Finally Some Research on Crossfit!

High intensity, short duration exercise programs are growing in popularity. Evidence shows that such exercise programs lead to significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness (aka  aerobic fitness), body composition, muscular strength, and of course, health. Crossfit is a company that believes in this fitness principle and emphasizes programming focused on functional fitness. It has had much success and is continuing to grow in popularity. Unfortunately, there is no peer-reviewed research available on the effectiveness of Crossfit training. I am certain that anyone involved with Crossfit would happily provide anecdotal evidence that it has led to significant improvements in their fitness, health and quality of life. But for a program to be endorsed by professionals in the field, evidence is required.

As such, I was delighted to see a paper recently published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research entitled “Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition” (doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318289e59f); In Press).  I was particularly delighted to see that they used cardiorespiratory fitness as an outcome since the program consists primarily of strength and power based exercises. The study was a 10 week intervention with a total of 23 males and 20 females. The average age of this sample was approximately 32 years. Participants completed a maximal treadmill exercise test to determine VO2max; a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness that is considered to be the gold standard. The second main outcome assessed in the study was body composition as measured by the Bod Pod (air-displacement plethysmography). Unfortunately, this is not considered to be a highly reliable or valid method for assessing changes in body composition. The researchers would have been better off taking measures such as waist circumference, flexed bicep circumference or skinfolds at specific sites. These would have been more accurate in describing changes over the 10 week training period. Nonetheless, significant improvements in VO2max, body fat% and lean mass (i.e. muscle mass) were found. Another significant shortcoming of the present study is the lack of a control or comparison group. We know that exercise leads to improvements in fitness and body composition, but does Crossfit training provide additional benefit over other forms of exercise? We can’t answer that question with this data. More importantly, given the unreliable measure of body composition, the only take away from this study is that Crossfit training may lead to significant improvements in VO2max. Just in case I’m starting to sound cynical, I would like to emphasize that cardiorespiratory fitness or VO2max is the strongest predictor of health and mortality, so this is a very important finding.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: There is no doubt that exercise is good for you and that high intensity exercise is better. For those of you interested in improving your health and cardiorespiratory fitness, Crossfit may be a great option. It provides a social support system, motivating coaches and a positive environment for exercise; all things that will really help you adhere to a Healthy, Active Lifestyle Forever!

NOTE: High intensity requires that you have a certain baseline level of fitness, so be sure to ease yourself into such a program; this will minimize your risk for injury and make for a much more enjoyable experience.


These are a few of my fave fitness gifts to give…

Have a health conscience person on your Christmas list this year? Not to worry, there are some wonderful gifts you can purchase for your loved ones that range from inexpensive to pricey. Each one shows that you understand their commitment to their health and are happy to support it!

Here are some that I have given in the past and HIGHLY recommend:

  1. Resistance Bands: You can buy these bands in most fitness/sport stores but also in stores such as Walmart or Canadian tire. The bands can be used for in home strength training and provide an excellent workout if done correctly. You can buy a little book with exercise descriptions to go along with it, or search online for some good exercises and print a few pages off to create a customized booklet.
  2. Sarah Powers Yoga: I love my yoga, especially after a long, hard day. But I use yoga to relax and revitalize, whereas some use it as they’re primary workout. The Sarah Powers DVD ( gives you two easy and two hard yoga workouts that focus on functional fitness and mind-body wellness. She is amazing, and I highly recommend her DVD to people of all fitness levels.
  3. Nordic Walking Poles: Nordic poles are a great way to increase the intensity of your regular walk. If you know someone who is trying to lose weight, has diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure or is at a high risk for any of these conditions, a pair of Nordic Poles could really change their life. The poles incorporate upper body muscles and when done properly, Nordic pole walking can increase the number of calories burned during a walk and increase your aerobic fitness levels quite dramatically! Here is a website for an inexpensive but high quality pair of poles:
  4. Lifestyle and Fitness Consultation: If you know someone who needs to start exercising but is at a loss of where and how to begin, consider purchasing them a couple of sessions with a qualified exercise professional such as myself.  Sessions can involve fitness assessments, lifestyle consultations and one-on-one exercise sessions. Be sure to look for someone with the right certifications and qualifications for the job!  (Certified Personal Trainer or Certified Exercise Physiologist in Canada).
  5. Gym Membership: Depending on your budget, purchase a gym membership for a loved one for a few months or the whole year. This is particularly a great idea if you are already a member at the gym so that two of you can provide each other with the support and motivation required to maintain a healthy active lifestyle forever!



Being sedentary influences your chances of aging successfully, regardless of whether you are active!

Successful aging is a term used to define the success or health of an individual as they age. It specifically refers to success in aging within the area of physical health, psychological health and social health. Physical health refers to whether one has a chronic condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes and whether one has functional impairments such that they require assistance in basic activities (eg. a cane or a walker). Psychological health refers to depression, cognitive function (mental sharpness) and emotional vitality (happy and interested in life). Finally, social health refers to items such as engagement with life, social support and spirituality.

