Belly Fat is a stronger indicator of early death.

Belly fat image

written by john c ashworth, ma

A new 14-year study using NHANES data has shown that while overall body fat is important to consider, belly fat may be the real killer.  In this review of the data collected as part of the on-going NHANES investigation, researchers discovered that men were twice as likely to die over the next 5-10 years when their belly fat reached dangerous levels (A waist circumference greater than 40 inches.  In women, risk increases at a waist circumference greater than 35 inches).

Dangerous levels of belly fat are also bench marked when your waist to hip ratio becomes greater than one.  In other words, when your belly circumference reaches a level greater than the circumference of your hips, your risk for diabetes, heart disease and an early death skyrocket.

Women in the study with too much belly fat also demonstrated increased risk, but not as dramatically.  Their risk increased by 32% compared to the 50% increase in risk documented for the men.

Here is a look at the data:

At age 50, a man with a normal body weight and normal waist to hip ratio had a 5.7% chance of dying within the next 10 years, while that risk rose to 10.3% chance for men with normal body weights but too much belly fat.

For women, the results were less significant. A woman of normal body weight, but high waist to hip ratio had a 33% increased risk compared to a woman who were overweight but had no central obesity.

A woman aged 50 of normal weight and normal levels of belly fat had a 3.3% chance of dying within 10 years, rising to 4.8% for women of the same weight, but high levels of body fat.

To reinforce the risk discovered in this investigation, it is also interesting to point out that men with normal body weight and a high level of belly fat were more likely to have died than any other combination, including men who were obese and had a high level of belly fat.  This means that men who had less body fat overall were still at a higher risk if they had a higher level of belly fat.

Belly fat, as pointed out by one of the researchers, is “Active Fat.” It is more likely to make its way in to your liver and cause inflammation. This in turn puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes, and heart disease and ultimately increases your risk of dying sooner than someone who is not carrying high levels of belly fat.

[fitness friday] Why a Woman’s Risk for Heart Disease is Greater than She Thinks. And Revealing facts about how a heart attack often feels Very Different for a Woman than a Man. Here’s what you need to know…

written by john c ashworth, ma

Why a woman’s risk for heart disease is greater than she thinks.

Most of us are familiar with the classic signs of a heart attack – chest pain or pressure, cold sweats, light-headedness, or radiating pain down your left arm.  The problem for women is that the signs and symptoms often present very differently.  Here is what you need to know…

The first point I want to share is that for about five years I spent time in my career working as a clinical exercise physiologist in preventive cardiology.  During that time, I worked closely with women recovering from a heart attack, heart catheterization, or bypass surgery.  The surprising fact is that many of these women admitted that their symptoms for heart disease had presented very differently than the typical signs listed above.  In fact, many of them told stories of long periods of time prior to their heart events or procedures where they experienced extremely high levels of fatigue.  Following their procedures, they could not believe how much better they felt, nor the idea that the fatigue they had been experiencing was related to their heart disease.

Leigh and I did a segment on this many years ago, and following a recent article I read in The Nutrition Action Letter on this subject, I thought it time to re-visit this important topic for women.  A stroke may also show up differently for woman so we will cover that too.

Here’s what women need to know about how their risk or signs of heart attack, stroke, arthritis, and osteoporosis may differ from men’s.

It is probably important to start with the fact that what causes heart attack and stroke in women is the same for both men and women.  Smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, inactivity, taking the elevator, excess weight, diabetes, and family history are all risk factors that top the list.  When it comes to the symptoms, however, the experience can become quite different.

Women, for example, are more likely to experience their chest pain as sharp and burning, and they more frequently report nausea, fatigue (as I described above), difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, dizziness, or jaw, neck, and upper body and back pain.  Another interesting layer, is that a woman’s symptoms are more likely to be triggered by stress, rather than exertion.

This is a real problem, for both women and men.  Most women are likely to believe that they are more likely to die of breast cancer than heart disease.  Forty thousand  American women die of breast cancer each year.  However, by age 55, heart disease deaths surpass breast cancer deaths, and after the age of 75, heart disease kills eight times more woman than breast cancer.

