The Glycemic Index: What You Should Know

Your body is full of delicate balancing acts. Different chemicals are constantly competing to counteract each other and keep things running smoothly, in a process clinically known as homeostasis. This ability to self-regulate allows our bodies to maintain a healthy temperature, blood pressure and water levels. Another important example of homeostasis that has been receiving a lot of attention lately is blood sugar, or blood glucose.

Many diet programs utilize the glycemic index, a measure of how food affects your blood sugar levels, to achieve certain health benefits. How is blood sugar naturally controlled? How does food affect our blood sugar? What benefits can you expect from monitoring the glycemic index of your diet?

How Blood Sugar Works

Sugar, in the form of glucose, is used throughout your body as fuel at the cellular level. Generally, a healthy level of glucose in your blood is between 90 and 110 mg/dl, which ensures your cells have all the fuel they need to get their job done without being damaged. These levels are maintained by two hormones, insulin and glucagon, both released by the pancreas.

Insulin is the weapon of choice when blood sugar levels are too high. Once it’s in the bloodstream, insulin makes the cells absorb more sugar and tells the liver to store some for later use. This pulls the sugar from the blood and stops any potential damage.

Glucagon is released when blood sugar levels are too low and basically undoes the effects of insulin. This hormone signals to the liver that it’s time to release stored glucose into the blood, raising sugar levels.

When you eat, the carbohydrates in your food are broken down into sugar, which causes a spike in your blood sugar levels. In response, your body begins the cycle of insulin and glucagon to try to regain balance. The varying effects of food on your blood sugar is called the glycemic index (GI). Foods with a high GI are absorbed rapidly, making your blood sugar shoot up quickly and then plummet when insulin is released. Low GI foods digest slower and do not have such a drastic effect on your blood sugar.

Can It Help You Lose Weight?

Various diets attempt to control your blood sugar levels by means of this glycemic index, focusing on foods with a low GI that will have little effect on your blood sugar.

Although this type of diet is beneficial for people with blood sugar issues, diabetes or other related conditions, it is frequently used for weight loss. By nature, this diet will limit your intake of high-carb foods since these typically have a high GI. Compared to other low or no carb diets, though, a glycemic index diet is generally easier to follow because you don’t have to count carbs. This accessibility and sustainability make a glycemic index diet attractive. But does it work?

Lab results are mixed. Some studies have shown no more weight loss from following a GI diet than from following any other program, while others demonstrate a much higher potential for weight loss. Part of the problem could be the wide variation in GI diets leading to an inconsistency in testing. Usually, however, the GI diets that do cause weight lose encourage high fiber and protein intake which contributes to lower portions.

If you do plan on following a GI diet, Dr. David Katz, writing for U.S. News, stresses the importance of using the GI only for its intended purpose: measuring the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar. Katz points out that these diets pay no attention to other vital nutrients like protein, fats and fiber and paint an unbalanced view of nutrition.

For weight loss, the GI can be incredibly useful to help you decide which carbohydrates to eat, but should be used in conjunction with a balanced diet.

Performance Enhancing Potential

Because carbohydrates are the main fuel used during endurance training, it seems logical that a high GI drink during exercise would be useful. However, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found no difference in performance from high or low GI drinks. The researchers did note, though, that a low GI meal before exercise lessened the effects of cortisol, which causes your body to store fat.

Have you followed a glycemic index diet? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Antioxidants, Free-radicals and You

“Antioxidant” has become one of the most persistent, and successful, buzzwords in the fitness industry. The substances are portrayed almost as microscopic superheros, patrolling our bodies to fight against the evil free radicals. Prevailing theories tell us that antioxidants fight cancer, aging and just about every other disease and condition out there. But emerging science has shown this view to be a potentially dangerous oversimplification of a very complicated system.

What is the role of antioxidants, then? Are free radicals really the villainous molecular marauders that they’re made out to be? Is there any harm in antioxidant supplementation?

Poor, Misunderstood Free Radicals

Even at the molecular level, everything likes to be in balance. One of the ways that molecules maintain their balance is by having pairs of electrons. When a molecule has a lonesome, unpaired electron, it becomes a thief and tries to steal an electron from a neighboring molecule. The victim now becomes a thief, trying to replace its lost electron. These are free radicals and, through their criminal activity, they damage cell walls and cause disease.

It is true that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging further cells but this is only part of the story.

