The Pain In Your Foot: Plantar Fasciitis

It’s bad enough to have tired, aching feet at the end of the day, but it’s even worse to wake up with foot pain. If you find it painful to walk after getting out of bed first thing in the morning, you may be suffering from plantar fasciitis. According to WebMD, although walking around may initially alleviate the morning pain, it’s typical for the soreness and discomfort to return with a vengeance later on, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet throughout the day. Plantar fasciitis is a condition that’s not fully understood. That has led the experts to cover their bases and behinds by mentioning everything that could be the cause as well as numerous solutions that might help but, in the end, the actual causes and effective treatments can depend on individual circumstances.

We’re not claiming to know all the answers or have the final word in plantar fasciitis, but we have done a little digging around and want to share the information we’ve found. Depending on your physical health and lifestyle, you may find it useful.

It’s Not What They Say

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The plantar fascia is the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, from heel to toes. Image by mmarchin/Flickr

The plantar fascia is the band of tissues that runs along the bottom of your foot from heel bone to toes. Many people compare it to an archery bow because that’s what is resembles. It’s naturally taut, though flexible, and supports the arch in your foot. If you’ve done any research on your own, you’ve probably seen authoritative resources refer to it as a tendon, but that’s not completely true. The plantar fascia tissue is closer to being a ligament because it connects bone to bone, rather than connecting muscle to bone.

That misclassification isn’t the only misleading thing about conventional plantar fasciitis information. The pain is typically attributed to inflammation, thus the “itis” at the end of the name. However, a study published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that tissue inflammation is not typically present with the true cases of the condition, and that it is actually a case of tissue degeneration. Sometimes degenerative issues can develop as you age and sometimes they are genetic.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis-osis?

Running–or even standing or walking–on hard surfaces can result in plantar fascia pain.

No one has been able to really pinpoint one, conclusive cause of plantar fascia pain, but many educated theories are floating around out there. Some common hypotheses include:

  • obesity
  • improperly fitting shoes
  • over pronation–rolling your feet inward as you walk
  • standing, walking, or running on hard surfaces for extended periods of time
  • high arches
  • no arches–flat feet

Notice how those last two seem to conflict with each other? Having arches can cause pain, but so does not having them?

In some cases, the way your foot is shaped can cause you to develop plantar fascia pain. Sometimes that can be caused by an injury like if you break your foot and it heals screwy, but you can also be born with an abnormality, like science writer Paul Ingram. He was born with a slight deformity of his foot bones that interferes with his arch and has caused chronic problems with his plantar fascia.

If you have plantar fascia pain that isn’t an inherited condition or due to the shape of your foot, it’s probably the result of a repetitive use injury, kind of like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or runner’s knee.

Pain Treatments and Management

A foot massage will feel good and may temporarily alleviate plantar fascia pain, but it’s not a long-term fix.

There are a number of ways medical professionals treat plantar fascia pain and,  according to Sports Injury Clinic, many times the plan of attack is to use a combination of methods. That is likely due to the fact that the cause is difficult to pinpoint, so your healthcare provider will cast a wide net to increase the odds of addressing what’s really at the root of your problem. In severe cases when more conservative treatment doesn’t help, steroid injections or surgery might be recommended. However, in the study mentioned above, the researchers concluded that steroid injections weren’t necessarily the best treatment for the condition because they cannot stop or reverse tissue degeneration and have the potential to cause further damage to the plantar fascia.

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Weighted calf raises are just one resistance exercise that will strengthen your calf muscles for a longer-term solution for your foot pain.

Managing the pain through therapies and lifestyle changes may be your best bet. Over the counter painkillers can help, and you can try over the counter orthotic inserts in your shoes or have your doctor prescribe custom-made ones. Physical therapists have seen some improvement in patients who wear special splints at night that stretch the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon during sleep. Physical therapists also recommend calf stretches for plantar fascia pain, but you shouldn’t stop with simple stretching. Strengthening your calf and other lower-leg muscles is a proven way to effectively combat the pain. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who participated in high-load strength training for their legs and calves experienced faster plantar fascia pain reduction and improved function than those who only performed stretches.

Dealing With a Cervical Herniated Disc

Neck injuries can be sudden, or they can creep up on you. Maybe you wiped out on your rollerblades and, other than a scraped elbow and some overall soreness, you didn’t think you were injured. Then, after an aggressive workout a couple of months or even years later, you start experiencing pain and weakness in your shoulders and arms and possibly tingling in your hands. While it could be a new injury brought on by the workout, it could also be the old injury coming back to haunt you if your fall caused a disc in your neck to herniate.

A cervical herniated disc, also known as a bulging disc, isn’t a condition that will go away quickly on its own, especially if you continue to try to push through the pain and work out. A short break from some exercise is required, and you should absolutely see a doctor or chiropractor for treatment so you can recover as soon as possible.

