Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

May 2020

Expressing Your “Human-ness”

How can we best express our "Human-ness"? What does this mean? How can this improve our health and fitness and even our longevity?

Last week, I listened to Joe Rogan's podcast #1478 with Joel Salatin. If you have never heard of Joel Salatin, he is the owner of Polyface Farms in central Virginia and has become a world-famous advocate of local, small scale, sustainable, organic farming. Salatin has written many books on the subject, including Folks, This Ain't Normal and has contributed countless articles, blogs, and interviews on this farming over the last 30+ years. I highly recommend you not only read Salatin's material but follow his advice and support your local farmers or better yet, become a back-yard farmer yourself.

One of the things Salatin talks about a lot is allowing a chicken to express it's "chicken-ness" or a pig to express it's "pig-ness". What he means is this: chickens were meant to roam around and hunt and peck for worms and bugs and other critters and vegetation. They evolved to roam and feed by day on open pastures and gather up together in a cozy coop at night. When they live like this, chickens live in accordance with their nature, and as a result, the eggs they lay are incredibly nutrient rich, they stay healthy for years, and they benefit the environment they inhabit.

Happy Hens in Central Virginia!

Happy Hens in Central Virginia!

Conversely, industrially raised chickens live 15,000 to a house in confined cages, breathing fecal particulate matter, and fed industrially raised grains (note: when your store bought eggs say "100% vegetarian fed" on the box, that is not natural or healthy for the chicken or for you!) Industrial laying hens are constantly sick and must be given medication to survive. They exhibit extreme antisocial behavior during their shortened, sad lives. Industrially raised chickens also stress the environment a great deal.

Re-listening to Salatin discuss how sustainable farms allow a chicken to experience it's innate "chicken-ness" got me thinking about how we humans can best express our "human-ness". First, we must think about how we evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and the ecosystem to which we adapted. Also, we must understand that most of our modern way of life has existed for less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the time humans have roamed the earth. Next, look at the current state of human health in our "modern" world with tens of millions of us sick and dying of western diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many cancers. Additionally, maladies such as arthritis, poor gut health, joint destruction, and more are literally crippling many of us. Even subclinical issues such as poor sleep, beer guts, and incredibly poor physical conditioning are signs we are not living in a way conducive to thriving. We must conclude how we are living now is NOT helping us express our innate "human-ness". On the contrary, we bear much more resemblance to caged industrial chickens than sustainable grown happy chickens.

So, what can we do to get back our "human-ness" - to not only survive, but thrive, to enjoy our later years, to live a long healthy life rather than suffer for years or decades? I think the answers are right in front of us. My hypothesis is if we return our bodies and minds, as much as is feasible in this modern age, to the environment and ecosystem of our ancestors, our inherent "human-ness" will return and we will be much healthier and happier. Erwan Le Corre, an entrepreneur and founder of an exercise and lifestyle brand called MovNat based on natural movements in natural environments has this quote pinned at the top of his Twitter feed: "You're not sleeping enough, You're not moving enough, You're not bathing in the sunlight, You're not touching the soil, rocks, trees, and plants with your feet and hands, you don't look at the horizon, What are you doing to yourself!" This sums up our situation perfectly.

I don't suggest you go live in a cave and hunt food or become a luddite and shun modern technology and conveniences. However, I do think most of us need to make some rather drastic changes to our lifestyle if we want to get the most out of our bodies, our minds, and our lives:

