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How Chemotherapy Impacts Your Body Composition

By Health, Medical, Recovery

As people continue to live longer and longer, cancer will only become more common. One of the essential treatments of cancer is called chemotherapy. For those who don’t know, chemotherapy refers to the use of chemical agents of substances in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy treats cancer by using chemical substances to halt the division of cancerous cells. Unfortunately, these cancer-killing agents can also impact the patient’s metabolism and the absorption of calories. These therapies can also impact the patient’s body weight, which can affect his or her chances of survival.

In this article, we’ll discuss the body composition changes that occur when a person undergoes chemotherapy. We’ll also share practical ways to combat these changes to reduce the negative changes in body composition from treatment.

Weight Gain and Chemotherapy

There are many different types of chemotherapy treatments, however, all of them slow down the uncontrolled cancerous cell division that defines this condition. Examples of common chemotherapy agents include:

    • Alkylating agents: These attack cancer cells during the resting phase before they start the process of cell division.
    • Antimetabolites: These are agents that are absorbed by cancer cells and prevent them from dividing.
  • Topoisomerase inhibitors: Topoisomerases are enzymes that are required for DNA replication and cell division. These chemotherapy agents halt the action of these enzymes, making it impossible for cancer cells to divide.

Unfortunately, these chemotherapy agents also attack normal, healthy cells. These are where the side effects come from. Examples of common chemotherapy side effects include:

    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Hair loss
    • Puffy appearance of the face
    • Numbness and tingling
    • Weight gain
    • Urinary retention or incontinence
    • Acoustic damage leading to difficulty hearing
  • Pulmonary fibrosis and cardiotoxicity, in some cases

Researchers analyzed more than 200 women undergoing breast cancer treatment and found that the average patient gained around 4 kilograms (about 10 pounds).

Similar results, published in Clinical Oncology, showed that in a sample of over 100 women, the average weight change was a gain of 3.7 kilograms (about 9 pounds). These studies are in line with numerous others, indicating that many people with cancer gain weight while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

There have been many different hypotheses proposed regarding why patients gain weight during treatment. Examples include:

    • Changes in the ability to process and absorb nutrients from food
    • Individuals feel sick and tired, leading to an inability to exercise
    • Fluid retention related to cancer and/or chemotherapy treatment
  • Steroid use to offset some of the complications related to cancer and treatment

Having excess fat (obesity) is clearly linked to an overall increased risk of cancer. However, just because you are gaining weight from treatment doesn’t mean that your chance of cancer recurring will increase, as weight gain does not always mean fat gain. The first study found no association between the amount of weight gained and the cancer recurrence. That said, these changes in body composition are highly linked to weight gain, often associated with increased risk for disease.

While these factors may contribute to weight gain, weight is not the best indicator of body composition change. While going through treatment because there are significant changes in body composition, it is imperative that you track these changes in order to understand how health risks can change over time.

Why is Body Composition Important?

For those who may not know,, body composition refers to the makeup of your body or, more commonly, your body weight. While other measures such as weight and BMI have been used as a measure of health for decades, body composition is a more accurate representation of your health and health risks. Body composition is typically divided into:

    • Total body water: Located in all components of the human body
    • Protein: Found in the muscles and organs
    • Minerals: Includes vitamins, calcium, iron, and other trace metals that are important for various functions
  • Fat: The primary way the body stores energy

Every aspect of body composition is important for a different reason. Your health isn’t just about gaining or losing weight, but about the fluctuation of the various components of your body composition. Cancer and chemotherapy can drastically impact your body composition, making it of vast importance to understand and track body composition in these patients.

What Effects does Chemotherapy Have on Body Composition?

Chemotherapy and Fat Mass

Chemotherapy, unfortunately, can cause unwanted body composition changes, as well as uncomfortable side effects.

study was published in Clinical Breast Cancer analyzing the body composition of women undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Body composition measurements were completed prior to starting chemotherapy and 12 months into chemotherapy. This helped analyze not only whether or not the participants gained weight but also where and how their body composition changed.

The results indicate that those who were of normal weight gained about 4 pounds and added fat in their torso and arms. On the other hand, those who were overweight or obese prior to starting chemotherapy lost between 3 and 4 pounds.

Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism analyzed body composition and weight changes in women with breast cancer undergoing treatment. Conducted in a similar manner, this study found that their patients did not have any significant changes in their weight; however, they did have an increased amount of fat mass and decrease in fat-free mass.

Why do these changes occur?

These researchers also surveyed women on their lifestyle changes as a result of their chemotherapy treatment. The survey shows that many women reduce their levels of physical activity, reduce their work activity, and have a reduction in their appetite. All potentially contributed to the changes in their body composition discussed above.

Even though these studies demonstrated that women gained weight in the form of fat, as well as lost lean mass, these studies are important because they help patients anticipate what might happen as they start chemotherapy. If patients can anticipate that these changes might happen, they can take steps to avoid or decrease the extent of these changes in body composition.

Chemotherapy and Muscle Mass

study was completed to analyze the specific metabolic changes that happen in people who experience cancer-related cachexia. Researchers found as the patients approached death, they lost an average of 4 kg of muscle mass. These patients also lost fat mass and burned more calories, representing a major shift in metabolism.

A similar study found patients who lost more than 9 percent of their total muscle mass had significantly lower survival rates. While the average patient lost about 6.1 percent of their muscle mass, those who lost more than 9 percent were almost 3 times less likely to survive.

Since body composition and muscle mass play a major role in the survival of cancer patients, treatments should focus on proper nutrition to maintain muscle mass and prevent or minimize the effects of cachexia.

Novel Treatments and Maintenance of Body Composition

In addition to dietary changes, there are other interventions to help halt cachexia progression and increase survival. Novel treatments of cancer cachexia  include:

    • Exercise mimetics: Since many people are restricted to a sedentary lifestyle while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, drugs that help the body mimic exercise may stimulate muscle fibers and help retain muscle mass
    • Metabolic targets: An early study on the impact of AR-42 inhibitors (a type of cancer therapy) in animals with cancer showed that those who took the medication had less reduction in muscle fiber size and strength when compared to the control group.
  • Digestive targets: Probiotics are important for maintaining a healthy digestive tract while undergoing chemotherapy. Certain bacteria, such as Lactobacillus Reuteri and other probiotics, can help stimulate genetic targets and regulate inflammation, helping to reduce cachexia.

So, what does this mean for the cancer patient? People should think about incorporating various dietary changes and exercises to maintain muscle strength and slow muscle loss. It should be recommended to incorporate fish oils, amino acids, nutritional support, and exercises that focus on building muscle because, not only will this improve mood, it could also improve prognosis.

Conclusion

Chemotherapy can significantly impact a patient’s weight and body composition.

Studies have shown cancer patients gain weight, however, it’s primarily fat and body water stemming from inflammation. Because of this, body composition must be tracked to understand how the various physiological changes can influence health risk. This tracking can help healthcare professionals see fluctuations in fat, water, and even skeletal muscle mass, helping to prevent the negative changes in body composition in order to increase survival and quality of life.

Because of the changes discussed above, it is important for everyone to maintain a healthy diet and remain physically active during their cancer treatment. While this can be hard because of side effects such as nausea and vomiting, it will help people maintain their body composition and could increase survival.

There are inevitable changes to the body when cancer cells proliferate in the body. Performing treatment of the cancer is of utmost priority, but the next step is to manage the health of the body. Body composition can change, which will be associated with health risks, thus performing a mixture of diet and exercise can help offset these changes. Cancer exercise is a growing field due to the increased knowledge of the benefits of exercise.

The goal is not to become a bodybuilder, so weights aren’t always necessary. The goal is to stimulate the muscle fibers by using them, sending a signal to the body that these muscles are still needed. This will prevent muscle degradation and help the body incorporate ingested protein into new muscle fibers.

For those who do enter a cachectic state, there are treatment options available such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Through education and collaboration with healthcare professionals, effects on body composition from cancer and subsequent chemotherapy treatment can be delayed and patient outcomes can improve.

**

David Randolph graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is currently completing his Residency in Pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.

Combating Diabetes Through Enhanced Body Composition

By Body Composition, Medical

The more you look at the statistics, the more it seems that type 2 diabetes might be one of the quietest epidemics in recent medical history. What used to be seen as a disease that affects primarily adults now appears in children and teens with frightening frequency.

Currently, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes. What’s worse, 25% of those people aren’t aware that they have it. Adding on to that is that a third of American adults – over 80 million people – currently have prediabetes, unbeknownst to them (you can check your risk level with the link above). That’s right: it’s not just about how many people have diabetes–it’s about how many people don’t know they have it, or are at risk for it

And the future isn’t looking much brighter. Study after study predicts that the situation could continue to worsen over time, with the number of people diagnosed with diabetes increasing dramatically.

What’s going on, and what role does body composition have in developing or preventing diabetes?

Quite a lot, actually. And, as is usually the case, the starting point is taking deeper look into body weight to understand how it misleads so many people.

Diabetes – Not Just a Heavy Person’s Disease

For many years, type 2 diabetes was thought to be a lifestyle-caused disease linked primarily to obesity. While it’s true that obesity rates have risen together with diabetes cases, there’s a major outlier that’s changing the way how one develops diabetes is understood. People with so-called “skinny-fat” bodies are (and have been) developing diabetes to such a degree that they’re now identified as an entirely “new” population that’s at risk for developing diabetes.

Skinny-fat people are characterized as having a normal weight, overdeveloped body fat mass, and underdeveloped muscle mass. An example body composition breakdown for a skinny fat person would look something similar to this:

Notice the low levels of muscle and high levels of body fat? Both of these can contribute to the onset of diabetes, but they do so in different ways. But how, and why? In order to understand these questions and to find solutions to them, first you must understand what happens in a diabetic’s body.

Characteristics of Diabetes

The first step to understanding diabetes is understanding glucose.

The simple sugar that cells rely on, glucose is the result of digestible carbohydrates being broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.  Rises in blood sugar levels are the catalyst for you to make and release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use the glucose derived from your food.

