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Apparently we know less about the bugs in our gut then we do about the surface of Mars. This is why no one knows why probotics sometimes work and other times don't.
Scientists have now enlisted AI to map out a landscape of 33 million possible microbe communities to help understand how our gut works. We know that the gut-brain axis, for example, is important, and hopefully we will now learn how to tune it for better health and for living longer better.
Since last week's article on insomnia and using breathing techniques to get back to sleep I have tried out the Breathing Zone app. It's free, works well, and even has the 4-7-8 technique recommended last week. Also, it allows you to set an initial breathing rate and a target slower rate and will guide you to slow down and relax your breathing. Give it a try - did I say it's free! It's available for Apple and Google.
Low levels of iron has become the most prevalent micronutrient disorder worldwide. Covid has been found to make it worse. Here's how to improve your iron intake - see item #2.
Vegetables are boring, just ask any kid. But as we eat less of them we are becoming more unwell from a global public health perspective. Here's how you can restart your old habit of eating more vegetables, and why this is so important as we age - see item #1.
Here are the topics I have chosen for you to help you live longer better:
⭑ Vegetables are potent preventers of cardiovascular diseases ✔
⭑ Suspect that you have low iron? COVID is making it worse - globally
⭑ Strength training rebuilds confidence after trauma ✔
⭑ One of the best. Mastering the barbell clean and press
I stumbled upon a 2017 study published in the journal "Nutrients" and it caught my attention (link above). Its message is very clear.
Just like regular exercise, eating vegetables is one of those things that we know that we should do more of but we just don't action it into our lifestyle.
Just as for exercise, there are compelling reasons to eat more vegetables. For example, it is a great way to help control our weight and improve our overall health. Vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre, which can help us feel full and satisfied after eating which reduces the likelihood of snacking.
There's more. Many epidemiological studies have shown that vegetable consumption is inversely related to the risk of cardiovascular diseases. That is, eating more vegetables lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The cardioprotective effects of vegetables involve antioxidation (anti-aging) ✔ anti-inflammation ✔ anti-platelet (reducing blood clots) ✔ regulating blood pressure ✔ and lipid profile (reducing cholesterol) ✔ attenuating myocardial damage ✔ and modulating relevant enzyme activities as well as some other biomarkers associated with cardiovascular diseases.
Vegetables have been specifically proven to protect against heart disease in clinical trials, especially soybeans and their products which have been found to be potent protectors. Perhaps this is why the Japanese live so long?
Surprisingly, it is not fully understood how basic vegetables protect us.
Scientists suspect that several kinds of components, like botanic protein, dietary fibre, vitamins (vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin and folate), essential elements (calcium and potassium) and phytochemicals (lycopene), might contribute to the cardioprotective effects.
What it means for us: Think about how to include more of these vegetables in your regular daily diet: potatoes, soybeans, sesame, tomatoes, dioscorea (think purple yams and sweet potatoes), onions, celery, broccoli, lettuce and asparagus.
It can be challenging to get into this habit. Here are my tips:
- If you can, choose vegetables that are in season and local, as they will be most flavourful.
- Try cooking them with spices or herbs for a different flavour profile.
- Add veggies to meat dishes and soups. I’m a big fan of adding veggies to pasta sauce, stir-fry, beans and rice. Also add them to omelettes, salads and sandwiches.
- Order vegetable side dishes when dining out. Choose a side dish of vegetables instead of fries.
- Finally, make sure you enjoy the taste of the vegetables you choose as much as you enjoy the health benefits they provide!
What are your personal tips and tricks for eating more vegetables? Do let me know.
Related, read my article: Forget Beetroot Juice, Eat More Vegetables For Nitrate Potency And Longer Life
Iron deficiency has become the most prevalent micronutrient disorder worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.62 billion people are affected.
A recent study reported in the medical journal Lancet suggests that COVID may be worsening the global iron deficiency problem. The study looked at blood samples from over 9,000 people in more than 80 countries who were infected with COVID-19 between December 2019 and February 2020.
Nearly 60% of those tested had low levels of hemoglobin – a key marker for iron deficiency – indicating a high risk for anemia among COVID-19 patients worldwide.
Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout our bodies. Iron deficiency leads to anemia which can have serious consequences for our health.
Inside our upper small intestine (where iron is most effectively absorbed), free-form iron tends to bind with oxygen, other minerals and food components. This often results in rock-like, insoluble clumps which are too big to pass through or between our cells.
This means that even when we consume enough nutritional iron that only ~15–35% of it is absorbed.
It also means iron availability can be improved, or inhibited, depending on how we eat it or what we eat it with.
For example: if we eat a lot of fibre with our breakfast cereal and fruit (as we should) then less free-form iron will be available to absorb because the fibrous material will compete with absorption sites on the intestinal wall.
But if you have a spinach salad for lunch instead of bread and cheese then more free-form iron will be available because there won’t be as much competition other more fibrous food.
What this means for us: Generally, diet diversification is the best way to ensure an adequate iron intake, i.e. eating wholefoods such as fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, meat, dairy, and nuts and seeds.
Specifically, iron is better absorbed when taken with foods such as citrus, meat, and alliums e.g. onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives.
But iron deficiency can also happen when the body has enough iron, but can’t effectively transport it into cells. This is common in those with both acute and chronic infections, heart and autoimmune conditions, and cancers. In these cases, the underlying disease needs to be treated first, rather than improving iron intake.
Beyond diet diversity, food fortification can help. This is the addition of essential vitamins and minerals to processed foods. Some countries have laws that require food manufacturers to fortify certain foods with essential nutrients.
