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Busting Myths for a Healthy Pregnancy

Staying active and enjoying the second trimester! 

Staying active and enjoying the second trimester! 

Over the course of pregnancy, it seems like we have so much to worry about. Between vastly differing opinions, old wives’ tales and pregnancy books dishing out contradictory information, it really can send your head into a spin! 

Many of these anxieties are centered around what we should be eating and how we should be exercising. The thought that your behavior could potentially be harming your baby is a mother’s nightmare. So, when it comes to fitness and nutrition, just what is considered safe? How do we know if we’re pushing too much and will that slice of cake really make it all better?

As a Pre and Postnatal Specialist, ACSM-certified trainer and expectant mom, I’m here to put your mind at ease regarding a few of these pregnancy myths: 
 

Myth 1: Pregnancy is a time to put your feet up.

It’s important to give your body adequate rest, especially since pregnancy fatigue can be so debilitating. However, resist keeping your feet up throughout your pregnancy unless it’s doctor’s orders- it’s so important to get up off that couch and get moving!

According to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, we should aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise most days of the week during pregnancy.

Exercise not only prepares you for labour and delivery, but helps keep you in shape, increases mood and energy levels, relieves constipation, swelling, and muscle aches and can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Remember, each woman and each pregnancy is different and there are contraindications to exercising for some people, so please consult your doctor if you’re embarking on a new exercise program, especially if you are having complications.
 

Myth 2: Exercising too hard will harm your baby.

It's a common belief that too much exercise will pull nutrients away from your baby. Don’t worry, your baby will be fine! Our bodies are great regulators and it’s you who will experience a dip in energy if nutrient stores are low. To avoid this, keep blood sugar levels balanced, eat small frequent meals and ensure you’re not exercising on an empty stomach.

Another similar concern is that exercising too strenuously will deprive your baby of oxygen. Again, it’s you who will feel the effects of this first. The blood containing oxygen will be shunted to baby before mom. If you’re pushing it too hard and feeling exhausted, then it’s time to stop and your body will tell you so. 

So how do you know if you’re overstepping the limits? This usually equates to gasping for breath or unable to talk.

 Health professionals recommend using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to measure intensity during pregnancy. This is a scale that corresponds with how hard you’re working based on how you are feeling. For example, are you able to hold a conversation? If not, it’s time to stop!

Try to avoid being fixated on target heart rate zones; there is no true fixed target heart rate for pregnant women as our exercising and resting heart rates are effected so much by the demands of a growing baby. 
 

Myth 3: Running during pregnancy is bad.

So many moms, myself included, love to run. The health benefits from running are immense and the release of endorphins can be addictive. The thought of giving this up for 9 months is depressing!

But, is all that jarring movement really ok for baby?

Yes! You can carry on running throughout pregnancy if you were a runner before, and some marathon runners maintain their sport all the way through pregnancy. However, if you did not run prior to pregnancy, now is not the time to take it up.

As always, listen to your body and take into account the many changes that you’re physically going through. Some women find it uncomfortable to run as they gain weight and the pressure of the growing uterus on the pelvic floor muscles can create some undesirable situations, including incontinence! Also, be aware of the added pressure on joints- knee and ankle injuries are not uncommon during this time. Keep hydrated and monitor exhaustion levels carefully. Now is not the time to press for that PB!
 

Myth 4: You should avoid all abdominal exercises during pregnancy.

Core training is SO important during pregnancy and will help with a speedier labour, delivery and recovery postpartum. You just need to be mindful of the type of abdominal work you partake in.

The muscles we need to strengthen during pregnancy are the deep inner core muscles, which comprise of your pelvic floor, transverse abdominals, diaphragm and multifidus. These muscles form a unit which work together to stabilize the spine and pelvis ahead of movement.

The main abdominal exercises we need to avoid are the abdominal crunch and front loaded plank. Both exercises can cause intra-abdominal pressure leading to a splitting of the recti muscles (Diastasis Recti). 

For more information on how to safely train your core muscles through each trimester, please see my blog:

http://tangramwellness.com/blog/2016/11/15/strong-mama-solid-core-a-trimester-by-trimester-core-training-guide
 

Myth 5: Pregnancy is a time to eat for two.

You’ve probably heard this expression a zillion times! While you do need extra nutrients during pregnancy- particularly additional protein and calcium- piling on the calories is not the way to go.

During the first trimester, your baby does not require additional fuel. Trimester two is a period of growth but nothing to get excited about- an extra 300 calories daily will suffice. Your intake should increase to an added 500 calories during trimester three to accommodate for your baby’s growth. 