Unlike in type 1 diabetes, where your body doesn’t actually produce sufficient insulin, type 2 diabetes occurs when your body can’t properly use the insulin it makes. This is called insulin resistance, which over time typically requires that diabetics take supplemental insulin.

So where does muscle fit into this conversation? Turns out your muscle mass – or your lack of it – can play a major role in developing insulin resistance. Sarcopenia, the medical term for underdeveloped muscle and a characteristic of skinny fatness, has been linked with increased insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes – independent of obesity itself.

This greatly helps explain the rise in cases of prediabetes and diabetes – it’s not something only developed by overweight or obese people. People with little muscle mass, but a normal body weight created by the compensating overdeveloped body fat, share the same risk. What’s worse, once type 2 diabetes does set in, diabetes itself has a very damaging effect on skeletal muscle mass which compounds the problem further.

But of course, muscle mass is just one part of a poor body composition that can put someone at risk of developing diabetes. Increased body fat still does play a major role in the development of diabetes, and it’s a characteristic shared by both skinny fat people and those who have both high body weights and high body fat percentages.

Visceral Fat: The Lurking Threat

When looking at the relationship between type 2 diabetes and body composition, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is the role of increased body fat levels. This relationship has been established time and again, and hardly bears worth mentioning.

What does bear mentioning is that recent research has been able to determine which type of body fat most contributes to diabetes: a type of fat called visceral fat. Defining visceral fat is actually pretty straightforward: it’s excess intra-abdominal fat. This fat wraps itself around major organs and can have some serious effects on a person’s health.

Recently, a study was released that focused on the role that visceral fat mass plays in type 2 diabetes. Part of their findings showed correlations between various body measurements and risk for diabetes/prediabetes:

That orange line designates visceral fat, and it proved to be the single best predictor of both conditions.

It’s easy to say that body fat and diabetes have an established link. What really matters is the specifics – visceral fat is the real culprit here.

Lessening Diabetes Risk With Improved Body Composition

Diabetes is a serious disease, and depending on the severity of it, can require different combinations of medications, lifestyle interventions, or both.

While no one is suggesting that you can simply diet and exercise your way out of diabetes (although it at least one case, that did appear to happen), it is true that with lifestyle changes and a modest body weight reduction of 5-10%, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable.

This is definitely good news; however, statistics like these lend themselves to an often counterproductive focus on body weight as the only measuring stick of progress.

Remember the earlier example of skinny fat and low muscle mass? That’s a prime example of where an over-reliance or dependence on body weight alone can lead you. So instead, let’s have a look at how improvement to your body composition (your fat mass, your muscle mass, etc.) can have an impact on diabetes.

For starters, Let’s start with glycemic control and body fat.

  • Body Fat

Poor glycemic control, which refers to the typical levels of blood sugar (glucose) in a person with diabetes, has been identified as one of the principal clinical parameters of insulin resistance.

To better understand the importance of glycemic control and its relation to improved body composition, take a look at a recent study that focused on the changes in fasting plasma glucose.

Patients with type 2 diabetes were kept track of for 6 months, with body composition (visceral fat area, body fat mass, and percent body fat) being assessed. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between these two components (body fat and glycemic control), and the study had a pretty interesting result: decreased body fat mass and visceral fat area had an improved effect on glycemic control.

Sounds good, but what about muscle?

  • Muscle Mass

study conducted with Japanese type 2 diabetic patients (already with insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors) aimed to better evaluate the characteristics of body composition in patients with type 2 diabetes.

After comparing healthy subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes, it became abundantly clear to the researchers that those with diabetes are more vulnerable to a reduction in skeletal muscle. That being said, there was an interesting form of intervention. Apparently, instruction in exercise (which includes resistance training) was seen as a worthwhile treatment to prevent the continued degeneration of muscle.

A second study offers even better news, going beyond simply the prevention of degeneration of muscle (and the spiral of increased insulin resistance that comes with it). Diabetics who trained for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week were shown to have increased glucose clearance as a result of their increased muscle mass. That’s because this increased muscle mass signaled to the body to release more insulin – lowering blood sugar.

Here’s something even more bottom line: in diabetics, for each 10% increase in skeletal muscle index (ratio of skeletal muscle to body weight), there was an associated 11% increase in glucose sensitivity.

Combine these positive results with those derived from reduced visceral fat, and the evidence is pretty compelling that you can do a lot more for your diabetes than take medicine and modify your diet – although these can be important as well, depending on your case. But regardless of your situation, it seems clear that you can benefit from improved body composition, and the best part about that is that’s directly under your control.

Your Takeaways

There are two major lessons here, and they both revolve around body composition.

Lesson #1: Understand that poor body composition has consequences

No one is saying that if you’re skinny fat or overweight, you’re for sure going to develop diabetes later in life. Your diabetes risk is set by a number of factors, including your age, family history, genetic background, and more.

But you might. While that might seem like a bleak statement at first, it’s really not because unlike age, genetics, etc., your body composition is something you have a huge degree of control over, and something you can take responsibility for.

Lesson #2: Improved body composition can help diabetics improve their lives

If you’re looking to offset the negative effects of diabetes (or prediabetes), avoiding muscle loss is key. There are a few ways to do this, although the simplest are just ensuring you have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Winning your fight against diabetes is completely possible, especially if you’re taking your body composition into account. Working with a professional who can help you determine your body composition and has the training to help you set goals to improve can give you a massive advantage over diabetes.

Remember: it’s not about weight. It’s about understanding your body, setting reachable goals, and meeting them. If you can do that, you can regain control over your condition and live a happier life overall.

***

Brian Leguizamon is a content marketing specialist. Brian has worked with Shopify, Gigster and a bunch of startups you’ve never heard of. When he’s not working, you’ll find him at his local gym, waiting for the squat rack to open up

Ryan Walters is a digital marketing specialist at InBody USA

Understanding Water Weight: What It Is and How It Affects Your Body

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

When you think about your weight, you probably see it as a semi-static measurement that, for the most part, accurately represents your overall fat and muscle mass. And while this is somewhat true, weight is actually a deeply complex metric!

Body weight is dynamic and ever-changing. It can be affected by a seemingly endless list of lifestyle and environmental factors. Stress, food and beverages you consume, and changes in your hormonal levels all play a role in creating the number you see on the scale, which fluctuates multiple times throughout the day.

In accordance with that, the number reported as your weight will increase or decrease as your body attempts to maintain a state of homeostasis (balance) as you move through daily routines.

One example of how your body maintains its balance lies in its ability to retain water during periods of metabolic need or stress. Commonly referred to as water weight or fluid retention, this phenomenon is incredibly common — and, in most cases, not something to be concerned about.

Throughout this article, we will dive into the science behind water weight — exploring what it is, why it occurs, and what you can do to prevent and treat any symptoms of water weight that may arise. This article also covers the difference between mild edema (which is another term for water weight) and its more insidious form, chronic edema — because the treatment needed for each of these conditions varies greatly.

Ready to learn more about your body and its fluctuating weight? Let’s get started!

Important note  water weight is different than chronic edema

Before we get too far into this article, we need to make an important distinction between water weight and mild water retention vs. chronic edema.

While both conditions involve excess fluids being held within the body, each condition’s severity and treatment options are vastly different. So, just for clarity’s sake, here are the definitions of each condition that will be utilized throughout the remainder of this article:

  • Water weight or mild edema — This is a low-grade condition that results in the retention of small amounts of additional fluid in the body. It is usually not a serious medical condition but rather a passing experience caused by certain lifestyle factors.
  • Chronic edema — Alternately, chronic edema is a much more serious condition, often seen as a complication of another medical comorbidity, such as heart or kidney failure. Symptoms of chronic edema are more apparent than symptoms of mild edema and can be debilitating. This form of edema requires medical attention to resolve.

What is water weight?

Water retention and water weight gain both refer to an increase in your overall body weight that results from an accumulation of fluids in your body tissues. On average, the human body is made up of about 60% water, divided between your organs, blood, and cells. Throughout the day, water moves through the membranes of your cells, on a mission to maintain your body’s balance and homeostasis.

Due to a variety of factors, there are times when it is advantageous for the body to hold on to, or retain, excess water. This is an example of water weight or mild edema — a short-lived period of time when the amount of fluid in your body is greater than usual. When this occurs, you may notice that you feel slightly bloated or that your hands, feet, and ankles feel a bit puffier than normal. In most cases, this mild form of fluid retention resolves itself without treatment, often in a matter of hours.

How does my body gain water weight?

To better understand fluid retention, you first need to understand that there are two primary locations where water can be stored in the body — the intracellular and extracellular spaces.

  • Intracellular space — The intracellular compartment refers to all fluid stored within the membranous walls of an organism’s cells. Under healthy and balanced conditions, about ⅔ of your body water (or 28 liters of fluid) is stored within your cells at any given time. This fluid can flow into and out of the cells as needed to maintain balance during periods of dehydration or overhydration.
  • Extracellular space — The extracellular compartment is composed of two smaller components: your blood plasma (which is the fluid part of your blood) and interstitial fluids (which can be found between individual cells). Making up the other ⅓ of your body’s water, neural and hormonal sensors throughout the body are very sensitive to changes in the volumes of these fluid compartments.

Body Water Balance

When it comes to maintaining this delicate fluid balance between the compartments, the renal system (primarily the kidneys) is heavily involved. Acting as a filter for your blood, your kidneys are made up of small filtering units called nephrons. As your blood passes through the nephron, essential nutrients and water are reabsorbed into the bloodstream, based on the body’s metabolic needs.

As a result of dietary changes, activity levels, or hormonal imbalances, the amount of water retained during this process can increase, resulting in a higher level of extracellular fluid and the development of water weight symptoms.

The most common symptoms of water weight

Because fluid retention is a systemic condition that impacts multiple tissues and organs, it is common to experience water weight symptoms throughout your entire body. Examples of some of the most common water weight symptoms include:

  • Bloating of the abdominal area
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • A swelling feeling in the feet, ankles, and calves
  • Puffiness in the face, hips, and feet
  • Fluctuations in your baseline weight

Usually, the symptoms you experience due to water weight gain will disappear within a few hours or days as your body returns to a state of homeostasis.

