#250 Spring Fever

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Spring is nature's way of saying "Let's party!"

Robin Williams

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

By Kathy Smith, creator of Project: YOU™

Kathy S.Have you noticed that vitamin D is getting a lot of attention lately? According to recent reports it may help protect us from certain kinds of cancers (such as breast cancer and prostate cancer). It can also help us to build and maintain strong bones and muscles plus provide a lot of other health benefits. It's no wonder that I am getting a lot of questions about this hot "new" supplement.

dI once gave a speed-walking workshop to a group of women in their mid-forties who were training for a 5K. One of the women walked regularly for exercise and she always made sure she was covered in sunscreen and clothing. She avoided the sun at all costs, because she was worried about skin cancer. She kept getting colds and having aches and pains. When I suggested she check with her doctor, she found out something really surprising. She had a severe vitamin D deficiency. She got a prescription for getting her vitamin D from natural sunlight.

She started walking early in the morning or later in the afternoon or early evening, when there was low sunlight, and she didn't put sunscreen on her hands or face for her 45-minute walks. She wore sunscreen for the rest of her day.

Flex GirlWithin two months, her vitamin D had increased to a healthy level and her mood and immune system improved dramatically. Within six months her bone density had also improved and her aches and pains had gone away. When we don't get enough vitamin D, our bones get weakened and so do the muscles that support them. She also discovered that she had lost her tendency to catch colds.

Vitamin D and cholesterol

CholesterolBut here's something I bet you didn't know: vitamin D isn't really a vitamin. It's a hormone. That's right. What's the difference? Vitamin D is manufactured in the body and that makes it a hormone. Vitamins by definition are not manufactured in the body and must be obtained from food. When I tell my friends this, they always ask the same logical question. Why all this discussion? Why not just let my body make the vitamin D it needs?

The answer is pretty surprising. Did you know that vitamin D, like so many other hormones in the body, is manufactured from cholesterol? When your skin is exposed to sunshine, the cholesterol in your skin is converted to vitamin D.

Colored PillsBut here's the dilemma. Just about every person in America believes—incorrectly, I might add—that cholesterol is a toxic substance that causes heart attacks. And so millions of us are taking a medication to block our body's ability to synthesize cholesterol. The odds are pretty good that, as a result, we don't have enough vitamin D.

UmbrellaMillions of us also believe that sunshine is a bad thing that causes skin cancer, so we make sure that we cover ourselves with strong sunblock. As a result, sunlight never touches our skin, and you guessed it, we don't convert cholesterol into vitamin D.

Best time to soak up the sunshine

Sun HandSo what can we do? If you expose your face and hands to sunlight without sunscreen for about 20 minutes three to five times per week for four to five months per year, you probably will get enough UVB rays to keep your bone mass intact, because your body has the ability to stockpile vitamin D for use during low-sunlight times. Mother Nature is amazing. Early-morning or late-afternoon sun exposure is the safest.

Walking CoupleI love taking an early morning walk at least four mornings per week, or I try for the late afternoon or early evening when there is still some sunlight and the risk of overexposure is very small. I always wear sunscreen when I'm not getting my natural dose of vitamin D. Another easy way to get some vitamin D time is rolling down the window in your car as you drive, or even opening the windows in your home.

ActiVitWhen you can't get enough sunlight, if you're under 65, you should take 400 to 800 IU per day. (Beachbody's ActiVit® Multivitamins are a great source of vitamin D, as they contain 400 IU—100 percent of the recommended daily amount.) People over 65 should take 800 to 1200 IU per day unless they have a known sensitivity to it. Remember that many very common drugs actually increase sun sensitivity and will therefore increase your chances for getting a sunburn if you stay out too long. It's always best to check with your pharmacist.

Good food sources of vitamin D are liver, cod liver oil, and egg yolks. But the most reliable way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is sunshine. Have you had your sunshine today?

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Should You Exercise When You're Sick?

By Steve Edwards

flowersSpring is a time of inspiration. Flowers bloom, the days get warmer, and with summer around the corner, we start to get serious about how we're going to look in our bathing suits. But the onset of spring is also the final round of the cold and flu season. Let's look at the best way to survive it while keeping your results on track.

WorkoutWhether or not to work out when you're sick is an age-old dilemma. Since it makes you stronger and healthier, we tend to think that it will help. And since no one wants to see their hard-earned fitness gains waste away, we want to keep up with our program. But when you consider what happens to your body, physiologically, during an illness and during exercise, you may see how this seemingly rational train of thought could lead you astray.

Common lore is to go ahead and exercise if your illness is above your neck and to rest if it's below. This generality is okay in some circumstances but not for most. So let's dig a little deeper and come up with the most rational plan for keeping your fitness goals intact.

What to do during times of high stress?

fluYou're most susceptible to illness during times of excessive stress. These include, of course, the cold and flu season, which is easy to identify because it's when everyone else seems to be sick. But you're also at risk anytime your lifestyle changes. Seasonal change and travel are the two major offenders, but anytime your daily schedule is changing or being disrupted should be treated as a time of high stress.

