Healthy UNH Blogger: Rebecca Lastra, All Entries

Fact or Foe

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

Whatever the reason may be for people to start a workout regiment, we all have one thing in common when being at the gym; we all want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, many people hold different beliefs regarding the benefits on the gym and it is very important to be able to differentiate fact from myth. Luckily, CNN’s Madison Park recently published an article examining the ten common myths when it comes to working out. Not only does she state the multitude of different myths, but she also explains why they are false.

While many people want to believe the meter that is counting the number of calories you’re burning, this number is often very skewed. In order to calculate the amount of calories you may be burning, you would need to know your body fat composition. Seeing as many machines don’t even ask for your weight and sex, this value is impossible to calculate. Furthermore, someone with 18% body fat is going to burn a lot more calories than someone with 35% body fat. While calculating the amount of calories burned can be somewhat of a daunting task, I did find a bit of a simpler way to calculate on Livestrong’s website.

Although this trend is much more frequent in men, there is a common belief across the board that it is imperative to drink a protein shake after a workout. Seeing as your metabolic rate is the highest after working out, meaning you’re burning the most calories; it is definitely important to eat something after any type of exercise. However, Park states, “Protein shakes, powders and bars are good for emergencies, but they're the lowest quality food." Furthermore, these products are substantially more processed than a more organic way of getting some sort of protein. Park’s recommends a turkey sandwich or my personal favorite, hummus and vegetables, after a tough workout.

Thirdly, and possibly one of the most important myths to crush, is the belief that we can embark on a complete free-for-all by consuming whatever you want after hitting the gym. While you may have more leeway with consuming the foods you want, the gym by no means negates a bad diet. Also, Parks cites “emerging research suggests that if you're sedentary most of the day, it may not matter how hard or often you exercise.” It is very important to stick to a diet regiment in order to obtain the results you want. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to reward yourself once and a while, but you might want to rethink picking up that krispy kreme after an intense workout.

There are still seven other myths that Park investigates and I urge you all to take a look at them. Who knows, maybe one your certainties about the gym will be crushed too!


Tagged In: Fitness, Health, Healthy UNH, Physical Activity, UNH

Prescription Frenzy

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

The amount of pharmacies we can bring our prescriptions to can seem overwhelming at times; and given the current economy, we always want to make sure we’re getting the best deal. But how can you possiblely visit each pharmacy near your house and check how much each presciption costs? Luckily, this little thing called the “internet” has completely revolutionized our lives over the past couple decades. From hotels,  books, to even electronics, it seems that we can compare prices on just about everything these days. Now thanks to Scott Marlette and Doug Hirsh, we can add prescriptions to that list.

Scott Marlette and Doug Hirsch, both Santa Monica natives, have founded their own company called “GoodRX.” Although their company is located in a small building in California, it reaches people all over the nation through their webpage. This site allows users to enter their zip code and prescription(s) he/she is seeking. The site then calculates the closest pharmacies in that specific area and the prices they are selling the medications for. Keep in mind that this site does not account for insurance coverage, it only shows what prices would cost without health insuranace. The company says its database contains over 1 million prices at drugstores and mail-order pharmacies nationwide for more than 6,000 brand name and generic drugs.

With the cost of health insurance being a major concern to many Americans and with millions of others being uninsured, this site is a great way for the cost-conscious consumer to try not to break the bank because of their necessary medications. 

Tagged In: Health, Health Care Consumerism, Health Cost, Healthy UNH, UNH

Sunday Fun-day

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

With spring break only a few weeks away, I have seen the gym with a constant influx of students, faculty, and staff in determination to get their beach body ready. However, there is one catch. I tend to see these die-hard, rock hard ab go-getters at the Hamel Recreation Center on Mondays through Saturdays. So where are they on Sunday, you may ask? Well one popular answer put forth by ”Greatist”, a website linked to by the Huffington Post, is that these exercise gurus are on the coach cheating. By cheating, I mean the often belief that since I worked out for six days straight and stuck to my nutrition regiment, I deserve to eat whatever I want for a whole day. I know I’ve sure used this excuse but in reality, is it physically and emotionally healthy for us? Unfortunately while Kelly Fitzpatrick does not suggest a total free for all with our eating habits, she does put forth some great alternatives to reward our hard work without completely ruining our diet.

