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The Charger Bulletin

My First 5K

by Melanie Rovinsky | May 4, 2011

Although I have been running for quite some time, I did not participate in my first race until this past March. After playing soccer my entire life, when I came to college, I was simply looking for a way to stay fit that would not involve the pressure of competitive sports. However, the more I ran, the more competitive I became… with myself. Finally, I worked up the courage to sign up for a 5K, and it was one of the most positive experiences of my life.

Change Your Pace

When all you are doing is running, it is easy to get in a rut. Signing up for a 5K gave me the extra push I needed to kick my workout into a higher gear. I had been putting in a little over five miles every morning at almost the exact same time. Suddenly, I was finishing my runs faster, and I found that I was more motivated to improve my speed. I set a goal time for myself, and because I loathe failure, I was determined not to cross the finish line a second later.

Get Nervous

By nature, I am a chronic-worrier, so you can imagine what my nerves were like on the week leading up to the race. If I had not been so worried about finishing slowly, I definitely would not have put in the extra work to ensure that that would not happen. I purposely signed up for a 5K (3.1 miles) because it was significantly shorter than the distances I was used to running. However, I worried that the course would be hilly and my short legs would tire quickly. To compensate, I pushed the incline on the treadmill to 10 and ran hills outside in my neighborhood. I also enlisted a friend to run with me, so I would have someone next to me when the race began.

Take It All In

Arriving in downtown New Haven with the 2,000 other participants was thrilling (and nerve-wrecking at the same time). As I watched all of the different runners, I couldn’t help but feel like I was taking part in something bigger than myself. Not only was everyone there to support a great cause, but all of these people were there to take a step towards a healthier and more active lifestyle. As it neared the start of the race, everyone gathered at the starting point. I found myself surrounded by men and women, children and senior citizens, marathon runners, and recreational walkers – all walks of life. When the official announced that the course was “pancake flat,” all 2,000 of us cheered in unison.

Boost Your Confidence

When the gun went off, something inside of me did too. My legs felt weightless, my lungs felt clear, and my mind felt relaxed. I started running at my comfortable pace but realized I could go faster. When I reached the first mile marker in less than eight minutes, I decided to throw out my previously made goal and reach for a new one. The crowd lining the streets encouraged me to move faster, and the lone man standing about a half-mile before the finish line seemed as if he were clapping and shouting just for me. I passed a lot of people that day, but as fast as I ran, I could not seem to catch up with the eight-year-old in front of me. He caused me to keep pushing myself. I was the 356th person out of 2,000 to cross the finish line, and I finished in 23 minutes and 54 seconds– more than three minutes under my original goal!

Challenge Yourself

Getting fit is all about having fun and feeling good about yourself. Maybe a 5K isn’t for you, but there are so many different ways to expand your fitness horizons! Set goals for yourself, work until you physically cannot work any harder, and I promise, you will be happy you did. Have a safe and active summer!

Hike Your Way to Better Health

by Melanie Rovinsky | April 27, 2011

With the nice weather upon us, it’s hard to stay inside and get done the massive amounts of work you have to turn in before the end of the semester. However, getting outside is more beneficial to your health than you might think. And attending school in a hilly, mountainous state like Connecticut means your options for hiking are nearly limitless. According to the American Hiking Society (AHS), a nonprofit organization in Washington D.C., the following health benefits can be achieved through hiking:

Preventing Heart Disease

Hiking is a fun way to prevent a sedentary and inactive lifestyle. The AHS claims a person of 150 pounds can burn up to 240 calories in one hour when hiking at a speed of just 2 mph. In addition to boosting cardiovascular health and trimming your waistline, hiking can also reduce cholesterol levels. Hiking stabilizes cholesterol levels by dilating arteries and increasing the amount of HDL (good cholesterol) in your body.

Decreasing Hypertension

With our sodium-laden diets, Americans are often plagued by high blood pressure. Before you go on medication like the majority of the population, try hiking regularly. The AHS says that regular hiking lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure by a mean of 10 mmHg. This is caused by a lowering of norepinephrine, which correlates with blood pressure improvement.

