Archive | Fitness Facts RSS feed for this section

Caffeine 101: What You Need to Know for Your Health and Fitness

20 Feb

We all drink some form of it – whether it’s coffee or tea or soda.   It’s even naturally occurring in some of the foods we eat.  Caffeine is everywhere, but how much of it should you be consuming and in what form?  Let’s get down to the basics.caffeine

What is caffeine and what does it do?  
Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It’s also produced artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood.

Whether caffeine is consumed in food or as a medicine, it changes the way the brain and body work. Once consumed, caffeine is absorbed into the blood and body tissues within around 45 minutes.  Caffeine blocks the nervous system’s ability to open up the brain’s blood vessels, causing them to constrict – this is the reason caffeine is used in pain relief medicine for headaches. If the headache is vascular, the effect of caffeine narrowing the blood vessels can offer relief.

Where is it found?
Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds, or fruit of more than 60 plant species, including:

Coffee beans – seed
Tea leaves – leaves, bud
Kola nuts – seed
Cacao beans – seed
Guarana – seed
Yerba mate – leaf
Yoco – bark

Caffeine no longer only features in tea, coffee, and chocolate; it is regularly added to gum, jelly beans, waffles, water, syrup, and more.  Caffeine is even being added to marshmallows, sunflower seeds, and other snacks for its stimulant effect.

How much is safe?
Studies suggest that moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. How much is moderate? One hundred to 200 milligrams (one to two 5-ounce cups of coffee) each day is the limit that some doctors suggest, but each person is different.

How caffeine affects people varies with their size, their sex, how sensitive they are to caffeine’s effects, and any medications or supplements they may be taking. Experts agree that 600 milligrams (four to seven cups of coffee) of caffeine or more each day is too much.

The amount of caffeine included in some common foods and beverages are:

  • Coffee, brewed – 102 -200 milligrams per cup
  • Coffee, instant – 27-173 milligrams per cup
  • Coffee, decaffeinated – 3-12 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, brewed American – 40-120 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, brewed imported – 25-110 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, instant – 28 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, canned iced – 22-36 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Caffeine-containing cola and other soft drinks – 36-71 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Cola and other soft drinks, decaffeinated – 0 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Cocoa – 3 – 13 milligrams per cup
  • Chocolate, milk – 3-6 milligrams per ounce
  • Chocolate, bittersweet – 25 milligrams per ounce

What are the risks of caffeine intake?
Caffeine consumption is generally considered safe.  However, it’s good to keep in mind that caffeine is addictive and some people’s genes make them more sensitive to it.Some side effects linked to excess intake include anxiety, restlessness, tremors, irregular heartbeat and trouble sleeping .  Too much caffeine may also promote headaches, migraines and high blood pressure in some individuals .  Finally, it’s worth noting that caffeine can interact with some medications.

What are the health benefits?
Caffeine consumption is linked to several health benefits:

  • Protection against heart disease and diabetes: Recent evidence shows a 16–18% lower risk of heart disease in men and women who drink between one and four cups of coffee each day.  Other studies show that drinking 2-4 cups of coffee or green tea per day is linked to a 14–20% lower risk of stroke.  A recent review notes that those who drink the most coffee have up to a 29% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Similarly, those who consume the most caffeine have up to a 30% lower risk.
  • Protects the liver: Coffee may reduce the risk of liver damage (cirrhosis) by as much as 84%. It may slow disease progression, improve treatment response and lower the risk of premature death.
  • Promotes longevity: Drinking coffee may decrease the risk of premature death by as much as 30%, especially for women and diabetics.
  • Decreases cancer risk: 2–4 cups of coffee per day may reduce liver cancer risk by up to 64% and colorectal cancer risk by up to 38%.
  • Protects skin: Consuming 4 or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may lower the risk of skin cancer by 20% .
  • Reduces MS risk: Coffee drinkers may have up to a 30% lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). However, not all studies agree.
  • Prevents gout: Regularly drinking four cups of coffee per day may reduce the risk of developing gout by 40% in men and 57% in women.
  • Supports gut health: Consuming 3 cups of coffee a day for as few as 3 weeks may increase the amount and activity of beneficial gut bacteria

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  Caffeine is not as unhealthy as it was once believed to be. In fact, evidence shows that it may be just the opposite.  Therefore, it’s safe to consider your daily cup of coffee or tea as an enjoyable way to promote good health.  

