Fit in Frederick

Meal Frequency: Does it Matter?

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Meal frequency is a tricky subject. In some circles, discussing it is almost as polarizing as religion. People want to defend their diet plan: what they eat, when they eat, and why it’s the best. A popular tactic is to eat five or more mini-meals under the assumption it will increase your metabolic rate while you diet.

If you have ever tried that many meals a day, you know the portions are pretty small. I mean, who really eats two apple slices and a teaspoon of peanut butter? You have to possess strong will power to stick to the diet; not to mention dedication to eat every couple hours. You also need to commit to preparing and planning your meals for the week.

Many people who diet for a special event or fitness competition succeed using multiple meals a day. Some health issues require this kind of diet. There are even popular medical weight loss plans that incorporate it. For decades, everyone was told it was the best way to eat.

But, in the late '00s, a couple people started to publically question what the masses were doing. It’s difficult to pinpoint who started this dietary revolution, but some credit needs to be given to Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon for developing intermittent fasting.

The term reached cult status this year. Almost every diet guru created his/her own concept of what it looks like and how to do it. But, the aforementioned two really paved the ground and if you’re going to try it, I suggest you look at their plans first.

In very basic terms, intermittent fasting (IF) is eating your meals in a specific “window” of time and fasting the rest of the day. Mr. Berkhan suggests an eight hour feeding window and 16 hours of fasting (in most—but not all cases). Mr. Pilon’s plans calls for a 24 hour window of eating and 24 hours of fasting. You’ll find all sorts of IF plans in between that are different versions of the same premise. You basically eat two or three meals during your window and nothing during your fast except water. There are more specific recommendations if you’re weight training. But, in general, you want to be calorie free during the fast.

Critics of IF argue the body needs a constant stream of protein to maintain muscle mass and even go so far to say skipping one meal causes “starvation mode”. Assuming an adequate diet containing plenty of protein plus enough carbohydrates and fat, your body is not going to break down muscle for fuel. Fasting for 24 hours or less is not going to slow your metabolism, just like eating many meals does not make it faster. The International Society of Sports Nutrition compiled many studies on the subject and discovered, “Increased meal frequency does not appear to significantly enhance diet induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure, or resting metabolic rate.”

I have to provide an obligatory warning: a common misconception is if you eat fewer meals a day you can eat whatever you want in your "window".  This is comparable to people saying that since they are on a low carb diet calories don't count.  Both assumptions are incorrect.  No matter if you eat one meal...two... or seven, the calories you eat do matter.  If you eat more than you burn, you are going to gain weight regardless of what meal plan you are on. There are minor differences in digestion like the thermic effect of protein or fibrous carbs which are indigestible.  But even taking that into account, you have to be aware what’s going in your mouth.

If you choose six meals a day, you need time to cook, prepare, and divide all your food. Usually, eating out is difficult because of the size of the meals and options available. If you like to be regimented and eat every two hours then this is the plan for you. However, if you tend to obsess over food… thinking about it so often during the day may not be a good fit.

With IF, going out to eat or having an occasional dessert is easier. You won’t have to cook as much and will find you have a lot more free time when you’re not making or thinking about food. However, you must control yourself in your window and not eat everything in sight. The number, size, and timing of meals depend on many variables including but not limited to: your schedule, if you work out, and if you want to lose/gain weight.

The truth is meal frequency just doesn’t matter in the context of lean body mass preservation; total amount of calories burned, and body weight reduction in a hypo caloric state. The plan you pick is determined by your personality and your lifestyle. After that, it’s just a matter of keeping calories under control and moving more.

If you have questions about meal frequency or anything else fitness related contact the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Omega-3 Story Causes Unnecessary Fear

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

By now, there is a good chance you read or heard about the study linking omega-3 fatty acids to an increased risk of prostate cancer. When I first saw the headline, I didn’t give it much thought. I learned a long time ago that the human body does not like extremes.

As a society, we want instant gratification. We want to lose weight now… gain muscle yesterday… and have that “beach body” everyone else covets. When you go to extremes with exercise, food, vitamins, supplements, or minerals—you are asking for trouble.