One of the pro-cheating claims is that cheat days boost metabolism by upping leptin production and in turn, help the body burn more calories after overeating. Leptin is a hormone responsible for maintaining our energy balance and causing weight loss and while some scientific based evidence does support the prior statement, this technique only increases the metabolism by three to ten percent for twenty-four hours. Now, you don’t need to be a math expert to calculate exactly how many calories you would be burning because 3-10% in such a small percentage that it won’t help burn the hundreds to even thousands of extra calories you are consuming. One study found overeating on a high protein diet and high carbohydrates increased resting metabolism; the amount of calories you burn at rest. While eating foods loaded with fat like ice cream and pizza, did not have the same effect. The main takeaway from the diet end of a cheat day is this: To help the body’s metabolism stay at a stable rate and burn calories efficiently, trying a high-carb, high-protein, low-fat, and alcohol free diet will keep you on top of your diet routine.

In addition to the physical effects, there are also physiological ones that come along with cheat days. Psychologists and nutritionists often believe allowing a cheat meal or cheat day to satisfy a craving allows people to stick to otherwise restrictive diets. Diet experts such as Mark Sisson claims, “The key, according to Mark, is getting past the guilt of assigning “good” and “bad” tags to various foods. Rather than turning a minor slip-up into a major back-slide, he says cheaters should simply accept what they ate, and continue with their diet as planned.” I think this is some of the most sound advice and if you want to take a day to splurge on a specific craving rather than binge eating, then that is a-okay!

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Nutrition, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Stretching the Truth

Friday, February 24, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

During the past few years, there has been some controversy regarding the benefits we gain from stretching before and after exercise. Luckily, Laura Schwecher, a writer for the Huffington Post uses her findings from scientific based evidence to bust some of the famous myths that surround gyms and other fitness centers around the nation. So, the jury is out and if you’re anything like myself, prepare to be shocked by some of these new findings.

Firstly, stretching doesn’t prevent injury nor does it eliminate soreness. Injury is due to a combination of factors, including poor technique, muscle imbalances, and not warming up properly. Although it is a good idea to stretch before and after a workout, there is no evidence to suggest that it will decrease your risk of injury. Also, when our muscles feel sore after a tough work out, it’s actually due to microscopic tears in our muscles and stretching does not prevent these. However, some researchers do suggest elevating your legs within twenty minutes of a workout to prevent lactic acid build up which can lead to an increase of soreness.

Although stretching may not prevent injury or onset soreness, there are many positive characteristics of a good old-fashioned hamstring stretch. Regardless if you work out every day or just a few times a week, stretching should be done everyday. Consistent stretching is key to increasing flexibility, range of motion, and potentially reducing the risk of muscle strain. Also, many people are under the impression that a quick jog will suffice as a warm up however, in reality, it just isn’t enough. Along with an exercise to elevate your heart rate, dynamic stretching such as lunges, butt kicks, and power skips, should be performed to loosed the body up and prepare it for a safe and effective workout. In addition to a pre-workout stretch, it is just as important to finish your exercise with static stretching. Static stretching is different from dynamic stretching as it involves reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch. Looking for pictures on how to stretch? This website is a great website that shows different types of stretching from this technique.

Stretching has been linked with many benefits such as increased flexibility and personally, I feel much better after doing it. My body feels lose and although it may not eliminate soreness completely, it definitely helps. So, before you catch yourself thinking “I’m already flexible, so I don’t need to stretch” or “I just don’t feel like doing it today”, think again. In the long run, a good stretch may minimize those pesky pains in your muscles you feel the next day. 

Tagged In: Fitness, Health, Healthy UNH, Physical Activity, UNH

The Real Power Behind a Nap

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

For many years of my life, I have been taught that taking a nap during the day would cause negative effects on my ability to fall asleep later in the evening. However, I recently found an article on WebMD that counteracts this long time assumption and negative connotation that has been applied to the word “nap.” Many people, like myself, tend to feel their energy levels fall when two or three o’clock rolls around. Instead of reaching for that not so nutritious energy drink to send you from groggy to absolutely wired in a mere five minutes, Sara C. Mednick, a professor psychiatry at the University of California- San Diego, suggests taking a more natural route by taking a nap for anywhere between fifteen and ninety minutes.

In Jennifer Soong’s article, she outlines the multiple benefits associated with napping for different intervals of time. For instance, a quick cat nap of fifteen or twenty minutes can recharge your batteries by enhancing your alertness and motor skills like typing or playing the piano. If you decide you need a little longer rest, that’s totally okay too! Napping for thirty to sixty minutes has a dramatic effect on our memories and can help things such as memorizing vocabulary and remembering directions. Research also shows that a nap of ninety minutes helps making connections in the brain and solving creative problems.

As a stated before, our society has increasingly become dependent on energy drinks and coffee to help us complete our work and get through the day. As a college student myself, I’m surrounded by these drinks, however Mednick suggests choosing a nap over the caffeine as it has many more long term benefits. The caffeine and other ingredients in these drinks can make our bodies very jittery and in turn can reduce memory performance and cause us to make more mistakes. So next time you find yourself reaching for that caffeine packed drink, ask yourself if you have the time to just shut your eyes for a few minutes and relax. In the end, it might be the best decision you make all day.