Injuries Not Required

Sports injuries, like a rollerblade wreck, can easily cause a herniated disc. However, Spine Health reveals that those pesky discs can spontaneously start bulging for no apparent reason in people over the age of 30. However you acquire the condition, the result is the same. The inner, gel-like core of a disc sitting between two vertebrae squeezes out and presses up against the nerves in your spine. Because of the tight fit between your neck and spinal cord, it doesn’t even have to be much of a bulge to cause pain to run down your shoulders, through your arms, and into your hands.

Treating a Herniated Cervical Disc

Chiropractic treatment can be an effective way to control pain caused by a herniated cervical disc. Image by Michael Dorausch/Flickr

You might try to tough it out for a day or two, but the pain that’s a symptom of your condition will likely have you calling the doctor. That’s all for the best because the sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get back to life as usual. Whether you consult a medical doctor who specializes in treating the spine or a chiropractor, either will likely prescribe rest from strenuous activities for at least a few days–maybe longer, depending on the severity of your condition. Giving up your workouts can be almost as hard to deal with as the pain, but relieving the pain is top priority and will mean you can get back to exercising.

As for actual treatment, WebMD says that conservative, nonsurgical treatment is usually the first thing doctors recommend and, unless the injury is severe, it’s best to try to avoid surgery. Over the counter medications are typically sufficient for relieving inflammation and pain, but your doctor may prescribe something stronger if aspirin or ibuprofen aren’t cutting it. He might also fit you with a soft collar to apply traction to your neck. That will draw the vertebrae apart enough to pull the bulging disc away from your spinal cord. Your doc may also refer you to a physical therapist to learn some exercises that will protect and strengthen your neck, or he might even show you how to do them himself.

Exercises to Avoid, Exercises to Do

No. You read that right. Part of your treatment for a bulging disc in your neck is exercising, but not necessarily the hardcore, heavy resistance you’re used to. According to LIVESTRONG, during recovery you should avoid activities that put pressure on your neck, arms, and shoulders, as well as ones that strain your spine in general. You’ll probably find it next to impossible to lift your arms over your head when you have a herniated cervical disc, but you shouldn’t be lifting anything over your head with that condition anyway. If not being able to exercise makes you crazy, do some cardio on the elliptical. Because it’s practically zero-impact and you remain erect while working out on an elliptical machine, it’s the preferred way to exercise with a neck injury. A stationary bike is fine, too, as long as you remain upright and don’t lean forward. Doing so puts you in a position to crane your neck back, which will aggravate the injured disc.

Your doctor or PT will have you do lateral neck bends for a bulging disc in your neck. Image by motivationaldoc/YouTube

But what about these exercises that your doctor will want you to do?  HealthLine lists a few neck-friendly exercises and stretches including

  • head lifts
  • chin tucks
  • neck extensions
  • lateral neck bends
  • neck rotations
  • scalene stretches

Doctors and physical therapists alike have found MacKenzie exercises to be effective for helping eliminate pain from the extremities so the disc can become better. Unfortunately, herniated discs don’t really heal, although you can manage them with proper exercise and lifestyle modification. Yes, that means you may not be able to compete in powerlifting meets anymore and will have to do your neck stretches and exercises as often as you do a resistance workout. If that means your disc will slide back and stay where it belongs, leaving you pain-free, it’s worth it.

Strengthening Your Neck

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Shoulder shrugs done with resistance bands are as effective as dumbbell shrugs, but they aren’t as likely to aggravate your injury.

Take advantage of the times when your herniated disk isn’t acting up by incorporating neck-strengthening exercises into your routine. Building up the muscles in your neck and shoulders will support your cervical spine to minimize opportunities for the disk to bulge again. According to Bodybuilding.com, some effective exercises are

  • barbell and dumbbell shrugs
  • front dumbbell raises
  • side lateral raises

Even if you favor free weights as your preferred form of resistance, consider working out with resistance bands the first couple of weeks after your doctor has released you to exercise again. Bands are as effective as iron but won’t be as stressful on your neck, shoulder joints, and tendons.

Losing Weight With Hypothyroidism

Gaining weight that’s hard to take off is one effect of a malfunctioning thyroid.

Recently, a reader reached out and requested help with losing weight. While that is a typical issue we deal with all the time, this person is dealing with a not-so-typical roadblock: hypothyroidism. According to Web MD, it’s a disorder of the thyroid gland, also known as underactive thyroid disease. When the thyroid doesn’t perform as it should, not producing enough thyroid hormone in this case, all kinds of health issues can arise including slowed heart rate, fatigue, inexplicable weight gain and difficulty taking weight off.

The fatigue and slowed heart rate alone can make you want to skip exercising, or will at least interfere with how vigorously you go at it, but exercise is one of the four key things you can do to control your weight with hypothyroidism. With your body working against weight loss, you have more of a challenge ahead of you than other people do, so don’t get discouraged if your progress is slow at first. If you get serious about doing the things that can help you lose weight, you really will see results.

Work Closely With Your Doctor

Your doctor is a valuable partner in the quest to lose weight with hypothyroidism.

