Dr Shulman has published columns and feature articles for the Fort Collins Coloradoan as well as national sports magazines such as Triathlete, Trail Runner and Marathon & Beyond.

Sample Health and Fitness columns:

  • Chocolate and Exercise Share A Key Ingredient
  • Is it a Big Fat Lie? The High Protein Diet Controversy
  • Vegetarian Diets Support Top Athletic Performance
  • Fish Farms and The Fight For Sustainable Aquaculture
  • The Rise of the Germ Theory of Disease
  • Ginger Will Spice Up Your Health
  • Rose Nurtures Body and Mind
  • Under The Influence of Sleep Deprivation
  • Enter The Fat Burning Zone
Chocolate and Exercise Share A Key Ingredient

Along with potatoes, avocados and maize, the Americas gave chocolate to the world. When the conquistador Cortez came to Mexico, he asked for treasure and was led to mountains of stockpiled cocoa beans. He managed to explain that he meant gold.

The Mayans and later the Aztecs believed that cocoa was the food of the gods. They roasted the cocoa beans and then pounded them to a paste. The paste was mixed with spices, capsicum pepper and flavorings and diluted with water and drunk or was used to make cakes. They used the chocolate to give them strength and vigour and during religious ceremonies as an aphrodisiac. Cortez tried it and he liked it. After he returned to Spain in 1527, he was known to keep a full chocolate pot on his desk.

Christian nuns on a missionary to Central America believed that the diabolical powers of chocolate were due to the chilli peppers and spices, so they replaced them with vanilla, sugar and cream with delightful results.

By 1660, chocolate houses were the vogue in Britain and the drink was popular in French court circles. In a letter dated Feb. 11, 1671, the Marquise de Sevigne advised her daughter to drink chocolate if she had not slept or was not feeling well. When her daughter later became pregnant, she condemned chocolate because the Marquise de Coetlogon, who was known to have drunk copious quantities of chocolate during her pregnancy, had given birth to a black baby. ( The color of the child’s skin was attributed to chocolate and not to the young, African slave who served her the chocolate).

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), an internal stimulant and antidepressant similar in composition and action to epinephrine and amphetamines. This explains why good chocolate has such mood elevating and addictive properties.

PEA is made in our brains from tyrosine, a component of protein. Levels of PEA and it’s metabolite are often low in the biological fluid of depressed people. Chocolate seeking behaviors by depressed people may be a form of unconscious self-medication.

Chocolate and exercise have something in common! Preliminary research has now found that exercise increases PEA levels.

The term “Runner’s High” was coined to describe the euphoria experienced after an exercise bout. The accepted wisdom has been that this is due to increased blood levels of natural opiates called endorphins. However, for the past 15 years, the scientific community has debated whether endorphins are responsible for this elation. Endorphins are not thought to cross the blood brain barrier. Also, when chemicals were administered which block the binding of endorphins to their receptors, the runners still experienced the subjective high.

British Researchers may have solved the riddle. The link between exercise and good mental health is well established. They suggested that PEA, which can cross the blood brain barrier, may be responsible for the beneficial psychological effects of exercise.

In a first look at the question, they took twenty, healthy young men accustomed to regular exercise and had them run on a treadmill at 70% of their maximum heart rate for 30 minutes. Urinary levels of the PEA metabolite were found to have increased by an average of 77%. One individual experienced an increase of 572%. He must have really been soaring!

The results are certainly interesting. However, this is only one study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn. More research needs to be done on individual variability and how duration and intensity of exercise affects PEA levels.

From the time my son was very young, he linked my moods to exercise. He knew that Mommy was in a good mood and acted really nice when she came back from a run. The days when I got up on the wrong side of the bed, he would advise me to “go away and run”. He learned that from my husband.

In place of drugs, exercise is increasingly being prescribed for physical and mental health and used to lift low moods. It may help you cut down on chocolate too.

Is it a Big Fat Lie? The High Protein Diet Controversy

Dr. Atkins feels vindicated and the health experts are exasperated. Last July the New York Times Magazine published an article with the title “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?”

