Treadmill vs. Elliptical:  Which is a better fit for you?

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which is a better fit for you?

Many people ask me which cardio exercise is best for them. To answer this question, I think it’s important to take many things into account, and the following are just a few things to consider:

  1. What are your goals? Are you trying to lose weight, build muscle, improve cardiovascular health, etc?
  2. Do you have any injuries or physical limitations?
  3. What do you enjoy the most? What exercises are you the most likely to be consistent with?

The answer to these questions can be useful in designing a workout program that is right for you. Since the treadmill and the elliptical are two of the most popular cardio machines both in the gym and at home, I wanted to share an interesting article from Exercise ETC’s Review of exercise-related research that compared a brisk 2 mile walk on the treadmill versus a 2 mile run on the elliptical. The following is a summary of the pros and cons for each exercise:

  • Elliptical vs. treadmill
    • Calorie burn is the same
    • Elliptical activates the buttocks and thighs more but puts more strain on the lower back
    • Elliptical is less weight bearing than treadmill (73% vs 112% of body weight)
  • So which is best for you?
    • For weight management, both are equally as good because they burn the same calories, so pick the one you are more likely to stick with and the one that is more comfortable to you. If you can cover more distance on one of these machines than the other, I’d recommend picking that one.
    • If you have arthritis in your hips and/or knees, the elliptical may be better tolerated because it is less weight bearing.
    • If you have a lower back injury or back pain, the treadmill may be better because there is less strain on the lower back.
    • If you have bone loss (osteoporosis), the treadmill will be better for bone health because it is higher impact.

These are a few things to consider when picking an exercise. However, everyone is different, so listen to your body and see what feels best for you. Again, consistency with exercise is the most important, so be sure to pick things you like the most. Also, consider variety with your exercise routine can…it can help keep you from getting bored and will often give the best results.


Exercise after 50: What to Consider

Exercise after 50: What to Consider

In last month’s sports medicine bulletin from the American College of sports medicine, there was some interesting information about how our body responds to exercise after the age of 50.  The following are a few of the key points:

  • Strength training should be a part of a workout program because if people strength train, they can maintain their lean muscle up until about age 70.  However, if women do not strength train, they are likely to lose up to 10 pounds of lean body mass (muscle) per decade.
    • As I have written in the past, muscle is an important component to metabolism.  Because muscles require energy (or calories) to maintain themselves, you will burn more calories throughout the day if you maintain your muscle mass or build muscle.  In fact, building muscle is the only way to speed up metabolism.   So, strength training can be the best ways to prevent our metabolism from slowing down as we age.
  • Spare your joints by limiting explosive exercises (such as high jumps).
    • We lose some fast-twitch muscles as we age (these are the ones that help us sprint).  So, if you are an athlete at heart and want to remain competitive, endurance activities may be a better fit at this point in time.
      • Since the body takes longer to heal as we age and has a tendency to get stiff, spend more time on warm ups and cool downs.

        Do not use age as a reason/excuse to stop exercise.  After all, studies have also found that even 90-year olds can build muscle, but if you don’t use it you will lose it.  However, you may want to make a few adjustments to the types of exercises to keep your joints healthy and feel your best.

        “Tweaking an Exercise Routine to Stay Strong After 50,” American College of Sports Medicine, Sports Medicine Bulletin, February 18, 2014.

        Walk vs Run: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

        Walk vs Run: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

        Today, I read an interesting article about whether walking or running is a more effective way to lose weight.  This article discussed a study that put 120 overweight or obese middle-aged men and women into four test groups:

        • Group 1 walked 11 miles per week (or did equivalent intensity exercise on the elliptical/bicycle)
        • Group 2 ran 11 miles per week (or did equivalent intensity exercise on the elliptical/bicycle)
        • Group 3 ran 17 miles per week (or did equivalent intensity exercise on the elliptical/bicycle)
        • Group 4 was a control group and did no exercise

        All groups were asked not to make changes to their diets.  The results showed that those who walked 11 miles per week and those that ran 11 miles per week lost the same amount of weight (3 pounds over 6 months).  The group that ran 17 miles per week lost more (8 pounds in 6 months).

        This study once again proves that exercise intensity does not matter for weight loss, but it is more the total number of calories you burn (and walking or running a mile burns approximately the same number of calories).  However, it does take more time to walk those miles than it takes to run them.  For example, walking 11 miles takes approximately 3 hours per week while running the same distance takes only 2 hours per week.

