Category Archives: General health

A quick review of the Las Vegas and Henderson Planet Fitness locations I have visited

PFGraphicSince returning to Vegas I have worked out at four Planet Fitness locations on my side of town (I have a Black Card membership which allows me to visit any location).

I’m not exactly checking off a bucket list of PF locations, but I realize I’ve visited enough of them to provide a useful contrast and comparison of those locations (plus they’re on a nicer side of town and thus may get more outside visitors). As time goes on and I visit more locations in town, I’ll add to this. But here’s a rundown of the locations I have visited and worked out at:

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Quick Anti-Illness Tips When Training

Along the lines of my avoiding illness post, I want to offer some additional tips for runners who are seriously training for a goal race during an illness epidemic (such as the current novel coronavirus situation):

Avoid doing endurance workouts in a gym or other crowded place

Going back to previous points about how crowded indoor spaces are full of airborne bacteria and viruses, the gym is full of other people, and the one thing you want to generally avoid is being around other people.

One key component of aerobic endurance workouts is the increased volume of your breathing, meaning you are taking in more of the air around you. Do so in an indoor environment during an epidemic, and you’re increasing your exposure to the illness of the day.

So, as uncomfortably cold or otherwise less than ideal it may be, you should do all of your workouts outdoors if possible. However, if you have a treadmill or other cross training equipment indoors at home or in a space that’s infrequently occupied, like a friend or family member’s house or at a fitness room that no one ever uses… you can also use that.

The key criterion here is the presence and proximity of other people. Avoid enclosed spaces where you have to share oxygen with other people during an epidemic.

Don’t go inside right after an outdoor workout

Following a workout, you’re in a compromised state where you’re taking in a larger volume of oxygen than normal. If you live with other people, this as above increases your potential exposure to airborne illnesses.

Instead of going right inside, go through an extended cool-down outdoors. Take an extended walk around the block or elsewhere. Perhaps bring your recovery fuel with you and ingest it outside. Spend some time getting to a state where you’re closer to normal before you go back inside.

It’s helpful if you drive to a separate outdoor location for workouts alone and can drive alone for some time before you return home or to your otherwise crowded destination. This gives you valuable cool-down time to normalize.

A sound outdoor cool-down typically takes at least 5-10 minutes, but take however long you need to in order to return to a more relaxed normal state.

If you don’t work out in daylight, try to get some sunlight

As Alexander J.A. Cortes has said time and again, bacteria and viruses are photo sensitive and heat sensitive. Sunlight basically (for lack of the scientifically accurate terminology) neutralizes and kills both.

The vast majority of people during a winter flu season spend all their time indoors, offering zero opportunity for the sun to kill the very bacteria and viruses they’re trying to get rid of.

However, if you are (as mentioned above) working out in the outdoors, and you’re not doing so at night or at the crack of dawn, you are exposing yourself to sunlight and helping yourself already.

Barring that, make a point to get outside before, during or after work/school and at least walk in the sunlight for a little while, at least 20-30 minutes if not more. Of course, you don’t want to stay out so much you risk sunburn. But even sun on your exterior winter clothes can contribute to eliminating the presence of an illness.

If you home has humidity, get a de-humidifier

Germs thrive in the presence of humidity. Bacteria and viruses incidentally struggle to spread in desert environments due to not just (the aforementioned) abundant sunlight but also the very dry air.

However, many environments have some degree of humidity. Those in midwestern America and near ocean environments probably have a lot of humidity in their indoor and outdoor air.

Such people should consider investing in a dehumidifier, commonly used in summer to make sleep conditions more bearable in hotter months. Used during a winter epidemic, the elimination of indoor humidity can interfere with airborne illnesses’ ability to stay airborne and spread.

Couple with the use of an indoor electric air filter, and you do yourself a lot of good during an epidemic.

Spend an hour outside before or after work

Those who live in a big city and do a lot of their commute on foot may already do this, if it requires enough commute-walking.

However, especially if most of your commute is on a bus or train, you still want to bank some extra time walking or sitting outside before or after work.

This goes back to the benefits of open air and sunlight during an epidemic. You help clear your lungs while also help reduce the presence of airborne illness on and around you.

If you need to do strength workouts at the gym, do your floor work elsewhere

Some workouts need to be done in a public gym. For many, these workouts include standard strength training.

Thankfully, these workouts don’t require as much oxygen as your endurance workouts. Just make sure to still do your endurance workouts outside or in a secluded indoor location. And of course as always (and this is especially important during epidemics), wipe down your equipment before and after use.

