Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Running Miles through your plate!

Any discussion on marathon training, irrespective of exhaustive training, physically, with the best plan and trainer will not be complete without discussing the extremely important role of nutrition and diet.

Similar to the planned and periodized approach we take to physical training, it is very critical to plan and periodize nutrition throughout the training period and can in fact make or break your performance!
It will also decide your performance during the entire training period, your motivation levels and your health and fitness status (absence of sickness, fatigue, injuries and beyond that too). Fatigue, lack of ability to cope up with the daily activities, injuries, dehydration, nutritional deficiency syndromes are quite common complaints during the training period.

However, many of the people see marathon training as a weight-loss option and try out low fat diets, low carbohydrate (low-carb) diets and other fad diets, which can not only hamper final performance, but also cause long-term effects, which can sometimes be irreversible!

A good nutritional plan basically consists of three stages – the nutritional plan during the training period, couple of days before the final day, and that on the final day. An added emphasis on carbs is also a sign of a good nutritional plan. A high-carb diet is essential during this time, as decided by the sports nutritionist.
It is important to consult a nutrition expert to get the plan designed. This is because, when one says a high-carb diet is essential, the quality and type of carb is extremely important. Carbohydrates are of many types – simple, complex, high glycemic index, low glycemic index and the like. This is important because each of them has different absorption rates, and hence get absorbed at different speeds and quantities into the bloodstream.

A good nutritional plan basically consists of three stages – nutritional plan during training, few weeks before the final day, and that on the final day. Since nutritional requirements during the marathon training are higher than usual, it is important to eat the right kind of foods to avoid any additional weight gain which will increase the challenge on the body and hamper performance.

Carbohydrate-rich foods (Carbs) form the major component of diet during this time, followed by proteins and fats. Carbs are stored in muscles, liver and blood as glucose, and are easily available for providing energy. The rate at which the energy is released depends on a factor called as the ‘Glycemic index - GI’ (or another factor called glycemic load, closely related to glycemic index) of the carb consumed.
A low GI (usually complex carbohydrates) food gets into the system slowly, and thus ensures a slow and steady supply of energy. This helps to maintain stable and adequate blood glucose levels and ensure continuous supply of energy for longer distances. Simple carbohydrates usually have high GI and enter the system and get depleted fast, causing extreme variations in blood glucose levels, extreme highs followed by extreme lows. Some examples of low GI foods are whole grains like barley, legumes and pulses like kidney beans, soyabean, wheat bran and vegetables like green leafy vegetables, cauliflower etc.
Polished rice, bakery items like white bread, cookies, ready-to-eat cereals are all examples of high GI foods. Low GI foods also help avoid additional weight gain!
Therefore, usually complex carbohydrates form a major component in the nutritional plan (almost 65% - 70%), followed by proteins - for growth and repair, and fats – for proper functioning of the body systems, during the training.

The nutritional pattern changes as you approach the final day, with many techniques that are used to ensure stable energy supply for longer duration on your final day…

Marathon Pointers

Thanks to its growing popularity over the past years, here are some techniques that are used in preparing for the marathon.
As emphasized earlier, progression, planning and mental preparation are three of the most important aspects to marathon training for two important reasons – avoid acute or chronic injuries and to perform optimally. Also, the training needs to begin quite a few months in advance, with respect to the final date.
Though marathon training needs to be an optimal mixture of stamina/endurance and mental focus and strength, there are some techniques used for training as follows –

Stay relaxed and loose – Mostly while running, we tend to tense up our shoulders and arms or twist our hands into a fist, both of which increase blood pressure temporarily and also advances the onset of fatigue easily and pain. Hence the key is to relax the shoulder and arms by moving or shaking your arms as naturally as they move.

Countdown the mileage – Break the total distance into comfortable chunks of distances, like say 5 kms each and then countdown from 5kms downwards as you move forward. This reverse counting has proven to be effective in keeping the motivation and mental strength up and going.

Stride length – Longer strides may make you feel like you’re covering more distance but it will advance the rate of exhaustion faster causing any initial gains in distance to get nullified by the slowing down due to fatigue that follows. Hence it is advisable to use smaller strides, or smaller steps to conserve energy.

Pacing – For the first set number of kilometres (as decided by your trainer depending on your goals and level of conditioning and training) use a higher pace and slow down the pace as you progress. Avoid increasing speed un-methodically since any gain in distance will be easily offset by the slowing down that follows, due to fatigue.

Hydration – Drink adequate fluids as decided by the dietician before the run and during the run to avoid dehydration. Even a small amount of dehydration can cause tremendous mental and physical fatigue.

Proper Surface – Usually, the marathons are run on tarred or concrete roads, on the main day of the event. However, while training it may not be a good idea to start out by training on roads, since the impact forces exerted by these surfaces are extremely high which can lead to joint injuries, in an un-conditioned body. Also it increases the challenge and may initially lessen motivation, to be consistent. A treadmill, synthetic tracks or dirt paths are ideal to begin training. However, as one progresses and gaining muscular and cardio-vascular strength and endurance, training can be shifted to actual road surface, in order for the body to adapt to the challenges offered by the surface.

Breathing – One of the most important factors to work on during the training and which can drastically affect the endurance and rate of exhaustion. Practicing deep breathing (through the belly) is essential to increase the amount of oxygen intake into the body. Only chest breathing proves insufficient for the challenge posed by the long duration nature of the marathon. Deep breathing exercises, done on their own or through meditation techniques are very helpful.

Take breaks – Taking walking breaks in between the run, is a very good idea since it gives a small and quick rest to all the systems in the body thereby refreshing you. Water or energy breaks are also a good idea for a quick rest.

Nutrition before and during the run – One of the most important aspects during the pre-marathon training is the nutrition and energy intake, as designed by an expert sports nutritionist, depending on your energy requirements and activity levels. During the marathon, it is perfectly acceptable to refuel your body with food or energy drinks like bananas, raisins, sports drinks etc.
As the final date of the marathons near, the sports nutritionist may suggest structured and planned techniques to store up energy, for the final run.

Therefore, a planned and structured approach is the only way to train for a marathon and enjoy it too!

Marathon Training!

The Pune marathon always seems to be a great hit amongst the locals and foreigners alike! Marathon training has been gaining popularity over the last few years as an attractive option not only to athletes but also to non-athletes who choose it for the challenge and excitement among other reasons.

Running a marathon, needless to say, takes a different approach altogether with respect to physical training, nutrition and mental/emotional training. Without any previous training, running for such long durations and distances, on tarred roads makes a perfect case of serious injuries which could affect health for years to come.

First and foremost, running a marathon is all about endurance and stamina, instead of short bursts of heroic strides. Short energetic sprints not only depletes valuable energy resources but also builds substances in the body that inhibit adequate supply of energy from other resources.

Some basic rules for beginner marathon trainers include
o Training gradually by increasing the number of miles run, during the training session gradually and progressively, instead of training too much too fast.
o An important goal in the build-up phase of the training is to avoid injuries and ensure adequate rest and not neglect these at the cost of adding the number of miles run per session.
o Running for such long durations requires both - cardiovascular endurance and muscle (local and general) endurance.
o Mostly the running is done at 55%-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate (220-age) in order to build up cardiovascular stamina and endurance. Running above these levels may not help in building endurance and instead tire you out faster. For well-conditioned individuals, the heart rate ranges may vary depending on the level of conditioning.
o Another very important point to consider is getting adequate practice of running on the ground/road, and not just on the treadmill. Even the best of performances on the treadmill will fall short of actual performance on the road/ground. Though the initial training may include using the treadmill to build you up gradually, ultimately you will need to practice on-ground running to consolidate on your endurance and perform at the marathon!

Marathon – what does it take?

The key to running a marathon successfully or at least un-injured are contained in two simple words – Planning (for physical and mental training) and Progression.
The training needs to start couple of months in advance with regular and consistent routines focusing mainly on endurance – cardiovascular and muscular. Also, the training needs to be built up slow and steady and progressively in order to manage long distances with minimal exhaustion and injuries.

Running is a high-impact activity (in which both feet are off the ground at some point for a fraction of a second) and places excessive impact forces on the joints, especially the ankles, the knees and the lower back. These joints which are supported by the ligaments and the associated tendons (connect muscles to the bones on either side of the joint) also bear the brunt of these forces and hence need to be conditioned well.
Usually most of the injuries arising out of improper training are associated with these ligaments (tears, ruptures etc.) and joints (stress fractures, dislocations etc.) which have the power to negatively affect health in the long term also.
A slow and gradual training schedule will ensure that the muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt to the overload (or excessive stress for extended periods) optimally. Sudden and unplanned intense training can place excessive stress on these and lead to tears or fractures.

However, another important area of training is the ‘mental’ aspect. Mental concentration and internal motivation are key elements to effective training and performance. Visualization exercises are popularly used to keep the runner focused and distracted from the exhaustion. It is helpful to break the total distance down into smaller units to keep the motivation levels up. Different strategies can be used depending on the mental state feedback during the practice sessions, like for example some people have the habit of looking downwards while running. However, looking downwards will only increase the feeling of fatigue and hence shifting the gaze upwards or straight ahead, while running will help them cover longer distances as compared to the former.

Intensity Monitoring!

An important aspect of exercising, whether one is at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level is monitoring the intensity, especially in case of cardio activities.

