Archives for December 2008

Run for Your Life!

above track

For real. A 20-year study concludes that running can extend your life, so much that those in the study running cut the risk of premature death by half (see #2)! Running also boosts levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), which is key to keeping nerve cells alive, and stimulating the growth of new nerve growth.  So when you run, you are truly running for your life, i.e. running on your life’s behalf ;).

I got out and ran for an hour the other day. We had an unseasonably warm day (around 65 F) so Jonathan and I ran at the local state park. I am already starting to get sick of being on the eliptical machine, and am yearning to run outdoors. I go through this every winter, so it is nothing new. The more I exercise outside, the less I like exercising indoors. However, I still will exercise indoors, because I know I need to do it, but once I get a warm day…watch out.

Image from a summer running day at the local school track

My Review of Fitday PC 2.0

I am a Fitday junkie and have been for awhile. There are a few things I do on a regular basis and Fitday is one of them. Every evening, I’ll enter my food and exercise numbers into the program on my computer. So, having gotten so much use out of the original Fitday PC, I was intrigued by the coming of version 2.0. I downloaded it pretty much sight unseen and here are my thoughts.

First, it’s an amazing piece of software. Fitday does so much in a user friendly way. It tracks calories, major nutrients, exercise, mood, body measurements, and other things. It has a huge database, allows for custom foods and created recipes, and runs numerous reports that show progress or lack thereof. It allows you to set a weight goal and tells you how much you need to consume to lose. It also figures out your metabolism. Now that I’m more on maintenance mode, I personally monitor fiber, protein, calories, vitamins/minerals and a comparison between calories burned and calories consumed. I can say that I would not have lost the 30 pounds I did and kept it off for over a year without Fitday PC. Thus, I’m pretty pleased with it.

However, what I’ve described could easily be referencing Fitday 1.0. What has changed from version to version? It appears the color scheme has changed slightly, the food database has been expanded and updated, and you can sync the software with your online premium account (which costs). So, is the software worth the current 29.99 price? For a first time  buyer, I would say absolutely. Fitday PC is user friendly, powerful, and if used, effective. What about those who already have Fitday 1.0? I would say possibly. I don’t sync with the web and don’t care about color schemes. Is the food database worth 30 dollars? So far, it’s hard to tell. It’s much more accurate than Fitday 1.o at least. For example, Fitday 1.0 had an extra large bagel at 270 calories. Now, anyone whose been to Panera, Cosi, or another bagel shop could tell you that number is way off (too low). Fitday 2.0 has a large bagel at 337 calories, which is much more realistic. The new food database also has many more brand name items such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Snickers Marathon bars, etc.

My final word on Fitday PC 2.0 is this: if you don’t have 1.0, buy it. It’s great. If you have 1.0, ask yourself if $30.00 is worth the price for the sync feature (itself costs over $5.00 a month) and an updated database because everything else is pretty much the same.

David gives his thoughts on Fitday PC 2.0 (and some screen shots) here

Cross Country Skiing

I’m definitely a summer kind of guy…the outdoor running, the golf course, the swimming pool, and so on. Even the YMCA is great in the summer because no one is there! Spring is great too. Oh, and fall is beautiful. But, don’t ask me about winter. Winter is the time when it gets cold and snowy with bad roads and the days are short. So, in other words, it leads to anxiety and cabin fever. Oh, and the gym is usually jam packed. Winter is not the best of time for working out or having life in your years. So, I wanted to find something that would make winter a little more enjoyable and asked for cross country skis for Christmas. Basically, I see this as having value for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a way to actually enjoy winter. Rather than dreading snow, I can look at it as a chance to get in some skiing. And, since I live in the “snow belt” and have several parks nearby that offer XC skiing, I feel like the ski purchase should be worthwhile. I doubt I’ll ever get excited about snow (driving and all), but this will help. Second, it’s another little bit of variety in my excercise routine. It never hurts to find diverse ways of burning calories to avoid boredom. With this and karate, my normal routine has become much more exciting. I’ll give more updates as I actually practice my skiing.

Fitday 2.0 is Here

I love Fitday, a fact that I explain in my post, The Basic Math of Losing Weight. There is a new version of Fitday out, Fitday 2.0, and my brother and I downloaded it today as a kind of gift to ourselves this Christmas. Fitday’s website has no information about this new release of Fitday, although customer service told me they will be rolling it out officially soon.

