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Month: October 2014

What is the New Presidential Youth Fitness Program and How Has it Changed?

Many of us may remember the physical education classes we were required to take when we were in elementary school. It was a familiar sight to pass by the gym door and see students doing sit-ups, push-ups and squat-thrusts. Things are changing.

presidential-fitness-200-300First implemented in 1966, the Youth Fitness Test given to each student was meant to measure physical ability relative to his or her peers. Shellie Pfohl is the executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. According to Ms. Pfohl, “By design, the old test compared kids against each other, so by design 50% failed.” In addition, the test provided little information on the student’s actual level of health.

The test has recently been given a major overhaul, and the new Presidential Youth Fitness Program has been revised to promote exercise as a means of achieving good overall health. Why the change? Rates of chronic disease are growing rapidly, and lack of exercise is a major contributor to the problem. “What is really apparent is that we have an obesity epidemic in our country, so we feel like we now need to focus on health versus athletic performance,” says Pfohl. Under the new program, youth are now evaluated by taking the Fitnessgram® test. The test is scored according to five criteria: body composition, muscle strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness or aerobic capacity and flexibility.

The new Presidential Youth Fitness Program encourages students to develop personal fitness goals that will hopefully remain with them throughout their lifetime. First Lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move!” initiative in order to help solve the growing problem of childhood obesity. She said of the revised youth fitness program, “One of the reasons I’m excited about the new program is because kids won’t be measured on how fast they can run compared to their classmates, it’ll be based on what they can do and what their own goal is. This is important because we want physical activity to be a lifelong habit.”

The Fitnessgram® uses a skin-fold test to measure body composition (the amount of body fat in relation to weight and height, also referred to as BMI). It uses push-ups, modified pull-ups and curl-ups to measure muscle strength. Aerobic capacity is measured by a PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) test. Finally, the sit-and-reach test measures flexibility.

When students score within the Fitnessgram® Healthy Fitness Standards in five out of six events, they are eligible for a Presidential Youth Fitness award. Those who score below these standards will be given information about the health risks associated with scoring low in the designated areas and will be instructed on ways to achieve better physical fitness.

This program is voluntary for schools, and experts stress that it is just as important to encourage physical activity at home. As Dr. Kent Adams, professor of kinesiology at California State University at Monterey Bay notes, “Schools are important, yes. But we have an obligation in our homes and communities to be partners in promoting a healthy lifestyle in our daily lives.”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) in the US and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) in the UK, is a disease characterized by persistent, disabling fatigue, often made worse by exercise. CFS sufferers also commonly complain of muscle and joint pain.

man-with-laptop-sleeping-200-300CFS is believed to affect between two and four people in every thousand, and has been responsible for many hours of lost workplace productivity. It has even resulted in the premature end of promising professional careers. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies CFS as a disease of the neurological system. However, it is also typical for CFS patients to display symptoms of endocrine disturbances, including a form of adrenal fatigue. The medical community is uncertain about the precise cause of the disease, and many believe that CFS will eventually be viewed as a number of distinct conditions with similar symptomology rather than as a single illness.

There are several criteria employed for the diagnosis of CFS, but the most commonly used is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1994 definition, which sets out the following conditions for confirmation of the illness:

  1. Ongoing severe fatigue for more than six months that is not the result of another medical condition and which significantly affects work and daily life.
  1.  The presence of at least four of the following eight symptoms:
    • post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours
    • unrefreshing sleep
    • short-term memory or concentration problems
    • muscle pain (myalgia)
    • joint pain
    • headaches
    • tender lymph nodes
    • frequent or recurring sore throat

Other commonly observed symptoms that are not included in the diagnostic criteria include digestive disturbances (constipation and diarrhea), chest pain, bloating, nausea, weight loss, night sweats, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

Some CFS patients go on to make a full recovery, although many never retain their previous level of wellness and experience some or all of the symptoms for the remainder of their lives. Age at onset and time until diagnosis are believed to be key indicators of recovery success.

Mainstream treatments tend to focus on the management of behavior and negative thinking to assist recovery. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Graded Exercise Therapy (GET), consisting of controlled, gradually increasing levels of activity, are examples of this kind of approach, both of which have also been subject to a large amount of scientific research.

Given the lack of conventional treatment options, many CFS patients turn to complementary health therapies for help with both individual symptoms and overall recovery. Widely used treatments include herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional advice, gentle yoga, meditation, massage and chiropractic manipulation. None of these is believed to provide an outright cure, but can help the body to effect its own healing. The UK physician, Paul Sherwood, author of the book “Your Back, Your Health”, has suggested that some cases of CFS may result from poor spinal health, which can be successfully treated using spinal manipulation techniques. Since there are many anecdotal accounts of CFS onset following physical trauma such as that resulting from traffic accidents, this is not an outlandish proposal.

Recently, a series of related mind-body treatments such as Reverse Therapy, The Lighting Process and the Amygdala Retraining Technique have been developed with promising results. Since CFS is known to affect both mind and body, it would not be surprising to learn that these therapies can be effective.

