Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the BrainIf you are looking for a book that will motivate you to get moving, Spark by John J. Ratey, MD is a great choice.  Dr. Ratey explains, through the latest scientific research, how truly connected brain health is to movement of the body.  Covering everything from how schools are raising test scores by ramping up their gym classes to how exercise can be as beneficial as drugs (with none of the negative side effects but many positive ones) for treating things like ADHD, depression and Alzheimer’s.  There are chapters on stress, women’s health, aging and more.

When we exercise, not only do our bodies work better, our brains do too.  We were designed to move and when we can’t or choose not to, we pay the price with our health.  Ratey describes how his mother stayed mentally sharp by walking everywhere until a fall and broken hip sidelined her.  (She was a great walker, but did no resistance training to stave off osteoporosis). After the loss of mobility, her brain function deteriorated rapidly.  The great news is, though, that even if you have the genetic markers for something like Alzheimer’s, exercise helps your brain to find ways to make new connections to keep your thoughts running smoothly. If you read the research, you might consider Dbol steroids, in specifically needy times.

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The take home message is if you want your kid’s brains to develop to the best of their ability and you want to age well yourself — instead of just age — or if you have aging parents whom you want to stay mentally sharp, then get everyone in your family off the couch and up and moving.  Exercise and the brain — both beautiful things.

Nutrition Planning at Forza! Coming Soon

For those of you who wish to lose a few (or more) pounds of fat and/or gain a few (or more) pounds of muscle in 2013, I have good news.  I am just finishing up a sports and exercise nutrition certification from Precision Nutrition that will help me help you reach your health and fitness goals. So if better nutrition is part of your New Year’s Resolutions, together we can make sure that happens.  Here’s to a fit and healthy 2013!

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Holiday Specials at Forza!

Tis the season of giving and holiday cookies.  As a way of showing my appreciation for all of you that come to Forza!, I am offering FREE CLASSES!  For current members, all classes are free on Dec. 26, 27, 29 and 31st.

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For prospective members, I am offering two deals.  Everyone new to Forza! must take the kettlebell basics class.  This is a private class where you learn the basic kettlebell moves that will prepare you for group classes at Forza!.  Normally this class costs $49.  For the next two months (now through Jan. 31st), if you purchase an 8 punch group class card, the kettlebell basics class is $25.  If you purchase a 16 punch card, the kettlebell basics class is free!

Finally, if you are looking for a gift for that certain someone, how about a gift certificate to Forza?  For $50 you can get a certificate for the kettlebell basics class as well as two group classes.  For $100 you can get a certificate for the kettlebell basics class as well as 6 classes.  Also available are gift certificates for 4 classes for $45 to be given to current members.  Spread the good cheer and give the gift of better health.

For inquires or purchase, please email me at or call 507-271-2210.

So come one, come all and work off those holiday treats!

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!

Need motivation to exercise?

First_20_Minutes-11-200x300In previous posts I’ve blogged about Gretchen Reynolds’ Phys. Ed. columns in The New York Times magazine.  She has recently written a book entitled The First 20 Minutes which I heard about through a Forza! client (thank you Rebecca!).  In this book Ms. Reynolds delves into the science of exercise, consulting experts from many different fields from physiology to neurobiology and sports.

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If you are looking for motivation to get you off the couch or to work exercise into your day no matter how busy you may be, I highly recommend you read this book.  If you are motivated by the positive, this book will give you plenty of ammo to convince you how much good exercise does the human body.  If you are motivated more by fear, it will provide you with many examples of the negative effects of inactivity for us that hopefully will act as a deterrent for you remaining sedentary.  Now if only it was offered as an audio book you could listen and exercise at the same time!

On a related note, I am off this weekend to attend a workshop called “Becoming Bulletproof” based on a book of the same title.  I know how important exercise is.  In this workshop I’ll be learning additional ways to help keep myself and my clients from getting injured so we can all continue to do the exercising our bodies need to do to stay healthy.  More on that when I return.

Rock Climbing in Bergen

My family and I had a wonderful trip to Europe in June and one of the most memorable things we did was rock climbing near Bergen, Norway.  We arrived in Bergen at 3:30 in the afternoon and were picked up from our hotel by an outdoor adventure company called Bergen Base Camp.  Given our choice of climbing close to town on easier rocks or driving out to the coast and tackling a harder rock face nicknamed Atlantis, we chose the harder option, of course, much to our guide’s delight!

