If you’ve been having some back or neck pain while working lately, it might be time to assess things. What’s your office setup like? That’s one of the first of many questions I ask my patients.
And just like my patients, chances are there’s few practical things you can do to improve your workstation setup. So here you go, my process for creating an ergonomic workstation.
WHY IS AN ERGONOMIC WORKSTATION IMPORTANT?
You might ask the question, why are some offices are paying a lot of money to have ergonomic workstations installed for their employees? It’s simple. Ergonomic workstations set up a conducive working posture throughout the day, which makes employees healthier and happier. Poor work environments have the potential to cause poor efficiency, morale, and health for employees.
COMPUTER RELATED INJURIES
A huge concern of employers is that they’re injuring their workers.
Office-related injuries due to a combination of lengthy sitting and poor posture include:
Staring at a computer screen all day can cause blurred vision, fatigue, and headaches.
LONG TERM ISSUES
Employees may think that these injuries are temporary, but researchers say otherwise, claiming injuries over time can turn into chronic conditions. These conditions include nerve impingements, blood pressure changes, metabolic changes, and joint subluxation.
DESK SETUP: HOW TO SIT AT A DESK
Believe it or not, there is a more natural way to sit at a desk for several hours. In order to determine how you can sit safely at your workstation, you need to break down your entire body’s resting position:
The typical desk posture that every office worker is familiar with includes the shoulders and neck hunched forward.
Obviously, this occurs due to fatigue and/or due to the computer’s placement along with its accessories (i.e. keyboard, mouse, etc.).
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE
Start with making the conscious effort to maintain an upright position with your shoulders back and your neck upright (your chin should be making a 90 degree angle with your neck).
Once you have gotten that position down, you will start to notice what items in your workstation need modifying.
DESK HEIGHT & POSITIONING
Make sure that the height of your desk matches your upright posture.
Your desk should be high enough so that you can pull your chair in without knocking your knees into the furniture.
The desk should be low enough so that your keyboard can used with your elbows angled at 90 degrees or slightly higher.
You should also be able to pull your computer screen forward enough on the desk space so that you don’t have to lean in and strain to see your work.
PROPER KEYBOARD & MOUSE POSITION
The keyboard and the mouse should be placed in such a way so that your elbows are extended past 90 degrees.
Your wrists and fingers should be neutral or drop lower than neutral. Prolonged hyperextension and closure of the elbows can lead to nerve impingements, decreased circulation to the hand muscles, and repetitive use injury to the joints.
The computer screen needs to be placed close enough to you so that you are not straining your eyes and neck forward to see your work.
Furthermore, the height of the screen should allow you to keep an upright posture.
ERGONOMICS FOR LAPTOPS
Do not work with your laptop in your lap. Prop it up on your desk at a reasonable height.
Consider connecting a different keyboard to your laptop so that you can adjust the space between the keys and the computer screen.
If you’re working in bed (Not that I recommend it!) make sure you use an ergonomic bed tray.
If you have a modifiable chair, make some small changes. This includes adjusting the height so that your feet are flat on the floor. Scoot your hips all the way back into the chair so that your spine has the entire back support available. Lower or raise the arm rests so that your shoulders are relaxed and that your elbows are angles to at least 90 degrees at rest. If you must, add a pillow or cushion to provide yourself with extra lower back support.
Some standard office chairs are just not going to cut it, in which case investing in an ergonomic chair is appropriate. Here are some useful considerations to look for in an ergonomic chair
SEAT HEIGHT ADJUSTMENTS
As discussed previously, height adjustment is key in an ergonomic chair. You want to be able to adjust your height accordingly in order to best match the desk and computer set-up.
BACK TILT TENSION
This is a little knob feature that you can use to adjust how easily it is for you to rock back in your chair. It’s really up to you, but you want enough tension for the full back support while you still have the option to recline back a few degrees whenever you need to repositioning and stretch to your spine.
This refers to the contour of the back support that outlines your lower back. An ergonomic chair will probably have a portion of the back support that curves slightly inward to fit the natural S-curve of your spine and to minimize lower back pain.
ARM SUPPORT ADJUSTMENT
As mentioned earlier, you want an ergonomic chair that has height-adjustable arm supports since arm size is not universal. The height should be set in a position where your shoulders are relaxed at rest.
BACK HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT
Alongside the arm-rests, an ergonomic chair should include a back height adjustment option so that you can line up the contour back support to your own spine.
ERGONOMIC ROOM SETUP
Aside from applying ergonomics for your posture, consider what other room modifications need to be made to enhance your productivity at work:
Some office workers are prone to headaches or migraines, which can be triggered by the typical fluorescent lighting in an office space. Others may feel like they don’t have enough light to complete their work. Figure out what your preferences are in order to minimize your eye and head strain. Bring in shaded glasses or a desk lamp.
Do you like having the extra fan or do you freeze out when the giant air conditioner comes on during the summertime? Ask your employers about cooling options if you heat up easily, or remember to bring in those extra clothing layers.
Can you tune out office-related background noise while working or do those clacking shoes and additional keyboard and mouse clicks in your surroundings driving your crazy. Ask your employer about whether or not you can bring in headsets or earmuffs to deter the noise so that you can work better.
Do the minor musty scents of the office distract your work? See if your employer will allow you to spruce up your workspace with pleasing scents so that you can get back to work.
TIPS FOR STAYING HEALTHY
Note that sitting at an ergonomic workstation setup for 8 hours straight will not solve all of your physical problems. Your body is not designed for sitting that long, so it is important that you take the opportunity to move throughout the day:
TAKING REGULAR BREAKS
Get up and get away from your desk for the sake of movement as well as for the sake of your eyes and mind. You have been staring at a computer screen for a long time so allow your eyes and brain to adjust.
OFFICE STRETCHING EXERCISES
Good stretching exercises can help counteract the effects of bad posture. Do these at the end of a long day:
ERGONOMIC ACCESSORIES TO CONSIDER
We’ve talked in great lengths about the benefits of an ergonomic chair. If your standard office chair isn’t doing the trick, this would be a worthy investment for your health and your work demeanor.
MONITOR ARMS AND LAPTOP RISERS
There are desk arms that can be attached to the back of monitors so that you can swivel and adjust the screen to the height and angle of your choosing. Laptop risers allow you some more freedom as well.
ERGONOMIC MOUSE & KEYBOARD
There are mice and keyboard products that are shaped differently that standard equipment in order to better contour to your wrists and hands while working to minimize risk for injury.
Keyboard trays that have swing-away and height adjustment options are fantastic alternatives to just a normal desktop set up. You have the ability to move the keyboard to a position tailored to your needs, opening up the angle of your elbows, and allowing for your wrists and fingers to drop down preventing risk for repetitive use injury.
Foot rests can be installed to your chair or to your desk so that you can adjust the height of your feet as well as the angle of your knee joints while working for increased circulation.
STANDING DESK OR CONVERTER
Some people are not built for sitting at work at all, but have the physical capacity to stand instead. Your office work can be just as productive if you are standing on your feet for most of the day. Standing desks allow you the opportunity to stand but can also come with converter options so that you can still sit when needed.
