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HEALTH POST The ins and outs of running in the bare minimum




Illustration: Emilio Rivera III

Get footloose

2 NEWS HEALTH BITES ...................................................... Jeanette Wang

Snack happy With no high fructose corn syrup, trans fat or artificial ingredients, Barbara’s Snackimals (HK$32) are a sensible snack for both children and adults. Get them at ThreeSixty’s USA Fair, along with other organic and natural snacks, breakfast cereals, and personal care and beauty products from America. The fair ends on September 15.

Daddy dearest Children who are raised by hands-on fathers are smarter and better behaved, according to long-term research of 138 children and their parents. The study’s coauthor, Erin Pougnet, a PhD candidate in Concordia University’s psychology department, says such children have better problem-solving abilities and decreased emotional problems, such as sadness, social withdrawal and anxiety. Girls were found to be most affected by absentee dads, having significantly higher levels of emotional problems at school. Professor Lisa Serbin, the study’s other co-author, says government initiatives, such as parental leave for men and parenting classes that emphasise the role of fathers, could help to maximise child development from early stages to pre-adolescence.

If it smells fishy, it could be a disorder Unexplained body odours could be due to a metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria (also called fish odour syndrome), according to scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia. In the study, published online in The American Journal of Medicine, about one-third of the 353 patients who had body odour despite good personal hygiene tested positive for the condition. The genetically transmitted disease inhibits the ability of an enzyme to metabolise trimethylamine, a chemical compound produced naturally from foods rich in choline, such as eggs, certain legumes, wheat germ, saltwater fish and organ meats. If too much accumulates, the compound is excreted in urine, sweat, saliva and breath – causing fishy odours. Experts say a diet change can help.

The skinny on thinnies Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have discovered a genetic cause of extreme thinness. Published in the journal Nature, the study found that one person in 2,000 has an extra copy of part of chromosome 16, making men 23 times and women five times likelier to be underweight. Of more than 95,000 people studied, half of all children with the duplication were diagnosed with a “failure to thrive”; a quarter of people with the duplication have microcephaly – an abnormally small head and brain linked with neurological defects and shorter life expectancy. Professor Philippe Froguel, who led the study, says: “If we can work out why gene duplication in this region causes thinness, it might throw up new potential treatments for obesity and appetite disorders.”

ASK THE DOCTORS DR TINNY HO Q: Saleswomen at cosmetic counters often tell me to use a regimen with many skincare products. Does using more products really make my skin better?

A: With skin, you need to work smart, not hard. Skin is protected by a layer of natural lipids to help keep moisture in and irritants out. For this barrier to function optimally, the different lipids have to be in a precise ratio. However, every time you use a cleanser to remove dirt or make-up, you are partially dissolving the lipids in the barrier. Overzealous cleansing does more harm than under-cleansing. So avoid using harsh and “multi-step” cleansers, which may lead to sensitive and dry skin. Even “moisturising” creams and masks can affect the natural lipid barrier. Most creams contain emulsifiers (the equivalent of detergents) to dissolve oil in water. The emulsifiers can also dissolve the lipids. So it’s not unusual to find the skin even drier after a few hours, when the oils from the cream have vanished but the natural barrier has not mended itself. “Hydrating” masks may also disrupt the barrier as they affect the ratio of the lipids. A lot of my patients who complain of dry skin find they no longer have the problem once they stop using face masks and switch to a simpler skincare regimen. The most important step for antiageing is the proper application of sunscreen, not a “super anti-wrinkle” cream. So skip those serums and creams and use a sunscreen instead. In most cases, it will provide enough hydration. Aged skin is dry skin, so it is smarter to prevent skin ageing than to just slap on moisturisers. Dr Tinny Ho, a specialist in dermatology, is on the Health Post advisory panel


Medical record-keeping for you and family couldn’t be much easier than this ...................................................... Katie McGregor My Medical US$1.99 Rating 10/10 The fact that life goes by too fast was proved last week when I was called to schedule a dreaded Pap smear test. I could have sworn that I endured the procedure just months ago, but no, they said, it’s been two years. The My Medical app is designed to spare you such unpleasant surprises. A friend in Hong Kong, who helps take long-distance care of her elderly and ill parent in the US, recommended the app. I was taken aback by just how much data storage this involved as she showed

me the “scrolls” of information, which included a long list of medications, contacts for specialists, and details for “the huggy nurse” – who gave her dad the hugs she could not provide. Despite his smoking, my dad is in good health (touch wood). But I quickly realised that this app would work very well for my family. A record of doctors’ visits can be stored along with immunisations, episodes and injuries, test results, allergies, hospital stays, surgical procedures, family history and, of course, health insurers. These lengthy details can be keyed in from your desktop computer at the My Medical website and sent to the app – saving you the headache of using the tiny iPhone keyboard. Photos of documents and prescriptions can also be stored.