Free radicals aren’t all bad and, in small doses, may even be vital since they are used in energy production at a cellular level. Certain free radicals, like those produced by hydrogen peroxide, actually play a key role in a healthy immune system. This means that megadoses of antioxidants, which destroy these free radicals, may be counterproductive, according to several studies.

The Science

The chief study that points to the benefits of the much maligned free radicals was conducted in 2010 by researchers at the Department of Biology at McGill University of Montreal, Canada. The study found that worms that had higher levels of free radicals actually live longer than normal worms. Additionally, when the worms were given antioxidants, their lifespan returned to a normal length. More research is needed, though, to fully understand this relationship as well as the effects in humans.

It also worth noting that, despite all the positive press, there is no research that conclusively proves all of the touted benefits of antioxidants. In fact, beta carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C have all produced lackluster results in studies on human. Beta carotene supplementation actually increased the risk of lung cancer by 28 percent and the death rate by 17 percent, in one study. An extensive U.S. Women’s Health Study also suggested that vitamin C supplements could accelerate atherosclerosis in diabetics.

Should You Supplement?

Each of these studies on various antioxidants are performed with a pure extract of the substance and point to something interesting: Taking supplements that contain the purified forms of the compound is no substitute for a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

The tests that initially led to the fame of antioxidants were performed in a test tube, not in the human body. When they were reproduced in humans, researchers found that the antioxidants had little to no effect since the human body only uses specific forms of the substances and excretes the rest.

People who already have a deficiency in a given antioxidant, vitamin E for example, are the exception. But you should only supplement under the direction of a doctor since even these substances can have side effects when taken in large doses.

As is the case with most health and fitness topics, balance is the key. Science still cannot full explain the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants, apart from knowing that they are both important in the right doses. The safest course, then, is to stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and let your body do the rest.


Turn Over a New Leaf with Fall Resolutions

AutumnFall has always symbolized a new start for me and many parents sending kids back to school. It’s been the time of year to shop for new clothes and school supplies; to start going to bed a little earlier as the sun sets sooner, and to plan for the months ahead.

The crispness in the air invigorates and inspires me. It’s a perfect time to make changes as we hit the ground running after a lazy summer. And it seems like a better time to tackle the world — or at least our own imperfections — than waiting till January 1 and the dead of winter when all you feel like doing is hibernating and drinking hot tea!

But I’m not talking about making resolutions that you can’t keep — lose 10 pounds, organize the house, etc. When goals are too big, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

Fall resolutions, on the other hand, can be realistic goals you hope and plan to accomplish, even if it’s just one modest step at a time. And if you haven’t reached any by New Year’s Day, there’s a second chance to make that list!

So here are some of my resolutions/goals for the rest of the year to keep me happy, healthy and sane. Will you join me?

1. Help the environment more by reducing, reusing, recycling. I’m already pretty good at this, but I think it’s a great idea to try to discard as little as possible. I bring my used batteries and ink cartridges to Staples for recycling. I drop off my husband’s old socks and t-shirts at the church around the corner for the homeless. I bring books to the library for their book sales.

2. Try something new. I often walk around a farmer’s market eyeing the vegetables I don’t know, but somehow I still seem to head for the tried and true. For my fall resolution, I vow to try a strange new vegetable. Who knows? I may have a new fave to add to my repertoire and liven up my cooking and my health.

3.  Start meditating a little each day. I’ve heard it does wonders to step off the merry-go-round of life for just 10 minutes when you are at your wits’ end…or even better, before you get there. According to Stephan Bodian, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Meditation For Dummies, meditation lowers stress, increases energy and creativity, reduces pain and helps create more loving relationships. Sounds good to me!

4. Move more. I try to exercise frequently, but I still wait for the elevator. No more. Unless I’m carrying heavy items, I’m taking the stairs. Did you know how much electricity you can save this way, never mind the calories you burn?

5. Take smaller bites. And I don’t mean of food. We all get overwhelmed by too big a plan, so I’m going to start small. I’m going to clear out one drawer at a time, not tackle a whole room. It’s all part of having a well organized life; take it one step at a time and it will add up.

6. Do something for myself every day.  After 23 years of parenting, both of my kids are on their own. Now that my daily duties are cut drastically, I should have more time for myself. So this fall I will allow myself the time to play Words With Friends without feeling guilty; to watch a reality TV show or to window shop. I deserve it. We all deserve it.