        So, when it comes to weight loss, I recommend doing the exercise you like best.  For some, that would be exercising at a higher intensity (i.e. running) because they would rather spend less time exercising.  For others, that may be walking because it does not feel as difficult or because of physical limitations.  In addition, many studies have found that walking is the exercise people are most likely to stick with long term, and this study proves that it can be as effective as running for weight loss if you are willing to go the distance.

        However, I feel it is important to mention that there are some cardiovascular benefits to getting your heart rate up.  So, it can be good to do brief periods with increased intensity during your walk to achieve those benefits as well.  This could be achieved by increasing your pace or incline for a few one-minute intervals during the workout.

        Lastly, I know many people would see the weight loss numbers from this study (3 pounds in 6 months) and feel that it’s not worth the effort.  I would argue that exercise is extremely helpful for weight management for a few reasons:

        • It is the only way to build muscle/increase metabolism
        • Studies have found that people can lose weight without exercise, but 90% of people who maintain a weight loss do it through a combination of diet and exercise

        So, while weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise, they both go hand in hand for a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight!

        For more information, read the entire article entitled “Walking vs. Running: Are they Equally Effective for Weight Loss?” posted on NutritionAction.Com.

        Feeling Stressed During the Holidays: Exercise May be the Answer

        Feeling Stressed During the Holidays: Exercise May be the Answer

        From both personal and professional experience, I have known that exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress levels.  Even though it has been known for some time that exercise can help to calm stress levels, researchers have not understood why.  However, new research may be uncovering how exercise reduces stress levels.

        Research done on mice found that when they were exposed to stress, excitable neurons in the brain lit up as expected.  What they didn’t expect, is that “fit” mice released more neurotransmitters that help prevent these excitable neurons from becoming overactive than unfit mice.  The researchers believe that humans are likely to have this same response.  So, in other words, the environmental stress we are dealing with sends a signal to our brain telling it to get excited and then we begin to feel “stressed out”.  However, if you exercise regularly and are more fit, then your body will better be able to handle these stressors because your body will also produce more signals telling your brain to calm down.

        While the holidays are one of the most wonderful times of the year, they can also be the most stressful for many people and exercise is often the first thing to go.  Perhaps, exercise may be even more important right now and may be the thing that really will help to make this a happy holiday season.

        So, I wish you a fit holiday season that leads to a Happy New Year!

        Source: Health and Science, The Week, July 26th, 2013, page 19.

        Can I Eat Anything I Want with Exercise?   A Closer Look at the Calories In vs. Calories Out Equation

        Can I Eat Anything I Want with Exercise? A Closer Look at the Calories In vs. Calories Out Equation

        Many people falsely believe that because they exercise that they can eat anything that they want and they will meet their weight loss goals or will be able to maintain their weight.  This is simply not the case because it is very easy to “undo” the hard work that you put in at the gym with a poor food choice or two.  Nutrition and exercise go hand and hand for overall health and weight management. 

        The following is a list of a few high-calorie foods and how much exercise it would take for a 150 pound person to burn off the calories.

        Food Calories Consumed Exercise required to burn calories
        Glazed Donut from Dunkin Donuts 260 Run (or walk) 2 ½ Miles
        Grande (16 oz) Caffé Mocha w/ whipped cream from Starbucks 330 1 ½ hours of weight lifting (moderate intensity)
        Bagel w/ Cream Cheese from average deli 500 1 hour of swimming laps (moderate intensity)
        Medium French Fries from Wendy’s 428 45 minutes on elliptical (moderate intensity)
        1 Cup Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream 460 1 hour of doubles tennis
        Blueberry Muffin (Average Coffee Shop Size) 430 45 Minutes of biking 12-14 mph (moderate intensity)
        20 oz Bottle of Soda 240 50 Minutes of Water Aerobics

        The amount of calories burned does vary based on body weight.  For example, if someone weighs more than 150 pounds, they will burn more calories when they complete the same exercise.  If someone weighs less, their calorie burn with exercise will be lower.

        In my opinion, there are two healthy ways to view this information, you can think:

        1. “I didn’t just work that hard to eat something so small that lasts only for 1 minute.  It’s just not worth it.”