In case of strength training exercises, intensity can be monitored by noting the amount of weight used per repetition for each set or by determining the volume (reps x sets per exercise), the former being an easy and quick method to monitor intensity.

In case of cardio workout however, there are many ways to monitor intensity. Usually the cardio machines come with heart rate calculators, located at the handles or below the dashboard and are easy to use. The target heart rate is calculated as 60%-70% of Maximum Heart Rate (220-Age) for normal exercise routines. The other heart rate zones can be worked upon under expert guidance.

In case the intensity is lesser than the desired value, it can be increased by increasing the challenge (level, speed etc.) or by including arm movement.
There are also many other methods to calculate, which come in handy when one is not using the cardio machines or during an aerobic class, kickboxing class etc.
Some of them include –

Pulse Monitoring – Locate the pulse on the radial artery (around the wrist, below the thumb) where the pulse is easily palpable, and count the number of pulses in 10 seconds and multiply it by 6 to get the heart rate. It is advisable to follow this sequence since measuring the pulse rate for one whole minute increases the chances of errors as well as breaks the exercise tempo causing the heart rate to come down.
The other option is to measure on the carotid artery, around the neck adjacent to the voice box. However, this artery is highly sensitive to pressure and any excess pressure can affect the blood supply to the brain and cause light headedness, apart from also breaking the tempo of exercise.

Aerobic Intensity Monitoring!

As per last week’s discussion, it is advisable to monitor intensity while working out, especially the cardio aspect. There are many non-invasive, non-intrusive and simple ways to monitor the intensity like measuring heart rate or the rate of perceived exertion.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is a popular method worldwide especially in group settings, apart from radial artery pulse monitoring, as discussed last week. Exertion is defined as the amount of stress or effort exerted. Perceived exertion is the way the exertion is perceived which depends on many factors like health & fitness status, conditioning level, mindset to name a few. The rate of perceived exertion scale, also known as the Borg Scale is used to present a quantitative feeling of fatigue. There are 2 ways in which is used – 20 point scale, 10 point scale.

The 10 point scale has a range which starts with the exertion level as
0 - very very light (almost resting),
1 - very light (as in slow walking),
2, 3 - fairly light / moderate
4 - somewhat hard (steady pace),
5, 6 - hard,
7, 8, 9 - very hard,
10 - very very hard
Usually the instructor in a group setting asks for your RPE out aloud, inorder to modify the workout intensity. An RPE of 4 to 6 is a good rate to maintain. With the 20 pt scale, the range starts from 6 until 20, and the reading multiplied by 10 gives the approximate heart rate at the time. The 10 pt scale however is more popularly used.

The other method of monitoring intensity is the Talk test, which requires for the person to be able to talk without hyperventilation, at any point in the workout, to determine intensity.
Both the methods are simple, practical, easy to use and help monitor the intensity of exercise.

Beginner's Diaries - Warmup & Cool down

Continuing the discussion on points to consider when beginning an exercise routine for the first time or after a long gap, it becomes important as a beginner to emphasize on the following the routine step-by-step and not skip steps. In simpler words, the most important parts of the routine are the warm-up and cool down.

The warm-up is an important component for everyone and not only the beginners to get the best out of exercise. However, it becomes especially important for beginners since the muscles in the body needs to be conditioned to sustain the exercise that follows and also to get all the internal systems like the cardio-vascular (heart and blood flow), cardio-respiratory ready for the routine. Sudden pressures on the muscles and internal systems can lead to injury and even prove fatal.

A warm-up raises the body temperature, enhances blood flow and lubrication at the joints, improves the neuro-muscular coordination and generally improves the body’s ability to deal with the exercises and avoid injury.
The warm-up can be general or specific. General warm-ups target the whole body, like cardio activities like walking or suryanamaskars or usually consist of dynamic stretches targeting joints and muscles. Specific warm-ups are for the specific muscles being worked out in the following workout which could range from mimicking the movement of the exercise without any weights or performing some repetitions of the exercise with the lowest possible weight.

Cool downs, are important to restore the blood flow (while exercising blood flow is shunted from non-active systems like digestive and reproductive systems to active systems like the muscular systems etc.), bring down the body temperature as well as to stretch the shortened and tense muscles and restore chemical balance in the body.
Cool down usually has static stretches which need one to hold the muscles in stretched positions for 20-30 seconds, deep breathing and relaxation exercises.

Many of us opt to skip the warm-up and cool down session to save time or to give more time to the main work-out believing that it will bring the desired results faster. Needless to say, it is wise to avoid doing this and follow the process to get the best out of exercise!

Beginner’s Diaries...

Continuing the series on the essentials when beginning an exercise routine for the first time or after a long time, the focus this week is on the nature of the routine – weight training and cardio. As we have seen that while beginning a routine, maintaining regularity or frequency is more important than increasing the duration or intensity. It is also important to consider the reason for beginning or getting back to the workout, especially if it is after surgeries or other health problems.

As far as weight training is concerned –
o It is ok to begin a weight training routine in the first week itself, provided it focuses on full-body conditioning and includes all muscle groups with lesser weight and average number of repetitions (12-15)
o The first week workout could be all-body parts, three times a week on alternate days to ensure adequate rest. Avoid using body splits and advanced techniques like 2-muscles / 3-muscles per day or techniques like drop sets, pyramiding, reps until burn etc. in order to leave no room for injuries and enough room for progression.
o One or two sets with 10-15 or more repetition, depending on the muscle group worked out are adequate in the first week. For example, leg exercises usually use more repetitions due to the large musculature than chest exercises.
o It is advisable to focus on the technique of lifting, posture and the ‘form’ of the exercise while beginning out, in order to build up on it later. The form is very important to focus on the right muscles so that they develop proportionately and also to avoid muscular imbalance and postural deformities due to the imbalance.
o Most importantly, it is necessary to include a good warm-up session in order to activate the muscle fibers to work optimally. Warm-ups can be general (like a 5-minute cardio activity, walking etc.) and specific (an active stretching of the muscle targeted) and help to get the best out of the exercise and to avoid injuries.
These guidelines apply to both - men and women, who are beginning out on a workout. And for the umpteenth time, weight training is strongly recommended for women since it only strengthens the muscles, and does not cause them to bulk up!

Cardio activities are the best way to begin since they are ideal to condition the cardio-vascular and cardio-respiratory system, which form the foundation of any activity - exercise or otherwise!

Cardio activities in a gym set-up usually range from treadmill, cycle – upright and recumbent, cross trainer, rowing machine to group classes like Aerobics, Kickboxing and its variants. While in the case of beginning a home-based workout, walking is the best way to start.

o In case of the gym, walking on treadmill and cycling are great ways to start off the exercise routine, at least in the first week.
o Cardio workouts need to usually last at least 20 minutes, continuously, or cumulatively over a few breaks in between if it gets extremely challenging. The 20 minute target is required for the fat resources to takeover from the carbohydrates and other sources and begin providing energy to sustain the exercise activity. Ideally any time between 20 and 40 minutes is good enough to provide a good workout to the cardio-vascular system.
o The cardio activity needs to be steady and even-paced, in that maintaining a rate which can be sustained over a period of 20 minutes. It is better to stick to walking and use jogging as progression option weeks down the line. A speed of 4 – 6, as seen on the treadmill screen is good. Avoid using any pre-set programs on the treadmill or cycle and instead stick to the manual mode of varying speed and intensity.
o Gradually increasing intensity and Interval training while walking on the treadmill can be good options. For example, an option may be to start at the speed 4 and progress on to 6 by the 15th minute and then maintain it or switch between 6 and 5 depending on the perceived exertion.
o It is important to remember to slow down speed before stopping completely, to avoid blood pooling in the legs which can lead to dizziness. Also let the treadmill stop completely, before getting off and not get off sideways while it is still working to avoid injuries.
o Even cardio activities need a good 5-7 minute warm up using dynamic stretching prior to beginning.
o It is also recommended to measure intensity to get the best out of the workout, which will be discussed in the coming week.

Slow and steady!

As discussed, when beginning an exercise routine for the first time or after a long gap, it is necessary to take it slow and work along with your body in getting accustomed to the activity.
This is essential, not only to maintain the motivation and long-term adherence but also to avoid any physical injuries. For those who are getting back to exercise after a long gap, it is essential to understand that our body begins to lose the conditioning within a month of stopping of the activity and must be conditioned all over again!

After preparing for the new exercise routine before hand in small ways as discussed earlier, the next step is to focus on increasing the frequency before increasing the duration and intensity.
In other words, if you begin with 45 minutes three days a week, then the next progression would be 45 minutes 5 times a week, i.e. the frequency is increased without increasing the duration or intensity. However, most of the routines prescribed at health clubs are for 6 days a week, right from the beginning and hence some helpful points to note should be –

o Make sure that the weight training routines are restricted to 2-3 times a week, and with a gap of one day in between. Also 1-2 sets of around 10-15 reps, depending on the muscle groups targeted are sufficient for the first couple of weeks.
o It is also ok to exercise only 5 days out of the 6-day schedules, in the first couple of weeks depending on the signals of fatigue or pain from the body.
o Once the routine feels comfortable, the next step would be to increase intensity in case of weight training exercises and duration in case of cardio exercises. This means, in case of weight training, progress by increasing repetitions to the point of fatigue or increase weight and in case of a cardio activity like walking on a treadmill, increase the time instead of opting for jogging or running in the same time. The reverse way may not be very helpful.
o Get a good 8 hours of sleep and adequate rest every day for optimum results. Needless to say, a good nutritious diet will help boost the energy levels and progress faster.