7. Do it now!  And I mean everything. Don’t put off anything from a doctor’s appointment to calling an old friend. Waiting can never help, but it can hurt you with missed opportunities or worse. I’ve learned this the hard way, yet I am still putting things off. I’m going to try to be better….I promise.

What goals have you set for yourself for the rest of the year? Let us know if you are able to keep them.

Shin splints: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Shin splints are one of the most frustrating things a runner will ever encounter. And chances are, most runners will deal with them at one point or another. In fact, shin splints make up more than 13 percent of all injuries suffered by runners.

Since this condition is so common, it makes sense to prepare yourself for it by learning how to prevent, identify and treat shin splints.

Causes and Symptoms

Shin splints, known in the medical community as tibial stress syndrome, are not a condition in and of themselves but are generally just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Since, like all pains, shin splints can be a signal that something else is going on, it’s important to know whether or not what you’re dealing with is indeed shin splints.

The pain we call shin splints is a dull, throbbing ache in the front of the lower leg. This can manifest during or after exercise, either along the edges of the shin bone or deeper in the muscle. In some cases, the pain is constant but the area can also be more sensitive to touch. As with any persistent pain, you should get your doctor’s opinion on the best course of treatment.

A medical professional’s input is especially important in shin splints because they can be a symptom of stress fractures. These tiny, hairline breaks in the bone can happen without your knowledge and require medical attention so that your bone heals properly.

Over-pronation, an incorrect stride associated with flat feet, can also cause shin splints. In these cases, the natural arch in the soles of your feet are pressed flat when from the impact of each step. This stretches the muscles and tendons in an unhealthy and unnatural way that will lead to tibial stress. Many people have flexible flat feet and don’t realize it until they run on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.

The most common cause of shin splints, though, is overuse. Working your lower legs too hard or too often will cause the muscles to swell and become irritated. Of course, what is too hard or too often will depend on your fitness level and may take some experimentation at first.


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and shin splints are no exception to this rule. Even when the pain is minor, shin splints can potentially keep you from running for weeks and slow you down even once you start your training again. Fortunately, preventing shin splints is pretty simple.

Before you even hit the road, the first thing you need to do is select your perfect running shoes. These shoes will have good padding and promote a healthy stride, with a mid-foot strike.

Be warned: too much padding is very possible. If the soles of your shoes are overly-thick, it will be more tempting for you to adopt a heel-strike and several other bad habits. You want to land on the middle of your foot and roll forward to the balls of your feet. Also, consider investing in arch-support inserts if you have flat feet. Even once you have your ideal shoes, avoid running on inflexible surfaces that can wreak havoc on your arches.

Once all your footwear is in order, you’re almost ready to run. First, don’t forget to stretch and warm-up. These are often neglected aspects of runners’ training, generally left out to save time. All it takes, though, is a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, including a few stretches before and after, to help prevent shin splints.

Finally, don’t overdo it. Runners, and athletes in general, have a habit of pushing through pain, but this could just cause more injury and keep you down for longer periods of time. If you feel pain during your workout, stop running.


If, despite your best efforts, you have shin splints, the best possible treatment, regardless of the underlying cause, is something terrifying to all athletes: Rest.

Your body will act to repair the damage on its own if you give it the chance. One of the most productive things you can do is work to lessen the inflammation. Ice your shins for 20 minutes every three hours until the pain goes away. Aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers can also help, but should only be taken regularly under a doctor’s direction.

Once the pain subsides and you decide to brave another run, start slowly. Don’t try to pick up your training right where you left off. Start with slow jogs and listen to your body for any signals. Your legs will tell you how much they can take.

For more serious and persistent cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and mobility exercises.

Have you struggled with and overcome shin splints? Please share your tips with us in the comments!


How to Chose a Multivitamin

In a recent post, we discussed the research surrounding multivitamins and their potential health benefits. Although some of the studies contradict each other, and some researchers still insist that there are dangers associated with these common supplements, they are widely used. If you do decide to take a multivitamin, how should you chose one from the dizzying selection available? What should you look for, and what should you avoid?

Keep It Basic

A recent trend amongst multivitamin manufacturers is the “special formula.” They tout heart health, extra energy, weight loss, improved memory or any number of other benefits — and sell these extra benefits for a higher price. Generally, though, these claims are untested, and often include ingredients that are not backed by the FDA. According to product review site Consumer Search, the uncertainty and risk aren’t worth the added cost.