The formula for the perfect ergonomic workstation setup will not be the exact same for everyone. Some workers may be able to work with the equipment they already have while others will have to go out and purchase new products. In any case, office workers should put their health at the top of their priority lists and start by treating themselves well during business hours.
The 5 Best Fats to Eat Plenty of on the Ketogenic Diet
Though technically a fruit, avocados offer a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). They're also packed with fiber to bolster digestive health. One-half of an avocado contains 161 calories, 2 grams (g) of protein, 15 g of fat, 9 g of total carbs, and 7 g of fiber (bringing it to 2 g of net carbs), notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
2. Olive Oil
“We know that when we have fats in our diet like MUFAs, they not only fill us up but keep cholesterol levels lower,” says Keatley. Olive oil is great for light sauteing, using in dressings, or drizzling over cooked meats or vegetables as a finishing oil. One tablespoon (tbsp) offers 119 calories and 13.5 g of fat, only 2 g of which are saturated fat, according to the USDA.
3. Avocado Oil
Like olive oil, avocado oil is rich in anti-inflammatory MUFAs, but the benefit to using avocado oil is that it stands up to high-heat cooking. For instance, the popular brand Chosen Foods says its avocado oil has a smoke point of 500 degrees F. According to the USDA, 1 tbsp of avocado oil has 124 calories, 14 g of fat, and 0 g of carbohydrates.
4. Nuts and Nut Butter
Nuts may offer unsaturated fats, but they also contain carbs, so look at the label to calculate exactly what you’re getting, says Whitmire. As an example, 1 tbsp of almond butter has 98 calories, 3 g of protein, 9 g of fat, 3 g of total carbs, and about 1.5 g of fiber (equaling about 1.5 g of net carbs), per the USDA. And, the USDA also notes, a 1-ounce (oz) serving of almonds (23 almonds) has 164 calories, 6 g of protein, 14 g of fat, 6 g of carbohydrates, and 3.5 g of fiber (totaling about 2.5 g net carbs).
5. Chia Seeds and Flaxseed
Whitmire recommends these because they offer omega-3 fatty acids. “Getting more of these fats will improve the ratio of omega-6s to 3s you consume, which some research suggests optimizes health,” she says. For example, an article published in September 2016 in the journal Open Heart cited research that linked consuming more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s (which are high in Western diets) to a lower risk of insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes — and obesity, among other protective health benefits. The USDA says 1 oz of chia seeds has 138 calories, 5 g of protein, 9 g of fat, 12 g of carbs, and a whopping 10 g of fiber (so only 2 net carbs). And also according to the USDA, 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed has 37 calories, 1 g of protein, 3 g of fat, 2 g of carbs, and 2 g of fiber (basically 0 net carbs). Just be sure to buy ground flaxseed so your body can absorb their omega-3s.
The 4 Fats You Should Limit on the Keto Diet
A slice of cheese contains 115 calories, 7 g of protein, 9 g of fat (5 g of saturated fat), about ½ g of carbohydrate, and no fiber, per the USDA. The saturated fat qualifies it as a food you ought to limit, but some research suggests the food has health benefits as well. A meta-analysis published in December 2017 in the European Journal of Nutrition found that cheese eating was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke, particularly for those consuming about 1.5 oz (or a slice and a half) per day.
Adding heavy cream or half-and-half to your coffee is one way to get an additional source of fat into your day, says Keatley. Just realize that it is a source of saturated fat — and, given the small serving size, it’s easy to go overboard. According to the USDA, 1 tbsp has 51 calories, 5 g of fat (3.5 g saturated fat), and is just shy of ½ g of carbohydrate.
3. Coconut Oil
Given that coconut oil is trendy, it’s been credited as a panacea for health ills — and given the general go-ahead to consume as much as you want. That’s not exactly the case. “There’s a controversy with coconut oil because of its high levels of saturated fats, which are the ones that clog arteries,” says Keene. But the argument some make is that coconut oil is different. Part of its fat is made up of medium-chain triglycerides, fatty acids that the body metabolizes quicker and are less likely to get stored by the body as fat, she says. That said, the USDA indicates that 1 tbsp has 121 calories, 13 g of fat (11 g are saturated fat), and 0 carbohydrates. Eat healthier unsaturated sources of fat first, and moderate amounts of these saturated sources, says Keene.
“Eating a significant amount of butter has some of the worst effects on your health compared with other fats,” says Keatley. It’s okay to use butter in your fat rotation, but best not to make it your go-to fat; instead opt for more unsaturated sources. Per the USDA, 1 tbsp of butter has 102 calories, 12 g of fat (7 g of which are saturated fat), and 0 carbohydrates.
Yes, you can pass ergonomics 101 without buying a standing desk.
Sitting at a desk right now? Take note of your body position. (Freeze! We see you adjusting your posture!)
Before the adjustment, we’re willing to bet you were hunched over, leaning on one arm rest or sitting with a leg propped underneath you.
You may be comfortable, but the truth is, many of our habits when it comes to sitting at our desks can actually have long-term health implications (not to mention cause energy slumps and back pain right now).
Ergonomics — or the science of designing the workplace — has become a popular buzzword over the past few years, as standing desks become increasingly trendy and more and more of your co-workers are replacing standard chairs with medicine balls.
According to the US Department of Labor, “ergonomics is the science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job.”
"The rise in popularity of ergonomics among office workers is stemming mainly from increased musculoskeletal symptoms associated with longer work durations and poor workstation design," says Jonathan Puleio, MS CPE, Managing Director at Humanscale. "Computer users are simply responding to the pain and discomfort they are experiencing while they are at work. A renewed focus on promoting health and well-being in the workplace has also spurred interest in ergonomics and proper workstation setup."
But while it may be an increasingly popular area of focus, “most people do the opposite,” says Puleio. “They conform their body to the work station and this is what leads to discomfort and fatigue.”
You likely don’t even realize how much subconscious adjusting you are doing to fit yourself to your space: You reach for your mouse and keyboard, raise your chair up to be more eye level with the monitor and lean forward to better read your screen. But each one of these movements is putting your physical health at risk.
Ergonomics is the science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job.
Studies show that poor workstation ergonomics increase the risk of musculoskeletal problems and symptoms.
"There are several health related issues that can be linked to poor ergonomics," says Puleio. "Prolonged sitting and static postures have been associated with cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, weight gain and low back disorder. Nerve and tendon related musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and epicondylitis can arise from awkward postures and repetitive motion associated with keyboard and mouse use. Monitor position can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. Regardless of the source, discomfort and pain in the workplace reduces worker performance and results in lowered job satisfaction."
Scary, considering you likely spend 8 hours a day sitting (improperly) at your desk.
Luckily there are some very simple adjustments you can make right now that will make your desk-life a whole lot safer — and maybe even give your productivity a boost.
Studies show that specific seated postures can lower the risk of musculoskeletal symptoms and musculoskeletal disorders. So how exactly should we be sitting?