Baby Steps!

Everything has its first time! Especially so, for many of us who are considering beginning an exercise routine – voluntarily or forcibly after planning and postponing for ages!

Studies on the percentages of adherence to a fitness routine show some interesting facts. Adherence or regularity with respect to a fitness routine depends on factors like motivation, fear factor, apparent benefits, as well as some basic factors like intensity, duration and frequency.
Another point I would like to include would be ‘expectations’ especially those arising out of a sense of competition or instant results and the like. Many people start out with a bang and then lose steam as the days go by, mainly because of un-realistic standards of progress.

Hence it is important to understand that its important to take baby steps – small, achievable and measurable goals while beginning an exercise routine, instead of going full steam ahead and then losing interest or ability to maintain regularity.

Let’s discuss a few answers to the reason behind failure to be regular at an exercise routine –

Pre - Preparation – This is important, both physically and mentally for those who have never exercised before and are planning to begin in the near future. While those with no medical conditions requiring a supervised exercise routine, it is helpful to start out with basic activities like walking around to finish household errands, taking the stairs instead of elevators etc. for a few weeks before hitting the gym. This helps to get the body conditioned for the following exercise routine.
Mentally, it is helpful to maintain a ‘can-do’ and realistic attitude instead of setting very high goals like losing two or three kilos in the first week itself, or exercising for two hours right from the first day! Sporadic bursts of intense activities are not at all beneficial. In the first few weeks, regularity is the most essential component rather than the duration, performance or intensity. Around 30-45 minutes of activity in the first week is acceptable including the warm-up and cool down exercises and stretches. The routine must include cardio exercises and full-body conditioning exercises with weights.

Bread matters!

These days, healthy and easy choices for daily nutrition are not only the concern of the consumers, but also the manufacturers and hence you will find the market flooded with many options each with its own uniqueness.
This is especially the case with breads, where until about some years ago white bread was the only option available, now we have so many options ranging from brown bread, whole wheat bread, multi-grain bread, breads with added ingredients like flaxseeds or walnuts. Most of them also claim to be fortified with additional minerals and vitamins.

Well, though the awareness about white bread has grown exponentially over the years thanks to the knowledge that the main ingredient ‘maida’ (refined flour from which the bran and wheat germ have been removed) which lacks any nutritional value and fibre content, brown and wheat bread options are increasing in popularity by the day! Though many of us who have been brought up on white bread can find it challenging to accommodate to the taste, texture and color of brown bread!

An important fact to be noted is that brown bread is not always the same as whole wheat bread! The color can be deceiving in that brown bread is usually made of wheat flour and may not necessarily be whole wheat flour with the bran and the wheat germ. Wheat flour, as mentioned on brown bread many times is almost similar to the refined flour or a mixture of white and wheat flour, with caramel added as a coloring agent!!

Also to watch out are the sugar content and its source (like high fructose corn syrup is bad for health) and presence of any partially hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids, if possible. The bran and the wheat germ in whole wheat bread contribute to the fiber content in the body is useful not only for good bowel movements but also to reduce the chances of lifestyle disorders like diabetes etc.

These days, healthy and easy choices for daily nutrition are not only the concern of the consumers, but also the manufacturers and hence you will find the market flooded with many options each with its own uniqueness.
This is especially the case with breads, where until about some years ago white bread was the only option available, now we have so many options ranging from brown bread, whole wheat bread, multi-grain bread, breads with added ingredients like flaxseeds or walnuts. Most of them also claim to be fortified with additional minerals and vitamins.

Well, though the awareness about white bread has grown exponentially over the years thanks to the knowledge that the main ingredient ‘maida’ (refined flour from which the bran and wheat germ have been removed) which lacks any nutritional value and fibre content, brown and wheat bread options are increasing in popularity by the day! Though many of us who have been brought up on white bread can find it challenging to accommodate to the taste, texture and color of brown bread!

An important fact to be noted is that brown bread is not always the same as whole wheat bread! The color can be deceiving in that brown bread is usually made of wheat flour and may not necessarily be whole wheat flour with the bran and the wheat germ. Wheat flour, as mentioned on brown bread many times is almost similar to the refined flour or a mixture of white and wheat flour, with caramel added as a coloring agent!!

Also to watch out are the sugar content and its source (like high fructose corn syrup is bad for health) and presence of any partially hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids, if possible. The bran and the wheat germ in whole wheat bread contribute to the fiber content in the body is useful not only for good bowel movements but also to reduce the chances of lifestyle disorders like diabetes etc.

TFAs – to take or not to take!

Trans-Fatty Acids is the scariest word(s) that you can utter, these days! As the awareness spreads, most of the brands are quick to claim proudly on their products on the shelves in supermarkets, that there are “Zero Trans fats” in their products, along with many other claims!

Unsaturated (mono or poly) fatty acids have one or more double bonds, around which carbon and hydrogen atoms are attached. The arrangement of carbon atoms around the double bond can be on the same side (cis-) or opposite side (trans-), and this gives rise to the name – Trans fatty acid.
Unsaturated fatty acids, by their very definition have lesser number of hydrogen atoms, and hence can be subjected to a process called hydrogenation. When the hydrogenation process is complete, it gives us saturated fatty acid chains, but if it is only partially complete, it gives rise to Trans fatty acid chains. Thus, essentially oils from plant sources were used, since they are naturally unsaturated.

The resultant product of partial hydrogenation is a soft, malleable butter like substance (called margarine), which had some special properties like it remained soft even when refrigerated, had a longer shelf life and more. It was also cheaper than butter, since vegetable oils are more readily available than those from animal sources and also could be mass produced easily. It was found especially beneficial for the process of baking and also resulted in enhancing the taste of the products. Thus, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil was a common ingredient on all baked products like cakes, biscuits, breads etc. until recently, apart from widespread use for frying etc. in many restaurants, food outlets etc.

TFAs have no role in promoting health. In fact they have a serious disadvantage over saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in that, they lower the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in the body apart from increasing LDL levels. The others only increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterols! Thus they have a more serious negative effect on health and increase chances of coronary heart diseases, lifestyle disorders and more!

‘Oil’ is well!!!

One of the most important and life-altering decisions, apart from the regular ones (about career, relationships and shelter!) is deciding on the right kind of oil to use for cooking!

Oil is an important ingredient in almost all items cooked in our country, with sources and amounts varying depending on the location.
Oils belong to the category of fats and the ones used for cooking, are usually obtained from plant sources. Oils from animal sources are also used for some purposes, apart from cooking.
As per the structure of fats, oils contain fatty acids, which are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It increases the palatability and satiety value of food and hence is widely used for cooking.

As per the fatty acid composition, the sources of oils are classified as mostly containing – Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA), Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA), Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA), and the popular Trans- Fatty Acids (TFA). Plant sources usually contain little or no cholesterol. All oils contain SFAs, PUFAs and MUFAs, however one of them is usually in the highest quantity as compared to others. Fats from animal sources contain high levels of SFAs, whereas from plant sources are usually high in PUFAs and MUFAs.
Though fats perform an important role in the body, excessive amount of fats, especially as SFAs or cholesterols increase the risk for lifestyle disorders.

Oils containing high levels of SFAs are usually semi-solid at room temperature (e.g. butter, ghee, etc.). Hence, it tends to get deposited in the same way along the arteries in the body, increasing chances of lifestyle disorders like atherosclerosis and more. The lower the level of SFAs in the oil, the better it is.
SFAs have a direct effect on the level of LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) or the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body, and hence increase the risk to lifestyle disorders like diabetes, heart problems, obesity etc. Hence it is usually recommended to limit the use of SFA rich foods like butter, ghee etc.

So many different kinds of oils flood the market these days with really interesting advertisements claiming different things like cholesterol free or Vitamin E enriched, to attract the consumers.
Picking it up from last week, oils are classified as per the nature of their basic components – fatty acids. Thus there are the SFAs, PUFAs, MUFAs and terms like TFA that need to be understood.

Mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are found in oils from plant origins like olive oil etc. They are liquid at room temperature and are chemically the more stable which also increases their shelf life.
MUFAs are extremely beneficial to the body since their structure causes them to prevent oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL), which if oxidized get stuck on the walls of arteries and obstruct blood flow. It is also known to improve insulin sensitivity which is usually a risk factor for the onset of lifestyle disorders like diabetes etc. and also reduce inflammation in the body.
Some examples of oils with comparatively high MUFA content would be sesame seed oil, canola oil, groundnut oil. Olive oil contains the highest percentage of MUFAs and is a common recommendation by dieticians and nutritionists these days to the weight-watchers.

Poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are again found in oils of plant origin like sunflower, safflower oil etc. They are chemically less stable and hence prone to oxidation and also may turn rancid faster, have lower melting points and are liquid at room temperature. PUFAs also include the extremely beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (as found in fish, walnuts etc.) which have many health benefits. PUFAs, like some MUFAs, are a safe option for daily cooking in high volumes. However, the health benefits are not as good as the MUFAs.

PUFAs and MUFAs are only relatively beneficial than SFAs (Saturated Fatty Acids), and must also be used in moderation. Too much oil consumption is precursor for many lifestyle disorders like obesity, diabetes and also other problems like atherosclerosis, pre-mature aging and the like.
Moderation is the key word!