But, if you notice that your symptoms persist for multiple weeks or feel that your symptoms are worsening, it may be a sign that they are being caused by more serious health issues that should be addressed by a healthcare provider. Examples of symptoms to look out for include:

  • Profound swelling and puffiness of the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Stretched and shiny skin
  • Difficulty moving joints
  • A heavy or full feeling in the affected limbs
  • Areas of skin that temporarily hold the shape of a thumbprint when pressure is applied (also known as pitting edema)
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing as the condition progresses

Why you gain water weight

As mentioned above, most cases of water weight gain are not the result of a serious medical condition. Instead, when you notice that your body is holding onto more water than normal, it may be a result of some of the following environmental and lifestyle factors:

  • You ate more sodium than normal — While sodium is an essential nutrient that you need to get from your foods, eating a meal with a large amount of sodium can cause the body to retain excess water for a short period of time afterward.
  • You changed your exercise level — Prolonged periods of sitting or standing in one place can cause fluid to pool in the extracellular spaces of your feet and ankles. Regular movement can help to reduce these symptoms.
  • You are taking a new medication — When starting a new medication, it is very important to speak to your primary care provider about the possible side effects you may experience. In some cases, mild fluid retention and water weight gain may be something you should look out for during the early stages of treatment.
  • Your hormones are fluctuating — Your hormones play an essential role in regulating your body during periods of change and stress. At times of high anxiety, you may experience water weight gain as your body produces higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Diagnosing water weight gain

In most cases, water weight is often not an officially diagnosed health condition, due to its short-lived and mild symptoms. This being said, that doesn’t mean you should completely brush off any symptoms you are experiencing. If you notice symptoms of water weight that are persistent or recurring over longer periods of time, be sure to speak to your primary care provider.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about the amount of water your body carries at a baseline level, body composition testing may be helpful. By recording your average body water percentage to get a better understanding of your baseline values, you will be able to track changes in these measurements over time that may be signs of early-stage fluid retention.

Most cases of water weight do not require treatment

Treating your water weight gain may be as simple as letting some time pass — yes, really! Because mild fluid retention is often a short-term response to a lifestyle or environmental situation, your body will likely be able to resolve this issue on its own over time. Additionally, paying closer attention to your diet, participating in regular exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep can also help to treat any mild forms of fluid retention.

However, treating chronic edema is a much more advanced and involved process. Because chronic edema most commonly presents as a complication of another poorly managed medical condition, treating the underlying disease is often the first-line therapy for edema symptoms. Other treatment options for chronic edema that may be explored include:

  • Elevating the affected tissue above heart level for 30 minutes at a time
  • Reducing sodium intake from dietary sources
  • Taking diuretic (water pill) medications

How to prevent water weight gain

As a result of living in a modern world full of stress, it is impossible to completely remove any risk that your body will experience periods of mild fluid retention from time to time.

But there are lifestyle changes you can make to better manage fluid retention and reduce your susceptibility to frequent bouts of water weight gain. Some of our top tips for preventing water weight gain include:

  • Reducing the amount of sodium you consume
  • Ensuring that your body is adequately hydrated throughout the day
  • Elevating your legs after long periods of standing
  • Participating in regular physical activity
  • Wearing supportive compression stockings on the feet and calves

Putting it all together

So, what have we learned?

While it is completely normal for your body weight to fluctuate, sudden increases in your weight and the development of mild puffiness and swelling may signify that you are carrying some extra water weight. And this isn’t always a bad thing!

As a mild and non-life-threatening condition that will likely resolve within a day, water weight symptoms can be a helpful sign that you may want to adjust your current lifestyle habits.

Just because your scale shows a weight increase, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have gained muscle or fat mass — it can mean that your body is merely holding on to a little extra water for a while. However, if you notice your water weight symptoms persisting, it’s advised that you consider contacting your healthcare provider.

We hope this article has been a helpful resource for dispelling some of the most common misconceptions about weight gain and fluid retention. Maybe it will also act as a reminder to show your body some extra compassion and TLC the next time water weight gain happens to you!

Utilizing Body Composition Analysis in Nutrition Consulting

By Diet, Nutrition

If you work as a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, you’re probably very familiar with the importance of knowing your clients’ weights. After all, their body weight is likely one of the first metrics you obtain on your quest to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.

However, your clients’ body weight alone is not enough to tell the full story.

Just as any good nutritionist knows that calorie counts aren’t enough to determine the quality of your clients’ dietary patterns, you should also know that a number on a scale simply isn’t informative enough to determine your clients’ wellness. Body composition analysis has the potential to take your practice to the next level by providing tangible, specific information about your clients’ body fat and muscle percentages that helps you create actionable plans for them.

Why nutritionists and registered dietitians should be using body composition measurements 

Body weight needs context in order to be a useful number. So, many nutritionists typically evaluate their clients’ health by using their weight to find their Body Mass Index (BMI), a value that is determined using one’s height as well.

BMI is useful in some contexts, as it can help generally categorize whether or not someone is overweight or obese. Unfortunately, BMI does not take into account all the differences between individuals, nor does it fully indicate health risks on its own. For example, BMI doesn’t tell you how much body fat someone has, and it doesn’t take into account individual differences based on age, culture, and location. This is important, because all of these factors and more can make a huge difference in what a person’s weight says about their health.

Ultimately, this means that only using weight and BMI to determine the wellness of an individual can cause you to miss the “big picture,” which may negatively impact your ability to help your clients achieve their goals in a healthy manner. If you want to design a targeted nutrition plan, these metrics alone may not provide sufficient information about a client’s overall health and fitness levels.

You may already take this into consideration at your own practice, since many nutritionists and dietitians use measuring tape to take their clients’ physical measurements at different points throughout their wellness journeys, which can reveal how their body composition is changing beyond the scale. But taking this idea one step further, body composition metrics may be able to give you a more accurate understanding of how your client’s body is transforming in reaction to your program. These insights can assist you with mapping out the best steps to take next.

What body composition data can tell you about your clients

Body composition data can help nutritionists to evaluate their clients’ nutritional status through a more holistic lens.

It’s especially important to keep your clients’ body composition in mind when making a nutrition plan because, just as with weight, their body composition metrics can change based on genetics, environment, lifestyle, and age. When used in conjunction with other tools of the practice, such as medical history and reported food intake, body composition data provides detailed info that gives you a better understanding of your clients’ current nutritional status, which may help you to create a more targeted action plan to address their specific health and nutrition needs as individuals.

Common issues that body composition metrics may help nutritionists to pinpoint include:

  • Declines in bone density
  • Declines in muscle mass
  • High percent body fat

Doctors can also use body composition data to help them assess the risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Ultimately, body composition data provides an analysis not just of weight gained or weight lost, but of multiple factors, which can help you understand how their weight is correlated to your clients’ overall health.

Muscle Mass 

One of the most important health factors that can get overlooked when using weight and BMI is one’s muscle mass, which is the amount of lean muscle tissue that you have in your body. This metric can be used to evaluate progress in a weight management sense, since muscle tends to weigh significantly more than fat tissue, meaning that a client may be making plenty of progress gaining muscle but not have their progress show on the scale (or vice-versa).

Knowing your clients’ muscle mass can also help dieticians to identify issues like sarcopenia (muscle wasting) in older adults, so that you can decide whether a more targeted nutrition intervention would be appropriate.

Body Fat Mass 

Another piece of body composition data that you can use as a nutritionist is your client’s body fat mass, or the amount of fat tissue in their body.

Body composition analysis show you how much fat (or adipose) tissue your client is holding, and it can also differentiate between types of fat (i.e. the visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your abdomen versus the subcutaneous fat that lies close beneath your skin).

This is extremely important because these two different kinds of fat tissue are both linked to a variety of outcomes, but visceral fat is much harder to detect than subcutaneous fat without body composition analysis technology.

Percent Body Fat

Body composition analysis also yields information about the amount of muscle versus fat tissue your clients carry, which can be used to evaluate exactly how much progress your clients are making in their health — not just in their weight — goals. It’s a more in-depth analysis than the use of body weight measurements alone, especially considering how muscle and fat impact your weight differently.

Other useful information you can get from body composition measurements

Finally, body composition metrics can also be used in a variety of other ways to address a client’s overarching health needs. For example, using DEXA scans, dietitians can take a look at their clients’ bone density, which can help you to assess them for undernutrition and, if necessary, set up the appropriate nutrition interventions, which are especially important for older adults suffering from osteoporosis.

Nutritionists and dietitians can also use body composition measurements to see how much of their client’s total mass is made up of water, otherwise known as their Total Body Water percentage. This tool can offer clues to the amount of sodium a client is consuming, as salt consumption can cause your body water percentage to change.

How nutritionists can use body composition measurements to improve their services 

Putting it all together, here are some concrete examples of how your nutrition practice (and your clients!) can benefit from the implementation of body composition measurements.

Identifying specific areas that clients want to improve 

Having information on someone’s weight is a good start for helping them get to their goals, but knowing their body composition can give you more specific guidance on how to approach their program. Even better: having someone’s body composition metrics also gives you the opportunity to better educate your clients about how the nutrients they eat contribute to their body composition, ultimately allowing them to take a more hands-on approach with their own health.

For example, many of your clients may come in wanting to lose weight, but knowing their ratio of fat tissue to muscle tissue can reveal whether more specific goals are more appropriate. If a client wants to get fitter but is already at a healthy weight, you may choose instead to work on body recomposition goals, such as losing fat and gaining muscle, rather than focusing solely on weight alone, which could put your client in danger of becoming underweight.

You can use body composition data to help guide your nutrition plan (i.e., recommending more protein to combat muscle loss and fewer carbohydrates for fat loss, rather than focusing on total calorie intake alone). Your clients can also use that information to approach their own health through a more balanced, health-first lens.

Adjusting total caloric needs

Knowing your clients’ body composition metrics can provide you both with a better understanding of their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories that your clients burn on a daily basis. This is imperative data for determining the number of calories they should be eating for their goals without over- or underestimating their unique needs.