The article, authored by award winning science writer, Gary Taubes, supports Atkins claim that carbohydrates are responsible for America’s obesity epidemic and that dietary “fat is harmless”.

The medical establishment has rejected Atkin’s theories since his “Diet Revolution”, in 1972. Now he is telling them to eat crow. Taubes has since received a $700,000 advance to write a book on this topic.

Curious, I obtained a copy of the article and read it. Taubes starts by exploring the onset of the obesity epidemic. The rates of obesity, he claims, started rising in 1980 and are coincident with recommendations by health experts to eat a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

In addition, he says,the government has spent millions of dollars trying to prove the low fat dogmas and still there is no scientific evidence to back up those dietary recommendations. Taubes points the finger squarely at carbohydrates as the cause of America’s ballooning weight problem. During the course of the article, he quotes many eminent researchers from esteemed institutions such as Harvard and Stanford, which appear to support the Atkins Diet.

“It’s not the fat that makes us fat, but the carbohydrates, and if we eat less carbohydrates we will lose weight and live longer”. The crux of his argument is that carbohydrates elevate insulin levels. Insulin encourages fat deposition. Chronically high insulin levels also lead to insulin resistance with a consequent further increase in insulin levels.

To supports his claims, he points to the corpulent Italians who eat a lot of pasta and the high rates of obesity in Africa and the Caribbean where diets are high in carbohydrates. He quotes a French gastronome of the mid-1800s who observed that foods of a floury nature made people fat.

Americans have indeed gone along with the guidelines to eat a diet higher in carbohydrates. And, it is true that the percentage of fat in the American diet has declined since 1980 and yet we have continued to put on weight. He writes, “the low-fat-is-good hypothesis has now effectively failed the test of time. ”

Has it really?Taubes is blaming the obesity epidemic on the low-fat diet that the nation never ate, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Although the percentage of fat has declined in the American diet, total fats have not. We are eating as much fat now as in 1980. Americans took the low fat message as an excuse to add sugary, refined carbohydrates on top of a high fat diet. On average, Americans consume 500 calories a day more now than we did in 1980.

Calories do count. You will gain one pound for every 3500 calories over metabolic requirements, no matter what the source of calories is. An extra 500 calories a day could certainly explain the obesity epidemic. But, somehow Taubes manages to avoid this issue.

He also neglects to mention the cultures, such as the Asian cultures, that traditionally eat high carbohydrate diets and yet are lean. When people from those societies move to the U. S. , they tend to gain weight.

Missing from his article is the definition of low fat or high carbohydrate. In 1980, the American Dietary Guidelines called for a diet that provided less than 30% of calories from fat and approximately 55% carbohydrate. The intent was that vegetables, beans, whole grain and fruit would supply those carbohydrates.

The Zone , a popular diet which Taubes lumped into the “low carbohydrate, high fat’ category, called for 30% of calories from fat and 40% from carbohydrates. In contrast, the Atkins diet calls for less than 10% of calories to be supplied by carbohydrates with considerably higher intakes of fat and protein.

Many of the scientists featured in his article who ostensibly supported the low carbohydrate diets have cried foul. One of those, a researcher from Harvard, said, “It’s silly to say that carbohydrates cause obesity. We’re overweight because we overeat calories” Another said he was “horrified” by the implication that he supported eating saturated fat and that his quotes were taken out of context.

Yet another said, “he picks and chooses his facts”. He ignored the health aspects of a very low carbohydrate diet and that proteins also cause insulin release. He didn’t address the extensive body of evidence that correlates diets high in saturated fats with heart disease and insulin resistance. He dismissed repeated caveats that diets high in red meat are associated with increased risk of colon and prostate cancer.

In short order, he did not present a balanced view of the issue. I try to be open-minded to arguments that deviate from conventional viewpoints. But this article smacked of bias.

I wondered at his motives. Could it possibly be money?

Vegetarian Diets Support Top Athletic Performance

Time Magazine voted distance runner Paavo Nurmi as the best athlete of the 20th century. In a career that spanned 12 years, the “Flying Finn” collected 9 Olympic gold and 3 silver medals, and set 20 world records. In the 1924 Olympic games in Paris, he won a gold medal in the 1500 meters and then another gold in the 5000 meters an hour later.

