when eating it. So, either have it with the milk or just as a bar because when pretzels, nuts, cake, cookies, raisons, ice creams, pies, and pastries become part of that dark chocolate, the game changes and the winner might not be the same. Yet again, one might then consider dark chocolate cake or dark chocolate almonds as their justification.

We might not be perfect in our eating habits, but sometimes the plan of attack can be choosing the better of the options that we shouldn’t be having all the time. If late night snacking taunts you and candy is your nemesis, then it might be a good idea to keep individually sized dark chocolate bites available. As mentioned, maybe just having this small amount even if it is a nightly occurrence, will offset worse choices and succumbing to having more in quantity and more frequently. Dark chocolate has proven its health worth.

21 Feb

Gout is a form of arthritis that typically affects the big toe area. Warning signs include pain, redness, swelling, and the area feels hot. A gout “attack” can strike swiftly, even waking someone up during the night. The joint becomes extremely tender to even the slightest touch. Although it is most commonly occurring in the big toe joint, gout can take its toll on any joint it decides. Then moving that joint becomes difficult. The first 12 hours are the worst feelings of pain reported by sufferers. The pain can last for a few days or for a few weeks.

This condition occurs when urate crystals start to accumulate in the joint. These crystals come from high levels of uric acid in the body. The body has to break down purines that are found both naturally in the body as well as in foods like steak and seafood and alcoholic beverages. A bi product of this breaking down process is uric acid. Typically, uric acid dissolves in the body, passes through the kidneys, and is excreted through urine. However, if the body is on uric acid overload and the kidneys aren’t passing the biproduct through, this uric acid builds up. Soon, sharp crystals start to form in a joint and pain sets in.

It is important to take note of what can cause uric acid to build up in the body. As mentioned, eating too much meat or seafood can cause accumulation. This is true for alcoholic beverage consumption as well in excess, especially beer. Obesity is also a cause due to this body type producing more uric acid for the kidneys to struggle to push through. High blood pressure and diabetes are also uric acid culprits. Gout is genetically related. Men tend to experience gout more than women. However, after menopause, women’s uric acid levels seem to rise.

There are medications to treat gout, especially if one experiences this condition repeatedly. It is important to treat gout at early onset in order to prevent kidney stones. Drinking plenty of water can help the kidneys do their work. A doctor might test the fluid of the affected joint for crystals. An ultrasound can also detect urate crystals. Luckily, there are medications to treat and prevent gout attacks. NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or Aleve that a doctor might prescribe in a higher dose. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can come in pill or shot form to help alleviate pain. Colchicine is a pain reliever that specifically reduces gout pain. Xanthine oxidase inhibitors (XOIs) actually block uric acid production. Uricosurics help the kidneys remove uric acid.

Pain anywhere in the body should be addressed. This is certainly the case when any sign of gout arises. Pay attention to what triggers an attack. Your body and kidneys will thank you for taking care of your health. Uric crystals mean the near fortune is not good, so be sure to hydrate, watch your diet, and manage your weight.

15 Feb

Garlic comes from Central Asia and northeastern Iran. However, it is a seasoning that is used all over the world. This spice is a relative to onion, leek, chives, and shallots. It is readily used for cooking and sautéing. The perks of garlic are many, and the health benefits have made many people fans.

  1. The most popular benefit of garlic is its ability to boost the immune system with its powerful ability to fight infection. Garlic contains antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties. Garlic in raw form, can be rubbed on skin conditions that are fungi, virus, or bacterial related. One of the components called, ajoene, can help fight yeast infections.
  2. Garlic can also boost immunity. This spice is absolutely loaded with vitamin C. It also contains a high amount of potassium which means it helps with the absorption of other nutrients. The smell clears up lunge and throat problems.
  3. It helps fight off fatigue.
  4. It helps with digestive problems.
  5. Garlic is a major fighter against cancer. Studies have linked garlic consumption to a decreased risk for breast, stomach, colon, esophagus, and pancreatic cancer.
  6. Garlic is an anti-inflammatory. This spice contains diallyl sulfide (DAS) and thiacremonone which have anti-arthritic properties.
  7. Garlic blocks the growing progress of fat cells which can help ward off obesity because of its sulfur containing compounds.
  8. Garlic can help cleanse the body of toxins. It activates the liver enzymes to get rid of waist.
  9. It helps with earaches when warmed up and dropped into the ear.
  10. It is a mosquito repellant.
  11. It can help get rid of warts.
  12. When boiled and drank as a tea, it can help get rid of a cough.
  13. Cooked garlic can lower cholesterol.
  14. Cooked garlic can lower blood pressure.

Garlic is quite the super food and incredibly great for our health. It might make your breathe stink, but the benefits far exceed a little aftertaste. The trick is to have a little parsley after, which actually negates the smell of garlic. Beyond using it in so many different recipes, not just traditional spaghetti, garlic is something we all can have a little more of. Garlic comes in fresh form, powdered, crushed, you name it. A little garlic a day can really help keep poor health away and is an incredible home remedy that is easy, convenient, and even tasty.