BMR can be estimated using many different calculations, but these calculations are not always completely accurate. For example, relying only on calculations based on weight and height can skew results and lead to inaccurate numbers, especially since many of these population-based calculations do not take into account differences in physical activity level, body composition, or sex. In other words, these calculations may be relevant to the populations that they were based on, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll be accurate for your client.

Instead, nutritionists may do better to use calculations that take body composition into account, since differences in body fat tissue and lean muscle tissue can alter the number of calories you burn on a daily basis.  In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that lean body mass is the strongest determinant of BMR, since muscle requires more energy to maintain, and that body fat mass, physical activity level, and nutrition play their roles on a smaller scale. So, using your client’s body composition metrics to calculate BMR may assist you in creating a more accurate estimation of your client’s needs.

Identifying over- and under-nutrition for goals and for health 

Knowing someone’s body composition metrics can also help nutritionists and dietitians get a better “big picture” view of someone’s nutrition status, which can be applied to both their fitness and health goals.

For example, someone who is not eating as many calories as they need may experience a loss of muscle mass that could be masked if you’re only looking at the number on a body weight scale. Malnutrition is linked to various health risks, such as muscle loss, which are relevant in a broader health sense, so it’s important to screen for it when possible.

Tracking client history 

Finally, keeping track of a client’s body composition changes over time can give you in-depth insights into your clients’ progress. Knowing how someone’s muscle mass and body fat percentage have changed over time can:

  • Give you a more accurate understanding of how well your program is working
  • Help you identify areas that could be improved

Conclusion 

Helping your clients to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals requires a distinct combination of lifestyle improvements on their part and careful monitoring of key metrics on your part. By implementing the use of body composition measurements in your nutrition practice, you may be able to give yourself and your clients better information about their bodies.

10 Daily Habits to Incorporate More Physical Activity

By Fitness

For those of us trying to get healthier, a sedentary lifestyle can be a major obstacle! Many people struggle with finding ways to stay active. Between work schedules, commuting, family obligations, and the popularity of working from home, it can be hard to find opportunities to exercise.

Luckily, healthy movement doesn’t have to look like going to the gym or attending fitness classes. If you want to get fitter, but have no idea of where to start, here are some proven techniques for making sure that you move more every day!

10 Ways to Get More Physical Activity Every Day

1. Use a wearable fitness tracker to quantify your steps per day 

One of the best ways to be proactive about increasing your physical activity is to monitor it, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to invest in a wearable fitness tracker, such as a smartwatch.

These devices can give you a more realistic idea of how much you’re moving, and thus make it easy to know when you should be moving more.

In addition to making it easier to actually quantify the amount that you’re walking, there’s also evidence that using a wearable fitness tracker can actually lead to a natural increase in movement.

For example, a systematic review found that fitness tracker use led to users getting in an extra 1,800 steps a day and 40 more minutes of walking on average (not to mention about 1 kg of weight loss).

2. Take regular walks during your lunch break or before work

If you find that a busy work schedule is one of the main obstacles getting in the way of your ability to get more physical activity, you may need to take advantage of the downtime that you do have throughout the day, even if it seems too short to be effective.

For example, a study was conducted to compare the benefits of walking in short 10-minute bouts versus longer 30-minute sessions.

The researchers ultimately found that, while the participants who did longer 30-minute walks ultimately saw bigger improvements in various health metrics, the group that broke their walks into three short 10-minute bouts still saw significantly increased physical activity as well as improved diastolic blood pressure when compared to a control group that was not prescribed a walking regimen at all.

So, on the days that you just can’t take thirty minutes or more out of your schedule for a long walk, you can still benefit from breaking up your physical activity into shorter bouts when you get the chance.

You could take a stroll during your ten-minute work breaks or while you’re on your lunch hour.

3. Start the day with a quick workout

If you find yourself starting off the day with every intention to fit in a workout after work but end up feeling too tired and unmotivated after a long day of taking care of your responsibilities to make that happen, you may benefit from starting off your morning with a quick exercise session instead!

Rather than saving it for later in the day, when you may lose motivation or run out of time due to your schedule, starting the day off with a quick morning workout can help you check your physical activity goal off of your to-do list right away.

Morning workouts may also help with habit formation, appetite/eating behaviors later in the day, and metabolic regulations caused by working out in a fasted state, all of which can add up to impactful results over time!

It may take some time to adjust to an earlier schedule, but it can lead to big payoffs over in the long run.

4. Invest in a standing desk

For a way to increase physical activity that barely feels like moving at all, simply switch your regular office desk for a standing desk instead.

Sitting too often is a major contributor to sedentary lifestyles. Using a sit-stand desk or a raised laptop stand can cut down on sedentary behaviors during your workday and has even been linked to significant improvements in fasting triglycerides and insulin resistance, both of which are important factors for your metabolic health.

Start by standing for twenty minutes, then sitting for ten. Then repeat the sequence.

Once you get more comfortable with your standing desk work set-up, you can start standing for longer periods of time, such as 45 minutes out of the hour.

To up the ante even more, you could add a walking pad underneath your desk. That could really increase your movement when you’re on the clock!

5. Change your regular commute

In addition to sitting for excessively long periods at work, you might also struggle with sitting for long periods during your commute.

So, if it’s at all feasible, consider other ways to get to work, such as walking or biking, so that you can naturally increase your physical activity during the day. Bonus point: it’ll probably be a great mood-booster, since being stuck in traffic for hours is never fun.

You can still apply this tip if walking or biking to work isn’t feasible for you, due to distance, safety, or weather. For example, you could simply start parking further away from the building where you work so that you have to go on a longer walk to get to your desk.

Or you could take the stairs instead of the elevator to get your heart rate up a little before you sit down to your day’s responsibilities.

6. Follow along with a YouTube workout or at-home fitness class

Even though hitting the gym or joining an in-person fitness class can often feel like the “gold standard” for getting a good workout, it certainly isn’t the only option. What’s more, many people find that they have too many obstacles in their schedules to attend a gym or class regularly.

So if, for whatever reason, a classic gym membership doesn’t fit in with your current lifestyle, you can still get a great workout from the comfort of your own home, by following along with video workouts!

Video workouts allow you to follow a structured workout routine without having to leave the house, making them a great option for anyone who doesn’t have the time or resources to go to a gym or class during the day.

Video workouts can also be extremely effective for helping boost your physical fitness.

A recent 2022 study found that the introduction of weekly muscle-strengthening and aerobic video workouts into fitness routines was linked to significant improvements in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, sleep efficiency, and physical activity frequency among participants.

The study also showed that afterwards, participants who did video workouts reported higher self-confidence and fewer perceived barriers to exercise!

7. Try a new sport

In a similar vein to video workouts, gym activities like lifting and running are probably the first exercises you think about when you consider increasing your physical activity. But don’t forget to consider doing sports as well!

Participating in sports and recreational activities like cycling and tennis was associated with lower odds of obesity in adults aged 40 and above.

Adding sports-based workouts to your life can be easy. For instance, you could invest in some baseball gloves and a softball and play catch with your partner or family instead of watching TV.

You could also look into your local city or town’s recreational opportunities or call your local gym to see whether they offer adult leagues for the sport of your choice. 

8. Dedicate an hour a day to household chores that get you moving 

They need to get done anyway, so why not try carving out some time each day for chores that you know will keep you busy and moving?

Some chores that are guaranteed to get you off your feet include weeding or pruning your garden, vacuuming, or walking the dog just one more time.

All of these chores naturally help you get moving and keep you productive in the process. Your household and your health will thank you!

9. Take frequent stretch breaks during the workday

It can be easy to lose track of time during the workday. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve spent hours in your seat, focused on the task at hand. That’s great for your job performance, of course, but excessive sitting isn’t always great for your physical health.

So, break up your work grind! To give your mind and body a much-needed break, try incorporating frequent stretches into your day.

This practice keeps you moving more, and it can even be highly beneficial for preventing pain and stiffness down the line.

For example, one study found that people who were instructed to participate in frequent stretch interventions saw significant pain reduction when compared to a control group that was not instructed to stretch regularly.

Give yourself a five-minute break every hour or so to stand up, move around, and stretch it out. If you need help reminding yourself to do this, try setting an hourly timer and recruiting your officemates.

You’ll all benefit from a much-needed mental wellness break, and you’ll be getting in some beneficial movement in the process!

10. Make your screen time double as an opportunity for exercise

There is another contributor to a sedentary lifestyle besides work and daily responsibilities: screen time. Our constant exposure to screens may eventually lead to too many hours of sedentariness.

But you don’t need to get rid of your screen time completely, especially if it’s one of your preferred ways to unwind at the end of a long day.

Instead, figure out ways to get some movement in even when you’re enjoying some well-deserved relaxation with your favorite shows or social media sites!

For example, you could try challenging yourself to do as many sit-ups as you can before the commercial break is over, or perform some Pilates or yoga while watching a movie.

Simply standing as you use social media, rather than sitting on the couch, can help you get the most out of it.

Conclusion 

One of the best ways to make progress on your health and wellness goals is to find ways to get more movement every day. We recommend experimenting with a few different methods to find out what works best for your lifestyle.

Those little changes add up and can make a huge difference over time!

Reducing Chronic Disease Risk: 5 Ways Improving Body Composition Helps

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

Chronic conditions are extremely prevalent in the United States. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the CDC, more than half of American adults ages 18 to 34 years old are dealing with at least one chronic condition!

Unfortunately, some of the most common chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer, can have a huge negative impact on your quality of life.

Conversations about preventing chronic conditions tend to focus on maintaining a certain weight or BMI. But another proactive way that you can potentially reduce your vulnerability to these diseases is by managing your body composition!

Your body composition can be a factor in whether or not you develop some chronic conditions.

In this article, you’ll learn how improving your body composition can lessen your risk of developing several common chronic diseases.

5 Ways That Improving Your Body Composition Can Decrease Your Risk For Chronic Conditions

1. Improves insulin sensitivity

The first way that improving your body composition can decrease your risk for chronic conditions is through its positive effects on your insulin sensitivity.

Glucose is a broken-down carbohydrate molecule that your cells use for energy, and insulin is an important hormone because it is responsible for shuttling glucose to your cells.