Nutrition Labels – How to read

Almost all food items that are packaged and sold now a days have the ‘Nutrition Information‘ panel towards the back side of the package. Though it is a part of a mandatory requirement, issued by the Governments, it also helps identify the composition of the food we are consuming. It is also helpful in planning our daily diet, in-between snacks etc.
It is necessary to understand what it stands for and how it is applicable to our daily lives, especially in case we are dealing with lifestyle problems like diabetes, obesity etc.

The panel is usually in the form of a table denoting the composition, quantity and the number of calories for each macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient, and is distributed as Total Energy, Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats, saturated fats, sugars, sodium and other essential nutrients like Vitamins and minerals.
The number of calories - expressed in absolute values or percentages of Daily Value - are per serving or per cup or for a given amount, usually expressed in grams (e.g. quantity per 100 g). Percentage of daily values denotes how much of that nutrient - fat, sugar or a vitamin in one serving will give you compared to how much you need for the entire day.
A serving size is usually based on how much amount a person would normally eat and may differ from product to product and also location. Thus a serving size need not be the entire amount, sold in one pack. For example, if there are 100 g of chips in a packet, and the nutritional information mentions all values are for one serving – which is 50 g of chips, then all the values need to be multiplied by 2 to obtain the total calorie intake by consuming the packet.
This same fact has been used to the advantage of the manufacturers. For example, usually there are separate values for ‘fat’ and ‘sugars’, and thus a product can be ‘fat-free’ and yet add calories from ‘sugars’, which can be as bad as calories form fat!

Here is a guide to help understand how to interpret the values mentioned in the table –

Energy – expressed in calories (Cal) or kilojoules (kJ), it represents the total energy supplied by an amount equal to the serving size or in 100 g of the product. It mainly depends on the individual macro-nutrients like fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Many times, there is a separate heading which mentions the calories, specifically from fat.
Though, food is basically consumed to satisfy energy requirements, it is important to know what macro-nutrient is supplying the energy. Calories from proteins and carbohydrates are used up for body maintenance, repairing the wear and tear in the body and supplying energy for activities of daily living.
Calories from fat are prone to storage and hence can add to body fat and weight too.

Nutrition labels or the nutritional information provided behind most food items these days can supply great information about the levels of different macro - and micro – nutrients included in them which can help regulate the quantity we intake.
The most important macro-nutrient is fat, and which appears on the label in a minimum of three and a maximum of six categories. They are Total fat, Saturated fat, Cholesterol, Poly Unsaturated Fatty acids, Mono unsaturated Fatty acids, Trans Fatty acids.

Total fat represents expressed in Kcal, the total calories from all kinds of fats in a given serving or complete quantity of the item. In case it is expressed in grams, then we can obtain the calorie count by multiplying the value in grams by 9.
Saturated fat usually appears solidified at room temperature, due to its saturated molecular structure. This kind of fat can cause greater harm since it may tend to solidify inside the body as well, and clog the arteries, leading to cardio vascular problems, stroke or atherosclerosis etc. It is therefore recommended to reduce the intake of these, as much as possible.
Unsaturated fats appear in the liquefied form at room temperature and are further sub-divided as Poly unsaturated and mono-unsaturated. Due to their very nature, they do not posses much risk to the body, and are better options.
Cholesterol is an sterol transported through the blood and has important functions in the body, unlike the negative image that has been associated with it. Usually cholesterol is present only in sources from animal origin, like poultry and dairy products, different kinds of meat etc. Plant sources do not have any cholesterol content. This is often used as an attraction factor on many ‘low-fat’ or ‘cholesterol free’ food items to lure the customers into buying them, since cholesterol has long been targeted to be a trouble-maker.
Trans fatty acids, usually generated during hydrogenation of oils (preferred for commercial purposes) poses the maximum risk on the body. It is present in most bakery items, since the hydrogenated oil adds texture to the bakery item and hence is commonly used. It is known to increase the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body and also affect the cells lining the blood vessels negatively and hence is considered harmful.

Thus, lower the levels of saturated fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fatty acids, safer is the consumption.

The other macronutrients mentioned on the label are Carbohydrates and Proteins. Proteins are usually expresses in their total amount, unlike carbohydrates and fats which are further dissected into constituent parts. The general rule of thumb, is the lesser the fats (all kinds) and more the proteins, the better it is, while with carbohydrates, lesser the sugar and more the fiber, the better it is.

Carbohydrates are also the primary contributors to the total energy content. They can come from the sugar (glucose) content in the food item, as well as from the fiber present in it. While carbohydrates from sugar do not provide much nutrition, and instead add to the glucose levels in the blood and the body. This may be harmful in the long run, since increased glucose levels in the body are the major cause of lifestyle disorders like diabetes, obesity and more.
Most of the complex carbohydrates are usually low in sugar and high in fiber. A high fiber (soluble or insoluble) content is good for health, since it provides roughage and eases the bowel movement. Some soluble fibers also help reduce cholesterol and enhance overall health.

Some of the micronutrients include sodium, vitamins and essential minerals like Calcium, magnesium, potassium etc. A low level of sodium (from salt) content is ideal, since excess sodium causes problems like dehydration, excess pressure on the kidneys etc. Calcium and the other minerals are essential for proper nervous system functioning, neuro-muscular co-ordination as well as for many other processes in the body. Including them through your diet is better than taking additional supplements. Though sometimes it does become essential to take additional supplements, since absorption of these minerals depends on many factors including the quantity consumed!

Vitamins like A, E, B complex group and more become essential due to their contribution to the various processes in the body, health of the organs and making up various hormones in the body.
The vitamins and minerals are usually expressed as percentages of daily value (standard values based on the demography, the genetic history etc.) which may be country, age and gender specific, and are easily available in standard nutrition charts.

Protein Supplements, eh?

Protein supplements, quite popular with the gym regulars and fitness enthusiasts and fitness freaks, are a hot topic of discussion, with many who advocate the practice, and many others who believe that our body does not need protein supplements, apart from those that can be included by modifying the diet! Originally, it was only used by professional body builders and athletes, thanks to their intense workout regimens and professional demands.
However, these days it has become quite a common practice even with regular gym goers!

Our traditional Indian diet which is mainly vegetarian, is not very rich in proteins, especially since most plant sources are poor sources of useful proteins. Animal sources like milk, egg, meat etc. are very rich in proteins. The only plant source, fairly rich in proteins is Soy, not without its advantages and disadvantages.
And since there is limited scope of increasing protein in the diet, without a proportional increase in carbohydrates and thanks to the fear of adding body weight, protein supplements provide an easy option for use!

Usually available as Whey (obtained in the process of cheese production), Casein (Milk Protein), Egg protein, Soy protein and some herbs and plants.

Whey Protein is considered to be the most useful kinds, thanks to its high absorption capacity, ease of use and high biological value with all essential amino acids and BCAAs in it and hence usually the most popular.
Casein or milk protein is also a good source of protein, again with a good absorption capacity, and rich in an amino acid – Glutamine which aids recovery mechanisms in the body. It is usually used in combination with Whey.
Soy protein, the only plant source of which is rich in proteins with the essential amino acids, and is very suitable for vegans or for those who are lactose intolerant or gluten intolerant. They have the maximum amount of protein as compared other plant sources, like legumes, pulses and nuts..

Continuing our discussion on protein supplements, ranging from discussing their need, to the side-effects if taken incorrectly, to the type of supplements available, no discussion will be complete without discussing the most naturally available and with the highest biological value (a measure of the quality of protein) – the humble Egg !
Eggs, referring primarily to those from chicken, are the nature’s relatively cheaper, storehouse of high quality proteins, with all essential amino acids and some useful vitamins and minerals like folic acid, Vitamin B6 and more. Commonly, the egg white is considered to the best source for protein, although the other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, including fat and cholesterol are contained in the egg yolk.
The egg white (also called albumin) on the other hand, has negligible fat, but is rich in proteins and hence a favourite amongst those looking for protein supplements in the natural form, and even as processed albumin.
Biological value (BV), common guideline while selecting which protein supplement to use, is defined as a measure of the proportion of protein that can be absorbed from a food and utilized effectively for protein synthesis in the body. Egg is one of the only foods with a BV very close to 100, while whey has BV of 96, thus making it the one of the best protein supplement option after egg. Cow milk has around 90, cheese has around 84 and Soy has around 75.
What this basically means is the ease with which the protein available within them is passed on to the body, effectively for utilization.

As with other proteins, egg consumption can be everyday (remember the Doordarshan ad – Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande!), keeping in mind to not overdo, especially the yellow/yolk part of it, and maintaining a good intake of water. Eggs are quite popular, amongst people across all sects, including some vegetarians!!
Nature only gives us useful things, and which remain useful only when taken in moderation! So go ahead, toss yourself an omelette or two!

The baap of all Myths!