  • Eliminate junk food and eat local, natural, home cooked meals. As author Michael Pollan has said "If your grandmother would not recognize it as food, don't eat it". Focus on great protein sources first (eggs, beef, fish, etc.), then complement with vegetables, nuts, legumes and modest amounts of fruit. Minimize grains and when you do eat grains, eat homemade, locally made, or at the least organic products and eat them as a side, not a main course. (Note: I make my own bread, so of course I eat bread, but there is no need to eat bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner on a daily basis, unless you want to be sick and overweight.
  • Get outside more. I don't mean take a walk a few times a week. I mean spend hours outside every day! If its hot, go out in the early morning or evening. If it is cold, bundle up. Humans evolved to be outside all the time and to breathe fresh air and get natural sunlight (Vitamin D). Early humans also interacted with the earth, touching dirt, grass, trees, etc. with their hands and feet. We need that interaction with the bacteria, the nutrients, and the minerals in the earth to be healthy.
  • Go barefoot more. I admit I am a shoe wearing fool, even inside. But your feet and toes need exercise and touch to be healthy and strong. Strong feet improve your gait and help solve issues with your ankles, shins, knees, hips, back and even shoulders and neck.
  • Stop sitting so damn much! Many of you are white collar professionals who are required to be on your phones or computers many hours a day. Others are retirees who spend a lot of your time reading books or online or watching TV. You know what to do! Move more! All day long! Stand up while in meetings. Take walks while on a conference call. When your workday is over, do NOT sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Instead, go out and garden. Play a round of golf. Take a bike ride. Get in a workout.
  • Lift heavy things occasionally. Human skeletal muscle must be challenged in order not to fall into a state of atrophy. Almost every disease of western civilization starts with muscle atrophy, lack of muscular strength, and too much body fat. You must stay strong.
  • Sleep more. Aim for 8+ hours per night of sleep. It may not happen at first, but if you turn off your screens and put priority on your sleep, there is no limit to what you can achieve. I have read that Champion Surfer Laird Hamilton sleeps 9 hours per night and he is still doing amazing things on a surf board in his fifties.

Regardless of your current age or condition, if you commit to these practices today, you will see positive changes in your body and in your mental outlook. You will be more physically aware and have more mental acuity. You will move toward your genetic and evolutionary ideal. You will express your Human-ness!

Posted May 27, 2020 by Matthew Romans

The Hacking of the American Mind - a Book Review by Matthew Romans

The current Covid-19 situation has given many working people a lot more free time recently, and I'm certainly no exception. I've tried to put my extra time to some good use, and I've managed to read a few books. One book I recently finished is "The Hacking of the American Mind", written by Robert H. Lustig, MD, MSL. Lustig is a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, and is a member of the Institute for Health Policy at the University of California, San Francisco. On top of that, Lustig has a law degree, so he brings a unique insight into the current state of our bodies and our brains. Several years ago, I watched an excellent lecture given by Dr. Lustig called "Sugar, The Bitter Truth." I believe it is still available on YouTube; it's definitely worth watching.

The author covers a lot of ground in 344 pages (including notes), but the basic premise of the book is that over the course of the past half century our brains and our bodies have been fundamentally changed by a host of environmental factors. Some of these factors include ubiquitous advertising, social media, changes to the traditional Western diet, addiction, and also the endless pursuit of seemingly elusive happiness and contentment. He discusses the changes in advertising policies, and highlights the hypocrisy of food companies marketing sugary snacks and sodas directly to children, while contrasting the drastic changes that the tobacco companies were required to make in the late 1990s (with a great reference to the premise of the movie "The Insider").

Prominently featured throughout the book are the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter that says, "I want more." Those battling addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, or even food are constantly seeking that reward. On the other hand, serotonin says, "I have enough", and a higher production of this neurotransmitter is found in people who have achieved a state of contentment.

Dr. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist, so he tells sad tales of very young children in his clinic being diagnosed with Type II (adult-onset) diabetes. He groups the following set of diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and dementia) collectively as metabolic syndrome. These are the diseases that are overwhelming our current medical system and causing insurance costs to skyrocket, even for those not afflicted with these diseases. He brings up some excellent points and data in a section called "Health Care is Sick Care" in which he details the current state of the system. Dr. Lustig's opinion is that, "These diseases aren't killing us outright; instead they're sucking us dry. And if you think that other people getting sick is their problem and not yours, chew on this: 65 percent of all health care expenditures are paid out of government dollars. That means your taxes." It sounds pretty grim.

Why are we, on the whole, so unhappy and unhealthy? How can we find contentment? The author mentions what he calls "The Four C's": connect, contribute, cope, and cook. By connecting he means to establish a social network that's not exclusively digital, and to actively engage with family, friends, and other trusted people. In the contribute section, he recommends philanthropy, volunteerism, and finding self-worth through accomplishment. There are many healthy ways to cope with the stresses of daily life, especially getting proper sleep, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and performing regular exercise. He also says that multitasking is overrated! Finally, the best way to know about the nutritional content of the food you consume is to cook it yourself. Cook for yourself, cook for your family, and cook for and with your friends. It builds camaraderie, gives a feeling of togetherness, and can give one a sense of accomplishment. It will also help you win the battle against sugar.