Exercising throughout the week has many benefits…for your heart, mind, joints, and bones to name a few. But, if you’re trying to lose weight and resort to exercise at high intensities for longer period of time, you can find the scale stall or even head upward. Usually it’s due to hormone regulated water retention. However, if you’re in the gym three hours a day… seeing that upward climb can make someone completely freak out and go off their program. You want to exercise: just not for too long or too hard.

When it comes to the nutrition side of the picture, overdoing it can actually be deadly. Too much potassium can kill you, and so can too little sodium combined with too much water. Eating excess vitamin A is toxic, over doing it on certain vegetables can actually make your skin change colors, and now it appears the heart healthy fish oils we all have been taking cause cancer.

Or does it?

When I first saw the omega-3 headline, the media made it sound like omega-3s actually cause prostate cancer. But, that is not what the actually study implied. The men already had prostate cancer. The researchers were looking at the level of omega-3s in their blood. There is no proof the cancer caused a higher level. Did the men with aggressive prostate cancers smoke? What was their diet like? Is it possible the cancer prevented their bodies from using the omega-3 fatty acid and it just built up in their blood stream?

I used to be in the media, so I can say from experience that when stories come down on the news wires… the producers and writers copy them, and then try to re-word, so it’s catchy and easy for the audience to understand. Even with the best intentions, these writers can change the integrity of the story.

It becomes a little bit like that game telephone you played as child. The story morphs little by little as it gets passed further down the line. And when you finally hear the story, its original meaning is completely gone.

The study on omega-3 fatty acids was an observational study-- meaning researchers examined the association between omega 3s and prostate cancer. It did not take in account for all the other possible factors (age, smoking, exercise, sources of omega 3s, etc.) that may have played a role in cancer. Studies like this cannot prove cause and effect… it just suggests there may be a relationship.

A cause and effect study is much harder to carry out and even harder to prove. You have two groups: one that is being treated or tested and the control. Only one variable is manipulated. That means that everything but what is being studied must stay the same between the two groups. In an omega-3 study on prostate cancer, researchers would have to follow healthy men of relatively the same age who did not smoke or exercise and ate the standard American diet while taking the same amount and type of omega -3 fatty acids on a daily basis. Only after following these men for decades; testing their blood and watching for a prostate cancer diagnosis, would we have our answer.

Talk with your doctor if you’re confused what to do. However, keep this in mind: omega 3 is an essential fatty acid meaning your body can't produce it. It's necessary for optimal health and you have to get it somewhere. The best sources occur naturally: fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. You do not have to take a supplement unless you avoid these foods all together, and in that case don’t go overboard: taking more capsules is not going to make you healthier.

The next time a big study comes out, I hope you’ll go to the source and take a look at it yourself before drawing a conclusion. There’s a lot of research about diet and exercise out there. It’s up to you to stay informed and decide what makes the most sense for you.

For questions on this article or anything else fitness related email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials. 

The Controversy over Stretching

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

When it comes to a well-rounded fitness program, stretching is kind of like flossing. We all know that we should be doing it, but we really don’t make time for it. It seems tedious and at times even painful. I mean, who wants to go through that?

Stretching is actually a controversial subject in strength circles. Some people are adamantly opposed to it, thinking all stretching threatens strength and performance. But, if you have ever had a tight muscle and spent a couple of weeks “working it out”; you know that some stretching can actually make you feel incredible.

As with most controversies, there are two sides to the story, while the truth lies somewhere in the middle. So what should you do? It depends on what type of activity you perform, your fitness goals, and the current state of your body.

There are two different kinds of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching was long considered a “warm up” for the body. It involves getting into a position and holding it for about 30 seconds. Static stretches include bending down to touch the floor, sliding into a runners lunge, or leaning over staggered straight legs to perform a hamstring stretch. Various studies have proven time and time again the static stretching without a warm up is not a good idea. You can tear a muscle. And, if you are interested in improving performance, stretching beforehand can decrease speed and/or strength. Static stretching is not a warm up; in fact, your body needs to be warm to perform them. It should be done afterwards and thought of a way to increase flexibility post workout.