“The standard desktop correlates to the elbow height of a 6’4” tall male,” says Puleio. “What this causes is a situation where people will sit unexpectedly high in their chair to reach the keyboard and mouse and this creates a host of potential health risks.”
"The primary challenge with current task chairs is that they are too complex for users to benefit from their adjustability," he adds. "Results from a recent Cornell University research study on task seating showed that less than 5 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify the tension control knob. Even when participants could correctly identify a particular chair control, less than 50 percent reported ever using the control."
Less than 5 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify the tension control knob [on their desk chair].
Take the time to learn how to adjust your chair. Puleio recommends raising or lowering your seat until your thighs are parallel to the floor with your feet flat on the floor (or on a footrest if your feet cannot rest comfortably). You should aim to have two inches of clearance between the back of your knees and the edge of your seat. "The seat pan should be adjusted to allow at least 2 inches of clearance behind the users knees and the armrests should be adjusted no higher than seated elbow height," he adds.
Puleio also notes that many people lock their backrest which is a major faux-pas. “The backrest of the chair should be unlocked and properly tensioned to promote movement,” he says. “Certain chairs self-adjust to user’s body weight, so you don’t have to worry.”
Be sure to lean back in your chair, with your backrest sitting comfortably in the small of your back, to allow the backrest to support your upper body.
People tend to be “accommodating their body to the desk instead of vice versa,” says Puleio. “It’s common for users to lean forward the entire day. What happens is that you break contact with the back rest. People are quick to blame their chairs, but it’s not a chair design problem.”
Instead, he recommends re-evaluating your keyboard.
Standard desk heights are too high for 95 percent of our population.
"Standard 29.5” desk heights are too high for 95 percent of our population. As such, users tend to sit high in their chairs and shrug their shoulders the entire work day. Worse, they tend to lean forward placing their bodies at increased risk for low back disorder," Puleio says. "The ideal position for the keyboard is in your lap, similar to how you would position a laptop. Your shoulders should be relaxed, your wrists should be straight and your palms should be supported. Bringing your keyboard and mouse closer to your body will allow you to offload body weight to the backrest of your chair and should lead to an immediate improvement in overall comfort. To achieve an even more neutral posture, consider using an articulating keyboard support to angle the keyboard away from your body."
If your keyboard is sitting on top of your desk, Puleio does have a few suggestions for reducing wrist strain. Invest in a palm support that sits in front of the keyboard, and wrest the fleshy part of our palm on it when typing. He also says to always flatten the tabs on the underside of your keyboard that prop it up at an angle — ultimately causing you to flex your wrists upward. The goal is always to keep your wrists straight.
Yes, even how you hold and manipulate your mouse can influence your comfort level and risk of injury.
"Traditional mouse designs promote wrist anchoring (contact stress) and the side to side bending of the wrists (ulnar and radial deviation). These postural risk factors result in fluid pressure increases inside the carpal tunnel and have been linked to an increased risk of injury," says Puleio.
He recommends investing in a mouse that has an integrated palm support, which eliminates the need to anchor your wrist on the desk, allowing you to naturally move the mouse with your lower arm and shoulder, while keeping your wrist straight.
Until you can get your hands on a mouse with a palm support, the experts at Humanscale recommend positioning your mouse close to the keyboard or over the numeric keypad to minimize reaching. "Avoid anchoring your wrist on the desk. Instead, glide the heel of your palm over the mousing surface and use your entire arm to mouse,” they add.
The improper height and position of your monitor is another factor that causes us to lean forward at our desks.
First, position your monitor so that it is at least an arm’s length away.
"Most users position their monitors too high relative to their natural -15 degree downward gaze," says Puleio. "To optimize viewing comfort, the top line of text should be positioned at or slightly below seated eye height. The monitor should be angled slightly away from the body such that your natural downward viewing gaze is about perpendicular to the surface of the monitor.
Adding a light to your desk isn’t just a means of decorating — it’s actually healthier for your eyes. Experts say a desk light is essential for viewing hard copy documents, as it helps prevent glare and Computer Vision Syndrome — a condition affecting up to 90 percent of computer users which causes eyestrain, eye fatigue, dry eyes, light sensitivity, blurred vision, headaches and other symptoms.
In fact, as we get older the amount of light contrast required increases dramatically.
“We take lighting for granted; people underestimate the amount of light needed for a task,” Puleio says. "Lighting requirements are highly dependent on the age of the user. In our early to mid 40s, our eyes change dramatically and we all develop a condition called presbyopia, characterized by our inability to focus on near-field objects. By the time we reach our 60s, we require 250 percent more contrast to view the same documents as we did in our 20s."
The key is to choose a task light on an arm that you can manipulate — versus a table lamp that gives off ambient light.
By the time we reach our 60s, we require 250 percent more contrast to view the same documents as we did in our 20s.
"Controllable task lights allow workers to adjust light levels based on their individual requirement," Puleio adds. "When using a task light, the ambient light levels can be reduced to optimize viewing conditions for computer monitors. Task and ambient lighting schemes have been shown to improve visual comfort and reduce energy consumption by up to 40 percent."
Be sure to position the task light to the side opposite your writing hand, and shine it on paper documents but away from computer monitors to reduce glare.
Take it one step further
Invest in a standing desk: There’s a reason why so many of your co-workers are making the swap. Data shows strong evidence that intermittent standing increases productivity through a reduction in work break time as it leads to fewer and shorter breaks throughout the day. In fact, non-standers took an average of 47 percent more work breaks and each work break was 56 percent longer than that of the standers. Over a three-day period, non-standers took over twice as much total time on breaks from work as the standers did — clearly having an effect on productivity. Consider putting in a request at the office for a standing desk; more and more employers are making them available to their employees.
Schedule breaks often:
If you aren’t standing at your desk, it’s vital to schedule those work breaks into your daily routine. Experts at Humanscale recommends taking two or three 30- to 60-second breaks each hour to allow your body to recover from periods of repetitive stress. You may think that more breaks equal less work getting done — but you’d be wrong. The productivity app DeskTime found that the highest-performing 10 percent of workers tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. So setting a timer to stand up and get away from your desk for a bit may lead to getting more work done, in less time. If 17 minutes is too long to step away from your Outlook, studies show that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve your ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. May we also suggest drinking more water? Not only will you be getting up to fill your bottle, but you’ll likely also make more frequent trips to the bathroom, ensuring you’re getting up from your desk throughout the day.
A comfortable work space can help you feel your best. Give your sitting work area a makeover with this visual guide to office ergonomics.
If you sit behind a desk for hours at a time, you're not doomed to a career of neck and back pain or sore wrists and fingers. Proper office ergonomics — including correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing and good desk posture — can help you and your joints stay comfortable at work.
Ready to give your work space a makeover?
Get started making your sitting workstation comfortable with this visual guide to sitting workstation ergonomics.
Choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Adjust armrests so your arms gently rest on them with your shoulders relaxed.