Even under normal circumstances, everyone’s body is different. That’s why different exercise regimens and diets affect everyone differently. If you have hypothyroidism, getting your doctor’s input every step of the way on your path to weight loss will help you tailor a program that works for you. Let your doctor know how your medication is affecting you, such as how it makes you feel and the ways you see your body reacting. She should be checking your reverse T3 levels on a regular basis anyway and may adjust your prescription a few times to get it right. Also, make sure she knows about other medications you are on as well as vitamins and supplements you’re taking. Discuss planned dietary changes and the type of workout you’d like to do, as well. Your doctor may have some helpful advice for you in both areas.

Fine Tuning Your Diet

Reduce processed foods and get more lean protein, whole grains, and fresh vegetables to fine tune your diet and encourage weight loss if your thyroid isn’t working right.

One of the problems with hypothyroidism that makes it hard to lose weight is that the hormonal imbalance it causes affects the signals your body sends to your brain. One of those signals is hunger, and you may find yourself craving carbs or thinking you’re hungry when your body really doesn’t need the fuel. You do still need a reasonable amount of calories, though, so going on a reduced calorie diet isn’t the answer. According to Dr. Kent Holtorf, doing so when you have hypothyroidism can reduce your metabolism and keep it burning slow (in starvation mode) years after you ditch the diet and increase your caloric intake.

The solution is to continue to eat the number of calories you need to function and stay healthy, but make them quality calories. Avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and products made with white flour including pasta, pastries, and bread. Structure meals to include lean protein, fresh vegetables, and healthy fats–go organic, if you can. Also, Everyday Health points out that digestive function can be slowed along with metabolism for people who have hypothyroidism. To help with digestion as well as keep you from overeating, cut your meal size, but increase the number of times you eat in a day, eating smaller but more frequent meals. You might even consider taking digestive enzymes.

Move It to Lose It

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If hypothyroidism leaves you drained, resistance exercises are effective for helping with weight loss.

OK, we just told you not to go on a reduced calorie diet, so here is where you burn those “extra” calories instead of cutting them. If hypothyroidism has you feeling too fatigued to do a HIIT class, start out slow and go for a walk instead. If you have the energy, kick it up a notch and do an aerobics class or turn that walk into a jog or run. Once you start exercising, you’ll have more energy and will eventually be able to increase the intensity of your exercise. Experts advise that resistance training is just as important for your health as cardio is–and even more so for hypothyroidism patients. That makes it essential to include regular weight lifting or resistance band training days in your workout schedule. Plus, for those who just don’t have the energy for cardio, resistance training is an effective way to work exercise into your lifestyle. It burns extra calories and it builds lean muscle which, in turn, helps increase your metabolism to–that’s right!–burn even more calories. Once you have your energy back, resistance training in a HIIT format is ultra-effective for burning fat and building muscle.

Getcher Z’s

Incorporate relaxing rituals into your bedtime routine, like taking a relaxing bubble bath.

Hormonal imbalance from hypothyroidism can also interfere with sleep, but adequate sleep is essential for losing weight. In fact, a study done at the University of Chicago found that getting adequate rest increases the amount of fat you can lose with diet and exercise. Eating cleaner and exercising can help you get a better night’s sleep when you have hypothyroidism, but there are additional things you can do to get better quality sleep with an overactive thyroid. Everday Health suggests:

  • keeping your bedroom dark to stimulate your body’s melatonin production
  • turning the thermostat in your bedroom down, somewhere between 65 to 70°F
  • sleep on a supportive but comfortable bed, even if it means getting a new mattress
  • don’t eat a large meal right before bed, but do have a light snack of carbs if you’re feeling peckish
  • develop a calming bedtime routine and follow it every night, i.e.: listen to soothing music, soak in a warm bath, or read a book (a real one–not an ebook, because they have backlit screens that can make you more alert instead of relaxing you).

The Fix For Fatigue

It’s not just hardcore lifters who experience fatigue–it can happen to anyone.

When you get really serious about your workout, it’s easy to push yourself to the point of fatigue. It’s natural to experience occasional days of low energy, and your life outside the gym can compound the problem, especially right now. When you’re working out full-bore on top of not eating optimally or getting enough rest, your body won’t be able to perform its best. There are times when a day off is called for, but there are things you can do before and after a workout to help ensure you have what it takes to make it through.

When To Take a Day Off

Chronic moodiness or depression can be signs of fatigue that signal you need a rest day from the gym.

Before offering advice on pushing through fatigue to work out, let’s talk about how to know when you should take a day of rest instead. Sure, you might not want to take a day off, but you’ll do more harm than good if you go into a workout excessively fatigued. If you’ve been overly tired or depressed or moody for more than a day, that’s a reliable indication that you need an extra rest day. Yes, working out can actually help wake you up and even alleviate depression, but exercise as therapy for those issues will still work–likely better–if you give yourself a day off from working out first. Other signs to pay attention to include chronic muscle soreness and stiff joints, abnormal heart rate, and dehydration, according to Daily Burn.

Before a Workout

Fend off fatigue by eating a light meal of protein and carbs a couple of hours before working out.