08 Feb

General health can be greatly affected by hormones, and an imbalance can alter our mood and emotions. Hormone fluctuation can cause embarrassing acne outbreaks, and can make a person feel sad, mad, or just irritable. Sexual desire can be impacted and for women, the ability to become pregnant can be jeopardized. The bottom line is that hormones control most of our bodily functions. From hunger, to sleep, to puberty, even the smallest changes in hormones can cause life changing side effects.

The body’s hormones must work as a team to make the body thrive. The endocrine glands produce these chemicals that travel through the blood in the body. They tell the tissues and organs what to do. Together, the recipe for good health is created. However, just like when baking a cake, too much or too little of any one item can affect the final product. Lack of exercise, poor eating, and irregular sleep patterns are bad habits that some can get away for a while. However, for some, these choices can quickly derail a person’s overall health, especially when hormones are not in sync.

Symptoms that an imbalance is occurring might include:

1. Fatigue

2. Weight gain

3. Weight loss

4. Depression

5. Thinning hair

6. Anxiety or irritability

7. Muscle weakness

8. Frequent urination

9. Decreased sex drive

10. Infertility

There are 3 ways to measure a hormone imbalance.

1. Blood

2. Urine

3. Saliva

It is important to determine what the normal hormone level for your body is. Hormone levels vary based on gender and age and the exact hormone being tested. Blood tests can be performed to measure estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, DHEA, thyroid, and progesterone. Urine tests are mainly used for ovulation and pregnancy. Saliva testing helps determine the concentration of the specific hormone being tested.

Imbalances are not uncommon. Some of the most common imbalances result in the following:

1. Irregular periods

2. Chronic fatigue

3. Acne

4. Weight gain

5. Tender breasts

6. Increased facial hair

7. Cysts in the ovaries or breasts

8. Migraines/headaches

9. Hot flashes/ night sweats

10. Constipation

11. Memory loss

12. Insomnia

13. Difficulty concentrating

The study of endocrinology involves the endocrine system and the associated hormones. An endocrinologist can diagnose and treat hormone related problems and diseases. Growth and development, metabolism, and tissue function are all part of this branch of biology and medicine. Finding the root of the problem and addressing the imbalance can help a person start to feel more like themselves again. Hormones are a complex medical phenomenon that are part of nearly all that our body does for us. Keeping them in check and in line is necessary for optimal health.

01 Feb

Varicose veins are the bluish cords just below the surface of the skin, usually on the legs and feet. These all twisted up veins are usually harmless. Although ever present, they are not a threat but can be painful and become swollen from time to time.  They might be tender, ache, or become itchy when they want attention. They’re much more common in women and generally a genetic gift from one’s parents.

Our blood is pushed back to the heart through the veins. The veins operate with the muscles and valves of the arteries. These muscles use their force to push the blood through and the valves open to let blood pass. The valves then close after. In a varicose vein, the valve is not performing its duty and the muscles aren’t able to push the blood through. Blood starts to pool as the blood team members aren’t cooperating. Pressure starts to build, and the veins start to protrude and twist amongst this chaos. Circulation has become inhibited. The veins become more visible due to becoming so enlarged. One may feel not change to the body, but can see the bluish, purple veins coiled near the surface of their skin. Spider veins are a milder form of this poor blood flow outcome.

Varicosity can be amplified by obesity, standing for prolonged periods, chronic constipation, and pregnancy. When a female is pregnant, the uterus is causing extra pressure to the legs. Blood circulation changes to help the growing fetus. Coupled with hormonal changes, this is why women are more at risk for these veins. Female hormones relax the walls of the veins. Living a mostly sedentary lifestyle leads to a blood pumping team that is not conditioned to perform its job. Exercise increases blood flow, which in turn can help prevent and alleviate varicose veins. Our blood pumping veins do weaken with age, so our veins become more vulnerable to this condition the older we get.

For most people with varicose veins, medical attention is not needed. Treatment can start with compression socks. These are sold over the counter, but a doctor can prescribe high pressure compression socks. These socks apply strong pressure beginning at the ankles and tapering off towards the knee. They help the leg muscles do their job to push blood up to the heart and can be worn throughout the day. Swelling can be alleviated by ibuprofen or aspirin.

Varicose veins can be removed but there are also natural remedies to try. Eating foods that support vein health are part of this. These include foods high in fiber (e.g., whole grains, beans, broccoli) that help with digestion. When you are constipated this actually puts pressure on veins to push the food through. Foods with potassium ((e.g., yogurt, almonds, salmon) also help with water retention. When the body is potassium-deficient this increases blood volume in the veins which then extra pressure. Foods with flavonoids (e.g., onion, garlic, bell peppers) help with cardiovascular health which is necessary for blood circulation. There are also herbal options that can be taken orally or used topically. Grape seed extract has been found to help with swelling, cramping, and restless leg syndrome which are all caused by chronic venous insufficiency.

For the most part, varicose veins just add color and character to your lower body. However, if they are painful, itchy, and a persistent hinderance, medical attention may be in order. Our blood is our body’s fuel, so we have to make sure each team member for flow is able to do their part. Be sure to exercise, manage your weight, avoid high heels and tight clothing that restricts blood flow, and elevate your legs from time to time if the majority of your day is standing. Pressure can be stressful, and your blood shares this sentiment. The Lifestyle of the FIT and healthy knows that your heart health is influenced by your blood health, so we must make sure the veins live in a healthy environment where their job is not disrupted.