However, save your floor work like self myofascial release (SMR, foam rolling), stretching and other calisthenic exercises (push ups, etc) for elsewhere. The floor is full of germs, and there’s not really any way to wipe that area down. If at all possible try to do some of those exercises on a bench, but I know many of these exercises must be done prone or supine on the floor.

Do these in a separate session before/afterward at home or in a secluded indoor area. It sucks to have to break a workout into separate parts like that, but getting sick sucks a lot more.

Do home workouts in a room alone with the window open

When I say secluded indoor area, the vast majority of the time I think this should be in your own enclosed room with no other traffic, where the only germs on the floor are your own. Obviously, make sure you have the needed floor space to do a workout (and having been there, I know many rooms don’t offer a lot of space).

If you live with others, you will want to open the window no matter how cold it might be. This will help circulate some of that diluted (cleaner) outdoor air into your room, and help circulate any possible contaminated indoor air out of the building.

Living alone of course makes this a lot easier. Opening the window is probably more optional if you live alone, depending on whether anyone has visited or how often you get visitors. And you probably have more space, likely enough to do a workout.

After unavoidable situations around other people, do a flush and clean as soon as possible

Whenever you do have to spend time around other people, you should try to do any of the following once you leave that environment and are alone or home:

  • Wash your hands with soap. If the winter conditions are chapping your hands, apply whatever lotion or solution you have that helps with that afterward. But do wash your hands.
  • Take rubbing alcohol, antibacterial cleaner/wipes or any other sort of suitable cleaner and wipe down any surfaces and equipment that was exposed to other people, including any surfaces on which you sat anything exposed to other people.
  • If home, remove/change your external clothes before sitting or laying on anything. Pretend you just fell on poison oak or landed on someone with bad ringworm or something. Anything exposed, get it in the hamper ASAP and get some clean clothes on.
  • If you’re home for the day or evening, consider taking a shower or bath right then and there. No need to take 3-5 showers in a day, obviously, but a 2nd shower or bath might be a good idea.
  • If it’s with you, use your neti pot with distilled water and a nasal-acceptable saline solution. If you don’t have these things, get them, learn to use them and start using them.
  • Drink at least 8oz of some hot liquid, whether it’s herbal liquid, some soup, or just boiled hot water with lemon or something similar in it. Consider bringing an electric kettle to work, some filtered water and whatever tea etc to allow for doing this away from home.

This sounds like overkill, but consider that the average person gets sick one or more times every winter. Doing the average effort is probably just going to get you sick. You’re trying not to get sick because you’re training. You should put in an above-average effort to safeguard yourself.

This isn’t a totally extreme approach (like wearing a HAZMAT suit and fumigating in an airlock). But it’s the least that’s substantially effective.

If you don’t feel well on a key workout day, do the distance without the intensity

I think it’s important to continue training at your normal frequency and volume however much you can during an epidemic. The circulation from your training is a prime weapon in warding off and filtering out illness.

However, some intense workouts may not be helpful if your body’s defenses have been partially compromised and you feel yourself battling an oncoming illness. While you should not totally give into it and take a break from training, you also may be doing more damage than good if you push through hard reps with a compromised immune system.

Instead, as you would if your muscles were sore or you were battling a minor injury, you should keep the scheduled distance while omitting the high intensity. If you know, for example, that a 12x400m workout with 400m recovery would require 8 miles of running (1 mile warmup, the 3 miles of reps plus the 3 miles of cool-down intervals, and a 1 mile cool-down run)… you could just run 8 easy miles that day instead. It’s not nearly as hard on your body but you still get the aerobic benefit of running the 8 miles, most of the neuro-muscular benefit from running the 8 miles (just without the intensity of the reps), and all of the respiratory circulation from doing the workout.

I found from experience that when I felt an illness coming on and just skipped workouts, I got sick as expected and stayed sick for a bit. Whenever I felt an illness coming on and made sure to keep training regularly, it either went away without making me totally sick, or I got sick but minimally so and then quickly recovered.

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Avoid the Novel Coronavirus (and other illnesses)

Coronaviruses are in general quite common. You may actually get one once every year or two. However, we’re experiencing mass panic over the current novel coronavirus strain, which has killed a few thousand people in China among the many thousands infected, and sent entire nations into a panic.

