Saturday, October 27, 2012

Athletic Vision: Your First and Best Defense

It amazes me how many young athletes don’t take care of their eyes. Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible kids are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I advised him to see an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

About a month back I had the pleasure of reading a new book, See to Play: The Eyes of Advanced Athletes by Dr. Michael Peters, discussing the role of the visual system in athletics, as well as some easy at-home assessment and training techniques to assess specific visual qualities. Dr. Peters strongly believe that a lot of players AND students have significant performance limitations based on visual limitations that are simply missed in traditional screening. He also believes that this information provides an alternative explanation to some of the postural, motor, and musculoskeletal issues we see commonly AND heavily influences symptoms and return to play times following a concussion.

Dr. Peters is the team eye doctor of the NHL’s Carolina Panthers and has also worked closely with athletes in all of the major professional sports leagues. Through his own experience, Dr. Peters speculates 4 out of 10 athletes don’t make it to the professional level because of something wrong with their visual system.

The benefits of excellent vision may seem obvious but there are a few details that are not quite so clear.  The eyes are our first line defense from injury.  Our bodies fight and flight mechanism is on high alert and this is the first role of vision.  Many of you may remember Barry Sanders from his playing days with the Detroit Lions.  He was small in stature by professional football standards but it was as if he had eyes on the back and side of his head because he always avoided a catastrophic direct hit.

In his book Dr. Peters discusses the detailed vision zone.  In his opinion the athletes with larger zones see more of the playing area see more of the play developing and can react to where they need to be to make a play or in the case of Barry Sanders where not to be to avoid the big hit. Visual acuity is also very important because this affects reaction time.  Athletes who don’t see clearly do not react as quickly or accurately.

According to Dr. Peters:
Athletes overlook vision.  They think they see “good enough”.  The problem with that thinking is that elite athletes see the best! They’re vision is awesome.  This is because of a physical trait that they were gifted with or they were smart enough to get to the eye doctor early and often.  Maximizing visual acuity insures athletes are allowing their eye hand coordination to develop to its fullest potential. Another limitation I find is that athletes don’t use their complete area of vision.  The detailed vision zone is the most important visual trait for hockey athletes and through vision training, athletes can insure they are maximizing their genetic potential and not allowing this zone to shrink due to disuse. 

What visual system qualities may be overlooked in a typical eye exam?

During routine eye exams, eye doctors test for visual acuity and eye health.  We don’t normally test for an athlete’s detailed vision zone, their speed of focus and perception.  Separate exams, known as sports vision exams, provide this extra testing to help fully evaluate athlete’s visual system.

What role does the visual system play in returning from injuries like concussions?

The eyes take a picture and send it back to the brain to decipher it.  Concussions can affect the part of the brain that is in charge of figuring out the picture the eyes have taken.  Athletes with visual issues in their concussions will complain of blurred vision, dizziness, light sensitivity, decreased concentration, anxiety when walking into a crowd of people and motion sickness when driving or riding in a car. Usually, these visual issues resolve with rest.  For the athletes with lingering symptoms, we use vision training to help speed up recovery.

I often play a game with kids where I have them lie on the bellies and on my command they have to get up as fast as they can and balance on one foot.  To make the game more challenging I will have them start on the ground with their eyes closed, then they get up and attempt to balance on one-foot with their eyes closed the entire time.  When their vision is taken away the body becomes very sensitive to the slightest change in equilibrium because it senses how vulnerable it is without the ability to see. This game is an excellent example of how powerful vision is to body control and spatial awareness, two elements that are crucial during athletic development.

This book is definitely worth checking out as it provides more of the low-lying fruit  (posture, nutrition, sleep) that is so easy to get to with very little physical or monetary investment, yet has powerful implications on sport and academic performance in addition to injury prevention.