Ease of data entry is one thing, but this app also makes “data exit” easy. I can send selections of, or all of, my data to a doctor or specialist by e-mail or text. With data now literally at hand, I can fill out my forms with confidence. For me the most critical function is the ability to schedule tests and appointments. From now on, my children will have an annual dental check-up, and I won’t get another nasty surprise in another two years. > CONTACT US Culture Editor: Janelle Carrigan Health Post Editor: Jeanette Wang General inquiries: Advertising: tel: 2565 2435; e-mail


...................................................... Eileen Aung-Thwin Winston Fok would draw admiring glances from passers-by when he went jogging. At 73, his agility and athleticism was a model of geriatric health. A retired taxi driver, Fok (name changed for reasons of patient confidentiality) enjoyed a loving relationship with his wife, and life seemed good. But a fall in October 2008 put the brakes abruptly on his exercise routine and marked the start of a rapid decline in his health and independence. The fall required admission to Shatin Hospital, where doctors found that he had features of Parkinsonism in his right arm. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, and is marked by the progressive loss of muscle control leading to tremors, stiffness, slow movements and impaired balance. Five months later, during a review, Fok’s condition had worsened noticeably. Since his

He could move his limbs but he was unable to co-ordinate their movement discharge from hospital, he had fallen a few more times and could only shuffle short distances while being aided by his wife. His right arm was also weak, and he now stuttered. By September 2009, Fok had trouble taking even a single step forward. His movements were slow (a condition called bradykinesia), and he suffered tremors and rigidity in his limbs – all classic symptoms of Parkinson’s. He was given medication, but he stopped taking it because it made him feel even stiffer. Three months later, Fok was back at the hospital after a fall that required stitches to a gash on his eyebrow. It prompted doctors to conduct CT scan of his head to check for fractures or bleeding in the skull. In January 2010, Dr Jenny Lee, associate consultant at the department of medicine and geriatrics, and honorary assistant professor at Chinese University, attended to Fok during a follow-up visit. She noticed Fok had unusual speech problems for Parkinson’s. He would take 10 to 20 seconds before he could answer a question. He also spoke in a very expressionless and monotonous way, and would stutter and struggle to find words. These language difficulties alerted Lee that Fok might have

frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) – an uncommon type of dementia that affects the front part of the brain. Common forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s usually start in the lower rear portion of the brain where memories are stored. But Fok’s memory was still sharp. Fok was free of the common symptoms of FTLD, including personality changes, such as impulsiveness, rudeness, aggression or a loss of inhibitions. Lee suspected that he suffered from a rare form of FTLD dementia called primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which causes a progressive loss of language ability. In PPA, only the right frontal lobe of the brain housing the language centre is affected. By now, Lee doubted the Parkinson’s diagnosis despite Fok’s mobility issues. To investigate further, she asked him to perform a series of other physical tests. When asked to walk, Fok could only cling to a wall like Spider-Man and slowly slide along its surface. Yet, he was able to vigorously stamp his feet and perform cycling movements while seated. In other words, he could move his limbs but he was unable to co-ordinate their movement. Patients with Parkinson’s would simply have difficulty with all movement. Lee thought that another rare type of frontal lobe dementia fitted Fok’s symptoms better – corticobasal syndrome (CBS) – which is often initially mistaken for Parkinson’s and could also lead to language problems. Doctors usually look at whether language problems or mobility problems appear first to differentiate between PPA and CBS respectively. However, because Fok’s condition was already advanced by the time he saw Lee, she was unable to do so. To confirm the diagnosis, two types of scans were done: magnetic resonance imaging showed that the frontal lobe on Fok’s right side of the brain had shrunk; and single-photon emission computed tomography showed that areas in his brain that were no longer active coincided with the affected areas for PPA and CBS. Both scans backed up Lee’s suspicions. Fok had the double whammy of suffering two types of rare dementia. He also had an unusually rapid progression of the diseases. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for either. While most PPA patients would learn how to communicate without speech, CBS prevented Fok’s use of his right arm and therefore the ability for written communication. Dementia typically affects memory and cognitive abilities, but Fok’s dementia was robbing him of his physical and communication

Illustration: Angela Ho

Free-falling into darkness abilities while leaving his cognitive abilities temporarily intact. He was being locked inside his body. Exhausted by and unable to cope with the physical demands of caring for Fok daily, his wife had no choice but to send him to a nursing home. As with all forms of dementia, all aspects of brain function will eventually be affected. In late stage dementia, patients become bedridden, often mute and completely reliant on others. Bedsores and infections become a concern as patients are unable to turn themselves. Swallowing often becomes impaired, leading to a high risk of fatal chest infections. As such, when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, caregivers and families often must consider long-term care and seek out experts who can help with the medical, financial and emotional challenges.