        2. “If I eat this donut and I know I have to walk 2 ½ miles to burn it off, is it still worth it?”

        I know based on this information, some people may be tempted to say that exercise isn’t worth it if you only burn such a small amount of calories.  However, it is important to note that 90% of people who are able to maintain a weight loss do it through a combination of both diet and exercise. So, if you want to be successful at weight management, the odds are that you will need to watch what you eat and exercise.  A popular saying states that diet is 80% of the weight management equation and exercise is 20%.  Based on the above numbers, that actually may be true.  However, no matter which way you look at it, they are both essential for good health and weight management.

        Protein: Updates on Recommended Levels and Timing of Intakes

        Protein: Updates on Recommended Levels and Timing of Intakes

        In the latest issue of my Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Newsletter, I read in interesting article with some updates to the current protein recommendations.

        To start, it is important to understand that one of the main functions of protein in the body is to build and maintain muscle mass.  Without adequate protein each day, we will begin to lose muscle which ultimately will lead to declines in strength and metabolism.  In addition to taking in the appropriate amount of protein, it has been known for some time that the quality and timing of intakes also affect our muscles.

        How Much Protein Do We Need?

        The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) standards set for protein levels were developed to establish a minimum amount that would be adequate to meet the needs of most healthy people.  The RDA for protein is set at .8 grams protein per kg body weight or .36 grams per pound of weight.  (To calculate your protein needs, you can take your weight in pounds times 0.36.)

        New research has found that this minimum recommendation may not be enough for most people, and higher protein intakes can help to not only build/maintain muscle but also with the treatment of obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

        Based on the new research, it would be prudent to aim for a number above the minimum.  However, while adequate protein is important, there is only so much protein your body can use efficiently.  Heavy weight lifters (the group of healthy individuals with the highest protein needs), can really only utilize about 0.77 gm/ pound.

        Therefore, based on current research, I came up with a chart reflects an appropriate protein range for individuals at various weights (athletes would likely need to stick closer to the middle to high end of the range, while sedentary people would probably be fine at the low end of the range):

        Body Weight

        Recommended protein range

        120 pounds

        54-92 gm

        140 pounds

        63-108 gm

        160 pounds

        72-124 gm

        180 pounds

        81-138 gm

        200 pounds

        90-154 gm

        What are the new recommendations with timing of protein intakes?

        It has also been found that our body can only utilize the protein we eat to build muscle for about 3 hours following a meal.  Also, when we are not in the muscle building phase because we just consumed protein, our body is actively breaking down muscle.

        Therefore, it is recommended to spread protein intakes out fairly evenly throughout the day.  Additionally, consuming about 30 grams of protein per meal may be optimal to maintain healthy muscles and bones.  So, if someone consumes 90 grams of protein per day, they are going to build/maintain more muscle if they have 30 grams at breakfast, 30 gm at lunch and 30 grams at dinner than if they consumed most of the protein at the evening meal, which is the typical consumption pattern of Americans.  In fact, most Americans consume 10% of their protein at breakfast, 20% at lunch and 60% at dinner (with the remainder at snacks).  This is not ideal for maintaining lean mass or bone health.

        So, Does it Matter Where the Protein Comes From?

        All protein sources are made up of amino acids, one of which is Leucine.  New research has found that Leucine is an important amino acid which is needed to build muscle.  All high quality protein sources do contain Leucine, but animal products, like dairy, eggs, beef chicken pork and fish contain more Leucine than vegetarian sources such as beans, legumes, nuts, soy products, lentils, asparagus, peas, etc.  Therefore, vegetarians and vegans may need to pay extra special attention to protein intakes to ensure they are getting adequate protein and leucine.

        In summary, the latest research gives evidence that protein intakes for good health may be slightly higher than previously thought.  Also, it would be smart to eat at least three meals a day and aim to have a good protein source at every meal.  The following is a chart that lists the protein content of some common high protein foods to get you started.

        Type of Food Protein (grams per serving) What is a serving?
        Meat (beef, poultry, pork, fish) 21 gm 3 oz (size of a deck of cards)
        Egg 6gm 1 egg
        Milk and Yogurt 8gm 8 oz Milk, 8 oz Yogurt
        Cheese 7gm 1 oz (1 standard slice)
        Beans 8gm ½ Cup
        Nuts 2-10gm 1 oz
        Seeds 5gm 1 oz
        Updated Exercise Guidlines by American College of Sports Medicine

        Updated Exercise Guidlines by American College of Sports Medicine

        Frequently, people ask me “how much exercise and what type of exercise should I be doing?”  While the answer varies depending on individual goals (weight loss, muscle gain, general health, etc.), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) does provide some guidelines to follow.     In July, ACSM just released new recommendations.