Nurmi was a vegetarian. He gave up meat as a teenager to enhance his running. Was he just a genetic fluke?Many people believe that vegetarianism is inferior to an omnivorous diet for sports performance, particularly in the speed and strength sports.

Tell that to sprinter Carl Lewis, winner of 9 Olympic Gold medals and numerous world records, or to Bill Pearl, 4-time Mr. Universe in bodybuilding or Andreas Cahling, champion body builder. They are vegetarians. Dave Scott, 6-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman and Natasha Badmann, the Swiss phenomenon currently dominating in Kona, are both vegetarians. Basketball great, Bill Walton, and tennis star Serena Williams are vegetarians. World-class gymnasts, boxers, ice skaters, wrestlers, discus throwers, cyclists and swimmers are on the list of famous vegetarian athletes.

When I was young, athletes were told to eat steak and eggs. Before swim meets, I can vividly remember sitting down to a 5 a. m. pre-race meal of a hamburger patty, no bun. (I swear this is why I ended being a vegetarian).

Do vegetarian diets give you a competitive edge?Badmann believes her vegetarian diet helps her be as “powerful as possible and recover quickly”.

Peak athletic performance comes from a foundation of good health. Vegetarians tend to be more health conscious and spend more time cooking. The main advantage of a good vegetarian diet is the nutrient density. Calorie for calorie, plant foods, like beans, vegetables, whole grains and fruit are important sources of vitamins and minerals and the antioxidant phytochemicals which speed recovery, combat tissue damage, cancer, heart disease and aging. The herbs and spices commonly used to flavor vegetarian meals such as Italian, Indian, Chinese or Thai food add even more health promoting benefits.

It is important here to qualify what a vegetarian diet is. Nutritionist Nancy Clark distinguishes non-meat eaters and vegetarians. Non-meat eaters are athletes who eliminate meat and basically live on salad, bagels and pasta. Vegetarians are those who replace meat proteins with plant proteins, such as beans, peas, seeds, nuts and tofu.

Giving up meat without insuring an adequate supply of plant protein will hinder athletic ability and contribute to lingering fatigue, injuries, poor recovery and frequent colds. Athletes who do not get enough protein will find that their hair is unhealthy and their nails are brittle. Females may stop having periods.

Athletes require approximately twice as much protein as less active people. A growing teenage athlete may require 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. An adult competitive athlete such as a runner, triathlete, cyclist or body builder will need.75 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Recreational exercisers will need less.

Do herbivorous diets provide enough high quality protein to sustain high levels of training?Most vegetarian athletes are lacto-ovo vegetarians. Lacto- for milk and ovo for egg. Milk and eggs are important sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. However, vegetarians should get a large portion of their protein from legumes – pinto beans, black beans, tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, dried peas. There are an infinite variety of tasty legume dishes from bean soups to bean salads, bean burritos, fried rice, noodles with tofu and tempeh burgers.

Legumes are 22% protein and are also a great supply of B-vitamins, many minerals, healthy fiber and low glycemic carbohydrates. Combined with milk or grain, the protein quality is as high as meat. It is common for strength athletes to add vegetarian whey or soy protein powder to their diets.

There is some evidence that vegetarian diets may enhance endurance. Whether or not this is true, a good vegetarian diet can certainly support top athletic performance.

Fish Farms and The Fight For Sustainable Aquaculture

“How do you know if the farmed salmon has been raised with sustainable aquaculture?”

This was the question I posed to Brendan O’Neill, Outreach Coordinator of SeaWeb. SeaWeb is an aquaculture clearinghouse dedicated to raising awareness of aquaculture practices. He had contacted me after reading the column I had written on the environmental, social and health hazards of farming salmon in open-water coastal pens.

Fish farming has been practiced worldwide for thousands of years. However, in recent years, corporate interests have responded to the increasing public demand for fish in industrialized countries. Fish farming is now the fastest growing segment of U.S. and worldwide agriculture and yet remains relatively unregulated. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, world aquaculture production has more than doubled since 1984. However, large corporate interests have emphasized profits over sound farming practices and, in the protein deprived developing countries, raising fish for export instead of feeding poor people.