Adding yet another layer to the problem, is that many of our current diagnostic tests for heart disease are more accurate for men than for women.  Heart disease, it turns out, can develop differently in women than in men.  Men tend to have blockages in their larger more prominent coronary arteries, while women tend to present with disease in the smaller more peripheral arteries that are both harder to stent during catheterization, and harder to find during and angiogram.  To put this in perspective, the arteries in which women tend to develop heart disease are no wider than a human hair.  The problem for women is not that the plaque is “blocking” an artery, but instead that the inner walls of a woman’s arteries become damaged and can cause spasms, which in turn can cutoff the blood flow.  This is why stress is a more common cause of heart attack for women.  Stress can increase the likelihood of coronary artery spasms.

Bottom Line: Know the Symptoms

The following symptoms can signal a heart attack in both women and men.  But remember, women are more likely than men to report upper body discomfort, including sharp pains, difficulty breathing, fatigue, or nausea.

Symptoms of a heart attack – don’t die being stubborn.  If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, call 911 and/or discuss them with your physician.

  1. Chest Pain or Discomfort
  2. Unusual upper body discomfort
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Breaking out in a cold sweat
  5. Unusual or unexplained fatigue (tiredness)
  6. Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  7. Nausea (feeling stick to your stomach)








*Note: this post was adapted and written with facts derived from the following article in the September 2015 Issue of The Nutrition Action Letter.  Click here to subscribe to this fantastic publication.

[fitness friday] Why YOUR search for the “Perfect Workout” is futile

John & Leigh on the set at NBC15 Madison. February 2015.
John & Leigh on the set at NBC15 Madison. February 2015.

The Perfect Workout Does Not Exist!

written by john c ashworth, ma
20-Year Fitness Coach and Life-long Bohemian Athlete

Trust me.  The Perfect Workout for you does not exist!  This elusive and seductive search we all have a tendency to engage in is a complete waste of time.  Worse, because there is no perfect workout system, your search can often lead you astray and end up causing more harm than good.

Here’s just one example…

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Methods are Many, and principles are few.”  In this author’s not so humble opinion, there has NEVER been a better example of this axiom than the current state of the fitness industry, where every time you open a magazine, step in to a gym, or even drive down your local avenue, you will find “evidence” of the this reality.

If you are someone who feels you’ve been struggling to find the perfect workout program, you will do well to heed this advice and learn and live by the principles I will outline tonight on NBC 15 with Leigh Mills for our Fitness Friday segment.  Of course, I will also outline them below now, but we appreciate you tuning in later too 🙂

Before I do this, however, allow me to be very clear…There is NO Such Thing as  a Perfect Fitness Program!  The irony is that your search for this elusive perfect program is likely the thing that is holding you back.  Instead of the magical fitness program that will somehow allow you to break through all of the barriers and obstacles thatstand between you and health and fitness success, let’s now discuss four simple principles that will finally allow you to make consistent and effective progress.

Actually, before I lay out the principles, I want to make a couple more important points.  First, here is a good example of what I’m talking about.   As reported in The July/August Issue of Men’s Fitness, the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport compared two different programs and their effects on strength in Rugby players.  One was an old-fashioned training model, and the second was a modern day rendition of the same concept.  I don’t want to get in to the specifics of the training programs.  I’ll do that in a different post.  For now, just know that one was old school, and one was new school.

The results?

Ultimately, both groups of rugby players made gains, and there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups of athletes.  In addition to this study, there are others, but I will spare you the details, because the results are the same.  Old school often equals new school when it comes to your fitness program.