Diet diversification provides a variety of nutrients as well as antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are beneficial for overall health. Food fortification ensures that people who do not have access to a varied diet still receive essential vitamins and minerals.
Both the real food and the food fortification approaches are important in ensuring that you receive enough iron daily. For the latter, read the labels and check how much iron is on one serve.
For example, one serving of fortified breakfast cereal will typically contain the recommended daily intake of 18mg of iron. That's the target they aim for when fortifying it. Choose a cereal with low or no sugar.
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This interesting article in the NY Times (may be behind firewall) examines how, for many people with trauma, weight lifting helps them feel at ease in their bodies.
Trauma creates a kind of mind-body disconnect. For example, if someone has experienced a physical trauma relating to their torso, they may feel detached from that part of their body as a coping mechanism.
Weight lifting provides an outlet for bottled up energy and grief and helps to reconnect the mind and body by providing an outlet for that energy. This can be an important step in healing.
Take the back squat - a great exercise to improve strength and power in the lower body (where you hinge at the hips and knees while resting a weight on your shoulders.)
There’s something about having, for example, a barbell, on your back that’s like, "Whoa, suddenly I can feel my spine. I can feel the back of my body. And I don’t remember the last time I felt the back of my body", said Mariah Rooney, a licensed clinical social worker, yoga teacher and weight lifter based in Denver.
When dealing with trauma, our nervous system generally has less capacity for stress, and also less resilience, so we can use strength training to push on the edge of how much stress we can take. Over time, this can expand our window of tolerance. This is a great way to help improve our overall resilience and ability to cope with stressful situations.
What this means for us: If you're looking to start strength training and weightlifting, there are a few things you should know before getting started.
Firstly, it's important to start slow and gradually increase the weight as your body becomes stronger. You don't want to risk injuring yourself by lifting too much too soon.
Secondly, always make sure to use proper form when lifting weights - perform the exercises correctly and safely. This will help prevent injuries.
Thirdly, focus on exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once such as squats, the barbell clean and press (see item #4 below), and deadlifts. These will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of strength gains.
You may recall me writing about "carry-over" which is how much the benefits of an exercise carry-over to other exercises and to life activities? These three exercises have huge carry-over to your life.
And finally, make sure to drink plenty of water both during and after your workout session!
Start with just one set of each exercise per day - try 6 reps per set - gradually adding more sets as your body adapts. And most importantly, listen to your body - if something feels uncomfortable or painful stop immediately!
Don't be intimidated by weightlifting.
Strength training is a great way to get started on your fitness journey, and it can be especially beneficial for women in rebuilding skeletal muscle. Find a qualified personal trainer or coach who can help you create a program that's tailored specifically for your current level of fitness, and your goals.
Our exercise of the week is ... the barbell clean and press. This exercise is a compound movement that activates many muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, traps, rhomboids, and lats. It helps activate our muscular-neural network by teaching us how to use multiple muscle groups together efficiently.
It is a very functional exercise that closely mimics the movement pattern of many real-life activities, such as picking up a child or carrying groceries.
This one exercise will improve your strength, power, and coordination.
Additionally, the neuromuscular connection that we have to exercise between our brain and feet when doing a barbell clean and press strength exercise helps improve our balance and stability.
It's a fabulous exercise to add to your regular gym routine.
What this means for us: It is a challenging exercise, but can be readily modified to suit your fitness level.
Here is how to do it properly, but you are best to get professional advice to get the basics right and to learn how to remain injury-free:
- Start with the barbell on the floor in front of you.
- Bend at your hips and knees, back flat, eyes ahead, core engaged, and reach down to grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back flat, core engaged, and eyes forward, engage the weight of the bar, and pause. Feel the engagement in your hips and flat back.
- Accelerate the barbell off of the floor, keeping your back straight and your head up and the bar coming up close to your body;
- Bring the bar up explosively to your chest and push up from your raised heels. As you are lifting upwards flip your elbows from over to under to the bar.
- Settle the bar in front of your chest, elbows underneath, and feet firmly on the ground. The clean will begin from this flipping of the elbows from over to under the bar.
- Now, drive through your heels and press the bar firmly overhead - in one smooth movement no jerks - until your arms are fully extended, and your shoulders stable.
- Bending your knees slightly, firmly lower the bar back to your chest.
- "Flip" the bar forward and over in a controlled movement which swings it back close to your body as you lower it back to the ground. (This is actually the most subtle part to get correct aside from the explosive lift, see below the video for tips.)
Be sure to keep your back straight and avoid injury by not pressing too heavy too soon - start with a weight that you can handle safely and work up from there!
The parts all make more sense as a whole when you watch the video below.
Check the video (image) below for a clear illustration.
Pro Tip 1: Apart from the explosive list, the most subtle part of the movement is in lowering the bar from overhead.
- From the overhead position, begin by slowly bending your arms under control to bring the bar down as low as can be managed in this position.
- At this point, quickly flip your elbows from under to over the bar, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
- As your elbows flip over, pop up onto your toes or jump slightly to meet the bar with your thighs, absorbing the force by dropping back to your heels and bending your knees.
- Your thighs will create a cushion of sorts to catch the weight and reduce the strain on your grip. Visualise absorbing the shock.
- From here, you lower the bar in the same manner as a deadlift.
Pro Tip 2: The connection between our brain and feet when doing the barbell clean and press is very important. Be sure to keep your feet connected to the ground, as this will help you maintain stability during the lift.
Pro Tip 4: Remember to focus on your breathing throughout the exercise
Pro Tip 5: Don't overthink it!!
In case you missed it...
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