Fish are raised in both freshwater and saltwater within a variety of systems. There are closed systems, such as tanks and ponds and open systems with netpens and cages located in coastal, public bodies of water. The later is where farmed salmon are generally raised and where irresponsible aquaculture practices do the most harm.

Concerns include water pollution due to fish fecal wastes, uneaten fish feed, pesticides, and antibiotics. These wastes contribute to algae blooms and water oxygen depletion. Feedlot farming conditions that are too crowded result in fish that are unhealthy, spread disease and parasites to wild populations and require antibiotics. These antibiotics contribute to the evolution of antibiotic resistant super diseases that are threatening human life.

Farming of carnivorous fish, such as salmon, results in a net loss of protein. Growing one pound of farmed salmon can require 3 to 5 pounds of wild-caught fish. This depletes wild fish species and results in the removal of small fish important to the wild marine food chain.

Many people choose salmon for the health benefits of the omega 3 fats. However, farmed salmon have substantially lower levels of omega 3 fats than wild salmon. In addition, when the fish near harvesting size a chemical called astaxanthin is added to their feed to change their normally gray flesh to salmon pink. Concerns about the safety and allergenic potential of this chemical are now being raised.

So, what do we do as consumers who still want to eat fish? How do we spend our dollars to contribute to sustainable practices? How do we know if the farmed salmon has been raised responsibly and sustainably?

Environmentally sound coastal aquaculture facilities do exist. Two companies in British Columbia are developing closed-containment pens that seal salmon off from the outside water. Some progressive closed system facilities are harvesting waste sludge and using it to grow hydroponic vegetables. Keeping appropriate numbers of fish in pens, practicing preventive tactics and proper pen location reduces the need for chemicals, antibiotics and pesticides. However, until organic standards and labeling laws are developed, we currently have no way of knowing which farmed salmon to choose.

The David Suzuki Foundation along with the National Audubon Society, Seafood Choices Alliance and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy encourage consumers to Go Wild and choose wild salmon over farmed. This may seem counterintuitive to increase pressure on wild salmon populations in order to save them. However, wild salmon harvesting is much more tightly regulated and salmon farming itself has paradoxically contributed to the reduction in wild salmon populations.

Alaska Salmon have received “sustainable” certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. Atlantic salmon are generally the species used in fish farms. Consumers are encouraged to choose wild varieties such King or Chinook, Coho or Silver and Sockeye or Red. Another option is to choose vegetarian farmed fish or fish typically grown in closed systems such as tilapia, catfish, crawfish, clams, oysters, mussels and scallops.

With the exploding world population there comes a need to generate sources of high quality protein. It has become necessary to supplement wild fish harvests with farmed fish. The goal is to do that and protect the environment at the same time. Interested? Visit www.AquacultureClearinghouse.org for more information and links.

The Rise of the Germ Theory of Disease

The year was 1799. George Washington had a throat infection. Bloodletting was still a common practice. In an effort to treat him, doctors drained nearly a fifth of his blood. They thought they were draining the ‘miasmata’ or poison that Hippocrates had theorized was the cause of disease. Needless to say, they didn’t save him.

Yet, the seeds for the understanding of modern medicine had already been laid. In the mid-1700s, an English country doctor named Edward Jenner had observed that milkmaids who had become ill with cowpox didn’t contract smallpox, a prolific killer at that time. He theorized that exposure to cowpox made one ‘immune’. To test his theory, he “vaccinated” (vacca for cow) a boy with pus from a cowpox corpuscle (Ick!) and a couple of months later exposed the child to a deadly amount of smallpox. (This would NEVER pass the NIH guidelines for scientific research). The child lived and by 1800 vaccinations were used around the world. However, no one knew why they worked.