Key objectsKeep key objects — such as your telephone, stapler or printed materials — close to your body to minimize reaching. Stand up to reach anything that can't be comfortably reached while sitting.
Keyboard and mouse
Place your mouse within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so you can use a light touch to operate it. Alternate the hand you use to operate the mouse by moving the mouse to the other side of your keyboard.
If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
FootrestIf your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor — or the height of your desk requires you to raise the height of your chair — use a footrest. If a footrest is not available, try using a small stool or a stack of sturdy books instead.
Under the desk, make sure there's clearance for your knees, thighs and feet. If the desk is too low and can't be adjusted, place sturdy boards or blocks under the desk legs. If the desk is too high and can't be adjusted, raise your chair. Use a footrest to support your feet as needed. If your desk has a hard edge, pad the edge or use a wrist rest. Don't store items under your desk.
Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm's length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches for more comfortable viewing. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side.
Johanna writes: "I was recently surprised to hear a nutritionist encourage people to use butter, calling it a healthy fat. I've always avoided butter because of the saturated fat. Yet, a quick online search shows multiple articles saying butter is making a comeback as a healthy fat. Can this be true?"
It’s true that butter contains saturated fat. It’s also true that saturated fat’s reputation as an artery clogger has been undergoing some rehabilitation in recent years. Diets that are high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels. But as I’ve explored in several previous podcasts, the links between saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease are a lot more complex than we once thought. In fact, having some saturated fat in your diet may actually be good for your heart and other organs.
Fats in Butter
Butter contains more than just saturated fat. People are often surprised to learn that about a third of the fat in butter is actually monounsaturated--the same sort of heart-healthy fat that’s in olive oil and avocado. The same or similar is true of most animal foods, by the way. Although we tend to think of meat, eggs, and dairy products as containing mostly or only saturated fat, this is not the case. Up to half of the fat in beef is monounsaturated. Two thirds of the fat in an egg is unsaturated. Ironically, the only foods I can think of that contain virtually all saturated fat are plant based: coconut and palm kernel oil.
Nutrients in Butter
Butter also contains a variety of nutrients. It’s a good source of vitamin A--which about 40% of Americans do not get enough of. It also contains modest amounts of vitamins D and E--although you’ll get more of both of these nutrients from olive oil. But butter also features a few nutrients that are not particularly widespread in the food supply, including CLA, MCTs, vitamin K2, choline, and butyrate.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that is found mostly in red meat and butterfat; Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are found in butter and other full-fat dairy products but also coconut and palm oil. Although you’ll see a lot about the health benefits of CLA and MCTs online, the research to support these claims has been rather underwhelming, so far.
Butter is also one of relatively few dietary sources for vitamin K2, a nutrient that is important for strong bones. Although, if it’s K2 you’re after, there are better sources, such as natto (a fermented soybean preparation common in Japan) and other fermented foods.
Choline is an essential nutrient that has many important functions in the body, including synthesizing neurotransmitters and protecting neurons. The average intake for this nutrient is only about half of what’s considered to be adequate. Although butter does contain small amounts of choline, whole eggs, meat, fish, and cruciferous vegetables are much better sources.
And, finally, butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, especially in the gut. Butyrate is produced on site in the gut by your intestinal bacteria, as I talked about in my recent episode on postbiotics. So, one way to get more butyrate in your gut is to eat more fiber, which promotes the health of those bacteria. Another way is to eat foods that contain butyrate, including butter.
Even though butter isn’t exactly a nutrient powerhouse, it’s clearly not just empty calories, either. But is that enough to justify rebranding butter as a healthy fat?
What Makes a Food Healthy?
Well, whenever anyone asks me whether a particular food can be considered healthy, I respond by saying that no food can really be designated as healthy or unhealthy in a vacuum. It depends on how much you’re eating, what you’re eating it with, and what you might be eating if you weren’t eating that instead.
No food can really be designated as healthy or unhealthy in a vacuum.
I wouldn’t endorse blending a stick of butter into your coffee every morning (although some would). And the fact that my famous pie crust is made with butter doesn’t justify a larger piece! But a pat of butter melted onto a baked sweet potato or drizzled over an ear of fresh corn on the cob? Go for it!
As for how much is too much, the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that you should consume about three times as much unsaturated fat as saturated. That sounds about right to me. Although saturated fat may not be as harmful as we once thought, evidence for the benefits of unsaturated fat continues to get stronger.
So, what would that look like in terms of a typical day?
Let’s say I start the day with some overnight oats made with whole milk yogurt and fruit. Most of the fat in the yogurt is saturated. For lunch, I have a big salad topped with a hard boiled egg and half an avocado, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That’s a little more saturated fat in the egg but mostly monounsaturated fat in the avocado and dressing. That afternoon, I have a handful of almonds for a snack--they contain a bit of saturated fat but are mostly unsaturated.
For dinner, I grill a piece of salmon, saute some spinach in olive oil and garlic, and add a baked acorn squash. Most of the fat in both the salmon and olive oil is unsaturated but both also contain small amounts of saturated fat. Later, I air-pop some popcorn and drizzle it with butter. As I said earlier, about two-thirds of the fat in butter is saturated and the rest is unsaturated. All told, that’s about 60 grams of unsaturated fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, and whole lot of delicious nutrition.
Almost any food can be consumed in quantities or contexts that are unhealthful and butter is no exception. But I think that a healthy diet can absolutely include butter--and be the better for it!
Including the health benefits of going vegan for the month of January — plus how a plant-based diet can help the planet, too.
January brings with it an onslaught of “new year, new you” messaging that can be tough to avoid – even if you’re pretty OK with the same you. Whole30, Dry January, and a sugar detox are just a few of the many diet challenges that continue to be uber-popular at the turn of the decade and are likely dominating your social feeds, like it or not.
And now, there's yet another option for kicking off your 2020 with a healthy bang: Veganuary, which, like it sounds, involves eating more plants and cutting animal products for the first month of the year. According to experts, Veganuary health benefits are aplenty, and it’s a solid way to help out the planet, too.
Sure, veganism is nothing new, but the new marketing of the diet seems to be working: According to Google, searches for "Veganuary" have more than doubled over the last week and even Hollywood is taking note — the upcoming Golden Globes ceremony will feature an all-vegan menu.
Wondering if you should give Veganuary a try?
Here’s everything you need to know, including how the diet challenge started and the health benefits of going vegan for a month.
Where Did Veganuary Come From?
Like Dry January, the Veganuary challenge started in the U.K. in 2014, when a non-profit organization by the same name encouraged people to try going vegan for the month of January. Fast forward to 2019 and a quarter of a million people signed up for the pledge, according to the Veganuary website. Now, it’s made its way stateside and, much like Dry January, has gained widespread popularity outside of one specific campaign.
Of course, following an animal-free diet isn’t anything new. World Vegan Day was established in 1994 and has only continued to see a growth in followers since. In 2014, only one percent of United States consumers said they were vegan; in 2017 that number jumped to six percent, according to a 2017 report by GlobalData.