Avoid Megadoses

Megadosing, or taking doses much higher than the recommended daily allowance, is also a common practice. It’s especially popular to take enormous doses of vitamin C, based on the thought that you can’t have too much of a good thing. Although the benefits of megadosing some substances, like vitamin C, are still heavily debated, other vitamins and minerals are known conclusively to be toxic in high doses. Potentially toxic ingredients include vitamin A, vitamin D and iron. To avoid the dangers associated with megadoses, do not take multivitamins that contain more than 100 percent of the recommended daily value.

Don’t look at a dosage of less than 100 percent of the  daily value as a sign of low quality. In fact, this may be a safer approach, considering that you also receive vitamins and minerals from your daily diet.

Ignore “Quality” Claims

Another claim that’s appearing with increasing frequency is that of “pharmaceutical grade” quality. These companies contend that their multivitamins are made in strictly controlled facilities, and so are of a higher overall quality than their competitors. However, research doesn’t show any increased efficacy from these pharmaceutical grade supplements, and the FDA doesn’t recognize or endorse these labels. So even though these companies may hold themselves to a higher standard, there is no evidence that their products work any better.

Consider Store Brands

Consumer Search, in comparing multivitamins, found that generic brands are just as good as pricier options. The supplements dissolved cleanly and easily, and accurately contained what the labels stated, two extremely important factors in deciding the quality of a multivitamin.

Do Your Research

Take the time to compare several brands of multivitamin, and research their quality once you have it narrowed down. Several online services offer quality comparisons between popular brands, including laboratory tests, to make sure that they contain what the labels say they contain and in the amounts stated. This a a key step — some subpar brands have even been found to contain toxic substances like lead.

Part of doing your research includes talking to your doctor. You may have a condition or health consideration that affects your need for certain vitamins and minerals. In addition, some medications can interact negatively with even something as gentle as a multivitamin, and your doctor should be able to warn you about any such possibilities.

Do you have any tips on what to look for in picking a multivitamin? Please share it with us in the comments!


Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

According to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel. Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising, then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

How Blood Sugar Works

The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop.

When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel — in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Your Balance

Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia, though, is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, discuss your hypoglycemia with your doctor, since it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes.

Have you ever experienced exercise-induced hypoglycemia? How have you managed it? Please share your tips in the comments!


Why napping is good for you

I grew up in a family of nappers. In fact, my dad used to joke that his second job was mattress testing since he spent much of his leisure time resting on one.

Turns out he was onto something. And so are the Spanish and other cultures who believe in the siesta, a little afternoon respite to repower the synapses and get the juices flowing again.

Napping is wasted on the young — half the time they’d rather not be doing it. Many adults, on the other hand, welcome a good nap as often as possible (at least I know I do). Yet in our busy, type-A society, where everyone feels they need to do 12 things at once, napping has gotten a bad rap.

I say it’s time to change that view, especially in a world where so many people are sleep-deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance without leaving you groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep (if it’s not too late in the day). In fact, one study found that a 20 minute nap is actually more effective than either 200 mg of caffeine or a bout of exercise.

Remember, many of the world’s great thinkers and leaders have been regular nappers, including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Napoleon. It apparently worked for them.

Sara Mednick, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” says that without a midday nap many people are unable to perform at optimal levels throughout the day. She’s conducted studies in conjunction with numerous academic institutions and the U.S. Navy to prove that a short power nap every afternoon when you begin to flag is a great way to get you through the rest of the afternoon and evening. It’s especially recommended for tired drivers —who are a real danger on the road. Sleep experts recommend that if you feel drowsy while driving, you should immediately pull over to a rest area, drink a caffeinated beverage and take a 15-30 minute nap.  Soon you’ll be safely back on the road.

If all this wasn’t enough to encourage you to take a nap, Mednick also says that napping boosts creativity, reduces stress, enhances libido, aids in weight loss, keeps you looking younger, reduces the risk of heart attack, strengthens memory, clarifies decision-making, and improves productivity. It also feels great.  I don’t know about you, but sign me up!

So instead of thinking about a napper as a lazy, unambitious soul who’s slacking off, perhaps we should consider him or her a smart worker who knows when he or she needs a break to be their best.