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Mental Health, mental wellness, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Ski Your Way to Fitness

Friday, February 3, 2012
By: Rebecca Lastra

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to work out more and lead a healthier life? Are you bored of doing the same old workout everyday? Well luckily, the UNH Outdoor Adventure Club can help! On February 14th, they will be hosting a Moonlight Cross Country Ski event across Medums Pond. It only costs five dollars and it includes transportation and ski gear. The event is from 6pm-9:30pm and you must sign up by February 13th at the front desk of the recreation center. The Outdoor Adventure Club holds many exciting events all throughout the semester and it’s a great way to get involved, meet new people, and get a great workout!

Cross country skiing is a fantastic total body workout as it requires virtually all muscles to be used. Some of the obvious muscle groups used are your arms and legs. You arms work by exerting you forward through the snow, and your calves and thighs are also required to keep you balanced and ski further through the snow. What some people may not know though is the many benefits skiing has on your heart and lungs. It has been researched that the combination of an upper and lower body workout places a greater workload on the heart-lung system than any other sport in the world. Since so many different muscle groups are demanding oxygen from the heart due to how hard they’re working, skier’s hearts are larger and move blood more efficiently. It also has been cited that if you usually exercise by running, cycling, or swimming that skiing is a terrific off season sport as skiing works some of the same muscles while not putting as much strain on others. For instance, when we run long distances, heavy pressure is placed on our knees. However, skiing can alleviate this pressure and allow you to ski longer distances than you’re used to running.

This club also has a table set up in the Hamel Recreation Center from time to time where you can find more information. So don’t let your boring workout let you break your resolution. Get involved and get fit!

Tagged In: Fitness, Health, Healthy UNH, Physical Activity, Rebecca Lastra, UNH, UNH Program

Time is Money

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

Imagine being able to rake leaves or mowing lawns in exchange for a doctor’s visit. Well in Falmouth, Maine, there are thirty-three patients who do just that. An article published by NPR examines the structure behind True North’s system of “time dollars” and how patients can qualify for the program. True North is a non-profit medical clinic in Falmouth that allows low-income patients complete specific services in exchange to see a doctor.

Tom Dahlborg, the executive director of True North, states this program was invented because he thought people “were not getting enough from their health care.” He feels people were not actively engaged in their health care decisions and this new program grants patients to spend up to an hour or more with their physicians, allowing for more time and discussion of what the patient feels. Unfortunately this program does have downfalls such as patients with no medical insurance would have to pay out of pocket at any other hospital for emergency services, specialist visits, etc. Also, if a patient’s income were to increase above a certain amount, he/she would no longer be able to partake in the program.

However, True North is aware of these limitations and express that they receive positive feedback from the patients who use the program. All in all, with such economic hardship for most people in the country, I feel it’s great that True North is at least addressing the issue of how expensive health insurance is and trying to find a solution for low-income patients. Hopefully we’ll see more of these programs to emerge across the nation!  

Tagged In: Health, Health Care Consumerism, Health Cost, Healthy UNH, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Motivation at your Fingertips

Monday, December 5, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

In a recent post by Katrina Heisler, she discussed the different apps that are compatible with iPhones to help us stay motivated to hit the gym and how as little as text messaging could contribute to weight loss. Well another app to add to the list is "Nexercise".  Nexercise is a free app available to all iPhone owners that tracks different physical activities and rewards users with free and discounted merchandise. These physical activities range from weight training and running to fencing and polo. Co-founder, Benjamin Young, states that, "We're trying to create a lifestyle - not a quick fix.”

In the article published in the Hartford Courant, users of this app can accumulate points not only for exercising but also for other healthy behaviors. “When you exercise on a rainy day or with a friend, the program allows you to earn bonus points as well. So what are the rewards, you may ask? Prizes range from $5 gift cards and coupons off energy bars to $250 gift cards. The more points you accumulate gives you a bigger chance at winning a cool prize! “Receiving prizes is more of a lottery rather than direct redemption. Users with the more points have greater chances of winning prizes, and those that have reached higher levels have more access to valuable prizes.” Just think how cool it would be to win various different prizes because you stayed loyal to your workout regiment. Not only are you doing something wonderful for you’re health but you’re also being rewarded in a great way! How do you motivate yourself to workout?

