Monthly Archives: April 2017

Inflammation and CRP

I went to St. Louis for a few days with the family.  We had a great time!  We went to a baseball game at Busch Stadium, visited the zoo, saw the arch, and did lot’s of walking.  I was able to hit the hotel treadmill for a 5 mile run.  I didn’t feel comfortable running outside alone in a “new to me” city.  Some snap shots from St. Louis…..

Now, lets discuss inflammation.  Is it good? Is it bad?  Inflammation is an important part of health as it plays a role in fighting infections and helps in repairs and healing.  What we don’t want is chronic, low-grade inflammation.  This leads to damaged cells, organs, and tissues leading to loss of function and a bunch of other problems.  Chronic inflammation is also known to cause weight gain.

Currently, there isn’t a specific test for inflammation.  The best test is to measure blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP).  CRP is a substance produced by the liver in response to inflammation.  There are no noticeable symptoms when CRP levels are high.

Being health conscience, I really wanted to get my CRP level tested.  Data suggests that chronic low-level inflammation can lead to serious diseases such as heart disease, some forms of cancer, and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Also, I’ve been dealing with knee pain and couldn’t help but wander if I had chronic low-level inflammation.

I made an appointment with a functional medicine doctor and got my CRP level tested (among other things).  I was surprised to find out my level was 1.85.  It wasn’t dangerously high, but higher than I wanted.  Here are the ranges:

<1.0  = low risk           1.0-3.0 = average risk            >3.0 = high risk

The plan was to get my level below 1.0.  My follow up appointment was 3 months later, so during that time I made some changes.  Not surprisingly, what we eat has a huge impact on inflammation.  Certain foods cause inflammation while other foods contain nutrients that help control it.

The changes I made weren’t drastic or difficult.  One thing I needed to do was boost my Vit D.  I was deficient (and have been in the past) so now I am consistent with taking a Vit D3 supplement daily.

I eliminated gluten.  Gluten is known to be inflammatory for some people.  Everyone is different and you have to decide for yourself if you feel better not eating it.  I pretty much eat gluten free all the time, but it sneaks in every once in a while.  I can usually tell the next day after eating gluten.  Dairy can also be inflammatory for some individuals.

I added a fish oil supplement.  I was hesitant about taking this, as I hear mixed opinions on taking fish oil.  My doctor said quality definitely matters when it comes to fish oil.  So if you take it, I would get it from a reputable source.  Or eat fatty fish once or twice a week!

When I went back for my follow-up appointment 3 months later, I was happy to find out my CPR level was 0.64.  Now, it’s hard to pin point what change was most effective, but it was most likely a combination.

Here are some ways to help decrease inflammation in your body:

  • Get your sunshine! Appropriate vit D levels are associated with less inflammation
  • Get regular exercise
  • Increase omega-3 intake either thru a supplement or fatty fish (I have mixed feelings on the vegetarian omega-3. There are so many different opinions. I have always eaten plenty of flax and chia seeds but maybe not enough to get the proper amount of omega-3’s. There is also a plant algae option)
  • Cut back on sugar and white flour (no surprise here!)
  • Increase antioxidants by eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Enjoy chocolate in moderation (quality dark chocolate)
  • Utilize herbs such as turmeric, curcumin (found in turmeric), ginger
  • Avoid trans-fats (hydrogenated oils)
  • Identify any food allergies or intolerances
  • Tart cherries have powerful anti-inflammatory properties

Keep in mind that inflammation is not always a bad thing as it is necessary for the healing process.   My focus here is chronic inflammation.  I am aware that some people may never know their C-reactive protein level or don’t care to know.   I like finding out what’s going on in my body and just want to feel my best and live a healthy life.  By following these suggestions, you will help fine-tune your inflammatory system and encourage overall health!

Do you take a fish oil supplement?

Do you do anything in particular to ease inflammation?



My Favorite Machine at the Gym

The first gym I ever belonged to was called Victory Lady Fitness, a gym just for women.  I was in my early twenties and this was a good option at the time.  I learned how to use the machines and free weights.  I took a few “aerobic” classes and went quite often.  I have fond memories of Victory Lady!

Currently, I belong to Planet Fitness.  I’ve been a member for a little over a year now.  Before joining a gym, I did all of my strength work at home with dumbbells, exercise bands or using my own bodyweight.  Having some weights at home is so convenient, but belonging to a gym is a nice change.  Plus there are many more options!