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Our climb started with absailing (rappelling) down a 100 ft. granite rock face to a large rock ledge just 50 ft or so from the North Sea.  Then we donned climbing shoes and each made two climbs about 2/3 of the way up, stepping on ledges of 1/2 inch or less in some places.  We then did some canyoning between smaller rock faces with the sea at our feet and finished with another longer climb almost to the top.

The scenery was spectacular.  The weather could not have been better.  Our whole excursion took over 6 hours, and the best part was that the climbing felt so easy and natural.  After all the strength, flexibility and core work Rich and I have done at Forza!, climbing was a breeze.  The hardest part was having to leave.

Let me know if you have any Forza! stories to tell.

My favorite snacks!

If you’ve read the previous blog, you know how I feel about sugar.  So, I’ve drastically reduced my sugar intake.  What are my snack alternatives?  My favorite snacks are homemade beef jerky and cashew butter on rice crackers or apple slices when the apples are tart and crisp.  I also like to make coconut granola for my family that’s great with unsweetened yogurt.  I’ve added a recipe page to my website, so you can check these recipes out here.

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Sugar Toxicity

I’ve talked to many of you about avoiding added sugar.  In this past week’s 60 Minutes program, there was a segment on the dangers of sugar called Is Sugar Toxic?.  You can watch the 60 Minutes segment or read the transcript via the preceding link.  The interviewer, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, talked with a number of doctors and scientists about their recent findings on how dangerous sugar really is to our health.

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One doctor, endocrinologist Robert Lustig, describes sugar as a toxin and talks about how sugar contributes to many of the diseases you hear about in our current health care crisis, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease that are usually associated with adults but are now appearing in more and more young people.  He has become a prominent spokes person on the dangers of sugar.  You can watch Dr. Lustig’s YouTube video if you want to hear more from him.  It is an hour and a half long, but full of great and troubling information.  I highly recommend this to you.

Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist is focusing on how sugar affects heart disease and stroke.  Their five year research study involves paid subjects who were kept in the hospital for weeks at a time where all food intake was carefully measured and monitored.  After a few days of a low sugar diet to get baseline measurements, 25% of their calories were replaced by a sugary drink and their blood was drawn every 1/2 hour.  After only two weeks on a sugary diet, there were increases of LDL cholesterol in their blood.  We’ve been told for years to avoid fatty foods because they increase our cholesterol and it is standard practice to have your cholesterol levels checked to give an indication of how healthy your cardiovascular system is.  In spite of all the low fat foods available, heart disease has not decreased.  According to Dr. Lustig, it is not fat consumption, but rather sugar consumption that is causing these health problems.  Dr. Lustig goes into detail on why this occurs in his talk linked above.

Lewis Cantley, a Harvard professor and the head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center discusses how sugar increases insulin in our bloodstream and because of insulin receptors on tumor cells, actually encourages the growth of cancer cells in our bodies.  I’ve mentioned the book Anticancer, A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber before, but if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so whether or not you personally have dealt with cancer.  I keep a copy at Forza! you may check out.

Finally, Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute talks about the addictiveness of sugar and how it lights up the same areas of the brain as cocaine does.  There is a reason we find it so difficult to avoid eating sugar.

I don’t expect most of you to give up sugar entirely, but I would advise you to be careful at least how much and when you eat it.  Try to keep sugar consumption to a minimum and when you do consume sugar, certainly don’t eat it without eating additional fiber and protein to slow your body’s insulin response.  Eat fruit rather than drink fruit juices.  Find the time to watch these videos.  Unless we change our toxic sugar environment, we are going to continue to pay the health and monetary consequences.  Things have to change!  Why not start with you and your family?

Forza Success Story!

I received this post from Robbie Wigley, one of my regulars in the Steady Strength group.  Thought you all might enjoy hearing her story.