Improving Mental Health

Have you ever felt that complete sense of relaxation after exercising outside? If so, you’re not alone! Like all cardiovascular activities, hiking releases endorphins that trigger you to feel good. Hiking has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and other mental ailments. Of course, being outside has its own mental benefits! Being outside can not only give you your daily vitamin D, but getting away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life can help bring you mental clarity and relaxation.

Strengthen Bones and Joints

Hiking can help prevent osteoporosis by increasing bone density, allowing bones to be stronger and less susceptible to breaking. Another benefit of hiking is that it provides an excellent cardiovascular workout while still being low-impact. Hiking, especially on dirt trails, will not put added stress on knees and joints. This is especially good for individuals with arthritis who tend to avoid exercise because of joint pain. Interestingly, hiking will strengthen leg muscles, which actually alleviates some of the pressure put on the knees and ankles.

Try these Connecticut hiking trails today!

Sleeping Giant State Park (Hamden)

Hubbard Park/ Castle Craig (Meriden)

Bear Mountain (Salisbury)

West Rock (New Haven)

Kent Falls State Park (Kent)

Artificial Dye Deemed Safe by FDA

by Melanie Rovinsky | April 20, 2011

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, which met to consider placing warning labels on foods containing artificial dyes, determined at the end of March that these colorings were safe to eat.

The FDA board convened following scientist discoveries that while artificial dyes may not harm typical children, individuals with already-established behavioral problems could see symptoms worsen. According to CBS News, claims of color additives causing ADHD and hyperactivity have been circulating since the 1970s.

The New York Times reported that the committee voted eight to six against requiring warning labels on products with artificial dyes. The added coloring is used in many kid’s favorites, such as Fruit Loops and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

The Grocery Manufactures Association breathed a sign of relief when the FDA issued its ultimate decision against warning labels.

“We agree with today’s FDA’s advisory committee finding which determined that there is insufficient evidence of a causal link between artificial colors and hyperactivity in children,” a spokesperson for the group said.

However, the association’s agreement with the FDA could have more to do with sales than with the actual health concerns. The Health Freedom Alliance reported that colored foods are more appealing than those in their natural state. In fact, the article recalls a taste test in which colored Cheetos generated more appeal than their “naked” counterparts. Samantha Shelke, a food chemist from the Institute of Food Technologists, agreed.

“Color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning dyes would take much of the pleasure out of life,” Shelke claimed.

Although the FDA’s conclusion may seem opposed to those fighting against artificial colorings in foods, the advisory panel’s acknowledgement that dyes may affect some children is a big step in raising awareness for the issue.

Sugar: The Not-So-Sweet Truth

by Melanie Rovinsky | April 13, 2011

If you have ever looked carefully at a nutrition label, you may have noticed that no percent daily value is given for sugar. However, considering the increase of sugar consumption in our society, this missing piece of information may come in handy to individuals keeping track of their diets.

How much is too much?

Although there is no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sugar, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises average adults to consume no more than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of added sugar per day in their 2,000 calorie diet. According to the USDA, Americans are eating 30 percent more sugar now than we did about 30 years ago. On average, most people consume twice as much sugar as they should.

Why isn’t there an official RDA for sugar?

Experts have not established an RDA for sugar because they cannot determine exactly how much should be eaten in a day. Announcing a recommendation for sugar consumption is tricky because experts must take into account natural and added sugars, both of which currently make up the sugars listed on a nutrition label.

What’s the harm?

Over consumption of sugar has been linked to numerous health problems. Excess sugar has been linked to causing or hastening the following conditions: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, tooth decay, compromised immune system, hormonal irregularities, Crohn’s Disease, digestive disorders, and skin disease.

Do we need sugar at all?

Sugars are a type of carbohydrate, which deliver quick, useable energy to our bodies. There are many types of sugars; most of them end in the suffix –ose, making them easy to recognize on nutrition labels. Naturally occurring sugars, like those found in apples or carrots, are not harmful because they are balanced by nutritional benefits. Sugar is in everything we eat, from spinach to jelly beans, and as a result, it is impossible to cut it out of your diet.


Although no percent daily value is given for sugar, try to keep your added sugar intake under 40 grams per day. It may be disheartening to put your sugar consumption into perspective, but a single serving bag of Skittles contains 47 grams of sugar… more than you should eat in an entire day! Don’t deprive your sweet tooth all the time; indulge in moderation!

