Is the exercise loophole sabotaging your weight control efforts? Plus, 5 REAL reasons to make exercise a priority!

Seasons greetings to all my fellow holiday health nuts out there! I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile and thought it particularly apt for this magical time of year when sugary goodies seem to be falling lovingly out of the sky. I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday!

Admit it–at some point you’ve probably gone an extra mile or taken an extra class to “burn off” that row of cookies you ate out of the box last night. Or maybe you exercise solely so that you can eat whatever you want. I used to think this way–that it was as simple as burning a greater number of calories than you consume.

Sorry, it don’t work that way, ya’ll.

We can’t simply exercise away poor food choices. Using exercise to lose weight without changing food habits is asking for failure. If you exercise but keep those patterns of unhealthy eating, sure–you may improve endurance, gain muscle, and be fitter overall, but you won’t shed many pounds. You may very well have a six pack…hiding under a muffin top. And, without changing food habits, your workouts will likely feel sluggish and your recoveries not very recovering. Our bodies are kinda like expensive, high-performance cars in a way–our performance (physical and mental) is directly related to the quality of the fuel we put in our bodies. Junky fuel yields clunky performance–and not just when we’re working out. High-quality, clean fuel yields optimal performance–during workouts AND throughout everyday life.

And think about this: when we workout–especially if we do moderate to intense exercise–we are gonna be HUNGRY! It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating whatever you want and more of it “because I worked out HARD today!” AKA, the exercise loophole.

Did you know that a lot of marathoners-in-training actually GAIN weight during their training? Often, it’s because they are invoking the exercise loophole.

Developing healthy food habits–NOT exercise–is key to shedding unwanted weight and keeping it off.

This in no way means that exercise is a waste of time. Completely the opposite!

Here are just 5 of the many, many compelling benefits of exercise:

  1. Body reshaping–when combined with healthy food habits. Just because you now eat lots of veggies doesn’t mean your butt will automatically lift or your triceps will stop waving themselves.
  2. Lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and maybe even certain types of cancer.
  3. Miracle Gro for your brain: better memory, concentration, and actually works better than Prozac and other meds for many people with depression. Oh, and definitely a great way to manage stress and work out any negativity and aggression. Tis no coincidence that the words “exercise” and “exorcise” are just one letter apart, my friends. I notice a DEFINITE shift in my mood and outlook on life when I go several days without exercising / exorcising. It ain’t pretty.
  4. Energy boosting: sounds counter-intuitive, but if you want MORE energy, then get some exercise!
  5. Slowing down of the aging process: abandon the Botox and get moving! A recent study has found a link between exercise and damage to telomeres–part of our DNA that associated with health and longevity. Exercise is linked to healthier telomeres, and therefore linked to slower aging.

So, if you were disappointed to learn that exercising will not compensate for a not-so-healthy diet, I hope this post helps reframe what exercise can do for your body, heart, and mind. It’s so worth the investment, with a huge rate of return!

photo credit: Aaron Tilley Aaron Tilley/Guardian

Are your habits causing inflammation? Plus 5 reasons to think before popping the ibuprofen

Many of us don’t think twice about chucking that economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen into our shopping carts right along with a head of lettuce and a jug of protein powder. Indeed, “Vitamin I” has become a staple strategy for reducing America’s pain and inflammation. Headache? Menstrual cramp? Backache? Overzealous-workout-induced muscle aches? Sure, ibuprofen can ease your discomfort. And I shouldn’t be picking on ibuprofen here—there are a plethora of other, so-called NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) out there. Drugs like aspirin, naproxen, and prescription-only agents like meloxicam and celecoxib (aka Celebrex) are quite fashionable as well.

Here’s a crazy stat for your next cocktail party (or not): each year, we Americans collectively pop a whoppin’ 30 BILLION doses of NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen. I don’t think Costco makes a bottle THAT big….yet.

As a pharmacist, I don’t think there’s too much harm in the occasional use of drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen by people who have a healthy heart and blood pressure, good kidney and liver function, and a fortified gastrointestinal tract. But, I see that many people aren’t aware of the risks of frequent or chronic use of even over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen (aka Advil, Motrin, Aleve).

Let me break it down for ya:

  • Roughly 1 of every 4 people who chronically use NSAIDs will develop an ulcer
  • Risk of a gastrointestinal bleed or perforation (YIKES!) is about 4 times higher in people who use NSAIDs compared to those who don’t
  • NSAIDs reduce blood flow to the kidneys and can result in kidney damage—especially if used frequently by people with high blood pressure, heart failure, or diabetes.
  • About 1 in every 10 cases of drug-induced liver damage is due to NSAIDs
  • If you take low-dose aspirin for cardiovascular health, some NSAIDs actually reduce the heart benefit of that aspirin

Back to the gut for a sec: scientists who want to better understand how NSAIDs (like OTC ibuprofen, naproxen, and regular-strength aspirin) cause ulcers have actually shown that they profoundly change the composition of the gut microbiome, and not for the better (if you missed my last post that espoused the magic of the microbiome, you can read it here). In other words, when we take NSAIDs, we are risking hostile takeover of our gut microbiomes by not-so-friendly bugs. And that could negatively affect our physical, mental, and emotional health as outlined in my previous post.