For those who aren’t freelancers like myself working next to their beds — perfect for procrastinating and nap-taking — there may still be ways to slip in some mid-day sleep. You can always do a George Costanza (from a famous Seinfeld episode) and crawl under your desk to nap unnoticed, or shut your door, lean back in your chair or lay your head on your desk. I can sleep anywhere, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try slipping away to your car on your lunch break.

There are even a few very progressive companies (like Google and Huffington Post) that offer “nap rooms,” demonstrating that they truly get the benefits for their employees. But if it’s against office policy, save your napping for the weekends!

If you’re worried you’ll nap the afternoon away, set a timer on your cell phone for just a brief break. You’ll be renewed, refreshed and raring to go after a power nap. So forget the latte or energy drink; grab a few zzzzs and let me know how great you feel afterwards.

How often do you nap, and how does it make you feel?


Take a Nap! Change Your Life, by Sara Mednick (Workman Publishing Company)

Should You Take a Multivitamin?

In 2011, Consumer Reports reported that Americans were spending about $5 billion per year on multivitamins. This means that roughly one third of the country’s population regularly takes multivitamins (which also generally contain minerals), making them the most commonly taken supplement in the U.S.A.

That level of popularity isn’t necessarily proof of a supplement’s safety or effectiveness, however — after all, at one point,many people were purposely ingesting tapeworm eggs. So, should you take a multivitamin? Although multivitamins are usually thought of as harmless, are there any potential side effects?

The Idea Behind Multivitamins

Your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to maintain the complex array of functions that keep you active and healthy. Generally speaking, these nutrients can be separated into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. For the most part, they make up the fuel mixture for your body.

Micronutrients are a broad category, encompassing vitamins and minerals, among other things. These substances are vital to just about everything your body does, including maintaining bone health, nerve function, heart health, muscle contractions and hormone production.

A healthy, balanced diet will give most people all of the vitamins and minerals they need. However, eating a healthy and balanced diet is an increasingly difficult accomplishment, which means you may require supplementation to fill the gaps in your diet. It is important to note that true deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals are very rare in the United States. Certain diseases and conditions can create these deficiencies, though, with symptoms varying from nutrient to nutrient.

Some sources contend that athletes and people who live an active lifestyle will have an increased need for these micronutrients. There isn’t enough research yet to definitively state the vitamin and mineral needs of athletes, but it is apparent that vigorous activity causes your body to burn through these nutrients faster than it would otherwise.

Do They Work?

Whether or not you feel a multivitamin works will likely depend largely on your expectations. Unless you have a condition that increases your need for certain nutrients, you won’t see immediate or drastic changes in your physical or mental well-being; multivitamins are more about maintenance than dramatic change.

The role that these micronutrients play can be compared to the various fluids in your car. Oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and coolant all need to be kept at proper levels for your car to run smoothly. If one of these gets low, you’ll probably notice a change in your car’s gas mileage, maybe accompanied by a new smell or noise. If you top off these fluid levels, you most likely won’t notice any major changes — but the benefits are still there, and your car will probably last longer.

In the same way, it seems that multivitamins encourage healthy aging. One Australian study found that taking multivitamins for eight weeks improved memory and slowed cognitive decline in men aged 50 to 69. Another study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women using multivitamins increased the length of their telomeres, which are nucleotide sequences that protect chromosomes from deterioration — essentially increasing the lifespan of cells and potentially slowing the aging process.

Potential Side Effects

It is possible to overdose on some of the nutrients found in multivitamins, such as iron, so they should always be taken in the recommended doses and according to directions. As with all supplements, multivitamins should only be taken after discussion with your doctor, especially if you have a condition and are taking medication. Allergies to multivitamins are also possible.

There are also some concerns that multivitamins may increase the risk of breast cancer in women, but this is highly contested, and many studies contradict each other.

Have you taken multivitamins? Did you feel they worked for you? Please share your experience in the comments.


How to Switch to a Standing Desk

The benefits of stand-up or standing desks have been well-documented, and many offices are slowly making the transition from traditional sitting desks. Standing desks, as their name suggests, allow the user to stand while working, raising the desk surface to a comfortable level. Numerous studies show that this style of workstation can make you more productive, decrease the risk of lower back and leg pain — and even add years to your life.

These desks can be expensive, however, and it takes time to switch out your old desk for the new. If you work in an office, it may be difficult to convince your employer to fund or even allow the transition, although that may change as standing desks continue to gain popularity. Regardless of these obstacles, there are many do-it-yourself solutions that can help you switch to a standing desk.