While I am on the topic of eyesight a lack of physical activity has been linked to vision loss:

The book See To Play:

Story Update:

Earlier this summer a bill was making in its way through the state legislature that would require youth sports organizations and schools to adopt concussion-awareness guidelines.  Governor Snyder signed the bill this week.  Here are the details:

Head injuries and concussions are a real problem based upon the need for this legislation as well as conversations I have had with a local high school athletic trainer, chiropractor (#1 reason young athletes come to see him, head injuries), and concerned parents.  Awareness and education is key to safeguard your kids.  This book is an excellent resource that can help:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Slipping Through the Cracks (Youth Sports)

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past year about the role of exercise in the lives of children beyond the field of play.  Many stories over the past decade have started to shape a vision that I just can’t seem to shake.  One story in particular paints a clear picture of what we/I need to provide to children.

In seventh grade a girl plays for the school softball team and she really enjoyed playing with her friends.  She had every intention to play the sport again the following spring but she became ill the week of try-outs and wasn’t able to attend any of the practices and consequently didn’t make the team.  Since that time this young lady has never found a sport that she enjoys and has no real physical outlet as she enters the high school years.

The youth sport culture in this country and our area specifically is not serving our children.  Youth sports are organized by adults and have evolved into little more than miniature professional leagues.  Extreme travel schedules, overt emphasis on winning and competition.  The emphasis should be on fun, long term athletic development and sports used as an outlet to build character and life long fitness habits.  All of these positive traits will happen when we turn the spotlight on the kids and make it about them.  Sports should be fun and a chance for kids to be with their friends while developing new relationships as well.

In the example above is their any good reason why you have cuts in the 7Th grade?  If the mission of youth sports is to serve the children that just doesn’t make sense.  In essence this young lady was discouraged from participating in an activity that she enjoyed.  Instead she was allowed to slip through the cracks and as far as scholastic physical activity is concerned, never to be heard from again.  Is that the mission of youth sports?

Our schools have a golden opportunity to embrace a role of fostering a physical culture for our children to grow into but they are failing miserably. The current system routinely rejects hundreds of kids every year.  When you get a message that basically states that you’re not wanted is there any wonder why kids run away from exercise/sport and all it represents?  There is misconception that all overweight children are not very athletic…nothing could be further from the truth! Many kids have stopped playing sports because it has ceased to be fun for them; it’s more like work due to the pressure placed upon them by parents and coaches.  At least with video games they are not consistently criticized and/or rejected.

The more prudent strategy would be for scholastic sports to be more inclusive.  At private schools such as Cranbrook and Country Day sport participation is required.  That is not to say that every child is granted a starting position or even playing time for that matter.  That must be earned through skill refinement and focused effort at practice.  Every child that has the desire to play a sport should be given the opportunity to do so at minimum until high school.  And then schools should provide more physical recreation activities for the rest of the student body, much like intramural recreation in college.

I also understand that budget restraints are a real factor at many public schools and with the pay to play rules that may not be in the budget for many families.  That said I know many schools have booster clubs that fund the athletic programs.  Instead of spending thousands of dollars on equipment and facilities every year maybe they could invest a certain percentage of that money on the students…  Again what is the mission and who is it set up to serve?  I understand that we want our kids to have the latest and greatest equipment, trendy uniforms, and sparkling facilities but they will be just fine as long as they enjoy the experience.  The questions that need to be asked regarding the distribution of athletic dollars…are the facilities, uniforms and equipment safe and effective?  Once those questions are prudently addressed the focus should turn solely toward the students.

The greatest resource coaches/teachers/parents can provide to children is attention.  We are uniquely positioned to guide and educate them on physical fitness and the development of long-term lifestyle habits.

In my practice there is likely a sentiment that I only serve children that want to excel in sports and improve their on-field performance.  While a large majority of the children that I coach do come in for that reason I welcome children of all skills and abilities.  Because to me children need a physical outlet and it’s my goal to help them find it, bring it out and refine it for their benefit.

I look back over the past 12 years of coaching children and I don’t have any “favorites.”  Most would think I would be proudest of the kids that go on to earn All-
State honors and move on to play at the collegiate level because it makes me look good and provides a shiny testimonial.  While I am proud of those young adults, I am just as proud of the two brothers with ADD that fight and scream at each other or the boy with mild autism.  The sessions with “talented” athletes are a lot of fun and it’s easy to be at the gym on those days.  On other days it’s a grind and all I can do is focus on that moment while trying to manage kids that won’t listen, throw tantrums, or just don’t develop on “my” schedule. 