The Power of Peanut Butter

by Melanie Rovinsky | April 6, 2011

I am a strong believer in the power of peanut butter. As a regular morning runner, my metabolism kicks into high gear around 6:45 a.m. and doesn’t seem to slow down until I go to bed. Unless I feed my body nutritionally satisfying foods, I feel hungry all day long. And one of the only foods that continually keeps me satisfied is peanut butter.

Packed with Power

Although peanut butter is not a low-fat or low-calorie food, its ability to keep you full may cut down on your between-meal snacking. The average peanut butter, such as my favorite Skippy Creamy, has about seven grams of protein and two grams of fiber per two tablespoon serving. Both protein and fiber curb hunger and keep you feeling full longer. The fat in peanut butter can often seem daunting… especially if you are trying to lose weight. However, remember that peanut butter contains monounsaturated fat (the good kind)! CNN Health reported that peanut butter has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the USDA finds no detectable Trans fats in a standard two tablespoon serving of peanut butter.

Is Natural Necessary?

With more and more natural food stores popping up, there is a growing trend to “go natural.” There are slight differences in taste between commercial and natural peanut butter, with noticeable variations in texture and appearance (mainly, the oil found on the top of the natural product). Other than taste, natural peanut butter contains no preservatives, which gives it a shorter shelf life and requires it to be stored in the refrigerator after opening. Natural PB generally contains less sodium and sugar than the regular product (although most commercial peanut butter only contains about three grams of sugar per serving). Perhaps the biggest reason most people go natural is because they do not want to consume the hydrogenated oils found in regular peanut butter. However, as mentioned above, the USDA finds these fats negligible in an average serving size.

My Top 3 Favorite Ways to Eat Peanut Butter

The Classic PB & J: Boost the nutrition benefits of peanut butter by pairing it with a great bread. Try two slices of Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread with two tablespoons of peanut butter and two tablespoons of grape jelly. The bread alone packs an additional 10 grams of protein and six grams of fiber.

Apple and PB: This combination is almost as satisfying as peanut butter and chocolate… but a whole lot better for you! Pair one tablespoon of peanut butter with a medium sized Gala apple for a sweet and satisfying snack. The apple is low in calories (about 70) and contains about three grams of fiber.

PB & J Oatmeal: This is, by far, my favorite post-workout breakfast. Microwave one-half to one cup of plain quick-cooking oats in the appropriate amount of water. While hot, spoon in one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of jelly. Stir in banana slices. This sticky, sweet bowl of deliciousness can keep me full until dinnertime! Half of a cup of oatmeal gives you five grams of protein and four grams of fiber with no additional sugar!

Born to Exercise: The Role of Genetics in Fitness

by Melanie Rovinsky | March 30, 2011

Have you ever wondered why two people following the exact same fitness and diet regimen will often achieve different results? It turns out the answer may be genetics.

What do the scientists say?

The New York Times recently published an article on a new study that explored the genomes (hereditary information) of 473 healthy, white volunteers to examine the genetic influence on an individual’s receptiveness or resistance to exercise. The study’s participants underwent a five-month exercise program, after which some ended up more fit than others. The fitness level was measured by the increase of the amount of oxygen used in an individual’s body during exercise. While no demographical factors could explain the discrepancy, scientists did detect a significant difference in tiny segments of DNA called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. According to the results published by The New York Times, “exercisers who had 19 or more of these SNPs improved their cardiorespiratory fitness three times as much as those who had nine or fewer.”

What do SNPs have to do with my fitness?

SNPs are located on various genes and play a wide range of roles in your body’s functioning. One SNP detected during the study is responsible for how the body metabolizes fat. Dr. Claude Bouchard, the lead author of the study, claims that even if you do not possess the most desirable genes for exercise, you can still reap the benefits of getting off of the couch. While you may not increase your body’s consumption of oxygen, exercise can still help you improve your health, especially when it comes to lowering your blood pressure.

Do genetics dictate whether I love or hate exercise?

