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Jennifer Lewis contributed this thoughtful article to the Nevada Bicycle Coalition Blog:

The Importance of Measuring Heart Rate Variability for Cyclists

In the sports medicine and biofeedback fields alike, the buzzword is Heart Rate Variability (HRV): the change in the time intervals between Heart Brain Comm Paths
adjacent heartbeats, measured in milliseconds. A higher HRV variability indicates a low-stress state, while a low HRV suggests a greater need for rest, recovery and better sleep. As academics, Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. and Fred Shaffer, Ph.D. note, “An optimal level of HRV within an organism reflects healthy function and an inherent self-regulatory capacity, adaptability, or resilience.” A high HRV indicates, as it were, that the body is able to adapt to different stressors and challenges, though this measurement should not be too high – otherwise, you could be experiencing arrhythmia (a potentially dangerous condition which occurs when the electrical impulses that control heartbeats are not working properly). A cyclist’s HRV should be high enough to indicate that their central nervous system is communicating efficiently with the heart, and that the heart is able to make the tiny adjustments it needs. A high HRV shows that an athlete’s sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (relax and recover response) are in sync.
As a cyclist, it is important to measure your HRV because the latter gives you vital information regarding the physical and mental stress you may be going through. For instance, those who are addicted to physical activity or who overtrain, can take a long time to discover the negative effects of pushing body and mind beyond its limits. Symptoms of overtraining may include reduced performance on your bike, soreness and stiffness, muscle wasting, fatigue and even adrenal exhaustion. However, by measuring your HRV, you can discover that you have been overtraining long before reaching these limits. A decreased HRV will show that it is much harder to increase your heart rate despite making greater efforts, and that your heart rate takes longer to recover post workout. In essence, a lowered HRV shows that your body is not adapting to stress as efficiently because it is overworked.

 

Current apps such as the Sweetbeat HRV app enable you to glean the connection between high stress and low HRV. Remember when using these apps that the aim is not always to aim for a very high HRV (since improving as a cyclist does involve putting your body through stress); rather, the aim is to swing between training hard and recovery, so that your body is not in a constant low-HRV state. The apps will help you clearly identify when you are under unhealthy stress levels, letting you know that you need to make necessary changes to your workout and lifestyle.

 

There are many steps you can take to increase your HRV in a healthy manner, for optimal performance as a cyclist. Top tips include:
• Balance your cycling and gym workouts with holistic exercises: Studies have shown that holistic exercise programmes incorporating exercise like yoga and Tai-Chi, used for thousands of years to enhance mental and spiritual (in addition to physical) health, have the uniquely powerful ability to lower levels of stress hormones. Yoga is additionally an ideal activity for those with a tendency to overtrain, since it employs techniques like controlled breathing and mindful meditation to curb anxious thought patterns and keep the mind in the present moment.
• Ensure you get enough sleep: Rest and sleep are vital if muscles which have been pushed to limits during workouts, are to recover. A good sign that you need a longer recovery period and better sleep is constant soreness (i.e. of the type which lasts beyond 72 hours after your workout). Another sign you have been pushing yourself too hard is decreased motivation or, on the contrary, having obsessive thoughts about cycling or your workout regime.

Heart Brain Comm Paths EKG
• Drink green tea: Studies have shown that green tea can increase the HRV, owing in part to L-theanine, one of its active compounds, which is capable of reducing sympathetic nervous activity.
• Find ways to curtail stress from your life: Chronic stress will do more than hamper your performance in cycling; it has also been linked to serious diseases like heart disease and Type II diabetes. Try to make the active lifestyle changes which are reasonable at this point in your life. These may include a change of job or profession, or eliminating relationships which cause more stress than good.
• Avoid polluted areas: Studies have shown that those who cycle in high pollution environments have a lower HRV. Try as much as possible to cycle in natural areas, since green environments have also been proven to lower cortisol levels and promote greater concentration, well-being and sports and academic performance.