See you at the Studio – after my cup of tea, of course!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Medical News Today (
Authority Nutrition (
CNN Health (
Evolution Nutrition (

Healthy Chocolate? Absolutely!

13 Feb

chocolateValentine’s Day is here and the grocery aisles are full of that glorious decadence that we call chocolate!  Sure, chocolate and candies have been the downfall of many a diet, but that doesn’t mean you have to shut them out of your life completely. While the candy aisle can be incredibly overwhelming, there are options that fit into any healthy meal plan.

Now, you can’t just go and grab any old chocolate bar off the shelf. There are “better” types of chocolate out there that have great health benefits.   Let’s compare our top four options:

  1.  Milk Chocolate:  High in sugar, saturated fats and milk solids, dismally low in cocoa and containing preservatives and flavorings, store-bought milk chocolate is designed for overeating, which can quickly push you beyond your calorie needs and put you on a blood sugar roller-coaster.
  2. 70% cocoa chocolate:  Often referred to as the ‘healthy’ chocolate, 70% cocoa chocolate contains considerably more cocoa and less sugar than its milk chocolate relative. Some ‘raw’ chocolates may use evaporated cane juice instead of sugar, and flavonoids in cocoa have been linked to cardiovascular health.
  3. White Chocolate:  Would you like chocolate with your cocoa butter? While more expensive white chocolate does contain the cocoa butter, it is devoid of cocoa solids, which typically qualify ‘chocolate’ and deliver the health benefits associated with choccie.
  4. Unsweetened Chocolate:  As the name suggests, unsweetened chocolate contains no added sugar and can be bitter. However, it’s among the healthiest forms of commercial chocolate. It also works in chocolate savory dishes – think South American cuisine.

Bottom Line:  GO DARK!  The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits you’re going to get from that sweet treat.  Do yourself a favor though and always check the sugar content before you indulge.  When possible, try to avoid milk solids, corn syrup, soy solids (except lecithin, which will likely be included), artificial sweeteners and colorings. That ensures you’re getting the most health benefits with the least amount of sugar.

Now, you’ve decided you want a treat and you’ve figured out which type to go with.  Still feeling unsure?  Maybe a little guilty?  Not for long.  I keep stating these mysterious “health benefits” that come specifically from darker chocolate so let’s get to it:

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.  It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Dark chocolate is also loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

Finally, your heart loves (moderate amounts) of dark chocolate.  The bioactive compounds in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.  It can also improve several important risk factors for heart disease by lowering the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

This Valentine’s Day (and everyday), remember that you don’t have to completely give up your cravings, but you don’t have to give in completely to your sweet tooth either.  Choose wisely, indulge in moderation, and enjoy that delicious dark treat.

PX Studio


Article Sources
Eat This, Not That
Women’s Health and Fitness
Authority Nutrition



How Many Meals?

5 Dec

thanyapura-mindful-training-eating-time-managementYou’ve probably heard the advice that eating small meals throughout the day is how you win the battle of the bulge. The claim is that frequent snacking, as long as it’s healthy, keeps your metabolism humming, staves off hunger, and controls blood sugar.  But in actuality, it may not work that way.  Unfortunately, in that statement is a mix of myth and science fact.  I’m here to help you work through it.  

The majority of studies show that  that switching from three daily meals to six did not boost calorie-burning or fat loss.  So, if that’s the case, why is it still touted as good?  The two key factors here are what you’re eating and hunger levels.  The longer you wait between meals, the hungrier you get, and then you’re more likely to overeat.

After about 3 hours without food, blood sugar begins to fall. And after 4 hours, your body has already digested whatever you sent down earlier.  Once you’ve crossed the 5-hour mark, your blood sugar begins to plummet, and you grab whatever you can to refuel. That’s why breakfast is so important. After 7-8 hours of sleep without food, you need energy to get moving.