Weight loss, still a hot topic of discussion and bonding between friends, strangers, cannot be complete without discussing this myth!! Also a favourite for the ad commercials dealing with exercise related products, this has been exploited to the hilt!
And thanks to our natural, god-gifted tendency to accumulate fat around the central region, this myth is one of the most popular, ever since man existed, if I may exaggerate a little!!!!
Doing Crunches or using the "Ab machine" will get rid of fat around the belly.
The truth is that, firstly – spot reduction is not naturally possible. The body always loses fat, globally, not locally! Can you imagine a person, who has a six-pack abs, but excessively fat on the chest or the hips!! Any claims to spot reduce are also a farce, and may be temporarily effective, but will fail over a long term!
And secondly – crunches are a strengthening exercise, whereby they will tone and strengthen the muscles of the abdomen – the rectus and transverses abdominus and the obliques – and since fat cannot be toned, its really of not much use, to tone the underlying muscles, if the fat covering them is not taken care of first!
And thirdly, excessive belly fat, puts excessive pressure on the lower back muscles to maintain the posture. Thus, if the technique and body form, used while doing the abs exercises are not correct, then the already shortened lower back muscles may strain/pull, thereby causing lower-back problems, where none existed earlier!
Belly fat can be burned only by a combination of diet and cardio exercise, since only cardio exercises target the fat reserves in the body, as has been discussed before. For optimum and faster results, it is wise to combine strength training of the whole body, since that will boost the intrinsic metabolism, thereby aiding the process of fat and weight loss. Interval training is also a good option, with alternate bouts of cardio and strength training, of varying intensities.

Discussing some of our favourite myths, including those about spot reductions and doing infinite rounds of abs exercises to lose central fat, here is one of the latest trends, almost becoming a myth – upping your protein intake (only) helps you lose weight, thanks to the high-protein diets and the very-high protein diets and more!

While, the role of upping protein intake in weight loss is definitely worth considering, and for some, debatable, merely upping your protein intake, without complementing it with the right exercises is again asking for trouble!

Proteins are the building blocks of our body, and make up muscles, hormones and most other chemicals in the body. The rationale, behind these diets being that they boost your metabolism and help in the natural repair mechanism and some more, a high protein intake could actually impact negatively, since the body cannot store protein, as itself. The body may store all the extra protein calories by converting them into fat stores. Ideally the body needs 1g to 1.3g of protein intake, per kg body weight.

Though it is usually advised when a person is into moderate to heavy weight training, since the requirement and the wear-and-tear is higher, it is of not much use, if you do cardio exercises mostly, and then opt for protein supplements or high protein diets, especially in the case of females!
And consuming additional protein, when not into any physical activity is absolutely a bad option, unless the protein intake is for other health related issues, like PCOD etc.

A high protein diet may actually make you gain weight (if not supported by weight training), for reasons mentioned above. It may cause dehydration, unless accompanied with additional water intake, and can also affect the digestive system leading to issues like flatulence, kidney problems etc.

What also matters is the quality of protein consumed – measured traditionally in terms of the biological value – where egg has the highest biological value. Most of the animal sources have high biological values. Soy – which is a plant source, has a lower biological value, and moreover does not suit everyone.

Myths about Weight Loss!

This week, discussing a favourite, common and popular myth amongst the dieters and the non-dieters alike - avoiding carbohydrates to lose weight!!
The problem lies, when low-carbs is assumed to mean no-carbs!
Carbohydrates are the primary and major sources of fuel used for energy production in the body. The myth implies that firstly, a no- carb diet means control on the insulin production and thereby avoiding weight gain, and secondly, that lower the carbs, faster the body tends towards using fats as the source of fuel.
While in reality, carbs are required for efficient burning of fats, as well as to spare proteins for their primary function of building the body!
The process of burning fats, has carbs as an important requirement, and hence a no-carb diet will hamper the process of burning fat which inturn would not result in a permanent weight loss.
Most proteins also require carbs for their processing, and thus get affected by a low-carb diet.
A low-carb diet may not provide enough resource for your daily body functions. Another aspect is that with low dietary intake of carbs, the body will target the stored carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen), which results in loss of body water, which may be put across as weight loss!
To lose weight, it is necessary to restrict the total calorie intake, and not target any individual source of fuel as bad and cut it off from the diet.

Another popular myth is that skipping meals help lose weight!
The truth is that, skipping meals has 2 adverse effects - firstly it affects the blood glucose level, which leads to binging later and all the excess food getting stored as fat, and secondly, it affects the metabolism, and the body lowers its metabolism and goes into storage mode, thereby storing the food eaten as for later use - and the only way to store - is to convert it into fats reserves!
Also, the question arises, as to how long a person can keep skipping meals. Thus, when the person resumes the normal diet, the lower metabolism means most of the food is stored as fat, since the body is now used to thinking that there might not be any food coming for a long time!

The best option is to eat small portioned, frequent meals all through out the day, with finishing of major food intakes in the morning, and eating lighter towards evening.

Running is the best way to lose weight!
a) The truth is that running is a high intensity – high impact activity. Hence, the impact forces exerted by the ground on your knees and ankles are also greater in magnitude and are related to your weight. Hence, for a heavy person who is just beginning an exercise routine, it is not advised to begin running as a part of their cardio workout. Infact, once a doctor had advised my friend, that if you are even 5 kgs overweight, you must avoid running, as it will negatively impact your knees, for a short-term gain of losing weight, if at all!!
b) Since running is an intense activity, it is ideal as a progression activity to brisk walking and other cardio options available in a health club. In other words, running is an option, only for an intermediate –advanced level individual, who has been working out for some months, and has conditioned his body well through a balance of strength training & cardio, both!
c) Weight loss, as discussed earlier, is achieved through burning fat reserves, which the body uses, only when the activity is medium intensity and sustained over a period of time. Any high intensity activity demands sudden supply of energy, for which the target is usually Carbohydrate reserves, and not fat reserves!! Also, a high intensity activity is difficult to sustain over a period of time, for an average person, and hence what usually results is bursts of running, followed by slowing down or even stopping, instead of maintaining the pace over extended periods of times…

Thus, brisk walking is an excellent option for beginners, with gradual progression onto jogging and running, may be even as an interval-training option! And remember to wear the right shoes, warm-up and cool-down before and after the activity!

That’s a Myth!!!

Lately I am coming across many people, who have built up an entire encyclopedia of myths about fitness and nutrition, thanks to incomplete information, inspiring cases of fitness achievements from people around, apart from many other issues!
Lets discuss some myths about Fitness here –

You must join a gym to lose weight
This statement found its place in this article because there seem to be an increasing number of people, who love to put off exercising, citing reasons like they do not have time to join a gym or they cant join a gym due to some reasons, and the like!
While the effectiveness of joining a gym is beyond doubts, however incase it seems difficult to do so, there are many other options available as well, like walking, buying a set of dumbbells at home, and working out at home (ofcourse, after consulting with an expert), yoga, martial arts, aerobics and so many more! Again if time is a constraint, then use the NEAT principles, like take your dog out for a walk yourself, or pick up the newspaper yourself, and get some walking done while at work, have discussions with colleagues over walks around the office, instead of the cafeteria, use the stairs instead of the elevator. Well, there is an apt saying -“he who wishes to sing, shall find a song” (Applicable to all the‘she’ also!)

No pain no gain
Exercising must be an enjoyable activity, and usually, pain is not pleasurable (this is keeping in mind the exceptional cases who enjoy the feeling of pain!) It is true that some pain must be borne after a beginning a new exercise routine, however, feeling pain to the point of discomfort usually shows that something is not right. Pain while exercising happens, due to the muscle fibers getting pulled, contracted and torn, however, using pain as a parameter to judge the effectiveness of your workout, will not pay off as expected.
Another outcome of this belief is when some people, overtrain themselves or push themselves too far, in terms of the actual exercises or by exercising twice and thrice a day! One hour of workout with a fine balance of warm-up, cool down, weight training and cardio (need not be in the same workout) is sufficient, unless one is aiming at becoming the next Arnold!

Morning is the best time to exercise!
Well, anytime is a good time to begin a good thing!! Being unable to stick to a morning routine, is no excuse to throw away your exercise routine! I remember being inspired by the story of this doctor in Mumbai, who would go for a jog, after finishing his practice at night, around 1.00 am!! Ladies working out around lunchtime is a common sight too!
A favourite amongst many trainers, working with people working on weight loss ( the morning routines target fat reserves faster), while, for some reasons like, consistency, boosting metabolism, being fresh and alert etc. mornings is a good time to exercise, doing it at any other time, is almost as effective.
In this context, it is important to listen to your body, but making sure it says “ok, now” at least at some point in time!
Another favourite time slot with many is the evening times between 4pm – 6pm, with some scientific evidence also suggesting that the hormonal levels are optimal at these times, and hence conducive to exercise.
However, for all practical purposes, remember that any time in the day is good enough!

All Fats are bad!
This is probably, a four letter word that has been degraded, battered and bashed up, to unimaginable extents!
Fats are an essential part of our food pyramids, with many important functions like proper functioning of nervous system, protection of organs and many more.
While it is important to restrict its intake, due to its high calorie density, it still is necessary to be included… and must not be avoided at any cost!
However, we have a choice to choose the healthier options in fats like, which are mono or poly unsaturated options and which have small or no amounts of Trans Fatty Acids.
TFAs are highly dangerous, and found in bakery items, re-used & re-heated oils, margarine and many more items.
Good fats include peanuts, walnuts, fish, olive oil and more!

The more I exercise, the more and faster I lose weight!
I am sure we all, or atleast many of us, have been through this phase at some point in life! Infact, some love to spend 3 hours at the gym, and becomes something that one boasts about proudly!
The truth is that, the body response to exercise slows down, after around an hour of continuous exercise, depending on the level of conditioning. Also, excessive exercise over continuous periods, cause more wear and tear of joints, as well as chances of dehydration, overtraining and low blood sugar (which can lead to binging on food later).
Good health through exercising, is more a function of regularity and consistency, rather than temporary bursts of enthusiasm! Losing weight is a much easier task, than maintaining the lost weight, and also maintaining good health in the process of losing weight!
An hour of exercising done regularly is more than enough to achieve a good health status. Depending on the goal, one can break down the exercise routine, into one-hour bouts, done twice a day, if needed, although taking care to avoid overtraining.

