Recreational Athletics Committee Blog Post

Get the Right Footwear before Putting your Feet Up

Did you know that on an average day, the feet withstand a collective force of several hundred tons? Our feet are probably the most used, abused, and underappreciated parts of our bodies. Foot problems can put a hamper on the simplest daily activities–let alone our pursuit of physical activity. That’s why it’s important to take care of our feet, and that starts with wearing the right shoes. Many people think that it’s normal for feet to hurt after a long day of standing or walking, but that’s simply not true. Feet should not hurt. If they do, it’s time to make some changes and invest in the right pair of shoes. Here is some interesting and helpful tips and information gathered from the Ontario Podiatric Medical Association:

  • Each foot is highly specialized with 26 small bones and over 150 ligaments in a complex system of muscles and nerves
  • Some individuals are genetically predisposed to more serious foot problems due to inheriting familial bone structure, with females being four times more likely than males to develop foot problems
  • If possible, try not to wear the same shoes two days to keep bacteria growth at bay. This will allow the moisture and perspiration to evaporate
  • Socks should be changed daily
  • Throw out worn out shoes! Depending on how often the shoe is used and for what activities, some shoes need to be replaced every 3-4 months, whereas others need to be replaced every 6 or 12 months. Running shoes, in particular, should be replaced frequently. Failing to replace worn out shoes can lead to foot pain and increase the risk of injury
  • Wear activity-appropriate and sports-specific shoes. This means wearing hiking shoes when hiking, jogging shoes when jogging, and basketball shoes when playing basketball, etc.
  • Avoid a one-size fits all approach by using cross-trainers that are generally insufficient
    Avoid or minimize wearing high heels that are 1 ½ inches , and shoes with leather soles
  • If possible, shop for shoes later in the day when feet tend to swell a little bit as activity levels increase and more body fluid is pulled down to the feet
  • Try to pick comfort and health over fashion when it comes to footwear. Failing to put foot health first not only makes it hard to enjoy current activities, but can also cause a myriad of problems down the road
  • Shoes should be firm and supportive, especially around the heel
  • More importantly, they should be able to absorb shock. A shoe that absorbs shock should feel very light and comfortable when worn, as though you were walking on air. So look for a light shoe that absorbs shock
  • Shoes should also be flexible around the ball of the feet so as to allow for comfortable movement
  • Make sure the shoes are roomy and that no pain is felt when they are worn
  • Remember: the best shoes are not necessarily more expensive


CrossFit: “The Sport of Fitness”

When it comes to exercise and fitness, it can sometimes be challenging to address the various features of physical fitness simultaneously. Enter CrossFit, a universal fitness program designed to meet precisely these concerns. CrossFit is a unique fitness program with more than 4,500 community gyms worldwide. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what the fitness program’s focus area is—CrossFit actually prides itself on not having a speciality. Instead, it claims to provide a well-rounded training regime assembled from a diversity of sports and physical tasks. CrossFit workouts take a uniquely broad and generalized approach to physical fitness, and effectively combine exercises as diverse as rope-climbing, sprints, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, endurance training, powerlifting, and even martial arts. The fitness program is designed to build the body’s natural ability to move in a variety of ways at maximum intensity. Interestingly, the CrossFit fitness program has been turned into an official sport at the annual CrossFit Games. Every year, the winners of these games are crowned as the fittest man or women on earth.

The development of CrossFit began with a simple question, which happens to be somewhat of a mystery in the world of exercise: What exactly is fitness? According to CrossFit founder Coach Greg Glassman, the most useful conception of fitness is scientifically defined as “the increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains, [where] capacity is the ability to do real work […] as measured by force, distance, and time”. This technical definition of fitness has been incorporated into an entire theory of CrossFit, which markets itself as an evidence-based fitness approach grounded in principles of scientific inquiry. According to the theory, a ‘science of fitness’ must rely on observable, quantifiable, and repeatable behaviours that can be empirically evaluated. Using this process, it appears that holistic fitness can be gained by performing high intensity movements that are constantly varied.

Theoretical considerations aside, there are a couple of reasons why CrossFit stands out as an especially appealing fitness program. The first reason is that the program incorporates an ever-changing approach to training. We all know that doing the same workout regularly leads to a plateau in fitness gains, but this concern can easily be sidestepped when engaging in a program such as CrossFit, that prescribes a different workout every day. Another advantage CrossFit can offer is the inherently communal nature of the program. The fitness program incorporates camaraderie, competition, and other game-like elements. Such a sense of community and social support provides a built-in motivation that can make this fitness program highly effective.

