A Story of Blood, Sweat and Sugar – How to prevent Diabetes (type 2)

January 12th, 2016   •   Blog, Exercising for Health, Healthy Ageing, Nutrition and Wellbeing   •   no comments   


Often bad food habits and stress go hand in hand. When we are stressed we take less time to create our own food and are more likely to go for convenience. Tons of evidence shows that this opens the door to chronic diseases like Diabetes type 2. Here are some tips to prevent you from going down that road.

Diabetes type 2 is a disease that can largely be prevented. It’s often called a ‘self-inflicted’ or ‘lifestyle related’ disease and it develops over many years. If you do not know what Diabetes (type 2) is I will try and ‘compact’ the explanation at the risk of oversimplification: it’s a disease where your body can no longer adequately process the energy it gets from the food you eat. Normally you eat your food, during digestion your food gets converted into sugars (glucose), in response your blood sugar levels rise, and a hormone called insulin is released to help get that energy into your cells. In type 2 diabetes patients however, the cells have become insensitive to opening the door, they don’t ‘hear’ the insulin knocking on the door. This combination of insulin resistance in your muscle cells and a lack of insulin production ultimately creates a vicious and chronic circle where glucose and insulin can build up in the blood to dangerous levels. That’s the story in essence, but Google it to get the full explanation. MayoClinic is a good website to visit.

So what approach should you take to avoid getting Diabetes type 2?

Tip 1: Avoid frequent blood sugar and insulin peaks

If you eat too much in a single meal or often eat foods that are processed (white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugar, juices etc.) then you can bet your blood sugar levels will peak often. To bring these sugar levels down, your body will need to secrete high amounts of Insulin to neutralize the elevated blood sugar levels. Do this: look at the foods in your daily food plan and if refined flour foods, cornflakes, jams, sandwiches, candy, and energy bars are a major part of them think twice and cut them out where you can. Replace them by more wholesome foods. The more close a food is to its natural state the better, because it will not spike your blood sugar as much as processed food. In short: if man made it, don’t eat it. So eat more vegetables and foods that slowly release their energy.

Tip 2: Learn to deal with (too much long-term) stress

Stress releases stored sugar in your blood. When you are continuously stressed your body produces hormones that make you feel edgy to help you complete your deadline or challenge. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are flooding your system and as a result your muscles and liver will release stored sugars to enable you to keep working till midnight. Sounds great? Well, the downside is that too much stress over time will burn your body’s organs out from the inside. That’s part of what it is called burnout. If you feel that your stress levels are ‘always’ out of control, I recommend seeking professional help to learn how to cope with and lower them.

Tip 3: Exercise your heart and major muscle groups regularly

If you don’t yet work out, start today and create a regular exercise schedule. Why? 80 to 90% of the glucose (sugars) that get into your blood normally ends up in your muscle cells if the insulin is doing its work correctly. Exercise helps your cells to remain sensitive to the Insulin so that they open up. There is plenty of evidence that shows that when we exert our muscle cells, those cells become more sensitive to the insulin knocking on the door. If you don’t have time to exercise, and this may sound hard, make the time! I guarantee that once you are Diabetic it will cost you much more time. So see it as an investment.

Tip 4: Avoid weight gain or yo-yo-ing up and down

The more body fat we accumulate the more likely it is that we become insulin resistant. So keep a healthy weight or get back to it. Yo-yo-ing causes much stress on your body (see tip 3). Also, fat around the waist is especially risky for creating metabolic diseases such as Diabetes type 2. Do this to check out the current state of your body fat levels: Measure you body fat levels in the gym by asking one of the trainers or myself. We have a handy device that you hold in your hands and that will measure your body fat levels within 10 seconds.

Tip 5: Ask your doctor for a ‘fasting glucose test’

As said, Diabetes type 2 is not something that you develop overnight. It often takes decades to develop and become diagnosed as such. Diabetes is a progressive disease. You don’t get it ‘on a Monday morning’ because you had a heavy party over the weekend. There are early warning signs that can be found in your blood (the pre-diabetic stage or ‘Syndrome-X’). Since prevention is the key, a blood test from your doctor on an empty stomach can establish if your blood sugar levels are elevated when they shouldn’t (On an empty stomach these levels should be low). It’s also a good opportunity to check other indicators of systemic problems such as elevated cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Tip 6: Drink more coffee!?