Unfortunately, high levels of body fat have been linked to insulin resistance, which means that your cells allow less glucose into your cells.

As a result, glucose remains in your bloodstream, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. If this goes on for too long, you may acquire Type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

As you can see, your body fat percentage definitely plays a role here. But perhaps even more interestingly, there is evidence that the place where you accumulate your fat tissue may be more important than your total fat levels!

Abdominal obesity, or the fat tissue that accumulates around your midsection, is especially pertinent when it comes to your risk of insulin resistance.

Researchers have found that high levels of abdominal fat may increase the release of free fatty acids and signal molecules called adipokines, which can increase your risk for chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The good news is, there’s plenty of evidence that improving your body composition can help you manage your blood sugar levels. A more balanced body composition can even contribute to a healthier metabolism!  

Some of the most obvious body composition-related improvements to your health come from losing fat. Take this study that evaluated how body composition improvements (from exercise or a reduced-calorie diet) could impact participants’ insulin resistance.

The researchers found that either exercise or reduced calorie intake could be comparably effective for improving insulin resistance. These improvements were linked to changes in body weight, total fat mass, and visceral fat volume.

Your muscle mass can play an important role in your health as well, which is why looking at your body composition instead of your weight or BMI alone can be beneficial.

A study that evaluated the insulin resistance of 132 healthy adults found that, in male subjects, having more lean muscle mass was associated with greater insulin sensitivity, independent of the subjects’ fat tissue.

Another study on Korean adults found that participants with higher muscle and lower fat body compositions had significantly lower insulin resistance than those with low muscle and low fat levels.

So in order to manage your insulin resistance, you may need to focus on both your body fat and your muscle mass — or in other words, focus on body recomposition.

2. Decreases chronic inflammation

Another important way that your body composition can affect your risk of chronic conditions is through inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal response that your immune system conducts to keep you healthy. When it detects an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous invader like a bacteria or virus, your immune system increases blood flow to the infection site.

Your white blood cells then release chemicals that “attack” the invader, ultimately keeping you healthy and safe from harm.

Unfortunately, under certain conditions, inflammation can also become chronic. In these cases, your body may have inappropriate inflammatory reactions even in the absence of an actual threat, which means that your immune system can begin attacking your body’s own tissues.

Chronic inflammation is linked to a wide array of serious health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory arthritis cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and metabolic syndrome.

A high body weight tends to be one of the most prevalent risk factors talked about when it comes to inflammatory diseases, but another promising method for lowering inflammation is through managing your body composition.

Consider the “BMI paradox.” It’s been observed that overweight people are more likely to develop cancer but also have lower mortality rates. Researchers have found that this phenomenon may have more to do with their body composition than their weight alone.

Having more muscle mass seems to offer more protection than fat tissue, which is linked to higher inflammation (as well as other chronic disease risk factors, such as insulin resistance and higher cholesterol levels).

Why? There is some evidence that fat tissue, especially the visceral fat tissue found deep in your abdomen, can be inflammatory.

In fact, the state of obesity itself is considered chronic low-grade inflammation, since it is associated with several inflammatory markers, likely due to excess fat tissue.

In addition to metabolic and cancer-related chronic illnesses, your body composition can also play a role in other chronic conditions.

For example, inflammation is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that can block your airways and make it hard to breathe.

Researchers have found that low muscle mass is linked with systemic inflammation.

Ultimately, having a lower body fat mass and a higher muscle mass may protect you from chronic inflammation, which can give you better protection from a huge array of chronic conditions.

3. Improves cholesterol levels and blood pressure

Did you know that your body composition can heavily influence your heart health, through its effects on your cholesterol levels and blood pressure?

Cholesterols are fatty substances that are produced in your liver and travel through your bloodstream. They perform various roles in your body, like helping you to digest fat-soluble vitamins and building important hormones.

There are several kinds of cholesterol. Two of the most important are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL is sometimes considered the “bad” kind of cholesterol, because it sticks to the sides of your arteries as it travels through your bloodstream. HDL, on the other hand, can carry excess cholesterol away from your organs, which is why it’s known as the “good” kind of cholesterol.

When someone has high cholesterol levels (especially high levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL), cholesterol may adhere to the sides of your arteries and develop into plaque. This plaque can then harden, making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to all the places it needs to be delivered to. Eventually, this can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), which increases your risk of cardiac events like heart attacks and strokes, ultimately affecting your heart health for the worse.

Your body composition may play a major role in how cholesterol impacts you.

Research has found that obesity can actually change the way that your body metabolizes fats, which is linked to its promotion of insulin resistance. This can cause your body to produce more LDL and less HDL, contributing to issues with your heart health.

However, you can lower your risk or reduce the severity of your current heart issues by improving your body composition.

For example, a study on older adults found that reductions in fat mass of approximately 1 kg predicted a reduction in triglyceride levels, which are another type of fat that can be found in your bloodstream and fat tissue.

Similarly, the study also found that gaining lean muscle mass led to improved triglyceride levels.

4. Strengthens bones

Because your muscle tissue and bone mass are so closely interlinked, increasing your muscle mass can protect your bones, which is great for reducing your risk of chronic bone conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

This link between your bone health and muscle mass seems to start in childhood, with studies finding that the body composition of children and adolescents significantly influences their development of bone mineral density early in life, and that higher body fat percentages seem to negatively affect bone acquisition.

This finding may be especially relevant to older adults, as your bone density tends to decrease as you get older.

Because bone mass and muscle mass are so closely linked, there’s evidence that older populations that are prone to bone diseases like osteoporosis may benefit from resistance training programs that improve these body composition metrics.

5. Better mental health

Finally, improving your body composition may also do a world of good for your mental health! In addition to physical health issues, mental illnesses like depression are among some of the most prevalent chronic conditions.

This may in part be due to an association between higher-risk body composition metrics and lower physical activity levels. For example, a 2020 study found that less physical activity, higher body fat mass, and lower muscle mass all were associated with stronger depression severity

There may also be a link between behavior and the gut microbiome, or the microbes that live in your gut, since they play a variety of roles in your body, including regulating your moods and behavior via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

In the same vein, some researchers believe that improving your gut microbiome diversity can influence factors that play a role in your body composition, such as insulin sensitivity!

However, more research needs to be done to determine the exact links between body composition, the gut microbiome, and mental health. 

The bottom line: it’s important to note that body composition hasn’t been proven to be a cause of chronic mood and mental disorders like depression.

Instead, there’s some evidence that points to the idea that the actions you take to improve your body composition, such as exercising more frequently, can help reduce your mental illness risks and/or severity.

Conclusion

Chronic conditions are serious health concerns that can alter one’s quality of life and even shorten your lifespan.

While there are several factors that can contribute to your risk for chronic conditions, such as genetics and age, one proactive way that you can manage your risk is to improve your body composition, by focusing on gaining lean muscle mass and reducing your body fat.

Steer Clear of These 7 Common Mistakes on Your Body Composition Journey

By Body Composition, Fitness

Let’s face it: the journey to achieving health and fitness goals can be long and difficult.

While many people want to be the fittest, strongest, and healthiest versions of themselves, dramatic body composition changes rarely happen immediately, which can be discouraging. It can also be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re used to focusing on weight-only goals.

In this article, we’ll outline seven of the most common mistakes that can get in the way of your quest to improve your body composition, plus how to avoid them!

Why body composition goals are so important

Body weight is one of the most basic metrics we use to judge our fitness. It’s also the most popular metric, perhaps because it’s so easy to track — and, unfortunately, obsess over!

However, if you’re looking for a way to improve your total health and wellness, you should consider making body composition goals in addition (or even instead of) weight management goals. This is sometimes referred to as body recomposition.

Your body composition takes into account several factors that contribute to your total body weight, such as your muscle mass, body fat mass, and percent body fat.

Making body composition goals, rather than losing weight alone, means building or maintaining lean muscle mass, which has been linked to protection from diseases like cancer — and even a longer lifespan!

Furthermore, paying attention to your body composition can also help you to better understand your overall health and health risks.

For example, making body composition goals instead of weight goals can prevent the “metabolically obese” scenario, when you’re technically a healthy weight but still have more body fat than is optimal for your health.

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Improving Your Body Composition

1. Underestimating the importance of your diet

Many people think that the best way to accomplish a fitness goal is to exercise and hit the gym. This is especially true when it comes to body recomposition, since your objective is usually to increase your muscle mass, which requires working out.

However, it’s just as important to pay attention to your diet as it is to refine your exercise routine if you want to attain your body composition targets.

While exercise can certainly help you build lean muscle mass, your body needs adequate nutrition so that your muscles can recover, repair and, ultimately, grow. Another point: exercise can burn calories, which is important for burning fat, but that calorie deficit can easily be canceled out if your diet isn’t portion-controlled.

So, to ensure that you’re making body recomposition progress in a timely manner, it’s a good idea to pair your workout routine with a diet that is tailored to your goals. This has been proven to lead to better and more consistent results.

A 2012 study focused on post-menopausal women found that introducing the participants to a weight intervention involving exercise alone led to an average 2.4% weight loss, while an intervention that focused on diet alone led to an average 8.5% weight loss.

However, a two-pronged intervention that included both diet and exercise led to an average 10.8% weight loss over twelve months!

Similar results were seen in the participants’ body composition measurements, including their waist circumference and body fat percentage.

2. Focusing solely on calories

On a related note, if you’re trying to change your body composition, it’s important to take a holistic look at your diet and consider factors beyond just the number of calories you eat every day.

If you’re coming from a mindset where you’ve only ever focused on weight loss, you might be familiar with the old mantra: calories in versus calories out. This idea comes from the fact that your body uses calories for energy. If you consume more calories than you use, your body then stores the excess in your fat tissue to be used later on.

On the other hand, a deficit of calories means that you have to burn through the stored calories in your fat tissue for energy, ultimately leading to weight loss.

So calories are important, especially when it comes to managing your body fat.

However, when it comes to body recomposition, it’s also essential to focus on your diet quality so that your body has all of the building blocks it needs. It’s especially important to look at your protein intake, as an adequate protein intake is necessary for building muscle.