I have always wanted to be able to do pull-ups.  I remember in gym class (I think around 6-7th grade) we had to attempt to do a pull-up.  I think there were only two girls that could actually do them!  I so badly wanted to do at least one.  But it never happened.

Enter the weight assisted pull-up machine.  I remember using this machine at Victory Lady but it was so long ago.  I was intimidated by the machine when I saw it at Planet Fitness.  It took several months before I tried it.

Unlike all the other weight machines, the less weight you use on the pull-up machine, the more difficult it is.  I like to think of it as a scale, where your body weight is in balance with the weight used on the machine.  The less weight you select, the harder the pull-up becomes because you are using more of your body weight.  A good amount of weight to start with might be half your body weight.  Then you can progress from there by decreasing the weight and eventually use only your body weight.

You can also try out different hand grips such as palms in, palms out, wide grip, or hands closer together.  Pull-ups target primarily the latissimus dorsi muscle of the back, but also uses many other upper body muscles such as your biceps, chest, and upper back (rhomboids).  When doing the exercise, you want to make sure to brace your abdominal muscles to help stabilize the spine.

Another thing that I like about this machine is that you can also perform triceps dips.  This targets the triceps muscle which is on the upper backside of your arm and runs from your shoulder to elbow.  (this is a great exercise to tone your arms!)

Doing pull-ups definitely makes me feel strong!  This exercise will help strengthen your upper body as well as tighten your core.  Being able to lift your own body weight is a great goal to have.  Eventually, I would like to get a pull-up bar to use at home.  They are fairly inexpensive and fit most doorway frames.  It would be a great piece of equipment to add to any home gym!

Do you belong to a gym?

Have you tried the assisted pull-up machine?



Overtraining?

With all the hype of the Boston Marathon and other spring races quickly approaching, it’s so easy to be consumed with training plans and progress.  Wanting to hit that PR or personal goal.  How do we find the right balance of training and recovery?  I wish I could run EVERY day, but I know this isn’t the best way to keep my body healthy, strong, and injury free.

Starting around the end of last summer, my legs were constantly sore.  Every run.  Was I experiencing symptoms of overtraining?  My weekly mileage wasn’t very high, but maybe I wasn’t allowing my body to fully recover after each workout.

Overtraining is when you give your body more work or stress than it can handle.  Our bodies need proper rest and recovery time.  In many instances, overtraining occurs when athletes are trying to attain a competitive edge or when someone is preparing for an event or even exercising harder trying achieve weight loss.

Symptoms of overtraining are a combination of physical and emotional factors.  This implies that “the anxiety and psychological demands associated with physical competition may be sources of intolerable emotional distress.”

Studies have shown that athletes working under the direction of a coach almost always work harder and longer than their coach intended for them on designated recovery days.  Failure to have proper recovery days tends to negatively affect your next workout.  You won’t be able to train as hard or as long.

To stay injury free and get the most out of your training program, it’s important to know the signs of overtraining.  Of course, these symptoms can be due to other factors, so it’s essential to be aware of how your body responds to increases in training.   If you have one or more symptoms then it’s probably wise to take a step back and reassess your training plan.

The primary signs and symptoms of overtraining include:

  1. A decline in physical performance with continued training
  2. Elevated heart rate
  3. Change in appetite
  4. Weight loss
  5. Sleep disturbances
  6. Multiple colds or sore throats
  7. Irritability, restlessness, anxiousness
  8. Loss of motivation and vigor
  9. Lack of mental concentration and focus
  10. Lack of appreciation for things that are normally enjoyable
  11. Chronic soreness

So how do we avoid this overtraining syndrome?  Most importantly, make sure that recovery days are true recovery days.  During recovery is when our bodies adapt to the changes brought on by hard training sessions.  Training programs should consist of a regular cycle of hard and easy days, hard and easy weeks, and hard and easy months.  Gradually progressing the overload, but then allowing the body to recover.

A rule of thumb is that there shouldn’t be any more than 4 hard-training days per week.  Data suggests that it’s even a better option to perform three intense workouts per week rather than do the same workload over 7 days.  Apparently the secret to athletic success is to really recover on recovery days!

Everyone responds to training differently.  That is why it’s important to be in tune with your body and learn to recognize the symptoms of overtraining.  It’s easy to have the mindset of “if I do more, then I will get better.”  But this will most likely backfire and lead to exhaustion or injury.

How many days per week do you train?

What do you do on your recovery days?