Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Personal Training as a Health Expense

From the IRS website:
You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay to lose weight if it is a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity, hypertension, or heart disease). This includes fees you pay for membership in a weight reduction group as well as fees for attendance at periodic meetings. You cannot include membership dues in a gym, health club, or spa as medical expenses, but you can include separate fees charged there for weight loss activities.
Many employers offers an FSA (flexible spending account) or HSA (health savings account) as part of their health care package. This means that you may be able to use the money from those accounts towards personal training. You need to do two things before jumping in and purchasing sessions:
  1. You need a prescription from a medical doctor, or a note from your health care professional describing your need for a personal trainer.
  2. You should consult with your tax advisor about writing off the cost of hiring the trainer.
Remember, you can always email me your questions at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Body weight, reexamined...

The constant battle with the scale can be unending and unnerving. Before you even consider using it as your guide to a healthy weight, you should really consider the alternatives:

Body fat percentage: this is the most accurate measure of health and fitness. It means a low weight or lean person can have too much body fat and still have the potential for many ailments associated with being "overweight" including Type II diabetes and osteoporosis, for example. A heavier person with normal body fat percentage would actually be better off. Technology allows us to measure body fat percentage through a bioelectric resistance pad, which are those silver pads you can find on some scales. Make sure you purchase that kind of scale because it really appraises you of true progress- more lean tissue and less fat. See how you fall out on the chart below:

Waist-to-Hip Ratio: this is another effective way to measure how much fat has accumulated around the abdomen. As a general rule, the hips are to be wider than the waist. This isn't hardfast: In men, the ratio should be 0.95 or less, and in women; 0.80 or less. Check out the picture below on how to calculate the ratio:
Start with these few examples to check to see that you are heading back into healthy ranges.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Genes, Self-Esteem, and Exercise

In a recent UCLA study, a variant in the oxytocin receptor gene has demonstrated different expressions of empathy and social skills. In their study, those with one type of variant were predisposed towards depression. Oxytocin is generally related to certain types of outgoing behavior, generousity, and is also known as the "cuddling gene" (from orginal tests that oxytocin made rats cuddle). The study sheds light on an issue that certain people may not have the same fundemental psychological tools to cope with stress and other life challenges, leaving them predisposed and tending toward symptoms of depression.

It's important to note that, according to this study: nobody is doomed to fail. It just means that you have to stimulate your own production of oxytocin. In a study at SUNY Stoney Brook, scientists were able to link dopamine and oxytocin production to people who had a real goal (specifically: this study was about "falling in love"). The production of these two hormones naturally compels a person to a goal, almost like hunting for food or water.

What I find fascinating about these studies is that even if the brain doesn't produce these hormones automatically, someone can still effect their production through their own vices. Obviously, it's easier to accomplish your goals if you are, as we could now argue based on these studies, "a  naturally driven" individual. For those of us who lack this drive, it's important that we recognize the importance of our goals.

Weight loss and fitness are two different achievements. To draw a parallel from a Jewish source: King David praises the righteous who are saved from calamity in Psalm 34. He draws a distinction between withdrawing from what is destructive and committing to that which is constructive. Weight loss is about preventing the onset of diabetes, heart disease, abdominal distention, and other maladies. Fitness is a commitment to preserve and invigorate the body with activity, which stimulates the "good feeling" of the goal driven person with increases in positive hormone production.

Our bodies are receptive to setting goals and pulling ourselves out of a rut. If you need guidance in setting your goals and moving forward, email me at to talk about yourself and how to set realistic first goals.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How blame affects your workout

I was reading a wonderful post from R. Stephen Baars titled: What is The Worst Word in the English Language?
His point rings true for many people trying to get their workouts in regularly. So many external factors to blame: I have to do this for this person, that for that person. If you can't get it done for you, then how can you expect to get it done for them? Taking responsibility for the issues that surrounds you is the first step to being successful.

If you can blame your life for your lack of time, then you will have to blame it for all of the health issues that WILL develop. How do you prioritize which jobs will get done and which won't?  As R. Baars himself notes:
If you remove blame from your life, then you have no excuse but to succeed.

Success is measured by getting the job done, not by finding excuses around it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exercise can relieve stress, and maybe depression

There is a fantastic blog post on the New York Times Science Blog Concerning the effect of strenuous exercise on patients suffering from excessive amounts of depression.
There is very little news in this piece. The positive effects on dopamine production resulting from regular exercise has been documented by journals of psychology and neuroscience.
The importance of this study is the KIND of exercise needed to see results: strenuous exercise.
Getting on a treadmill and walking at 2.0 mph is ok for a start, but clearly will not "lift your spirits." Dopamine production is closely related to that feeling of accomplishment: wow, I just ran X number of miles or lifted X number of pounds. This is also related to greater neurosensory reception, meaning that your neurons connect better with your muscles, kinda like an upgrade from dial-up to broadband - you communicate faster.
I am not advocating that someone exercise instead of seeking professional help, but the findings are an important motivator for anyone "stuck in a rut" and need to make a life change.
Get the heart pumping and ready for a change. The parts of the brain related to emotion and heart rate are all right next to each other. Keep 'em active!