There are a handful of truths regarding this novel coronavirus:

  • Most of the people who contract the worst form of the novel coronavirus will make a full recovery without any required medical intervention, just like most people who get a common cold or the flu.
  • The death rate of the novel coronavirus is actually quite low. About 1-2% of people who have reportedly tested positive for it have died from it, and almost all of the deaths have been in China and Italy, where tens of thousands (again, nearly all known cases) have been diagnosed. Virtually all of the people who have died from the novel coronavirus either have seriously compromised immune systems or live in abjectly unsanitary conditions (and that’s assuming all stats are accurate, which is highly questionable). Sure, I’d be worried about the health of either population, but the vast majority of those reading this are in a much better situation.
  • Regardless of anything anyone does, there’s little people can do to prevent its overall spread, quarantines or not. It’s an airborne virus, and a common type of virus at that. It’s like trying to eradicate or quarantine the flu or common cold. Good luck.
  • The current quarantines are more a product of systemic panic than necessity.
  • Other governments are semi-thoughtlessly following in kind with their own over-reaching quarantines, not realizing they’re parroting a needless overreaction from a totalitarian government. This never minds major events that have elected to cancel said events in response to the hysteria. In most cases, they’re making a panic-driven mistake.

All of this said, this novel coronavirus strain is worth concern, the same way any major flu strain or flu season is worth concern.

As always, there are things you can and should do to safeguard yourself from illness and give your body the best chance to flush and resist that illness should it find its way into your system.

However, I have useful advice beyond the standard “wash your hands, take your vitamin C, avoid crowds, etc”. Here are some tips for you to help your body and immune system withstand any potential exposure to any illness, not to mention the novel coronavirus.

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Eating is (literally) stressful

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One observation from my Garmin watch is that my stress score goes up after meals. No matter what I eat, how healthy the food I’m eating, my stress levels go up after the meal and stay elevated for at least a couple hours or longer, depending of course on activity and whatever else I’m doing. This is even true if I eat before bed: My stress levels can remain high for up to 2 hours after I drift off to sleep, following a relatively late meal.

My body only shows as resting (meaning a low stress score) in the morning if I have yet to eat breakfast. Despite any hunger pangs, it’s less stressful for me (according to heart rate variability) to be hungry than it is for me to digest a meal after eating. I find I record more restful periods when I intermittent-fast, aka skip breakfast and eat my first meal in the afternoon. Even with the added stimulus of coffee, my stress levels remain in a low resting state.

Garmin’s stress score is a function of heart rate variability, which can indicate activation or rest of your body’s sympathetic nervous system, which activates the body for activity. When the sympathetic nervous system is regularly activated, that indicates your body is under stress. A heart rate that does not vary much is indicative of the sympathetic nervous system being activated.

What does this have to do with eating? The sympathetic nervous system is a component of the autonomic nervous system, which passively operates our organs and hormonal glands. When you eat food, the autonomic/sympathetic nervous system begins diverting blood from other organs to the stomach and other relevant digestive organs to digest your ingested food. This activation of your sympathetic nervous system will continue until your food has been suitably digested and absorbed.

Even if you are laying down and doing absolutely nothing, your sympathetic nervous system during digestion is at work and therefore your heart rate variability at rest is likely small enough to indicate a level of stress to your Garmin. That doesn’t seem fair, but welcome to human biology.

If you live a relatively low-stress existence, eat only 2-3 meals a day, and you’re in good health, this is likely not a big deal. Your heart rate will eventually return to normal variability in a couple hours, and your resting time will read to your tracker as being at rest.

Of course, the vast majority of humanity doesn’t fall into the very thin demographic I just outlined. Most of us deal with some substantial degree of regular stress. Many of us have different meal habits, and many snack or eat enough meals a day that their bodies are digesting food not just throughout the entire day but even after going to sleep. And, of course, most people are not in optimal health.

This never minds people who endurance train, and are already subjecting their bodies to substantial stress through their training. The irony is that, depending on their eating habits, their fueling after workouts may in fact be contributing to their overall (already high) stress levels.

Science incidentally hasn’t laid a hand on this subject in over a decade, so we don’t have a ton of data on why this needs to be a stress reaction let alone if we can change the body’s sympathetic nervous reaction to eating food. So we have to accept that this is reality and work within that.

This incidentally is an underlying reason why intermittent fasting and the old “eat dinner like a pauper” rule* works so well. Fasting by skipping breakfast leads to generally lower stress levels, which improves overall hormonal function. Eating light limits the stress affect on your sleep time, which can improve the quality of that sleep.

Of course, this should not be taken as license to starve yourself and not eat at all. At some points during the day you do need to eventually take in quality nutrition and “take the sack” (so to speak) on the resulting sympathetic stress, because your body needs that nutrition.

This merely points out how the timing of that nutrition can affect your overall sympathetic stress, which in turn can affect your overall health.

Though this was never an intent of the rule, this is one benefit to making sure to eat quality protein/carbs as soon after a hard workout as possible, e.g. the 30 minute and 2 hour windows. Your body undergoes a similar sympathetic stress response after a workout, though the stress ripple effect can last longer than your meals (often, for example, a long run leaves you in a high stress state for the entire rest of the day, even if you spend all day laying down).

