Fake smiling not good for you

In what may come as a blow to those who work in customer service oriented industries, a recent study shows that people forced to put on a happy face when they’re not feeling happy are harming their own health. If indeed this discovery is true, it’s at odds with the old advice that smiling is good for you, even if it isn’t genuine.

It should be noted that the study was performed in Germany, a country for which the “problem” of fake smiling does not seem to be an issue.

Girl told by Wii she's not wee


It was only a matter of time. A 10-year-old girl was categorized as "fat" by her Wii Fit, and now the National Obesity Forum is calling for the game to be banned from being played by children. Apparently her Body Mass Index (a questionable way of determining one's fitness level) was determined to be too high despite claims from her father that she's an active and healthy child.

Nintendo has apologized but will not place a warning on the game.

Wii Fit makes you fit... a wee bit

The "Wiimote," the revolutionary controller that comes with the Nintendo Wii gaming console, is basically a wireless wand that players wave in the air to control the action on the screen. Popular games like tennis are enough to work up even the laziest couch potato into a sweat.

The Wii Fit takes this side effect and makes it into a goal. The package includes a small platform that you step on, balance on, do yoga moves on, etc., while the software coaches you from your TV screen. You can do anything from boxing to yoga to (gasp!) aerobics.

Is my job in jeopardy? Unlikely. Although the Wii Fit will certainly get your heart pumping more than the average video game, it's really only going to benefit fitness amateurs. Anyone who has set foot in a gym will probably find the Wii Fit fun but unchallenging.

Although I haven't used one myself, I can't imagine that a platform (and sometimes the wand) provides enough feedback and motivation for the user to truly learn proper form for exercises. As a first step, however, The Wii Fit, is an impressive application of technology to health. Surely as the level of technology increases, so will the similarity of the product to a true fitness experience.

Sports bottles potentially unsafe


Do you use a refillable plastic water bottle during class? You may want to consider throwing it away.

Polycarbonate plastic is durable, hard, and clear, so it is often used in sports water bottles as well as baby bottles. The problem is that this type of plastic contains a chemical called bisphenol-a (or BPA for short) which has been linked to unhealthy hormone changes in animals. The effect on humans is still unknown, but there's no reason to believe we're safe.

The Canadian government has recently declared BPA a toxic chemical. In response to this, Nalgene has stopped making these potentially unsafe bottles and has replaced them with bottles made from a new BPA-free plastic. (They maintain that BPA is safe and state the change is only due to customer demand.)

Your best bet? Play it safe and swap your old plastic bottle out for a newer one. Better yet, get one made of stainless steel.

More fitness crapola

Apparently swiveling back an forth on a $175 barstool will help you lose body fat, improve your immune system, and help you combat everything from depression to premature death. Such are the claims by the good folks over at RedExerciser.net. Based on this video clip, however, the side effects of the Red Exerciser appear to be loss of dignity as well as loss of ability to count backwards from twenty.

Enough with the water, already!

From time to time, I get reminded of the importance of drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. When I decide to follow this regimen, it comes with a wonderful side effect -- peeing eight times an hour. For this reason, it's usually not long before I go back to my under-hydrated ways.

"But water helps flush out those toxins and improves skin tone," you say to me. "It can curb your appetite as well as cure a headache!"

Well your guilt trip won't work on me any longer. Although not drinking when you're thirsty is certainly not good for you, there is apparently no evidence supporting the claims that drinking excess water will improve your health. This surprising bit of news comes in an editorial in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. (Nephrology is the study of the kidney, so these people might know a thing or two about water.)

This doesn't necessarily mean that there's no benefit to drinking lots of water. Perhaps there is something to be gained, but more studies need to be done in this area before any conclusions can be drawn.

iPod + Fitness

Aside from allowing us to listen to music on the treadmill, what could an iPod possibly have to do with fitness?

I was talking with a member once about ways to combat boredom in the weight room. My advice to him was to listen to podcasts during his workout. Sure, music is a nice mood-booster, but I personally need something more substantial to keep my brain busy while lifting. My favorite podcasts to listen to: This American Life, Radio Lab, Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and This Week in Tech. All of these and thousands more are free, so if you haven't figured out the whole podcast thing yet, crawl out of that rock you've been living under and get busy.

To call podcasts a "fitness" application of the iPod is a bit of stretch. There are, however, more direct ways to use an iPod to help you workout. PumpOne (formerly called PumpPod) is a company which sells videos of workouts that can be played on any video-enabled iPod. To take it a step further, Apple and Nike partnered together to create the Nike+ running program which, with the addition of a sensor to a specially equipped Nike sneaker, is able to monitor and record your running progress.