Weight training makes women bulky!
The oldest myth, probably, and yet very popular even in the twenty first century! Hats off to the ladies, who are presently including weight training in their routine!!!
The fear of bulking up, or developing muscles keeps many from taking up weight training or using really light weights, which fail to provide adequate challenge to the body.
Women, biologically, do not possess the hormone (testosterone) in the levels required for developing muscles, unlike men. Infact any weight training they do, will only help in building up the strength of muscles, which is inherently low, incase of ladies. Apart from that, it will also help in building up muscle endurance, which is necessary for ladies since most also do the housework or manage the house, look after kids etc.
Muscle wasting, as one ages is also another factor why weight training must be included in an exercise routine for ladies.

Heart Rate Zones

As discussed last week, heart rate monitoring is an important aspect so as to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of any cardio workout.
Heart rate can be manually measured by placing the index and middle finger on the radial artery, along the wrist, and counting the beats for 10 seconds. Multiplying the number by 6 gives you your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). This is useful, since suspending the activity, for one whole minute, over and over again may be un-desirable and time-consuming.

Now as far as any cardio activity is concerned, there are four zones, as mentioned below –
Please note, as discussed last week, Maximum heart rate (MHR) = 220- age. And Target heart rate (THR), for any cardio activity is expressed as percentage of MHR.
Thus the zones are as follows -

THR < 50% of MHR = Light activity / General fitness zone
THR between 50% - 60% = Fat Loss / Weight Control zone
THR between 60% - 70% = Aerobic Conditioning Zone (generally used for advanced cardio performance)
THR between 70% - 80% = Carddio vascular performance zone (Also focussed on by athletes)

And THR > 80% to 85%, which is very near the Anaerobic threshold, is usually used for cardiovascular tests and evaluation, and is usually not used for training purposes, since maintaining the heart rate constantly in this zone, becomes tremendously difficult, due to the high intensity.

E.g, if you are planning to use any cardio machine, say Crosstrainer, then first calculate MHR. Next, assuming that you are aiming at weight control, calculate how much your THR (take THR = 60% MHR) must be. Begin exercising, and then regularly, say at every 15-20 min interval, measure your heart rate, using the method mentioned at start, and accordingly adjust your intensity, to maintain your heart rate in the desired zone!!!! It must be noted, that these percentages are approximate with slight deviations.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Taking it from the last week’s discussion about heart rate monitoring, it is quite obvious that heart rate monitoring is an essential part of an exercising routine.

The Cardio vascular system is a major consideration in case of cardio activities like walking, jogging, aerobic classes etc. This is because, most cardio activities are full-body activities, especially using the large muscle groups like legs, and also continues for longer time as compared to weight training activities.

The heart rate before starting the exercise activity is called as the Starting heart rate and that during the exercise is called as the Exercising or Target heart rate (THR). The heart rate at rest, especially measured just after waking up in the morning (consistently done for 3-4 days and then averaged) is called the Resting Heart rate (RHR). Well conditioned athletes have quite low RHRs, which means that the load on the heart to pump blood, is lesser and thereby the wear and tear is lesser!
Lance Armstrong has been found to have an RHR of about 32-34 bpm, where as in general, an average human being has a heart rate of around 60 – 72 bpm!!

Heart rate is usually measured in bpm (beats per minute) and is manually measured across the radial artery on the inside of the wrist or the Carotid artery near the Adam’s Temple across the neck. The measurement is done using the index and middle finger held together and placed lightly over the artery just enough to feel the pulse.
The monitors are usually placed on the Brachial artery on the upper arm or across the chest directly.
While exercising, incase of manually measuring the heart rate, it is wiser to measure it across the wrist, because this means that the exercise can continue while measuring (which is essential, otherwise the heart rate will drop down and result in inaccurate reading).

However, the another important parameter is the Maximum heart rate (MHR) which is the usually measured by the formula – MHR = 220 – Chronological Age
This is the generally used formula and proves sufficient to determine the zones, despite claims of inaccuracy.

Fitness Gadgets – Heart Rate Monitors

From the discussion about gadgets over the past few weeks, here is another very popular and useful gadget, which is very popular abroad and more common with medical cases as far as India is concerned is the Heart Rate Monitor.

As the name goes, the heart rate monitor is used to monitor the heart rate while exercising, so as to maintain or modify the exercise routine to stay within the appropriate heart rate zones. The monitors are quite common with people with heart problems, however they can also be used in a general setting like a health club or while exercising at home, to keep a check on the heart rate.

This is especially applicable while doing cardio activities, and even though most of the cardio machines come with an in-built heart rate monitor, that can be held to check the heart rate, sometimes, the very action of holding the monitor electrode bar, causes the heart rate to come down since one has to slow down to hold it, else risk getting injured.

Popularly available as a portable, compact, battery operated and easy to use gadget, the monitor is usually strapped (strapless options also exist) on around the chest or worn on the wrist, so that its sensors touch the areas where the pulse is felt the strongest. The reading is given as a digital output, similar to a stop watch!

Most of the monitors show the heart rate, time spent in the zone, with an alarm option sometimes to signal when one is in the required zone. The popular companies that offer interesting options are Polar, Timex, Omron and some more. The basic functionality to ensure before buying one, is the display area and clarity, ease of use and option to set time apart from many other functionalities like calories burned etc.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Inspirations

Broken Dreams (A wonderful poem about letting go) – Lauretta Burns

Like children, bring their broken toys
with tears for us to mend,

I brought my Broken Dreams to God,
because he was my friend

But instead of leaving them there,
for him to work alone,
I hung around, and tried to help,
with ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and said,
“My God, how could you be so slow?”

God smiled and said, “My child, what could I do,

“Out beyond the ideas

of right doing and wrong doing

there is a field,

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down

On that grass,

The world is too full to talk about

~ Mevlana Rumi

Too often we under-estimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

What life this is if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare!

~ William Shakespeare

You can dream, create, design and build the most powerful idea in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality ~ Walt Disney

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence…Two roads diverged in a wood…and I…I took the one less traveled….. and that has made all the difference… ~ Robert Frost

Tao Te Ching

“Like water you do best by doing as you go along, finding the right level, adjusting at the right time, not before, and being able to adjust again.To have the power to nourish life and wash away stone.”

“The soup bowl; useful because of the empty space within it. The wheel; useful due to the empty center it rotates upon. The Windows of your house, drawing in light, their usefulness is in their emptiness.”

“Having enough is true wealth. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Never needing to use force, you got it right,”

Starting with how the Wise take to Tao instantly, the Average try, go and come back and the Fool laughs – and how great this laughter is, because “without laughter there could be no Tao”.

“You don’t need to go anywhere as the core of it all is deep within you.”

“Those who know do not tell, and Those who tell do not know.”

“As long as you know how little you know you are well. When you think you know it all then that is a sign of being unwell. Masters know that there is more to life than can be known and they get on so well because of this.”


One such useful gadget, which is very popular in many foreign countries, and yet to catch up in India, is the Pedometer, or simply put – a device to measure the number of steps you have walked on any given day. The two basic uses of it being, recording the number of steps, and also acting as a motivator.

A Pedometer is basically a digital and electro-mechanical device, used to record the number of steps, by using sensors to detect the motion of the hips, while walking. The sensors are usually mechanical and the measured value is converted into a readable digital format by the electronic device, usually a step counter. Thus, it is usually, but not necessarily, placed around the hips, especially on the belt.

One can wear the pedometer for the whole day and count the number of steps on a daily basis, or just wear it while going for a walk or any other physical activity that involves moving around. The US norms are around 10,000 steps for achieving a healthy lifestyle.

In addition there are also many modern hi-tech gadgets that provide the Pedometer function like some mobile phones from Nokia, I-pods etc. which can be very useful too. There are also various websites that allow people to track their progress, by entering the records daily. The only limitations, which are being sorted out, are that the pedometers are not sensitive to intensity of the steps and also, unless they are well calibrated, they may record other than walking activities involving hip movement like bending down etc. also as a step, and hence give wrong outputs. Most of the latest ones available, are corrected for these limitations.

They are indeed great motivators and help in maintaining a record of the physical activities and thus monitoring the routine, thus helping to ensure that progression is carried out in the right direction.


Technological advances in all walks of life have indeed been a big boon, especially in the preventive health care domain, with the market being flooded with gadgets, for almost everything, right from monitoring blood glucose, blood pressure to even the body composition parameters like fat percentage etc.

The Fat Monitors, which have been fairly popular and common in India, since the last decade are indeed the most helpful and easy to use gadgets existing.
They work on the principle of Bio-electrical impedance, which simply means the resistance offered by the body tissues, especially the adipose (fat) tissue deposits.

They are usually of two types – portable & hand held, or fixed, like the weighing machine, with foot plates that need to be stood upon. A small electrical current signal is sent through the electrodes in contact with the human body, and the resistance is calibrated and measured. The signal travels quickly through the muscle/lean mass tissue, which have higher percentages of water and therefore are good conductors of electricity, and more slowly through fat tissues, which have a lower percentage of water and therefore are poor conductors of electricity.