Based on my initial impression of Fitday 2.0, there are very few differences between versions 1.0 and 2.0. The design is a little more sleek, but otherwise it is very similar to the design of 1.0. The food database has been updated with new foods, including more fast food items, but Fitday 2.0 still tracks the same number of nutrients that 1.0 tracked. It would have been nice if the new version would have included some new nutrients, like Lutein or Omega-3 fats. Also (if the creators of Fitday are listening), it would be nice to be able to customize a food to include any nutrient and value, e.g. the program could have the flexibility to allow me to input “Vitamin Z,” and assign an adequate intake, and and input values to any food for this made-up vitamin in grams, milligrams, micrograms, or International Units. This would make it truly customizable.

The only major new feature of Fitday 2.0 is the ability to sync the software with an online premium Fitday account (which costs $5.95 per month). This means you can update your Fitday at work, away from home, etc, and synchronize it with your software…a nice feature, but not really worth the price for my situation.

Fitday is great software. I use it regularly. It has many helpful features and reports, which have definitely helped me lose weight. I recommend it to anybody who needs to track their food intake and activity. I wish Fitday 2.0 offered more improvements over version 1.0, but nonetheless, I am very happy with Fitday 2.0 as a continuation of an already great product. Below are some screenshots of Fitday 2.0 (some of the first available online actually).

Below is the overview screen, which shows that over the last few days, I have allowed myself to eat a little more during the first few days of the holidays. I’ll be back on track starting tomorrow though.

fitday 2.0 screenshot 1

Below is the Fitday activity log, which shows that I did lift and play some racquetball on Christmas Eve, which helped blunt some of the impact of Christmas-related eating.

fitday 2.0 screenshot 2

Below is my food log, which shows that on December 24th, I didn’t eat too badly, although I notice the word “cookie” shows up a lot (what I ate on Christmas is my business!)

fitday 2.0 screenshot 3

Merry Christmas 2008

I absolutely love Christmas. Ever since I was young, I have enjoyed everything about Christmas: late-night Church services, Christmas lights, Christmas presents, family gatherings, Christmas carols, Christmas cards, etc. This year is no different. Tonight we went to Christmas Eve Mass (not midnight as usual…but my brother has a baby now) and a lessons-and-carols service at my dad’s church. Tomorrow, on Christmas Day, we will get up early, have some nice peppermint coffee, and have a big lunch with the family. After that we will open presents, and maybe if the weather is nice, Jonathan and I will go out and toss some football. Tomorrow night, we will travel the area, looking for nice Christmas light displays. We usually hit a few big displays. One is so big you can drive through it, and a little bit down the road is a business building that has no outside lights, but in two rooms on the second floor are old fashioned Santa and Frosty light-up figurines. We call it the “eerie Santa” display.

We are eating well, but trying to keep our calories and activities in check so as not to gain any weight during the holiday break.

I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas!

eerie santa

Image of my parents’ Christmas tree above. Bottom image is a photo of the “eerie santa” (and an eerie Frosty) building

Why I Don’t Really Notice the Economic Downturn

Financially, I may be a little better off this year than last year. I am not bragging, or gloating, because I know it could be fleeting, but I am stating the reality that living frugally and financially sound has its benefits. However, before I begin this post, let me say that the main reason I am doing okay is that I have a job. No amount of frugality would make up for a lack of a job, so obviously frugality has its limits, but I think my point remains the same.

Let me provide a few details of what I am talking about. I started getting into finance in 2002. I just got out of graduate school, and had little money, and few job prospects in the area where I grew up. I could have moved across the country, but I was tired of being away from any meaningful support network. I started subbing, and I also learned I had to save money in any way I could. One of the first things I did was conserve energy whenever possible. I turned the thermostat down in the winter, and up in the summer. I began hypermiling to save gasoline, before the term was even widely used. I refused to buy a big car or SUV when everybody else was getting into them. I shifted most of my excess money into high-interest online savings accounts, instead of relying on local bank accounts with paltry returns. I lived with my parents for a few years, saving thousands on rent, and when I did get an apartment, it was a nicely-sized cozy place, not some expensive condo I could hardly afford. I opened quite a few credit cards, but promptly paid them off, getting them mainly for the rewards (yes, I make money off of credit cards). I have always bought generic if possible, and shop at Aldi for most of my groceries these days. When we bought a house last year, we bought one that we could afford, choosing the one that was built solidly, with a newer roof and furnace, and that was in a nice neighborhood 2 blocks from my work. I buy most of my books, music, and furniture used.

