Health & Fitness Tips

Exercising before breakfast burns more fat, study says

(CNN) – Should you eat before or after exercise in the morning? The debate has raged for years.

The eat-first camp says food before exercise boosts blood sugars, giving the body fuel to increase the intensity and length of a workout. It also keeps you from being fatigued or dizzy.

The eat-after camp says you burn more fat if you fast before exercise.

A small UK study published Friday supports the latter point of view: In 30 obese or overweight men, those who exercised before breakfast burned twice the fat as men who ate breakfast before they worked out.

That’s because exercising with no fuel forces the body to turn to stored carbs, and when those are quickly gone, to fat cells.

Unfortunately the eat-after group didn’t lose more weight than the eat-before group during the six weeks of the study, but it did have “profound and positive” effects on the health of the group that fasted, researchers said.

Skipping the meal before exercise made the men’s muscles more responsive to insulin, which controls high blood sugars, thus reducing the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

“The group who exercised before breakfast increased their ability to respond to insulin, which is all the more remarkable given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness,” said exercise physiologist Javier Gonzalez, an associate professor in the department for health at the University of Bath, in a statement.

“The only difference was the timing of the food intake,” Gonzalez added.

2017 study from the University of Bath, also co-authored by Gonzalez, looked at 10 men and found the same results — because of lower blood sugar levels after fasting, the men burned more fat.

However, this time the men burned more calories if they ate breakfast first.

2010 study found similar results, this time in a group of 28 healthy, physically active men. One group did no exercise. Two other groups were put through grueling morning exercise of running and cycling four times a week; one group ate before exercise and the other after.

It’s likely no surprise that the group who didn’t exercise gained weight. But contrary to the 2017 study the group who ate breakfast before exercise also gained weight. It was the group who exercised on water and an empty stomach that maintained their weight, lost fat, and kept their blood sugars in good shape.

What’s the takeaway? Obviously science needs to look at this a lot harder, with much larger study groups. But based on the science in these studies, it does seem exercising before eating may be good for your overall health, even if it doesn’t always whittle your waistline.

If you do choose to work out on an empty stomach, keep these tips from the US Figure Skating Association in mind to keep your muscle tissue from breaking down:

  • Use the four R’s of recovery: rehydrate, replenish, repair and reinforce.
  • Do that by drinking water or sports drinks.
  • Within 15 to 30 minutes, eat a meal with a 4:1 carb to high quality protein ratio.
  • Some good choices are fruit and low-fat Greek yogurt, trail mix, or a banana with peanut butter

Being happier will help you live longer, so learn how to be happier

(CNN) – If you could wish for just one thing, would it be happiness or a long life? Given what researchers tell us, one is likely to produce the other.

Science has been exploring the connection between happiness and longevity for some time. A 2011 analysis of nearly 4,000 Brits found those who said they felt content, happy or excited on a typical day were up to 35% less likely to die prematurely. In a 2016 study, a positive outlook was associated with longer life for nearly 4,000 older French men and women studied over 22 years.

Researchers followed more than 2,000 Mexican-Americans in 2015 and found those who were more positive in their world view were half as likely to die. And a 2011 study followed around 200 women and men from San Francisco over 13 years and found those who reported more positive than negative experiences also lived longer.

According to research on the Positive Psychology Center website, striving for well-being will allow you to perform better at work, have better relationships, a stronger immune system, fewer sleep problems, lower levels of burnout, better physical health and — you’ll live longer.

Great! But how do you obtain happiness? That’s the tough question, especially since the meaning of the word isn’t even scientifically agreed upon.

“Happiness comes in different sizes and flavors,” said cardiologist Dr. Alan Rozanski, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who studies optimism.

“There is the transient type, fed by such things as a walk in a park, spending time with a friend, or eating that ice cream you love,” he continued. “But these feelings of happiness come and go.”

What creates a sustained feeling of happiness, say experts, is a mixture of traits like optimism and resilience, fed by behaviors such as expressing gratitude, forgiveness and being kind to others, all held together by a strong sense of purpose.