The 19th century was a time of pivotal change that would lead us toward the miracles of modern medicine. Germs had been observed under a microscope long before, but the idea that germs caused disease was highly contentious. There was tremendous debate. Even Florence Nightingale rejected the germ theory. She thought miasmas associated with evil smells spread epidemics. Dead people and unsanitary places do tend to smell bad. She concentrated on cleaning up smelly places and, in the process, reduced the spread of deadly epidemics, saved a lot of people and lent further support to the miasmatic theory.

In the early 1800s, a young Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis observed that the death rate from childbirth was incredibly high when doctors proceeded directly from autopsies to expectant mothers. When he instituted the simple practice of hand washing and disinfection with chlorinated lime, the mortality rate fell dramatically. However, he was roundly criticized and his practices were rejected. How could washing your hands fight miasmas that were spread by air? Semmelweis eventually went insane.

Validity of The Germ Theory of disease is largely attributed to Louis Pasteur, a chemist by trade. By the late 1850s, he had shown that fermentation was not a chemical process, as was previously thought, but instead was caused by microorganisms. These microbes could be killed by heat. He determined that heating milk to a certain temperature would keep it from spreading typhoid and tuberculosis germs.“Pasteurization” of milk saved an untold number of lives.

His most glorious work came later. Inspired by the work of Jenner, he tested the Germ Theory by culturing and isolating anthrax (a common killer of animals and humans) and vaccinated 2 dozen sheep. He later exposed treated and untreated sheep to anthrax. All the unvaccinated animals died, all the vaccinated animals lived.

Now famous, Pasteur started working on a rabies vaccine (a particularly nasty disease). He first tried the vaccine on humans after a 9-year-old Shepard boy in a nearby town had been bitten fourteen times by a rabid dog. Despite the disapproval of his peers, he gave the boy a series of 13 injections. The child lived.

Others, notably Robert Koch and Joseph Lister, extended Pasteur’s work. Less than 100 years after George Washington’s death, the Germ Theory of disease had largely supplanted the miasmatic theory, disinfection in hospitals was routine, the organisms of over 21 deadly diseases had been identified and bloodletting was considered barbaric.

As a result of inspired work and commitment in the face of adversity, diseases that used to kill millions have largely been eradicated. In this day of germ warfare, we should feel grateful for this knowledge.

Ginger Will Spice Up Your Health

It all started innocently enough. I suggested that we go on a whale watching trip for my Father-In-Law’s 80th birthday. Undeterred by warnings of 11 foot swells, we boarded the deep sea fishing boat.

Actually, we marched on and sat at the bow due to total ignorance. Heading out to sea, the bow of the boat would riseso high you would be facing the clouds followed by a crash down the other side of the swell. It was quite the wild ride.

One by one my family members, and the vast majority of the passengers, succumbed to sea sickness. If only I had read my Herbal PDR, I would have known that Zingiber Officinale, ahem – I mean ginger, prevents and treats motion sickness. It may even surpass Dramamine.

In one study, 36 volunteers were given either ginger or a popular motion sickness drug and then subjected to a spinning chair.(All in the name of science, of course.)The volunteers who had ingested ginger lasted 5.5 minutes before getting sick while the modern drug gave them only 3.5 minutes of relief. What fun!

Ginger has been used for centuries to treat nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, rheumatism, and colds,to stimulate digestion and relieve chest congestion. It also is a good way to relieve the affliction of flatulence. At one time it was very popular as an alleged aphrodisiac.

It is one of the most important spices in Ayurvedic Medicine, the path to health and longevity from India that has been developed and refined since ancient times. In that discipline, ginger is used to strengthen all tissues, especially the digestive and respiratory systems. Indians drink ginger tea to relieve chest congestion and to balance doshas.

As I already indicated, more recently ginger has been under conventional scientific scrutiny. We know now that ginger possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It acts to suppress prostaglandin formation in a way similar to aspirin, which makes it useful for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

By the same mechanism, it also acts as an anti-coagulant in the blood, preventing clot formation. This makes ginger a valuable ally in the prevention of strokes and heart attacks. It goes without saying (but, I’ll say it anyway), if you have a bleeding disorder, ginger is not for you.

The constituents of ginger are also powerful anti-oxidants, protecting our tissues from the oxidative damage that causes aging and cancer. Arabs, Asians and Africans have long used ginger to preserve youth and insure many children.