Eating as soon as possible and triggering that sympathetic nervous reaction can effectively piggy-back off the other sympathetic nervous reaction recovering from the workout itself. Eating much later could effectively re-start the sympathetic stress reaction, whereas eating right after one has began saves you the trouble of an extra stress reaction, or an extended period of elevated sympathetic stress. You can get back to a normal resting state more quickly, and spend more time in that low-stress rested state than if you had eaten later and had two separate stress-creating episodes for your sympathetic nervous system.

This lends credence to the following ideas:

  • Unless you work out in the morning, or you have health-related reasons not to do so, it’s probably best to intermittent fast by skipping breakfast, nothing but coffee and water.
  • Probably only eat breakfast if doing a morning workout, and probably following that workout.
  • It’s important to consume nutrition within 30 minutes of finishing tougher workouts, and to eat a meal within two hours of finishing those workouts.
  • Regardless of the size of dinner, you want to buffer a couple of hours between the end of dinner and bedtime, to allow digestion and its stress reaction to finish as early in the sleep cycle as possible.
  • Avoid snacking, as it restarts the sympathetic nervous stress reaction. Eat full meals and only full meals, 2-4 times a day.
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The Overload Principle: The training value of runners training tired

Human nature leads us to take it easy when we’re sore or tired. Obviously, we don’t feel good, so our nature tells us to rest until we feel better.

Many training plans for runners will ask you to run a high volume of miles, even though often times you are tired from the prior workouts. Many novice runners will make the mistake of skipping or curtailing the easier workouts because they are tired. They don’t realize their being tired is part of the training stimulus for those workouts!

In fitness training we have a concept called the Overload Principle. The principle is that your training stimulus has got to exceed your current capabilities to elicit optimal adaptions from that training.

For a beginning runner who doesn’t run much, the simple act of running in itself kicks in the overload principle. A beginner’s current capability is they aren’t yet comfortable running a lot. So running in itself already exceeds their current capabilities. A simple run will for them elicit those optimal adaptions.

Separately, consider strength training through weight lifting with heavy, challenging weights. Done with a suitable intensity (i.e. sufficient weight, capable but challenging form), lifting weights can exceed anyone’s current capabilities as long as the weight and/or exercise itself is more challenging that the trainee is generally used to. Even if a trainee gets comfortable with a given weight/exercise, adding weight or progressing the exercise into a more challenging form can once again exceed the trainee’s capabilities and elicit those optimal adaptions.

However, if the trainee were to maintain the current intensity as they got comfortable with it, the exercise while still beneficial would produce lesser adaptions and results. This is often why people hit a plateau when training.

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Cross Training With the ARC Trainer

ARCTrainerI’ve talked about the ARC Trainer’s benefit in runner cross training before. But how do you effectively use it?

The machines are infrequently used for a reason. Most people aren’t just not comfortable with the machines… they don’t really know how to integrate it with their fitness goals and training plans.

I pointed out a key valuable use in my previous linked post: To cross train as part of runner training. But most are not totally sure how to best utilize the machine and its many settings.

I’m going to share 10 tips on how to get acquainted and effectively utilize the ARC Trainer in cross training for your fitness or goal race… possibly even for other fitness goals as you wish:

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Is Getting Up Early to Work Out A Good Idea?

view of sunset on road

Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on Pexels.com

So a lot of people make themselves work out early in the morning because it’s easier to find time then to work than it is to work out towards the end of the day. It’s less likely something will come along to derail your workout, whether circumstance or flagging motivation following a busy day.

I will note that in my long fitness history I’ve tried both working out very early and working out in the evening. I personally find there’s a lot I need to do to prepare for and get to work each morning, and I’m not usually clear headed enough to efficiently do most morning workouts either way. Others’ mileage will obviously vary.

The reason I don’t just set the alarm and wake up earlier is because the negative effect of losing sleep is greater than the positive effect of a morning workout, even if bio-rhythmically I come correct and learn to wake up earlier (and I already wake up naturally around 6am).

What happens if the previous night runs long or I otherwise have trouble getting to sleep? Now I spend the following day sleep deprived, along with all the negative hormonal effects of not getting enough sleep. The resulting cortisol and loss of growth/recovery hormones is actually a key behind lacking training results, faster aging, aging in general, not to mention illness and other psychological/health problems.

It’s more worth it to me to fit a workout in after work during the early evening, and it helps that I’ve developed the discipline to consistently do those workouts. Now and then I am able to get in a productive 6am workout after having slept well, but I realize that cannot be a daily thing with my current schedule and lifestyle… plus some workouts are too long for 6am to be a sufficient starting time.

So this leads me to talk about a couple things:

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