Your cushioned running shoes may be doing you more harm than good by encouraging a poor technique. Maybe it’s time to lighten up, writes Jeanette Wang

ou may have seen them before and either been struck by their ugliness or admired their novelty and wondered whether they work: those sheer running shoes that almost fit like a glove around your toes. Sales of the Vibram FiveFingers began slowly when they were launched in June last year at Escapade Sports, but it wasn’t long before the idea caught on and sales rose steeply, says Christian Ross, co-owner of the local sports chain. These sheer shoes are arguably leaders in the barefoot/minimalist movement that has captured the imagination of runners worldwide, beginning with Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book in 2009, Born to Run. In it, McDougall chronicles how the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico are renowned for running long distances – up to 240 kilometres at a time – wearing just thin sandals. “Most of the early sales were to people who knew the product from their home countries or had heard about it, especially through Born To Run,” says Ross. “And then more and more people got curious.” Eric LaHaie, business development manager of outdoor gear store RacingThePlanet in Sheung Wan says minimalist or barefoot running is taking off. “We sell between 25 and 30 minimalist shoes a week across all brands, which is significantly more than we sold last year,” he says. “In the past six months alone, sales are up over 100 per cent.” According to SportsOneSource, a US-based market research firm that focuses on sporting goods, retail sales of running shoes for the first half of the year were 18 per cent higher year on year, driven by a 283 per cent increase in sales of minimalist shoes. Almost all major running shoe brands now produce minimalist shoes. Blaise Dubois, a physiotherapist and running injury expert based in Canada, reckons brands that don’t will go out of business eventually. “They don’t

have a choice, that’s what the public wants,” says Dubois, who visited Hong Kong last month to talk on running injuries. Dubois was preaching about the benefits of barefoot running a decade ago – to bewildered and disbelieving doctors and physios. “Now, it’s easier for me to convince people,” he says. “My impact was 1,000 times less than McDougall’s.” Advocates of barefoot running contend that it promotes a more efficient running style and hence reduces injuries that plague up to 80 per cent of runners, according to Dubois, who started The Running Clinic in Quebec City. This is because without the cushioning of modern shoes, runners are forced to land on their forefoot instead of the heel. It is how children run; it is how we were born to run. Heel-striking causes potentially damaging impact, as it concentrates two or three times one’s body weight onto a coin-sized surface, says Harvard University’s Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology. A study he led found that 75 per cent of all shoewearing runners heel-strike, while most bare-footed runners land on the sides or balls of their feet.



Landing on the heel also increases the braking phase, time in contact with the ground, and work that muscles have to do, says Dubois. Cadence – the number of strides per minute – is compromised. Dubois says the ideal cadence is about 180, but many of his patients average only about 150 to 155. Ultimately, this means the body has to endure much larger impact forces. According to Lieberman, the effective mass at impact for heelstrikers is 6.8 per cent of total body mass, but only 1.7 per cent for forefoot-strikers. Wearing well-cushioned modern running shoes, conversely, may actually cause injuries. The average

The cause of why we’re injured most of the time is bad shoes causing bad biomechanics BLAISE DUBOIS, PHYSIOTHERAPIST

modern shoe, according to Dubois, has a 40mm interface between the foot and the ground, and a 16mm differential between the heel and forefoot. As stiletto wearers know, the higher the heel, the more likely the heel will hit the ground first. “The cause of why we’re injured most of the time is bad shoes causing bad biomechanics,” Dubois says. “When you wear big bulky shoes, you decrease your impact moderating behaviour, and that’s the mechanism the body has when running barefoot.” Last December, I took McDougall – two metres tall, 91kg heavy and 49 years old – for a run along the trails at MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore. Light, gentle and nimble, he strides like a ballerina half his height, weight and age. Once 18kg heavier and plagued with injury, McDougall used to think running was “a stupid thing for anybody to do” and gave it up for good. His doctor had concurred, saying: “The human body is not designed for that kind of abuse. Especially not your body.” Then in 2006, he met the Tarahumara and everything changed. They taught him to run pain-free; lightly and gently on the balls of his feet, in shoes that are next to nothing. Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running, broke his hip and shattered his thigh bone in an inline skating accident in 2006, and doctors warned that he may not walk again, much less run. “They were right,” says Sandler, “until I decided to go barefoot.” The two key populations who should go barefoot, says Dubois, are children and – against conventional wisdom – the overweight. Children, he says, should not wear shoes at all, if possible. Meanwhile, “the 200pound guy needs to have very good impact moderating behaviour”, which barefooting can inculcate. Running without shoes may not be practical, however, because of the risk of stepping on sharp objects. So, Dubois advises to choose a shoe that