The real issue here is how worthwhile those additional 300-500 calories are towards feeding your baby, so aim to choose your food sources wisely. As I mentioned, protein and calcium are essential for the growth of your baby. Try incorporating the following in your diet: Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, nuts, sweet potato, lean meat, eggs and salmon.

Pregnancy should be a time to think about eating smarter rather than just eating more.
 

Myth 6: It’s fine to indulge in sugary, fatty foods throughout pregnancy.

Unfortunately, like any time in your life, a diet high in fat and sugar can have disastrous health consequences, as well as contributing to unwanted weight gain. 

Remember, you don’t have to put on a ton of weight in order to have a healthy baby. If you’re starting out at an average weight and body fat percentage for your height and frame, a weight gain of between 25-35 pounds over the course of nine months is what’s generally recommended.

Putting on too much weight during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and varicose veins while making natural labour much more difficult.

And, before you reach for a bag of chips, some researchers have found that what happens in the womb doesn’t just stay in the womb. Women on high fat, high sugar diets throughout pregnancy are more likely to give birth to larger babies who are at increased risk of diabetes and childhood obesity.

 My bottom line advice: Be sensible during pregnancy and listen to your body. Try to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet and continue to enjoy any exercise which your body is already used to. Avoid sports by which you have an increased risk of falling or abdominal injury- for example, horseback riding, skiing, gymnastics or rollerblading. And, please consult a health professional if you’re concerned about any aspect of exercise in pregnancy.

Thanks for reading! If you're ready to embark on a pre- or postnatal exercise program or have any questions, email me at Anna@tangramwellness.com . I offer weekly small group classes and private sessions for both expectant and new moms.

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Strong Mama, Solid Core: A Trimester-by-Trimester Core Training Guide

TrimesterCore.jpg

Core strengthening during pregnancy is quite often an area of concern. We’ve heard about how a stronger core will help us throughout our pregnancy, but is it really safe to work the muscles of your midsection during this time of immense physical change?

The answer to this is, “Yes, absolutely!"

It’s actually beneficial to incorporate core strengthening exercises into your pregnancy fitness program. In fact, this is one of the most important ways of ensuring a healthy pregnancy, labour, delivery and recovery.

There are, however, certain moves we should avoid, including:

Deep closed twists, in which the abdominal area is compressed. We see this a lot in yoga poses and certain exercises recruiting the obliques, for example the supine bicycle twist. You'll want to avoid twisting your core too much during pregnancy, as your uterus is working hard to make optimal conditions for your growing baby and twisting motions can disturb this process. 

Abdominal crunches, which involve deep flexion of the spine should also be avoided, especially after trimester one. This movement can cause abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti) as the uterus grows in size. Another negative of the abdominal crunch, like any exercise which involves lying on your back, is that the weight of the uterus can compress the vena cava blood vessels leading to your heart. This can cause lightheadedness and may also reduce oxygen supply to the fetus.

There are certain core exercises by which the safety can vary from person to person depending on one's ability to be able to activate smaller and usually forgotten stabilizing muscles ahead of the move. 

A great example of what I'm referring to is the front plank. It's essential to engage the pelvic floor muscles and transverse abdominal muscles ahead of performing the plank. Failure to do so can put too much pressure on the abdominal wall and again, contribute to that dreaded Diastasis Recti. If you're unsure of how to engage these deep core muscles ahead of planking, then this move should be avoided.

We're all built differently, with different levels of experience- our training plans should reflect this!

Ok, so which core exercises should you be performing as a mama-to-be?

Below are 3 examples of exercises which will keep your core strong during each trimester of pregnancy and are generally quite safe to perform:

TRIMESTER 1: OBLIQUE SIDE PLANKS

Oblique Side Plank, with modified version at the bottom

Oblique Side Plank, with modified version at the bottom

Your obliques are often neglected, but these muscles are such important stabilizers throughout pregnancy and strengthening them will help you eventually push your baby out! What could be better than added strength on delivery day?

 Teaching points:

·      Remember to breathe throughout the hold; aim for 30 seconds and try 3 rounds.

·      Imagine a zipper running from your pelvic floor muscles to your ribs. Activate and squeeze your core tight as you zip up.

·      If this move is too difficult, then drop your bottom leg to a bent knee position, as shown in the bottom photo.

TRIMESTER 2: SUPINE LEG EXTENSIONS

Supine Alternating Leg Extensions with Elbow Support

Supine Alternating Leg Extensions with Elbow Support

This exercise activates your transverse abdominal muscle, which is a key player in preventing Diastasis Recti.

Teaching points:

·      This exercise should be performed on your elbows especially after trimester 1 to prevent pressure on the vena cava vein.