More and more scientists are saying yes. If you are bred from offspring that enjoy working out, there is a greater chance that you will also enjoy working up a sweat. Of course, enjoyment of exercise also depends on how a person feels during and after a workout. Studies on mice reveal that some people are, in fact, programmed to not want to be active. However, many scientists feel that these individuals can overcome their genetics with exercise. Working out releases dopamine in the brain, which causes your body to feel good. And if you work out regularly, your brain will develop a memory linking exercising to feeling good.

The Best Time to Exercise: AM or PM?

by Melanie Rovinsky | March 23, 2011

Do you prefer to roll out of bed and into your running sneakers, or would you rather hit the gym after class and work? Although most experts agree that the time of exercise is not nearly as important as the consistency, others believe timing plays a more important role.

Burning Fat… Fast

While most physical trainers do not recommend exercising on an empty stomach, it turns out that doing so actually burns the most fat. According to Forbes, if you cram in your cardio before your breakfast, your body will burn off its fat reserves.

Working out in the morning also raises your heartbeat and metabolism for the entire day, which helps you burn more calories even in a resting state.

Avoiding Injuries and Peaking Performance

When it comes to determining the best time for exercise, many scientists and fitness experts call attention to circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are physiological and psychological changes that occur over a 24-hour period. These cycles trigger various functions in our bodies, from altering sleep patterns to regulating temperature.

According to CNN Health, the most productive workout can be achieved during the afternoon, when the body is at its peak temperature. Dr. Michael Vitiello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, claims that maximum body temperature occurs between 2 and 4 p.m. Exercising in the late afternoon or early evening can boost your performance and lower your risk of injury because muscles are most flexible at this time of day.

Everyday Routine

Working out in the morning, before you can let life and the stresses that come along with it get in the way, leaves no time for excuses. Oftentimes, the most difficult part of working out is simply getting to the gym. If you wait until the end of the day to exercise, you allow yourself plenty of time to change your mind.

Exercising too late at night can inhibit your body from sleeping. WebMD says that your body needs sufficient time to relax before it can fall asleep. Because exercise elevates your heart rate and temperature, along with releasing endorphins, working out late at night may keep you awake longer.

A Look at Irish Fare

by Melanie Rovinsky | March 2, 2011

The mere mention of St. Patrick’s Day is enough to make the typical American’s mouth water. After all, who doesn’t love a big heaping plate of corned beef and cabbage washed down with a pint of Guiness or Smithwicks?

The Origins

The truth is, corned beef and cabbage, as we know it, did not technically originate in Ireland. In the early 1800s, when Irish immigrants were pouring into America, they could not readily find the type of cured pork that they normally ate back home. Because the Jewish style corned beef was similar in taste and texture to their Irish bacon, many immigrants began incorporating the meat into their native dishes.

The Nutrition

Although satisfying to our taste buds, corned beef and cabbage as it is commonly prepared in America is not very nutritious. A five-ounce serving of the cured beef and its accompanying juices often contains over 1,000 mg of sodium. In addition, 40 percent of the calories from corned beef come from fat… and not the good kind either! The beef is one of the few foods that naturally contains trans fats. However, a five-ounce serving of corned beef does contain beneficial iron and protein.

Cabbage, on the other hand, is very nutritious! One cup of cooked cabbage is just 35 calories and contains no fat or cholesterol! The same serving provides you with four grams of fiber, three grams of protein, and 41 percent of your daily intake of Vitamin C.

Added Bonus

The trusty Irish staple often served next to the corned beef is the largely misunderstood potato. Spuds have gotten a bad reputation since the advent of low-carb diets, but they actually contain many helpful vitamins and minerals. A large potato contains 48 percent of your daily Vitamin C, 18 percent of your daily iron, and 46 percent of your daily potassium. In addition, for 275 calories, one potato can provide you with 7 g of fiber and 7 g of protein.

Counting Calories: What does it mean?

by Melanie Rovinsky | February 23, 2011

If you’ve ever attempted to shed a few pounds or even just maintain your current weight, you are aware of the dreaded act of counting calories. And sure, we are all equipped with the basic adding skills to figure out our total caloric consumption for a given day, but how many of us actually understand what we are keeping track of?

