PostHeaderIcon Are you still living in the dark ages?

As a fitness professional, I have to renew my certification every two years. During those two years I am going to conferences, learning new formats, getting more certifications, or studying more books. I am constantly updating my knowledge with the latest studies and findings. I find, however, that many people are still living in the dark ages in terms of keeping themselves healthy. This can be a real problem as what we don’t know can hurt us. In this article I will address many popular misconceptions regarding diet, exercise, and food supplements.

Most of us grew up on this food pyramid that was developed in the 1970s. We were taught that most of our diet was to consist of complex carbohydrates such as pasta and bread. There was even a space on the top of the pyramid for junk food. Vegetables and fruits were put in one category and this category was smaller than the carbohydrate category. The result? Rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease skyrocketed. These diseases even started to affect our children as obesity and adult onset diabetes became a childhood epidemic. The embarrassing thing about this is that these diseases can be prevented with healthy eating and exercise. In the new pyramid, the fruit and vegetable category is larger than the carbohydrate category and Junk food has been eliminated (because you really shouldn’t eat it at all). It is important to eat a variety of foods in order to get all of our nutritional needs. For example, foods in the meat category contain vitamin B while foods in the fruit and vegetable category contain vitamin C. For more information on the new pyramid go to:

UPDATE: The food pyramid was turned into a plate in 2011. For more information go here:

or check out my more recent blog post:

You can get very confused reading up on every diet out there. The bottom line is that the cells in our body need carbohydrates to process energy. Our bodies need protein to help promote energy reactions in our body. Our body needs both in order to build muscle. We need fat to lubricate our cells and we need vitamins and minerals to help these reactions along. If you invest in a diet that cuts out any of these important nutritional factors, your body is missing something and your health can be compromised. My advice is that if you have the money to invest in a diet, invest in a licensed dietitian who can formulate a specialized plan for you or in a program such as weight watchers that promotes eating a balanced diet with smaller portions.  Anything in excess can be bad but don’t take this to mean that you should cut out a food group all together.  I’ve seen many dangerous diet trends out there so if someone tries to sell you on an extreme diet makeover, make sure they have the credentials to back up their knowledge.

Food supplements are not regulated by the FDA. This means that there is no way of knowing that your vitamin C supplement actually has vitamin C in it unless you invest in your own investigation. Latest studies on food supplements show that they do not replace food. They do not digest as well as food. Most of them do not absorb into the system as well as food and some contribute to kidney stones. I am not saying that all supplements are bad but I just want people to be aware of what they are taking if they chose to take a supplement. Many foods claim to be “healthy” because they contain food supplements. White bread is enriched with vitamins because the vitamins are stripped away during the processing and sold to supplement companies but whole grains are much healthier because the vitamins are from a more natural and easier to absorb source. I see the mistake of people eating foods that are touted as healthy because they contain supplements. Most of these foods are very high in sugar. Don’t read the label that says, “it’s good for you.” Instead, read the ingredients.  As a general rule, the more whole and fresh the food, the more nutritious it is.

I had this debate with my husband for years. He liked margarine and I liked butter. We would argue over which one was better. I had read some studies that suggested that it could be bad for you and I recall reading an article in the U.S. News and World Report about a fifteen years ago that heralded a scientist for finding that trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Such claims didn’t hit the mainstream media and my husband could still quote doctors who believed that hydrogenated oils were better than saturated fats because they didn’t harden when they got cold. At some point, people like me who wanted the public to get educated started banning the stuff and things went public. Perhaps the rise in heart disease outdid the need for companies to keep the hydrogenated oils in their food. Today it is popular knowledge that trans fats are very very bad for you, worse than saturated fats or cholesterol.

I sometimes train young athletes who have the same problems as my senior clients. Many of these children suffer from bad knees or backs because their coaches don’t stretch them out at the end of their workouts, fail to teach proper form, or tell them not to drink too much water before practice because it might give them cramps. Here is the low down on these fitness mistakes:
On water and cramping: I hear people say not to drink water before you workout because it might cause cramping. I believe this was caused by someone not paying attention in their health class. The true claim is that if you are cramping, it is because you are NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER. It is a sign of dehydration. While you are exercising, you need to drink as much water as you can as dehydration is a great danger and could lead to sickness or death. You must constantly replenish the water that you sweat out. When doing outdoor activities, sweat might get dehydrated by the sun, but you still need to drink as much water as you can. Here are the latest guidelines from the National Athletic Trainer’s Association:
Drink 17-20 ounces of water prior to exercise. Drink 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes during exercise. Drink 16-24 ounces for every pound lost. If you weigh yourself before you exercise and weigh yourself after only to find that you lost 2 pounds. You have lost 2 pounds of water through your sweat. This means you need to drink about 50 to 60 ounces of water. If you DON’T drink water before you train, you may get cramps.