Plenty of celebs have helped boost the popularity of veganism along the way— including none other than Beyoncé, who promoted a 22-day vegan diet back in 2015.
Are There Health Benefits to Going Vegan?A plant-based diet packed with a variety of fruits and veggies has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, according to Barbie Boules, R.D.N., the founder of Barbie Boules Longevity Nutrition.
“A plant-based food philosophy is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and hydration," Boules says, adding that adding more plants to your plate also promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
And the health benefits of a vegan diet can be seen even from short-term efforts: In a 2019 review published in the journal Nature, the authors noted improved glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, as well as weight loss and decreased inflammation for participants who maintained a plant-based diet for anywhere from three to 24 months. Another 2018 study showed participants had reduced total cholesterol after going vegan for just four weeks — aka the length of Veganuary.
What About the Environmental Benefits?
Sure, there are health benefits to going vegan, but a plant-based diet can benefit the planet, too.
A 2018 study published in the journal Nature showed that maintaining a Western diet high in animal products and processed foods at its current rate could cause a spike in food-related climate change contributors — including water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — by as much as 90 percent by 2050.
Another 2019 report in The Lancet showed a diet rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts (and reduced consumption of red meat, sugar, and refined grains) not only has personal health benefits, but is the healthiest diet for the planet.
In fact, it’s the main reason why the Golden Globes ceremony is going vegan this year. “The climate crisis is impossible to ignore and after speaking with our peers, and friends in the community, we felt challenged to do better," the Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Lorenzo Soria said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. The decision to serve a plant-based meal, Soria said, was in an effort to take “a small step in response to a big problem.”
So, Should I Try Veganuary?
When it comes to giving Veganuary a shot, there’s really no reason not to up our intake of produce, whole grains, and healthy nuts and seeds. One thing Boules does caution, however, is that you’ll want to commit to planning your meals in order to ensure adequate nutrient intake, especially if you plan to go vegan for good.
“A nutritionally-complete, strict vegan diet requires effort and planning,” she noted, adding that you’ll have to pay special attention to calcium, vitamin D, B12, and omega 3s, which are not adequately found in plants and other vegan foods.
But what about protein? (If you’re a vegetarian, then you’ve heard this one more times than you can count, right?) Beans, legumes, edamame, tofu, and quinoa are all protein-packed options to reach for on a vegan diet, Boules says.
If the idea of giving up cheese forever seems hard to fathom, there's good news. Boules is quick to point out that you can still reap the benefits of incorporating more plants in your life without committing to going full vegan.
“I love the idea of filling half your plate with veggies at every meal, and perhaps making one meal a day totally plant-based,” Boules says.
Moral of the story? Trying Veganuary might be your ticket to better understanding what it means to lead a plant-based lifestyle — even if you end up just going Vegan-ish.
For years, most people believed that eating fat would make them fat and damage their heart. But this was faulty thinking, brought about in part by a campaign from the sugar industry back in the 1960s, which paid scientists to blame saturated fat, and not sugar, as a major cause of heart disease. People ended up following low-fat, high-sugar diets, thinking this was the healthy choice. Instead, they just got fatter and fatter.
Recent research has debunked these earlier claims that fat is bad. The fact is, you need to eat lots of healthy fats to stay slim and perform at your best — they fuel your brain, keep you full, balance your hormones, and much more. Fats are the cornerstone of the Bulletproof Diet. But not all fats are created equal. Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about dietary fats.
WHAT IS FAT ANYWAY?
Most of the fats that you eat are made up of triglycerides — molecules composed of glycerol (an alcohol) and fatty acids.
There are different types of fats, and they all behave differently in your body. Most of these differences come down to their chemical structure.
Fat molecules look a bit like cartoonish mice: they have large bodies with thin tails. The length of the tail determines how the fat is processed in the body. Typically, the shorter the tail, the more anti-inflammatory the fat. That’s why the Bulletproof Dietrecommends fats with short and medium tails, like grass-fed butter, avocados, and Brain Octane Oil.
The stability of a fat — how easily it spoils and creates free radicals in your body — also makes a fat good or bad (more on fat stability later).
The different types of dietary fats:
THE BENEFITS OF FAT
When you eat quality fats — namely saturated, monounsaturated and a bit of polyunsaturated fats — you’re doing your mind and your body all kinds of favors. Here is some of what good fat can do:
STRENGTHENS YOUR BRAIN
Did you know that your brain is 60 percent fat? It’s actually the fattiest organ in the body, and it needs plenty of good fats to keep it running. Essential fatty acids — fats you only get from food — are the most important fats that grow and develop your brain, starting in the womb. Saturated fat is important for brain function, too. Brain cells are covered in a fatty layer of insulation called myelin, which helps them talk to one another via electrical signals. When your myelin is weak, communication between your brain cells slows down. Saturated fat feeds myelin and keeps it strong and intact.
KEEPS THE WEIGHT OFF
Low-carbohydrate diets help you lose weight faster. When you eat enough of the right kinds of fat without too many carbs, you teach your body to burn fat for fuel, rather than glucose (aka sugar). This process is known as ketosis, and it can help you lose a lot of weight, and quickly. Fat has another metabolic advantage: it doesn’t trigger the release of insulin like glucose does. Insulin is a hormone that controls your body’s fat storage. The more insulin your body produces, the more fat that gets stored.
BUILDS CELL MEMBRANES AND MAKES HORMONES
Fat is vital to keeping your cells healthy. That’s because fat helps make up the protective coverings that surround every cell in your body.[Two layers of fat called the lipid bilayer control what enters and leaves the cell and give it structure.
Fat also builds sex hormones in the body like testosterone and estrogen. When you don’t eat enough fat, your hormones can get out of whack. When women get too thin, for example, they sometimes stop getting their period — fat produces estrogen which keeps you fertile. Fat also releases leptin, a hormone that stops you from overeating by telling your brain when you’ve eaten enough to satisfy your energy needs. Learn more here about how fat produces leptin.
KEEPS YOU HAPPY
Since fat makes you full for longer and maintains steady blood sugar, you won’t be left feeling “hangry” and grappling with energy crashes throughout the day. Fats are also crucial to keeping your moods stable. One study found that mice fed a high-fat diet showed fewer depressive behaviors after just 48 hours, and the antidepressant effects lasted for the 8 weeks of treatment. Another study found that eating lots of fish high in a fatty acid called DHA could lessen severe symptoms of depression.
MAKE YOU FEEL FULL LONGER
Fat is incredibly satiating, so you won’t end up eating as much or as often. Fat keeps your blood sugar stable, freeing you up to power through your day without distracting cravings. Think about how you feel after eating a baguette for lunch. Mid-afternoon and you’re likely already starving again, digging through the fridge in search of a sugary snack. A lunch of wild salmon with vegetables and grass-fed butter will do just the opposite, and you’ll feel satisfied until dinner.