Overall, CrossFit has received glowing reviews (while even gaining what some might call a cult-like following). The program is well-suited for fitness enthusiasts, the inexperienced, elderly, or pregnant alike. If you’re interested in spicing up your fitness regime, it may be worth giving this “sport of fitness” a try, either independently or at one of several CrossFit gyms located across Toronto.


Can it Get Any Worse?

Last week we posted about the importance of adaptively regulating our emotions in attaining physical, mental, and social well-being. The best way to do this was to practice a technique called cognitive reappraisal. As a follow up to last week’s post, it may be interesting to explore the role our thoughts play in our well-being a little further. You may already know that “cognitive behavioral therapy” (CBT) is a leading psychological therapy that effectively works to restore well-being by helping individuals restructure their thought-line. A less well-known fact, though, is that this leading therapy is based on philosophical and theoretical assumptions made long ago by the ancient “Stoics”.

When most people hear the word “stoic”, traits like emotionless, dispassionate, and maybe even cold immediately spring to mind. Amusingly, this modern idea of stoicism is in stark contrast with the original, ancient Stoics philosophers. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy of life that originated in Greece, and was further developed in Rome. Unlike Greek Stoicism, the Roman Stoic philosophy of life places a high premium on attaining tranquility (above and beyond “virtue”). Tranquility refers to the absence of negative emotions and the abundance of positive emotions (especially joy).

The Stoics spent considerable amounts of time studying the causes of human unhappiness. They observed that there are two fundamental causes of human unhappiness: the insatiability of our desires, and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control. So they offered lots of advice designed to counteract these two problems, and to prevent—and alleviate—negative emotions like fear, anger, grief, anxiety, and sadness.

One of these strategies is called “negative visualization”, and it may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase life satisfaction. Much like it sounds, negative visualization is the practice of regularly reflecting on how much worse life can get. It involves imagining varieties of worst-case scenarios, including the death of loved ones, the loss of our health, the loss of our wealth, and so on. The Stoics didn’t do this in the spirit of pessimism—they did it to nurture a deep appreciation for current life circumstances, and to emotionally prepare for life’s curve-balls By reflecting on worst-case scenarios in this way, the present begins to look relatively fortunate and pleasing. This technique essentially draws on cognitive reappraisal; regularly exercising negative visualization makes it possible to re-frame life circumstances in a far more favorable light.

As it turns out, Stoicism is a rich philosophy with many more valuable tips and tricks for maintaining well-being. Stoic techniques are still relevant today, albeit in a highly modernized, therapeutic form. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a cue about health and well-being from the ancient philosophers. So, have you thought about how much worse it can get lately?

Source: Irvine, W. B. (2009). A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

The Link between Emotions and Health

It may sound odd, but the way we deal with our emotions can have significant effects on our mental, social, and even physical health. Emotion regulation refers to the process of changing our emotional states by changing the experience, situations, and/or expression of emotions. We can regulate our emotions either before or after the full-blown emotional response occurs. For example, you might decide to avoid going to an event when you know someone you dislike will be there—so as to avoid feeling a negative emotion. On the other hand, you may find yourself at an event with a person you dislike, and decide to hide your negative emotions. And still, you may decide to change the way you think about this person so as not to feel any negative emotion at all.

This latter strategy is known as cognitive reappraisal, and has been found to be the most effective way to regulate emotions. By reframing the source of negative emotion, we can actually completely bypass the feeling and consequences of negative emotions. Granted, this is very difficult to do and likely requires some practice. But once we consider how fundamental emotion regulation is to our health, it becomes pretty obvious that practicing cognitive reappraisal is worth the effort.

Accumulating research is finding that maladaptive emotion regulation strategies (such as chronically suppressing negative emotions) is correlated with lower self-esteem, lower quality of life, and lower overall wellbeing. Negative emotion regulation strategies play a central role in mental health, especially in disorders such as anxiety or depression. They also contribute significantly to a lack of social fulfillment by weakening social connections (and social fulfillment is very important to mental and physical health!). On the flipside, the use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies is associated with overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, as well as stronger social connections. Interestingly, emotion regulation can also significantly impact physical health by influencing how symptoms are perceived. Better Emotion regulation even explains why older adults report greater levels of subjective wellbeing –despite the social, physical, and cognitive declines associated with old age.