Eating a high-protein diet while in a calorie deficit can lead to better diet quality and reduced loss of lean body mass, helping you to tackle multiple body recomposition goals at once.

3. Not having a workout plan for building muscle 

Body composition goals generally involve building muscle in addition to losing fat, which means that you need to have a workout plan that adequately addresses both targets. In many cases, this means implementing a combination of various workouts into your day.

Cardio-centric aerobic workouts may be good for losing weight since they often require massive amounts of energy and thus can increase your calorie deficit. But cardio alone usually isn’t enough to build significant muscle mass.

Instead, the best way to build muscle is to incorporate heavier resistance-training exercises into your routine, alongside your cardio. Muscle growth, which is also known as “hypertrophy,” requires repeated stress to your muscle fibers via heavy resistance.

When you do challenging resistance workouts like weightlifting, your muscle fibers become damaged. However, with the right nutrition (in other words, enough protein), your muscle fibers can rebuild themselves, becoming thicker and stronger, which ultimately leads to bigger muscles.

This phenomenon was highlighted in a randomized trial called STRRIDE AT/RT, which was designed to compare the effects of aerobic training alone, resistance training alone, and a combination of the two.

The researchers found that aerobic training was the best for losing weight, but that resistance training was necessary to increase lean mass in its participants.

4. Not keeping track of your body composition in multiple ways 

Traditional body weight scales are the most common tool that people use to keep track of their fitness. However, when it comes to body composition, a traditional scale can’t tell you much about the progress you’re making.

Muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue but is much more compact in size. So, if you’re gaining muscle and losing weight, your weight may not change (or it may even go up), even if you’re actually getting closer to your body composition goals.

Instead of tracking your health journey using your weight, it’s recommended that you use other means of determining your progress, in order to get a fuller picture of how your body is changing. Here are a few ideas:

  • Measure your hip, waist, thigh, chest, and arm circumferences. These metrics can give you a better idea of how effective your training is than your weight alone.
  • Discover your body fat and muscle mass percentages by getting your body composition tested regularly, via a BIA scale or DEXA scan.
  • Track your daily steps and approximate calories burned with a wearable fitness tracker. Knowing how much you’re moving around may inspire you to get more active!

5. Not setting specific goals 

Most people attempting to improve their body composition have long-term goals that they are working toward. However, focusing solely on those big-picture goals can make you feel like you’ll never reach your target.

Instead of setting major goals that might take months or years to complete, some researchers have found that it can be more helpful to set smaller goals more frequently.

For example, if you’re struggling with your motivation, try setting incremental milestones (i.e., losing one percent of your body fat over a month versus trying to lose five percent of your body fat total).

Smaller goals may help you to stay on target more easily and establish a realistic fitness roadmap. Plus, hitting those smaller goals can provide you with bursts of inspiration that ultimately cause you to meet your major goals over time!

6. Ignoring the importance of sleep and rest

Because your diet and exercise are two of the biggest factors that determine your body composition, it probably comes as no surprise that people with body composition goals tend to focus on what they eat and how often they work out.

However, it’s also important to keep other aspects of your lifestyle in mind, like the amount of rest and sleep that you allow yourself.

Sleep is an extremely important component of your health, and it can play a big role in your body composition. For example, your sleep habits influence the hormones that control your metabolism and appetite.

In fact, sleep is such an important factor for your body composition that researchers have found that sleep disruption can negatively influence your body composition progress, even if you’re losing weight at the same time.

In a similar vein, it’s crucial to know when it’s time to let yourself rest. Allowing yourself a couple of days off per week from your workout routine is crucial to avoiding overtraining, which can actually set your progress back.

7. Not staying consistent

Finally, there is nothing more important for reaching your goals (and maintaining your progress) than staying consistent!

We’re often sold the idea that we can make huge amounts of progress within weeks of starting a new exercise routine or diet plan. However, the truth is that accomplishing a fitness goal usually takes months or even years to accomplish in a healthy manner.

Rapid progress can actually be really bad for your body composition, because it can indicate that you’re losing muscle mass in addition to body fat, which is contradictory to most body composition goals.

So, when it comes to improving your body composition, it’s key to understand that fitness is not a short-term goal. You’ll need to stay consistent for long periods of time if you want to make any meaningful progress.

Even when you don’t see huge changes right away, staying on track will eventually get you to where you need to be — without compromising your health in the process.

Conclusion 

When you set a body recomposition goal, what it really means is that you’re making a commitment to eating well, exercising right, and tracking your progress for long-term success.

Accomplishing your goal starts with understanding the main tenets of gaining muscle and losing fat, as well as avoiding these common mistakes along the way. Over time, your efforts will pay off!

How Many Minutes of Strength Training Are Truly Necessary?

By Fitness

You want to build muscle and get fit, so you know that you need to hit the gym and do some strength training. But as you plan out how you’ll meet your goals, you may be troubled by the eternal question: “How much strength training should I actually be doing?”

In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. It depends on many factors, including your aspirations and your current fitness level.

When it comes to strength training, it might be better to ask how you should be training, rather than how much. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what the research has to say about the amount of strength training you should do per week to hit your fitness targets. You’ll also learn how to optimize those strength training sessions, to ensure you’re spending your time wisely!

Why you need strength training

If your goal is to grow bigger, stronger muscles, you should add strength training (also known as resistance training) to your workout routine.

Resistance training, which includes such activities as lifting weights or doing bodyweight workouts, is a challenging exercise that puts stress on your muscle fibers. These strenuous movements cause microscopic damage to your muscle tissues (sometimes called “microtears”).

When combined with the right diet and plenty of protein, your immune system responds to microscopic muscle damage by repairing those muscle fibers. As a result, they grow back thicker and stronger, ultimately leading to bigger and more capable muscles. This process is also referred to as “muscle hypertrophy.”

It’s not all about aesthetics or sheer strength, either: resistance training’s effects on your body composition are beneficial for many other facets of your health. For example, resistance training can help you improve your balance and posture.

Additionally, increasing or maintaining your lean muscle mass can also be good for your overall cardiometabolic health. The lean muscle mass that you gain from strength training can enhance your metabolism in many ways, which means that it may help reduce some of the most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

So, how much weight lifting is necessary to reap these rewards? At the end of the day, the amount of strength training you need depends on the kind of results you’re looking for.

How much strength training do you need to gain muscle?

The desire to increase your muscle mass is one of the most popular motivations for beginning strength training. But, to achieve the ideal outcome, how should you train?

A systematic review and meta-analysis focused on several studies that addressed this very topic. Through their analysis, they concluded that people should train their major muscle groups at least twice a week in order to maximize their muscle growth.

You may be wondering what these training sessions should look like. The guidelines can vary, based on who you’re talking to. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing higher-volume multiple-set programs to maximize hypertrophy. In other words, they recommend that you should do multiple sets of a lifting exercise, with each set having multiple reps.

However, other researchers have found that low-load training can also result in similar gains if you reach failure (in other words, if you work out until the point when you physically cannot do another set).

In both cases, it seems that you can achieve promising results as long as the intensity of your workout is high, and you’re pushing your muscles to the point of stress.

Also, it’s important to note that your muscle gains may differ depending on the muscle groups you’re training. A 2022 systematic review evaluated the effects of moderate (12-20 weekly sets) and high (more than 20 weekly sets) training volume on young men with resistance training experience.

They found that there was no significant difference between the two approaches when it came to building the quadricep and bicep muscles — but there did seem to be a significant advantage to doing high-volume training for the triceps.

Finally, the number of training sessions you need can change depending on your current fitness level. Evidence suggests that untrained individuals (ie: people with no/limited weight-lifting experience) saw greater muscle hypertrophy when training than individuals with weight-training experience.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people with weight-training experience can’t rapidly build muscle. The same study also found that trained participants were able to attain similar rates of muscle gain as untrained individuals simply by adding more training sessions to their routines.

How much strength training do you need to lose weight?

Resistance training definitely has a place in your weight loss plan. However, it’s important to note that you may want to focus on body recomposition rather than weight loss if you’re incorporating strength training into the mix.

Resistance training primarily leads to muscle gain (or the prevention of lean muscle mass loss). Because muscle is denser and heavier than fat tissue, this means that you may see a higher number on the scale even though your body composition is actually improving.

Additionally, losing fat depends primarily on your calorie intake. In order to lose fat, you should be in a caloric deficit — in other words, you should be eating fewer calories than your body burns in a day.

While strength training can certainly increase your caloric needs, it might not be enough on its own for weight loss. However, pairing your resistance training with the right diet can help you to decrease fat mass while preserving your lean muscle mass.

Case in point: The American College of Sports Medicine’s Position Stand recommends at least 200-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week for long-term weight loss, but also states that resistance training doesn’t enhance weight loss; rather, it can increase fat-free mass. This is better for body recomposition rather than strict weight loss.

How much strength training do you need to maintain your general health?

Finally, strength training can go a long way in keeping you healthy as a whole. It’s especially effective if you pair it with cardiovascular workouts that keep your body moving and your heart working hard.

The American Heart Association recommends doing moderate- to high-intensity resistance or weight-training workouts at least two days per week, in addition to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.

Other considerations for effective strength training

Make sure to factor in rest time

While heavy strength training can help you reach your fitness goals, it’s also important to schedule in days for resting. This allows your body the time it needs to properly recover from all of that hard work, which it needs for muscle growth. Scheduling a couple of days a week for rest can also help you avoid overtraining, which can increase your chances of burnout and even injury.

Don’t forget the importance of eating the right diet to make muscle gains

Exercise alone isn’t enough to make your body composition and health targets a reality. For best results, make sure that you’re eating the healthy and balanced meals that complement the work you’re doing in the gym.

The optimal diet for you depends on your goals. For example:

  • If you want to gain muscle, you should prioritize eating plenty of lean protein and take in more calories than you burn.
  • On the other hand, if you’re trying to lose weight, you should aim for a caloric deficit.