From Terry:
The attached paper, published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, suggests that an athlete can use his mind as well as his body to improve his HRV and athletic performance.
“Emotional self-regulation strategies may contribute to improved client health and performance, alone, or in combination with HRV biofeedback training. Numerous studies have provided evidence that coherence training consisting of intentional activation of positive emotions paired with HRV coherence feedback may facilitate significant improvements in wellness and wellbeing indicators in a variety of populations.” Here is a link to that paper: https://www.heartmathbenelux.com/doc/HRV%20new%20perspectives%20on%20physiological%20mechanisms%20assessment%20of%20self%20regulatory%20capacity%20and%20risk.pdf

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Rollin McCraty quoted above, is employed by the Institute of HeartMath, which sells one of these heart rate variability feedback devices. HRV devices in addition to Sweetbeats HRV, include emWavePro, or Inner Balance for iOS devices (HeartMath, Inc, Boulder Creek, California), Relaxing Rhythms (Wild Divine, Boulder City, Nevada), and the Stress Resilience Training System (Ease Interactive, San Diego, California).

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ImageBy now we’re all aware of the negative effects of smoking on our health. Smoking can lead to emphysema, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other health problems. Despite this, statistics show that 19.3% of adult Americans are smokers. Even more sobering statistics show that smoking is the lead cause of preventable death in the US, accounting for one in five of all annual deaths (Source: CDC.gov). When we’re so aware of the potential risks, why then, do so many of us still choose to smoke? The most common reason is nicotine addiction, and an inability to quit. Quitting smoking is incredibly difficult, and the majority of smokers will have tried and failed to quit several times. In order to effectively stop smoking it is not enough to simply want it. You must have a plan in place, and you must find an alternative to smoking to keep your cravings at bay. Though it may sound strange, exercise has proven to be one of the most effective ways to quit smoking. Outdoor cycling in Nevada is a fantastic way to exercise, providing you with outdoor scenery, the opportunity to meet fellow cyclers, and quality fresh air. Which is why cycling may just be the best exercise to help you quit.

Set Your Goals

recent study conducted in Taiwan found that people who exercise are 55% more likely to quit smoking and 43% less likely to relapse back into the habit. If you’ve been looking for a sign to quit, and a reason to get your old bike out, these statistics are surely it. Before you embark on your quitting journey however, you must set yourself some goals. If you have an achievable target to work towards you are much more likely to stick to a plan and not give up when the going gets tough. Of course the ultimate target is to stop smoking, but it would be unwise to go t-total straight away. Gradually weaning yourself off tobacco using nicotine patches is advisable, and you should consult your doctor about your action plan first.

Set ongoing goals such as: ‘In a month’s time I will be able to cycle twenty miles and will be down to one nicotine patch a day’. Tying your cycling goals into your goal to quit will provide added motivation to stick to both plans. As well as small ongoing goals you should work towards an ultimate target. Try to find a bike race happening this year somewhere close by and sign up for it. Then set your ultimate goal as either completing the race, or depending on your cycling proficiency, give yourself a target time.

Make a Cycle Plan

Having a concrete cycling schedule is a great tool in helping you to achieve your targets, draw one up and make several copies of it. Put one on your desk at work, on your fridge, in your bedroom; make sure that you are reminded of it every day. So how often should you cycle? Well, the Taiwan study concluded that in order to enjoy a higher chance of quitting, you must exercise at least thirty minutes per day. This is a great place to start. Daily cycling will provide you with a frequent distraction from your cravings, give you the chance to experience outdoor Nevada, and the fresh air will help to clear your mind. If you live close enough to your workplace, why not cycle to and from work? This will cut down the amount of time per day that you are ‘passive’, and if you usually smoke in your car, will get you out of that habit. As well as short daily cycles, you should also do at least two long-distance cycles per week. Aim to do one mid-week, and one slightly longer cycle on the weekend.

