Why you Should Strength Train to Live Longer

When I first started lifting weights as young 16-year old I had no clue what I was doing but I understood why I wanted to start doing it. This was around the time that my body started filling out post puberty and I was starting to feel self-conscious about how I looked. Strength training for me was more about how I wanted to look rather than the performance or muscle gain element of it.

Nowadays, in my mid-forties weight or resistance training for me has taken on a completely different meaning. Now, it is about keeping strong and injury free so I can continue to enjoy my hobbies like gymnastics. It is also about having a plan in place for when I reach the age of menopause and bone density starts to diminish dramatically. According to Dr Peter Attia ‘Bone density diminishes on a parallel trajectory to muscle mass, peaking in our late twenties, before beginning a slow, steady decline”.

More importantly, as we age past 50 into our 60’s and 70’s the idea of having muscle on our frame is much like an insurance policy to protect our bone health and body. Why would you not want to armour yourself as much as possible against injury and physical frailty? From his research Dr Attia also discovered the mortality from a hip or femur fracture is staggering once you hit about the age of sixty-five. It varies by study, but ranges from 15 to 36 percent in one year – meaning that up to one-third of people over sixty-five who fracture their hip are dead within a year. Even if a person does not die from the injury, the setback can be the functional equivalent of death in terms of how much muscle mass and, hence, physical capacity is lost during the period of bed rest.

Some alarming statistics but also ones that can be reduced if we commit ourselves to a weekly resistance training regime. So what is resistance or strength training?

What is Resistance Training:

Resistance training also known as weight or strength training is the use of resistance to muscularly contract muscles. This can help us build strength, increase the size of our muscles (hypertrophy) or anaerobic endurance. Resistance training has been around since man and woman first inhabited earth. Although, it did look a little bit differently in those days. Cavemen and women used to rely on hunting and gathering as a form of survival, carrying large objects like rocks and trees to build shelters for protection which formed the basis of human evolution. These days being able to efficiently carry objects from one place to another is of a versatile benefit to our lifestyles. In my everyday life I am constantly picking up barbells, dumbell’s and kettlebells which keeps my grip strength strong and my body efficient. I like to constantly remind my class participants that a sign of ‘ageing’ is loss of your grip strength. Moreover, this can be demonstrated with difficulty opening jars and not being able to hang onto railings to save yourself from falling.
Whilst my participants all think I am joking and have a little laugh to themselves little do they know that truer words have not been spoken.
Dr Attia in his book ‘Outlive’ refers to a body of literature linking grip strength in midlife and beyond to decreased risk of mortality. Many studies suggest that grip strength – literally, how hard you can squeeze something with one hand – predicts how long you are likely to live, while low grip strength in the elderly is considered to a symptom of Sarcopenia (age related atrophy). In these studies, grip strength is likely acting as a proxy for overall muscle strength, but it is also a broader indicator of general robustness and the ability to protect yourself if you slip or lose balance. Some great ways to train grip strength is to do as I do start picking up barbells and other equipment or start hanging from some bars at the park or at the gym.

Types of Resistance Training:

When most of us think of resistance training, we think of traditional forms such as weights, plates, barbells and dumbells. Whilst this is a very effective method to build muscle mass (hypertrophy) there are many non-traditional forms of resistance training.

Covid saw a rise in the number of body weight programs being touted on the internet due to an equipment shortage and gyms being closed. Body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, hip extensions, push-ups, and pullups can be done anywhere from the comfort of your home to places far from home.

Other modalities of resistance training could involve the use of resistance bands, cable machines and even classes such as Yoga which involve contracting muscles for a period of time.

How to Start:

The importance of any weight-based program is seeking out the right type of help early. Invest in a Personal Trainer or an Exercise Scientist who can assess your biomechanics (how you move) and work around any injuries you might have. These programs will be tailored specifically to you, and your more likely to achieve your goals rather than aimlessly lifting weights with no idea of what you are doing.

Include in your program movements such as Functional Exercises such as pulls, squats, lunge, bend, push and twists. Functional exercises are designed to mimic everyday movements that we perform in our daily lives. These exercises might involve the use of swiss balls, cable machines, resistance bands or just body weight. Functional Exercises help us with everyday movements such as getting in and out of a car, bending down to pick something off the ground or storing something in an overhead locker.

Dr Attia recommends structuring your weight training around exercises that help improve the following:

  • Grip Strength – how hard you can grip something with your hands, which includes everything from your hands to your lats (the large muscles of your back). Almost all actions begin with the grip.
  • Attention to both eccentric and concentric loading for all movements, meaning when our muscles are shortening (concentric) and when they are lengthening (eccentric). In other words we need to be able to lift the weight up and lower it back down slowly and with control.
  • Pulling Motions – at all angles from overhead to in front of you, which also requires grip strength (eg. Pull ups and rows).
  • Hip Hinging Movements – such as the deadlift and squat, but also step-ups, hip thrusts and numerous other single leg variant exercises that strengthen the legs, glutes and lower back.
    Dr Attia focuses on these four foundational elements of strength because they are most relevant to his studies of his “Centenarian Decathlon’ (how to live to one hundred) – and also to living a fulfilling and active life in our later decades.

Strength training as well as any other exercise has the greatest power to determine how you will live out the rest of your life. There is a bucket load of data supporting the notion that even a fairly minimal amount of exercise can lengthen your life by several years. In his book ‘Outlive’ Dr Attia alludes to a powerful statistic around exercise mentioning that ‘going from zero weekly exercise to just 90 minutes per week can reduce your risk of dying from all causes by 14 per cent. It’s very hard to find a drug that can do that.”

Other Benefits:

It’s Anti-Ageing, from the age of thirty we start to lose muscle mass. An eighty year old man will have about forty percent less muscle tissue (measured across the quad) than he did at twenty five. On an aesthetic level, muscle loss can have a significant impact on influencing body shape. Low levels of lean muscle tissue can lead to poor posture, rounded shoulders and skin tone that looks saggy and weak. Plenty of research indicates that strength training over time improves body composition via increasing lean muscle tissue and decreasing fat mass.

It improves posture, individuals that regularly strength train have stronger stabilisers of the body such as the core and the glutes. People who exhibit good posture stand tall with their shoulders back which can also project an air of positivity and self-confidence.

It improves self-confidence and self-esteem, feeling strong and knowing you have done the hard work and dedicated the hours to get the results certainly makes you feel better about yourself. I’ve literally watched hundreds of clients transform their bodies and the way they feel about themselves thru the power of exercise and strength training. Whether it’s finally having the courage to wear a bikini or a swimsuit or a pair of shorts the outcome is always a healthier and happier individual.

How to Assess All Aspects of Your Fitness!

Research taken from Dr Andy Galpin PHD Kinesiology via Andrew Huberman Podcast)

When it comes to exercise people generally have either one of two goals in mind which are:

  1. Appearance – aesthetic component, lean, muscular to look a certain way or not look a certain way.
  2. Functionality– be able to perform a certain way eg. Strength, mobility, energy throughout the day.

Within both of these categories we want to understand, where do I need to go with my exercise training so that I can be fit and healthy? As well as how do I achieve these goals right now?  As well as be in a position whereby I can maintain them for a long period of time.  So this blends both immediate goals for example being able to squat a certain weight or run 5km.  It blends this with the desire to have a long wellness span, to be fit throughout life and achieve all of these things for as long as possible.

So the question a lot of people are curious about is well ‘how do I know which area to focus on the most and why am I not achieving these goals, or how can I get there more effectively?’.

If we look at the big picture we have to realise there are several major components to physical fitness that are going to be required in all of these categories.  In addition to achieve this there are a handful of components that have to happen to be able to hit those goals.

Major Adaptations that People can Create Using Exercise:

Physiological Adaptations can be categorised into 9 areas:

1.Skill or Technique – learning to move better more efficiently, within a specific position, timing, sequence eg running more effectively, swinging a golf club.

2. Speed – simply moving at a higher velocity or with a better rate of acceleration.

3. Power – speed x Force = Power

4. Force – (strength) how effectively can you move something. Strength is often confused with muscular endurance, strength truly is a marker of what is the maximum thing you can move or what is the max. amount of force you can produce one time.

5. Muscular Hypertrophy – more specifically an appearance rather than a functional outcome.  Relates specifically to how big is your muscle? Muscle size.