If you’ve fallen into a pattern of feeling good and ready for a workout before you hit the gym, only to have your energy drop fast with exhaustion setting in once you start, Bodybuilding.com says preplanning will nip workout fatigue in the bud. Since inadequate nutrition can be the cause of fatigue, their two-step solution is nutrition-based. The first piece of advice is to eat a light pre-workout meal comprised of protein and carbohydrates–and be sure to wash it down with at least 14 ounces of water to help with digestion and hydration.

The second step is a little more involved and specialized based on how you train and what type of diet you’re on. It branches into two protocols, but they’re both built on getting extra amino acids into your system an hour or less before exercise along with more water. The preferred forms of these pre-workout aminos would be free-form essential amino acids or whey protein hydrolysate with at least 50 percent (or more!) dipeptides and tripeptides to ensure quick absorption.

Outside Of the Gym

Deviled eggs made with a mayo-substitute like Greek yogurt or hummus are a terrific and tasty post-workout snack.

In keeping with the nutrition-for-fatigue line of thinking, eating after a workout is just as important as eating before you exercise. Begin your recovery nutrition within 15 to 60 minutes after a workout. Eating for recovery should be comprised of a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. On top of that post-workout snack, eating a well-balanced meal of lean, healthy foods about 2 hours after you exercise will help your body continue to fight off fatigue. Don’t forget to start rehydrating immediately, either. Try to drink around 20 to 24 ounces for each pound of fluid you sweated off during your workout.

Rest is so vital for recovery and keeping fatigue at bay that three different types of rest make up half of the six top ways Men’s Fitness lists to guard against fatigue. They include:

  • programming recovery workouts and entire weeks of downtime into your exercise schedule
  • taking sufficient time between workouts to allow for recovery
  • getting adequate amounts of sleep, even if it means taking a 30-minute power nap during the day

Hire a therapist or do self-massage with a roller–both are fabulous fatigue fighters.

Massage therapy is another effective fatigue-fighter, whether you shell out $50 or more for a professional massage or spend some time after a workout with a foam roller. On top of feeling heavenly, a massage encourages relaxation which will help with the rest and recuperate part of your protocol. Plus, it increases circulation while reducing stiffness in your muscles.

Hormones and Your Health

More bad days than good is a health warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored.

Everyone has good days and bad days–days when you feel so good you could conquer the world as well as days when it seems to take all the energy you have just to get dressed in the morning. Those ups and downs are tied to a number of lifestyle factors including what you eat, stress levels at your job, how much rest you get, and how frequently you exercise. On those days when something feels off, we tend to ignore it and keep plodding through the regularly scheduled agenda. That might get you through occasionally, but it’s essential to pay attention to your body and how it feels on a regular basis. When the bad days start outnumbering the good, it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance.

Imbalances Can Happen to Anyone

Fatigue is just one symptom that could indicate a hormone imbalance regardless of age.

Hormonal imbalance is a condition that tends to be associated with older people, but the truth is that anyone of practically any age can experience an imbalance in their hormones. Whether it’s your individual health issues, genetics, or caused by medications or surgery, it’s an issue that should be addressed. Unfortunately, the reason most people don’t realize they have a problem with hormone levels is that the body produces several different hormones–nearly 50, according to ikonet!–that are necessary for optimal health. Additionally, the symptoms of a problem with any one of them are varied and can often be mistakenly linked to a non-hormonal health issue. And to top it off, men and women can experience problems with hormones in different ways, according to Dr. John Lee. Some common symptoms that you may have already experienced and written off can include:

  • skin problems–dry skin or acne
  • insomnia
  • trouble concentrating
  • depression and/or anxiety
  • excessive body hair
  • thinning or loss of hair on the head
  • lack of energy
  • moodiness
  • weight gain or loss
  • lowered libido
  • headaches

And those are just a few signs you might see.

What You Can do About Hormonal Imbalance

Hormones and health are kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. You need to be healthy to produce the hormones you need to stay healthy. Where do you start? Daily Burn recommends tweaks to your lifestyle that will optimize hormone levels such as getting more sleep, working out, and eating healthier. Fast food and pre-packaged might be convenient, but they’re hardly an acceptable trade-off for feeling good. You don’t have to ditch chips and dips, burgers and fries altogether, but eat less of them and more nutrient-rich foods like leafy greens, citrus fruits and berries, nuts, legumes, and lean protein.

Many people find strength training along with cardio exercise effective for helping balance hormones.

As for the exercising, an imbalance in your hormones might make you feel like you can barely lift your arm, let alone a 20-pound dumbbell but, counterintuitive as it may sound, working out can actually give you more energy. The professionals at Piedmont Healthcare recommend consistent cardio and strength training workouts rather than one instead of the other, and say that the exercise will help balance your hormones to reduce stress and depression, help you sleep better, and increase vitality. You don’t have to overdo it, either, and we actually recommend you don’t over-exercise. According to Dr. Josh Axe, overtraining can result in an increased hormonal imbalance, making you feel even worse. How much is enough without being too much? We like to fall back on the CDC’s recommendations because they’ve proven to be generally effective. They advise adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise each week in addition to at least two strength training sessions.