I still run into people who think that a warm up means stretch before you work out. This is not a warm up. In fact, if you are about to engage in an activity that requires speed or power, deep stretching before a workout can lead to injury or poor performance. A proper warm up consists of gradually raising the heart rate and gradually limbering the joints. What you do during the warm up depends on what your workout consist of. If you are about to do some heavy bench presses, light bench presses or push ups are a good warm up for that. If you are about to do a run, light jogging, hip and knee mobility drills or lunging is good to bring up the heart rate and lubricate your running muscles. If you are about to do some hard core ballet, with a lot of kicking your legs over your head, naturally you will need to stretch during your warm up but only after you have moved your joints and heated up your body. Stretching while cold is considered very dangerous.
Cooling down means that you do not stop abruptly after a hard workout. If your heart rate is high, you must gradually bring it back down. Abruptly stopping can lead to the blood pooling in your legs, reducing venous return. This can lead to dizziness, faintness or even a stroke. Studies have shown that the best time to do deep stretching is after a workout. By now the body is warm and limber. This also allows the muscles to stretch out and can alleviate stiffness and soreness that might have been caused by the workout. It also allows the nerves to unwind and it helps us to relax after putting ourselves through the ideal of heavy exercise. Do not estimate the importance of stretching in injury prevention.

Recently, our mindset has shifted from a no pain no gain philosophy to one of a mind body connection. While it is sometimes good to disassociate ourselves from pain in order to keep us going, studies have shown that this is also a great cause of injury because people don’t listen to the warning signs their bodies are giving them when they over do it. These days, we ask our clients and students to listen to their bodies. Consistency is the key to success. There is more emphasis on proper form over working people to death. Bad form can lead to muscle imbalances that lead to injury so listen to what your body is telling you. It is better to use proper form and do less than to force more out of yourself with bad form. Try it and you’ll find that it is harder to use proper from and that your body will change faster.

If you are pregnant you should probably check out the new 2002 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines. Some people are only aware of the first recommendations on exercise and pregnancy which was released in 1985. There was very little scientific evidence conducted on this subject at that time so the guidelines were mostly based on speculation. “Although most of the restrictions outlined in the 1985 ACOG guidelines became ‘outdated’ with the publication of the 1994 guidelines, the use of the earlier document is still widespread among physicians and fitness professionals.”—ACE Group Fitness Instruction Manual, Second Edition.
These days we know that pregnant women who participate in a well designed exercise program can maintain or increase their cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility. Research has shown that women who exercise during pregnancy experience fewer common prenatal discomforts such as constipation, swollen extremities, leg cramps, nausea, varicose veins, insomnia, fatigue, back pain, and other orthopedic conditions. I could write a book on this but it is important to know that pregnant women should not be afraid to exercise. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns and if you do participate in a training program, make sure that you drink extra water for your baby as dehydration is one of the highest concerns. Also, if you do talk to your doctor, make sure they are aware of the latest guidelines. Ask them if they have read the 2002 guidelines.

Our attitudes have truly changed towards fitness. We have opened our doors to people with disabilities, pregnant women and senior citizens. At the YMCA where I work there are arthritis chair classes and Parkinson’s chair classes. There are water classes for people with sore joints who cannot handle any shock. And after two thousand years of women being forbidden from studying yoga, we now have yoga class for pregnant women and mommy and me yoga classes. Studies have shown that movement makes people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pain etc. feel so much better so you don’t have to be an athlete and it top condition to exercise. It is very important to keep the body moving no matter what your condition and classes have been modified to suite everyone’s needs. I have trained people with all kinds of disorders so find out what is out there for you and get moving.

By Rhea Morales

7 Responses to “Are you still living in the dark ages?”

Leave a Reply