In our pursuit of holistic health, let’s not forget practicing adaptive emotion regulation strategies. We can practice cognitive reappraisal by trying to think about events that elicit negative emotions in a positive way. This can completely eliminate the negative experience. Failing that, we can practice social sharing by talking about the event and associated feelings with some trusted loved ones. Be forewarned, though, that talking about negative emotions may lead you to re-experience the negative emotion when telling it. This will increase negative emotion at first, but will be beneficial in the long term by facilitating problem solving and perspective taking.

Source: Niedenthal, P. M., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Ric, F. (2006). Psychology of emotion: Interpersonal, experiential, and cognitive approaches (pp. 156-194). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

The Science of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that has become a booming global industry. With so much hype surrounding the practice, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when trying to understand what yoga is and what it isn’t, and what yoga can offer and what it can’t. For anyone practicing or teaching yoga, or even those with a passing interest in the practice, William J. Broad’s book “The Science of Yoga” is a must-read. Broad manages to sift through thousands of advertising claims and uncover (both the expected, and in many cases the unexpected) scientifically-supported truths about yoga. He presents an unbiased account of yoga and leaves it up to his readers to determine whether or not the practice is right for them.

Broad discusses several interesting aspects of yoga, including its ancient roots and how the practice has radically evolved to bear little if any resemblance to them. His most provocative chapters may be the two surrounding health and physical fitness, which may leave you surprised to learn why and how yoga (when relied upon as the sole form of exercise) is insufficient in meeting the recommended health requirements for physical activity–despite many advertising claims that this it does. It is also very surprising to learn that every year a significant number of individuals suffer severe yoga injuries, some of which are as devastating as nerve damage and heart attacks. Fortunately, Broad does an excellent job of outlining which postures pose the greatest risk of injury.

The disadvantages of practicing yoga are important to consider when making an informed decision. However, yoga does have a lengthy list of advantages that make it uniquely appealing. Consider that yoga is just as effective( if not more effective) than exercise in “improving balance, reducing fatigue, decreasing anxiety, cutting stress, lifting moods, improving sleep, reducing pain, lowering cholesterol, and more generally in raising the quality of life for yogis both socially and on the job” (pp. 73). Moreover, practicing yoga is associated with physical and emotional healing, increased creativity, and an improved sex life. And so, consulting the “Science of Yoga” does suggest that yoga is a valuable tool in attaining health and wellbeing. Be sure to check out the book for more information.

Source: Broad, W. J. (2012). The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

(GREEN) Smoothie

Fruit smoothies are delicious. They are easy to make and take little time to prepare. Because there are endless flavor combinations to choose from, drinking smoothies doesn’t get boring either. Smoothies are a great option for busy and hectic schedules because they are easy to pack (for example, in a water bottle). Interestingly, drinking blended plant foods is a very powerful way to attain the valuable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals contained in them (see last week’s post for source information). By breaking down the smoothie’s contents in your blender, you are increasing your body’s absorption of a plethora of nutrients. With that in mind, have you considered adding greens to your smoothie?

The idea of a “green” smoothie might sound rather odd, but it is definitely worth trying. Adding greens to your fruit smoothie is the best way to increase your consumption of greens—(and here’s the best part)¬—while barely tasting them. That’s right; you’ll hardly even taste the greens because instead you’ll taste the fruits in your smoothie—yummy. If you find it hard to get more greens in your diet, this may very well be an excellent way to get a lot more greens alongside your fruits.

So if you’re feeling brave, why not try a green smoothie? It might even wind up becoming an easy go-to breakfast, lunch, or snack option. You don’t need to follow a specific recipe, but remember to vary up the greens and fruits in your smoothie. An easy favorite is the tasty combination of spinach, water, and bananas. For more smoothie ideas be sure to check out some green smoothie recipes online. With so many options and benefits, why not go green?

Eat To Live

If you attended the last RAC seminar event with peak performance expert Dr. Greg Wells, you may recall his advice to pick up the book “Eat to Live” to learn more about optimal nutrition, and about the “Health=Nutrients/Calories” nutrition equation he recommends for his clients. Here is some more information about the book, and about how and why it has been so influential in advancing nutritional knowledge.

Worldwide, obesity-related illness has officially surpassed hunger as a leading cause of death. What we put in our mouth is literally becoming a matter of life (a long and healthy one), or suffering and maybe even death. Indeed, our food choices may be the most powerful way to reduce high blood pressure, lose unwanted weight, lower cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease and cancer, and actually reverse a variety of diseases.