        The recommendations for cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are similar, but they do add in some recommendations on flexibility exercises (stretching) and nueromotor exercises (balance and coordination) to help improve “functional fitness”.  To view a chart with a good summary of the recommendations, click here.

        Exercise Your Way to a Longer Life

        Exercise Your Way to a Longer Life

        Want to live longer?  Here’s an interesting fact about exercise.  A research study followed over 9,750 men over the course of 5 years.  A maximal exercise test was done in the beginning and at the end of the study to determine fitness levels; the findings show a strong correlation between fitness levels and mortality rates.  Here is what the results showed:

        • Men who were fit at the beginning and end had the lowest mortality rate
        • Men who were unfit at the beginning and end had the highest mortality rate
          • Specifically, there was a 44% reduction in mortality risk in the fit men compared to the unfit men
        • Men who went from unfit to fit over the period of 5 years also reduced their mortality rate
          • In fact, it was estimated that there was around an 8% decrease in mortality risk for every extra minute a man improved on his exercise test from the beginning of the study

        So, what is the take home message?  Message number one: Fitness levels can have a significant impact on how long you live and can prevent premature death.  The more fit you are, the less likely you are to die of heart disease and other illnesses.  Message number two: It is never too let to start exercising.  Even if you haven’t been fit your entire life, starting an exercise program can still greatly reduce mortality rates and also can improve quality of life an overall well being.  So, there’s no better time than today to get started with an exercise program if you aren’t already involved in one currently.

        Reference: Changes in Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality.  Journal of the American Medical Association.

        Self Monitoring Proven to Help Once Again

        Self Monitoring Proven to Help Once Again

        This month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, an article was written about the importance of self-monitoring in weight loss.  Researchers reviewed the findings from 22 studies that looked at how self-monitoring effected weight loss outcomes.  They found that there was a “consistent and significant positive relationship between self-monitoring diet, physical activity or weight and successful outcomes related to weight management”.

        So, what types of techniques were used to self monitor?  People either used written or electronic food journals to track their intakes, and both techniques were found to help with weight loss.  Perhaps more studies need to be done on which type of record is the most beneficial, but I would say that each person should use what ever type of record is easiest for them.  The one thing that has been determined, is that keeping food journals daily is more beneficial then back filling (trying to remember what you ate for the past few days).

        The researchers also found that that people who weigh themselves weekly (and keep record of this weight) lost more weight than those who weighed themselves less frequently.  Lastly, they found that keeping record of exercise can help with weight loss as well.  The bottom line is, write it down!  The self awareness can help to promote positive changes and can expedite the weight loss.

        Although I have written on this topic before, I think it is a message that is worth repeating.  After all, if there is something that has been proven to help with weight loss over and over again, why not take advantage…especially when it costs you nothing!  Check out my previous post for Good Apps and Websites to Track Intakes.

        Referance:  Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA.  Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  January 2011, 92-102.

        A Walk a Day May Keep the Doctor Away During the Cold and Flu Season

        A Walk a Day May Keep the Doctor Away During the Cold and Flu Season

        With cold and flu season coming up, we often start to take measures to prevent getting sick.  We wash our hands frequently, take vitamin C and try to avoid sick people.  While these are all good measures to take, you can also add working out to the list.  This week, yet another research study was released that confirms that exercise is one of the best ways to prevent the common cold and minimize symptoms if you do get sick.

        The new research found that exercise gets your immune cells moving at an accelerated rate for about 3 hours after a workout which helps protect against colds.  Since this effect is only temporary, it is recommended to exercise more frequently to keep up this boost in the immune system.  In fact, the researchers found that people who exercise for 30 minutes 5 times per week not only got less colds but the length of the colds were about 45% shorter compared to those who exercise one time per week or not at all.  They also found that the fittest individuals had symptoms that were ~40% less severe than those who were less fit.

        So, stay active to stay healthy this holiday season.

        Check out “Regular Workouts Ward Off the Common Cold” released yesterday by for the full story.