Anthimus was a Greek doctor to kings and Emperors. He advocatedthe maintenance of good health by diet and nutrition,a concept we would do well to practice today. He promoted these nutritional principles by prescribing appetizing recipes, most of which included ginger.

You don’t need to take ginger pills or capsules. The Japanese use ginger in cooking and serve pickled ginger with foods to promote digestion. The Scandinavians eat sweetened, crystallized ginger. From the Caribbean to Thailand, ginger is mixed with garlic, onions and other spices to make delectable dishes. Ginger is a main ingredient of Indian Chai tea and is included in many Chinese meals.

In addition, ginger has anti-microbial properties that help keep food safe from Salmonella, bacteria and other microbes.

Before we go on another deep sea trip, I’ll suggest that we eat Indian food instead of gorging at that Jewish Deli and I’ll carry packets of ginger tea. That is, if my In-Law’s don’t disown me first.

Rose Nurtures Body and Mind

“When are you going to leave for Boy Scouts?”I grumbled. I felt like Alexander in the children’s story Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Nothing had gone right from the time I had stumbled out on the wrong side of bed that morning.

The holidays were approaching. I needed time and the kitchen in order to get lotions and soaps made for gifts and to meet the fast approaching mailing deadlines.

That night I was making rose face lotion and soaps. As I measured the rosewater, the powerful fragrance filled the room. I inhaled deeply as I added rose oil to the lotions and soaps. I rubbed spilled lotion onto my face and hands. By the time the boys got home, I was welcoming, relaxed and happy. A changed person. Was it the cooking sherry?

Years earlier, I first encountered rosewater in cooking. I had a cranberry bread recipe that called for rosewater. The English commonly use it to add flavor and fragrance to cakes, muffins and pie- crust. But, at that time I couldn’t find rosewater in the grocery store.

I finally stumbled upon rosewater at a reasonable price in an International food store. The proprietor, an Arab gentleman, told me that his wife used rosewater on her skin. I’ve always been intrigued with the beautiful complexions of Middle Eastern people, so I started using rosewater as a toner.

It has a wonderfully softening property. Indian women have long used rosewater as part of their daily cleansing ritual, as a perfume and to tone the skin after cleaning. Its antiseptic and mildly astringent properties make it good for oily skin. Yet it is soothing and gentle enough for dry skin. The cooling effects are good for inflammation and can help sooth sunburn.

Aging skin will benefit from its ability to rejuvenate cells. It has a reputation for slowing the skin’s aging. With consistent use, the astringency will help erase fine lines and constrict the surface blood vessels that cause “thread veins”. It also makes a great mouth wash.

Rosewater is often incorporated into commercial eye ointments. Cotton balls soaked in rosewater can relieve tired eyes, puffiness and treat mild eye infections.

The rose is most beloved for it’s scent. Rose has long been used as an aphrodisiac and as a symbol of joy, love and beauty. Before Cleopatra received Mark Anthony, she had the floor of her palace strewn knee deep in rose petals. Indian brides take a bath in milk and rosewater before the wedding. Romans would scatter rose-petals on the bridal bed.

These effects have a basis in physiology. Scent molecules can alter brain and body chemistry. This is the underlying principle behind the practice of Aromatherapy. Of all flower essences, the perfume of the rose is one of the most powerful mediators of our mental and emotional climates.

Rose oil has an extremely complex chemistry with over 300 known constituents. In aromatherapy, rose is used to alleviate depression and reduce anxiety and tension. It is also a powerful relaxant. These qualities make rose effective in the treatment of insomnia, pre-menstrual syndrome, sadness and impotence. As I found, it is also a good remedy for the “very bad day”.

Rose increases confidence and feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. In addition, it’s effects on the uterus and sperm production has given rose a reputation for increasing fertility. Yes, the aphrodisiac qualities help too.

Rose oil and rosewater are made commercially from two basic varieties, the Bulgarian Damask rose and the French Provence rose. While the Damask rose is most prized for perfumes, the Provence rose reputedly is more antiseptic, sedative and is a better aphrodisiac.