Add to that mix one master ingredient: a sense of community characterized by warm, supportive, satisfying relationships with others.

Now that we have something of a working recipe for happiness, let’s find the ingredients.

Satisfying social connections

“People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” said Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger in his popular TEDx talk. “And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.”

Waldinger is the fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed the lives of 724 Boston men for more than 75 years and then began following more than 2,000 of their offspring and their wives.

Among the original recruits in the study were President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

The unprecedented study has allowed researchers to get closer to determining the main characteristics of a happy life.

“The lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder,” Waldinger said. “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

You don’t have to have dozens of friends or even be in a committed relationship, he stresses.

“It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters,” Waldinger said. “High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

Looking on the bright side

Optimism and pessimism are the yin and yang of happiness. Optimists are people who expect good things to happen to them, while pessimists expect bad things to happen.

It turns out that looking on the bright side of life is really good for your health. Research has found a direct link between optimism and a stronger immune systembetter lung function and cardiac health.

A recent meta-analysis of studies found that compared to pessimists, an optimist had about a 35% lower risk of major heart complications, such as a cardiac death, stroke or a heart attack.

“In fact, the more positive the person, the greater the protection from heart attacks, stroke and any cause of death,” said Mt. Sinai’s Rozanski, who was the lead author on the study.

There are a lot of reasons why a positive outlook might improve your physical health and help you live longer. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which controls inflammation, blood sugar and blood pressure levels, all key factors in disease development.

Optimists also have better health habits. They’re more likely to exercise, have better diets and are less likely to smoke.

“Optimists also tend to have better coping skills and are better problem-solvers,” Rozanski said. “They are better at what we call proactive coping, or anticipating problems and then proactively taking steps to fix them.”

Whatever the reasons, a 2019 study of nearly 6,000 people from Harvard’s Health and Retirement study found optimists had a 24% increased likelihood of maintaining healthy aging.

Meaning and purpose

A sense of purpose and meaning in your life is a big part of living a longer, happier life, according to psychology professor Lyle Ungar, who has developed what he calls the Well-Being Map. It rates every US county on such psychological factors as openness, trust, agreeableness and neuroticism.

“Do you have a job or a calling that makes some sense?” Ungar asked in an interview with CNN last year. “The way to happiness is not by choosing to be happy, it’s to find meaning in life. Go volunteer, spend time at a charity, give something of yourself. The people who are doing fine in that way are living longer.”

Lord Richard Layard, one of Britain’s most prominent economists and the author of several books on happiness, also believes that to make ourselves happy we should focus on the well-being of others.

“A society cannot flourish without some sense of shared purpose,” he writes in his landmark book, “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science.”

“If your sole duty is to achieve the best for yourself, life becomes just too stressful, too lonely — you are set up to fail. Instead, you need to feel you exist for something larger, and that very thought takes off some of the pressure.”

Spirituality

Studies by the Pew Research Center show that actively religious people are more likely than less- or non-religious people to describe themselves as “very happy.” They also share some traits that could improve their chance at a longer, happy life: They are less likely to smoke and drink, and more likely to join clubs and volunteer at charities.

“I’m surprised how good religion is for people,” Ungar said. “Religious people are more agreeable, they’re happier, they live longer.”

It doesn’t have to be a traditional religion. Layard points out that spiritual practices ranging from meditation to positive psychology to cognitive therapy can also feed an inner life.

Flourishing with PERMA

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, who co-founded the field of positive psychology, has developed a theory he believes will enable well-being, which some experts argue is a better goal than happiness.

Seligman has developed five building blocks toward well-being he calls “PERMA.” Each of them stand independently of the others, and should be pursued for “its own sake, not as a means to an end.”

“P” stands for positive emotion, which you can cultivate in hope for the future and an appreciation for the past. By practicing gratitude for what you’ve been given and forgiveness for what you were not, Seligman feels you can create positive emotion about your past. Build hope and optimism, he says, and you build positive emotions about your future.