How to Start

If you’re used to sitting for a full work day, it will probably difficult and uncomfortable for you to completely ditch your chair and stand for hours at a time. Instead, start by taking standing breaks throughout the day to get used to being on your feet. Eventually, you’ll find that you can stand for longer periods of time; you may then want to reverse the pattern, instead standing most of the day and taking short sitting breaks. One of the major discomforts associated with stand up desks is foot and leg pain, so you’ll want to select comfortable shoes, and perhaps consider a padded mat.

Work With What You’ve Got

If buying an adjustable standing desk doesn’t fit your budget, or if you just aren’t ready to commit to the idea yet, there are plenty of other options to try. There are inexpensive monitor and laptop stands on the market that can be used to raise your computer up. (These don’t always offer a workspace, however, so if you need a full desk area, try placing raised shelves on your existing desk.)

You can also place your desk on platforms that will lift it higher. If you opt for this method, though, be careful to make sure that your desk is stable and doesn’t wobble when you’re working.

Existing raised surfaces, like bookshelves or even counter space, can also make good improvised standing desks, especially if you’re working with a laptop. Whatever surface you pick, try to look for something that will bring your computer up to about chest level. Ideally, you want to be able to look straight ahead, so that you don’t have to strain your neck looking up or down for long periods of time.

The Next Step

Some people have decided to take the idea of a standing desk even further, and have created the “treadmill desk.” This variation of the standing desk not only places your workstation at a standing level, it also puts you on a treadmill, so that you walk at a slow pace to keep you active throughout your workday. There are commercially available treadmill desks with some added features — like easily accessible controls — that make this potentially risky workspace safer and easier to use.

The Internet is full of DIY solutions for both standing desks and treadmill desks, so if you can’t justify spending the money, get creative and look for inspiration. A standing desk will help you fight off back pain and burn extra calories while working.

Have you made the transition to a standing desk? Please share your experience and suggestions in the comments!


Vitamin D & Weight Loss

Vitamin D has developed a sterling reputation amongst advocates of alternative medicine recently, and is being credited with countless health benefits. Although many of these claims can’t be substantiated, and in some cases have been discredited, emerging research shows a definite link between obesity and low levels of vitamin D.

The Research

A key study in understanding the relationship between Vitamin D and weight loss was conducted almost accidentally by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The study recruited 38 obese people, and found that their baseline levels of vitamin D predicted their potential to lose weight. Similar studies have shown that obese individuals have low levels of vitamin D.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2007 finding that women who took a supplement containing both calcium and vitamin D while following a weight loss program had better results than those who didn’t take the supplement. The group that was given the supplement also had a better lipid and cholesterol profile at the end of the study than the others.

A later study in the same journal had similar results. The study followed 126 overweight women for six months, and found that those who took vitamin D and calcium from dairy had a greater likelihood of losing weight.

It’s also possible that because vitamin D promotes healthy bones and a strong immune system, it makes exercise easier and therefore encourages weight loss.

It’s important to note, however, that the exact mechanism by which vitamin D affects weight loss is unknown — and no studies have yet shown that vitamin D by itself is beneficial. Current research indicates that the vitamin has to be taken with calcium and used in conjunction with a weight loss program to be of any use.

How Much is Enough?

Experts can’t seem to agree on how much vitamin D you should be getting on a daily basis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, people between the ages of 1 and 50 should intake about 600 International Units of vitamin D every day. However, it is possible to take too much vitamin D — although it’s similarly difficult know exactly how much is too much. The National Institutes of Health set the maximum daily allowance for adults at 4,000 IU, but you should talk to your doctor to determine what the right dose is for you.

How to Get it

Vitamin D is unique in that your body produces it when you expose your skin to sunlight. Fair-skinned people can synthesis enough vitamin D with only about 45 minutes of sunlight a week, while people with darker skin will need more time, up to three hours. People who live in northern areas may find it difficult to get enough sunlight during the winter, and may need to get vitamin D through dietary sources and supplements. Clouds and smog that block the sun will also limit how much vitamin D you can produce.

Fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) and eggs are good dietary sources of vitamin D, and many foods, like milk and cereals, are usually fortified with it as well.

As always, you should consult with your doctor or other qualified health professional beginning any supplementation program.

Do you feel that vitamin D has helped you lose weight and stay healthy? Share your experience in the comments!