SHEER JOYS FOR RUNNERS Vibram FiveFingers KSO The best-selling model at Escapade Sports, this is a versatile shoe that can be used for anything from yoga to running to trekking. It features a 3.5mm grippy rubber outsole and a breathable ankle-high mesh lining that keeps stuff out. Inov-8 Evoskin For barefoot purists, this is as close to the ground as you’ll get – with a layer of silicone to protect your feet with a gecko-like grip. The straps are removable – it could save you 10g! For activities including water sports and treadmill runs. VivoBarefoot Evo II This has a 4mm-thick sole and is marketed as a high-performance barefoot cross-trainer that’s suitable for multiterrain, dry-land oriented barefoot runs in autumn and winter. New Balance Minimus Trail With a featherweight foam midsole and a 4mm drop from heel to toe, this trail shoe isn’t as extreme as the first three. It has the same grippy Vibram outsole as the FiveFingers, and a fitted, minimalist upper that’s comfortable with or without socks. Nike Free Run+ 2 If you’re new to minimalist shoes, the Free could be a good entry point. It provides a barefoot-like experience, but with a bit more of the cushioning, protection and traction of a running shoe.

is flexible, light and has as close to zero heel-forefoot differential as possible. He doesn’t prescribe specific shoes, but has a list of recommended shoes on his website, According to Dubois, studies show that a 100-gram increase on the foot increases the oxygen need during running by 1 per cent. “A four-hour marathoner can improve his or her time by 15 minutes just by taking off the shoes,” he says. Ease into running in bare feet or minimalist shoes; it does increase the strain on the foot, calf and Achilles tendon. Let your body and

the intrinsic muscles that were not activated in big bulky shoes get stronger and adapt with time. The best rule, says Dubois, is to run one minute more per day of running with the new shoes. If you run five times a week, this translates to a 20-minute run after one month, 40 minutes after two, and an hour after three months. “One minute seems like nothing, but everyone gets injured because the transition is too fast. It’s not because the shoes are bad, it’s because they’re not used to running this way,” he explains. Pick a clean, hard surface. “The harder the better,” says Sandler.

“It’s easier to feel the ground, and to learn to run incredibly light.” Run first barefoot, or with minimalist shoes, at the beginning of training – your body will register the good biomechanics – then put on your usual big bulky shoes to complete the run, until you can do the entire session in the new shoes. Barefooting, however, is not the ultimate goal. “The goal is to run properly, with a biomechanically efficient running stride,” McDougall says. “Bare feet are the most efficient way of arriving at that goal.”

in the park


In one ear and out the other Studies have warned about the potential dangers of cellphones for years, but few have listened. Now Hong Kong doctor Susan Jamieson explains how ‘electrostress’ from excessive mobile phone usage is causing chronic fatigue


ver the past 23 years, I’ve had an increasing influx of patients who say the same thing: “I’m tired all the time. I do all the right things: exercise, eat well and drink alcohol in moderation. All these blood tests in my recent medical were normal. “However, it doesn’t change the way I feel – exhausted!” The cause? “Electrostress” or “electropollution”, something we are going to hear more and more about as we become increasingly gadget-dependent. Recently, the World Health Organisation classified mobile phone use as a class-B carcinogen, like car exhaust fumes or lead poisoning. This was based on an analysis of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic (EM) fields done by the WHO’s cancer research arm. It found limited evidence of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, and neuroma, or tumour of nerve tissue, among mobile phone users. However, one study of mobile phone use up to the year 2004 showed a 40 per cent increased risk of glioma among heavy users – those who used their phones at least 30 minutes per day for 10 years. We have an especially high rate of mobile usage in Hong Kong, with our multitasking lives and constant need to be available for business in different time zones. It seems many of us use the phone more than 30 minutes daily – it’s rare that I take a lift without someone in it trying to get reception for a call. However, when I see patient after patient with inexplicable feelings of headaches, achiness or being “under the weather”, it doesn’t take a big leap of consciousness to work out that cancer may be the tip of the iceberg, with more minor diseases manifesting in different ways. Symptoms of early EM energy damage, or electrostress, could be difficult to recognise because of their

