Fighting Off Fungus
Q1: How can I steer clear of athlete’s foot, jock itch and other types of locker-room fungus?
A:First, avoid foot fungus by always wearing flip-flops in public showers and around pools. Second, dry off completely every time you get wet. “Frequently changing socks and undergarments can also discourage fungus from grabbing hold,” says Matthew Baral, ND, associate professor of clinical sciences at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Ariz. “Wear breathable fabrics and well-ventilated shoes to avoid moisture buildup.”
If, despite your best efforts, you still get an infection, prepare for a protracted battle. It can be tough to fend off. Launder all towels, sheets and personal items separately from those of other household members until the condition is resolved (fungus can spread through even passing contact). Meanwhile, to relieve itching, Baral suggests this oatmeal pack: (1) Soak oatmeal in warm water (use a 1:1 ratio) for five minutes. (2) Slather on affected area. (3) Leave on for 20 to 30 minutes, then rinse.
Oatmeal isn’t your only natural option: “Products with tea-tree oil, coconut, aloe or calendula work to treat fungal infections, and zinc can heal the skin,” says Carlin Saldanha, ND, a naturopath and a whole-foods chef based in Sydney, Australia (www.carlinhealthandwellness.com). “Soaking feet in warm water with a few drops of pure tea-tree essential oil can clear up fungal infections.” That said, serious or stubborn fungal infections may require bigger guns, so if you’ve got something that’s not going away, don’t put off seeing your health professional.
But no matter how you treat from the outside, it’s also important to strengthen your defenses from the inside, Saldanha stresses, because these infections thrive only in a biochemically imbalanced and susceptible body. They feed on sugar and processed carbs and the acidic environment they create: “Eliminate sugar, alcohol and processed foods from your diet as much as possible,” she advises. “Increase healthy immune-boosting foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens especially. Take a probiotic supplement like acidophilus daily to boost good bacteria, and a supergreen powder that includes spirulina, wheatgrass and chlorella to keep your body’s alkalinity high. You can also sip on tea made from pau d’arco, a South American herb with strong antifungal properties.”
Slow and Steady vs. Hard and Fast
Q2: I’ve read a lot of the hype about HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) for fat loss. Some even say it works so well that it should replace longer, steady aerobic activity. What’s your take?
A:Although the debate between “slow-n-steady-staters” and “get-’er-done-quickers” is long and heated, more experts have migrated to the HIIT side in recent years. “At this point, there’s no longer an opinion when it comes to HIIT vs. steady-state aerobic activity; there’s only fact,” says Robert dos Remedios, strength coach at College of the Canyons in Southern California and author of Cardio Strength Training: Torch Fat, Build Muscle and Get Stronger Faster (Rodale, 2009). “The research shows not only superior fat loss with HIIT, but also superior aerobic and cardiovascular benefits. I see this with my athletes, as well.” Technically speaking, at lower-intensity levels, the ratio of the fat calories you burn is higher, but the total number of calories you burn overall is lower — unless you exercise for a long, long time. With the amount of time most people have available for exercise, HIIT tends to be the more practical choice.
When it comes to fat loss, says Dos Remedios, it comes down to building muscle, increasing your metabolism, and creating an “afterburn” effect, where your body burns more calories for hours after exercise (this is known as excess postexercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC). EPOC seems to be a key component in fat loss and occurs only when your exertion level is high enough.
The Real Magic of Hologram Bracelets
Q3: What is the deal with those hologram bracelets I see gym-goers wearing? Do they do anything for you?
A. The bracelets purportedly increase the strength, balance and energy of those who wear them, because the frequencies emitted from the hologram stickers embedded inside them supposedly interact positively with your body’s own energy field. As for whether they work, that depends on how you define the word. Do some athletes and exercisers discover their performance improves when they wear them? Yes. But, sports scientists say, it’s likely they work because those wearing them believe they work. (Several independent studies have debunked their effectiveness.) In other words, they work the magic of the placebo effect. “Athletes are a bunch already eager to gain an edge,” says Chris Stankovich, PhD, sports performance scientist and founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems in Columbus, Ohio. “So if you like wearing a hologram bracelet, keep wearing it, but a lucky penny in your shoe will probably give you the same results.”
Fitness Fix: Loosening Tight Lats
Restricted latissimus dorsi muscles can inhibit the range of motion of your arms, destabilize your core, and lead to back, neck and shoulder pain.
The latissimus dorsi, which start at the back of each armpit and attach to several points in your thoracic and lumbar spine, are the largest muscles in the upper body. They produce the internal rotation, adduction and extension of the arms necessary for pulling movements during swimming, throwing, rowing, chopping and climbing. They’re also key stabilizers of the torso because of how they attach to the spine (whenever you carry a heavy load, the lats are involved). Finally, they assist in properly positioning your shoulder blades — important for shoulder mechanics.
“Because the lats serve so many functions, they’re prone to tightness, and when the lats become tight, that can lead to pain in the shoulders, neck and lower back,” says Michael Stare, PT, CSCS, founder of Spectrum Fitness Consulting in Beverly, Mass. To prevent lat problems, focus on full range of motion during training, and make sure your abs, hip flexors and shoulders are strong.
Test Your Lat Length
• Stand tall with your spine in a neutral position and tense your abdominals.
• Keeping your palms facing each other, raise your arms forward and upward as far as you can without arching your back or shrugging your shoulders.
• If you can’t get your arms perpendicular to the ground (up by your ears) without jutting your head forward, your lats are probably locked up.
Stare recommends foam rolling daily (or even a couple of times a day) for two to three minutes each side. “Follow this exercise by moving your arms through full range of motion to groove proper movement patterns while you’re still loose,” says Stare. “Most people notice results immediately.”
• Standing with your right side facing a wall, raise your right arm over your head, resting your forearm on your head to relax your arm.
• With the opposite hand, place the foam roller against the wall several inches below your armpit and lean against the roller with your right lats.
• Stagger your legs to allow your body to ascend and descend, so you can address most of the length of your lats. Position your legs farther away from the wall to place more weight against the roll to increase pressure or closer to decrease pressure.
• Target an area of only a few inches at a time. Most people should focus on the area from the armpit to the middle of the ribcage: This is where the bulk of the muscle is and tends to be the source of most tenderness.
• If you’re very muscular and require more pressure, try this while lying on your side with the foam roller on the floor under you.