I know many parents, teachers, and small business owners and countless others trying to make a difference understand that work worth doing is rarely easy and it challenges you to the very core but specifically for those reasons it’s worth it.  It can feel like we aren’t making any progress and we second guess ourselves and ask is this really what I am made to do?

On those days inevitably I will get an email or a call from a parent that the two brothers that are constantly fighting don’t agree on much but they always are excited to come to my class or the boy with mild autism that was timid and didn’t like to go outside of his comfort zone has become an independent young man and gone off to college.

It’s not about wins and losses it’s about relationships and using them to educate and empower kids to take on the world and in my case being fit while they do so.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Can You Eat Healthy With $1...

Can You Eat Healthy for $1 a Meal?

I am a big advocate of eating organic fruits and vegetables as well as animal products like meat, eggs and cheese that are organic and pasture raised all while doing your best to source these foods as close to home from small farmers when possible.  I realize this is a lot to ask largely because this type of food is more expensive than the mass-produced and conventionally grown/raised foods.

While I will argue we pay less in the long-term because when you eat locally/organically you are likely healthier thus greatly minimizing health care costs, boosting the local economy and reducing your carbon footprint (lower shipping costs and small farming practices are more efficient and environmentally friendly) but I will stick with the immediate impact on your pocketbook.

Is it possible to eat nutritious food and do it on a tight budget?

The real inspiration behind this article is a documentary film called Food Stamped.

In the documentary filmmakers attempt to eat a healthy diet on a food-stamp budget, which amounts to $1 per person, per meal. With a great deal of planning and preparation, the filmmakers were able to succeed on the food stamp budget for one week, but in the end they were incapable of getting enough calories and would have likely lost weight and become malnourished had the diet continued (which neither of them needed to do).

The film makes it easy to see why many Americans with tight budgets and limited access to fresh produce opt for the cheapest, most filling options for food, like white bread, fast-food hamburgers and noodles, but also makes it clear the devastating toll this type of diet takes on your health.  Many of you may remember the documentary Super-Size Me in which the filmmaker undertook a similar challenge by choosing to eat exclusively fast food and the implications this had on his health (not good!).

While some Americans may opt for fast-food or junk food because it’s actually the only way they can afford a meal, many others – the majority – purchase it by choice, as junk food is convenient, for the most part affordable and also created to appeal to your taste buds.  I think we all know that quick service food is not the best option regardless of the cost.  But less well known is if people are willing to spend 7 dollars a pound for pasture raised chicken versus 3-4 dollars a pound for the conventional alternative?

At one time I was young struggling reporter but I understood the importance of eating nutritious food so I made it a priority.  I didn’t go to movies, eat out or stop at Starbucks; most of my discretionary income was devoted to purchasing nutritious food.  I skimped in other areas but not on the quality of my food.  This is probably the most important advice I can give you if money is tight but you still want to eat healthy.  If your prioritize it you can make it happen.
That said I am going to dig a little deeper and provide a few practical tips that will allow you to stretch your food dollars a little father.

1.     Identify a Person to Prepare Meals. Someone has to invest some time in the kitchen. It will be necessary for you, your spouse, or perhaps someone in your family (kids?) to prepare the meals.

2.     Become resourceful: This is an area where your parents or grandparents can be a wealth of information, as how to use up every morsel of food and stretch out a good meal was common knowledge to generations past. Seek to get back to the basics of cooking – using the bones from a roast chicken to make stock for a pot of soup, extending a Sunday roast to use for weekday dinners, learning how to make hearty stews from inexpensive cuts of meat, using up leftovers and so on.

3.     Plan your meals: If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. This is essential, as you will need to be prepared for mealtimes in advance to be successful. Ideally this will involve scouting out your local farmer's markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales.  You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, make sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you're short on time in the evenings. It is no mystery that you will be eating lunch around noon every day so rather than rely on fast food at work, before you go to bed make a plan as to what you are going to take to work the next day. This is simple strategy that will let you eat healthier, especially if you take healthy food from home in to work.