We feel there is evidence to connect mobile phone usage to ill health, but no attention is being paid to it GROUP OF CONCERNED DOCTORS

vague nature, such as tiredness, dizziness, lack of concentration or memory problems. It’s only human nature to make assumptions, and so, most patients will blame these symptoms on pollution, insomnia, stress and long working hours. A little knowledge of EM radiation is helpful in understanding how this damaging effect on our health may occur. EM is a full spectrum of frequencies (including those of radio stations). The most obvious to us are colours, parts of the spectrum we can see. However, EM radiation also includes microwaves and X-rays, known to be harmful to human tissue. The difference between the radiation that can damage our health and the radiation in the coloured part of the spectrum, which doesn’t, arises from the difference in their frequencies. It turns out that our whole body is run by EM energy – different forms of light. We’ve known for a long time that our nervous system relays messages electrically. New Scientist magazine wrote a year ago that our brain waves had been found to be gamma waves, a fast EM frequency. Cutting-edge research shows our DNA, at the core of every cell in our body and the powerhouses of cellular energy, radiates light, or EM radiation – many thousands of

HEALTH 7 The frequency of DNA light radiation is dangerously near that of mobile bandwidth. Photo: May Tse

photons per second, each carrying megabytes of information that radiate through our tissues. Our bodies have their own EM radiation and frequency that scientists call the biofield. It appears that the informational processes that make everything work in our biology are not purely reliant on chemicals and hormones. In a postEinstein age increasingly aware of quantum theory and relativity, we’re now discovering the same energy phenomena in our bodies. The big issue, however, is that the frequency of DNA light radiation is dangerously near that of mobile bandwidth. Of course, research is still ongoing in this area, and it’s appearing more and more likely that our finely tuned biological EM systems may be adversely undergoing interference from foreign sources of EM radiation. What has not been addressed yet is that mobiles are the tip of the iceberg. How many of us sit glued to a computer all day? What about the pervasive Wi-fi, zapping round our heads? Ten years ago, while studying in Australia, I heard theories and some evidence of health damage being caused by mobile phones, overhead electric cables and electrical appliances. Epidemics of chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalitis, were being connected to these sources of EM radiation. As members of the Australian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, our priority was to identify external causes of ill health. In one case, a patient bedridden with debilitating fatigue was miraculously cured when his bed was moved. On the other side of the wall from his headboard had been a refrigerator, radiating EM energy. While most people’s systems can cope with this, the fact was that in this incredibly sensitive individual, it was too much for him.

These specialists – not a bunch of radical anti-technologists but a group of concerned doctors and allied health professionals – were clear. They said: “We feel that this situation [with mobile usage] is similar to that of cigarette smoking in the 1960s. The public are being told that there is no evidence to connect these agents to cancers and ill health; however, we feel there is, but no attention is being paid to it.” When counselling patients I believe to be affected by electrostress, the most important thing is to increase awareness of their vulnerability and to teach them to limit the length of calls. Also, remember not to be lazy, using mobiles because of a speed dial when you could pick up the desk phone. Hands-free devices do take the EM charge away from the sensitive brain, which is important. But they can be tedious, and most people don’t use them for short calls. I’ve had concerns for years about this and so have had much experience using and selling sticky protective “dots” to put on phones, computers and Wi-fi devices. Research has shown these tiny, inexpensive British-manufactured “Phi Harmonics” harmonise our natural cellular frequency so that it’s not affected. These electro-dots can also be worn on the body, such as underneath a watch, and have been shown to stabilise the body’s biofield of protective EM energy, making it less sensitive to outside interference. No doubt many new products will come to the market, some more effective than others. One thing’s for sure: none of us will ever stop using our mobiles and computers. Dr Susan Jamieson is a Scottish- and Harvard-educated family doctor in Hong Kong whose speciality is the integration of science and indigenous healing wisdom.