ENHANCE NUTRIENT ABSORPTION
Some vitamins, like A, E, D, and K, are fat-soluble, and need fat to be absorbed by the body.[ Healthy fats carry these vitamins through the bloodstream and into the liver and body fat, where they get stored until the body needs them. A 2017 study found that people who ate salad with oily dressings absorbed micronutrients like vitamins E and K better than people who ate salads without oil.[1
GOOD FOR YOUR HEART
For decades, a high-carb, low-fat diet was billed as “heart healthy,” yet Americans kept gaining weight and rates of heart disease soared. That’s because when you stay away from fat and eat lots of carbs, you raise your blood sugar, which increases your risk of coronary artery disease. Studies show that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids could prevent and treat heart disease.
HOW MUCH FAT DO YOU NEED?
When you’re on the Bulletproof Diet, you want healthy fats to make up between 50 and 70 percent of your total calories each day.
Men should get at least 120 to 150 grams of fat (8 to 10 tablespoons) each day. Women should aim for between 90 to 120 grams (6 to 8 tablespoons) per day.
Keep in mind that your weight, how much you exercise, your genes, and hunger levels all factor in when determining exactly how much fat is right for you.
Sources of good fats:
ARE SATURATED FATS BAD?
Saturated fat got some negative press back in the 1960s, when a scientist named Ancel Keys published research that claimed it caused heart disease. You’re probably familiar with the theory — that the saturated fat in butter, red meat, and egg yolks drives up cholesterol, which builds up in the arteries, blocking the flow of blood to the heart. The study was later debunked — it turned out Keys had manipulated the research to demonize fat. Later studies showed that saturated fat doesn’t raise levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Yet saturated fat is still shaking off its reputation as an artery-clogger.
The fact is, saturated fat is the most stable fat that there is. A stable fat is the least likely to be damaged by oxygen (aka oxidized). Oxidized fats accelerate aging, cause inflammation in the body, and make weaker cell membranes. All this ups your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.[
Take a look at this diagram of a saturated fat molecule below — there are no open spaces, or “binding sites,” where a free radical can enter and damage the fat. Every seat at the table is occupied.
The best source of saturated fat is grass-fed butter. It’s full of antioxidants, fat-soluble vitamins, and fatty acids like fat-burning conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that strengthens the gut and the brain. Mix it into your Bulletproof Coffee, or melt it over steamed vegetables at lunch.
Monounsaturated fat is the second most stable fat after saturated fat. If you look at the image below, you’ll see there is only one binding site open where a free radical can enter and oxidize the fat.
Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, while saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. You want to eat both of these types of fat every day.
The most common type of monounsaturated fat is oleic acid — studies have found it boosts longevity and protects the heart.
Foods rich in monounsaturated fat include:
Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable, most easily oxidized, and therefore inflammatory fats. Unlike saturated and monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats have plenty of binding sites open (see the spaces in the diagram below), making them especially vulnerable to damage.
Eating too much of this type of fat could lead to cancer and metabolic issues. Polyunsaturated fats are primarily found in canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and all other vegetable oils. These also are often genetically-modified and made using toxic solvents, so you want to stay away from them.
However, two of the most important types of fats are polyunsaturated. Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are both unstable but they’re vital to your survival. Your body can’t produce these fats on its own — you have to get them from food.
They’re not created equal: omega-6s cause inflammation in the body, while omega-3s don’t.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
The best sources of omega-3 fats are wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, grass-fed beef, leafy greens, and pastured egg yolks. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are also rich in omega-3s, but your body can’t easily absorb fatty acids from plants (more on that below). You can also supplement your diet with krill oil, which is more quickly and better absorbed by the body than other fish oil supplements. One gram of krill oil a day is good.
There are different kinds of omega-3s:
OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-6 fats are found in most refined vegetable oils like sunflower and peanut oils, in poultry, as well as in certains nuts and seeds, like pumpkin seeds and pistachios. A little bit of omega-6 fat keeps your brain strong, grows your muscles, and stabilizes your blood sugar. But too much of this type of fat causes inflammation in the body.
The most common type of omega-6 is linolenic acid, which the body converts into another fatty acid called arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid builds molecules that promote inflammation (although it can carry benefits, like building cell walls).
THE RIGHT RATIO
You need to have the right ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, otherwise they end up competing for space in your body. The problem is, most Americans consume far too many omega-6s and not nearly enough omega-3s.
Ideally, you want to eat just enough omega-6s to get the benefits, but then balance that out with plenty of omega-3s. For most people, the ideal ratio is 1:1, although a 4:1 ratio might be a more realistic goal, since omega-6 is so abundant in the typical American diet (that’s 4 omega-6s for every 1 omega-3). Learn more here about how to balance your omega-3 and omega-6 levels.
Most Americans eat a ratio that’s between 12:1 and 25:1, so you can see how skewed it is. That’s thanks to the prevalence of vegetable oils in the Western Diet. These oils, like corn and soybean oil, are inexpensive to produce, so food companies use them in processed goods like cookies, crackers, popcorn, and frozen pizza.
Other common foods on the menu, like poultry and various nuts and seeds, are also high in omega-6s. That’s why the Bulletproof Diet limits the amount of chicken and turkey that you eat, so your ratio can remain balanced.
It’s not easy knowing whether you’re getting the balance right. One way is to just cut way down on foods that you know are high in omega-6s, then ramp up the amount of omega-3 foods that you eat.
Check out these handy charts to find out what foods have a lot of omega-3s and not much omega-6s, and vice versa.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH TRANS FATS?
Trans fats are industrially-produced oils used in highly processed foods like packaged baked goods, stick margarine, and fried foods. These artificial trans fats are formed when hydrogen gas is added to vegetable oil to make it solid. They’re cheap to produce and extend the shelf life of products.
Man-made trans fat is the worst type of fat for your health. It increases your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol. It’s also highly inflammatory and raises your risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Trans fat can even affect your brain and lead to depression and memory loss.
More than half a million people die each year from heart disease linked to trans fat, according to the World Health Organization. The organization recently called for all countries across the globe to ban the use of artificial trans fats in foods.
Some trans fats occur naturally in dairy and beef, and don’t pose the same health risks as artificial trans fats. In fact, naturally-occurring trans fats may in fact be good for you — research shows it can protect your heart. In a 2015 study, German researchers found that people with high levels of natural trans fats were 37 percent less likely to die from a sudden heart attack than those who had low levels of these fats.
WHAT YOU NEED TO LOOK OUT FOR
You learnt earlier that most dietary fat is made up of glycerol and fatty acids. But these fatty acids are easily damaged by heat, oxygen, and light. So when choosing a fat, you want to make sure you pick one that’s stable, which means it’s less likely to be spoiled.
Saturated fat is the most stable fat, followed by monounsaturated fat, then polyunsaturated fat.
Since high heat can damage fats, it’s best to cook all your food below 320° F — this also stops cancer-causing carcinogens from forming.
But sometimes you want to sear a nice, juicy steak at high heat. When cooking with heat, saturated fats are the best bet, and the least likely to break down at high temperatures. Next time you’re at the stove, make sure to reach for healthy, stable fats like grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, grass-fed beef tallow (a butter made from animal fat, and not milk fat), and normal olive oil (not extra virgin, which is great for salad dressings but is easily damaged by heat).