See Your Doctor

If lifestyle tweaks don’t get you feeling better, a visit to the doctor is in order. Image by Vic/Flickr

It would be nice if diet and exercise were the answer to everything, but there are times when no matter what you do, you still can’t get back to feeling good. That’s when it’s time to take the problem to your doctor. He can perform tests and make recommendations for supplements and even hormone therapy to bring your body back into alignment. Don’t like the idea of taking manufactured hormones? Or maybe you don’t look forward to getting frequent injections or dealing with creams, gels, or patches for the rest of your life. Don’t let issues like that prevent you from getting help. There are tons of alternatives these days including bioidentical hormones that are considered natural and are made with plants like yams or soy. Plus, you could opt for pellet therapy, which is a procedure that involves injecting a small, compounded pellet into the fatty tissue under the skin on your hip. The pellet time-releases hormones into your system and you won’t have to get another one injected for 3 to 6 months.

The bottom line is your health is everything. If your car starts having performance problems, you check the oil, change the sparkplugs, and start using better quality fuel. Then, if it’s still acting up, you take it to the mechanic. If you’re feeling off, make some lifestyle changes and don’t delay seeing your doctor if those adjustments don’t make a significant difference.

Taking Off the Last 10

Last 10 pounds have you stumped? Don’t give up yet!

Applause, applause for everyone who stuck with their New Year’s Resolution and is working out and watching what they eat. According to Statistic Brain, you are in an elite group considering that almost 60 percent of people who make resolutions crap out after only one month. So, if you’re hanging in there almost 6 months later, good for you! You’ve likely seen some terrific results by now, even if you haven’t reached your ultimate goal. Don’t let that small detail convince you to quit now. If you’re down to your last 10 or 15 pounds of weight loss and have plateaued, here are some tricks you can try to move forward and hit your target. 

Adjust Your Eating

Little adjustments such as eating smaller meals and/or eating more frequently throughout the day can get your metabolism burning again.

Nobody likes the word diet, so let’s say “eating plan” instead. If you’ve found an eating plan you can live with and even like, you might be loathe to make changes, but adjusting a few things about how you eat could be just what you need to lose a bit more weight. Prevention interviewed four women who successfully took off their last 10 pounds, and all of them did it by making small changes to their eating plans, such as putting more protein into your meals. Whatever changes you make, stick to eating the same amount of calories. That could mean cutting back a bit on other food groups. Another suggestion is simply to eat smaller portions of the exact same foods you make for the rest of the family. See? No need to plan for special foods or additional meals. Nothing earth-shattering.  

Web MD recommends fiddling with the number of meals you eat, such as dividing your daily calories out over three meals and two snacks if you’re used to only eating three times a day. Bodybuilding.com says to eat homemade more often, and that might be the one tip that finally does the trick. According to the Orlando Sentinel, over half of U.S. adults eat out or takeaway orders three times a week or more, and eating even just one restaurant meal each day can make your weight go up by 2 pounds in a year. If you must eat out while you’re trying to lose weight, at least make healthy choices. Pick the leanest foods on the menu and commit to taking home half of the portion you’re served, instead of cleaning your plate.  

Tweak Your Workout

If you aren’t already resistance training, give it a try. If you are, change up your routine to push your body back into fat burning mode.

Here’s the thing: you’ll get better weight loss results if you combine a healthy eating plan with exercise. Like it or not, them’s just the facts. So! If you’ve been trying to take it all off with diet alone, add a workout into the mix to jumpstart your metabolism. If you’re already working out, then changing up your routine will get your metabolism going again to finish off the final 10. Try a new workout and increase the intensity. You’ve heard us harping on HIIT for sometime now, but that’s only because it works. Switching to High Intensity Interval Training will give you more bang for your workout buck when you not only perform different exercises than you’re used to doing, but you do them with increased intensity in a format that’s been proven to kick your metabolism up a few notches and keep it burning for hours after you’re finished working out.  

Does it all sound too simple? Good. That means it’s doable. With a tweak here and an adjustment there, you can get rid of the last 10 pounds to hit your weight loss goal!

6 Health Issues That Cause Weight Gain

Illness could be at the bottom of sudden, unexplained weight gain.

The human body is a complex piece of machinery. It runs well when everything is in perfect balance, but when illness strikes, the resulting imbalance can throw many elements out of whack, such as your weight. You might think you’re doing all the right things, but if you’ve experienced sudden, unexpected weight gain that you can’t seem to shed with any amount of diet adjustments and exercise, it’s probably time to see your doctor. Gaining weight is a symptom of a variety of different medical conditions but, with a complete physical and a thorough blood test, your doctor could diagnose an issue early enough to treat it effectively. Plus, you’ll be better able to manage your weight.