Now, in what appears to be the next logical move, Apple appears to be expanding on the Nike + iPod idea to create a "digital fitness companion." From what I can gather, the plan is to make the iPod (with additional hardware to provide feedback) into a mini personal trainer.

Creepy? Just a bit. Cool? Absolutely.

Cold season over, allergy season starting

Man, I'm not sure which is worse: a cold or allergies. At least a cold comes and goes. Allergies can make you feel crappy for months.

If you're not into that cracked-out feeling that Claritin gives you, Reader's Digest has a list of alternate ways to protect yourself. Some of the advice that got my attention is...

1) Choose chicken over beef
3) Turn on the AC
9) Bleach your shower curtain
11) Wash your bedding in hot water weekly

Measles... they're baaack.

I've gotten in several discussions recently about the dangers of vaccinations, particularly with regard to the fear that vaccinated children have an increased risk of becoming autistic. I'm not sure who came up with this idea to begin with, but it has since been fully debunked.

Despite the scientific evidence, however, many still cling to this unfounded fear. (We have Jenny McCarthy and Oprah to thank for this.) An increasing number of parents are deciding to play it "safe" by not giving their children the triple vaccine designed to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella. As a result, measles is making a comeback.

Score one for pseudoscience!

Banning obese diners?

Mississippi, the state with one of the highest percentages of obese people, also seems to be the state with the dumbest legislators. Someone thought it was a good idea to ban obese people from being served in fast food restaurants, and now it's a proposed bill.

The odds of such a ridiculous infringement on our personal freedom actually becoming law? Unlike the people it's supposed to protect, hopefully slim.

Permanent schedule change

NYSC recently made the decision to move the coordinating of group exercise classes from an office in midtown into the clubs themselves. In my opinion, this is a very good thing. Since the "Group Exercise Coordinators" are on site, they will be much more in tune with the needs of the club with respect to fitness classes.

A downside to this restructuring is that GECs are required to teach four classes per week. Since these must be classes already on the schedule, that means the classes have to be taken from instructors already teaching them.

This is all a long-winded way for me to say that I won't be teaching the 7:30pm TBC on Monday evenings, starting this coming Monday. There's a possibility that I'll eventually get the class back, but for the time being it's no longer mine. Keep in mind that the class is still on -- it's just being taught by Bianca from now on.

Not the end of the world. At least they didn't take a step class. Phew!

Fast food calorie counts

Yesterday the New York City Board of Health gave the thumbs-up to a proposal that would require all fast food chains to post calorie counts on their menus. (The information used to be provided voluntarily by some restaurants, but never on the big plastic menus displayed behind the counter.) Unless the New York Restaurant Association finds a way to block it, the regulation will go into effect March 31.

The Board of Health claims the informed consumer will think twice before purchasing calorie-heavy items. Meanwhile the Restaurant Association claims posting calorie content won't have any effect on the consumer's choice.

So if there won't be any effect, why is the NYRA fighting to block the proposal? They claim the menus will look cluttered. Give me a break.

'Tis the season to get sick

We're heading into the two coldest months of the year. That means being cooped up around other people and therefore picking up germs much more easily.

Reader's Digest to the rescue. OK, it's not the Journal of the American Medical Association, but the tips to stay healthy are still good. Among the pearls of wisdom:

2. Wash your hands twice.
6. Nuke your toothbrush.
8. Avoid stress at work.
10. Crack your windows at home.
13. Sit in a sauna.
21. Don't blow your nose. Wipe it.

And if you do catch a cold? Roast garlic in the oven and spread it on toast. Now that's advice I can follow.

Simpler days, more complex hair

Alesia, the woman to the right in this picture, is one of the people responsible for training me as a step instructor for the University of Virginia's group fitness program (where I got my start teaching step).

Heather, unfortunately not pictured, was also responsible for my training. More importantly, however, she ran UVa's impressive fitness program more efficiently than most professional gyms are run today.

As it turned out, these women were also a blast to hang out with. As such, they became dear friends of mine. I even lived with them for a brief period of time.

In the above picture, Alesia and I (yes, that's me) are team-teaching a double-step class at a conference in Richmond, TWELVE years ago. If memory serves me, Alesia was sick as a dog that day. Halfway through our routine, she ran off stage to go throw up, leaving me on stage with no choreography left to teach. Memories!

Thanks to my friend Mark, for digging these picture up from God-knows-where and sending them to me.