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“As I sit here slowly typing… hunt and peck method I can take pause to be grateful for the 2 years I have spent in Gretchen’s Steady Strength class.  Here is why….  I was on an incredible vacation with my whole family…  really a once in a lifetime event that we had saved for 2 years for.  We went to an island paradise in the Caribbean called Vieques.  Two days into the trip I decided to try my hand at standing up on the “Stand Up Paddle Boards” we had rented.  I was good for about 2 minutes but went down on the board, rather then in the water, and severely fractured my arm at the wrist.  Now this doesn’t sound like something to be grateful for….  but here is the point.   I decided to continue my vacation with it splinted with the okay from my Ortho Doc here in the states.  I was able to get in and out of a kayak, a bath tub and do a lot of things that brought to my attention that I really was in control of my body because of the core strength I had developed.  The guy who was helping us with the kayak even told my son…  “get low and control your body as you get in the kayak…  like your Mom!   Plus I could get out too!  My point is that accidents happen…  but being stronger helps deal with the consequences and avoid any further injury.  Now to just get this monster cast off!”

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Kettlebells and Back Pain

There is a great article in the New York Times that describes an 8 week study done by researchers in Denmark.  They took two groups of middle aged pharmaceutical workers, mostly women, and told one group to exercise however they liked.  The second group worked out 20 minutes, 3 times a day with kettlebells.  The kettlebell group reported less back, shoulder and neck pain.  Of course!  Check it out!

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Gut Check

How’s your gut?  Have you checked in with it lately?  Do you know how the state of your digestive system is affecting the rest of you?  I’ve known for a while now that when I eat something like pizza, the next day I will feel unmotivated and have a general sense of not feeling great.  I spent a lot of time feeling that way before I figure out it was related to what I was eating.  Now, when I don’t feel well or get the feeling like it is too much work to do what I need to do, I think back to what I’ve been eating over the last few days.

A great article in The Wall Street Journal describes some of the current research on how the condition of your digestive system can affect other areas of the body, including organs such as the pancreas, gall bladder, lungs and heart.  It might even be linked to autism in children.  The gut produces 95 % of the serotonin found in the body.  This hormone is responsible for pushing food through the gut as well as repairing cells in the liver and lungs and plays a role in normal development of the heart and in bone-mass accumulation.  Having low levels of serotonin can also affect your mood and sleep.  In one lab study, newborn rats, whose stomachs were purposely irritated, later displayed more depressed and anxious behaviors and showed an increased sensitivity to stress, producing more of a stress hormone than the control rats.

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This is one of those “I knew it!” moments for me.  Over the last year, I have been working with my osteopath to get my adrenal glands working properly.  This is the gland that produces cortisol, the stress hormone.  My cortisol levels are elevated and peaking at the wrong time, contributing to difficulty sleeping and difficulty controlling blood sugar levels.  Articles like these show me that by looking at how my diet effects my health and even my moods, I’m on the right track.  I’ve had issues with my digestive system on and off as long as I can remember but my food issues seem to have gotten worse over the last few years.  I’ve done some food sensitivity testing to help me determine which foods are giving me a problem.  I was surprised at how many foods and which foods were on this list and puzzled at why some foods were on the list that I had eaten while growing up and didn’t seem to give me any problems.

One theory of how we develop food sensitivities goes like this:   when you don’t feel good or are feeling particularly stressed and you eat something as benign as say coconut (one of my trigger foods), your body can decide that that particular food is what is making you feel sick and so next time you eat that food, your body reacts to it and triggers your immune response.  This is similar to what happens when you overeat something or eat something that has gone bad and you get sick.  Thereafter, you find yourself unable to eat that particular food.  Triggering that immune response can result in a multitude of possible symptoms.  For me, I can tell when I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t when I feel unmotivated, get a headache, start feeling cold symptoms in my ears and throat, have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or feel achy in my joints.  Everyone reacts differently and it is up to you to figure out your own tell-tale signs.  This is a journey that I am on and continue to travel.  I take detours every time I eat something I know I shouldn’t and have to get myself back on track.  It is not easy, but I feel so much better when I give my body what it needs to flourish.  Eventually the hope is that when I’ve healed my digestive system, I’ll be able to start adding back in some of these foods that now give me problems.  So here is my recommendation to you:  keep a food journal that records what and when you eat, and how you are feeling physically and emotionally.  Eventually, you should be able to make some connections for yourself.  Good luck and I wish you a safe a speedy journey.