Now, I may seem cheap, but I really am not. I buy things when I really want them. I give money to charity, and allow myself to do all sorts of fun things. Here is how I view it: I save money on certain things so that I can have money to do the things I really want to do. For example, I keep the house at 64 in the winter so I pay less money to the gas company, because I would rather use that money for books, family things, or my Y membership. The 40-50 dollars I save each month on energy pays for my Y membership.

Again, I am not bragging, but rather pointing out that I have done for years what many Americans are now being forced to do: be financially responsible. This is why I personally hardly notice the bad economy, because I am not going from the “high life” to something closer to reality. I have been responsible for years. In fact, I am doing a little better this year because energy prices are significantly lower. Maybe the real issue is that I never truly felt the benefits of the recent boom. For example, I didn’t borrow against an over-valued home. The only real thing I notice is that my mutual fund is about where it was when I opened it. Not cool, but it hasn’t really affected me.

This crisis was caused in part by Wall Street, and in part by poor government policies, but folks, we residents of Main Street had a major role in this too. Quite frankly, I think we don’t know what matters any more. It used to be that the people in a house were what mattered, and as long as a family was together, a house was truly a home. Now, it is the house itself that matters, and without a big house, life has no meaning, so people bought houses they knew they couldn’t afford, and mortgage brokers seemed more than willing to give them these shaky loans. Now that people are defaulting on these loans, some are shocked, truly shocked. Shocked? Please. Basic, sound financial principles tell us that someone making 30,000 a year cannot afford a 500,000 house. My basic sense tells me not even to look at a house that costs 1/3 of that! The same is true of credit card debt. Do the credit card companies try to squeeze us dry? Yes, and I am happy new regulations are coming. However, do the companies come to our home and make us use their cards at gun point? No. What is the best way to get back at the credit card companies? Don’t use their cards, or if you do, spend within your means so you can pay off the cards without interest. I have a great relationship with my credit card companies: I don’t pay them interest and they pay me rewards.

So basically, making sound, financial decisions for the last 6 years has allowed me to weather this current downturn, and given me the tools to deal with bad economic situations. I may not be making millions of dollars investing in bubbles during the booms, but I am better equipped to increase my wealth slowly over time.

A Review of Some Supplement Companies

While I do not believe that supplements make up for an unhealthy lifestyle, and that they should be used strategically and smartly, I do believe that they have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. Shopping for supplements can be confusing, and in some cases, prices are radically inflated from one company to the next. Below is a list of the supplement and vitamin companies I like, and order from. I am a very picky shopper, especially when buying supplements, because some companies sell ordinary ingredients at inflated prices simply because they give their products fancy names. Don’t be deceived. The companies’ prices listed below are reasonable, and they are generally reliable. I hope these reviews are helpful, and help you find cheap, high quality supplements.

Puritan’s Pride – This is by far my favorite company, with excellent prices, and high quality (as demonstrated by independent tests). Their selection is good, although sometimes they are slow to get specialty products. They have a “sale” site, Puritan Sale, with even better prices.

DNE Vitamins – I first learned about DNE in 1994, and I have ordered from them sporadically since then. They recently had a great sale on their own products (Nature’s Harbor). Their products seem to be of good quality, although I haven’t investigated if their products have been independently verified. They ship out pretty quickly, although I am still waiting on a back-ordered product. I am not a huge fan of some of their products (myriad caffeine pills, ephedrine, etc)

Healthy America – For awhile, I ordered supplements from Healthy America, but they stopped having great sales, and don’t have as many product choices as they once did. I have generally been satisfied with their products, although the quality of a few was low. For example, a B-Complex product (they no longer sell it) looked like it had soaked in water even when it was freshly opened. Their website seems to be rarely updated.

Vitamin Shoppe – I discovered Vitamin Shoppe probably about 4 years ago, and I like their prices on certain items, although they are kind of high on some things (like Omega-3). Since they have an online store, and have stores in many areas, ordering is convenient. They are also a partner with Citi Card, so I get a rebate when ordering using my Citi credit card (to get this you have to go through the Citi reward website).