Conclusion

When combined with a proper diet, strength training can help you build muscle, gain strength, and improve your overall health. To optimize your success, perform strength training at least twice a week, making sure that your workouts are challenging and push your muscles to the max!

The Importance of Carbohydrates in Muscle Building

By Diet

When it comes to health and fitness, there is a lot of bad advice out there. There are two common misconceptions about body composition and diet:

  1. Decrease carbohydrates for weight loss
  2. Only increase protein for muscle growth

However, these two rules of thumb are not absolute truths. Carbohydrates and protein are nutrients that both play important roles in body composition, yet they both have stereotypes that aren’t 100% accurate.

If you want to gain muscle mass, then yes, you will need a lot of protein. But you’ll also need a fair amount of carbohydrates, and that shouldn’t be shocking or scary.

Protein automatically gets the credit for building strong muscles, but let’s not forget about your carb intake.

Depending on your body composition goals, you’ll need to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates you consume.

When someone wants to lose excess weight, the first thing they do—or the first thing they’re told to do by their friend who acts as their personal trainer —is to adopt a low-carb diet. This can definitely lead to fat loss, but cutting carbs shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule in body composition, especially when it comes to gaining muscle.

Carbs usually aren’t restricted if muscle growth is the goal. It seems like weightlifters and athletes know some things about carbohydrates that the general public doesn’t: carbs aren’t the enemy to achieving your body composition goals.

Like a lot of things in life, there are carbs that will help you reach those goals and carbs that will prevent you from reaching those goals. Out of the various types of carbscomplex carbohydrates play a largely important role in building muscle mass.

Carbohydrates and Building Muscle Mass

Think about it: building anything takes a lot of time, energy and resources. Building muscle is no different. The body requires a lot of energy to power through workouts that result in bigger, stronger muscles. Where does the body get most of that energy? Usually from carbs.

Energy from Complex Carbohydrates

Out of all the energy sources for the human body, researchers have found that carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the human diet. This means that carbs aren’t just for athletes. Carbs are a great source of energy for anyone’s daily activities, including exercise.

You can think of carbohydrates as a source of fuel for the body, otherwise known as calories. As we’ve previously learned, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs.  Simple carbs are a quick, sporadic source of energy, while complex carbs are a good source of steady energy.

If you’ve ever heard of an athlete eat candy before a game or training session, that’s because simple carbs, like white sugar, are one of the fastest ways to spike energy. However, this energy kick cannot be maintained for long. Complex carbs may not be as readily available for immediate energy as simple carbs are, but they’re more efficient and healthier. Complex carbs provide sustainable energy, which means the energy is constant and there’s no “crash” like with simple carbs. 

One of the main reasons why complex carbs sustain energy throughout the day is because they take longer to digest. Simple carbs like fruit are easy for the body to break down and get rapidly digested, so they don’t provide energy for a long period of time. Complex carbs like starches are slow to digest and therefore slowly provide calories, giving you continuous energy for a longer period of time. 

Because of their slow-release properties, complex carbs should be the largest component of daily energy intake.

Isn’t Protein More Important Than Carbs for Building Muscle?

When you think of building muscle, you may think of a high-protein diet. Protein is extremely important in building muscle because the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) help repair and maintain muscle tissue. Essentially, protein helps you recover from workouts because muscles slightly tear during exercise.

If protein is so important, why put an emphasis on carbs? Well, complex carbohydrates don’t get enough credit when it comes to the important roles they play in muscle gains.

Some of the ways that complex carbs help to build muscle include:

1. Carbs help regulate muscle glycogen repletion

You may have heard of glycogen stores before. Glycogen is a form of glucose that is stored for later use. When the body needs energy, glycogen kicks into gear and acts as a ready fuel source. 

Carbohydrates and glycogen go hand in hand because carbs are stored as glycogen. When carbs are low, glycogen stores are low. When carbs are consumed, glycogen stores are full.

Since glycogen is used for energy, it’s important to replenish those stores. This is why researchers recommend to consume carbohydrates immediately following exercise; it replenishes glycogen stores for future use.

2. Carbs prevent muscle degradation

One concern about low-carb diets is muscle loss.

A Netherlands study compared a low-carb diet to other diets and found that restricting carbs results in protein loss. This is because restricting carbs causes an increase in the amount of nitrogen that get excreted by the body. Nitrogen is a component of amino acids (the stuff that forms muscle proteins), therefore nitrogen loss indicates that the muscles are breaking down.

3. Carbs help muscles recover from exercise

The role that carbs play in recovery goes back to glycogen stores. Immediately after exercise, athletes need to replenish their glycogen stores in order to prevent glycogen depletion.

Glycogen depletion, when glycogen stores have run out, causes gluconeogenesis. This is when the body forms glucose from new sources to compensate for the lack of glucose from carbohydrates. When this happens, the body turns to sources like fat and protein to fill this need. Protein acts as the last line of defense when energy is required, meaning that energy accessibility is running very low.

When the body breaks down protein to make more glucose, it takes from the muscle, causing them to waste away. 

Gluconeogenesis is more common in carbohydrate-free diets, so be sure to consume healthy carbs to prevent this.

Replenishing glycogen stores with complex carbs is important to prevent protein breakdown and muscle wasting.

Why Athletes Consume a Lot of Carbs

There are many reasons why athletes don’t adopt low-carb or carb-free diets. They know those good carbs are a necessary nutrient to help them power through training sessions, resulting in muscle maintenance and growth.

Some of the reasons why athletes consume a fair amount of carbs include:

1. Carbs prevent muscle weakness

By now, you understand the importance of glycogen stores. Some glycogen is even stored in our muscles.

When you use those muscles during exercise, you tap into the glycogen stores in that particular muscle. When you lift weights with your arms, for example, you’re accessing the glycogen in your biceps.

Some athletes take advantage of glycogen by loading up on carbohydrates (by consuming carbs a day or more before a workout) to maximize the muscle glycogen stores. This can delay fatigue and even improve athletic performance, making for a better workout and stronger muscles.

2. Carbs improve athletic performance

Out of the three macronutrients, carbs are the most efficiently metabolized.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports all share the position that high carbohydrate availability is associated with improving performance during high-intensity exercise.

Why? Because carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can be broken down quickly enough to provide sustained energy during high-intensity training. 

Both carbohydrates and protein will both provide 4 calories per gram. But it is much easier for your body to digest and use the calories from a gram of carbohydrate than it is a gram of protein.

Research has shown the link between nutrition and athletic performance is greater than initially believed.

3. Carbs repair muscles

During exercise, muscles slightly tear. Muscles feel sore after intense exercise because of this minor damage that allowed the muscles to exert more force than during regular activity.

After exercise or during rest, the muscles need to be repaired and rebuilt. Just like for building muscle, protein and glycogen is needed for that muscle repair.

The importance of glycogen for muscles can’t be over-emphasized, and in order to maintain glycogen stores, carbohydrates are needed.

What Happens to Muscle When Carbs are Low

With the popularity of low-carb diets, it’s important to discuss the major concern that muscle mass is at risk of deterioration when carbs are low.

Now that we know how important carbs are to build muscle, let’s discuss some of the possibilities when carbs are restricted.

Muscle is Broken Down For Fuel

The body looks to complex carbs as its main energy source. When carbs aren’t available, the body breaks down protein, i.e muscle, for fuel. 

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, which is a readily available source of energy for when it’s needed. Dietary protein, however, isn’t really meant to be stored in the body specifically as an energy source.

When the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy, it does so to access the amino acids (the building blocks of protein). The amino acids are then broken down into glucose and used for energy.

Carbs help to prevent this process encouraging protein sparing, which means they conserve muscle tissue by providing energy instead. When carbs are present, the body will use carbs first and foremost for energy. When carbs aren’t available, muscle gains that you have worked so hard to achieve can be lost.

Replenishing glycogen stores by consuming complex carbs prevents this muscle loss.

Decreased Athletic Performance

Decreased energy due to low-carb consumption may affect athletic performance. When glycogen stores are low, athletic performance is decreased.

Muscle strength can be compromised and fatigue increases when glycogen stores are low.

It’s widely accepted that athletic performance is somewhat dependent on carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, consuming carbs before the workout for energy and after to replenish glycogen stores are important contributors to improved exercise performance.

Complex Carbs for Muscle Gains

Everyone knows that protein is important for building muscle, but without carbs, the gains just aren’t the same. Complex carbs are vital for sustained energy, athletic performance, and overall muscle building.

However, the type of carbs and when they’re consumed are also vital to experience these benefits.

When to Consume Complex Carbs for Muscle Building

The time of carb consumption also impacts athletic performance and muscle building.

It’s important to consume complex carbs before an intense workout so that glycogen stores are full enough to fuel the training. Consuming complex carbs immediately before a workout could lead to digestive distress, so try to limit complex carb consumption to up to a few hours before an intense workout. If you’re short for energy before an event, lean towards simple carbs.

After exercise, it’s important to consume complex carbs to replenish those glycogen stores for later use.

Balancing Carb Consumption

The amount of complex carbs you eat depends on your body composition goals. Generally, very low carb consumption (<5%) is used for weight loss, while adequate carb consumption (55-60%) is used for muscle gain.

Athletes may pile on the carbs as they are required to train day-in and day-out. So it makes sense that they should consume a higher carb diet than the average person because they have higher energy needs. For non-athletes, it’s generally suggested to adopt a more balanced diet. Even if you’re mostly sedentary, you should still consume some carbs to fuel your daily activities.

If the goal is to build muscle, we now know to eat all three macronutrients, including a fair amount of carbs.

Take Away

    • Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for humans. The body uses this nutrient for energy and stores them as glycogen for later use.
    • Athletes rely on carbs for sustained energy, preventing fatigue, and enhancing athletic performance.
    • Carbs are important for muscle building because they’re protein sparing, which means the body looks to glycogen for energy instead of breaking down muscle tissue for energy.
    • Consuming carbs post-workout can prevent muscle loss and help repair muscles.

    The moral of this story is that carbs, just like every other macronutrient, have a place in improving your body composition. In the end, it takes a well-rounded diet and a smart routine to build muscle.