Just a pinch packs a punch ...................................................... Alex Gazzola Mention antioxidants and you’ll probably think immediately of fruit and vegetables, especially richly coloured varieties: purple anthocyanins in berries; orange carotenes in carrots; red lycopene in tomatoes. And yet these richly beneficial chemicals are also available from other sources, and some experts believe we’ve been shunning these alternatives for too long, possibly to the detriment of our physical health. Performance nutritionists from the English Institute of Sport ( say culinary herbs and spices are also rich in antioxidants, often more so than fruit and vegetables, pound for pound, and they offer significant health benefits to all active and moderately active sportspeople, providing protection from the stresses and rigours of training. Only in recent years has it been realised that herbs and spices score highly on the antioxidant scale, thanks to research from the US Department of Agriculture. Its data revealed, for example, that the equivalent of a portion of red grapes’ worth of antioxidants could be found in a mere half teaspoon of cumin seeds, while the same quantity of dried ginger matched a portion of red tomatoes. Although used sparingly in traditional Western cooking, Kevin Currell, a senior performance nutritionist with the EIS who works with the British triathlon team, believes they are a vital tool which we have ignored, and which other cultures have embraced. Emma Wells, a nutritional therapist from Smart Nutrition ( and a keen runner, uses spices as part of the nutritional support plan she gives to patients with a sportsrelated injury with inflammation. “First, I’d get inflammatory foods – meat, cheese, butter and dairy – out of the diet, and then look at boosting anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish, seeds and nuts. As far as spices are concerned, ginger and turmeric are the two antiinflammatory powerhouses. If you cook Chinese or Indian, you’ll obviously benefit naturally, but with turmeric you need to go in big, and take supplements.” Even for those without injury, herbs and spices can be beneficial to the temporary damage caused by the rigors of exercise, says Currell. Exercise, while obviously beneficial, can increase the “stress” on muscles

due to production of additional free radicals – unstable molecules which are created during everyday metabolic processes. These reactive free radicals cause damage by interacting with DNA, cells and enzymes in the body, and they can only be neutralised and “mopped up” by antioxidants. “While some stress on muscles is normal, things can get out of balance,” says Currell. “Those who exercise should consume more antioxidants than the general public to counteract this. The more training you do, the more stress is placed on the body, the greater the free radical production, and the more antioxidants the body needs to cope. If you’re preparing for a marathon, for example, you’ll need more when your training blocks are most intensive and high-impact – say at two or three months before the race.” Supplemental spices are increasingly available, but according to the EIS, dietary sources of antioxidants are preferable in most cases, as excessive intake of supplements can lead to problems. For example, an overdose of turmeric can lead to gastric pain, and can thin the blood. “Dietary sources also generally offer a better quality of antioxidant,” says Currell. “The manufacturing processes involved to get antioxidants into a supplement may affect their form and function – they’re sensitive souls which break down easily.” He adds: “Another issue is that there are thousands of antioxidants and they tend to work in synergy with one another. When they occur in food sources, they work together, offering combined benefits that some supplements, which isolate individual antioxidants, may not.” Currell says a home-made curry, for example, is a terrific source of antioxidants, boasting a variety of potent spices, such as turmeric, ginger and cumin. However, Wells acknowledges that for those who exercise, thinking about your herb and spice intake does add to the long list of considerations that rightly preoccupy our minds. “Fitness fanatics [are] ... worried about the carbs and proteins they’re consuming,” she says. “They ask when and how they should eat. Obviously, they’re thinking about their energy levels, glycogen stores, recovery, as well as their stride, shoes, clothing, equipment, times, performance levels… it’s a long, long list. Sadly, antioxidants and free radicals come way down that list.”

FLAVOUR SAVIOURS Research shows not all herbs and spices are equal antioxidants. Some of the best herbs include oregano, basil and rosemary, while top spices include cloves, turmeric, chilli, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, mustard, cumin, ginger and paprika. Here are some ideas on adding spice to your diet: Cinnamon: terrific for blood sugar control, great sprinkled over cereal as a sweetener or stirred generously into porridge. Ginger: stir-fries aside, you can slice it and brew it in a tea, or add it to juices. Anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory, with potential for easing muscular and arthritic pain. Turmeric: great in fish stews, savoury rice dishes, and with pulses such as lentils – especially good for inflammation. Contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which has shown anti-cancer potential in trials. Peppermint/fennel tea: naturally settle your tummy after runners’ diarrhoea – both soothe the digestive system. Chamomile/lemon grass: soothing and relaxing qualities to help wind down after a long run. Garlic: immuneboosting and antiinflammatory, a great support when training hard – chop a little and add to tomato salad, as raw is best! Rosemary/thyme: may offer protection against dangerous compounds created when meat is cooked. Researchers at Kansas State University added rosemary extract to ground beef prior to cooking and reduced the formation of HCAs – heterocyclic amines – which are carcinogenic chemicals formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Add lots of pungent herbs to meats when marinating before cooking.