When it comes to avoiding illness, the best defense is a good offense. Practicing good everyday habits is a great start. Identifying times of stress comes next. When you're under stress you certainly don't want to stop working out, since exercise helps your immune system stay strong. But you should also be hyperaware of how you're feeling during stress and take it easy anytime you feel that you might be at the onset of a cold.

ThermometerWhen we're about to get sick our bodies' defenses are up, which can lead to a false sense of well-being. It's quite common to come down with a cold the day after having "the best workout of the year" or something similar. This is because your immune system is running overtime, so you feel good. Using this heightened state to run your best time or set your personal record for push-ups can deplete your last line of defense and, voila, you're under the weather. However, if you can identify this feeling and back off of your workout, your enhanced immune system has a very good chance of staving off the threatening illness.

What to do when we're sick

sleepNo matter how careful we are, sometimes we'll get sick anyway. Whether it's a mild cold or raging fever, at the initial stages of an illness your protocol should be the same; rest as much as you possibly can and don't do any more physical activity than is necessary.

To understand why, let's look at an oversimplified view of what happens to us when we work out:

  • Peak Recovery FormulaWhen you exercise, you induce stress to your system, which creates body breakdown. This requires your body to use the nutrients you feed it to help release hormones in order to repair the damage (Try Beachbody's Joint Support Super Formula or for extra-hard workouts, P90X® Peak Recovery Formula.)

  • As your tissues are repaired, they become healthier. If this is done with a plan of inducing stress in the correct manner, you can change their composition.

  • The key is rest, which is aided by proper nutrition and supplementation. The better you can rest, the harder you can work out, and the more improvements you make. If you don't rest enough, you become deconditioned, a state known as overtraining.

Now let's look at an oversimplified view of what happens to us when we are sick:

  • Fruit and VeggiesWhen you're sick, stress is added to your system, which creates body breakdown. This requires your body to use the nutrients you feed it to help release hormones in order to repair the damage.

  • As your tissues are repaired, they become healthier. If this is done with a plan of reducing the stress in the correct manner, you can reduce the damage to their composition.

  • The key is rest, which is aided by proper nutrition and supplementation. The better you can rest, the more resources your body has to fight the illness. If you don't rest enough, you become deconditioned, lessening your ability to fight the illness.

BulldogWhen sick, you are essentially in a state of overtraining. Your body is working overtime to fight outside stress. As you can see from the above example, adding further stress, in the form of exercise, will further impede your body's ability to recover.

readingLooking back at the common lore, we must question how exercising with a head cold could possibly help. While it may be possible to exercise, it doesn't make sense to do so. You compromise your immune system by using its resources to recover from the exercise. Even if you have ample resources, it's unlikely that you have enough in reserve to both stave off the illness and recover well enough from the workout in order to benefit from it. If you had this much reserve, you probably wouldn't be sick. The best-case scenario in this situation is to not get sicker, essentially because you are compromised at both ends. There is virtually no chance that you will improve your fitness. (Chronic illness has a different set of circumstances as often exercise is needed to keep long-term deconditioning from occurring.)

What about losing your results?

kleenexSince you can't get more fit when you're ill, the best course of action is to minimize the illness. Rest and good nutrition is the best plan of attack. More often than not, those who attempt to train through an illness end up prolonging it, further reducing their state of fitness.

Conversely, a cold rarely lasts longer than a week. By resting effectively you can often knock this down to a few days. A few days of rest never hurts your fitness level. And if you're able to train harder, sooner, then the downtime you've had will be almost instantly reversed.

Coming off an illness

This is a point where the common lore can be applied. As long as you're feverish or achy, your illness is still in its acute phases. But once you're up and around, those lingering effects above the neck can often be improved with a workout.

Debbie SiebersJust make sure and start back slowly. Low-impact aerobic work such as Slim in 6® Start It Up! is the best way to test your system. If you feel good, increase the intensity the next day and so on. But if you feel weak, you've done too much and have put yourself at risk for a relapse, so back off and start over.

We often do things with the best of intentions that affect us in a negative manner. Irrational thinking, like "I'll lose fitness if I don't work out" or habitual thinking like "I feel better when I work out," can be hard to ignore. But by using the most basic science, along with an inkling of restraint, we can get through the cold and flu season with nary a blip on our fitness radar.

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Spring Calorie-Burning IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

(calories are calculated for a 160-pound person)

  1. hoseWatering the lawn with a hose. Burns 144 calories per hour. But if you water plants by hand with a watering can, you can knock that up to 240 calories per hour.

  2. Car WashWashing the car. Burns 288 calories per hour. If you want to amp that up, try washing your dog—that burns 336 calories per hour.

  3. Gardening. Burns 384 calories per hour. If it's mostly weeding, you can ratchet that up to 432 calories per hour.

  4. MowerMowing the lawn pushing an electric mower. Burns 528 calories per hour. If you use a non-electric push lawnmower, you'll burn 576 calories per hour. If you use a riding mower, you're not really trying to burn calories, are you?

  5. SwimmingSwimming. Burns 576 calories per hour. And that's just for casual splashing around. If you want to really go for it, swimming laps can burn up to 960 calories per hour!

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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