6. Muscular Endurance –  how many repetitions you can do of a particular exercise tends to be 5-50 reps of something. How many pushup or situps can you do in a row?  Muscular endurance tends to be localised to a particular muscle like your triceps or your deltoids (or a few others) it is not an overall cardio endurance marker.

7. Anaerobic Capacity – More synonomous with max. heart rate. For example the max. amount of work you can do in 30-40 seconds, maybe up to 120 seconds of all out work.  Think interval training where you are going to enter tremendous amounts of global fatigue.

8. Maximal Aerobic Capacity – 8-15 minute range where you are going to reach a maximal HR and well as a true VO2 max.  You cannot reach this state in a matter of seconds it takes multiple minutes to get into a position where your VO2 max. is sufficiently challenged.

9. Long Duration – your ability to sustain sub maximal work for a long period of time with no breaks or reduction.  Often called steady state training.  Your ability to move without any breaks or change or drop.  Time ranges – anything past 20 minutes. Typical 20-60 minutes.

Is there a Global Test or Assessment that people can take that allows them to benchmark themselves in all of these 9 different categories?

9 different Adaptations and How to Assess them:

  1. Movement/Skill – human movements so that you stay injury free and you can continue to train for as long as possible. What are the minimum requirements?  Everyone has access to a highly qualified Physical Therapist or Movement Specialist this is the best route.  Make an appointment with them and get them to identify all of your movement patterns from overhead pressing, squatting, running etc this would be your gold standard for improving how you move.  If you wanted to do this yourself according to Dr Andy Galpin there is a simple 4 step solution:
  2. He suggests addressing the major joints of the body, shoulder, elbow, lower back, hip, knee and ankle.  Do a representative movement that you like to do for example if you like to bench a lot do a bench press if you like to do Pull Ups use Pull Ups. Dr Galpin recommends doing an upper body press exercise, and upper body pull exercise, a lower body press and a lower body pull.  Examples of these would include a push-up, a pull up or a bent row, a squat and finally a deadlift.
  3. Dr Galpin suggests performing all of these movements and record them using a frontal view and a side view (3-10 reps per angle) just using your own body weight.  Look for 4 key things at every joint;
  4. 1. Symmetry (front to back, left to right) if you look at the squat for example and we start with the ankle joint are both legs moving the same.  Questions to ask are is one further forward or turned in.
  5. 2. Stability – Are the knees shaking which is a sign of instability.  Can you do the movement slow, can you pause at the bottom.  You should have complete control of this movement at all of these joints.  Are the hips moving around is one elbow closer to the body then the other.
  6. 3. Awareness – there are a lot of movement technique issues that a lot of people simply don’t know.  Once they do know they can easily self- correct or they simply didn’t realise they were doing it a certain way. It’s not a movement flaw.
  7. 4. Full Range of Motion – we want all of our joints to be going thru a full range of motion.
  • Speed – This is actually a test that Dr Galpin does not recommend we need to test unless we are an high performance athlete.  For most people pure speed is maximum velocity or acceleration are the 2 ways we break it down.  It’s  just not that necessary to test for the average person.
  • Power (speed x force) – you can infer a lot of speed from a power test and a power test is easier to do and easier to train for.  The cost free version is a simple Broad Jump (stand with your feet shoulder width apart and jump out in front of you as far as you can and measure the distance from your back heel.  A basic number to look for is your height, you should be able to broad jump how tall you are (reduce 15% for females).
  • Strength Test –  should be measured in multiple areas.  Grip Strength you can purchase a handgrip dynamometers cheaply from places such as Amazon for around $25.  These dynamometers measure the max. isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles.  Typically over 60kg for men, no less than 10% variation between each hand.  Female 35kg is the cut off with a good score over 55kg.

Dead Hang is the other good grip strength test minimum should be 30 seconds. Above 60 seconds is a good score.

Upper Body Strength Test – Max. bench press

Leg Extension Test – Can you do a leg extension lifting your body weight?  Every decade past 40 you can reduce this by 10%.

Goblet Squat Hold – hold in the bottom position of your squat ensuring you are lifting half your body weight for 45 seconds.

(Ensure you have a proficient warm up protocol before attempting any of these tests)

  • Hypertrophy Test – the aesthetic proponent of hypertrophy is completely up to you.  You can determine what looks good and what doesn’t.  There is a sufficient amount of muscle mass you need to have, and anything below is detrimental to your health.  You can measure this in a couple of ways, any body composition test for example a Dexa Scan or a biometrical impedence test.  The number you need to pay attention to from these tests is the FFMI (fat free mass index).   For a male you FFMI should be 20 or higher for a female 18 this is made with the assumption you are reasonable lean.  Sub 30% body fat for a man and for a woman sub 35%.  If you are a man and you are sub 17 (FFMI) or a female and you are sub 15 we are in pretty severe muscular detriment.
  • Muscular Endurance –  You can do any number of tests here, a standard plank for 60 seconds, a side plank for 45 seconds.  For a general male you should be able to do 25 consecutive push-ups (full joint range of motion chest to floor, no pausing), 10 push -ups is in the minimal categories. For females 15 is the marker, 5-15 there is work to do around your muscular strength.
  • Anaerobic Capacity – you can do this with any protocol you want for example sprinting, air bike or a rower.  Anywhere you can exert maximal effort and you don’t have to worry about technical problems.  You need to be able to go as hard as you can knowing you are going to go to a place of tremendous fatigue.  Pick a time such as anywhere from 30-60 seconds and mark down how far you go.  Things to observe are, can you complete it? How awful do you feel after it?  Can you get close to your predicted maximum heart rate? (220- your age) get up to this maximum heart rate and then measure your recovery half a beat recovery per second is ideal.  Within a minute you should have a heart rate recovery of 30 beats per minute.  If your heart rate recovery does not match this we have a problem with your anaerobic capacity.
  • Maximal Heart Rate – VO2 max. gold standard is to get this tested in a lab.  If you don’t have access to this you can do a 12 minute Coopers test.  Simply run for 12 minutes as far as you can, record the distance you cover.  Enter this into any number of online calculators and this should give you an approximation of your Vo2 max.  More gentler version is the 1 mile walk test, record the time and your heart rate and enter it into an online calculator.  Men you should be looking at min. 35 ml (oxygen) per kg (body weight) per minute and for females that number is 30.  Dr Galpin likes to see men over 55 and women above 50.
  • Long Duration Steady State Exercise Test – you should maintain consistent work output for over 20 minutes. Pick something that suits your lifestyle, a loop around your house you can do, you are simply going to test can you maintain work without stopping.  Throw a twist in there and do it with nasal breathing only for 30 minutes.  Move at a non-walking pace.

Putting it all Together:

Pick the one that is the worst and do it frequently for example if your Vo2 max is not great test it at least 1 x per month.  The full battery of tests should be completed at least 1 x per year and try to get all the tests done in a week, a 3- day split is ideal.

What Order to do them in?

The non-fatiguing tests you can do whenever eg FMMI do this first so exercise does not influence this test no hard exercise 48 hours before. Movement test you need to be rested.

Any skill or maximum strength or power needs to go at the start of the day and any fatiguing  thing can happen at the end for example broad jump and on the same day as leg strength test followed by the muscular endurance test (all in one day).

Next day anaerobic test or do it after you long duration test.

VO2 max on a separate day.

Ability to mix and match, the more separation you have ie. More days you break it up the better the data you are going to get.

Specificity of training means it is impossible to get fantastic scores in all of these area’s.  You don’t need to be optimal in all of these areas to have optimal health.  You just need to ensure there are no areas where you have severe constraints as these can limit our overall health and impede our lifestyle moving forward.

Control Stress for Healthy Eating and Ageing

Research taken from Dr Elissa Epel and Dr Andrew Huberman

What is Stress? – Many different dimensions to the word stress, there is good and bad stress and chronic and acute stress. Technically, it means anytime we feel overwhelmed or the demands are too much for our resources. 

So much of our lives is about meeting challenges and we are not going to ever get rid of stressful situations completely. If anything, they are increasing so it really comes down to not the stressors or what happens to us but how we react to them or our stress response.

It’s worth thinking about what stressors are in your life that may be difficult –  ongoing situations like caregiving, health problems, or work stress and how are you coping with it? When something happen’s we mount a stress response and we recover which is positive. Problems arise when we keep it alive in our head with our thoughts – our thoughts are our most common form of stress.  Overthinking or ruminating can lead to chronic stress which can affect us in ways not just mentally but also physically.