Here are the Four Core Principles for Finding a Strength and Conditioning Program that works for you

  1. Balance.  For every pushing exercise, you should have a pull.  And for every upper body exercise, you should have a lower body move.  This prevents muscular imbalances that can cause injuries over time.  Also, you need time for recovery.  Do not perform more than 3 high intensity workouts in a week.  You’ll burn out and your effectiveness will be diminished in your next workout if you have not given your body enough time to recover.  Good nutrition is also essential.  Lastly, some say that when it comes to strength training, if you’re over 35, you don’t EVER have to lift heavy.  Personally, I disagree with this one and would say that you should still life havey if you’re over 35, but that you need to be careful to do it the right way and in the right amounts, and only after you have achieved advanced levels of fitness and balance of strength in your body.
  2. Challenge.  Base your program around hard exercises like squats, lunges, pull-ups and push-ups.  If you can’t yet do a push-up or pull-up that’s OK.  The main thing here is that your workouts need to be challenging, and that they need to preogress when you become stronger and more fit.  Those strolls on the treadmill are nice, but they are probably not doing a whole lot for your overall fitness and weight loss results.
  3. Specificity. Your training adaptations are specific to the work you are performing.  As such, if you have specific events you are training for, or parts of your body that you would like to focus on for whatever reason, make sure you hire an expert to help you create programs that meet your specific needs.  Put most simply…If you’re training for a marathon, you need to do a lot of running and a little bit of strength and cross training.  On the other hand, if you want to prevent from tearing your hamstring muscle in half while playing indoor soccer, than some sprint and specific hamstring training is in order.  You get the idea…
  4. Variety.  This is probably the one principle where most people get stuck.  Not enough variety.  Due to a lack of expertise or interest or drive, you end up performing the same or similar workout over and over again.  You MUST vary your training, and very often hiring a professional trainer is the best way to do this.  You don’t have to work with him or her constantly, just often enough to update your fitness program effectively.

OK.  …go get em’


PS  Interested in hiring me to help you adopt the four principles?  I’m available on a very limited bases as a virtual coach.  Send email to: fitnessnomad(at) with the phrase “Principle are Few” in the subject line and I’ll get back to you within 48 business hours.



[fitness friday] Fitness Myths Abound Despite Wealth of Information


written by john c ashworth, ma

If I asked you how many calories you needed to burn to kill a pound of fat or what is the best time of day to exercise, or whether or not strength training really is bad for women because it causes them to bulk up, what would you say?

It turns out that according to a recent poll conducted by Nautilus, people are still flummoxed when it comes to their health and fitness knowledge. It seems that despite the wealth of information produced daily on the topic of your fitness program, most people remained confused, misinformed, and full of confusion as a result.

As a fitness coach, I can tell you that this is very true. Most folks I talk to have lots of questions about the things they hear or read in the media. Lots of questions and very few answers. The info graphic below is a fun representation of the data collected in the pole by Nautilus. You can follow the link below that graphic if you want to try the quiz yourself.

For Fitness Friday tonight with John Stofflet, I thought it would be fun to cover the basic findings of this poll, and then spend time debunking three of the most prevalent myths I discuss with clients and fitness enthusiasts on a regular basis.

First, here are a few of the most disturbing findings in the poll:

  • Three quarters of the respondents did not know how many calories equated to a pound of fat.
  • Only 13% were aware that strength training would NOT “bulk a woman up.”
  • Only 39% realized that an egg was a healthy source of protein.
  • The overall average score on the quiz was only 42%.

Now, I realize that a poll like this is somewhat informal.  Capturing the quick and dirty answers that people are likely to fire off while reading an article on their phone while waiting their turn in the Starbucks line.  However, it does raise an important reality which is that when it comes to health and fitness, and designing your individualized health and fitness program at least a basic understanding of common fitness and nutrition principles is paramount.  Of course, we can’t do all that here today, so let’s just cover three important myths that have all surfaced in my work over the last couple months.

Myth 1: If you’re a woman, you need to avoid strength training so you don’t “bulk-up”  Totally untrue, of course. I’ll explain tonight on the air. The jist?  To build even a couple pounds of muscle in one year, a women would have to work very hard. Most women don’t work that hard on their strength training programs.  Even then, when you compare the sizes of a pound of muscle versus a pound of fat you will see that fat is what bulks you up, not muscle.

One pound of muscle is equivalent in size to a baseball. One pound of fat is about 5 times that size.

Myth 2: That you can turn fat into muscle.  This is a natural extension of myth number one.  The truth, of course being that you lose fat and gain muscle and that you have to train and eat the right way in order for this to happen.  And when you do it right, the exact opposite of “bulking up” is the result.