Malnutrition

You can eat a lot but still be malnourished if you aren’t eating foods that provide the nutrition you need. Image via Nikocado Avocado/YouTube

You might associate malnutrition with starving, but MedicineNet says the more accurate definition is not getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients to maintain optimal health. That means that even if you’re eating three full meals a day, you still won’t get adequate nutrients if those meals are made up of the wrong foods. Not getting proper nutrition can slow down your digestion and metabolism which nutritionists say can cause significant weight gain. Malnutrition is one of the easier issues to deal with. Just start eating healthier, even if it means consulting a dietician.

Ovarian Conditions

Cysts in the ovaries can make it difficult to conceive, but polycystic ovary syndrome (also known as PCOS) can also cause weight gain. Health website NHS Choices says PCOS causes a frustrating cycle of putting on weight which triggers the body to produce excess insulin, which causes more weight gain, which causes more insulin production … you get the idea. Weight gain with PCOS will sometimes respond to diet adjustments and increased exercise, but many times prescription medication is required to get a handle on the problem.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Weight gain is one symptom of Cushing’s Syndrome, a disease that can be brought on with the use of steroidal medication.

Not many people are at risk of developing Cushing’s Syndrome. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, as few as two to three people in a million are diagnosed each year. Steroid medications or tumors can cause Cushing’s Syndrome. One of the effects of the disease is heightened levels of cortisol, which is a well-known cause of weight gain. The good news is that identifying the factor at the root of the disease can help get the weight off. Removing the tumor or adjusting or changing medication should result in easier weight loss.

Thyroid Issues

We’ve previously talked about hypothyroidism  but any condition that affects the thyroid’s ability to function properly will also affect weight. In addition to hypothyroidism, Healthline lists Hashimoto’s Disease as another thyroid condition that can cause weight gain. Hashimoto’s Disease can actually damage the thyroid, and that will keep the pounds from coming off as easily as in the past. Any time the thyroid isn’t functioning as it should, medication may be required. Working closely with your doctor as well as getting enough rest, eating healthy, and exercising are the best ways to deal with weight gain due to thyroid conditions.

Depression and Other Emotional Disorders

Your overall health can be affected by your emotions, and dealing with issues such as depression (including postpartum depression) and bipolar disorder often bring weight gain along with distressing emotional symptoms. The hormones your body produces when your mood is negative can slow down your metabolism and increase your appetite, a combination guaranteed to make you gain weight. Plus, when you’re depressed or going through a manic low, you probably won’t be inclined to work out. The ironic thing is that working out and eating healthier can make you feel better emotionally. That’s not to say that medication isn’t required, especially in extreme cases, but the exercise/diet adjustment combo is worth a try as part of treating the condition and, as a side-effect, it will help take the pounds off.

Cancer

Not to incite a freak-out, because not all weight gain can be attributed to cancer, but sometimes it can. Cancers that can affect hormones, such as ovarian or pituitary cancers, will also affect body weight. Naturally, treating a condition as serious as cancer takes precedence over losing weight, but the healthy diet doctors recommend for cancer patients will help. Often, the weight of the tumors themselves accounts for part of the weight gain, so removing them results in instant weight loss. Plus, with the tumor gone, it will no longer affect hormones that influence weight gain so it should be easier to take off any remaining excess weight.

Want to Lose Weight and Shape Up? Take a Break!

Use your work breaks for exercise–you’ll shape up and still have time to pour a cup of coffee to take back to your desk.

Last week, we talked about incorporating active rest into your fitness regimen. If you read it looking for an excuse to cut back on exercise, you were probably disappointed. Sorry/not sorry. There are plenty of excuses for not working out (not having the time, simply not wanting to, etc…), but that’s all they are–excuses. Whatever justifications you use, you know as you’re uttering them that you really do need to exercise. It’s understandable for work to get in the way of physical fitness and that you’re reluctant to give up off-work hours to do something you don’t want to do. Not to bust your bubble again, but this article wasn’t written as a hall pass for working out. Instead, it’s a guide to fitting exercise into your busy schedule in a doable way that will ensure it gets done but not at the expense of other, important areas of your life. And what is this awesome answer to the exercise-excuse-conundrum? Exercise breaks. Rather than hitting the break room for a cappuccino and a cruller during your twice-daily work breaks, use them to get fit. Between the morning and afternoon breaks, you’ll get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day, and there will still be enough time to pour yourself a cup of coffee afterward, though you may not need it after exercising. The best part? You won’t have to forfeit your lunch hour or your evening.

Fitness Break Rules

Set your watch or computer alarm to remind you when it’s time for a Fitness Break.

You need a plan if you’re going to make fitness breaks work for you. Spoiler alert: you’ll actually have to stick to the plan if you expect it to work. If you don’t take breaks on a set schedule, set the alarm on your watch, phone, or computer for mid-morning and mid-afternoon to remind you when it’s time for a fitness break. Then decide what type of workout you’ll do. Do you want to do 10 minutes of plyometrics? 10 minutes of yoga?  10 minutes of body weight exercises? Or maybe you want to challenge yourself to master one specific exercise like Leah Wynalek did. In an article for Prevention, Wynalek talks about taking push-up breaks for a month to enhance upper body strength and conquer the exercise she’d never been able to do.