The Most Effective ways for Dealing with Overthinking and Ruminating On Stressful Topics

3  Key Areas:

  1. Awareness:

Firstly, we need to have some kind of awareness of how our mind works or whether are thoughts are real.  Instead of accepting every thought that comes into our heads as gospel we must learn to identify and challenge what thoughts are serving us in a positive way and what thoughts are irrational.  I have a very acute stress response to flying in an aeroplane, I start thinking about being stuck on a plane where I can’t get off and the turbulence makes me think we are going to crash. Quite a common stress response for a lot of people.  I have gotten better at separating myself from my thoughts and now I understand that these thoughts are just thoughts, not reality, if I don’t attach myself to them it helps get my stress under control. In my case I have released this type of stress thru awareness and mindset, this may also be a strategy that can help you manage yours.

Post covid 46% of people found they are experiencing stress of some description (more research has suggested these numbers can even be higher). This can have more serious implications for young adults who experience 4 x the level of stress to others and minority groups.  People over 65 tend to be less stressed as the research found they have already been thru so much in their lives and are more resilient and better at problem solving.

  • Changing the Body

Certain studies have found that High Intensity Interval or HIIT training is a great way to release endorphins.  These endorphins make us feel good and also help us work stress out of the body which makes us feel positive and happy.  Exercise has also been proven to be 4 x more effective than anti-depressants so next time you are feeling stressed go out for a walk, hit the gym or play sport. 

  • Changing the Scene

By changing the scene try to remove yourself from the environment that may be contributing to your stress.  Find an environment that is calming and comforting places that have your pets, favourite photographs, smells or music can help.

Different Forms of Stress and How we can Recognise Them:

Stress is not always related to our mind, it can be measured thru the nervous system or holding tension in the body, it is sympathetically dominated (fight or flight).  Our bodies when stressed are vigilant and are searching for safety cues to help alleviate our feelings of overwhelm.  When we are stressed, we are mobilising a lot more energy (ATP) than we need too, this huge energy expenditure will often leave our bodies feeling exhausted and tired. Some other physical signs and symptoms of being stressed are clenching your jaw or hands, shallow or difficulty breathing and sweating. 

Acute (short term) stress response – creates a situation where every hormone or cell in our body is having a stress response.  This acute stress response is not always negative as it allows us to re-orient, focus and problem solve which is necessary for coping with life.  Even if it last minutes or hours we eventually recover, this is also know as ‘Eustress’ or good stress.

Moderately Stressful events may take days or months to cope with – it is helpful to notice in the moment right now am I coping acutely with something or can I restore it?

Chronically Stressful (long term) situations which go on for years, many of us have these in our lives eg caregiving which may be hard to change.  Whilst we may not be able to change these in a hurry we can use radical acceptance strategies to live well with them.  Really important for people who feel like they have a harder life.  A radical acceptance strategy may be along the lines of allowing yourself to feel negative feelings, find practices that make the stress feel easier to cope with breathwork, meditation and learning to accept your resistant behaviours.

Relationship Between Stress and Eating:

Most people when they feel stress either eat more or less food.  For some people, stress makes our digestion shut down which reduces our appetite.  This is a high sympathetic stress response (fight or flight) is triggered.  This leads to more alertness and arousal and it can also lead to losing weight.

The more common pattern is binge eating or over eating when we experience stress and that looks different both in the brain and biologically.  What is looks like in the body is the stress response is driving cravings and high insulin or an insulin resistant state.  What goes along with that is a tendency to be overweight or obese.  Stress can exacerbate tendencies to overeat or binge, not feel satiated and compulsive traits.  We tend to crave high sugary foods, fast foods and processed foods.  With repeated bouts of stress we will just gain weight particularly in the intra-abdominal area.  This has been demonstrated in rat and mice studies and now also with people.  10 year study by Dr Elissa Epel found that what was happening in rats and mice was also happening with people.

In studies with mice if you stress them out and give them sugary foods to eat they develop binge eating and get compulsive. They get metabolic syndrome where their belly fat expands, which is an immediate source of energy when we are stressed.  If our body thinks we are under chronic stress we are going to store abdominal fat which is easily mobilised. 

Breaking Overeating Cycles and Mindfulness:

In certain weight loss trial’s (Dr Elisa Epel) in her lab researched the way to break the cycle of compulsive eating what she found was:

  1. In healthy, mindful eating trials they found that mindful eating is not going to cause a lot of weight loss.  But the people who benefitted most from learning this kind of calm, self-regulation where you check in with your hunger you slow down, you increase your awareness of your body (teraseptic awareness).  That type of skill is really critical for people with compulsive eating.  In these trials by Dr Epel they found that people with compulsive eating who took on this mindfulness skill do better in terms of their long-term weight loss, insulin resistance and glucose.
  2. The ‘Positive Stress Pathway’ is also important also for breaking the compulsive eating cycle.  Examples include high intensity interval training (HIIT) or other ways we can get rid of stress thru the body can help with the cravings. 

If you are finding yourself in that Binge eating mode or using food to comfort then you can use the following strategies.

Top Down Check In

The compulsive drive to eat is one of our strongest impulses. If we have developed that neural pathway it is important to develop awareness around separating emotions from hunger.  These two can easily get intertwined together, so labelling how you are feeling, numbering your hunger from 1-10, asking yourself, am I really hungry or is it just boredom?  These strategies help people and if you do this check in right before you eat it is the most beneficial.

Ride the Craving or Surf the Urge:

This can be practiced with foods or drinks that are highly addictive such as sugar ie. Soft drinks.  This practice includes watching your craving pass and knowing that it is only a matter of time that you can surf without jumping to consuming.  This practice helps some people the exercising, the changing the scene the going for a walk is another strategy.

Stress Intervention Studies & Ageing

Meditation has been found to slow down the biological ageing in people.  These meditation interventions we practice – even short-term ones have been proven to lengthen cells that help slow down the rate of ageing.

In addition to this meditation has been proven to reduce our Inflammatory pathways and boosts our protective enzymes which also helps slow our ageing.  These studies suggest that if someone was to continue meditating they might keep up this slower rate of ageing even more.

So in summary the most effective 3 ways you can reduce your stress is by:

  • Being aware and mindful of it,
  • Secondly change your body – the power of movement
  • Thirdly – change your scene – seek out environments that help you feel calm

To manage overeating and compulsive eating:

  • Top Down Approach – mindfulness around emotions and hunger
  • Positive Stress Pathway – again thru HIIT or other forms of exercise.

Are Sauna’s Actually Good for Our Health?

We have seen an explosion in the wellness market in terms of recovery offerings – everything from traditional sauna’s to infrared sauna’s, cryotherapy and ice baths.

I recently jumped on the band wagon and had an infrared sauna installed in my gym.  I have to admit, I didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. I knew I felt better, relaxed and calmer after being in one but surely there were other health benefits apart from relaxation?

As it turns out there was! This led me down a rabbit hole of research papers on this very topic and what I discovered changed the way I do recovery forever more. 

Heat and cold therapy have become a non-negotiable part of my daily and weekly protocol, and I must admit, I have never felt better.

Safety Considerations:

Before embarking on any heat journey of your own it is important to take note of some safety considerations.  Using sauna’s that are too hot can be detrimental to your health. 

So, what is too hot?  According to Dr Andrew Huberman a Professor at Stamford University this will depend on the individual. He recommends starting off slow using cooler temperatures that don’t significantly increase the heart rate.  Hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature) and dehydration are a real risk so proceed with caution.

 Pregnant women, children under 16 and men trying to conceive should also avoid using saunas as this can reduce their sperm count.

What’s All the Fuss About:

Heat is a remarkable stimulus, meaning when we are in a hot environment it has a profound effect on our biology.  Heating up from the outside or the inside has a profound effect on many different aspects of our health including our metabolism, both in the immediate and long term, our cognition (meaning our ability to think more or less clearly).  If you assume heat negatively affects the way we think you are wrong, heat applied as a stimulus can engage certain neurochemical systems in the brain and body that can allow your brain to function far better. 

How do we Heat Up?

We heat up in 2 ways –

  1. From the outside meaning the things we come into contact with our clothes that we put on our body.  Whether there is heat in the room, whether it is cold inside or outside in our environment.
  2.  From the Inside – Our body has the capacity to generate more heat or to cool down or to turn off the heating process.  It can do that in ways that match the external environment. 

Heat & Cardiovascular Health:

Study 2018 – “Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardio vascular mortality & improves risk prediction in men and women – a prospective cohort study”)

One of several papers that clearly demonstrates that regular use of sauna or other forms of deliberate heating exposure can reduce mortality to cardiovascular events but also other events like stroke etc. 

