Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Go Barefoot?

Why not?  How did the human race survive millions of years of evolution without the support and cushioning from Nike's or Asics'?  The answer is we used the perfect, God given shock absorbs available to us... our bare feet.  It makes sense if you think about it.  Personally I grew up with the exact opposite mindset, which was "always wear your sneakers".  I always heard that we need the proper support and cushioning for our feet.  It wasn't until I saw this guy, who is now a friend of mine, wearing the Vibram Five Fingers that I started doing some research on going barefoot.  At first, I thought to myself, "doesn't this guy know those things are bad for his feet?"  So I started doing research and to my surprise, going barefoot is actually the best way for us to walk!  This was one of the first pieces I read on the benefits of going barefoot... and this is from 1905!!...
"Most people, including doctors, have never seen a natural foot, unaltered by footwear. The following images of habitually bare feet are taken from a study performed almost 100 years ago, published 1905 in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery, which examined the feet of native barefoot populations in the Philippines and Central Africa. A line can be drawn that runs through the heel, ball, and big toe of a habitually bare foot. The little toes spread naturally and fan out to provide a wide, stable base for walking or standing
How do our shod feet compare? The following more common image, also taken from the 1905 study, demonstrates feet that are shaped like the owner’s shoes. No such line can be drawn, and the little toes crowd to a point—a comparatively unstable, narrow base for walking or standing."

Did you know that the human foot has an approximate 7,800 nerves and almost 200,000 sensors?  When our foot (barefoot) makes contact with the ground these sensors are activated, which then sends signals to the three most injury prone areas of the legs: the ankles, knees and hips.  Also, when we walk barefoot we force the muscles in our feet to actually develop.  Have you ever noticed the shape at the top of a sneaker?  Now compare that with the shape of our feet near our toes.  The sneaker comes to a narrow cone, but our feet are naturally wide at the top.  What this does is it crowds our toes and doesn't allow up to use the balls of our feet nor or toes to propel us.  Instead we rely on the upward curve at the tip of the sneaker to "rock us" into our next step (notice the curve towards the toes - kind of looks like a rocking chair doesn't it?).

The problem is, we start to wear shoes at such a young age that the muscles in our feet never develop to their full potential because the toes are squeezed together in our laced up, fashionable footwear.  But what's more important, the way your feet look or feel?  I personally love walking around the house barefoot and after all the research I did, it was time to go try on the Vibram Five Fingers.  This is the pair that I own and I love them, no matter what they look like.  I wear them whenever I can (even though my wife doesn't like them) and my legs and feet haven't been stronger!  Research shows that developing the foot muscles also strengthens the legs and low back muscles.  Personally, I felt a considerable increase in the strength of my feet the last time I did Yoga and I have been wearing the Vibrams for about a year.  If you don't like the alien lizard feet look there are alternatives to simulate a barefoot experience, but none compare to the Five Fingers (I think you'll like the reaction you get).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Cortisol the Culprit?

There are many people today trying to lose weight, build muscle, improve their sleep and the list goes on.  Some people think that they have to beat themselves up in the gym after a stressful day at work or wake up real early to get their workout in.  What people don't realize is that these things put a lot of stress on the body and can prevent your body from responding the way you want.  Stress is something that affects all of us at one time or the other, but by understanding how certain everyday habits might add to the problem, maybe we can reverse these habits and get one step closer to our goal.

One thing that a lot people do everyday are drink high caffeine drinks such as coffee or Red Bull.  Caffeine is very stressful to the adrenal glands, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system putting our bodies in a "fight or flight" mode.  A stress hormone called Cortisol is then released in the body.  Stress hormones, like Cortisol, are categorized as catabolic hormones, which mean they break down tissue.  If you are trying to build muscle, you do not want your catabolic hormone levels high!  The opposite of catabolic is anabolic and these are the good guys.  These are the hormones that will build muscle and help keep the body in "fat burning mode".

Remember, cortisol is released due to stress, so when our stress is high it can have a harmful affect on our bodies.  For example, cortisol negatively affects neural tissue health, quality of sleep and mood.  You might be wondering, how does it affect sleep?  Well, cortisol is naturally high in your body in the morning when the sun rises.  The light stimulates your pineal gland, which activates the reticular activating system, which gets you ready for your day.  After about 12 o'clock your cortisol levels start to slowly decrease (as long as you don't artificially stimulate them) and your melatonin levels (the hormone that helps you sleep) increases.  So let's say you are on your way to the gym around 6:00 p.m after a long day of work and your decide to have a coffee or a Red Bull to give yourself some energy.  The caffeine spikes your cortisol levels and lowers your melatonin levels, so then you get home from the gym and can't get to bed until after midnight because you had a coffee at 6 o'clock, but now your cutting into your good sleep when the body should be rebuilding itself.  Remember, your cortisol levels should naturally be down at this time and when cortisol is down, hormones like DHEA, growth hormone and testosterone are high.  

Also, as I stated earlier, stress creates a sympathetic response in the body, which blocks digestion.  So with the examples given above, we can see the various negative affects that stress has on the body.  Like I said, we all deal with stress at one point or the other, but what we need to do is slow down.   Keep yourself properly hydrated (How much water a day?) and don't rely on caffeine for energy, get to bed at a reasonable hour and relax when you feel tried.  Don't beat yourself up in the gym after a long, tiring day at work because you could be doing more damage than good.