Dynamic stretching is a bit different. Swinging your arms in circles, lifting your knees to activate your hips and kicking your legs are all examples of a dynamic stretch. These kinds of movements can actually serve as part of the warm up. You want to think of this as preparation for your workout…. involve the muscles you will be using to get the moving. To be on the safe side, it is always a good idea to do a short bout of cardio prior to any stretches and if you don’t know how to dynamically stretch, it would be a good idea to have a fitness expert show you.

If you have tight muscles or a certain area of your body always seems to hurt, it may seem natural to stretch. But usually a tight muscle is an indication of a muscular imbalance. For example many people feel the back of their legs (the hamstrings) are tight. That usually means the opposing muscle is weak and underused. In this case, it’s the quadriceps muscle group that needs to be worked. A physical therapist or well educated personal trainer would know some strengthening exercises you can do to help correct that imbalance. Exercising the weak muscle in conjunction with dynamic movements pre-workout and certain static stretches after the body is warm can help. There is also something called myofacial release that you can do on your own with a foam roller or discuss with a massage therapist.

While a lot of people consider yoga a form of stretching, it is kind of in a class by itself. There are many types if practice. Some focus on meditation and relaxation while others are more physical. You do not want to go into a yoga class cold and perform stretches; it’s similar to doing a static stretch without a warm up. However many forms of yoga incorporate their own warm ups making it a safer way to practice: bikram is often done in a heated room, vinyasa includes a flow warm up before doing anything static.

In the end when and how often you stretch really depends on your goals. The same program is not going to work for a sprinter compared to a bodybuilder or marathon runner. Talk with an expert on what works best with your exercise program and don’t be too proud to have someone show you how to stretch. The right movements can improve performance, decrease pain, and release tension.

For questions on this article or anything else fitness related email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials. 

Improving Fitness and Increasing Fat Loss with Heart Rate

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

At one point in our lives, we have all been introduced to the concept of heart rate; whether it was middle school health class or stepping on a treadmill for the first time and seeing a picture depicting the different heat rate zones.   Those graphs displayed on cardio equipment and the gym posters show what's called a fat burning zone.  Most people think in order to burn fat; they need to keep their heart rate in a specific range.

But, heart rate is one of the most misunderstood concepts when it comes to fitness.  To understand it, first you have to know how to find it and what it means.  You can measure your resting heart rate by locating an artery’s pulse. The easiest ones to find are on the neck and on the wrist.  The number is based on how many times the lower chambers of the heart contract per minute.

Heart rate is affected by your body’s need for oxygen, your fitness level, what activity you are doing, if you are standing up or lying down and if you are under stress. Even the temperature and medication can affect the number. A normal resting rate has a pretty big range: anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Between 68 and 72 tends to be the average, with athletes logging even lower numbers, often in the 40s.   In most cases, a low heart rate is indicative of good cardiovascular health. It means more efficient heart function (your heart is working less but still doing its job) and a higher level of fitness.

When trying to determine exercise intensity, many people try to calculate the heart rate maximum. There are a couple formulas that health professionals use, but, the easiest one is take the number 220 and subtract your age. So, for a 20 year old, an estimated heart rate max would be 200 beats per minute. Remember, this is just an estimate. 

So, back to the fat burning theory… there is a perpetuating myth that if you stay within a certain percentage of your heart rate max (it can range anywhere from 50-65%) you will burn strictly fat for fuel. But it’s not all that simple.

What your body uses for fuel depends on a whole set of factors and its too simplistic to state that remaining within a certain set of numbers is going to guarantee 100 percent fat loss. It depends on how much you just ate and what that meal comprised of, how long you are exercising for, and if you are doing weights, cardio, or a combination of both. Plus you have to take in account if you used stimulants or medication, both which effect heart rate.   

But, assuming normal metabolic function and hormone levels, you don’t burn as many calories at a lower heart rate. After all, your body isn’t working as hard. At the end of the day, to lose fat you are going to have to be in a deficit. So, it doesn’t make much sense to work at a low heart rate for 60 minutes and burn 200 calories, if you can work at a medium to high intensity heart rate for 60 minutes and burn 500 calories. Over a period of time, that higher deficit is going to result in more fat loss. 