This study looked at a sample of 1688 participants (mean age of 63) and of whom 54% were women and the rest men.  Basically, what they found was the more often that people do sauna the better their health was, and the less likely they were to die from a cardiovascular event. 

Further, the use of sauna has been studied by other clinical groups and positively correlated with a ‘reduction in all-cause mortality’ – a catchall term referring to death from any cause.

What do we Mean by Sauna and What are the Parameters?

Firstly, the temperature ranges that were used in this study were 80 degrees celcius (176 degrees farenheit) and 100 degrees celcius (212 degrees farenheit).  What temperature should you use?  This all depends on how tolerant you are and heat adaptive you are, yes this tends to get better over time. 

Recommendations are to start on the lower end of the temperature scale and work your way up.  These people were going anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes per session.  Even if it just 5 mins of heat exposure can make a difference as long as the temperature is enough for you.

In this particular study they compared people that did sauna 1 x a week to ppl who did 2-3 x a week or 4-7 x a week.  What they found was remarkable, what they observed was that people that went into the sauna 2 or 3 x per week were 27% less likely to die of a cardiovascular event than people who went into the sauna 1 x per week.  The temperature levels and the duration levels as above.

This data points to the fact that going into the sauna at least 2 x per week can lower mortality to cardiovascular events and the benefits were even greater for people going into the sauna 4 x per week (50%) less likely to die of a cardiovascular event compared to people that went in 1 x per week.

This study also looked at confounding variables as to whether people smoked were overweight, exercises or not etc and they were able to separate out these variables.

Sauna as a Mood Enhancer:

The use of sauna’s has been around in Scandinavian culture for hundreds of years.  Even back then it has been well known about the correlation between sauna use and improved mood.

The body responds to heat by releasing hormones such as dynorphins and endorphins in the brain.  Dynorphins are responsible for causing discomfort thru heat exposure in the short term.  These dynorphins create impulses in the brain, for example, like wanting to get out to avoid the discomfort or feelings of agitation. 

This dynorphin leads to a further biochemical reaction, the release of endorphins (feel good hormone).  The release of endorphins improves our mood leading to feelings of euphoria and happiness.

Effects of Sauna on Stress & Overall Health:

According to Huberman, “Hormesis is mild, tolerable stress that stimulates the body and helps it to positively adapt’.  Heat is a form of hormesis stress and there are plenty of other forms such as exercise etc.  Studies have found that regular use of sauna can reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones), enhance the activation of DNA/longevity pathways and promote heat shock proteins (HSP) in the body.  These HSP are a protective mechanism in the brain and body that help rescue cells in the body that are damaged or misfiring. Damaged or misfiring cells can develop into more sinister illnesses and disease which is why these HSP are so important to our health and wellbeing.

Huberman found that in order to gain the benefits of deliberate heat exposure for general health, including improved mood, stress management, and the enhancement of the bodies hermetic (mild stress) response pathways, use sauna for a total of:

  • 1 hour per week, but not all at once, rather split that into 2-3 sessions.
  • Sauna temperature should be between 80-100 degrees.

Use of Sauna to Increase Growth Hormone:

Growth hormone is a hormone we naturally secrete from our pituitary gland (resides near the roof of our mouth). Growth hormone plays a key role in stimulating muscle growth (growth spurts), increasing bone density, repairing tissue and increasing metabolism.

Growth hormone is released at night when we sleep which is why sleep is an important factor on our overall health. Growth hormone tends to decline as we age which can lead to decreases in bone health, loss of muscle mass and decreases in metabolism.

In one study – ‘Endocrine Effects of Repeated Sauna Bathing” 1986 paper found dramatic increases in Growth Hormone by up to 16 fold.

The protocols from this study found for improved release of growth hormone use the sauna:

  • 1 x per week or less
  • On the days you do sauna go in for multiple sessions per day of 30 minutes each with cool down periods of 5 minutes in between.  This study found this protocol works well to increase growth hormone repeat this process 2-3 times.
  • Have a few hours off and repeat the above again
  • That’s a lot of sauna’s!
  •  Use the sauna in a semi-faster state to get maximum release of growth hormone having not ingested food for 2-3 hours prior.


For what it’s worth, the best heat exposure for you is the one that you can readily access and the one that fits in with your lifestyle. 

It also depends on what results are you after!

If you are after growth hormone then try the 1 x week 4 x per day for 30 minutes – more beneficial when fasted. 

If you want the health benefits of cardio vascular reduction then stick to 2-4 times per week for 5-20 minutes at 80-100 degrees.

If you are looking for stress reduction then sauna 1 hour per week broken up into 2-3 sessions of 80-100 degrees.

When you go into the sauna make sure you replace water that you lose in the sauna.  Drink 500ml of water for every 10 minutes you are in the sauna. Either before, during or after. 

6 Tips to Stay Healthy Over the Summer Period

Do you find it a challenge to stay healthy over the holiday period? Does your food and exercise derail completely when out of your routine? Whilst it is necessary to have time away from the daily slog it doesn’t mean that the wheels need to fall off completely. So, whether you are holidaying or just spending time at home with family and friends here are my 7 tips to keep you on track over this period.

Tip 1 – Incidental Exercise & N.E.A.T

Incidental exercise is the physical activity required to engage in normal daily activities across our day.  Think of taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to work instead of driving or cleaning the house as some examples.  The reason why these daily tasks are so significant is due to the acronym known as N.E.A.T.

According to NASM.org, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) “is the energy expended for everything we do that does not include, sleeping, eating, or exercise; and ranges from simple things like standing and fidgeting to moving about.’

There has been some interesting research in recent years whereby researchers have begun investigating the remaining 110-115 hours of the week that we are awake as a weight loss solution, rather than the few hours a week spent trying to exercise.

The results are impressive.  NASM found that a 65kg person burns approximately 102 calories per hour in their office job in a seated position (1.7 cals/per minute), but burns 174 calories per hour if performing those same office duties while standing.

The importance of NEAT is truly significant for those of us that cannot squeeze any more exercise into our busy lives.  Just by making some minor adjustments to how we go about our everyday lives our entire day can be more effectively managed in terms of our energy expenditure.

Tip 2 – Cook at Home Where Possible

When the weather starts to turn better over the Summer month’s we may find ourselves going out socially a lot more.  After work drinks and Christmas parties may start to roll in and whilst fun, it can be disastrous for our healthy eating and alcohol consumption.  It is absolutely necessary to find the balance in between but we can mitigate some of the effects of these social events by putting some positive lifestyle choices in place beforehand. 

Where possible, always try to eat something 60-90 minutes before going out preferably a meal or snack containing protein and good fat.  These foods tend to line the stomach and are slower to digest.  This will also slow down the rate of which alcohol is absorbed in the blood stream.  Pre planning a meal at home before going out will also help stop us from demolishing the snack table at these events.

Tip 3 – Stay Protected from the Sun

According to Cancer Australia “Melanoma of the skin was the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2018. It is estimated that it will become the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2022.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.  This is largely due to the harsh climate in which we live and our close proximity to the equator (higher UV levels) plus our outdoorsy lifestyles.

Quite often, especially at the start of the season we get that one bad sunburn where we end up pink and eventually peeling all over.  To try and mitigate the risk of sunburn apply an SPF factor 30+ or above every time you intend on going outdoors (reapply it every 2 hours).  Combined with this ensure you have a hat and a pair of sunglasses whenever you decide to venture outdoors.

Tip 4 – Get a Good Night’s Sleep

2 out of 5 Australians struggle with sleep on a regular basis according to James Lee a certified sleep coach.  In his blog “16+ Shocking Sleep Statistics Australians Need to Know” he reveals that 10.3 million people or 40% of Australians are not napping the recommended 7-9 hours.   I have to put my hand up and agree that I am one of these people, having a job which requires you to rise at 4.50am every morning can play havoc on your sleep/wake cycles. 

Even more alarming was the statistic that 20% of Australians have fallen asleep whilst driving and 5% of these have been met with an accident (Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults 2016).

A lack of sleep is fraught with a multitude of health issues with links to diabetes and to heart disease.    There has also been numerous research into the potential connection between weight and sleep.  Numerous studies have suggested that restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.

While there is continuing debate within the medical community about the exact nature of this relationship, the existing research points to a positive correlation between good sleep and healthy body weight.