Griller tactics to fire up your favourite foods ...................................................... Anna Last Stuck in a flavour rut? Toss together bold seasonings and simple ingredients to create new combinations. These versatile rubs are ideal for upgrading your favourite grilled foods. Quick tip: to apply a rub, sprinkle it over the food you’ve chosen, then gently rub it in with your fingertips. Chilli-coffee rub Makes 1⁄2 cup Good with steak, pork or chicken 2 tablespoons ancho chilli powder 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder 1 ⁄4 cup packed dark-brown sugar pinch of cinnamon 1 ⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper • Combine ingredients in a small air-tight container. • Store at room temperature for up to one month. To use • Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. • Clean and lightly oil hot grill. • Rub 1⁄4 cup chilli-coffee on a 1kg flank steak and season with coarse salt. • Grill for about seven minutes per side for medium-rare, flipping once. Sesame-spice rub Makes 1⁄3 cup Good with pork, chicken or potatoes 1 ⁄4 cup Spanish paprika 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin 2 teaspoons dried oregano 2 teaspoons sesame seeds 1 ⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper • Cover and shake well to combine. • Store at room temperature for up to three months.

To use • Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. • Rub two tablespoons sesame-spice rub over a 1.1kg tied boneless pork loin. • Season with coarse salt, place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until internal temperature reaches 63 degrees, about 50 to 55 minutes. Citrus-coriander rub Makes 1⁄3 cup Good with shrimp, salmon, tuna, pork or chicken 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest 2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest 2 teaspoons ground coriander 1teaspoon ground pepper • Cover and shake well to combine. • To store, refrigerate for up to one week. To use • Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. • Clean and lightly oil hot grill. • Toss 500g large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with 1⁄3 cup citrus-coriander rub. • Thread onto skewers and brush lightly with vegetable oil. • Grill until opaque throughout, about three minutes per side. The New York Times

10 FITNESS Strength and conditioning coach Anfernee Leung shows what you could use in your home gym: Kamagon Ball, mini-medicine balls and stability trainer (bottom), resistance bands (right) and flexbars (far right). Photos: May Tse



It’s cheaper – work it out for yourself ...................................................... Jeanette Wang If you find that you just can’t seem to drag yourself to the gym because of a lack of time or finances, setting up a home gym is a good alternative. For about HK$3,500 – a fraction of the price of a multistation weight machine or yearly gym membership – you can get all the equipment needed for a full-body workout, says Anfernee Leung, a strength and conditioning coach at Core Functional Fitness in Yau Ma Tei. His pick includes a Fitball, medicine balls, resistance bands and stability trainers. Everything is easily portable and takes up minimal space, which makes them practical for even the tiniest Hong Kong flats. A little improvisation also goes a long way. For an alternative to dumbbells, use large cans of soup or fill plastic bottles with water or sand.

For the cardiovascular part of your workout, you may be tempted to buy a low-cost treadmill or stair stepper. But according to the American Council on Exercise, inexpensive machines are often lowquality and don’t last long enough for you to get your money’s worth. Try climbing actual stairs in your apartment building instead, doing step ups on benches, jumping rope, dancing to music, or simply jogging around your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to create a pleasant exercise environment. A room with air conditioning, a window and television or sound system will help motivate you. Of course, with a home gym, there are no trainers to guide you in the proper exercise technique. Consider renting an instructional video or signing up for a trial or short-term gym membership to get the necessary directions and advice from qualified professionals.

Fitball This inflatable ball was designed to improve posture and help prevent back pain, although there are many exercises you could use it for that would work the entire body. It comes in various sizes. Good for: an unstable platform for various exercises and stretches. Price: about HK$300 to HK$700, depending on quality Kamagon Ball This oversized rubber medicine ball with two handles can be filled with water to create shifting loads. Moving water creates “hydro inertia” that recruits a great number of muscle fibres when performing even the most basic exercises, such as passing and catching. When fully filled, it weighs 20kg. Good for: exercises that involve a full range of motion. “You’ll need extra power and endurance to control movements,” says Leung. Price: about HK$1,850 Stability trainer According to Leung, Manchester United football players use this foam pad daily to strengthen their foot, ankle and leg muscles. It doubles up as a soft platform to rest on during various exercise positions. Good for: sports performance enhancement, balance training and rehabilitation of lower extremities. Price: about HK$400 each Flexbar Research has shown that this 30cm long flexible device is a cost-effective treatment for tennis elbow. Available in varying resistance, Leung recommends getting a pair. Good for: improving grip strength and upper extremity stabilisation by

bending, twisting or oscillating movements. Price: from about HK$200 each Resistance band This piece of elastic, available in a range of resistances, mimics workouts with a high-end weight machine, but with extra portability and versatility. Used by physical therapists worldwide for preventative and rehabilitative exercises. Good for: resistance exercises that improve strength, range of motion and co-operation of muscle groups. Price: about HK$200 each Mini soft medicine ball This comes in varying weights (0.5kg to 3kg) but all are exactly the same size, which makes it ideal for progressive training without changing grip or technique. Good for: strengthening exercises for the upper and lower body, and functional grip exercises for hand and wrist rehabilitation. Price: about HK$200 each