One more helpful hint: write down the workout, whatever it is. If you’ll be doing more than one exercise during your breaks, having it in writing will help you remember everything, so you don’t waste time or skip an exercise. More than that, however, having it in writing will help you stick to the plan so it’s more likely you’ll achieve your goal, according to Forbes.

A Fitness Break Workout

Whatever workout you choose to do on your break will be effective, and the options you have are endless. If you’re at a loss for ideas, Fitness has a ton of ideas–everything from a 10-minute belly dancing routine to tone your tummy, to calorie blasters and metabolism boosting workouts. Here’s one to get you started, a 10-minute workout similar to the one fitness expert Ben Greenfield shared with the Huffington Post:

  • 50 step jacks or jumping jacks
  • 15 push-ups
  • 15 side lunges, per side
  • 15 body triceps presses
  • 15 prisoner squats

Work Out Smarter: Incorporate Active Rest Into Your Regimen

Challenging workouts will help you reach your goals, but demanding exercise everyday can cause injury and burnout.

Now that things are opening up again, many are hitting the gym hard, determined to get back the gains they’ve lost over the last few months. “More is Better” seems to be the mantra, as proven by the masses of exercisers obsessively working out 5 days a week or more. Their resolve is admirable, but it’s a blueprint for defeat. Pushing yourself to exercise hard (or harder than you’re used to) will not only cause near-debilitating soreness but setting a goal of a minimum of exercising 7 days a week with no rest causes burn-out.

The way to optimize your results is by incorporating active rest into your workout regimen. It’s an effective way to exercise every day because it not only helps keep you in the habit of daily workouts, but it also promotes recovery to alleviate soreness while helping build muscle.

You Need Active Rest

The day after an intense workout, you might not feel like getting out of bed, let alone exercising, but that’s just what the doctor ordered. Personal trainer and health and fitness expert Jonathan Ross explains that, unless you’ve done damage and injured yourself, an active rest day will help you get past the discomfort of post-workout pain and get you feeling better faster. Some personal trainers advise clients to take a day off between each workout, but strength and conditioning coach Kyle Arsenault recommends that the days between lifting should be used to perform mobility exercises to correct form and imbalances, and enhance conditioning.

So, What Is It?

Using lighter weights or only doing one set of each exercise are two ways to incorporate active rest into your workout schedule.

Active rest isn’t literally rest, so inserting active rest days in between workouts doesn’t entirely give you a day off. Instead, it’s more like changing things up and taking it a little easier. Stack explains that you can approach active rest in one of three ways

  1. do your typical workout, but decrease the intensity
  2. stick with the same intensity but take the volume down a notch (performing only one set of each exercise, for example)
  3. do something physically active but entirely different from your typical workout

Option number three is a useful choice for people trying to commit to keeping exercise in their schedules because it eliminates the boredom factor that defeats so many. It’s also an effective way to push past a plateau because it is a change of pace that forces your body to do something different–and that’s when you typically see the best progress.

A Recommendation

An increasing interest in improving mobility is trending in health and fitness . Doing so enhances quality of life for people of all ages, and it reduces the chances of injury from any activity including sports,  exercise, and even normal everyday actions. Sure, you expect professional athletes to sustain injuries during games, and it’s common for people who work out to strain, pull, or twist something, but how many times have you heard of someone throwing their back out getting out of the car or wrenching their neck when turning around too fast? Because you can hurt yourself doing pretty much anything, it makes sense to perform mobility exercises on your “off” days between workouts.

Fitness expert and former Navy SEAL Stew Smith recommends starting your active rest workout with about 20 minutes of cardio. Use the elliptical or a bike to keep it low-impact. Then work with the foam roller for about 5 minutes before moving on to exercises that are more like dynamic stretches such as walking lunges, bodyweight squats in which you hold at the bottom of the move for a count of 10, hip rotations, wood choppers, halos, and finish up with a few planks, held for 30 seconds each.

Should You Ever Take an Actual Day Off?

According to ACE, getting a massage counts as active rest–that’s my kind of workout!

Sure you should, especially if your body is telling you it needs a rest. If you don’t feel like working out, the American Council on Exercise recommends you analyze why. Are you just being lazy? Are you bored with your workout? Or is your body too fatigued to go on? If it’s the last one, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day to do nothing more physically demanding than making the bed and taking out the trash. To ensure you reach your goals and stick with your fitness regimen, though, make sure there are less of those days and more active rest days for recovery and breaking up the monotony of your challenging workouts.

Here Comes the Sun: Safe Tanning

So here comes the sun and, along with it, temperatures hot enough to make you want to revert to your childhood penchant for wearing your swimsuit every day of summer, all day long. The problem with bearing more skin in the summer months is that most of us want that skin to be an attractive burnished shade of copper, but everyone is more than aware of the risks of sun exposure. Though tanning your hide has been linked to skin cancer, most people still associate tanned skin with a healthy glow. If you desperately desire to be brown as a berry this summer, at least commit to using common sense.