In addition to fat loss, knowing your heart rate can improve your cardiovascular health. In this case, you want to exercise in what's called your Target Heart Rate Zone.  Some call this the Aerobic Zone; others Zone 3.  Don't get caught up on the title; just know it's usually between 65% to 80% of your maximum heart rate.  Exercising in this zone increases your aerobic capacity allowing you to exercise longer and workout harder at lower heart rates.

If you perform work at roughly 80 to 90% of your heart rate or more you are doing High Intensity exercise and have moved into the Anaerobic Zone.  Many athletes work in this zone and it places a high demand on your cardiovascular system.  It doesn't burn much fat; instead it draws upon other fuel sources. You can't sustain this heart rate very long.  In fact, a great example of when you might reach these numbers is interval training...where you sprint hard for 30 seconds, then recover, and repeat.  

If you want to measure your heart rate, you can purchase a monitor from a sporting goods store. There are also several companies that sell special devices you can wear all day to calculate your heart’s output and estimate calorie burn based on that. You can also grab hold of the metal handles on cardio machines every couple of minutes to get an idea of where your heart rate falls. Those tend to be less accurate, but can give you an idea if you are curious how hard you are working. 

Of course, how hard and how often you exercise depend on your goals. But, at the end of the day you’re doing well if you have a healthy resting heart rate and make some effort to get cardio in a few times a week. For ideas on how to get started, email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Finding Fitness After 60

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Age is just a number. You can look, feel, and act years different than what your driver's license might disclose.

Some older adults let that number stand in their way, thinking they're too old to start an exercise program. That sentiment couldn't be further from the truth. By incorporating fitness, men and women over the age of 60 can improve their lives in so many ways.

A well-rounded program includes strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching. Cardio will keep your heart healthy, stretching will keep you limber; and (perhaps, surprisingly) it's hitting the weights that can supply some of the greatest health benefits.

You can alleviate back pain with just two months of proper strength training. A fitness professional can show you how to incorporate exercises that use your lumbar spine with full range of motion. Years of research shows that strengthening your back muscles make you less prone to injury… whether shoveling the snow or bending down to pick something up.

But if you were to get injured, all that weight training will help safeguard your bones specifically in the case of a fall. Strength exercise significantly increases bone mineral density with just months of use. It can also help arthritic pain through the development of stronger muscles, bones, and connective tissue. 

If you have less aches and pains, you will be able to enjoy life a little more. Maybe you'll start moving more, too. That's where the cardio comes in. Cardiovascular exercise can be anything from talking a brisk stroll around the block, spending a few hours gardening, or logging some laps in the pool.    

When it comes to losing weight, cardio is an effective tool because it helps burn calories. But, aerobic exercise is also the best natural medicine for your heart. No matter your age or the activity you choose, remember to start slow. Adding 10 minutes to your regime every week will keep you making progress. 

Old and young alike tend to forget to stretch. It's often an overlooked part of fitness. But adding 15-20 minutes of stretching every day can improve and maintain your range of motion. By staying flexible, everyday activities will become easier.

Besides the physical benefits, exercise can help you mentally and emotionally. Some research shows that physical activity can actually increases an older person's intelligence. You become more alert. The release of hormones during exercise can even improve depression. Plus, there is a great social aspect to exercising as you age.

If you exercise in a gym at the same time every day, you will get to know other "regulars." As people become familiar, you'll be able to strike up conversations with them and workout alongside them. Fitness classes geared towards seniors accomplish this by providing the physical benefits of being active with the added emotional advantage of meeting a whole new group of people. 

Even if you start out exercising for your health, it is possible to have fun while doing it, too. That, combined with improved self-esteem will make sticking with it a lot easier. For ideas on how to get started, email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Setting the Story Straight

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

The health and fitness industry is not as regulated as it should be. There are dozens of trainer certifications—all with different criteria. You could stumble upon someone who holds a Masters in Kinesiology just as likely as a person who earned their credentials online in two hours. Because of this discrepancy, there is a whole lot of misinformation out there. In addition, the media doesn’t help out the cause by focusing on sensationalistic headlines and pseudo facts to sell magazine covers. Today, I hope to dispel some of these fitness myths you are likely to come across.