Research has shown that people who are physically active are more likely to age successfully. But the influence of sedentary behaviour i.e. the amount of time one spends in sitting activities, on successful aging is not known. In a recent paper entitled “Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity are Independent Predictors of Successful Aging in Middle-Aged and Older Adults” published in the Journal of Aging Research (link), a colleague and I set out to understand the influence of sedentary behaviour in this relationship. Using a large sample of middle-aged and older adults from Canada we determined that sedentary behaviour influenced the chances of aging successfully (overall, physically, psychologically and socially) regardless of how physically active one was. Specifically, compared to sedentary older adults, moderately sedentary and least sedentary older adults were 38% and 43% more likely to be aging successfully overall, respectively. In other words, despite being physically active, someone who spends a great deal of time sedentary (for example, sitting at a desk or on a couch) is less likely age successfully in all three domains!

I must acknowledge, as with any research, this paper comes with some limitations. But, it is the first in what will hopefully be a growing field of research to indicate that being active isn’t enough, we must cut down on the amount of time we spend in sedentary activities in order improve our health or to maintain good health. Some people may say that this is impossible, that it is difficult enough to find 30 minutes to exercise. But there are simple strategies one can use to decrease sedentary time or to break up sedentary time. For great information and tips on this, please visit: or

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Regardless of your age, you should make an effort to decrease the amount of time you spend in sedentary activities. This may be of particular importance to middle-aged and older adults, as these ages are considered “high risk” for the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer and are generally associated with higher rates of depression and loneliness. To ensure that you or your parents and loved ones age successfully, be sure to incorporate as much activity into your day, whether it be walking or gardening or cooking/cleaning or simply standing at your desk or sitting on a stability ball to watch TV. Anything you can do to break up sedentary time will help, so get moving and keep up with your HALF!


Ever see an overweight environmentalist?

When I was in grad school, I made my way over to the environmental studies building a couple of times so that I could recruit potential participants. Each time I was there, I noticed something strange. Everyone there was in the “normal” category for body mass index. Moreover, all the participants I screened from that program were ineligible because they were already physically active. It made me wonder, is there something about being an environmentalist, or an environmentally friendly person, that makes one healthier?

As far as I can tell, the answer is YES. I should mention that this article is completely opinion based (and somewhat observational). I’m sure there are overweight enviro-friendly people; I’ve just never met one! So what is it about being green that makes one healthy? My guess is two things; active transportation and local fresh food.

Active transportation means that instead of sitting in a pollution spewing car, enviro-friendly people opt to walk or cycle to work or school. If the distance is too great, they are more likely to take public transit, which also requires a bit of walking (to and from the bus-stop). There are several studies to indicate that those who engage in active transportation are more likely to be in the normal body mass index category. There is also emerging evidence that these individuals are overall healthier.

Eating locally grown food is known to reduce one’s carbon footprint, but it may also mean committing to eating fewer processed foods. Eating produce, breads and meat from local farms means more home cooking and consumption of fewer foods with added sugar and preservatives. Thus by eating local foods, one might be committing to a healthier diet as well as a greener planet.

Surely there are other behaviours that contribute to this “phenomenon”. But as a health and exercise scientist, these two are the most obvious ones to me. What is also obvious from writing this article is that a commitment to a green lifestyle might also be an important step in committing to a HALF!


What determines whether a person becomes an exerciser?

You often hear people say they don’t have time or they don’t have access to the appropriate facilities to start an exercise program. Yet, there are many people who are regularly active despite such barriers. So, what allows one person to overcome such barriers while another cannot? The answer is simple yet quite complex. The fact of the matter is, research has identified hundreds of factors that influence regular physical activity.

So the real question then becomes, which of these identified factors truly matters? Which ones are important when trying to make a lifestyle change and trying to engage in regular physical activity? A recent review entitled “Correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not?” published in the highly reputable journal The Lancet (link) set out to answer these questions. The authors undertook a massive task and reviewed hundreds of articles to determine which correlates/determinants of physical activity show the strongest association with physical activity among children/adolescents and adults. They identified 5 main areas of determinants: demographical, psychological/cognitive, behavioural, social and environmental. Among children/adolescents biological sex (male), ethnic origin (white), self-efficacy (confidence to exercise), family support, perceived behavioural control (whether one thinks they can be active) and environmental  variables such as walkability, traffic speed, access to recreation facilities were all strong determinants of physical activity. For adults health status (i.e. whether one has a chronic disease/limitation or not) and self-efficacy were the strongest determinants of physical activity. Others included personal history of physical activity, intention to exercise and environmental factors such as transportation environment (safety of crossing, side-walks etc), neighbourhood aesthetics (eg. greenery) and access to recreational facilities. The authors also looked at determinants specifically among low-middle income countries and noted that demographic variables such as biological sex, age and socioeconomic status were the strongest determinants. Further, cultural differences in the value of physical activity and social support were noted as being important. Finally, the authors pointed out that genetics MAY play a role in determining whether one is active or not because of the enjoyment or pleasure that physical activity brings for some versus the pain and exertion it brings to others.