It takes 60,000 roses to produce 1 ounce of pure essential oil. You will not find real rose oil or rosewater in cheap creams, perfumes and lotions. Although it will be expensive to buy initially, a little is all that is needed for its beauty, healing, perfuming and emotional benefits.

Under The Influence of Sleep Deprivation

Americans live to work. In the past 5 years alone, work hours have increased, leisure time and recreational activities have been sacrificed – including those of an interpersonal, intimate nature – and sleep hours have been surrendered.

Most adults will tell you that they get the amount of sleep that they need. They just don’t need the recommended 8 hours and they feel just fine, thank you very much. However, research has shown otherwise.

Sleep is not just a passive removal of stimuli and limp muscles. During sleep, restorative hormones are released, the constellation of neurotransmitters is different, metabolism of brain structures changes and brain waves are altered. Healing and restoration occurs in both the brain and body.

When the amount of sleep is inadequate, health deteriorates. The result is lowered glucose tolerance, increase sugar seeking behaviors, deranged fat metabolism, increased weight, impaired thyroid gland activity, decreased coping skills, fatigue, decreased strength, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, pain and vulnerability to sometimes fatal bacterial infection.

Did this get your attention? Sleep deprivation has become a major health issue in our society. Increased work hours are associated with decreased sleep, particularly for people working over 40 hours per week. More than 1/3 of adults now work fifty hours a week or more. More work, less sleep, less leisure time, less sex and poorer health.

Over 66% of adults do not get the recommended 8 hours of sleep. On average, adults get less than 7 hours of sleep at night and most will tell you that they are completely satisfied with the amount of sleep that they get.

However, 7 hours a night or less isn’t enough to maintain health and cognitive function. Sleep restriction is a stress, increases anxiety and decreases coping skills. You will be more likely to become agitated in a traffic jam, upset by office politics or get into conflicts with your teenager. Ability to perform analytical tasks is compromised. Your work, personal life and exercise will suffer.

Experimentally, sleep deprivation has been shown to adversely affect glucose metabolism, hormone balances and nervous system function. Over 33,000 men and women participated in a health screening, which included blood pressure check, blood sampling, examination of heart rate, and questions about sleep habits with follow-up occurring at a later date to determine mortality rates.

Sleep deprivation was correlated with disturbances in glucose and lipid metabolism and death, even after adjustment for obesity and smoking. The bottom line, sleep restriction messes up biological pathways important to maintain health.

Another metabolic condition associated with sleep debt is a decrease of thyroid function. The thyroid controls metabolic rate and affects bone density. Even though sleep deprivation causes blood thyroid hormone levels to drop, TSH concentrations may remain unchanged. Low thyroid hormone levels will leave you feeling sluggish, tired, and gaining weight.

A study of 8,274 children in Japan found a significant correlation with obesity, a late bedtime and inadequate sleep. Children who got less than 10 hours of sleep a night were significantly more likely to be obese, with an inverse relationship between hours of sleep and childhood obesity.

Many people don’t get enough sleep because of insomnia due to work stress, small children, or medical problems. But for many of us, the Internet and television has profoundly influenced and reduced the amount of sleep we get. Almost half of respondents to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation said that they would go to bed earlier if they didn’t have access to television or the internet – 87% of the adults surveyed watch television in the hour before they go to bed!

Less than 6 hours of sleep affects coordination, reaction time and judgment which poses a serious risk when that person is behind the wheel of a car. People who have been awake for 17-19 hours performed worse on driving tests than those with a blood alcohol content of .05 percent (the drunk driving limit in many European countries).

This has become an alarming problem for teenagers. Although teenagers need more sleep than adults, they get even less. Up to 60% of car accidents involve sleep deprivation. According to NIHs Sleep Disorders Research, 55% of car crashes in which people were killed involved people under the age of 26. They draw an association between sleep deprivation and fatal car crashes involving young people.

Sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Turn off the T. V., the computer, and ignore the phone. Go to bed early enough to get the requisite amount of sleep. If you have insomnia due to a medical problem, work or personal stress, seek help. Many times the answer is as simple as getting enough exercise, meditation practices or doing yoga.