Myth 1: Lifting heavy weights makes women “bulky”, while light weights and high repetitions keeps women ‘toned”.

Ladies, this one is obviously for you. But, men might be able to use this information to help plan their own training and convince their girlfriends/wives/sisters, etc. to hop off the cardio machines and pick up some dumbbells.

Women are not going to “jiggle proof” their arms with 5-pound curls. In fact, if anything stands a chance to tone up your arms, it’s heavier weights. I know most magazines show lithe girls lifting pretty colored dumbbells, but that’s not going to get you the results you want.   

And while I understand your concern about bulking up, it’s just not physiologically possible.

Women don’t have the hormone levels to support that kind of muscle growth (even women with high androgen levels). Men can only put on a certain amount of muscle in any given time and that assumes they are eating enough calories with the right macronutrients and training hard.

Myth 2: Fat does not turn to muscle and vice versa.

When you start working out, you may notice your trouble spots are transforming from flabby to firm. It may appear that your fat has morphed into muscle, but that is simply not the case.

The two are totally different tissues. You can lose fat, or at least shrink your fat cells. You can also create an environment of muscle hypertrophy, where your muscles grow. Doing them simultaneously is hard. And even when it appears that everything is happening at once, it’s much more complicated process than that. If your diet and training are spot on you can come close to that kind of body recomposition. 

The good news is if you decide to stop training for some reason or if you get injured and cannot train anymore, that muscle is not going to turn into fat. The muscle may atrophy and get smaller. You may not look as “hard.” But, if you stay in a deficit or at a caloric maintenance level, fat cells are not going to get larger. The problem is, most people who stop working out also start eating more. It’s the combination of moving less and eating the same (or in excess) that piles on that. And even then, your muscle is not morphing into fat.

Myth 3: To shrink/grow/shape your trouble spots, spend more time on them.

At first glance, it seems to make sense that if you don’t like your abs, hundreds of crunches may solve that problem. Or if you hate the backs of your legs, maybe you use the leg curl machine but not the leg extension. Guys are notorious for working on their chest but neglecting their legs.

The truth is you can’t spot reduce an area. Where you lose fat is determined in large part by your genetics. You cannot will it away from certain places and you can’t work it off either.  If you lose weight, everything will be smaller—including the part of your body that bothers you the most. But you cannot pick and choose what shrinks first.

Oftentimes, this body part obsession turns into a problem. When you work on only certain muscle groups, the others are going to fall short. You are going to develop muscular imbalances which can affect your posture, cause aches and pains in your joints and put you at risk for injury.    

The way to correct this is to think about symmetry in weight training. For every chest exercise, spend an equal amount of time on your back. If you want to reshape your entire body, do a full body workout 2-3 times a week and focus on diet to get the results you want. 

Hopefully, you’ve come away from this article a little more informed. When it comes to your fitness and health, if something sounds too easy or too good to be true, it probably is. Try to approach magazines with a dose of skepticism, question information that doesn’t seem right, and keep your interest at heart.

If you come across some information and want to know the fact from fiction, email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Work Your Mind for a Healthy Body

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Your mind has the potential to be a powerful tool in your health. This is more than just a little positive thinking; certain mental practices can actually suppress disease causing pathways, while other techniques can increase your physical strength.

Relaxation techniques like mediation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer create physical changes in your body’s immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion. That discovery comes from a new study spearheaded by the Mind/Body Medicine Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study enrolled a group of healthy adults with no experience in relaxation techniques. They went through a “control” session by listening to a 20 minute health education CD. Blood samples were taken before they listened to the CD, immediately after and 15 minutes later.

Then the same group was enrolled in an eight week relaxation training course. Again, participants listened to a 20 minute CD, but this time it was designed to elicit the relaxation response as part of their daily practice. Blood work was taken at the same intervals. The researchers also played the relaxation CD and took blood samples from a second group of people who had been practicing relaxation techniques anywhere from 4 to 25 years.