Yes that’s right, drink more coffee. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (during an 18 year study) found that coffee drinkers taking between 4 and 6 cups a day had a 29 to 54% lower risk of developing Diabetes type 2. Interestingly decaf coffee did not offer any protection nor did 1 to 3 cups of regular coffee…

Note: this article is not medical advice, please consult a doctor if you have specific questions about Diabetes or other medical conditions.

By: Paul Schuchhard, Brussels, Copyright 2016

How music can help you reach your new year fitness resolution for 2016

January 12th, 2016   •   Blog, Exercising for Health, Healthy Ageing, Uncategorized   •   no comments   

If you workout with music on your headphones it will feel easier and you can go longer with more energy. Maybe it does not sound that surprising to you but if you understand WHY this works the way it works you can turn it to an even greater advantage in your life. So how does it work?

Neuro-psychologist Erik Scherder was interviewed by Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant and provides interesting insights into how music helps us make things easier. He summarizes the impact of music on sports performance as follows; music has rhythm just like our bodies. For example our legs move to a (predictable) pattern. Also the communication between brain regions functions in a certain rhythm. And, if you play music that matches that rhythm then it improves communication between these different regions of the brain.

Memories attached to music can make us move more easily

So what does that have to do with sports? To make sure we walk straight, our legs constantly tells our brain what they are doing. That information gets to the sensory parts of our brain, right next to the brain parts that control motion. That’s also where the music from our ipod arrives and that gives extra stimulation to this area, which then helps to make the legs move and perform better.

There’s more though! We have neurons in the brain called mirror neurons. These jump into action when we remember things, like emotions from the past such as a good time, a party, romantic time spent. If you use a song that has memories attached to it, then the mirror neurons will also facilitate and stimulate the movement of the legs with a perceived lower effort.

And… when the legs get tired from the sports movement, the music creates a distraction in our heads. It diverts from the signals saying that we are tired.

Surprising detail from research done as to which music creates the best effect? Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky movies does a lot better than a lot of other music. Maybe it’s because people who know the movie have good memories and emotions with that music.

The Standing Desk is NOT the solution to the bad health effects of sitting down too much (in the office)

January 11th, 2016   •   Blog, Exercising for Health, Healthy Ageing   •   no comments   

I am not sure if you have seen all the hype about ‘sitting’ in the office and how it harms your health, EVEN if you do sports several times a week? Sitting down is ‘as bad as smoking’… and I believe the research: movement is key in living longer and have less health problems.

Standing desk

So what’s the solution?

The ’solution’ seemed to be -for a brief moment- the so-called standing desk, a desk mounted higher up, you stand in front of it, your monitor is at eye height, and under the desk you have a space for the keyboard; that way your shoulders relaxed and there’s more blood flow than when you are sitting, plus, your neck is positioned better. That means there’s less wear and tear on the neck vertebrae and the discs in between.

It turns out however that sitting less and standing more while you do office work is NOT the answer. Our bodies crave more or less continuous small movements. So it’s great if you manage 3 times 1 hour in the gym but the real health benefits will come to you if you add more movements during the day.

The real solution lies in what’s called micro movements.

  • Go out for a walk during lunch
  • Walk to your colleagues’ office,
  • Go by bike
  • Take the stairs

If you want to make movement more ‘evidence based’ then use apps on your smartphone. Most of them nowadays have sensors that track ‘active minutes’ or ‘number of steps’. If you just ADD that to the work you do in the gym (cardio, strength and functional training) then you will have much less wear and tear when you come into your 50s, and much less repair work by doctors 🙂

To quote the source, Dr Melvyn Hillsdon, from the University of Exeter: “Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself.”



Finally burnout seems to get the recognition it deserves

January 11th, 2016   •   Blog, Stress and Burnout   •   no comments   

Suddenly Burnout is ‘hot’. Last year, the European Commission (OSHA) published a report calculating the cost of work-related stress and concluded “Stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe.” Work-related health problems refer to (for example) mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders or diabetes, just to name a few on the list.