All the monitors have an internal digital calculator, which then, based on standard formulae, calculates the fat percentage depending upon the measured value, and the gender, age, weight and height of the person, which have to be entered prior to switching on the device.

Some guidelines while using the machine are –
o Usually, removing of any jewellery or accessories on hands and arms are recommended.
o Using the monitor is dangerous if you are a heart patient with a pacemaker, due to interference.
o You must not be dehydrated while using the machine.
o Give adequate gap of 2 hours after a meal, to use the machine.
o Individuals, especially women with problems like water retention etc. may get inaccurate readings.

Body basics!

The ideal percentages of fat mass versus lean mass depend on gender, demographics and also the age of the individual, but the worldwide standards for minimum percent of body fat considered safe for good health is 5 percent for males and 12% for females. Around 3% of this fat is - visceral fat, which is the fat around organs, present for their protection and cushioning.
The average percentages, as per worldwide standards for adult body fat is almost to 15 to 18% for men and 22 to 25% for women.For the average Indian body, the fat percentages for Fitness are 21-24% for females, and14-17% for males, while it can be ‘Acceptable’ till 25-31% for females and 18-25% for males. A fat percentage of 32% plus for females and 25% plus puts the individual in overweight and obese categories.
These percentages are of prime importance for body-builders who train to keep the levels low, so that the definition and striations of each muscle are visible. Athletes also aim to keep it at the low end of this scale for improved results, however not at the cost of affecting their performance.
However, trying to keep the lean mass or fat mass percentages low by abusing the body through fasting or nutrient-intake restriction can have adverse effects not only the performance but also on health in general. Also, in case of extreme nutrient deficiency, our bones begin to contribute energy, and this usually leads to reduction in bone density, which again can lead to problems like brittle bones, fractures etc. Females who try to do this usually suffer from problems like irregular or no periods (amenorrhea)
The best way to lower fat percentages and keep higher lean mass percentages is by including weight training in a workout routine, rather than cutting the nutrient-intake drastically!

Body Composition & Fitness

We have been discussing the skill-related components of Fitness namely – agility, reaction time, balance, co-ordination etc.
The other important components of fitness, particularly health related are – body composition, cardio-vascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance and flexibility. Body Composition, basically represents the different aspects that constitute the total body weight of a person. These aspects include the metabolically active lean body tissues - muscle, bone and metabolically inactive tissues – adipose (fat) tissue.

Typically depending on the body type and the genetic composition of the person, his total body weight as shown by the weighing scale, is a summation of the lean and adipose tissue mass. The lean body mass is metabolically active, in that it uses up the energy stores (creatine, glucose, fat) available to sustain itself, and thus does not lead to accumulation of the energy stores. Adipose tissue mass is metabolically inactive, in that it hardly needs any energy to sustain itself and hence it has a tendency to accumulate.

The percentages of lean mass and fat mass define the over all health and fitness of an individual, and hence are important parameters, which need to be determined. Two people with the same weight and height can have completely different body compositions, which inturn will define the risk factors especially with regard to lifestyle related problems. The lean body mass is more dense and weighs more, while the fat mass is less dense (hence they say that fat people float easily when swimming!).

Body composition is also genetically and demographically affected, e.g. Indians have a tendency to have lower lean body mass percentages as compared to the west, where lean, athletic bodies are more common. Also Indians have a tendency to accumulate fat on the central regions of the body, which has a direct negative effect on cardiovascular fitness and increases the chances of lifestyle disorders like obesity, diabetes etc.
These aspects are these days commonly measured using the Fat monitors, skinfold callipers etc. in many health clubs.

Wholistic Fitness!

Its no longer sufficient to only focus on strength, stamina and suppleness as a part of one’s workout – components of fitness like balance, agility, co-ordination etc. also must be focused on to get the best out of any fitness routine, especially, as age begins to catch up with us!
A very important component, along with agility, which was discussed last week, is – balance – the ability to control the body's position, either when it is stationary or moving. This component is especially important for sportspersons, since this contributes heavily to the quality and consistency of their performance.
These components – agility, balance, co-ordination all are an outcome of well-conditioned neuro-muscular co-ordination systems in the body, which in turn depends on activities of daily living, diet and nutrition, lifestyle and occupation!
Balance, in addition is also depends on our senses – auditory, visual and kinesthetic receptors and feedback, along with the spine and brain, all of which define the state of balance while static or dynamic.

Thus, a person with a pre-dominantly sedentary lifestyle, may not have his agility and balance skills up-to the mark, which can hamper his reflexes and reaction times, unless he involves himself in other activities that challenge and develop these components, maybe in the form of games, puzzles and more!

Some tips to work on balance are –
• Un-stable surfaces used while performing the usual exercises, help develop the core and also balance skills.
• Balancing on one leg, when standing, anytime during the day, or even while exercising is a good option. An advanced version would be to stand on one leg, with your eyes closed!

Do not try stunts at home! Make sure you do it along with someone, or in a health club

Simple Agility!

Healthy reflexes are important part of Functional training, and necessary for all the activities of daily living and must form an integral part of one’s fitness training routine. This is especially so, since the speed of reflexes and agile movements decline with age or due to inadequate use!

Another important aspect is agility – that is being able to move quickly, correctly and effectively while at the same maintaining balance and co-ordination. Very interestingly, the primary reflex and agility training happens early during the childhood, and impaired development of any of the two leads to developmental problems and other problems like ADHD etc.!

While sportspeople use many drills to train for agility, as a part of their training routine, a normal person can also include some exercises to do some agility training, in a normal health club setting.

Aerobics - The regular aerobics (whether freestyle or structured) classes are a very simple way to work on agility, since they demand a lot of attention to the instructions, alertness, rapid in changes in direction, flexibility and control of movements.

Kickboxing & Martial Arts-based classes – Probably the most reputed way to work on your reflexes and agility, while focusing on the body and mind holistically.

20-feet shuttle – In the simplest ways, choose an open area and mark 2 points – Pt. A - one where you are standing and Pt. B - 20-feet away. The task is to run from A to B and then turn around at B and run back to A, and turning around at A, and repeating the shuttle between A & B, 6 times (can be varied) in as little time as possible. A stop-watch is used to mark the start and stop.

Buddy exercises – Stand pivoted at a place, and ask a buddy to throw soft, rubber balls all aimed at you, from different directions, and try to catch them, without moving the feet, while the upper body is free to move in all directions!

Training your Reflexes!!

As we enter into a new world, where “balance” is becoming the favourite word, its is appalling to see that, “balance”, literally, is hardly focused on, as an intrinsic part of the standard health club workout routine. The 3 pillars of fitness – Strength, Stamina and Suppleness, have been and still are focused on, as a priority, with other essential components like reflexes, agility, balance, co-ordination, power etc. hardly finding any place or importance.
As my friend would put it, “What is the use of a bulky & muscular or chiselled body, if you can’t run for your life, in case a dog runs after you!” True enough the fitness industry witnessed a paradigm shift, when the concept of “Functional Fitness” arrived on the scene.
Functional fitness, simply put, means focusing on those areas, which come into use during activities of daily living, on a day-to-day basis. For example, a house-maker who does activities like sweeping, mopping etc. will need to strengthen and improve the flexibility of her lowerback muscles, hamstrings and legs muscles, as well as work on her endurance levels. She benefits more by training these, on a priority rather than focusing on biceps, triceps, forearms muscles.
Functional fitness also has components like balance & co-ordination training, agility training, explosive power training among others. What makes training these components of Fitness even more important, is the fact that these tend to deteriorate with age! Our reflexes, co-ordination and other components also follow the ‘Use it or lose it” principle of Fitness.
Starting the discussion with training your Reflexes- this must focus on speeding up the reaction times and the response times. Remember, the game ‘dodgeball’ we used to play as kids! Reflexes are needed not just for sportspersons, but also in day-to-day activities like crossing the road, walking through traffic or a crowded place or may be catching something that is thrown to us or just slips our hand! Reflexes tend to dampen with age or due to not being used enough and become an important area of focus for the elderly populations too.
Another component, very close to reflexes is Agility – which refers to ability to change direction quickly with speed, but at the same time maintaining power, balance and co-ordination.

Visualize your way to health!

A paradigm that has been popular since ages, and something that has been widely researched upon - is the effectiveness of visualization as an important tool right from weight loss to even treating cancer!

Though it sounds illogical and fantasy-like, millions of people all over the world have used and continue to use visualization to get the results they want, of course complementing it with exercising and healthy food habits. Infact, it is not uncommon to find that exercising and eating healthy were a consequence of visualizing oneself in the desirable body! It has also been used popularly in sports, especially athletes, who visualize their winning performance.

The underlying beauty of the visualization process is that it honours the relation of the mind on body, instead of isolating the two or focusing on only either of them. The conscious mind has a limited capacity and is just a small part of our brain-mind system, while the sub-conscious forms the more important part, with unlimited capacity!
The effect of mind over body and its health/illness is well established and is usually categorized as ‘psychosomatic’, with many specialists, experts and therapists working in this domain.
Hence, even if we are regular and religiously do our exercise, if we have a negative image of ourselves or are unable to visualize us in our desirable bodies, the results take a long time to manifest, if they do!