The blood test results revealed relaxation techniques created positive changes in energy metabolism while suppressing pathways known to have a role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer. The expression of genes involved in insulin pathways was also significantly altered. The changes were even more dramatic in the group who had been practicing relaxation techniques for more than 4 years.

It doesn’t matter which form of relaxation technique you chose. The group with a history of practicing relaxation techniques use various forms including mediation, yoga, and prayer but those differences were not reflected in the analyzing the blood results.

Not only can your min bring about physiological changes, it can also increase muscle strength. Bishop University in Quebec is just one institute of several that studied mental training.

For this study, male athletes were divided into three groups and gave them guidelines to increase the strength of their hip flexor muscles. Researchers chose this muscle because it is one that can’t be easily exercised while doing everyday activities or using free weights.

The first group performed physical training using a weight machine designed for the hip flexor. The second group mentally practiced the exercise (as in imagined performing it using increasing amounts of weight). The third group did nothing: their hip flexor was not physically or mentally exercised.

At the end of two weeks, the physical group increased its strength by 28.3%. The group who did nothing saw almost no difference. But the men who mentally practiced the exercise saw a strength increase of 23.7%.

This research and other studies like it are not excuse you from working out, but to empower you that by thinking positively you can really change your physical outcome. Instead of talking yourself out of trying an exercise at a certain weight, visualize yourself pushing through a plateau and then attempt the exercise.

If you are stressed out, tired, and feeling ill… try some relaxation techniques: whether it’s yoga, meditation, or something else. You might find your mind can help heal your body. While it may all sound too good to be true, you have nothing to lose by committing to some mental practices for 4-8 weeks and measuring any physical changes.

Let us know if you have any success! Or, if you have another fitness related question, send an email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

A green thumb leads to a healthy body

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Gardening is a popular spring time activity. You often see people on the weekend mulching their yard and planting flowers. Traditionally, we associate this activity with older adults; but, research shows it is beneficial to all walks of life, especially when the whole neighborhood works together. In fact, people who regularly take part in this hobby tend to be healthier than their non-gardening neighbors.

The American Journal of Public Health published a study last week that suggests community gardening can have a significant impact on your health. Researchers measured how the activity improves one’s body mass index (BMI). The body mass index is a ratio of your height and weight. It helps screen for obesity related health issues. A normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9.

Men and women who gardened had a much lower BMI than their neighbors who did not participate in the activity: a difference of 11-16 pounds. In addition, women gardeners were 46% less likely to be overweight and 62% less for the men. This particular study used a community garden: where people in the neighborhood work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a common piece of land. The lead researcher in the study wants to further investigate the relationship between gardening and families’ eating habits and physical activity.

However, it’s not the first time a community garden has shown healthy benefits. In 2011, another study looked at the idea and found community gardens promote health and well-being through economic, social, and physical changes.

The positive interaction and sense of responsibility for one’s community provides a powerful mental health benefit. It gets people out of their homes, talking to neighbors and instills a sense of pride in their community.

Growing your own food tends to be an economic way to eat your fruits and vegetables. Produce may be expensive in the supermarket, but it’s free when you pick it from your backyard. With the availability of fresh items, gardeners have an easier time meeting the national guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake compared to those who do not participate in the activity.

You don’t need a community garden to get started. You can get the benefits even from a small piece of land. Research what flowers, fruits, and vegetables do well in this climate, as well as what to grow during different months of the year. Invite your family members to participate in picking out what to plant and keeping up with the garden as the season progresses.

To increase your activity even more depend less on all those machines that are supposed to make your life easier: cut your lawn with a push power, prune your trees, bag your own leaves and grass clippings, mulch your gardens, and dig up weeds. You can get a pretty good workout from yard work.

If you need some ideas to get started or have additional questions, email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Improving your odds with exercise

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

A little activity goes a long way in a cancer diagnosis

Most of us know exercise is good for us and we should get more of it. Now, science is proving that being active may be one of the best ways to prevent or help treat cancer.

