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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 (http://www.sarahpowers.com/) 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.
- 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: www.nordixx.com
- 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).
- 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!
Well, pole dancing is probably good for your health too, but in this article I will be focusing on the health benefits of pole walking a.k.a Nordic walking or Nordic pole walking. If you’ve ever seen someone out for a walk with ski poles in their hands, you’ve witnessed Nordic walking. You might wonder why they have these poles in their hands. The short answer is that Nordic walking is a much more effective way to improve health than standard walking. Adding poles to a standard walk allows you to walk faster and also allows you to engage the muscles of the upper body; muscles often neglected in a standard walk. This form of walking has been shown to be especially beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes, people who have arthritis and of course to those hoping to lose weight.
A recently published intervention among overweight adults with varying levels of blood glucose control (normal, impaired and type 2 diabetes) assessed the benefit of unsupervised Nordic Walking among middle-aged and older adults. The researchers randomly assigned participants to either a control group (i.e. no exercise changes) or a Nordic walking group. The Nordic walking group was instructed to increase their weekly physical activity levels by 5 hours per week for 4 months using the Nordic poles. They attended an instructional class and were explained what intensity range they should walk within. At the end of the 4 months the Nordic walking had differing effects in the three groups. In the group with normal blood glucose levels body weight and waist size (waist circumference) both improved significantly. In the groups with impaired blood glucose levels, exercise capacity and physical fitness levels improved significantly. Finally, in the diabetes group, blood glucose levels and exercise capacity improved significantly. Another noteworthy finding was that those in the Nordic walking groups increased their weekly physical activity levels by 4-5 hours per week in each of the three groups. This is great news as it seems that Nordic walking is an activity that overweight individuals enjoyed and therefore were able to stick with!
It appears that one simple addition or change to your walking routine can have a fairly significant influence on your health and fitness levels. While it wasn’t assessed in the study described above, and research certainly is limited in this area, I can say from personal experience that Nordic walking can lead to improvements in muscular endurance of the upper and lower body as well as increase the speed with which you can walk. All in all, it is a great way to increase the intensity of your walking and a great way to derive greater health benefits while spending the same amount of time being active. If you are interested in learning how to walk with Nordic poles please check the following website for instructors and groups in your area: http://nordixx.com/find-a-walking-group/
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Adding some Nordic poles to your walk can lead to significant improvements in your health and fitness levels. Be sure to give it a try, but make sure you learn the proper form before purchasing a pair of poles. This will ensure you prevent injuries and that you maximize the benefits derived from the activity. This activity is particularly beneficial if you are trying to lose weight, have diabetes or cardiovascular disease or arthritis. So be sure to give it a try and see if a simple pair of poles can help you get closer to your HALF!