Tagged In: Fitness, Health, Healthy UNH, Physical Activity, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Beating the Nighttime Blues

Friday, November 18, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

With the constant stress of school, work, or other day-to-day events, a majority of people have a hard time shutting off their brain to get some shut eye. During finals week or feeling completely overwhelmed with other commitments, I find myself not receiving enough of sleep due my racing mind standing in the way. However, an article recently published in Women’s Health, explores some remedies to calm our nerves during one of the most important times of day.

Some of the solutions were ones I have been given in the past, such as not consuming anything with caffeine close to bedtime and using specific breathing techniques when laying in bed. However, some other options such as adding pillows and taking a bath before bed, were ones I had never considered. Pillows are claimed to be “ the most important equipment for working out your z's” and should be supportive, comfortable, and suitable to your sleeping style. The magazine also offers a link to finding your perfect pillow match depending on your sleeping position. When our body temperature drops, it causes the perfect sleeping conditions. Women’s Health suggests us to take a hot bath or shower and lay down to allow us to cool off. Another recommendation made by the magazine is to not eat too close to bedtime because it may cause indigestion or frequent trips to the bathroom during the middle of the night; something we definitely want to avoid! Check out the rest of the article to find other simple, yet effective ways to squeeze out the most amount of sleep possible suitable to your lifestyle!

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Mental Health, mental wellness, Rebecca Lastra, Sleep, UNH

Benefits of Breakfast

Thursday, November 10, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

Breakfast is often coined as the most important meal of the day and should help jump-start your day. Research shows that people who consume cereal for breakfast are more likely to consume more produce and whole grains throughout the day. However, not all cereals are created equal and some can be loaded with unwanted sugar. Women’s Health Magazine recently published an article that discusses what to look for in a cereal to give you the maximum benefits.

It’s very easy for us to be easily convinced that cereals with impressive claims such as “made with whole grains” and “good source of calcium” are smart choices when contemplating your breakfast cereal. Although these are important aspects to take into consideration, the most important part to look at is the nutritional facts panel. Registered Dietician and American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, Sari Greaves, recommends a cereal that is less than 200 calories with 3 grams of fiber and no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving. It is also very important to pay close attention to what constitutes as a serving. As tempting as it to filling the bowl to the brim, it can cause you to consume double the amount of calories you thought you were. Greaves suggests pouring your cereal into a coffee mug as it will trick your mind into thinking your consuming more cereal than you actually are. If that doesn’t do it for you, try eating with a smaller spoon. This can slow down the eating process and cut your calorie intake. Finally, it is important to address the type of milk you may be using. Women’s Health suggests using skim instead of whole or 2% because it has substantially less calories and fat content.

At UNH, the amount of cereals I can choose from in the dining halls is outrageous and I can easily become overwhelmed at times. However, UNH labels all of the cereals with the nutritional content and I think the tips given by Women’s Health will help me and the current students, faculty, and staff at UNH make healthier decisions when picking our cereals.

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Nutrition, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Brand Name Frenzy

Friday, October 21, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

Throughout our lives, we have been trained that purchasing any product with a respectable name attached to it deems it more effective than any generic product. Primarily through media and word of mouth, we have defined that labeled brands are better products and they usually cost significantly more. Sometimes it is worth the extra couple of bucks, but other times it is completely irrelevant. One product that most Americans get hung up on, is if they should buy a generic or brand named drug. An article written by Melissa Stoppler, M.D., states that there is no significant difference between generic and brand named drugs; they are chemically identical. The FDA mandates that generic drugs be as safe and effective as their brand name drug counterpart.

What causes most of the concern around generic drugs is the fact that they are less expensive. This leads consumers to believe that they are less effective and may take longer to see results. Stoppler addresses the issue and explains that a brand named drug is more expensive primarily because the company has to research, market, and advertise the product. Once they conclude that the drug they have created can safely be consumed, they apply for a patent on the product; meaning no one else can sell the same product as long as their patent is in effect. Stoppler states, “As the patent nears expiration, manufacturers can apply to the FDA for permission to make and sell generic versions of the drug.” Without the preliminary costs and research, the generic drug company can sell the exact same medication at a cheaper cost.

 Generic drugs can ultimately save consumers oodles of money in the long run. So if you find yourself buying brand named drugs, stop and think. Does your prescription come in a generic form?  Address it with your primary care provider next time you’re in for an appointment!

Tagged In: Health Care Consumerism, Health Cost, Healthy UNH, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Coffee Confusion

Friday, October 7, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

Ever since I was young, I had the common assumption that “coffee stunts your growth” drilled into my head. As I got older, I watched my parents drink multiple cups of coffee before heading off to work and I eventually found myself relying on the drink either in the morning or pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam. With that being said, there has been a constant debate for decades if coffee is actually harmful to your health and Health Magazine tries to get to the bottom of it.