What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of energy. In terms of nutrition, calories measure the amount of energy given off when food or drink is broken down in your body. Interestingly, the calories listed on food packages are actually in kilocalories, which means there are 1,000 calories in every food Calorie.

How are Calories measured?

In order to accurately calculate the number of calories in food, the United States Department of Agriculture (and other nutrition and science-based agencies) use a calorimeter. Inside the mechanism, the food or drink is burnt, and the amount of heat given off is measured. (Remember, heat = energy) Once the heat is converted into calories, chemists must also multiply the number to account for energy burned during digestion.

What happens to calories that aren’t used for energy?

When we take in more calories than our body needs to function, the extra calories are stored as fat. Our metabolism uses enzymes to break down what we have consumed in order to send the molecules from food to our cells. When the cells do not require immediate energy, these molecules are put in “storage” for later use.

Can I estimate calories without a calorimeter?

By breaking down the food you are eating, you can get a rough estimate of the number of calories you are consuming. For example, a gram of protein or a gram of carbohydrates both contain 4 calories, while a gram of fat contains 9.

How can I burn more calories?

Living an active lifestyle is the best way to expend the number of calories typical Americans consume on a daily basis. In addition, building muscle can help speed up your body’s metabolism and burn more calories. Muscle tissue contains cells that are constantly active, and as a result, burn more energy than fat cells, which are not active.

The Big Fat Secrets: Why eliminating fats from your diet is not the best weight loss solution

by Melanie Rovinsky | February 16, 2011

With aisle after aisle of tempting low-fat and fat-free foods, it is no surprise that individuals trying to lose or maintain their weight load up their shopping carts with these products. The problem with these seemingly too-good-to-be-true foods is that they are devoid of nutritional value and full of sugar and calories.

The Importance of Fat

Entirely eliminating fat from your diet will not guarantee significant weight loss. According to the online Free Weight Loss Center, if you deprive yourself of fat, your body thinks you are starving. “In this ‘starvation mode’ or ‘famine mode’, your body tends to store every ounce of stored fat and thus you don’t lose weight.” At this stage, your body may start to burn muscle for energy.

Are you covering that nutrient-rich salad with a fat-free dressing? If so, you are compromising more than just taste! Shape magazine says that the fat found in extra virgin olive oil can actually help you extract vitamins A, D, E, and K from the vegetables on your plate.

In addition, your body requires fat to protect your bones and organs. Diets that include certain fats also help your hair and nails stay healthy.

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

It doesn’t take a nutritionist to figure out that the fat in a Whopper is slightly worse for you than the fat in a handful of almonds. But why? Fats can be broken down into two groups: saturated and unsaturated. Although a minimal amount of saturated fats can occur naturally in animals, the majority of them are manufactured by converting oils into solids. The all-dreaded Trans fats fall into the category of saturated fat, and they should largely be avoided. Trans fats not only raise LDL (the bad cholesterol), but they lower HDL (the good cholesterol).

Unsaturated fats contain at least one double bond within the lipid chain, as opposed to saturated fats that have no double bonds. Because of these bonds, unsaturated fat molecules require less energy to break down, and are thus metabolized faster. Fat molecules with one double bond are called monounsaturated fats, while molecules with more than one double bond are called polyunsaturated fats.

Learn to Love Your Love-handles

Our bodies are supposed to have some fat on them! If you are consuming a healthy diet and regularly exercising (cardio and resistance), but still can’t shrink your thighs, don’t worry about it!

Intra-abdominal fat, the fat that clings to your liver and other organs, excretes fatty acids into your bloodstream that raise blood pressure and could lead to diabetes and heart disease. The fat that we can see, however, like the kind you can pinch on your hips or thighs, may not be so dangerous. According to Shape magazine, “some research suggests that if you have excess intra-abdominal fat, extra thigh fat may actually offer protection against heart disease.” Dr. Glenn Gaesser, director of the kinesiology program at the University of Virginia, explains that having fat on your thighs can be a sign that fat has been sucked out of your bloodstream.

Healthy Fats

For delicious ways to incorporate good fats into your diet, try the following:

Avocado, walnuts, peanut butter, olives, salmon, flaxseed, almonds, and extra virgin olive oil.

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