4.     Avoid food waste: According to a study published in the journal PloS One, [1] Americans waste an estimated 1,400 calories of food per person, each and every day. The two steps above will help you to mitigate food waste in your home.

5.     Buy organic animal foods. The most important foods to buy organic are animal, not vegetable, products (meat, eggs, butter, etc.), because animal foods tend to concentrate pesticides in higher amounts. If you cannot afford to buy all of your food organic, opt for organic animal foods first.

6.     Keep costs down on grass-fed beef. Pasture-finished beef is far healthier than grain-fed beef. To keep costs down, look for inexpensive roasts or ground meat. You may also save money by buying an entire side of beef (or splitting one with two or three other families), if you have enough freezer space to store it.

7.     Buy in bulk when non-perishable items go on sale. If you are fortunate to live near a buyer's club or a co-op, you may also be able to take advantage of buying by the pound from bins, saving both you and the supplier the cost of expensive packaging.

8.     Make going to the farmer's market a priority. You may be surprised to find out that by going directly to the source you can get amazingly healthy, locally grown, organic food for less than you can find at your supermarket. This gives you the best of both worlds: food that is grown near to you, cutting down on its carbon footprint and giving you optimal freshness, as well as grown without chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and other potential toxins.

Above I noted that buying organic is more important for animal products than produce.  But there are certain fruits and vegetables that I highly recommend you buy organically.  On the flip side there are certain conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that are considered clean to eat.  You can access these lists at the below link:

Another factor in stretching your food dollars is learning the fine art of extending the life of your fresh produce. Many fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas, a colorless, odorless gas, as they begin to ripen. Some foods aren't affected much by ethylene gas, while others are extremely sensitive to it.

When these sensitive fruits and vegetables come in contact with ethylene gas, they began to ripen at a much faster rate than normal. This leads to premature rotting and a shorter shelf life. This is why you should never store salad staples like mushrooms and peppers with lettuce. The ethylene from the mushrooms and peppers will rot the lettuce faster.

But with some strategic storage, you can extend the shelf life of your fresh fruits and vegetables. The ethylene-producing foods below should never be stored in the same basket, drawer, or shelf as the ethylene-sensitive foods listed. Store foods on the top list separate from foods on the bottom list to help your fresh food last longer.

Ethylene-Producing Produce
      citrus fruit
      green onions
      passion fruit
Ethylene-Sensitive Produce
      brussel sprouts
      green beans
      sweet potatoes

Food for Thought

While doing research for this article I ran across a program that Wal-Mart is featuring in the state of Maryland.  Wal-Mart associates, will help shoppers learn to compare unit prices, purchase fruits and vegetables on a budget, read food labels, and pick out whole grains. After the tour, participants will apply the skills they’ve learned to buy ingredients to make a healthy meal for a family of four, for under $10.  I thought this was a pretty interesting idea and could serve as a fun challenge to try in your home.  Who can make the best tasting and most nutritious meal for under $10?

Scary Thought

A recent report from financial services firm Rabobank estimated that consumer spending on food away from home will overtake spending on food at home by 2018, with quick serves being one of the primary beneficiaries. [2]

Extra Credit
14 ways to save money on groceries:


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Watch Out For the Dirty Dozen(food)...

The economy may be sluggish but your food bill certainly hasn’t hit the skids.  Organic foods may be the better choice but they also cost a bit more and when money is tight you have to cut somewhere.  With that in mind the Environmental Working Group's annual list of the dirty dozen foods is very useful.  The dirty dozen are the foods you should absolutely buy organic.  I followed up with a list of the clean fourteen that will allow you to save money on foods that aren’t as susceptible to pesticides.

Here's a closer look at the Dirty Dozen:

1. Celery
Celery has no protective skin, which makes it almost impossible to wash off the chemicals (64 of them!) that are used on crops. Buy organic celery, or choose alternatives like broccoli, radishes, and onions.

2. Peaches
Multiple pesticides (as many as 62 of them) are regularly applied to these delicately skinned fruits in conventional orchards. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include watermelon, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit.

3. Strawberries
If you buy strawberries, especially out of season, they're most likely imported from countries that have less-stringent regulations for pesticide use. 59 pesticides have been detected in residue on strawberries. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include kiwi and pineapples.