**

Lacey Bourassa is a health and wellness writer in Southern California. Her areas of expertise include weight loss, nutrition, and skin health. She attributes her passion for healthy living to her plant-based diet. You can find out more about Lacey at WrittenByLacey.com.

Enhancing Your Immune System: 7 Proven Methods for Better Health

By Health, Nutrition

There are very few things in the world worse than being stuck in bed because you’re sick. The CDC estimates that seasonal influenza caused U.S. employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays. That’s a staggering $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity! For some people, the symptoms of the common cold seems to linger for weeks. While other people never get sick. All things being equal, the difference usually comes down to a strong immune system.

Once a virus enters your system, your body goes into defense mode, with your immune system in the front line. What’s amazing is that, unless something is wrong with your body’s system of defense, you don’t notice it working day and night to keep you safe. It has evolved over many years to protect you and keep you strong and healthy, which is a rather comforting feeling. Beyond gratitude, there are things you can do to help boost your immune system. After all, as strong as he was, Batman wouldn’t be able to save Gotham City without the help of Robin.

The Human Immune System

The Immune System is very complex and essential in maintaining health. Its main tasks are to neutralize pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria that enter the body and threaten its normal homeostasis, eliminate harmful substances from the environment, and fight against the body’s own cells that rebel and cause illnesses like cancer.

Your body’s defense system consists of the innate and adaptive immune processes. Elements of the innate system include exterior defenses, such as the skin, serum proteins, and phagocytic leukocytes. Any pathogenic organisms that manage to escape the first line of defense, come face to face with the adaptive system, which is made up of T and B cells. The adaptive immune system serves as a learned defense, constantly adapting and evolving in order to be able to identify changes in pathogens that, too, change over time. It’s an evolutionary arms race between host and pathogen. Together, the innate and adaptive systems work closely to provide a formidable resistance to any long-term survival of infectious agents in the body.

Mighty as it may be on its own, there are simple adjustments you can do in your everyday life to help strengthen and boost this magnificent, genius system that’s working to keep you safe.

Ways to boost your immune system

1. Quit Smoking

You don’t need anyone to tell you that smoking is bad for your health.  Smoking impairs the immune system and is associated with a long list of cardiovascular, autoimmune, respiratory and neurological diseases. The list of common symptoms of tobacco-related diseases includes shortness of breath, persistent cough, and frequent colds or upper respiratory infections.

Specifically, the substances you ingest while smoking a cigarette have a direct effect on both the innate and adaptive immunity, suppressing the normal development and function of the cells that are responsible for driving immunity in the body. Nicotine, in particular, has been shown to be a potent immunosuppressive agent by affecting the immunosurveillance properties of dendritic cells, highly-specialized cells of the immune system.

Imagine this; your body fights for your survival every single day of your life, and in the meantime, you can be counteracting these efforts every time you decide to smoke. Is that cigarette worth your health?

2. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Alcohol is often associated with celebrations and anniversaries, but if you abuse it, your immune system suffers.  Alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to organ damage, specifically the liver, and is known to slow down recovery from tissue injuries. The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.  Alcohol intake exceeding the recommended intake disrupts essential immune pathways and, in turn, impairs the body’s ability to defend itself against infections.

It is worth stating that alcohol-related immune system disturbances have been implicated in the development of certain types of cancer, including but not limited to head and neck cancers among alcohol users. Before you start thinking that this is a problem isolated to chronic alcohol users, keep in mind that acute binge drinking, also known as a Saturday night, has the ability to severely impair the body’s defense system.

3. Keep the Stress Away

Chronic stress is like poison for your body; it has a negative impact on every aspect of your health, and it’s even more dangerous due to its ability to creep up without you consciously acknowledging it.  One of the many systems responsible in the body for handling difficult situations is the immune system. Specifically, cells of the immune systems are equipped with receptors that recognize stress hormones, such as cortisol.

Even acute stress can mess up your immune system by increasing the release of inflammatory-promoting cytokines in the blood, a special type of immune cell that signals other cells and affect their function. Stress, immunity, and disease can affect each other in reciprocal ways, but these relationships can be moderated by life stage, other environmental pressures and goals, stressor duration, and protective factors, such as good sleep. Make sure you have a healthy strategy to help you relieve the symptoms of stress like exercising or spending time with friends and family.

4. Get More Sleep

Speaking of sleep, it is a strong regulator of immunological processes and works to enhance the memory of the adaptive immune system. When you deprive your body of adequate sleep, you simultaneously make it more susceptible to many infectious agents. Sleep deprivation not only makes you more susceptible to infections like the common cold or the flu, but it also makes it so much harder to recover from the bacteria or virus infection that eventually manages to enter your system.

While you are sleeping every night, your body uses this time to strengthen the immune system and move T cells to the lymph nodes, the vessels of the immune system responsible for filtering harmful substances. These T cells produce cytokines which are called to action when there is inflammation in your body or when you’re under stress. During periods of inadequate sleep, cytokine production is diminished, further hurting your immune system.  So feel free to hit that snooze button, and in case you come down with the flu, feel free to hibernate for a few days.

5. Exercise Regularly – But Don’t Skip Rest Days

Most people have a love-hate relationship with exercise.  This particular argument will only add to your love towards exercise. Studies have proved that regular physical activity may enhance the immune system and provide protection against infection.

Furthermore, regular resistance exercise increases your muscle mass, which acts as a protein reserve when the immune system is working to stave off disease. Simply put, the more muscle mass you build through a healthy diet and regular exercise, the more equipped your body is to fight off infection and keep you strong and healthy. Conversely, getting rid of bacteria or virus infection will be a lot harder if you have been neglecting the gym.

But don’t forget to take your workouts outside. Exercising outside is a great way to both destress and reap the benefits of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increased susceptibility to infection, so when the weather permits try to go outside and enjoy the sun.

Unfortunately, no one can stay young forever, and as the body ages, its natural defenses begin to waiver.  The good news is that regular physical activity in the elderly may counteract the actions of time and boost the immune system so that it can protect the body from infection and disease.

Nonetheless, like everything else in life, too much of a good thing can be bad.  Being a couch potato suppresses the immune system, but the opposite extreme can be equally detrimental. Repeated bouts of strenuous exercise, also known as overtraining syndrome, can lead to symptoms like immune dysfunction, so make sure to maintain a healthy balance between regular physical activity and exhaustion.

6. Eat Enough Nutritious Foods

Every system in the body requires energy to function properly. This energy is provided by food sources in the form of calories. Indeed, insufficient intake of calories may lead to micronutrient deficiencies and suppress the immune system and its vital functions. In fact, malnutrition is the most prevalent cause of immunodeficiency around the world.

Food is powerful; it has the potential to make or break every chemical pathway in the body that sustains you. Because of that, it makes sense that the healthier your food choices are, the stronger your immune system and, subsequently, your health will be.

Certain nutrient deficiencies have the potential to alter immune responses and damage the way your immune response to infections. Vitamins and nutrients with antioxidant properties can provide protection against free radicals. Adding an abundance of foods high in naturally occurring antioxidants like citrus fruits in your diet is the key to maintaining a healthy immune system. Exposure to environmental conditions such as UV light, cigarette smoke can ultimately take its toll on the immune system and drive the production of free radicals in the body. Antioxidants fight the free radicals and restore the structural integrity of cells and membranes in the body. Examples of such antioxidants include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamin C, A, and E. Foods high in vitamin C, A, and E, in particular, may also increase the activation of cells involved in tumor immunity.

Plant-derived bioactive compounds, known as phytonutrients, also play an important role in strengthening the immune system.  Polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, carotenoids, and phytoestrogens, are some of the few phytonutrients that have the ability to enhance the immune system with their immunity-boosting superpowers. Dietary intake of phytochemicals promotes health benefits and protects against chronic disorders, such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and inflammation. Also, their natural origin poses lower side effects when compared to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and promises a brilliant future for their use in treating specific types of cancer.

Finally, there is emerging research linking gut health to the immune system and there is promising research highlighting the benefits of probiotics supplementation in improving the body’s response to bacterial infections.

Balanced nutrition, especially in terms of adequate vitamin, mineral and protein intake (for those essential amino acids), enhances the resistance against infections. If you are not sure that you can provide everything your body needs through your diet alone, it might be worth investing in a quality multivitamin to help cover any inconsistencies from your diet.

7. Maintain a healthy body fat percentage

It has been observed that overnutrition can potentially increase the risk of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.  A healthy body fat percentage ranges between 10-20% of the total body weight for men and 18-28% for women. Therefore, a percent body fat higher than this may impair the immune response.

Studies have shown that the link between obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes could be explained through the subsequent activation of the innate immune system.  The same system that is implicated in the pathophysiology of obesity-related liver damage.  A healthy immune system does an excellent job in protecting you from disease, but permanent activation causes the release of immune cells that promote inflammation in the body, making it a lot harder for the immune system to concentrate on its primary goal; to keep you healthy.

The solution is simple in this case. You can reverse the negative effects of a high body percentage by improving your body composition. Less body fat, specifically visceral fat, equals less immune cells circulating in the bloodstream, promoting inflammation and wreaking havoc on the natural processes of the body.

In addition to losing fat, gaining more muscle mass, as we spoke about before, can further improve body composition and reset a dysfunctioning immune system, laying the foundations towards long term health.

Putting it All Together

Your immune system works day and night to keep you healthy and often has to fight you in its efforts to maintain normal homeostasis. You can become its best friend by applying these 7 small changes in your everyday life:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation
  3. Try to keep the stress away
  4. Get enough sleep
  5. Exercise regularly, but avoid overtraining
  6. Eat enough calories and include foods rich in antioxidants in your diet
  7. Maintain a healthy body fat percentage through diet and exercise

You may read this article and think that all these are just too much change for you. Small changes are still a step in the right direction. Change your habits one at a time to help support your immune system, and it will help you bounce back quickly next time you catch a common cold. After all, a strong, healthy body depends on your daily decisions.

Take care of your body, so that it can take care of you.

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Rafaela Michailidou is a Biomedical scientist, and a freelance health and wellness content writer. Aspiring to help people achieve their goals, she is currently studying to be a Health Coach.