Wonder Labs – I just discovered Wonder Labs a few weeks ago. I placed an order recently for some Christmas presents for my dad. I mainly discovered them because I was looking for a generic version of Wobenzym. Doctor’s Trust used to have a good generic version of Wobenzym called Movenzyme, but now that Puritan’s Pride owns Doctor’s Trust, they no longer have the product. Wonder Labs has a (kind of) equivalent product, called Proteolytic Digestive Enzymes, which is actually stronger per tablet than Wobenzym, although I don’t know if it is enteric coated like Wobenzym.

Vita Cost – I have known about this site for awhile, but just re-discovered them recently when looking for some brand name supplements for my dad. They have some great deals on brand names, but the best deals are their own brand, NSI (Nutraceutical Sciences Institute), which actually sounds pretty pricey. Their Co-Enzyme Q10 prices are great, and so are some others. They ship out the same day if you order early in the day!

Vita Glo – Of all the brand name supplement companies, I like NOW Foods the best, because they are quality supplements with reasonable prices. The best place I have found to get them is Vita Glo.

Fitday 2.0?

I can’t find much about it online, but it looks like Fitday 2.0 has been released. There seem to be no screenshots available of it, and I tried to download it online, but I couldn’t (despite the claim that once you buy Fitday, you get free updates…we’ll see about that I guess). Does anybody know anything about it? I emailed the people at Fitday to see what is going on, and I’ll let everybody know the response I get.

I also found another diet software that looks very comprehensive, Nutribase EZ. I downloaded the software for evaluation, and while it seems more complicated than Fitday 1.0, it is rather comprehensive and powerful. The price is higher than Fitday.

UPDATE:

I received a reply from Fitday, which is pasted below. Their customer service is prompt and friendly. First, a few comments. I don’t think Fitday was very clear when they said updates were free, by which they meant bug-fixes and minor updates were free, whereas major upgrades (e.g. going from version 1.0 to 2.0) would cost . Perhaps that they used “update” versus “upgrade” should have clued me in. Second, there is still nothing about 2.0 on their site, but the site does mention it is the current version, so I am guessing it is on the way. If the upgrade is nice enough, I will definitely be paying for it. I use Fitday a lot, and I am more than willing to pay for it. It is an excellent program.

Hi David,

Thanks for your question. Version 1.0.0.6 is the latest version. We’re in the
process of updating the website and rolling out Version 2. Version 2 is not yet
available for download.

Updates are free that include patches to the current version of FitDay (version
1). But this does not include the next major upgrade to FitDay (i.e. Version 2).
Version 2 will not be free.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Thanks,

FitDay Support
support@fitday.com

It’s Easy to Lose Weight…

when you get paid to do it.

A new study has found that people lose weight much easily when they are paid to do it.

Newly-published research reveals that financial incentives are remarkably effective in motivating people to lose weight. In a study involving 57 subjects, half were rewarded with a lottery prize if they achieved the weight loss goal (16 pounds), and the other half were asked to make a substantial cash deposit (several hundred dollars) which they would forfeit if they failed to lose the 16 pounds.

The results? The incentive groups lost about 4 pounds more than the non-incentive control group. About half the participants in both incentive groups met the 16-pound weight loss goal, earning $272.80 in the lottery group and reclaiming $378.49 in the deposit group.

Honestly, I am not surprised at the results. There are moments when I wish someone would pay me to lose weight. I have seriously thought “this would be much easier if someone would pay me to do this!!” This is what is called an extrinsic reward. You do it to get something tangible. Apparently losing weight for more intrinsic reasons (like health) isn’t as strong a motivator to lose weight.

The question is, if this study can be applied across the obese population, should we provide rewards for weight loss? I don’t have the figures to work, but I wonder if paying someone to lose weight would be cheaper than paying later for the effects of obesity (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc). And, who would pay? Should insurance companies provide rebates? The government? Business?

More on Sleep and Breast Cancer

A few weeks ago I posted on exposure to light at night and breast cancer, and now there is a related follow-up. A recent large scale study demonstrates the importance of sleep in preventing breast cancer. The study used those who slept 7 hours a night as a reference point, so they compared those who got more or less sleep to the breast cancer rates of the seven-hour-per-night sleepers. The study found that those who got only 6 hours a sleep per night had a 62% higher risk of developing breast cancer, whereas those who got an average of 9 hours per night had a 28% lower risk of coming down with the disease. So a fairly simple prescription to prevent breast cancer? Get a little more sleep.

Image of my family’s cat sleeping. Cats certainly have sleeping down to an art