What is known is lack of sleep can affect our neurotransmitters ghrelin and leptin which control our hunger and feelings of satiety.  During periods of poor- quality sleep ghrelin is thought to be stimulated more often, signalling it is time to eat.

Leptin on the other hand, signals when it is time to stop eating.  It decreases your appetite, and signals to your body that it is ok to start burning fat for energy.

When both of these hormones are working well, we have a better metabolic rate, mood regulation, memory, brain function and mental sharpness.

Tip 5 – Practice Daily Mindfulness for Mental Health:

Being mindful is about being aware – of your surroundings, being aware of who you are and what we are doing.  It is the mindset of being able to regulate our emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression.

Daily practices of mindfulness can enhance our lifestyle by helping us deal with stress and anxiety.  It allows us to be present without judgement, fear or worry and just be in the moment. 

Mindfulness techniques can include practices such as Yoga, Meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Stretching or simply sitting quietly and emptying our minds from all thoughts. 

Mindfulness helps improve our concentration and helps reduce ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which are so prevalent in today’s society.

When we are mindful, we experience our life as we live it.  We are present with our family and friends and we experience the world directly through our 5 senses, we taste what we are eating and we recognise the thoughts we are having.  When we allow ourselves to get out of our heads and experience the world directly without the endless commentary of our thought’s we may just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities that life has to offer.

Tip 6 – Take that Much Needed Holiday – 

We have all lived thru a challenging 2 years and now the world is slowly going back to ‘normal’ and things are starting to open up it is time to book that much needed holiday.  If you are still a little nervous about travelling internationally it does not mean that you need to shelve that much needed break. 

Taking time off work, even for a long weekend, allows the body to replenish and repair itself.  Leisure activities contribute to higher positive emotional levels, lower levels of stress hormones, less depression and lower blood pressure.

Taking a break, gives us an opportunity to recharge our batteries, spend quality time with family and friends and push the reset button so we can come back with renewed vigour.  When we don’t take time off regularly it does affect particularly our mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety and burn out.

Wherever and whatever you have planned for this Summer, by being mindful of some of the above tips you can live your life to it’s fullest potential.

The Core

In the health and fitness world we have been a society that has been obsessed with flat stomach’s and ‘six packs’.  I have a good understanding of this all-consuming obsession from the thousands of clients I have trained over the years. When it comes to the part where we talk about a client’s goals, more often than not, references are made to wanting to ‘flatten’ their stomach or to have some type of visible ‘abs’ in their stomach area. This is quickly followed by, the said client, suggesting their program include lots of ‘ab exercises’ to achieve this result.  Now there is nothing wrong with having aesthetic goals around certain parts of our bodies as long as we are realistic with how we go about achieving this.

A basic understanding of the what muscles make up the core and why they are important is a good place to start.

What Muscles Make up the Core:

Without overwhelming you with too much anatomy terminology there are basically 7 major muscles that make up the core (there are some minor ones as well).  The deepest layer of our abdominal muscles are our Transverse Abdominus and these are often referred to as our ‘corset muscles’ these muscles help stabilise our spine and pelvis.  Then we have 2 layers of Oblique muscles the Internal and External Obliques (think like sliding your hands into your front pockets) they control lateral flexion, rotation and other spinal movements.  The topmost or more popularly known muscle is the Rectus Abdominis, which runs vertically in front of your abdomen and are the ones you can visibly see if you are lean (six pack).  It flexes your torso forward like you are doing a crunch.  Last, but certainly not least, is your Pelvic Floor, the back muscles that stabilise your spine (Erector Spinae, Multifidus) and your Diaphragm which assists you with breathing. 

Having a good understanding of the complexity of the Core muscles is important as this allows us to prescribe exercises effectively in order to strengthen these many muscles.  It should be noted that it is not possible to ‘spot reduce’ or reduce body fat from a certain area of your body by doing certain exercises for it.  For example, stomach crunch’s will not make your stomach look smaller or help you reduce fat in this area.  Specific exercises for these areas will however strengthen them.

What are the Benefits to Having a Strong Core:

Better Posture:

Our core muscles wrap around our entire torso including the muscles at the sides of our body and our back.  These muscles help support the spine and stabilise the trunk.  Not only that they help keep us upright which helps improve our posture.  Sitting at a desk all day switches off a lot of our core muscles, a better option is to use a standing desk, sit on a swiss ball or take regular breaks away from your desk.

Better Balance:

 As mentioned, the core is a key stabiliser of the trunk.  Any weakness in any of the 7 core muscles can result in your balance being compromised.  This can lead to an increase in injuries, lower back pain or poor posture. It can also lead to instability of the body as it has to rely on other muscles to assist with balance. 

Protects your Organs:

Our organs are a vital part of our bodies function and a strong core can help protect them and keep them safe.  Organs like your kidneys, spleen, liver and stomach live right underneath your abdominal wall which acts like a shield from the outside elements.  As a result, the stronger your core the better protection from any external force or damage.

Makes Moving Around Easier:

Your core basically underpins every move that you make in everyday life from getting in and out of the car, picking something up off the ground and even rolling over in bed.  You can imagine then, that even the smallest everyday activity can be difficult if you core is weak and not functioning correctly.

Reduces Bodily Pain:

Having a strong core does improve your quality of life dramatically.  A lot of my clients suffer from lower back pain caused by weak muscles in the core and spend a great deal of time and money at Physio’s and Chiro’s in an attempt to get out of pain.  If the core was doing the job it was meant to be doing such as supporting the back and trunk, then the ripple effect would be better movement, posture and balance.

Better Power & Strength:

Executing exercises correctly involves a certain amount of strength in the muscles, especially for big lifts such as squats and deadlifts.  We are only as strong as our weakest muscle and a lot of the times an individual’s core strength is what holds them back from lifting more weight.  The same goes with power, swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet requires a lot of speed and load moving thru the body at once.  If there is a weak link in the chain then this can lead to inefficiencies and injuries.

So Where is the Pelvic Floor?

Before all the males reading this tune out, did you know that you too have a pelvic floor?  The pelvic floor muscles look like a hammock – they’re often referred to as a sling of muscle that runs from the front of the pubic bone to the back of the coccyx (tailbone).  In women, these muscles at the base of the torso support the womb, bladder and bowel. The urinary tract, vagina and anus all pass thru these pelvic floor muscles, so the condition of the muscles in the area directly affects their function.

In men, the pelvic floor supports the bladder and bowel and can affect sexual function.

Why is the Pelvic Floor so Important?

Basically, in both males and females the pelvic floor muscles directly affect your sexual, urinary and bowel functions on a daily basis.  These muscles can be too weak and even too strong (overactive pelvic floor).  In both cases this will have an impact on:

  • Whether you find it hard or easy to pass bowel movements
  • How regularly you urinate and whether you have any leakage
  • Recovery from childbirth or prolapse
  • Sexual pleasure, discomfort or an inability to have sex
  • Core engagement and overall strength

How do I Improve my Pelvic Floor?

If you thought Kegel exercises were just for women, think again!  Find a quiet and private space for 10 minutes where you can focus on your breathing.  As we breathe, the abdomen rises and falls as air enters the diaphragm.  The pelvic floor muscles correspond to our breath, expanding and dropping on inhale and lifting on exhale. Take some time to engage and relax the pelvic floor muscles with each breath mindfully. 

To identify the pelvic floor muscles, stop urination mid-stream or tighten the muscles that keep you from passing gas.  Tighten these muscles for 3 seconds and then relax for 3 seconds.  Try a few of these in a row.  When you get stronger at these try doing them whilst sitting, standing or lying down.

For best results try not to tighten or flex the muscles in your abs, legs or glutes.  Avoid holding your breath, mindful contracting and relaxing is helpful. 

If you continue to have any pain, incontinence, or prolapse issues the assistance and support of a pelvic floor physiotherapist is advised.  For any further erectile or painful sex issues then a counsellor or psychologist with experience in pelvic floor dysfunction can help.  For advice and guidance around strengthening exercises for your core consult a physiotherapist or qualified Personal Trainer in this area.

Exercises for the Core:

Seeking the help of an expert (Physio/PT) in this area is beneficial.  Post-Partum women will need to slowly work back to any kind of impact work as coming back too soon after delivery can weaken the pelvic floor further and cause a prolapse.  In many cases, activation work and learning how to breathe properly using the diaphragm are all essential ingredients before any progressions of exercises should be programmed.  PT’s and Physio’s can perform assessments on clients to see where they are at with their strength in this area.  Please note it it important to perform any core exercises with sound technique as it can cause further injury to these areas.