But what if we’re not afflicted with these health problems? Should we still be concerned about our food choices? Yes! It is quite difficult to go against the average Standard American Diet, which has become the representative diet for North Americans at large (and many other developed countries around the world for that matter). The Standard American Diet almost unfailingly leads to obesity and a myriad of physical ailments in later life. Dr. Fuhrman’s work leaves no doubt that these popular dietary choices have disastrous effects on the human body and mind, leaving eaters “overfed yet malnourished” and “digging [their] graves with forks and knives”.

Yet the benefits of a healthful diet are not limited to later life; a nutrient-rich diet allows us to make the most of our precious life right now. Our diet can directly improve our wellbeing and quality of life by contributing to our mental health and emotional life, immunity levels, sleep quality, energy levels, appearance, and self-esteem, to name a few factors. Certainly, the multiple benefits of a healthful diet are overwhelming.

It may be obvious that we need to eat the right foods, but it isn’t obvious what those foods are. The diet industry is a booming industry with thousands of competing suggestions, which makes it extremely difficult to make a choice (let alone make the right choice). Keeping in line with the U of T tradition, then, it is essential that we make informed, evidence-based decisions that are well supported by nutritional science. Otherwise, we risk getting sucked into a dietary plan that is arbitrary at best and harmful at worst.

Enter Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a world renowned medical doctor and nutritional expert. Dr. Fuhrman’s work is well recognized as a credible, fully-supported scientific approach to healthful eating. It is highly accessible, easy to read, understand, and implement. Moreover, his work can help us sort through the countless myths and misinformation in the world of nutrition. Through his scientifically-based approach to nutrition, Dr. Fuhrman has helped thousands of patients lose hundreds of pounds, reverse severe and debilitating disorders, and attain optimal levels of health and wellbeing.

For more information, be sure to check out Dr. Fuhrman’s New York Times bestseller “Eat to Live” or visit his website: It may very well be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. In the mean time, though, here’s a spoiler: don’t bother dieting, simply eat as many vegetables and fruits as possible.

Salad, anyone?

The Body That Heals Itself

Healing is a natural, species-wide process that has long been of interest to mankind. Humans display a wide array of restorative healing processes that recover health both automatically and efficiently. Indeed, whereas medicine can cure many ailments, only nature can heal by tapping into an innate healing process.

One intriguing example of self-healing is the placebo response. The placebo response is observed when recovery occurs in the absence of an effective therapeutic intervention. Somewhat miraculously, the placebo response influences the body’s natural healing processes by directly altering the immunological and mental faculties. The crucial element for bringing it about, however, is confidence; to experience a placebo response, one must have complete confidence that a course of action will bring about the desired recovery. This confidence initiates a serious of changes that lead to significant and prolonged relief from various ailments.

Several experiments have recorded the existence of a powerful placebo response. For example, brain imaging studies have confirmed that in those suffering with depression, placebo (sugar) pills and antidepressants can yield the same changes in brain activity that facilitate relief. Moreover, several sham (placebo) knee surgeries have likewise been equally as successful as real knee surgeries in eliminating knee pain.

The placebo response is but one of many demonstrations of the body’s incredible capacity for recovery. The Recreational Athletics Committee hopes to further explore the topic of physical healing and recovery in next week’s seminar with U of T’s Professor Greg Wells. Dr. Wells will be sharing his findings of how we can efficiently recover in our pursuit of health and fitness. Come out and learn how to tap into your body’s amazing healing power. For more details about next week’s free event, click here.

Source: Kradin, R. (2012). The placebo response and the power of unconscious healing. NY: Routledge.

What Mindfulness Can Do For You

We often hear the term mindfulness, but what exactly is it and why does it seem so elusive? How can we get more of it? It is precisely these questions that have attracted the attention of scientists in a variety of disciplines. The Canadian Mindfulness Institute describes mindfulness as intentional focus on the present moment, with acceptance and non-judgment. The term is mostly ascribed to Buddhist traditions, yet mindfulness is a universal part of human experience that is becoming increasingly desirable as we learn more about its benefits.

Although cultivating mindfulness offers many benefits, one of the most compelling may be stress reduction. The Canadian Mindfulness Institute compiles convincing evidence that stress has a wide array of harmful—and if left unaddressed, disastrous—consequences on the brain and body. Mindfulness training offers an easy to follow system whereby we can reduce stress and improve our quality of lives.