·      Try three sets of 10 slow reps and exhale deeply on each extension.

·      Push your lower spine downward and pull your knees closer to your body to avoid lower back pain.

TRIMESTER 3: SITTING WALL SUPPORTED SQUAT

Wall Supported Squat

Wall Supported Squat

You may not think of this a great core strengthener but remember that your core includes your glutes, hips and lower back muscles too. Performing this move will not only help strengthen all the muscles of your core during pregnancy but will also help with your labour. This squatting position can be one of the easiest delivery positions and practice will help a speedy delivery!

Teaching points:

·      Try and hold the squat for 30 seconds at a time and breathe throughout.

·      Aim to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle.

·      Remember to engage your lower back muscles against the wall and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles to help activate your transverse abdominals too.

Ok strong mamas-to-be, happy core training!  

If you would like further information on how to exercise safely during your pregnancy and postpartum period, please contact Pre and Postnatal exercise specialist Anna Kwan: anna@tangramwellness.com for both private and small group tuition. Thanks for reading!   

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Tangram's September Fitness Inspiration: Gloria

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This month I’d like to give a massive shout out to my wonderful client, Gloria!

Gloria has been training with me for the past 7 months. She first approached me after she’d been unable to exercise for a few years following the birth of her daughter and a few medical issues over the years.

Gloria wanted to feel healthier in her body and get her life back on track. She’d suffered from a niggling lower back and neck pain for some time and, like many of us, she was concerned about the health issues that often arise with getting older.  

Gloria initially had poor energy levels. She rated her fitness ability, aerobic capacity and muscular strength very low. These factors, however, did not halt her progression. Gloria has proven to be a fighter; she works hard and shows determination in every session.

Over time we’ve seen Gloria’s lean muscle mass gradually increase. Her body composition has become trimmer and her ability to perform advanced compound exercises has improved tremendously.

Despite rating her fitness ability as low and claiming on her first session that she detests running, Gloria’s high intensity treadmill sprints are now a regular component of our sessions and she almost enjoys them…. almost!

It was apparent from quite early on in training that Gloria’s core muscle strength required attention. This is not surprising after enduring a difficult labour and subsequent complications. We therefore made core strengthening high on our list of priorities from the beginning. By progressing her workouts gradually week by week, Gloria has managed to reconnect her inner core unit which was shattered during pregnancy.

Learning how to properly activate her Transverse Abdominals during each exercise has not only strengthened her core and flattened her tummy but also means she no longer suffers from chronic lower back pain.

A true testament to Gloria’s determination with her training was made apparent over the summer. Gloria spent a couple of months back in her homeland of Italy visiting family and friends across the country.

Before leaving, Gloria voiced concern over the fact that she wouldn’t be able to train for two months. She worried that the progressions she’d made, especially regarding her core strength, would be lost. I devised a core strengthening workout plan for Gloria which she could perform anywhere, anytime…and she stuck with it! 

The hard work and consistency paid off. By sticking to this 20 minute plan, 3 times a week for the entire 2 months, Gloria has returned to Singapore in great shape. Her core strength is awesome and we can continue to push her in her sessions, without the usual holiday setbacks…this makes me a very happy personal trainer.

For Gloria, personal training has been a lifestyle change. She looks and feels so much healthier, her energy is high and she really enjoys herself in her training sessions! For her consistent hard work and excellent results, Tangram applauds her in being September’s client fitness inspiration! Well done Gloria, from all of us at Team Tangram. xx



 

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Adrenal Fatigue: What It Is, Why It's Controversial, and How To Recover

Picture this: You begin feeling tired for no apparent reason and your weight mysteriously increases, especially around the midsection. So, you do what many people would do in this situation- you put your energy into a plan that will help you shed the weight and increase your energy. And yet, after a few months on this plan, you still find yourself exhausted and the weight- well, it ain’t budging! So, you change up your fitness plan, only to discover that no matter what you do, you’re still stuck on square one. Of course, you’re frustrated- the weight keeps climbing while your mood and overall outlook starts to plummet.

As a personal trainer & hormonal fat loss nutrition coach, I see this scenario on a regular basis in the many women who come to me struggling with various hormone-related weight issues, including PCOS, pre-insulin diabetes, cortisol irregularities and adrenal fatigue or dysfunction. Many fitness professionals focus on the external, paying minimal attention to the person’s overall well-being. And, the majority of medical professionals tend to focus on treating a person’s symptoms by prescribing medication without actually digging for the root cause of the issue. As adrenal issues become increasingly common in our modern, stressed-out society, changing this dynamic is going to be crucial.

What exactly is Adrenal Fatigue and why haven’t many heard of it?

