November 28, 2014

Boost Your Energy

It was new year’s day 2006—a fateful morning in the life of Maura Granger. The married mother of three from Fort Myers had attended a wedding the evening before. Lots of photographs had been snapped on Granger’s digital camera, and the images shocked her.

“We looked at the pictures the next day, and I looked huge,” Granger says. “I didn’t realize how much weight I had gained, or how much baby weight I hadn’t lost, until I looked at the pictures. I was mortified.”

That day, Granger promised herself she was going to start exercising more and eating better. One of the first things she focused on was her metabolism. “I started getting up and working out first thing in the morning to kick-start my metabolism,” she says. “Exercising then gave me and my metabolism the kick to keep going all day.”

Ah—your metabolism. Everyone talks about it, but it seems as though few people actually know what it is and how it really works. I’ve told people for years that I must have a slow metabolism. How else to explain my portly figure?

According to Nemours, a well-known health system of hospitals and clinics, metabolism is the series of chemical reactions in a body’s cells that convert the fuel from food into the energy we need to function. It’s sort of like a furnace. Coal goes in, heat energy comes out. Metabolism is sort of the burning going on inside that furnace.

Each individual does indeed have his or her own metabolic rate. Special medical equipment can actually measure something called your RMR, or resting metabolic rate. The RMR is basically the minimum amount of energy your body needs to function when it’s completely at rest.

“Most people don’t know how many calories they are supposed to take in—what they actually need—and so most people end up taking in far too much,” says Damon Moschetto, a certified personal trainer with Florida Fitness Coaches in Naples. “When you find out how much you burn or don’t burn in a day, you can better plan what you eat and how you exercise.”

I turned to a passel of local experts, including Moschetto, endocrinologist Dr. Todd Brodie with Endocrine Specialists in Naples, and my old friend Dr. Sal Lacagnina, the medical director of Lee Physician Group. I asked these gentlemen to help us get to the truth behind some old metabolism chestnuts.

• Does your metabolism really slow down as you age?
Unfortunately, Dr. Brodie believes this is true. “It’s fairly well documented that we lose muscle mass as we age, and muscle mass contributes a significant amount to our metabolism,” he says. “Physical activity decreases with age, too. Compare a three-year-old who’s constantly on the move to someone older.”

• Does a person’s genetic makeup impact his or her metabolism?

“Absolutely,” is the answer from our experts. “My siblings and I were all brought up the same way, with the same foods and the same activity levels,” Lacagnina says. “However, one of my brothers has always been a bit on the heavier side, and my younger brother and I, not so much. I think there is a genetic predisposition to it.”

• Can exercise really raise your metabolic rate?

Yes! Nearly all health and fitness experts agree that regular exercise revs up the body’s engine. “Studies have shown that people who exercise—their metabolic rate is higher during the exercise and in the hours afterward,” says Dr. Lacagnina, who adds that higher intensity exercises—even for shorter periods of time—are better for the body and one’s metabolism than a slower and easier, but longer, workout. One note of caution: Our experts stress that before changing your current workout level or intensifying your exercise routine, you should first consult with your doctor to rule out heart problems or other conditions that exercise could aggravate.

• Are certain exercises better for one’s metabolism?

Here, the experts are unequivocal. While aerobic exercise has plenty of benefits, they strongly recommend people also add light weightlifting to their regimen to build up “skeletal muscle.” “Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue,” says Moschetto. “Muscle burns more calories. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, and the more you can eat.”

• Can certain foods stimulate your metabolism?

Health magazines and Web sites are filled with long lists of foods that purport to boost your metabolism. Grapefruit, green tea, yogurt, almonds, turkey, jalapeños, broccoli and oatmeal are just a few. “I don’t think there has been a study one way or the other,” says Dr. Brodie. “If something works, everybody would be doing it. If eating grapefruit really helped people lose weight, everyone would be eating grapefruit.” Dr. Lacagnina believes that the body simply is more in tune with these natural foods. “The body knows how to handle foods that are grown rather than foods that are processed,” he says. “People think it’s speeding up their metabolism when, rather, they’re just digesting it better.”