People who regularly eat breakfast tend to weigh less than those who skip their morning meal. They also get more nutrients like vitamins D, B12, and A. They may even be more likely to resist food cravings and make better food choices, especially when protein is part of the meal.  If you start off your day with breakfast, and then continue eating every 3 to 4 hours, you’ll provide your body and brain with a steady stream of nutrients so you don’t go overboard at mealtime.  Studies also show that people who ate more often tended to consume foods that were lower in calories and higher in nutritional value, such as vegetables and fruits.  Meanwhile, people who ate less than four meals tended to consume more calories in the evening, and to have alcohol in the evening.

Now, how about those snacks themselves.  You don’t think I’m telling you to grab a chocolate bar every 3 hours, do you?  The key words up there are lower calories, higher nutritional value.   If you’re going the mini-meals route, you have to remember to adjust your portions and intake accordingly.  You can’t just have your regular meals with snacks on top of that.

The simplest strategy is mixing portion control with protein and fiber to fill you up. Avoid “junk” foods that are easy to overeat (processed foods, refined carbs, sugary drinks) and plan nutrient-dense snacks like these:

  • Fresh fruit with low-fat cheese
  • Raw veggies with 1/4 cup hummus for dipping
  • Whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce of low-fat cheese or one tablespoon of nut butter
  • 1/4 cup trail mix with nuts, dried fruits, and whole-grain cereal
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh berries

Finally, know thyself.  There is still nothing wrong with three square meals a day.  If you know you have trouble controlling portion sizes, or you don’t have time to prep healthy snacks, you may be better off with the standard three-meal-a-day plan.  The number of meals you eat doesn’t matter as much as what you eat.  Quality, calories, and portion sizes ultimately make the difference.

So get that oatmeal and fresh fruit ready for breakfast and I’ll see you at the Studio!

PX Studio


WebMD (
Huffington Post (
Daily Mail UK (


Vintage Pilates (Pilates 101)

7 Nov


Also known as “classical pilates”, “contrology”, or “mat pilates”.  Anyone who does pilates has heard of the founder, Joseph Pilates – but how much do you really know about why he created the specific pilates exercises (34 to be exact) that he did and put them in their very specific order?

It was 1954 and  Joseph Pilates was 59 going on 60 when he demonstrated these poses and coined “pilates” as a fitness term.   He published a book entitled “Return to Life through Contrology”.  Within it, 34 classic mat work exercises which are at the heart of any pilates routine.  The moves he designed focus on core muscles in the “powerhouse” (abs, pelvic floor, lower back), proper alignment of the spine, and awareness of breath.

Joseph Pilates created this order of exercise to go through a sequence that he believed to be logical and appropriate. It first warms up the body, a principle common for all exercise programs. Then it progresses to more challenging exercises once the body is warmed up and ready for them. Finally, it progresses into cool down exercises before the end of the session. It also ensures all areas of the body are targeted in every position, first with gravity and body weight and then against it.

A classical pilates teacher will follow this order of exercises, but will pick and choose from the list to match the abilities of the student. For beginners, the more fundamental exercises will be done in classical order. For more advanced students and those who are ready for a challenge, the intermediate level, and advanced exercises will be chosen.  Each exercise can be modified to meet the level of the student and can also include equipment such as exercise balls, fitness bands, and the magic circle.

Without further ado, here are the 34 classic pilates exercises, in proper sequence!  You will surely recognize them (or variations of them) from your classes at Pilates X.   Examples and tutorials of each of these exercises can be found by clicking here and choosing which exercise you would like to learn about.  The best practice of course, comes from including your Pilates X classes consistently in your fitness routine, but refreshers in between are always recommended!og34exercises

Joseph Pilates said it best himself:  “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness…[and] everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”   See you at the Studio!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Shape (
Very Well (
Easy Vigour (

Pumpkin Power | Use Pumpkin to Improve Your Health!