Before we can understand what adrenal fatigue is, we first have to understand what the adrenal glands are. Our adrenal glands are known as our “fight or flight” control station, and are stimulated whenever we feel excited, threatened or anxious through the release of cortisol and adrenaline/noradrenaline. Our adrenal glands are also vital in maintaining healthy blood pressure through salt regulation via the hormone aldosterone, and help the body deal with change and other stressful life situations.  Abnormal physical issues start to arise when the adrenals are constantly stimulated over a long period of time- often through chronic emotional or physical stress.

Enter Adrenal Fatigue.

This is a state of suboptimal health caused by adrenal glands that are no longer working well. Cortisol levels are also impacted, with too high cortisol levels at night and low cortisol in the morning, leading to a “wired yet tired” feeling. Conventional medicine does not currently accept “adrenal fatigue” as a medical diagnosis, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, and many endocrinologists only test for “adrenal insufficiency,” which is when adrenal functioning has already entered an “emergency” zone. However, looking at adrenal functioning as a black and white issue, rather than on a continuum, does not make much sense when we take into account the way our bodies function naturally. As a parallel, consider the diagnosis of “high blood pressure.” Given that 120/80mmHg is considered a normal and healthy blood pressure, does 121/80 automatically put one into the category of high blood pressure? It is like this with the adrenals- our adrenals work along a spectrum of functioning.

So, what are some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

Understand that this list is not comprehensive and that each of us can show varying degrees of these symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:

·      Persistent tiredness in the early morning or mid-afternoon, despite sleeping well;
·      The need for caffeine or other stimulants to get you through the day;
·      Trouble getting up in the morning, even after a good 8 hour sleep;
·      Feeling overwhelmed by the smallest thing;
·      Difficulty in coping with life’s daily demands;
·      Recurrent infections, cough, lung-related diseases;
·      Struggling to bounce back from illnesses;
·      Craving salt in particular, sometimes sugar/ sweet snacks;
·      Feeling energetic after 6pm;
·      Unexplained back or knee or joint pain;
·      Heart Palpitations;
·      Low blood pressure / blood sugar;
·      Pronounced midsection weight gain;
·      Unable to focus and concentrate;
·      Decreased sex drive.

Generally speaking, the less the state of adrenal dysfunction, the fewer the symptoms are and subsequently, the road to recovery can be much faster with a couple of weeks of good restful sleep, eating unprocessed and nutritious food, and getting enough movement and sunlight.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms may seem confusing and contradictory but that is because they reflect the body’s way of working to returning any imbalances back to the norm -- also known as homeostasis.

Since the endocrine system is highly complex and adrenal functions are inter-related to other glands and hormones such as the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, and testosterone, it makes sense that when the adrenal glands are constantly stimulated, this will cause a cascading effect on the other functions of the body. It is not surprising then that a lot of women with hormonal issues such as PCOS, diabetes, hypothyroidism and auto-immune disease also show signs of adrenal fatigue syndrome. The conventional medicinal approach is to prescribe medicines to mask the symptoms, but this often a temporary solution, causing more damage in the long run. In some cases where the adrenals have not been functioning normally for a long time and are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol, the person’s mental health will also take a hit in the form of depression and/or anxiety.

If you feel like you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue, don’t be surprised to find that the majority of healthcare professionals will not accept this as a possibility. As I mentioned, there is currently a black and white approach to diagnosing adrenal issues, as well as limitations in adrenal function testing.

The standard method is to perform a blood test, which is not helpful when it comes to diagnosing Adrenal Fatigue. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to get a 24-hour salivary cortisol test (not a singular cortisol test as it does not tell the whole story). Some experienced medical doctors, as well as those trained in functional medicine, may order a series of 24 hour cortisol tests over several days to get a more accurate picture, alongside testing for DHEA levels.

What Options Do I Have For Recovery?

It may seem like a doomsday scenario with adrenal fatigue, but the first steps on the road to lasting recovery are:

·      knowing what your symptoms are telling you;
·      taking ownership of your health;
·      being patient;
·      and, getting well-educated with the right practitioner on how to manage your condition.

Because we are each highly unique individuals, the key solution towards adrenal recovery will be an integrative approach towards a comprehensive lifestyle plan that work optimally for you.

Ideally, the plan will encompass:

·      the right nutrition (carbohydrate to fat amounts);
·      the right supplementation (also in the right amounts);
·      the right form of exercise or movement plan for you (this will be different from the average exercise plan);
·      other lifestyle shifts involving sleep, mindfulness practices and stress-reducing activities.

I urge you to start waking up to the signs your body is telling you and start caring for your adrenal glands through proper nutrition, rest, mind-body practices and other stress relief activities.