Enter The Fat Burning Zone

Between winded effort and the angle of repose lies The Fat Burning Zone.

When you ran on the treadmill within the fat burning zone indicated on the display, it felt almost too easy. Then an exercise fanatic friend told you that it’s better to exercise harder at high intensities to burn more fat. How hard should you exercise to burn the most fat?

There are two main energy sources stored in our bodies, fat and carbohydrate. We have enough carbohydrate to last for 90 minutes of a moderate activity like bicycling out to Wellington or a hike up Horsetooth Rock. In contrast, a lean individual will enough fat stored to last 116 hours or more.

The capacity to burn fat fits the “use it or lose it” dictum. Actually, it would be more accurate to say “use it and lose it or lose it and gain it”. When you don’t exercise enough, you lose the capacity to burn fat and you increase your fat stores. Conversely, exercise can teach your body to burn large amounts of fat for fuel and reduce fat deposits.

Fat is broken down by enzymes located in the mitochondria of muscle cells. Mitochondria are the energy producing plants in the body. People who don’t exercise have fewer and smaller mitochondria than people who do exercise.

People who exercise a lot have more and bigger mitochondria than people who exercise more moderately. Obviously, this is a dramatic simplification but an accurate one.

Exercise initiates alterations in the blood and blood vessels, adrenal glands, heart and skeletal muscles that results in a higher reliance on fat for fuel, even at rest.

At rest, while sitting at a computer or reading a book, virtually all of the energy to run the body systems will come from fat. Of course, when your muscles aren’t in use, energy needs are pretty low so you aren’t required to use a lot of fat. This is the bottom of the fat burning zone.

When you get up from your book and go out to wander around your garden, the amount of calories you burn will increase slightly. You will use a tad more carbohydrate but will still rely largely on fat.

You decide to go take your dog for a walk. You are burning even more calories. There is an increased contribution of energy from carbohydrates but you are still using primarily fat.

When you come home, you find that you’ve run out of coffee. Your car is broken down so you hop on your bicycle to ride 20 miles to the nearest store. You have to be back soon, so you are riding at a fairly good and even clip. Now, half of your energy will come from fat and the other half from carbohydrates. You are still in the fat burning zone.

On the way back from the store you can see that there is a plume of smoke in the vicinity of your house. You pick up the pace and ride as hard as you can. Your chest heaves and your face is drawn with effort. You have now left the fat burning zone. You are burning mostly carbohydrates.

Fats are used mostly during efforts that you can sustain for 30 minutes or more. When you can keep up the pace for only a matter of minutes, most of the energy will be supplied by carbohydrates. You will burn less fat per minute at these high efforts than when you are doing an easier activity.

The fat burning zone is a continuum from catatonic to moderately high efforts. The goal is to exercise at top of your fat burning zone. This is the intensity where you are burning fat at the highest rate and at an effort you can sustain for 40 minutes or more.

If you are breathing so hard that you are forced to stop after 15 minutes, then you are not in the fat burning zone. If you are barely breathing at all and can chat easily, you are in the fat burning zone, but at the low end. You aren’t providing an adequate stimuli for the muscles to make more mitochondria and improve fat burning capabilities.

The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is often used by fitness educators to teach their clients proper exercise intensities. This system uses observational information such as rate of breathing, how deeply you are breathing, and how hard it feels to gauge effort.

For fitness exercisers to find the proper intensity, go for a walk. Amble at a very easy pace at first. Listen to your breathing and observe how you feel. At first you will not be able to hear your breath and you could chat non stop.

Every few minutes pick up the pace and keep observing. The point where you can hear your breathing and any conversation is interrupted is the proper effort level. If you are in fairly decent shape you may have to jog or run to find it. If you are gasping for breath and can’t talk, you are going too hard.

Competitive athletes will want to do base and endurance training at an intensity that is around 65-70% of Heart Rate Reserve. Training with a heart rate monitor is a good way of gauging the appropriate effort levels.

How long the exercise bout should be depends entirely on fitness level and goals and will be the topic of a future column.