I recommend this book to Total Results clients, as well as to friends and family. While some of the social things that Dr. Lustig recommends are very difficult to implement in our current health/political environment, I also think they carry an even greater meaning right now. Dr. Lustig can teach us a lot about what is making Americans increasingly unhappy and unhealthy, and he shows some very simple strategies that we can implement right now to make things better. Give it a read!

Posted May 20, 2020 by Matthew Romans

Is stretching necessary? by Matthew Romans

One of the most common topics that we discuss with both new and long-term Total Results clients is stretching. That's probably because it is something that is regularly promoted as important by the fitness industry, yet it is often misunderstood and much misinformation has been put forth. We see people touting the benefits of flexibility in yoga and Pilates classes, we see professional athletes stretching before practices and games, and we even see people on television stretch when they get out of bed in the morning. What is the truth and what is fiction? Is stretching really necessary? Does it help you or harm you? Hopefully this post can clear up some misconceptions.

When most people think about or perform stretching, they are doing static stretching. This involves stretching to the point of some slight discomfort and holding that position for a certain amount of time, usually 15 to 30 seconds. Sometimes this sequence is repeated more than once. Most of us have seen people on the track or prior to some athletic contest bending down at the waist in an effort to stretch their hamstring muscles; this is an example of static stretching. There is also another type of stretching called PNF stretching, which stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. This requires the help of a partner. PNF stretching involves overriding the Golgi tendon reflex, which is a self-induced inhibitory effect to protect both the muscle and tendon from injury due to too much tension. This type of stretching is done when a partner tries to push the affected limb further back, while the person stretching provides active resistance. This results, temporarily, in an increased range of motion.

What are the benefits of stretching? Well, stretching can feel good, especially if your body is tight after just waking up in the morning. Stretching can also provide some mental benefit, give one a sense of accomplishment, and help in stress relief. Most yoga practitioners remark about how much better they feel after class than they did before. People who have spastic conditions (excessive muscle tightness) following a traumatic injury can achieve some positive results from stretching.

Is stretching really necessary? In my opinion, no. To date, there is not one properly conducted study that has conclusively shown that stretching prevents injury. Football and basketball players routinely stretch their hamstrings, yet hamstring injuries are quite common in both sports. Some of that is the result of the repetitive stress that is part of their sport, but it can also be the result of improper diet, hydration, and training techniques. The major misconception that most people have is that when you stretch, you are only stretching your muscles. In fact, you are also stretching your connective tissue, which are your tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect muscle to bone; ligaments connect bone to bone. While it's true that muscles do have an elastic property (they return to their original length after they are stretched, unless stretched too far), connective tissue does not have that same property. Once tendons and ligaments are stretched, they remain that way unless surgically repaired. Stretched connective tissue can render a joint unstable, which will increase the risk for injury. Muscles generate force to enable movement, while connective tissue works to stabilize joints. A greater range of motion may be desirable in some sports, but it comes with a price. Gymnasts are hyper flexible; it is part of the rigors of their sport to be able to do things most of the rest of us cannot. Unfortunately, this lends itself to both acute and overuse injuries in joints as a result of hyperflexibility. If you desire to be a competitive gymnast, this is a risk that one assumes when they decide to participate. For the rest of us, this is neither desirable nor necessary. It is also common to see people hold their breath when they stretch (perform Valsalva), which is dangerous. This can lead to increased blood pressure and it prevents venous return (which is the return of the blood to the right side of the heart). This should be avoided at all costs.

If you are a normal person with a reasonably active lifestyle, all you really need is a safe and functional range of motion to be able to perform everyday tasks. This can be accomplished by regular Total Results exercise. We are conscious of making sure that you utilize pain-free range of motion on each exercise in your routine, and we can make modifications in case you sustain an injury outside of our studio. The negative (or lowering) phase of a dynamic weight training exercise is what enhances flexibility, so that is why performing dynamic exercise is optimal. There is no need to stretch as part of a warm-up prior to a Total Results workout. The first couple of repetitions of each exercise serve as a more thorough warm-up than stretching or other nondescript activity. If you are adamant about stretching, make sure you do it at the end of an activity rather than before, or at least after you have thoroughly warmed your body up. You should never stretch a muscle when it is cold, and don't forget to breathe freely.

Stretching is largely unnecessary, and there are safer ways to relieve stress and feel good about yourself. The best way to enhance your flexibility and protect yourself against injury is to perform a Total Results workout once or twice per week. Don't be fooled by misinformation. Let us help you get going in the right direction. Get Total Results.

Posted May 05, 2020 by Matthew Romans