An article recently published by Health Magazine offers two opposing views on the amount of coffee people should be drinking. Dr. Rob van Dam, a nutrition professor at Harvard School of Public Health, claims that unless you have any sort of medical condition such as hypertension or get an inadequate amount of sleep, there is no reason to cut back on drinking coffee. He also points out that there may be added health benefits by drinking the java. Scientific based evidence suggests that drinking coffee may lower the risk of becoming diabetic and developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. James D. Lane offers an opposing view that people should most certainly cut back on their consumption of coffee. Lane argues that the research on coffee’s benefits are not extensive enough to base such lofty claims on and the caffeine can actually make conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure worse.

Health Magazine then weighs in on the issue and gives the advice that “If you don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure, a coffee habit probably doesn’t hurt—and may even help your health.”

Coffee is most commonly used to jumpstart a person’s day and I know multiple people who argue they can’t function without a cup of it in the morning. However, I think it’s important to point out that coffee is not essential to feel a surge of energy in the morning or to serve as an afternoon pick-me-up during a busy day. Adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are a great alternative to not only feel more revived, but to also lower the risk of disease.

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Nutrition, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

What Lies Beneath the Sweat

Friday, September 30, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

After an intense workout session, it’s human nature to toss our damp, sweaty clothes into a gym bag and eventually take care of them when it’s time to do a load of laundry. However, the one vital step that most people don’t take care of is the bag that carries all the germs. Health magazine recently published an article that examined the perfect environment we are creating for bacteria to thrive in. Although we are doing a great thing for our bodies by being active, if we don’t properly take care of our workout gear, we may set back our workout regiment due to bacterial induced illnesses.

One major culprit of germy conditions is the gym bag. Personally, my gym bag carries my sneakers, pre and post workout clothes, headphones, and a water bottle. However, I rarely consider ever washing my bag. What really makes me cringe is that all of these things touch my body at some point during my workout. Whether it be my sweaty sneakers or to the absolute extreme of placing something in my ears or mouth, they both can lead to illnesses such as an irritating cold or a serious staph infection. Health Magazine recommends washing any sort of sport bag in very hot water or wiping it down with an anti-bacterial cloth every week. Also, in order to avoid placing sweaty workout clothes next to the nozzle of a water bottle or on top of our sneakers, try remembering to bring an extra bag to keep things separate.

Another serious piece to take care of is our water bottle. Anything with a nozzle that causes our hands to be placed onto it, is a recipe for disaster. Our hands inevitably get loaded with germs at the gym and by touching the mouth piece of our water bottle, we are transferring these germs right into our mouth. Health Magazine suggests pulling up on the nozzle with your teeth and washing the bottle in hot, soapy water after each use.

See what else the article has to offer by learning how to disinfect our yoga mats, shower shoes, and workout clothes. I guarantee you will be very surprised to see what intruders are living below the surface!

Tagged In: Fitness, Health, Healthy UNH, Physical Activity, Rebecca Lastra, UNH

Showing Stress Who's Boss

Monday, September 19, 2011
By: Rebecca Lastra

Everyone has felt that anxious feeling starting in the pit of our stomachs and ultimately convincing us that we simply do not have enough time. This reoccurring emotion has a name and it’s called stress. As defined by, stress is the pressure or tension exerted on a particular object. When your body becomes to feel stressed, it reacts by preparing either to “fight or flee” the situation. When this is activated, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released to focus attention on the task at hand.

 Stress can have a severe impact on moods, work quality, and even relationships. It can also cause our bodies to shut down which is definitely not an ideal situation granted the fast-paced world that we live in. All of the negative consequences from stress have an influence on our energy levels. Some may feel completely overwhelmed at times and not have the energy to go to the gym or study as hard for an upcoming exam. However, an article published by Self magazine gives a plethora of foods that can help reduce stress levels. Sushi, rainbow trout, and salmon all contain “anxiety-fighting properties” such as magnesium. Oranges and milk have high levels of vitamin D and calcium which have been clinically proven to lower stress levels. One of the last foods that are examined is broccoli. Broccoli contains folic acid which has also been proven to not only reduce stress, but also decrease the feeling of “anxiety, panic, and depression.” Not only do all of these foods chemically reduce stress levels within our bodies, they also are great, healthy food choices. Double bonus!

Although nothing we eat or do will put an end to all the stress we experience in our life, choosing to eat the foods recommended above may allow us to take a deep breath and evaluate what exactly is stressing us out. 

Tagged In: Health, Healthy UNH, Mental Health, mental wellness, Rebecca Lastra, Stress