Within the last few months, two big studies came out on the subject. Both looked at the relationship between exercise, physical activity, body mass index and colorectal cancer.

The first study, which included about 150,000 people, showed a person’s activity level and body mass index correlates to the kind of colon cancer a person developed. Basically, being lazy and overweight meant the tumor was more aggressive.

The second study of 2,300 people showed that people who were more physically active —both before and after their cancer diagnosis — had much better outcomes, and all it took was 150 minutes a week of recreational activity. That’s like taking a 30 minute walk with your dog, five times a week. Engage in that much physical activity and you reduce the risk of dying from the cancer. If you become a couch potato and do not exercise at all, the data shows your risk of succumbing to the disease goes up.

Cancer of the colon is not the only disease being studied. There is consistent evidence from observational studies on breast cancer, too, that show being active increases a person’s chance of survival.

Additionally, you don’t have to exercise at a high intensity to receive the benefits. The studies show a little activity (like the two and half hours of walking per week) is beneficial to prevent and slow the illness.

When most people get a cancer diagnosis, the last thing on their mind is continuing or embarking on an exercise program. But, more doctors need to have that conversation with their patients. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network even suggests exercise can even improve cancer related fatigue, increase endurance and strength, and reduce symptoms.

While exercise will never be a cure, researchers believe that as more studies show the positive association between activity and cancer prognosis, more oncologists will prescribe exercise as a treatment modality to work in conjunction with traditional therapies and increase a patient’s outcome.

If you are suffering from cancer or another serious illness, it may be time to talk to your doctor about exercise. If you get the green light to be active, start off slow. It may seem overwhelming, even pointless at first, but if you can stick to it for a minimum of six weeks then you may find your energy actually increases and you look forward to being active.

Getting up off the couch can improve your mental state as well, which is beneficial to anyone facing their mortality. Whether you walk by yourself, with a dog, or grab a neighbor, it’s something you can do almost anywhere at any time.

If you were active before becoming ill, do not give up. In fact, this is the time to depend on workouts. Make them a positive focus of your day. As long as you get the go ahead from your doctor, there is no reason why you can’t keep up with physical activity.


To find out more about the studies in this article or to have your question answered in a future article, email Michelle at

Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

Troubleshooting a plateau

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Six reasons why you’re not getting results and what to do about it

When it comes to diet and fitness results, people have come to expect overnight success. We see people in the public spotlight change their bodies in a matter of weeks. And while, they “claim” to be doing nothing special; believe me, they have teams of people helping to make those dramatic changes.

The reason most people fail a diet or never start an exercise plan is an unrealistic expectation of what should happen. When someone does not get the results they want, it’s easy to feel defeated and give up before giving it a real chance. Before you throw in the towel, evaluate the six different criteria below and decide if you are guilty of one (or more). If so, try making the necessary adjustments before you trade your morning oatmeal for that morning doughnut. You may find you were capable of making a transformation all along.

Working Out Too Much

You would think the more you work out the better, right? But too much exercise isn’t always a good thing. If you are working out six to seven days a week for hours at a time you could be overtraining. The stress this puts on your body causes physiological issues which negatively affect your results.

First, it can impact the hypothalamic-pituitary axis leading to hormone changes that mimic hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism causes fatigue, weight gain, brittle nails/hair, and constipation.

Second, the stress can also increase the cortisol response in your body. Continuous high levels of high cortisol are linked to sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, and weight gain (especially around the middle). High cortisol is also thought to increase water retention, which may show up as extra weight on the scale.

Working out too much can mean logging too many hours of cardio, weight training or both. You may also be stressing your body if you train the same muscle groups too much with not enough rest in between. Even if you don’t have marathon long sessions, if your work outs are particularly intense (HIIT or heavy lifting) you may be suffering from this as well.

Working Out Too Hard

When you do work out too hard, another problem can occur. Your body makes you compensate for all that hard work in the gym. Let’s say you burn 1000 calories every day you do weights and cardio. That deficit combined with a diet at a maintenance level should produce a two pound weight loss a week. But, that kind of activity tends to make people tired, and their non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT) goes down.