“E” is for engagement, which he defines as fully using all your skills, strengths and attention on a challenging task. Doing this, he says, will put you in the “flow,” sort of a mental version of the athlete’s “zone.”

“R” is for relationships and the critical importance they have in our lives in amplifying both our positive and negative feelings.

“M” is for meaning, a sense of purpose from being part of something bigger than ourselves. He points to religion, family and social causes such as working for a better environment as ways to increase meaning in our lives. Research shows doing acts of kindness for others can also increase our well-being.

And finally, “A” is for accomplishment. This is not necessarily financial success, but success and mastery of a skill or activity for its own sake.

Or as the Dalai Lama has said: “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”

When trying to lose weight, morning meals are better than evening ones

(CNN)-When I first studied nutritional science, all calories were considered “equal” when it came to weight loss. The time of day you ate didn’t matter as long as you were eating the appropriate amount of calories for your goals.

But as our understanding of nutrition has evolved, we’ve learned that eating earlier in the day can be more favorable for shedding pounds, while eating later can interfere with weight loss — and for more than one reason.

For one, eating during the evening often goes hand in hand with mindless nibbling. Think of how many times you may have reached for a handful of pretzels, chips or M&Ms while watching TV or Netflix at night. Evenings can also be filled with unstructured time, which means eating may fill a “void”; if you’re bored, it’s easy to indulge in high-fat, sugary foods when you don’t have to focus on other tasks such as work or errands.

To be clear, over-consuming calories at any time of day will result in weight gain. But many nutritionists, myself included, have noticed that clients fare better when they’re consuming most of their calories earlier in the day. That way, by the time evening rolls around, they’re more satiated and may be less likely to overindulge in a box of chips or cookies, a few too many spoons of ice cream or a few glasses of wine.

And then there’s the fact that more research has shown how our bodies respond to front-loading calories during our waking hours versus consuming them later on.

It has to do with the complex science of circadian rhythms — physical, mental and behavioral changes in the body that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. These rhythms are driven by a master biological clock in the brain that is primarily influenced by light and tells other “peripheral” clocks in the muscles and organs what time of day it is.

Because circadian rhythms affect how calories, carbohydrates and fats are metabolized over a 24-hour period, they can help explain why eating late at night decreases the rate at which we lose weight, as a 2013 study found.

The study involved 420 overweight and obese participants who were divided into two groups: early eaters and late eaters. The early eaters ate lunch before 3 p.m., and the late eaters consumed lunch after 3 p.m. The late lunch group also ate lower-calorie breakfasts, or skipped breakfast more often than early eaters.

At the end of the 20-week study period, the late eaters lost less weight compared with the earlier eaters (17 vs. 22 pounds on average, respectively) and lost their weight more slowly, despite the fact that both groups ate approximately 1,400 calories per day and consumed similar amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates.

The research suggests that the calories we burn from digesting, absorbing and metabolizing the nutrients in the food we eat — known as diet-induced thermogenesis — are influenced by our circadian system, and are lower at 8 p.m. than at 8 a.m.

To put this into practice, especially if you are trying to lose weight, try to front-load your calories as much as possible. Don’t skip breakfast, and consider having what you would typically eat for dinner during lunchtime. Think grilled fish or chicken with veggies and quinoa. Then, at dinner, eat half of what you would typically consume, or consider cutting carbs to help downsize your meal.

Night-shift workers can also benefit from eating in sync with their circadian rhythms. They may modify meal timing by eating their heaviest meal when they wake up, about 3 or 4 p.m., and eating a light “breakfast” at the end of their workday, at 7 or 8 a.m.

And if nighttime nibbling is a problem for you, here’s a tip that’s worked well with my clients: “Close the kitchen” at a specific time each evening. You can use your smartphone to set an alarm to remind yourself when it’s time. Then, situate yourself where you can’t see the fridge, and keep yourself busy with other activities that will take your mind off food, like calling a friend, reading a magazine or book, polishing your nails or taking a bath.