Myth 3: “I do Yoga.  That’s all I need for my exercise program.”  True, Yoga is a terrific way to ground yourself, relieve stress, improve your flexibility and your strength.  However, according to a study performed by the American Council on exercise, even a “power (high intensity)” yoga session burns less than half of what you would burn while performing strength training or taking a spinning or aerobics class.  The truth is that you need Yoga (or stretching) along with strength training and cardiovascular exercise. (Once again, I’ll dig up the actual study and link to it if I can find it)

Why do these fitness myths abound?

Too much information.  Health and fitness is one of the hottest topics out there, and as such, everyone is covering it.  The problem becomes sifting through all this information, separating fact from fiction and hype, and finding a fitness program that fits your own individual needs, desires, and physical limitations.


Nautilus & Bowflex Fitness Quiz: Are You Flunking Fitness Class? Infographic

Infographic by Nautilus, Bowflex Fitness Quiz: Are You Flunking Fitness Class? Infographic

[fitness friday] 6 Ways to Burn more calories without Running

written and produced by john c ashworth, ma


Reference Point – you can calculate the metabolic equivalent or MET value of any activity by referring to published charts like this one.  Once you have that value, you can use the following equation to estimate calories burned per minute:

MET value x 3.5 x YOUR weight in kilograms/200 = kcals per minute or calories burned per minute. (Note: to get your body weight in kilograms, just divide your body weight in pounds by kilograms.)

Someone my size will burn about 10-12 calories per minute while jogging.

All of the following  calorie per minute values assume someone about my size – 5’11” and 200 pounds.

  1. Kettlebell Swings – a fantastic movement for your lower body .  In a study at the University of Wisconsin, participants burned 20.2 calories per minute.
  2. Burpees –  you can burn about 1.5 calories per burpee, so if you move fast enough – 10+ per hour will create a burn rate higher than running.
  3. Airdyne Cycling – depending on the pace, an exercise bike like the Airdyne (Pictured above) can allow you to burn more calories than running because the resistance increases as you work hardher, and you are using both your arms and your legs.  Remember though, with this one, that you will have to perform high-intensity intervals to burn more calories than running, but it can be done.
  4. Jump Rope – 13 calories per minute.  Great for your bone health too!
  5. Mini Fitness Nomad Burn circuits like this one.  I should have tracked my calorie burn while performing this circuit yesterday, but I did not.  Research on similar circuits shows a burn rate of about 13 calories per minute.
  6. Squat Jumps – in an Auburn University study, participants who performed as many squat jumps as possible for 20 seconds, rested for 10 seconds and then repeated the sequence for 4 minutes burned about 13 calories per minute.

Remember, regardless of whether or not you create a burn rate higher than running, the important point is that you can find other means of high intensity exercise that don’t pound your back and body as much as running does.  Personally, as a 47 year old man and a long history of beating myself up on the soccer field when younger, I am continually looking for ways to push myself without hurting my body.  In addition to the list above, I do publish regular exercises and workouts that fit this them and you can subscribe to them here.

[fitness friday] 5 Tips for Protecting YOUR Back while you move

written by john c ashworth, ma

produced by Leigh Mills and NBC 15 Madison

I thought this would make a good topic for this week’s Fitness Friday segment with Leigh Mills, because I am moving this week, and I’m no young man anymore.  Not old, of course, just not the guy you see in this photo I uncovered during my packing efforts…the guy sprinting up and down the soccer field and “running like the bloody wind” as one English coach used to put it.

John Ashworth in the corn.

That’s right. That’s me as a twenty year old man on the farm where my wife Laura grew up. Arriving early in the fall for training camp that year. Back then, I could do almost anything without any repercussions on my body. Twenty six years later, my body is in a little different place 🙂

Packing, lifting, going up and down stairs, reaching in to the van, the truck, and many other tight and awkward spaces places a great deal of strain on your spine and your body in general. Tonight on NBC 15 with Leigh Mills I would like to demonstrate for you five tips for protecting your back during your move this summer. And even if you’re not moving, these five tips will help you protect your back during all of your summer projects 🙂

First, get your sleep. Rest and sleep are the bedrock of your recovery and when you are performing all of this extra work, your body gets broken down in many ways.  The problem is that when your muscles are tired, they can’t hold you up as well as normal.  This exposes your back as it begins to absorb force that your muscles would otherwise balance more effectively.