NEAT is all the other things you do in a day to be active. So instead of taking the stairs, you take the elevator, instead of doing laundry when you get home, you park yourself on the couch, and instead of walking the dog you let him outside in the backyard. Now, even though you burned 1000 at the gym, you haven’t burned as much that one would assume during the day so youroverall deficit (not including exercise) is lower… maybe 500 per day. Now you are only losing a pound a week instead of two.

In addition, a lot of folks tend to eat more when they workout hard…either because they are really hungry or feel they “deserve it.” Combine a lower NEAT with a higher food intake and your deficit goes to zero… and it looks like your hard workouts are not doing the trick.

To solve both of these problems, make sure you have at least one rest day planned per week and try an active recovery week or two, where you still work out but reduce the time or lower the weight. If you have been working out hard for several years, you are going to need more than a week and probably the help of a fitness professional.

Body Becomes Efficient

If your workouts are appropriate in time, intensity, and rest then make sure you are changing them every 6-12 weeks. The more you do something, the more efficient your body becomes at doing something. That means it is less of a challenge for your body to overcome, so it burns less calories to do the same amount of work.

If I told you to give me 20 pushups, you might get as far as three regular pushups and 12 knee pushups before your muscles gave out and your heart started beating fast. If you tried to do those 20 pushups every day and trained your chest for strength, then you would probably be able to knock them all out in 12 weeks. It would be an easier task for your body because it was used to it and you would use less energy doing those pushups.

It’s at that point you need to change how you do it. Try one arm pushups, decline pushups, plyo pushups, etc. This same example can be applied to your whole body. If you are plateauing, try making changes to your workouts before you give up.

Lying to Yourself and You Know It

You know what diet you are supposed to follow and you follow it…. most of the time. But, you just can’t help lunches out with your co-workers or joining your spouse for a bowl of ice cream. You may justify it in your head because you do so well the rest of the day. But these slip ups add up and can easily cancel out your dietary deficit.

Either plan some cheat meals into your plan so you don’t feel deprived; or when you do indulge, account for it. Make sure you journal what happened, what you ate, and how many calories it contained. Look at your diet for the rest of the week, and figure out where you can make changes so you still come out ahead. One or two treats is not going to mess things up. But, when you ignore mindless eating (in the car, at your desk, in front of the television) and pretend it never happened, you will never see the results you want.

Lying to Yourself and You Don’t Know It

Similar to the point above, sometimes you are following a diet to the last fat gram and you don’t lose weight. You write everything down, passed up this week’s break room birthday cake AND skipped your Monday double caramel cream mocha latte. What the heck is going on?

It’s probably your portions and how your food is prepared. Many people have no idea what three ounces of chicken is supposed to look like. You may be eating six ounces. If you go out to eat a lot you have to be careful of what is arriving on your plate. The portions certainly are not diet friendly and it’s usually cooked in butter, oil, or some other high calorie sauce. The cook doesn’t care about your diet; their job is to make food taste good.

Combine that with other easy mistakes: thinking you took a handful of almonds when you really ate three servings, assuming all fruits and vegetables are “free” foods, eyeballing your tablespoon of peanut butter, believing you know what a quarter cup of rice and pasta look like, etc. You can easily eat 1000 calories OVER what you are supposed to by those mistakes.

To correct this invest in a food scale and start weighing your portions. Instead of ounces and measuring cups, use grams. Be THAT specific. You don’t have to do this forever, but it’s an easy way to make sure you are eating what you actually think you are eating. After a month or two, you should be good enough at measuring out items, that you can eyeball it.

Undiagnosed Medical Problems

Finally, if you have read this whole article and know you aren’t guilty of any mistakes listed above, it is possible you are suffering from an undiagnosed medical problem. There are many types of things that can go wrong in the body to cause fat gain, the inability to lose weight, or water retention that looks like weight gain. You can start with a primary care doctor, but your best bet is to seek out a qualified endocrinologist. This specialist deals with the hormones in the body. When something does go wrong, usually one or more of these hormone levels will be abnormal.

If you have a question about any of the points above or something else fitness related, email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelleand her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.