I’ve done enough “real” VO2 max tests—the trips to the lab, the expensive and cumbersome equipment, the brutally exhausting treadmill protocol, and in one case, the puking in the corner afterwards—that I’ve been intrigued to notice the recent trend of GPS watches and heart-rate monitors promising to estimate my VO2 max for me. Could it possibly be that simple?
I’m clearly not the only one wondering, because I noticed at least four presentations at the recent American College of Sports Medicine conference addressing that very question. Overall, the results look better than I might have expected, but there are some differences between the various approaches taken by different watches.
VO2 max is basically the definitive measurement of aerobic fitness. It tells you the maximum rate at which you can take oxygen from the air and deliver through it through the lungs into the bloodstream for use by your working muscles. It’s an excellent measurement of current health and predictor of future health—in fact, last fall the American Heart Association argued that it should classified as a new “vital sign” to be assessed yearly by your doctor.
As the AHA statement noted, there are various ways of measuring or estimating VO2 max. The best is to do it directly, by measuring the oxygen you consume while you exercise to exhaustion. Next best is to estimate it while exercising to exhaustion; for example, based on the distance covered during a 12-minute run.
There are also “sub-maximal” exercise protocols that estimate VO2 max based on the relationship between your heart rate and pace, without forcing you to go all-out. This (along with basic information like your age and sex) is what GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner 230, 235, and 630 (seen above) do, by having you run for at least 10 minutes while simultaneously measuring your pace and heart rate. (The 230 and 630 measure heart rate with a chest strap, while the 235 uses a wrist sensor integrated into the watch.)
Finally, there are estimates that don’t involve exercise at all, but simply use information like your age, resting heart rate, and typical activity levels. Watches like the Polar V800 take this a step further by measuring your heart-rate variability (the subtle variations in the time between successive heart beats) for a few minutes while you’re lying down.
Here’s what the data presented at the ACSM conference found.
Garmin vs. Polar vs. Lab Tests
The most comprehensive study came from Bryan Smith and his colleagues at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. They estimated VO2 max for 23 women and 26 men using the Garmin 230, Garmin 235, and Polar V800, then compared those results to gold-standard lab testing.
Typical VO2 max values in healthy college students tends to be in the 40s or 50s (in units of milliliters of oxygen per kilograms of body mass per minute). In those units, here’s how much the various watch estimates over- or underestimated VO2 max (an upward bar indicates that the watch underestimated VO2 max):
There are some interesting patterns there. The Garmin measurements seem to consistently overestimate VO2 max, to a greater degree in men than women, and to a greater degree with the wrist sensor (which is a newer and less reliable way of monitoring heart rate) than the chest strap.
The Polar measurements appear to be less accurate—not surprisingly, given that they’re estimating a characteristic of maximal exercise while at rest. But the deviation seems to be completely different in men and women. It’s hard to know whether this is an artifact of the particular group of men and women in this study (the men in the study had slightly higher BMIs and also slightly higher VO2 max), or something more systematic.
Before taking these results as gospel, though, it’s worth checking what some of the other studies found.
Chest Strap vs. Wrist Sensor
Another analysis from the same group took a deeper head-to-head look at the data from the two Garmin systems. Given that the measurements were with both watches at the same time on the same run, what explains the different VO2 max estimates?
The most likely culprit appears to be the heart-rate measurements. Chest straps are considered highly accurate, and the wrist sensors produced heart rate values that were consistently lower than the chest strap. That, in turn, meant that the wrist sensors overestimated VO2 max—which makes sense, since the heart-rate data was artificially low.
The conclusion, not surprisingly, is that chest straps give you better data. The remaining question is whether the wrist band gives you “good enough” data, which depends on what you’re using it for.
A couple of other studies compared a single device to lab measurements.
Garmin vs. Lab Tests
Rebecca Moore and her colleagues at Eastern Michigan, led by grad student Andrew Pearson, used a treadmill test and a Garmin Forerunner 235 (the one with the wrist sensor) to measure VO2 max in 23 volunteers.
In this case, the average VO2 max in the lab was 52.4 ml/kg/min, compared to 49.3 ml/kg/min with the watch—so the watch with the wrist sensor underestimated the lab value, which is the opposite of what the Southern Illinois study found.
What explains the discrepancy? I have no idea, but it suggests we should be cautious about drawing definitive conclusions about either set of results. I asked Moore and Pearson about the individual variation in their data, and they said that the watch consistently underestimated VO2 max, particularly for those with higher values (above 50, a value generally found in sub-20:00 5K runners).
Polar vs. Lab Tests
Finally, Kent Johnson and Jenny Beadle of Lipscomb University compared the values produced by Polar’s FT60 Fitness Test (the one based on heart-rate variability while lying down) with lab values in 31 subjects. In this case, the average lab value was 44.9 ml/kg/min, and the Polar value was 49.8 ml/kg/min.
This overestimate of about 10 percent, or just under 5 ml/kg/min, is similar to what the Southern Illinois group saw in men, but not in women. However, the Lipscomb volunteers were 13 men and 18 women, so that pattern of sex differences doesn’t seem consistent between the studies.
So what overall conclusions can we draw from these studies?
First, there appears to be a general hierarchy along exactly the lines that you would have guessed before seeing the studies. An exercise-based test with a chest strap is better than one with a wrist sensor, which in turn is better than a resting test.
None of them are perfect matches for maximal lab testing, but the chest strap data seems remarkably good, with statistically insignificant overestimates of 0.8 and 1.2 ml/kg/min, on average, in women and men. That’s a little bit more than 2 percent.
Second, given the inconsistencies between different studies, we shouldn’t draw any final conclusions, particularly about patterns like how men and women respond differently. Taken as a whole, the studies suggest that the Garmin methodology can give you a VO2 max estimate within about 5 percent of your true value.
To be really useful from a practical perspective, what we’d need to understand is how consistent the measures are when repeated multiple times, and how much individual variation there is. Knowing that the watches are off by less than, say, 5 percent on average is nice—but does that mean nearly everyone is off by between 3 and 5 percent, or are a few people right on while others are 10 percent off?
In the end, you pretty much get what you pay for (in terms of money and effort). For most of us, an estimate of VO2 max is interesting for curiosity’s sake, and an error of a few percent is no big deal. If you want a more accurate fitness marker, head to your local exercise physiology lab... or, better yet, sign up for a race.
Looking to learn more about your running gait? Well, you are in the right place.
In this (sort of technical) short blog post, I’ll teach you about the many components of running gait, and how your lower limbs works when running.
What is Gait?
The gait cycle describes the continuous and repetitive pattern of walking or running —in other words, how we get from point A to point B.
More specifically, the running gait cycle is a series of movements of the lower extremities—your legs— during locomotion which starts out when one foot strikes the ground and ends when the same foot strikes the ground again.
The gait cycle typically the same for all of us as it can be split into two main phases.
Note: During the walking cycle (not the topic of this post), there is a period known as double stance in which both feet are in contact with the ground.