• Can skipping meals really mess up your metabolism?

While some dieters think they are helping themselves when they skip a meal, Moschetto says it’s just the opposite. “It takes calories to burn calories. There is a thermic effect to food” that stimulates your metabolism, he says. “If we spread our calories out during the day in several small meals, our body will have to work all day to process the food, versus eating two big meals and then having periods where our body isn’t having to do anything.”

• Can over-the-counter pills and supplements boost your metabolism?

Dr. Lacagnina and Dr. Brodie firmly believe this is a “no.” “I’ve never read anything that actually proves that to be true,” Lacagnina says. “Patients sometimes say things [work], and I ask them to show me the science, and they never come back with anything.” The doc does point out that in the past, amphetamines were effectively used to stimulate metabolism. However, they also caused serious heart problems and were removed from weight-loss and metabolism pills.

For Granger, the attention she paid to her metabolism furnace—the foods she put in it, the exercise she did to rev it up—paid off big time. She lost approximately 40 pounds and has maintained that trimmer weight for several years now. Recently, she became an avid bike rider and started competing in races.

“From a fitness and health perspective, I’m probably in the best shape I have ever been in,” Granger says proudly. “I still have those pictures of me in the dress I wore to that wedding. I got it altered, and now I have pictures of me in the same dress three sizes smaller.”

HEALTH BRIEFS ...

PEARS GOT THE APPLES BEAT
OK, here’s an eye-opener. We’ve heard about apple-shaped people and pear-shaped people. Apple people have fat around their waist and abdomen, while pear people carry the fat lower on their hips, thighs and behind.

Turns out, the pear-shaped people may live longer because their type of fat may trap harmful particles and also secrete helpful compounds, according to the International Journal of Obesity. Understanding the chemical interactions of this lower-body fat may lead to breakthroughs in treatments for obesity, heart disease and other ailments.

Despite this positive news, one can’t help but think it would be better to have no major excess fat deposits at all—stomach, legs, hips, backside or anywhere else.

CALLING ALL COUCH POTATOES
A warning to couch potatoes: All those hours in front of the telly are directly linked to an increased risk of premature death. According to a new study reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, each hour spent in front of the television daily was connected to:

• an 11 percent increase in risk of death from all causes.
• a 9 percent increased risk of cancer death.
• an 18 percent increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Of course, it’s not the TV that’s actually the problem. It’s the sedentary lifestyle that comes with watching too much of the tube. “Technological, social and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to,” says David Dunstan, the study’s lead author. “For many people, on a daily basis, they simply shift from one chair to another—from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.”

Guess the old saying “move it or lose it” really holds true.

CARING FOR OUR SENIORS
A new business that sounds wonderful has launched in Southwest Florida, one that offers critical services to our aging population.

It’s called Assurance Home Care of Florida, and it’s based in Fort Myers. Basically, it provides a companion for seniors who are frail or experiencing the early stages of dementia.

Rather than move them into a family member’s home or put them in a nursing home, Assurance Home Care offers a third option: a companion who spends as much time as desired with the patient. While this is a non-medical position, duties can include help with daily activities, light housekeeping, transportation to doctor’s appointments and medicine reminders.

Perhaps the most important result is the human contact it provides seniors who often feel isolated.

“Even just several hours a day can make a huge difference,” says John Jones, the company’s founder. “Many of our clients say that it’s these hours of the day, or these days of the week, that they look forward to most.”

BEWARE THE RUNNING SHOE
Who would have thought a comfy pair of running shoes with those big squishy soles might be worse for legs than a pair of high-heeled shoes?

That’s the surprising outcome of a study from the University of Virginia that found running shoes put a terrible strain on the knees. Researchers found that participants had a 30 percent increase in torque—the twisting of joints—in running shoes compared with running barefoot. This wringing of joints can lead to osteoarthritis.

There are movements afoot (pardon the pun) to encourage people to run barefoot. However, the folks behind the study warn against that, too, citing that arch support in shoes protects feet and wards off injuries such as shin splints.

That’s all we need—another reason to skip going for a jog.