The cost in Euros in 2013 was estimated at €617 billion annually, comprising of factors such as absenteeism, health care costs, social welfare costs, and loss of productivity.

That’s kind of a big deal.

Belgium has now become the first country to create a law specifically addressing the prevention of burnout. It says that companies on Belgian soil must offer workers protection against psycho-social risks* (the fancy term used for risk factors affecting Burnout).

Governments such as in the Netherlands are trying to decrease burnout. Success seems far away though: in the Netherlands 1 in 8 workers (link goes to Dutch content) is facing a burnout (In Holland burnout has long been recognized as a work-related illness.)

So what’s missing? Well, often ‘reduction of absenteeism’ seems the common way to measure how “well” an organization is doing. That is a one-dimensional way of looking through the lens. What’s needed is for organizations to embrace mental and physical wellness of their employees in a broader, more long-term way. It should include strategies (from the top down) aimed at healthy ageing, harassment prevention, burnout recovery, integrative nutrition, and stress resilience, [anything else?]. Perhaps we should re-think Work-Life balance to Work-Life balance?

Ironically, at this point in time, the EU Commission that put the issue on the map in June, is now being asked to look at how well they are doing at protecting their own staff against burnout.


*Psychosocial risk is the risk of detriment to a worker’s psychological or physical well-being arising from the interaction between the design and management of work, within the organisational and social context (Cox and Griffiths, 2005).

Mindfulness doesn’t address burnout cause

January 5th, 2016   •   Blog, Stress and Burnout, Uncategorized   •   no comments   

Mindfulness is a great way to learn to relax but it will not necessarily help a person recover from a burnout nor prevent burnout from happening again. So why does mindfulness not solve the underlying cause of a burnout? There are in fact two essential reasons for this.

First of all, burnout is a gradual process that runs its course based on each individual’s belief and behavior patterns. There are some recognizable character traits that are often associated with a higher risk of burnout; such as having perfectionist tendencies, being a conflict avoider, or having the need to be ‘always’ helping other people. If we do not live up to some of these personal expectations about ourselves and our performance, feelings of guilt, failure and self-recrimination start to build up.

We start to ignore our energy and recovery boundaries thereby resulting in a chronic state of stress
Mindfulness can ease your stress in the short term, i.e. while you practice it. In such a way, it can contribute to lessening your immediate stress momentarily. What it doesn’t do is to take the heat of the chronic stress off. Mindfulness one of the functional tools used to help prevent a burnout but not necessarily to alleviate it.

Stress is like a teakettle of boiling water on a stove. Mindfulness can add cold water to the boiling water thereby keeping it at a simmer rather than  having it boil over. Burnout treatment focuses on learning how to turn the gas up and down on the stove itself.

The second reason why mindfulness during a burnout may not be the ideal way to deal with the situation at hand is the ‘staying in the moment’ effect. People in a burnout are often dealing with a negative or depressed view of self, others, situations, even life in general. As mindfulness is about ‘staying in the moment’, maybe you can already see where problems can arises. Mindfulness in such a negative state can trigger a situation where too much attention is paid to the negativity that is being experienced in that moment and actually contribute to getting caught in a progressive downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. Instead of finding a moment of ‘zen’, feelings of emptiness, helplessness, and apathy can gain a firmer foothold in the belief system thereby actually increasing the symptoms of the burnout itself.

Staying at home and doing nothing for a number of months often has the adverse effect that people start to find it more difficult to go back to work. This often leads to a negative spiral where people risk getting depressed. Burnout treatment needs to focus on physical recovery, cognitive and behavioral changes, and  eventually on teaching people new skills to, hopefully, avoid any relapse. Treatment needs to include assistance for people by helping them  to start resuming work in a  gradual step-by-step plan.

I am not saying that Mindfulness should never be used as a tool in cases of Burnout, but rather, that in these cases, a well-trained and experienced healthcare practitioner should be consulted and the technique used with caution.
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