Second, drink plenty of water.  Your muscles are full of water and when you’re dehydrated they do not function properly which can add to the problems identified in the point I just made about rest and recovery.  In addition, when you’re moving, you’re working hard and you will become more dehydrated more quickly.  You must think of yourself as an athlete during competition.  Yes, even when you’re just moving!

OK, now to the physical stuff that will help you…

Lift with your legs and lower body.  You have heard this over and over, but here is your reality.  You are busy.  You are tired, and as a result you tend to place your body in disadvantageous positions just to get the job done.  You MUST pay attention to good technique at ALL times, because EVERY little instance where you don’t, your back is absorbing force that can add up to the point where you end up with pain, muscle spasms, and the inability to finish the job you started.  And when it comes to moving, we all know how devastating that can be.  Tonight on NBC with Leigh Mills, I will demonstrate a few different lifting techniques that have helped me a great deal.  I will also show you one squat move in the gym that will help to make you stronger for your moving event, if you have time to prepare and train.

Test the Load.  This one is so important.  Because one of the worst situations occurs when you go to lift something with the assumption of how heavy it might be, and then it turns out to be much heavier.  This leaves you and your body, along with your back and legs unprepared for the load, which sets you up for injury.

Get some Help.  When the load is too heavy, and even when it’s not, get yourself some help.  The more you can share the work, the less strain there will be on you and your back.  If you’re like me, when you move, you get in to the mode of just wanting to get things done.  This leads you to doing more of the work yourself without asking for help, and more work means more stress on your back.  Share the load.  figuratively and literally.

Have fun!  And remember…moving is tough emotionally too.  I know it has been for me.  Leaving my comfortable little neighborhood and a house that has taken such good care of me and my family for so long is not easy.  Those emotions can wear you down too.  Honor them.  Believe in your decision to move forward, and nurture yourself and your family with love and support along the way.




[fitness friday] Your Grip Strength Predicts Mortality Heart Attacks. In this Study, better than Your Blood Pressure…

written by john c Ashworth, ma

Watch this video to learn how grip strength predicts mortality

Read this post to discover how grip strength predicts mortality.

A few years ago I published my first book. In that book I spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of strength training as a powerful strategy for losing weight. I have long been a big promoter of exercise that builds real strength, and of strength training in general because it almost always seems to be missing in a meaningful way in your exercise program. New research reveals that Grip strength predicts heart attacks, which adds to the strength of my recommendation. …Yes, I couldn’t resist the pun 🙂

In this study, researchers measures the grip strength of people aged 35 to 70 from high to low income countries. There were almost 140,000 subjects and over the four year time period of the investigation, 3,379 people died. The astounding finding was that after controlling for other variables, researchers found that for every 11 pound decrease in grip strength, there was a 17% increased risk for cardiovascular death, a 7% increased risk for heart attack, and a 9% increased risk of stroke.

Even more interesting was the fact that grip strength in this investigation was a stronger predictor of all cause mortality and cardiovascular death than using a more traditional risk factor like blood pressure. At the same time, there was no association of grip strength with diabetes, pneumonia, or falls and fractures.

Researchers said it was still not clear from this investigation whether grip strength is just a marker of good health or if increasing it would lower cardiovascular disease risk. However, this is essentially what they have discovered in this study. That the weaker your grip, the higher your risk for heart problems and death. But before you go out with the sole purpose of simply increasing your grip strength, remember that increased grip strength is really a result of increased levels of overall strength. As the physicians in this study concluded, it appears likely that they should be advising patients not just to exercise regularly, but to add some resistance training as part of that training.


The following is a strength routine you can use that includes some of my most recent exercise of the week additions on YouTube:

1. Cross body curl and press

2. Three moves to help drive your heart rate up and build strength

3. Cable wood chip to one side

4. Full lunge with reach toward the floor

Grip strength predicts heart attacks for the link to the New York Times article I referenced for this post.