Stance vs. Swing
The Stance Phase
The stance phae is the first phase of the gait cycle. It begins when your heel makes contact with the ground, and it ends with the toe off.
When it comes to performance & injury prevention, the stance phase is usually under the spotlight as it’s the phase when your foot and leg bear your body weight.
The stance phase equates to roughly 60 percent of the walking gait cycle, and 40 percent of running gait cycle. Just keep in mind that these proportions are not written in stone as they tend to change as the speed of walking or running increases (or decreases).
The stance phase can be further divided into three stages. It starts with initial contact, followed by midstance, then propulsion.
Initial contact marks the beginning of the stance phase.
Also known as foot strike, this subphase starts when your foot makes contact with the ground after having been in the air—typically heel, midfoot, or forefoot strike, based on your running speed, running style, biomechanics, etc.—and ends when the forefoot is in direct contact with the ground.
Think of initial contact as the cushioning phase of the gait cycle. During this point in the gait, your foot is pronating at the subtalar joint, knee is slightly bent, and leg is internally rotating to help reduce the stress forces from the impact.
Also known as single support phase, during the midstance, your foot flattens on the ground (moving from pronation into supination) to provide support as your body is moving forward over the leading foot while the other foot is in swing phase.
In essence, during this subphase, your body weight shifts from the back to the front of your foot, preparing for toe off and forward propulsion. This means that all of your body weight is born by a single leg, which might make it prone to discomfort and overuse injury.
The Toe Off/ Propulsion
The propulsion portion is the final stage of the stance phase. It kicks off after the heel is off the ground and ends with the toes leaving the ground.
As you keep pushing forward, the heel starts lifting, while the muscles on the back of the leg—mainly the Gastrocs, Soleus, and Achilles Tendon—contract, resulting in plantar flexion of the ankle, allowing for toe off.
This subphase makes up the final 35 percent of the stance phase.
A common mistake beginners make is leaning too far forwards during the toe off. This can hinder stride angle and might limit efficiency. Instead, stay tall, aiming for a slight lean from the ankles.
The Swing phase
The swing phase refers to the time in which the foot is not in contact with the ground. During this, your foot is swinging forward.
The swing phase starts with toe off and ends just before the foot hits the ground against, and a new gait cycle begins. During this phase, your legs cycle through, ready for the next foot strike.
The swing phase is the longest phase of the running gait, making up the remaining 60 percent of the running gait, compared with 40 percent of the walking gait.
The swing phase of gait tends to be less relevant to running biomechanics for preventing injuries than the stance phase as there is no weight being born through the joints and muscles.
The main portion of this phase is known as the forward descent which occurs as the foot is being carried forward while it’s positioned for weight bearing. Both the knee and the foot are flexed.
The swing phase ends at the heel contact, and a new gait cycle begins.
When you’re evaluating health care options for a new job, the employer may offer some choices beyond the type of health insurance you choose. Choosing a plan that’s compatible with a health savings account (HSA) or a flexible spending account (FSA) is a great way to maximize your benefit plan. And with these accounts, you can reduce your tax liability while you save for expected medical expenses.
An HSA and an FSA are similar because funds from your paycheck or directly from your employer can be deposited into these accounts on a pretax basis. Using a debit card tied to the account, you can spend this money on qualified expenses like prescription medication and prescription eyewear, as well as out-of-pocket costs under your health coverage, like deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.
Choosing an HSA or FSA can be a great way to take charge of your medical expenses. In this article, we’ll explain and compare the following aspects of health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts:
An HSA is a financial account that you can fund with pretax contributions from your paycheck or after-tax contributions that are tax-deductible. You can use funds in your HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses now or in the future, even if you change jobs or retire. In other words, you own your HSA.
What are eligibility requirements for an HSA?
To be eligible for an HSA, you must have a high deductible health plan (HDHP), which has to be your only health insurance plan (the IRS states specific exceptions for this rule, including coverage for specific diseases or illnesses, accidents, and disabilities). You can’t be enrolled in Medicare, and you can’t be able to be claimed as a dependent on anyone’s tax return. For 2019, your health plan must have an out-of-pocket maximum of $6,750 (individual coverage) or $13,500 (family coverage) and a deductible of at least $1,350 (individual) or $2,700 (family). Not all plans with these deductibles are HSA-qualified, though, so be sure to check with your health plan or employer.
You don’t have to get your health plan from an employer in order to have an HSA. If you’re self-employed, you can buy an individual HDHP and contribute to an HSA too.
What are the advantages of an HSA?
HSA contribution limits can change yearly. Here are the annual limits for 2019:
What are qualified expenses?
The funds in an HSA can be spent only on certain expenses. The IRS provides a document with a detailed list, Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses, but here are some examples:
What is a Flexible spending account (FSA)?An FSA is a financial account that employees can fund with pretax contributions. You can use the funds in your FSA to pay for qualified medical or dependent-care expenses. An FSA is owned by your employer, and if you don’t spend the money by the end of the plan year, it remains with your employer, with certain limited exceptions.
What are eligibility requirements for an FSA?To open an FSA, your employer has to establish it for your workplace. Unlike an HSA, there are no health plan coverage requirements for an FSA, making it possible for employees to enroll in an FSA even if they don’t have health coverage through their employer. If you’re self-employed, you can’t open an FSA.
What are the advantages of an FSA?
What are the disadvantages of an FSA?
What happens with my FSA funds at the end of the year?
Your employer decides if you can keep some or all of your unused FSA funds at the end of the year. There are 3 options for the employer to choose from, and the employer makes their selection before the beginning of the plan year.
What are the annual contribution limits for an FSA?
FSA contribution limits can change yearly. For 2019, you can elect contributions of up to $2,700 to your FSA, which is lower than the maximum HSA contribution. You must choose the amount at the beginning of the year. However, if you have a family status change such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child, you can change your election at that time.
What are qualified expenses?
The funds in an FSA, like with an HSA, can be spent only on certain expenses.
The same goes for grown children on your insurance plan who will be 27 years of age or younger when the plan year ends, even if you don’t claim them as dependents.
Additional dependent care expenses can be covered by a dependent care FSA (DCFSA). This is another type of FSA, and it can be used to help pay for eligible dependent care services, including child and adult daycare, preschool, or summer day camp.
For additional details, see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
To receive reimbursements (or distributions) for qualified expenses from an FSA, you’ll need to provide a written statement detailing the expense from an independent third party plus an additional written statement stating that the expense isn’t being covered or reimbursed by another plan. You don’t need to report FSA distributions to the IRS.
If the end of the plan year approaches and you still have remaining funds left to use, there are online stores that exclusively sell FSA-eligible items.
What are the differences between HSA and FSA accounts?
This chart provides a simple comparison between HSAs and FSAs, based on some of the key components of these accounts.
Other ways to save on health care expenses
In addition to saving money for medical expenses with an HSA or FSA, there are also smart ways to reduce those expenses.
The tax references in this article relate to federal income tax only. Consult with a qualified professional for tax, investment, or legal advice.