It seems then that those who are regular exercisers have the right combination of factors in place. But, the real question is, what can we do for those who do not? Or what can those who do not have the right combination of factors do for themselves? First, as the authors suggest, this data can inform new policies that help overcome barriers. For example, governments can invest in creation of cycling lanes or work to improve neighbourhood sidewalks. Second, individuals who have many barriers but are interested in becoming active can seek out social support to assist them with overcoming the barriers. For example, they can find groups in their geographical area that are interested in similar activities through social media outlets or local facilities. Finally, it is important to find the right type of physical activity/exercise i.e. the type that brings you pleasure. Enjoyment is a great predictor of whether one maintains an active lifestyle, so be sure to search for the right activity/activities, and you’ll be sure to stick with your new HALF!

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: This article was meant to inform people in the field of health promotion and policy development on what can be done to increase physical activity levels among the global population. But we can all learn a little from it. If you work with or have children/adolescents, it seems working on self-efficacy and providing family support will help greatly with their HALF. If you are an adult who hasn’t quite made the habit, or know of someone who needs to create their HALF, then motivate them to become active regardless of their health status and help them boost their self-confidence. Some of the strongest determinants of a HALF are belief in ones’ ability that they can do it. So get out there and tell everyone you know that they can do it, there is no barrier that can’t be overcome when you truly believe in a HALF!


Want to improve your running performance? Less might be more!

As a recreational runner you understand the frustration with not being able to increase your pace. You do your long-slow runs and you cross-train and you run up hills and you speed through those shorter runs, but you can’t seem to get faster. Well, the answer to your pace problems might just be 10-20-30.

High intensity intervals are the “new” way to workout. They’re good for your health, they’re good for performance and they’re used by athletes around the world. But the question is, what type of intervals are optimal for a recreational runner? A recent study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Physiology showed that 10-20-30 might be the answer. Two scientists in Copenhagen conducted a small experiment with recreational runners (5K times of approximately 23 minutes). They split the participants in to two groups. The intervention group was asked to do a 10-20-30 training regime. This consisted of approximately 1.2k of warm up at low intensity followed by three to four 5 minute running sessions with 2 minute breaks between each session. Each of the 5 minutes of running consisted of 5 consecutive 10-20-30 second runs at an intensity of <30%, <60% and 90-100% of their max intensity respectively (see the note below for more information on how to determine these intensities). The other group (control group) continued to train as they were before with an average weekly volume of 24-25k/week (around 120-130 min/week). The authors found that those in the 10-20-30 group significantly improved their aerobic fitness, 1.5K time and 5k time compared to the control group in just 7 weeks. Another advantage to those in the 10-20-30 group was that their systolic blood pressure (the higher of the two blood pressure numbers) and their cholesterol ratio (total cholesterol to good cholesterol (HDL)) improved significantly while it did not change in the control group.

It seems that high intensity exercise sessions can lead to significant improvements in performance and in health. By simply doing 3-4 repetitions of the 5 minute 10-20-30 intervals, young and healthy participants were able to able to improve their 5K time by 4% and their 1.5K time by 6%! Moreover, they improved their already healthy levels of cholesterol and blood pressure; a difficult task for most. The greatest part of this story is that the runners in the 10-20-30 group were only training three times/week for no more than 30 minutes each session. In other words, less time + higher intensity = greater gains in performance and health.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: If you are a runner, no matter the level, you can benefit from incorporating high intensity intervals. The intervals in this particular study were 10-20-30 seconds in length, but there are others out there that have been proven beneficial. The benefit of a workout such as 10-20-30 is that it takes less time and is of a lower volume. This gives your body more time for rest and recovery, making it stronger and faster!  If you are not a runner and are not regularly active, be careful when taking on high intensity exercise. It is certainly beneficial, but if you push yourself too hard, too fast, you could get injured. Also, be sure to get clearance if you have high risk for heart disease or have been inactive, before starting high intensity training.

NOTE: You can estimate your 10-20-30 intervals based on heart rate or speed/incline on the treadmill. For the heart rate method, determine your age-predicted maximal heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Take this number and determine 30%, 60% and 100% of it. Use these heart rate zones to determine the appropriate intensity. The heart rate method will underestimate your zones, but is an easy method. The alternative is to use the treadmill to determine your maximum capacity/workload. Start running on the treadmill at an easy speed with an incline of 2%. Every two minutes, increase the speed by 1mph until you are at your maximum running speed. Then start increasing the incline every 2 minutes. When you get to a point where you can’t run the full two minutes anymore, you have determined your maximum capacity. From this, you can calculate the 30% and 60% workloads on the treadmill. This latter method should not be done without a buddy standing close by. It is also essential that you be screened for exercise prior to attempting this method if you have been inactive up until now. Please use this method with caution!