Some simple and very popular tips are -
o Cut out a picture of some actor/actress or any other role model, or may be a picture of yourself from the past, and place it in front of your work-desk, or somewhere in the kitchen or even the bathroom door – any place you frequent! Give the subconscious mind something to chew on.

o Couple of times in a day, sitting/lying down in a relaxed manner, imagine yourself in the desired health or fitness level, soak in and feel the happy and positive emotions that it brings up.

Power Yoga – Discussed

Power Yoga - the latest trend to hit the fitness industry, especially in India, with many leading health clubs and individual trainers offering interesting classes and variations.
Though many hard-core Yoga followers claim that Power yoga is just some fancy mixture of exercises and hardly resembles the traditional definition of Yogasanas, Power Yoga seems to have started by two Yoga gurus following the Ashtanga Yoga style for decades.

It has also been advocated as a better way to use Yoga for weight loss which has also made it very popular amongst the ladies. Another characteristic of a Power Yoga class is that most of the time is utilized in performing the exercises and minimal time spent in relaxation postures or even chanting.

Power Yoga basically is a calorie-burning and comparatively more vigorous routine than a traditional Yoga routine, that combines cardio, strength and flexibility through Yogasanas and some additional exercises focused on aerobic movements and toning muscles especially the abs, lower back, pelvis, the postural muscles, also on building strength, enhance endurance and breathing. Most of the benefits of classical Yoga are retained, even though the method of application are different.
It also focuses on building up the metabolism through the exercises and asana postures and thus ensures a continuous burning of calories throughout the day, even when not exercising.

The same procedure of a warm-up before the Power Yoga class is used, focusing on easing up and relaxing the muscles and raising the temperatures and stimulating the blood circulation to all parts of the body.

Some benefits Power Yoga are –

o It works on strength, stamina, flexibility, reflexes and agility all in the same workout
o It focuses on boosting the metabolism and helps focus on achieving healthy body weight
o It stimulates the release feel-good hormones, and helps reduce stress levels and detox
o It retains the benefits of classical Yoga

Worldwide Trends in Fitness!

What is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’? So far this question has figured mostly with respect to fashion! However, the fitness industry is no exception! While Jane Fonda based aerobics was a craze few decades ago, we now have the REEBOK style aerobics or the spiced-up versions including our favorite Bollywood jhatkas and moves to keep the motivation up and going!
In the last decade itself, we have seen many different trends – some coming and going, while some staying on!
Some of the few trends so far, that came and also stayed are –

Circuit Training –
A highly pre-designed and planned workout, done in a normal gym setting or exclusively designed setting, Circuit training, basically consists of doing a round of around 8 – 12 exercises, focusing on all body muscles, one after the other, with no rest in between. The individual is allowed to rest, after one round (or circuit) is done, and the circuits are repeated few more times. An excellent workout to tone the muscles and also target fat, this is quite popular among ladies!

Boot-camp Workouts –
Military-style, high energy and challenging, are the words that describe this, the best. Usually a high impact, and high energy workout which involves doing a series of muscle strengthening, cardio and agility training exercises, a bootcamp session claims to burn much more calories as compared to any other group activities.
It needs a high energy instructor as well to keep the motivation up and going, as well as accompanied by some peppy music.

Pilates –
An advanced form of functional training, Pilates’s has been popularized by its sheer effectiveness in developing the core muscles which also form most of the postural muscles and thus define the quality of life. Basically, an integrated form of exercise with specific focus on the mind-body-breath connection and the art of controlling it, Pilates’ is quite a challenging workout.

Usually, a high-energy class, accompanied by fast-music, spinning has become very popular as a Cardio workout, with most health clubs in India too. A spinning cycle is a stationary cycle, although with a weighted wheel, unlike the normal cycle, which offers resistance and increases the challenge. Spinning usually requires technique and expert instructions regarding the tempo, positions, challenge levels, motivation etc. and hence there are specially certified instructors that usually conduct the class.

Outdoor training
Some health-clubs have artificial mountain-climbing walls, and other artificial set-ups that mimic outdoor activities like mountain climbing etc. Some others, also regularly take their members actually outdoors on activities like treks, mountain climbing, nature walks, jogging mornings etc. which give the members a breath of fresh air, variety and a fun alternative to working indoors all days of the week.

Theraband™ Training
Theraband™ are latex bands, of varying resistances in the lower range, ideal as a portable option to keeping fit, especially for people who travel often or prefer to work out at home. Some very important advantages are the ability to isolate and exercise some deep muscles which cannot be targeted with usual workouts, sports-specific training, re-habilitation exercises which demand low resistances, and of course the portability.

Functional Core Training
Un-stable surfaces in the form of Stability Balls, Coreboard™, Wobble boards, BOSUs and many more equipment-based workouts which target the postural muscles and core muscles, providing a functional fitness option focusing on Activities of Daily Living.

Get fit with Pilates’!

We will see a few principles which are a pre-requisite for an effective Pilates’ workout -

Continuous, Deep and Relaxed Breathing
Slow, continuous and smooth breathing forms the underlying basis of Pilates, which means without holding the breath or fast and shallow breathing. Sometimes when we have to concentrate on the movements and the speed of movements, we tend to hold our breath, and then exhale suddenly and inhale. Watching the breath while performing the movements, calls for controlled co-ordination, which is the challenge that Pilates’ offers.

An example that instructors use while exhaling is - Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry. Also the participant is instructed to be aware of the inclusion of the deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles, and stay aware throughout the workout.

In Pilates’, the group of muscles in the mid-region the body – namely the deep muscles of the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – is termed as the “Powerhouse / Core.” The focus is always to feel the energy flowing from the Powerhouse to the legs and the arms.

Performing Pilates’ needs intense concentration and focus on the breathing, the movements and the flow of energy from the powerhouse to the limbs performing the exercise. Some Instructors, re-start all the way from the beginning, if focus is lost in between a particular movement!

Control & Flowing movements
Controlled and smooth movements and breathing are an important part of performing Pilates’ effectively. This requires all of the above and a well-conditioned body. Controlled movements also improve the efficiency of the neuro-muscular system.

Thus it becomes essential to perform Pilates’ under the guidance of an expert Instructor and also get one self flexible and strong enough to perform them!

Pilates’ Mania!

Everywhere you turn these days, there are Pilates’ classes and batches coming up, claiming a multitude of benefits of following such a program.

Lets see a few details about Pilates’ –
o Pilates’ is a technique of muscle training, named after its founder Joseph Pilates, a gymnast.
o The underlying idea is to use the existing correlation between the mind and the body (namely muscles) to effectively work the latter. Most of the usual strength exercises do not emphasize enough on the importance of ‘mind’ to control the movements.
And it is a well-established fact that the mind, does indeed control the body and hence isolated approaches to Mind and Body are less effective than integrated approaches, such as all the core-training methods.
o The primary focus is on the postural muscles, mainly the core (front and back) muscles which help maintain the posture of the body, in activities of daily living and which are also prone to imbalances due to un-healthy lifestyles.
o All the techniques place great importance on getting the spinal alignment right, prior to starting any movement. This is a very fundamentally important aspect of Pilates’ training.
o Another very important part is that all movements are to be performed in ways which are highly controlled and ‘flowing’, rather than abrupt, jerky movements.
o Also, another very important area of focus is the breathing, in relation to the movements and the rhythm in which the movements are performed.
o The best feature of Pilates’ is that it does not need sophisticated equipments for getting the best out of it. There are many Pilates’ exercises that use equipments and props, but a simple mat can also be sufficient to get a good Pilates’ workout. Hence it is also possible to do it at home or when you are travelling, and can’t be regular at the gym.
o However, from the points above, it is very clear that Pilates’ is an advanced workout, requiring precise technique, control and awareness. Hence it may be a little difficult to beginners and intermediate exercisers to get the best out of it. Needless to say, it is just a matter of getting well-conditioned and then use Pilates’ as a progression tool.

Un-Stable can be good!

Un-Stability can be good, sometimes. Of course not when seen from the ‘mind’ point of view! But un-stable surfaces while performing exercises can be very useful in improving the effectiveness of your workout!

And un-stable surfaces have been popular since long and easily available in the markets in the form of REEBOK Coreboards, Wobble Boards and BOSUs and many more. There are many trends in the Fitness industry as well, which tend to fade away after the initial craze, but core-training and core-stability are some of the few concepts that are here to stay. This is also because, efficiency of the core muscles is an important factor for Activities of Daily Living – small and big, and hence core-training is very functional in nature.

The Coreboard from REEBOK is highly interesting, in that it works in three dimensions. It can tilt sideways and front and back, it can rock along the same planes, and it can also twist around the pivot, thereby giving it mobility in the third dimension as well. This is very useful in training the reflexes, balance and the side abdomen muscles and is also used in athletic training.
The Wobble boards are like a flat circular surface, placed on a half solid sphere below at the centre, and thus wobble onto either side. It is a great equipment to train for balance and co-ordination and strengthen all the core muscles.
BOSUs (Both Sides Up) look like the opposite of the Wobble boards, and resemble half cut solid spheres with the spherical portion on top. This spherical surface is used to stand on and train the muscles.

All un-stable surfaces basically recruit the neuro-muscular system and thus are very effective in reflex training, balance and co-ordination training.
Incase none of these equipments are easily accessible to you, a simple trick would be to stack the gym foam mats three or four over each other and then perform the standing exercises on them!! You will easily begin to feel your whole body working together in a co-ordinated manner to maintain stability!