How to Improve Mobility and Flexibility!

lady handstanding

“A tree that is unbending in easily broken’ Lao Tzu

Flexibility and mobility work in conjunction with one another when it comes to how well we move our bodies.  True athletic performance and freedom of movement can only be achieved when our bodies have an acceptable passive range of motion (flexibility) combined with maintaining active control thru our joints (mobility).  Healthy mobile joints (not too mobile (hyperextension) set the foundation for functional strength and fitness.

If we have sufficient range of motion and control over that range, everything else can become a lot easier.

The problem lies in knowing where to start.

 How do you improve mobility and flexibility? What stretches do you need to do and for how long? Does Yoga and Pilates help with the above?

It can me a minefield of information out there so let’s try and break it down.  I will also share some of the methods I have found useful over the years in self assessing my own body and that of some of my clients.  Hopefully you can apply some of this information to assist your own practice so you too can achieve some freedom of movement.

Mobility is Key to Strength Training;

When it comes to achieving our fitness and strength goals there is a direct link between mobility and strength.  Most people look at increasing reps and weight in order to achieve those elusive strength gains but in actual fact, the best thing we can do is to work on our mobility.

Basically, if we improve our mobility, we can improve our strength.

So, Why is Mobility so important to Strength?

Improved Mobility = Lower Risk of Injury

Trying to lift too much weight, poor technique thru lack of control and strength can put you at risk of injury.  If you have mobility issues in one joint or another in the body, generally you will find another joint in the body will compensate for this lack of mobility.  This can lead to compensation injuries and strains due to the added stress on these joints.

Most of us have experienced some kind of injury or pain in our bodies. In some cases, it can sideline us from working out hard and delay further strength and fitness gains until we recover.

When we improve our mobility and have a greater range of motion, this reduces the pressure on any one single area of the body.  It also reduces our risk of injury and allows us to train with heavier weights and add more neuro-muscular demand on the body.

It is worth mentioning, the wrong type of random stretching, mobilising through pain, or doing a bunch of long static stretches prior to intense exercise can also increase your chance of injury. 

A study published online by ‘Harvard Health Publishing’ on “The Importance of Stretching’ (March 2022) discusses the mounting evidence that has demonstrated that stretching the muscles before they are warmed up can actually hurt them.

According to David Nolan, a Physical Therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.  David found that, ‘when everything is cold, the fibres aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change’. 

All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is 5-10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk.  You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight training workout.

He recommends that you hold a stretch for 30 seconds. ‘Don’t bounce which can cause injury.  You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain’.  If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue.  Stop stretching that muscle and consult a professional in this area.

Improved Mobility = Faster Recovery

Lifting more weight is dependent upon several factors and one of them is consistency in your training.  When our bodies are tight and restricted in movement it can take a long time to recover from a training session.  This can affect our progress and strength gains as a result.

Improved Mobility = Better Technique

Good technique is the key to getting stronger and lifting more weight.  Without optimal mobility, good form is hard to achieve.  Through experience with training clients, if someone cannot get into the correct position for an exercise, for example a squat.  They will not be able to perform the lift or movement properly.  There are certain give aways in terms of restricted mobility that you need to look out for.  An overhead squat assessment (OHSA) is one of the best measures of how healthy your kinetic chain is.  Before you embark on any strength training program my recommendation would be to hire a professional in this area such as an exercise physiologist or an experienced personal trainer.

Other great assessments in these areas include:

How to Improve Our Flexibility and Mobility:


The right type of stretching is the most effective way to improve flexibility but it is often an afterthought for the majority of us.  All too often I see gym goers finish a weight set or step off a cardio machine and walk straight to the changeroom or leave without any kind of warm down. 

What is not known with 100% certainty is the right type of stretching.  Static Stretching (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or longer) has been found to help increase hamstring strength but is it the best method when compared to other types of stretching? 

In the case of Dynamic Stretching (active movements where joints and muscles go thru the full range of motion) it has been suggested that dynamic stretching shows the most improvement in flexibility.   This effectiveness is not only linked to a loosening up of the muscles, but the increased movement during the stretch contributes to an increased range of motion.


Pilates (or the Pilates method) is a series of approximately 500 exercises inspired by calisthenics, yoga and ballet.  Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscles groups in the body in a balanced fashion.  It focuses on taking the exercises slowly and mindfully so that you spend time extending your muscles and regulating your breathing. Props can be used to progress movements such as Pilates balls, circles and blocks but generally all you need is some comfortable clothes and an exercise mat.


Yoga relies on improving your strength, flexibility and breathing through a series of increasingly difficult stretches.  It’s designed to help you become more mindful through breathing techniques and building awareness of your body and mind connection.  Continual yoga sessions and progression loosens the muscles and connective tissues of the body, which leads to a reduction in pain during and after exercise.  Yoga is also relaxing.  It is a calming and meditative practice that requires prolonged and mindful movements that increase your feelings of relaxation and lowers your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

That being said, Yoga is largely positive if you’re looking to increase mobility or to improve flexibility for athletes.  But it’s not 100% necessary and may not be individualised to your exact needs.

Resistance Training:

Resistance Training is normally associated with building muscle and strength but it can also be quite useful for flexibility and range of motion improvements.

The results of preliminary study published in the online National Library of Medicine by Morton, Whitehead, Brinkert and Caine “Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: effects on flexibility and strength found that,

Carefully constructed full-range resistance training regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical static stretching regimens employed in conditioning programs”.


So there we have it, by no way an exhaustive list on how to improve your flexibility and mobility but hopefully it sheds a light more on this topic. 

A few takeaways worth noting, the best mobility program will vary from person to person.  There’s no one size fits approach.  How often you practice your mobility will depend on the individual’s goals, preference and individual makeup.

In an ideal world the best results come from working with a coach in person who can assess your individual background, restrictions and goals.  Some people respond well with 10 minutes a day whereas other people need more.  The most important ingredient in all of this is ensuring it is sustainable and works in with your lifestyle.

Like any other training program compliance and consistence will yield the best results.

The Secrets to Living Longer and Ageing Better:

woman slicing gourd

Like many Australians over the New Years period I found myself isolating due to contracting Covid.  What started as a bit of a scratchy throat turned into headaches, sore eyes, lethargy and a wracking cough that was all in my chest.  My 3 weeks I had taken off work to spend with family in Newcastle and down south was thwarted. At first, I felt angry and ripped off, I could of stayed with these feelings or I could make the best of a testing situation and use it in my favour.  I started cleaning and decluttering my house, I read books that I had been setting aside for months and I also started listening to podcasts.

One particular podcast caught my attention by Dr. David Sinclair a Professor of Genetics at Harvard University.   His research and findings around “The Biology of Slowing & Reversing Ageing’ (Huberman Lab podcast) left me intrigued and thirsty for the secrets of longevity and anti-ageing.  If seeing is believing, David Sinclair who is 52 years old, not only looks like, but says he feels like someone who is many years younger than his biological age.  Approximately 20 % of this can be contributed to somewhat good genetics but 80% or more comes down to our epigenetics (outside behaviours and the environment) which can cause changes with how our DNA work.  This so called ‘fountain of youth’ investigating led me on a mission to find out exactly what are David Sinclair’s secrets to turning back the clock and how if any of these hallmarks I could apply to my own life.

Firstly, who is David Sinclair? 

David Sinclair is a Sydney born Professor of Genetics at Harvard University.  Sinclair has been a popular commentator on the Joe Rogan and the Huberman lab podcasts and has just released his own 8 series podcast called “Lifespan”.  Lifespan looks at the science of ageing and why you can be healthier at any stage in life. Sinclair exploded into the U.S. celebrity circuit due to his 2019 book ‘Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To” and since then is a popular keynote speaker and expert around the topic of ageing.

 Sinclair is also more famously known for being a key member on the scientific board advising 43-year old NFL star Tom Brady on how to stay young.  Tom Brady, who is still winning super-bowls at the age of 43 attributes a lot of his success to the advice he has received from Sinclair calling him ‘someone who really can provide a lot of deep scientific information on the choices that we can make to really live healthier’.

In a nutshell, Sinclair’s research has scientifically looked at how our genomes (complete set of DNA in a cell) can be damaged (think of an old school CD that get scratches on it) and how as a result due to this damage (scratches) the message to the cells is altered.  His research specifically looked at ways in which you can reverse this damage.   