More intriguingly, mindfulness training has been shown to facilitate observable changes in brain structure in areas such as the prefrontal cortex (which plays an important role in attention and memory) and the limbic system (which is associated with emotions). The best part is that it only takes as little as eight weeks to begin to see these neural benefits.

Interested in learning more about mindfulness? On February 7th, The Hart House Recreational and Athletics Committee will be hosting a seminar with mindfulness expert Dr. John Vervaeke, from the Department of Psychology, about the cognitive processes and therapeutic benefits associated with mindfulness practices. Come out and learn about this fascinating topic so that you too can attain more mindfulness in your daily life.

Why not Try a Tri(athlon)?

Have you ever wanted to participate in a triathlon? Just think: swimming, cycling, and running—all packaged into one neat event. Transitioning from each event to the other also takes time, which is why it is sometimes considered a “fourth discipline” according to The International Triathlon Union.

Triathlons can be intimidating, which is why participating in the 20th Annual Hart House Indoor Triathlon may be the perfect place to start . The “Try a tri” event on Saturday February 9th is a great way to introduce yourself to the sport, and most importantly—have some fun! You will be swimming, cycling, and running for 15 minutes and getting a great introduction to the sport, or getting good practice if you have prior experience. Either way, no prior experience is necessary, and it is sure to be a fun time. Be sure to register soon as February 9th is quickly approaching.

Maybe you want to be involved, but not necessarily compete. Great! Hart House is looking for volunteers at the event to help keep score. We need you! Please let staff at the Hub know if you can help.

Embracing Holistic Health and Wellness

Many scientific findings released just this year are confirming the age-old wisdom that health and wellness are dependent on mind, body, and soul. For a brief overview, consider the following new findings relating to three health issues relevant to University of Toronto students: stress, diet, and sleep (as outlined in the National College Health Assessment (ACA-NCHA) Spring 2009 survey of U of T students).

First, stress. We have all felt it, and many of us are aware that stress is detrimental to physical and mental health. What is less well-known is that stress can also lead to outright illness, although the reasons for this have been, until recently, quite murky. A recent ground-breaking study suggests, however, that stress can lead to illness when tissue sensitivity to cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases. The decrease in cortisol sensitivity renders the body ineffective at regulating its inflammatory response. Other current findings also suggest that stress increases the risk of illness by altering the control, expression, and activity of our genes, making stress potentially deadly (gulp!).

So how can we solve what appears to be inevitable? Stress mitigation and recovery is the answer, and should be a priority for all of us. Exercise is a well-known way to relieve stress, and a new study suggests that exercise even provides a buffer against future stress. No big time commitment is necessary either: there is no need to spend more than 30 minutes exercising daily to receive the various benefits of exercising, because for weight loss, even 30 minutes of daily activity have been shown to be as effective as 60 minutes. And on days that 30 minutes of exercise may be difficult to schedule, even the simple act of smiling during transitory stressors can facilitate stress recovery. There really is no excuse to avoid starting now.

Unsurprisingly, exercise has also been linked with another topic of interest to U of T students: diet. Exercise leads to reduced food motivation, with a new study finding that 45 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous morning exercise significantly reduces one’s motivation to pursue food, which may be useful in avoiding unhealthful food options. Sleep is also crucial, because even though exercise can reduce food motivation, sleep deprivation can significantly increase it. Recent findings indicate that even one night of sleep deprivation considerably raises hunger levels, leading to over-eating and compromised diet-related goals. Moreover, the consequences of sleep deprivation have also been shown to have the same harmful effect on the body as stress. A growing body of literature is proposing that the relationship between sleep deprivation and stress may be far more closely linked then once imagined. Perhaps we should think twice before that next all-nighter?

Clearly, attaining well-being is a valuable goal that cannot be approached in isolation. Thankfully, there is no need to feel discouraged or overwhelmed when transitioning to a healthier lifestyle; current findings indicate that belief in our own actions to improve our health is the key to actually leading a healthy lifestyle. Essentially, if we believe that we can do it, we likely will.

The RAC recognizes that health and wellness need to be approached holistically, and has renewed its focus to enhancing overall well-being. For example, this year the RAC will be facilitating various opportunities ranging from an indoor triathlon for beginners and triathletes to a series of presentations.
If you are a student interested in holistic health and in getting involved with the RAC, the RAC committee is looking to recruit student members. Every member will get an opportunity to provide input into ideas, contribute to event planning and organization, and help with communications. Moreover, some students will be eligible to become voting members. For more information about the RAC or to join, please contact Elizabeth at

Source: Science Daily

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