10 Oct


Look on the shelves, read the ads, see the patches – wherever you look, there’s PUMPKIN! While we typically think of pies, lattes, bread and other tasty treats when we see pumpkin, there are a whole host of health benefits that go along with it!   It’s finally pumpkin season and there are so many reasons to celebrate:


Pumpkins are an essential source of Vitamin C – which can ward off colds.  One cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 11 milligrams, or nearly 20 percent of the 60 milligrams is recommended for women need daily (men need around 75 milligrams).

Weight Loss

Pumpkin is an amazing source of fiber, and with three grams per one-cup serving and only 49 calories, it can keep you feeling full for longer on fewer calories.  A fiber-rich diet seems to help people eat less, and thereby shed pounds. A 2009 study found that people who ate a whole apple before lunch ate fewer calories throughout the meal than people who ate applesauce or drank apple juice.

Post-Workout Recovery

A cup of cooked pumpkin has more of the refueling nutrient potassium than a whole banana, with 564 milligrams to a banana’s 422.  Extra potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a heavy workout and keeps muscles functioning at their best.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Much like turkey, pumpkin contains tryptophan, the amino acid that contributes to sleepiness.  Tryptophan is also responsible for helping the body make serotonin, neurotransmitter that helps you relax and unwind. Not only do pumpkin seeds promote better sleep, the serotonin will improve your mood!

Protect Your Skin AND Fight Off Cancer

Like the carrot, sweet potato and the butternut squash (all orange), pumpkins have the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may play a role in cancer prevention, according to the National Cancer Institute.   Those same free-radical-neutralizing powers of the carotenoids in pumpkin that may keep cancer cells at bay can also help keep the skin wrinkle-free.

Eye Sight

About that vitamin A:  A cup of cubed pumpkin contains almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which promotes good vision, especially in dim light. It has also been found to slow the decline of retinal function in those with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness. Bonus: Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth and bones.  It’s an anti-aging nutrient that jump-starts your skin’s cell renewal process and increases the production of collagen for smooth, youthful-looking skin.

Heart Health

Nuts and seeds, including those of pumpkins, are naturally rich in certain plant-based chemicals called phytosterols that have been shown in studies to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.  In addition, pumpkin seed oil is full of phytoestrogens, which research shows are beneficial for preventing hypertension. When researchers tested a diet supplement with the oil, they found that it helped lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just 12 weeks.


While I’m not suggesting that you go out and down a few venti PSLs – definitely consider adding fresh and pureed pumpkin to your recipes/meals.  It’s easy to find this time of year and the recipes are bountiful.   When you’re out picking your pumpkins to carve, pick up an extra one and make it part of your next meal!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Health (
Nutrition Data (
WebMD (
Huffington Post (
Daily Burn (
National Cancer Institute (
National Institute of Health (


Spotlight on Core Fitness

26 Sep

We talk about it all the time in our Pilates classes, but what does “core fitness” really mean?  What does it do?  How can we improve it?   We’ll answer those questions and more in this week’s Spotlight on Core Fitness!

First of all, the basics:  What is the core?   

Your core is a complex series of muscles, extending far beyond your abs, including everything besides your arms and legs. It is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body.  The core is actually made up of three sheaths of muscles: The upper abs, the side muscles, which are called the obliques, and then this very deep layer of muscle. Those deep muscles are the ones that do all the good stuff, like support your spine and act as a natural corset—so when you work them not only do you get a flatter stomach but a tighter stomach.


Secondly:  What does the core actually do?

The role of the core is to stabilize the spine.  Your core most often acts as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover.  This group of muscles is where much of the body’s strength comes from; you use it to kick a ball, lift a heavy box, and even stand up straight.

Third:  Why is that important?

Research has shown that individuals with higher core stability have a lower risk of injury.  Researchers continue to study the various ways core strength improves health and well-being.  A few of the proven benefits of having a strong center include:  alleviating back pain, improving posture, improving athletic performance, improving balance, and perhaps the most important of all, 

  • Safer Everyday Movement: Daily tasks—such as maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, hoisting children and walking up a steep flight of stairs—are easier and less likely to result in an injury when you core is strong. Not only do you have better control of your muscles, but you can more easily find your center if you’re caught off-balance. In addition, being able to rely on a strong core will make it less likely that you’ll overtax other muscles.