For all of the fitness enthusiasts out there, how often do you turn to OTC or prescription NSAIDs to ease joint or muscle aches? I’m hearing more and more that people in the athletic / fitness community are popping NSAIDs to keep injuries from “flaring up” or to reduce DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after workouts and training sessions. In addition to the stats on potential NSAID-induced adverse effects listed above, here’s another reason to pause before you pop that pill: researchers have shown (for decades) that NSAIDs actually impede the building and repair of muscle. And while the human data are more ambiguous than the dramatic effects seen in animal studies, the totality of evidence has convinced most experts to recommend against long-term use, especially of prescription doses of NSAIDs. The general consensus from a recently published review article in the journal Connective Tissue Research is that NSAIDs inhibit the healing process of connective tissue and the stimulating effect of exercise on connective tissue protein synthesis.

Interestingly, at least one study has shown that 400mg of ibuprofen (a standard OTC dose) had no more effect on post-exercise muscle soreness than placebo.

Healthy ways to quash inflammation

How can you continue your exercise / training routine while reducing the use of drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, etc? What if you have chronic aches and pains?

Below I’ve included 5 non-NSAID strategies that can help reduce the amount of inflammation in the body and shift you back toward a healthy balance of inflammation. Remember that inflammation isn’t all bad! When we’re injured or have an infection, for examples, inflammation is crucial to the healing process—it’s how the body fights back and repairs damage. BUT, it’s important to consider that inflammation is not necessarily just an acute response to injury. More and more, researchers across multiple specialties—from the brain to the heart to the liver to the gut—are all finding that “silent”, chronic inflammation is a key underlying commonality of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease and even cancer.

These 5 strategies below aren’t quick fixes—more like habits to be incorporated into your lifestyle.

  1. Cut down on sugar and processed food. Better yet, eliminate them. Sugar has been shown to trigger the release of chemical messengers in the body that promote inflammation. Processed foods in general ain’t doin’ you any favors.
  2. Choose fats that are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Many food products in the aptly-acronymed SAD (standard American diet) are relatively heavy in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. We do need omega-6 fatty acids, but the SAD tilts the scale waaaay to much in favor of omega-6—like about 20x too much! Many oils found in abundance in processed foods are high in omega-6, such as corn, peanut, vegetable, safflower and sunflower oils. And trans fats (hydrogenated oils) are also known to promote inflammation. In addition, grain-fed meats from factory farms are rich in omega-6. On the flip side, foods like avocados, olives, walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, coconut oil & milk, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken (and eggs), grass-fed butter, and ghee (clarified butter) are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Get enough good sleep. Sleep is when our bodies repair. And the vast majority of us are not getting enough restorative, uninterrupted sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently stated that sleeping fewer than 7 hours per night is associated with weight gain, diabetes, depression, heart disease, impaired immune function, increased pain, and impaired performance—lots of the same issues that are related to too much inflammation.
  4. Consider supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids. I personally take a tablespoon daily of Barlean’s Ultra High Potency Omega Swirl. It tastes great (my uber-picky 4-year old thinks it’s a treat to get a teaspoon after dinner), with NO burping / indigestion issues that people often complain about with capsules. By the way, one of the main reasons those fish capsules may be giving you the burps is because the oil is rancid. YUCK is right. To avoid this, be picky when buying fish oil—get one that is “molecularly distilled” which means that the oil has been purified enough to remove contaminants that promote rancidity. (Note that Barlean’s Omega Swirl does not say “molecularly distilled” on the bottle, but I checked the company’s website FAQ’s and their fish oils are ultra-purified through molecular distillation). Also, choose a fish oil with roughly 1000mg EPA and 500mg DHA (2 key types of omega-3)—don’t just look at the total milligrams of omega 3’s.
  5. If you have joint pain or other inflammation-related conditions, consider taking curcumin. This is a key component of turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its bright color! This substance has been studied for MANY types of inflammatory conditions ranging from diabetes to dementia, and is currently the subject of much ongoing research. Here are some VERY important considerations before you start taking a curcumin (or turmeric) supplement:
    1. Not a good idea to start curcumin if you are currently taking warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). Curcumin can increase the anti-clotting effects of these drugs.
    2. Pick a supplement that contains a specific type of curcumin known as “BCM-95”. This specific formulation is much better absorbed. Turmeric capsules are very poorly absorbed, meaning that very little of it will actually get into your system. Several companies now make BCM-95 formulations. I have no ties / relationships with any of them. I personally take a brand called CuraMed (made by Terry Naturally), one 750mg capsule daily, and have had none of the GI distress that has been reported with other turmeric supplements.

My short take on all this:

There’s A LOT we can do to tamper inflammation that doesn’t involve medications that come with potentially counterproductive or even dangerous side effects. What we choose to do on a daily basis has a ginornmous impact on our levels of disease markers, including inflammation—both the kind that we feel as pain and the “silent” inflammation now recognized as a component of many chronic diseases. Our food choices, physical activity, and sleep are so important to our health. You may hear this advice all the time, but are you really checking into gauge your food, movement, and sleep habits? And if they aren’t so healthful, are you ready to make changes for the better?

Please share any questions you have about inflammation and treatment options, and I will do my best to provide answers!


Lanza FL, Chan FKL, Quigley EMM, et al. Prevention of NSAID-related ulcer complications. Am J Gastroenterol 2009; 104:728–738.

Dideriksen K. Muscle and tendon connective tissue adaptation to unloading, exercise and NSAID. Connect Tissue Res. 2014;55:61-70.

Krentz JR, Quest B, Farthling JP, Quest DW, Chilibeck PD. The effects of ibuprofen on muscle hypertrophy, strength, and soreness during resistance training. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008;33:470-475.

Rutters F, Nieuwenhuizen AG, Lemmens SG, Born JM, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Acute stress-related changes in eating in the absence of hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17:72-77.