Everyone Is Different

From the palest white to dark, rich browns that border on black, each skin tone has various levels of melanin that determine how well or if a person will tan.

Human skin comes in a veritable rainbow of colors thanks to melanin, the levels of which are programmed by genetics. That’s why some people tan easily and can retain some shades of summer year round, and others skip straight from pasty-white to lobster-red after minimal sun exposure. You likely already know where you fall on the scale of tan-ability, but accepting natural limitations is sometimes difficult for those with fair skin. Acceptance is the first step, however, to formulating a plan for a tan. Unless your skin entirely lacks melanin, you should be able to achieve some level of color darker than the shade you naturally sport all winter long. Decide to be satisfied with whatever color you can safely cultivate instead of pushing for the deepest, darkest tan, damn the consequences.

Exercise Your Options

Safely cultivating a tan in natural sunlight requires the use of sunblock, no matter how dark or light your natural skin tone is.

Other than being born with olive-toned or darker skin, there are three ways to achieve that coveted healthy glow. The first is the good old-fashioned way: sun exposure. It’s actually a good–and important–natural source of vitamin D so, unless your skin is so fair that you literally burst into flames upon exposure to sunlight, outdoor tanning is an acceptable way to darken up. Don’t flip out before you’ve read the caveat: tanning in natural sunlight absolutely requires that you use sunscreen and limit your tanning time. Yes, you will get a tan using sunscreen, but it will take some time. Medical Daily points out that the paler your natural skin tone is, the higher the SPF you’ll need. Apply one coat of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside, and then apply another coat about 15 to 30 minutes after being in the sun. Choose your tanning time wisely, too. Since UV rays peak in intensity at midday, 30 to 60 minutes exposure early or late in the day is your best bet. One more thing: protect your eyes, ears, and face by wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim. The skin in these areas and even your eyes themselves are especially delicate and susceptible to UV rays.

Once thought to be safer than tanning in the sun, indoor tanning beds are just as capable of causing skin cancer with excessive use. Image via Evil Erin/Flickr

Tanning beds are another option for bronzing your skin, though they’ve become controversial since the peak of popularity in the 1980s and 90s. Initially thought to be a safer way to get a sun-kissed glow, research has since determined that excessive exposure to UV radiation from any source can cause skin cancer. The key words there are “excessive” and “can.” That’s not to downplay the risk, but only to put it in perspective and, in fact, an article published on Health Journalism revealed the results of a study that found the risk of tanning bed-use causing melanoma to be less than one percent. Additionally, Dr. Mercola touts moderate use of tanning beds as beneficial and a convenient and valuable way to get a healthy dose of vitamin D, a nutrient that can even decrease chances of other types of cancer as well as many illnesses. Remember: lotions specifically formulated for use in tanning beds are essential. They don’t have SPF, but they do help protect you from burning, and they moisturize and nourish your skin to keep it from looking like an old catcher’s mitt.

Self-tanning products offer a risk-free natural-looking tan, but they don’t last longer than a week or two and there’s no way to keep the color from rubbing off on clothing. Image via Irma Marshall/Flickr

Finally, of course, there are the self-tanners. This option is truly the only way to tan without increasing your risk of melanoma–provided you realize that most self-tanners don’t contain any protection from the sun. Slapping on some self-tanner and then heading out into the sunshine without SPF leaves your skin as vulnerable as going out naked. The biggest downside to self-tanners aside from the smell is that there is no way to keep them from staining your clothing. Even the combo products that blend lotion with self-tanner still transfer to clothing and bedding, though not as intensely. Also, some people are sensitive to DHA, dihydroxyacetone, the chemical in all self-tanners that produces the tanning effect. If you’re among those unfortunate few, you’ll develop an itchy and unsightly rash along with your faux tan.

Falling Back on Our Favorite Mantra

Don’t overdo it! A moderate approach to tanning will allow your skin will age gracefully and you’ll reduce your risk of melanoma, too. Image via CNN/YouTube

You know what we say about everything from dieting to exercise to alcohol consumption: moderation! Even when you read the studies and warnings from professionals, you should notice the use of words we pointed out above, words such as excessive, undue, extreme, may, can, and could. Overdoing most things, whether it’s sun exposure, eating cake, or even drinking too much water can be dangerous and potentially deadly. All of the uproar and fear of the sun, tanning beds, and UV rays is a bit excessive in itself. No one wants to be responsible for giving anyone permission to do harm to themselves, so the experts go overboard in steering the masses away from what could be harmful if indulged in excessively.

Image via OWN/YouTube

 

The answer? Grow up. Be an adult. Take responsibility for yourself. Use the common sense God gave you to determine which tanning option is right for you–or choose not to tan, if that is your preference. If you do opt to tan, do it in moderation to minimize risks and maximize positive results. True, you might not get the George Hamilton glow you want but, when your skin ages gracefully and you don’t end up with melanoma, you’ll be happy you used a moderate approach to tanning.