I noticed when I started doing Pilates, which includes a lot of core engagement, that it got easier to snowboard, surf and do complicated yoga poses.  It also has the added benefit of making you look thinner.  Those core muscles are connected to your legs, to the way you stand, squat, sit. It’s not just about the abdominal muscles, but also training your back, your glutes, and the entire area that connects to your spinal cord and helps your body support your spine, so that the burden of supporting your body weight isn’t just placed on your bones.

Lastly:  How do I work it?

If people want to really improve their core strength, introducing instability into workouts they’re already doing (for example:  standing on a bosu, using a fitness ball or a foam roller) and Pilates are both really great ways.  If you’re looking for one exercise that does get results in your core, definitely Pilates. By doing exercises that are a mix of Pilates and yoga — like doing superman or Hundreds – you’re forcing the muscles to work together, instead of just isolating a specific muscle like you do in strength training.  Specific core exercises including plank and side plank, bicycle crunches, bridge, and back extensions on a fitness ball are all amazing ways to get your core into shape!

See you at the Studio!

PX Studio


American Council on Exercise
Mayo Clinic
Huffington Post



Fitness Myths and Surprising Facts!

19 Sep


Every day we get more and more information on health trends, new exercises, and fitness advice – but how do you know what’s accurate and what’s not?   Never fear, new scientific research is overturning some of our long-held beliefs about the best ways to become fit and maintain that fitness.   Below are just a few of the many debunked myths as well as some “fit facts” that might surprise you!

Myth: Crunches are the key to flat abs

TRUTH: They may be one of the most iconic abdominal exercises, but doing crunches is not the best way to slim your midsection. And while crunches do tone a small portion of your abs, moves involving your distal trunk—which includes your shoulders and butt—more effectively engage your entire core. So you’ll shrink your waist far more dramatically by doing planks and bridge, but if you are doing crunches, make sure to use proper form.

Myth: The more you sweat, the more you burn.

TRUTH: Especially drenched after your regular afternoon run? That doesn’t mean you necessarily burned any more calories than usual (sorry!). Sweat is a biological response that cools your skin and regulates internal body temperature.  It’s just as likely to be the result of an warm studio, the weather, or your personal physiology as it is due to an intense fitness session.

Myth: No Pain, No Gain

TRUTH:  Of all the fitness rumors ever to have surfaced, experts agree that the “no pain-no gain” holds the most potential for harm. While you should expect to have some degree of soreness a day or two after working out that’s very different from feeling pain while you are working out.  As for “working through the pain,” experts don’t advise it. They say that if it hurts, stop, rest, and see if the pain goes away.


FIT FACT: Skipping sleep CAN cause weight gain!

Women in an American Journal of Epidemiology study who slept less than seven hours were more likely to gain weight; other research has shown that even partial sleep deprivation ups production of the hormone “ghrelin”, which triggers hunger, and subsequently, over-eating.

FIT FACT: Lifting weights WON’T bulk you up!

Even if you’re using heavy dumbbells, you’re not going to turn into a female bodybuilder. Women typically have less muscle tissue and produce lower levels of testosterone than men, meaning we’re less physiologically prone to becoming brawny.

FIT FACT: Exercise Lets You Eat MORE!

Pound for pound, muscle burns more calories at rest than body fat. So the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. And, of course, you also burn calories while you’re actually exercising.  This means that “cheating” with a cookie once in a while isn’t going to take you back 10 steps. Can you eat anything at any time? No.  But you can afford to enjoy some of the things you really like when you exercise regularly. You can better get away with those things in moderation than you can when you’re not working out.  Of course, a healthy balanced diet is always recommended in conjunction with your fitness routine.

Remember:  The only bad workout  is the one you DIDN’T do.  

PX Studio


Article Sources
WebMD (
Health (