This very topic was proven in Sinclair’s lab studies at Harvard where he was able to reverse vision loss in old mice.  Cells in the mice’s optic nerve were reprogrammed to become younger and regrow again.  This was a massive break-thru for Sinclair as he proved that living cells could be made to revert to a younger state, potentially providing a cure for ageing.  He found that, if you reset the epigenome to a younger version of itself, it starts to express the genetic code without the mistakes and incredibly, makes the cells young again.

Sinclair’s what he refers to as ‘hallmarks’ for longevity are as follows:

  1. Fasting – Going back 6 million years our bodies were designed to respond to adversity and we have largely removed this from our lives, this adversity includes going hungry.   Sinclair explains, ‘if you never go hungry, your body never has to worry about survival, it relaxes which makes these genes lie dormant so to speak’.  By decreasing our feeding window by either skipping breakfast or dinner these longevity genes have the opportunity to switch on. 

There is no perfect best practice for this it really depends what works for you and how this can work into your lifestyle.  Rather than throw yourself into a 16 hour fast, try just reducing your portions at either breakfast or lunch, then when your body adjusts to these smaller portions try taking out a meal altogether.  Allow yourself to drink plenty of fluids, coffee, tea or a tablespoon of yoghurt or olive oil if you take supplements of a morning and need to line your stomach. 

  • Exercise – we all understand the significant impact that exercise has on our physical and mental health but it also plays a vital role in keeping us young.  The proteins found in our genes are stimulated thru exercise by promoting new blood vessels, improving our heart and lung health and extending telomeres (found at the end of our DNA which protect our chromosomes and affect how our cells age).  These telomeres are shortened when we age but can also be shortened thru stress, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet.

Sinclair’s exercise of choice for improving longevity genes is HIIT (high intensity interval training) saying ‘it engages the greatest number of health promoting genes”.  From his book ‘Lifespan’ he explains that ‘the right type of intensity is one whereby you should feel challenged and breathlessYour breathing should be 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.  Getting to this state is enough to create a hypoxic response and to produce enough stress to activate your body’s defences against ageing without doing any permanent harm’.

  • Cold Water Therapy: includes things like having a cold shower, Cryotherapy treatment and ice water plunges.  By being cold this turns on Sirtuin’s which are proteins in a cells genetic code to control things like cell division, metabolism and also responsible for repairing DNA damage. These longevity genes get turned on when we are cold and even when we are hot. 

The research around being cold according to Sinclair, suggests that when the body is cold it starts producing more brown fat which is packed full of mitochondria (battery packs).  This brown fat is metabolically active so it burns energy even at rest, it also secretes proteins which signals to the body to stay young.  Remarkably, you can turn normal fat into brown fat by including cold water therapies into your daily routine.

  • Supplements (Vitality molecules): Whilst Sinclair is reluctant to tell people what to do, he does discuss what he does on a personal level that works for him.  Again, he reiterates everybody is different so the following may not work for everyone and these dosages may need to be adjusted to the individual taking them.  According to Sinclair it is possible to activate longevity genes with what he calls ‘vitality molecules’.  These are available as supplements which help Sirtuin’s do their job. 

Sinclair takes the following supplements:

NR – Nicotinamide riboside which can be found in trace amounts in milk.

NMN  – Nicotinamide mononucleotide which can be found in avocados, cucumbers, broccoli and cabbage.

Resrvatrol – found in red wine

Metformin – diabetes drug

David Sinclair’s Anti-Ageing Routine

Fasting until 1pm drinking plenty of fluids like water, coffee, tea.

Cut out mostly bread, pasta, processed sugar

Exercise daily

1g of NMN every morning

1g Resveratrol

1g of metformin

Vitamin D and K2

83g Aspirin

Mixed in with some yoghurt or olive oil of a morning

In order to put these longevity hallmarks to the test I have for the past 2 weeks overhauled my own daily routine.  I have swapped a warm shower of a morning for a cold 3-minute shower.  I have incorporated the fasting into my day most days of the week.  I delay drinking caffeine for at least 90-120 minutes upon waking and I try to view direct sunlight for 10-30 minutes in the am. 

From these changes I feel I am better focused, more alert, less sluggish and I have lost weight from not always keeping my blood sugars peaking all day. It is ok to feel hungry sometimes!

I have just ordered a whole bunch of NMN and Resveratrol so will report back whether I notice a difference in how I feel after taking these for some time.

Whether some of these effects I am experiencing are psychosomatic or not, I feel better for having put them in place.

I also feel had I not done some of the above then my recovery from covid would have been way worse. I felt zero symptoms 5 days post from contracting the virus and back to my normal self.   

For more information on David Sinclair’s work you can find him on:

Podcast: Lifespan with Dr David Sinclair (Spotify)

Book: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To – David A Sinclair PhD

Joe Rogan Podcast – #1670 David Sinclair

Huberman Podcast – Dr David Sinclair: The Biology of Slowing & Reversing Ageing

How to Survive the Festive Season:

crop faceless woman drinking tea and sitting near christmas tree

The 2021 holidays are almost upon us and this holiday season feels more poignant than most.  It is also a time to reflect on what has been a very hard year for most of us due to a global pandemic. 

This has resulted in many of us being unable to see loved ones for extended periods of time (at the time of writing this I have been unable to see both my elderly parents since April and they both live alone).   It has also meant that we have been disconnected socially from going out with our friends for a drink or a meal, which has had profound effects on our emotional and mental health.   The temptation for many of us as life begins to go back to a somewhat ‘normal’ state is to go from abstainers to total teetotallers in the space of a very short time. 

With the silly season fast approaching us we will soon be facing a barrage of end-of-year work lunches, afternoon drinks and parties you won’t be able to say ‘no’ to.  Not to mention the Christmas and New Year’s get togethers all designed to make you gorge on food till your stomach hurts, drink way more than you intended and deprive you of sleep.

If you want to be the last woman or man standing at your long lunch, dinner or drinks then find my tips below to help you become a well-prepared social athlete.

Pre Going Out:

A common mistake people make when it comes to party season is overindulging on high fat foods like pastries, chips and dip which are consumed mindlessly while waiting for the ‘real’ food to be served.  The easiest way to avoid overeating at parties and events is to make sure you don’t arrive hungry.  Aim to eat a good fat and protein enriched meal at least 60-90 minutes beforehand.  These macronutrients are found to be slower to digest in the stomach with in turn helps slow down the rate in which alcohol is absorbed.

Alcohol Fit Tip:

One of the most undervalued and unknown foods that helps break down alcohol enzymes is the Nashi Pear (also known as the Asian or Korean pear). However, it is important to note that, according to Professor Noakes from the CSIRO (2015)  “that the effect was demonstrated if you take pear juice before alcohol consumption and not after”

Don’t Demolish the Snack Table:

This study by the CSIRO (2015) found that whilst pears have such benefits of lowering cholesterol, relieve constipation and contain anti-inflammatory properties “it also appears they can ward off hangovers AND lower blood alcohol levels”. The CSIRO’s research found that ‘consuming 220ml of pear juice prior to alcohol consumption could reduce blood alcohol levels by 20% and reduce the symptoms of a hangover”.

Don’t be fooled by canapes that are offered at gatherings, they may appear small and harmless but most of them contain an average of 200 calories or more.  It’s easy to fall victim to mindlessly snacking on these between rounds of drinks and conversation.  Limit yourself to 2-3 canapes at any one function which will ensure you still have an appetite for any main meals that are served.

Whilst it is often thought that alcohol does the most damage when it comes to weight gain, often it is the foods that we’re enjoying with those few drinks that are equally if not more to blame.  Alcohol is metabolised before proteins or fats, therefore the snack food that you consume will more likely be stored if it is not burnt off.  For this reason, eating a satiating meal before you go out will mean you will be less likely to overeat at an event.  If you do wish to partake in some party food opt for healthier options such as sushi, salads, grills and vegetable snacks over the chips, fried food and sugary desserts.

Whilst Drinking:

Whether you are hitting up your favourite pub or club or just out celebrating with friends, there are some tips and tricks you should know that will help lessen the impact of your big night.  Whilst some of these might seem completely obvious, common sense seems to go out of the window when we are having a good time!

 1 Drink to 1 Water:

We all understand the benefits of this one, alternating one alcoholic drink with one water or soda water helps keep us hydrated and slows down our imbibing.  If you don’t wish to look awkward ask for your water in a wine glass or low-ball glass with ice and no one will know the difference.