Cycling in Nevada

If you agree that it is important to be able to cycle in your home town Nevada, you may wish to join Nevada Bicycle Coalition’s advocacy to improve Nevada roads to make them safer for cyclists. To offer your support for the advocacy simply write an email or letter to the editor of the Reno Gazette Journal, and join cyclists all over Nevada who are lobbying for change. Read our advocacy for more information on how to do your bit. – Jennifer Knight

ImageTerry says – Long ago I smoked and I remember how much I liked it. Or, maybe, that was “couldn’t do without it”. Then it was no big deal. Doctors endorsed cigarette brands on TV. Now the evidence of how bad it is for your health is so strong that when I see someone smoking, I think “What’s wrong with that person?” If you are a cyclist AND a smoker, why?

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Contributed by Jennifer KnightImage

People start cycling for all sorts of different reason. Maybe it’s the need for a hobby, wanting to get out in the great outdoors, or as a social activity to enjoy with friends and family. While being an enjoyable activity in its own right, cycling is also a great way to get some exercise. In fact, regular cycling is tremendously beneficial to the human body, and helps to keep a person healthy in a number of different ways. Nevada has lots of great places to ride, and tour routes like Lake Mead, Sierra Shadow, and Comstock Country are just the tip of the iceberg.

A Healthy Heart and Healthy Mind

Your heart is the muscle that you need to take best care out throughout your life, so you will be pleased to know that cycling does nothing but good for it. Much research has been conducted into the health benefits of cycling, giving you plenty of reason to hop on that saddle and start peddling. Studies carried out by Purdue University revealed that regular cycling has the power to cut an individual’s risk of heart disease by a whopping 50%. The British Heart Foundation backs up this finding, with research found that by cycling 20 miles every week you are 50% less likely to suffer from heart disease than people getting no exercise.

You might think that cycling to improve mental health is a bit far-fetched, but enjoying a recreational activity while at the same time getting regular exercise goes a long way to reduce stress and depression. Cycling can even give your brain power a boost, according to a study carried out by Illinois University. Research subjects who improved their cardio-respiratory fitness by 5 percent scored up 15 percent better in subsequent metal tests. Professor Arthur Kramer, who led the study, explained the hidden benefits of cycling. “It boosts blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which fires and regenerates receptors, explaining how exercise helps ward off Alzheimer’s.”

Strength and Stamina

Cycling is proven to build muscles strength and stamina, and does so without putting your muscles and joints under too much stress. Your leg muscles receive the biggest workout, and the low-impact repetitive nature of cycling is fantastic for the mobility and flexibility of your knee and hip joints. With regular cycling you can expect to see gradual improvements in leg muscle tone, including your thighs, hips, and backside.

The more you ride, thImagee longer you will be able to ride, as you stamina will improve with regular cycling. Even if you do not push yourself to cycle a little bit further every time, your stamina will improve without you even noticing it. Completing an hour cycle ride might leave you out of breath now, but by riding that same hour cycle ride every week for the next few months it will gradually become much easier to complete. The fact you are enjoying the cycle ride should mean that you want to ride further when you can, in turn building on that increased stamina again.

Tips for Post-Cycle Recovery

With such a hot and dry climate in Nevada, a long ride will probably leave you tired, sweaty, and aching. It is important to rest up and relax your muscle’s after a ride, but you also need to provide them with the protein they need for recovery and growth. Oily fish, white poultry meat like chicken and turkey, or egss are all a great source of protein. If you want to give you muscles a real boost post-cycle, adding an amino acid supplement to your diet can really help with building strength. It is also need to rehydrate your body, and replace all those lost electrolytes you have sweated out. Drinking an electrolyte replacement drink high in sodium, potassium and chloride will help to give back to your body what you lost while out cycling.

An Easy Way to Exercise

The beauty of cycling is that you can do it pretty much any time of year, along any road or trail you like, and it costs you nothing (apart from buying the bicycle in the first place!) You can insert riding into your daily life, whether you choose to ride to work, to the store, or an off-road trail on the weekend. It is very accessible form of exercise which doesn’t require you to join a team, or undergo lots of training to be able to do it. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you never forget, so ride for life to stay healthy and happy.

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