For most patients suffering from CFS, the best treatment options are still those that provide their bodies with the best possible conditions for recovery to occur, including healthy eating, gentle exercise and maintaining good posture and movement.

How to Turn Raking Leaves into a Healthy Workout

One of the most effective ways to get and keep getting physical exercise is to make it an enjoyable job. While raking leaves may not be at the top of your list of fun tasks, that attitude can change with a few tips. Fall is here, and for many people, that means lots of leaves in the yard. They aren’t going to rake themselves—so why not make this seemingly dull chore into a fun, healthy workout? Here are a few tips that can make raking leaves into a workout you can be proud of.


  1. Chart Your Fitness Progress. “Raking leaves is considered moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk”, according to Barbara Ainsworth, an exercise epidemiologist at San Diego State University. “It helps build upper-body strength, as well as core strength. As you’re raking, your core (or trunk) is working to stabilize your body while your arms are moving, says Ainsworth. A 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.” Keep track of your workout time so you can be proud of how many calories you’ve burned—not to mention how many bags of leaves you raked.
  2. Enjoy the Outdoors. Autumn is a wonderful time to exercise outdoors—the air is crisp, the leaves are turning lovely colors, and the smell of chimney smoke can be almost intoxicating. Take the time to enjoy your surroundings by noticing the movements of birds, squirrels, and other animals gathering food for the winter. Enjoying nature can be extremely beneficial for your mental health as well as your physical health, so give it a shot—you may end up loving it.
  3. Listen to Music. Bring a radio, CD player, or digital music player and listen to some of your favorite music. For a more rigorous workout, chose fast-paced music with a beat you can rake to. After a while, if you really get into the music, it won’t even feel like exercise—and don’t forget that endorphin rush. Try doing 20 minutes of moderate raking, then take a break and drink some water. Then continue raking. If you feel your enthusiasm start to flag, try switching the song—sometimes that’s all you need to boost your workout.
  4. Take Before and After Pictures. Studies suggest that it is very mentally beneficial to see the product of work you’ve done with your own hands, so why not take before and after pictures of your yard to remind you of the good work you’ve done? It may inspire you to rake your lawn regularly—at least until winter comes along.
  5. Have a Little Childhood Fun. There’s nothing wrong with making your rake workout a little fun—so why not jump into a big pile of leaves or toss them overhead? If you have children, definitely include them in the fun.

In order for you to have a successful workout raking leaves, make sure to wear appropriate clothing. Depending on the weather, you’ll usually need long pants, thick socks, sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt with something under it (as you will undoubtedly become hot as the workout continues), and gloves to protect your hands. As with any workout, bring water and hydrate frequently. You might even consider bringing along a healthy snack, such as a crisp apple, to eat while you take your break.

You never know how much you might enjoy raking leaves as a workout, so give it a shot and get some fresh air while you’re at it.

Do Cold and Flu Prevention Products Really Work?

Every pharmacy has a range of products on sale for preventing colds and flu. And every year, people who are hoping to avoid the sore throat, stuffy nose and general achiness buy them. Actually, they buy lots of them–$4.6 billion worth in 2008 alone. But is this money well-spent? Is there any evidence that popular remedies such as Airborne™, Zicam™, vitamin C and Echinacea really work?


Airborne™ is a dietary supplement marketed to support the immune system. It contains vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (zinc, magnesium, selenium and manganese) and herbs (echinacea and forsythia). While many people use it to try to prevent the onset of colds and/or to shorten their duration, evidence that it actually works is in very short supply. The company that markets the product was forced to settle a court case in 2008 in which it was found guilty of using false advertising without credible scientific evidence to support its claims. Based on the list of ingredients and recommended dosage, there have also been concerns raised about potential vitamin overdose, especially with respect to vitamins A and C.


Zicam™ is a homeopathic remedy for preventing colds that contains zinc acetate and zinc gluconate. It is currently available in tablet, lozenge and throat spray form. A nasal spray was also originally available, but was removed from the market after some users reported damage to their sense of smell. Zinc has been shown to have a significant positive impact on reducing the length and severity of cold symptoms if it is taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, whether Zican contains sufficient quantities of the mineral to be effective is open to debate. Homeopathic treatments remain unproven, although many people believe them to be effective.


A 1995 review of the effectiveness of vitamin C for preventing cold symptoms found that doses exceeding 50mg daily were effective, but that they only reduced the duration of the virus by 20% on average. Daily doses of 1g are thought to be of greater effectiveness, but little research has been performed to establish this.


Echinacea-based products have grown in popularity during the past two decades. Echinacea is an herb that is thought by some to stimulate the immune system, and there is some evidence to support that claim. However, findings are complicated by the use of different species of the plant in research, which has led to conflicting results. At present, the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) suggests that there is sufficient evidence to approve the use of juice extracted from Echinacea to prevent and shorten the duration of colds in those over 12 years old.


The best advice for people who want to avoid colds and flu is tried and true, and it doesn’t involve a trip to the pharmacist:

  • Avoid contact with people with cold and flu symptoms
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils
  • Keep surfaces clean

While some over-the-counter remedies may be helpful, common sense and hygiene are still your best bet.