Keep Congeners to a Minimum:

Most people would not have heard of ‘avoiding congeners’ but they might of heard of ‘stick to clear or light coloured liquors to avoid hangovers’. Congeners are the toxic fermentation by-products largely found in dark liquors such as brandy, bourbon, tequila, whiskey, cognac, dark beer and red wine.  Congeners are largely responsible for the upset stomach and sore head you feel the next day after drinking them.  Drinks that are low in congeners are vodka, gin and lighter beers so stick to these types of drinks if you want to avoid that hung over feeling the next day.

Take it Easy on the Bubbles:

It’s not in your imagination if after a glass of Champagne you feel like it has gone to your head there is a very good reason for it.  The carbon dioxide found in a glass of champers or fizzy drinks makes you absorb the alcohol faster.  This is even the case if the champagne is lower in alcohol than a red or white wine.

Post Drinking:

It’s not exactly scientifically proven what specifically causes a hangover.  Some of the most common symptoms of a hangover – headache, tiredness, nausea and being sensitive to light come down to dehydration.  One of the main chemicals in alcohol is acetaldehyde, created when ethanol is broken down in the liver, it can be up to 30 times more toxic than the alcohol itself.

Replacing fluids when drinking is essential to avoiding a hangover, the ethanol acts as a diuretic in the body which makes you go to the toilet all night.  Coupled with water, electrolytes can help bring your body back into balance faster so add a Gatorade or Hydralyte to help you bounce back to your old self faster.

Eat a Protein Hearty Breakfast:

You may be craving fast food or sugary snacks the next day to help absorb the alcohol but the ideal food to eat the next day is eggs.  Eggs are full of amino acids like cysteine which breaks down that toxic chemical acetaldehyde and taurine, which boosts liver health and function. 

How Does alcohol Affect Your Fitness & Strength:

You only have to experience attempting to train the next day or even up to a few days after a big night to feel the effects it has had on your strength and fitness.  You may feel more lethargic, more tired after your normal workout and your strength may not be as great.  A study that was conducted at Massey University in New Zealand (2010 -2011) looked at how much is too much?  What was the magic number of when alcohol starts to affect your body.  This study confirmed it does largely come down to bodyweight.  They found that consuming more than half a gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight after eccentric exercise (lowering a weight) affects muscle function.  In an 80kg male this equates to ½ bottle of red wine or 3-4 full strength beers and for a 50kg female this equates to 1-2 glasses of wine.

These studies also found that drinking more than one gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight can set you up more problems.  The alcohol starts to affect protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth, and interrupt growth hormone and testosterone production.

The Best Exercise & Recovery:

There is no need to avoid exercise altogether after a big night as it does have the benefit of boosting our mood and stimulating our brain.  Try to avoid any endurance type events or high intensity exercise and instead opt for gentler exercises such as walking, swimming, Pilates, Yoga or lifting lighter weights.  Try to avoid exercise that is going to make you sweat a lot as chances are you are already dehydrated. 

In order to feel like your old self drink plenty of water for the next 24 hours and focus on getting some good quality sleep.  Wait at least 24 hours before hitting it hard at the gym again to prevent any symptoms from getting worse and putting extra strain on your body.

‘10 Tips for How to Stay on Track in the Cold’

woman in black hooded down jacket covering her face with grey fingerless gloves

Don’t let all of your hard work thru the warmer months come undone with the first hint of a cool breeze.  Your training regime does not have to be seasonal! Training in the colder months may make you feel like hibernating rather than springing out of bed for that 6am PT session. It’s far easier to make excuses not to when the weather starts to turn but there are many benefits to training in the cold weather.

In order to stay on top of your fitness goals use the following tips to help you achieve year- round fitness.

  1. Move your training Indoors – If training outdoors is your thing, then an indoor option may be the solution to keep you training year-round.  I teach Cycle classes at my local gym, in the Winter months, or when it is raining, the hard -core outdoor cyclists enthusiasts will come indoors to roll the legs over.  Many outdoor sessions like Bootcamps can be supplemented indoors for classes like HIIT or more traditional Circuit style workouts. 

Indoor workouts can also be done in the comfort of your own home. There is a wide array of online classes available that you can stream live or at a time that is convenient for you.

2. Set a Winter Training Goal – There is no reason why you cannot set seasonal goals in relation to your health.  Setting a goal in Winter will set you up for success for the upcoming warmer months.  If the goal thru Winter is to increase your strength in all of your major lifts like squats, deadlifts and bench. Then a good practice to put into place is how are you going to measure this? Also consider how many days per week training would this involve? 

Your goal may be to lose some weight. This may involve tracking your food and exercise for a period of time and taking some measurements to track your progress.

3. Pre- Pack Your Gym Bag: Having a pre packed and ready-to-go gym bag equipped with all of the essentials such as warm winter layers, healthy snacks, a towel and headphones will give you the best chance of heading out the door.  The same rules apply if you are training in the afternoon, planning and preparing for your workout before you train will make the transition into the colder weather a lot more palatable.  I know of some clients that set their workout attire out the night before especially if they are training early to make getting up in the cold more seamless.

4. Warm Up – Preparing your body for the workout that lies ahead is essential.  Adequate warms ups involve mobilising your body thru a combination of static (held stretch) and dynamic stretching (movement based) such as jogging on the spot and swinging your arms, shoulder shrugs, arm circles etc.  Try to recreate some of the exercises you will be doing in your training using your bodyweight, moving thru a greater range of motion as you get warmer.  Warming up sufficiently will help you decrease your risk of injury and ensure you get the most out of your workouts.

5. Eat to Stave off Sickness:  In the Winter months colds, coughs and sore throats become more prevalent.  Instead of reaching for the comfort food the cooler weather is a good opportunity to explore the seasonal fruits and vegetables winter has to offer. Pre prepare soups with stock and seasonal vegetables such as parsnips, sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, broccoli and cauliflower.  A great time saver and a wonderful way to bring out the flavours in foods are slow cooked meats and vegetables.  A wide variety of foods can be cooked in a slow cooker including one pot meals, soups, stews and casseroles.

6. Vitamin D – It’s one of the great Australian paradoxes, in a sun loving nation with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, we still have a vitamin D deficiency problem.   The bodies main source of vitamin D is through sun exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, yet research shows roughly 1 in 4 Aussies don’t get enough sunshine to maintain healthy bones and musclesAccording to Adjunct Professor Craig Sinclair, Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborative Centre for U.V radiation.  ‘You only need a few minutes under the Summer sun to get adequate vitamin D, but if you go over that you are risking DNA damage.  In the Winter months, on the other hand, when the UV index is less than 3, you might need a couple of hours of midday exposure during the week to get adequate vitamin D from the sun’, explains Sinclair.

Where you live can also make a difference.  According to ABS data, vitamin D deficiency in winter is most common in the southern parts of Australia such as Victoria and Tasmania. 

7. Stay Hydrated – It can be easy to forget about drinking water when you are not sweating, but you can quickly become dehydrated on the cooler days too.  Keep a 2 litre water bottle on your desk when you are at work at take regular sips from it aiming to drink all of it by the end of the day.  Whilst exercising try to drink 250ml every 15 minutes of exercise.  Dehydration can cause brain fog, reduced athletic performance and even slows down the weight loss process

8. Try the 7 minute rule – I have been employing the 7 minute rule to my own workouts for over 10 years and I even share this method with my clients. On those days when your motivation for training is really starting to wane, put your workout clothes on and get to the gym.  Put your favourite music on and if after 7 minutes of training you still feel like leaving then give yourself a free pass (without guilt) to leave. More times than not you will push thru and finish your workout and feel better that you gave it another shot. 

9. Change it Up – The change of seasons is a good time to start to vary up your workout routine.  In most cases we start to reach training plateau’s after 4 -6 weeks of doing the same activities.  A plateau means that the results we got at the start of our new program start to decrease.  This can manifest in both cardiovascular and strength training as well as in weight loss.  Doing the same type of exercises day in and day out can make our motivation levels take a nose dive.  Try to change up 1 day of exercise and watch your results start to increase and your motivation levels start to soar.

10. Buddy Up – Enlisting a workout buddy is the best way to establish accountability.  When you can’t count on yourself to make it past the pre-workout coffee, calling in a buddy is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t hit the cancel button on that morning alarm.  Having a friend by your side during those winter months will be likely to keep you moving during those extra tough times.