4. Apples
Like peaches, apples are typically grown with poisons to kill a variety of pests, from fungi to insects. Tests have found 42 different pesticides as residue on apples. Scrubbing and peeling doesn't eliminate chemical residue completely, so it's best to buy organic when it comes to apples. Peeling a fruit or vegetable also strips away many of their beneficial nutrients. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include watermelon, bananas, and tangerines.

5. Blueberries
New on the Dirty Dozen list in 2010, blueberries are treated with as many as 52 pesticides, making them one of the dirtiest berries on the market.

6. Nectarines
With 33 different types of pesticides found on nectarines, they rank up there with apples and peaches among the dirtiest tree fruit. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include, watermelon, papaya, and mango.

7. Bell peppers
Peppers have thin skins that don't offer much of a barrier to pesticides. They're often heavily sprayed with insecticides. (Tests have found 49 different pesticides on sweet bell peppers.) Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include green peas, broccoli, and cabbage.

8. Spinach
New on the list for 2010, spinach can be laced with as many as 48 different pesticides, making it one of the most contaminated green leafy vegetables.

9. Kale
Traditionally, kale is known as a hardier vegetable that rarely suffers from pests and disease, but it was found to have high amounts of pesticide residue when tested this year. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include cabbage, asparagus, and broccoli.

10. Cherries
Even locally grown cherries are not necessarily safe. In fact, in one survey in recent years, cherries grown in the U.S. were found to have three times more pesticide residue then imported cherries. Government testing has found 42 different pesticides on cherries. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include raspberries and cranberries.

11. Potatoes
America's popular spud reappears on the 2010 Dirty Dozen list, after a year hiatus. America's favorite vegetable can be laced with as many as 37 different pesticides. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include eggplant, cabbage, and earthy mushrooms.

12. Grapes
Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Only imported grapes make the 2010 Dirty Dozen list. Vineyards can be sprayed with different pesticides during different growth periods of the grape, and no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination because of the grape's thin skin. Remember, wine is made from grapes, which testing shows can harbor as many as 34 different pesticides. Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include kiwi and raspberries.

The Clean Fourteen:

1    Onions don't see as many pest threats, which means less pesticide spraying.

2    Avocados have thick skins that protect the fruit from pesticide build-up.

      Sweet corn may take a lot of fertilizer to grow, but you're unlikely to end up with any pesticides on the kernels.

     You won't be eating the tough pineapple skin, which protects the fruit from pesticide residue. As with all your produce, you should rinse the pineapple before cutting.

        Sweet mango flesh is protected by its thick skin from pesticides. Still, you'll want to rinse under water before cutting open.

      Asparagus face fewer threats from pests such as insects or disease; so fewer pesticides need to be used.

      Sweet peas are among the least likely vegetables to have pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group's latest survey of government data.

        Kiwi peel provides a barrier from pesticides. Give them a rinse before cutting.

           Cabbage doesn't hold on to so many pesticides because a ton of spraying isn't required to grow it.      What it does hold onto is beta-carotene: It's a super food!

            Maybe it's the thick skin, but eggplants are among the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides according to the Environmental Working Group.

1   With that rind, watermelon has a natural defense against the onslaught of any chemical.

           Conventional broccoli doesn't retain so many pesticides because the crop faces fewer pest threats, which means less spraying.

      Tomatoes were on the 2008 Dirty Dozen list of foods with the most pesticide residue, but the latest update finds them cleaner than most. Why? The Environmental Working Group isn't sure.  If tomatoes are out of season opting for organic may be a prudent choice.

      Not only are sweet potatoes unlikely to be contaminated with pesticides, they're also a super food, packed with Vitamin A and beta-carotene.

I used to just rinse my fruits and vegetables with water and have never suffered any type of food-borne illness.  However, my wife soaks all of our produce in the sink with about two teaspoons of food-grade hydrogen peroxide.  Soak for 10-15 minutes and then rinse with water and it will destroy harmful bacteria.  You can purchase food-grade hydrogen peroxide in most health food stores but they don’t have it at Whole Foods.