How Flexible Should I Be?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Exercise, Issues

How Can I Measure My Flexibility?

Author: Dr. Pierre DuBois

 

man-touching-toesWatching a dancer her leg to her nose is an impressive sight, and many of us can perform similar feats when we’re children. But we begin to lose flexibility we age if we do not make a conscious effort to remain limber.

Inactivity causes muscles to shorten and stiffen, and muscle mass is lost with increasing years as well. However, maintaining flexibility as we get older is of great importance, since it allows us to retain our mobility and reduces the likelihood of aches, sprains and falls as we age.

How Flexible Should I Be?

Optimal flexibility means the ability of each of your joints to move fully through their natural range of motion. Simple activities such as walking or bending over to tie your shoes can become major difficulties if your flexibility is limited. Unfortunately, sitting for hours at a desk, as so many are forced to do on a daily basis, eventually leads to a reduction in flexibility as the muscles shorten and tighten.

A Simple Test For Measuring Flexibity

There are a number of different tests used to measure flexibility, but the one test that has been used as a standard for years is the sit and reach test. It measures the flexibility of your hamstrings and lower back. The simple home version of the test requires only a step (or a small box) and a ruler.

Before the test, warm up for about 10 minutes with some light aerobic activity and do a few stretches. Then place the ruler on the step, letting the end of it extend out a few inches over your toes, and note where the edge of the step comes to on the ruler.

Sit on the floor with your feet extended in front of you, flat against the bottom step (or box). With your arms extended straight out in front of you and one hand on top of the other, gradually bend forward from the hips, keeping your back straight. (Rounding the back will give you a false result).

Measure where your fingertips reach on the ruler. They should ideally be able to reach at least as far as the front of the step. Any measurement past the edge of the step is a bonus. No matter how far you can reach on the first measurement, do the test periodically and try to improve your score every few weeks.

Increasing Your Flexibility

If you find that you are less flexible than you should be, some regular stretching exercises combined with visits to your chiropractor can help to restore flexibility and improve range of motion, helping to ensure that you remain limber into older age.

The Bottom Line

  • Optimal flexibility means a full range of motion for all of our joints.
  • Age, inactivity and desk-bound work environments all can cause loss of flexibility.
  • The sit and reach test is a good measure of flexibility.
  • If your flexibility isn’t what it should be, do stretching exercises every day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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