...................................................... Davide Butson-Fiori There have been many theories on stretching. Ever since people started exercising, there have been different philosophies about how and when to stretch. There are countless studies published, promoting stretching before exercise or after exercise, and suggesting the various benefits of stretching. So we know that stretching is important; it’s just a matter of how and when you do it. As a fitness expert and trainer who has been exercising for years and working with people who exercise under my supervision, I have my own thoughts and conclusions on stretching. I definitely think it’s an essential part of one’s workout since it increases flexibility and helps prevent injuries, allowing one to benefit more from exercise. But I’ve also figured out what works best for me and my clients. For starters, I should mention that I don’t believe in static stretching before exercise. Static stretching is all about holding a stretch once you can’t stretch any further for a minimum of a few seconds to no more than two minutes. These stretches are then repeated. Static stretching before you exercise has been shown to hinder your performance, causing your muscles to contract and tighten up. The results are a lousy exercise session since the muscles are weakened. And if the muscles are

weakened, then protecting your joints from injury doesn’t seem possible. I don’t think anyone should ever stretch when their muscles are cold. The only exception I can make to my “no static stretching” rule is for dancers and gymnasts. Since their bodies are expected to have extreme flexibility, they need to stretch for long periods of time before they work out. However, they make sure they are warm before they are stretching by doing things like a barre routine to warm up and applying warm clothing to parts of their bodies. (Where do you think the concept of leg warmers came from?) All that aside, I want to make it clear that I am a firm believer in stretching, in particular, dynamic stretching, during a workout once your muscles are warmed up. What this means is, you move your body by using certain exercises that stretch your muscles. For example, at Circuit25, we do a short run before trying a multiplanar lunge, which gives us a dynamic stretch and warms us up at the same time before diving into our workout. There is no extended holding of the stretch. As a result, our bodies are able to handle the exercises without injury and perform better overall. Stretching is also extremely important after the workout. We cool down at the end of class by using yoga-based static stretching on very warm muscles, which we hold for 25 seconds each. By doing this, our muscles return to their original length, and at the same time

If the muscles are weakened, then protecting your joints from injury doesn’t seem possible

Illustration: Bay Leung

Just don’t overstretch the point

it helps with overall flexibility, which translates into not only fewer injuries but also better performance in future workouts. I do want to mention that when it comes to any kind of stretching, whether it’s before, during or after a workout: don’t overstretch. Even if you’re very flexible, focus on getting stronger so that your joints can handle more. As the comedian Jimmy Fallon said: “Don’t keep reaching for the stars because you’ll just look like an idiot stretching that way for no

reason.” While he meant this in humour, there’s some truth to his statement. If you want to reach for the stars in your quest for perfect fitness, make sure you focus on warming up, using some dynamic stretching and then moving on to your exercise routine. You will feel your body become a pillar of strength. Davide Butson-Fiori is the founder of Circuit25 (, which specialises in boot camp/outdoor group personal training


Hale, hearty and full of chia ...................................................... Jeanette Wang The Chia Co Chia Bran HK$120 for 200g, City’super

Bob’s Red Mill Chia Seed HK$180 for 453g, Nature’s Village (Lyndhurst Terrace)

Food for Health The Fruit Free Clusters with Chia HK$56 for 475g, City’super

Two tablespoons of this provides 77 calories, 7.83g of protein, less than 1g of carbohydrate, just 1.2g of fat, and over half your daily fibre needs. It’s a fuss-free way to achieve healthy digestion and cholesterol levels. Verdict: light and with a slightly nutty taste. Sprinkle it over yogurt, cereal, ice cream or salad.

High in fibre and a good source of heart-healthy omega-3s, these resemble sesame seeds in size and crunch, and can be eaten right out of the bag, though I wouldn’t. Mix it with something: there are recipes for a chocolate mousse cake and seeded chia quick bread on the wrapper. Verdict: you’d probably eat these more for their nutritional benefits than their bland taste.

This doesn’t quite go so well with milk, but add it to creamy low-fat yogurt and it’s heavenly. The crunchy clumps of coarsely chopped almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and seeds, paired with puffed rice and millet, makes a delicious combination with the right sweetness and density. Verdict: a great way to have your chia and eat it, too – this blend is a winner.

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