Even though adrenal fatigue is not commonly accepted in conventional medicine yet, this will likely to change over the years as the medical community evolves with research and clinical trials. However, there is no need to wait to until the day when “adrenal fatigue” is accepted into the mainstream.  Start tuning into the messages of your body and make a commitment to self-care as you travel on the road toward optimal health.


Sources: 
Integrative Oncology Essentials, "Adrenal Exhaustion and Cancer: Is This Real?" https://integrativeoncology-essentials.com/2013/09/adrenal-exhaustion-and-cancer-is-this-real/

Dr. Lam, "Top 10 Adrenal Fatigue Facts Made Easy" https://www.drlam.com/articles/top_10_adrenal_fatigue_facts_made_easy.asp

Yan Huang is a certified personal trainer and hormonal fat loss specialist who focuses on complementary healing for hormonal imbalance through fitness, nutrition and self-care. If you have questions for Yan or would like to book a complimentary consultation, email her at Yan@tangramwellness.com . If you liked this post, share it! Have a comment? Leave it below- we always love to hear from you. 

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Is Your Fitness & Nutrition Plan Working For Your Body? Here's How to Tell.

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

From the feedback I received about my first blog post on hormones and fat loss, I'm gathering that many women out there are frustrated and confused with all the wellness information available to them in terms of what actually works to "lose weight", particularly if one's battling with a hormone imbalance or autoimmune illness.

In the previous post, "Want to Lose Weight? Honor Your Hormones. Here's Why", I explored why we're looking at body transformation from the wrong perspective, as "weight loss" is often what's emphasized in the fitness & wellness community. But, focusing on losing weight is not the most empowering way to think about this journey and scientifically, it's not an accurate framework. 

In this post, I'm going to cover how you'll know if a plan is working for you and go over the general points of a successful approach that takes hormone balance into account. First, it's important to be honest with yourself about the reasons you've signed up for a fitness journey and nutrition overhaul. It's also necessary to shift away from an extreme dieting or "temporary" perspective, which only does the body harm in the long run. So, are you looking to lose 40 pounds in 4 months through extreme dieting and the "exercise more, eat less" approach, or do you want to adopt a sustainable way of healthy living and fat loss that lasts over a lifetime?

A successful "weight loss" plan is one that not only achieves overall fat loss, but that also keeps your hormonal system in check. Without access to high technology instruments on a daily basis, 
we can simply rely on feedback from these following 5 lifestyle factors:

1. Sleep quality: How has your sleep been in the last week, the last few months or even years? 
Your quality of sleep impacts how your body metabolizes glucose, which in turn will also
affect your insulin levels. It also impacts your hunger and appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which means that if you're not getting an adequate amount of sleep, you're more likely to reach for that bag of chips, ice cream or other late night treat. If your current nutrition and exercise plan is not supporting consistently good sleep quality, you've got to adjust the plan. If you aren't sleeping well, your efforts with exercise and balanced nutrition will be compromised. Get your quality sleep in. This means shutting off all blue light emitted from our phones or television sets at least 60 minutes before bed. You may wish to get yourself in the relaxing mood with some low frequency music, a soothing herbal tea, or diffusing relaxing aromas such as lavender essential oil.

2. Mood quality: Be honest with yourself here....

  • Are you truly happy and fulfilled daily? 
  • Does you go through extreme mood swings on a daily basis?
  • Do you feel like one day you are motivated and driven and the next day you are flat out?
  • Is your mood influenced by any type of addiction- food, iPhone, or alcohol, for instance?
  • Do you feel like your brain is not as sharp as you'd like it to be? 
  • Are you depressed for no apparent reason?
  • Are you in scarcity mindset- do you constantly worry that there is not enough?

Your mood can be a good indicator of what's going on with your hormones and brain chemistry, and it's also affected by your current nutrition and lifestyle regime. Easy changes can have a big positive impact on your mood, such as drinking chamomile tea, adding herbs like Lemon Balm and Kava to your diet, or enjoying a bit of cacao. 

3. Energy levels: Do you find that your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day? Do you feel you need your caffeine or sugar fix to get through the morning? Low energy levels will drain your willpower to eat well for your body, especially towards the end of the day. And, that equates to making poor choices in the nutrition and relaxation department, like bingeing on cookies in front of the TV set. If your energy levels are consistently low, it's worth looking into adrenal and thyroid function- important endocrine glands for keeping your metabolism in balance. If you suspect that your current fitness and nutrition program is zapping your energy, take a closer look at your macronutrient intake as well as the frequency and intensity of your workouts.

4. Hunger levels: Are you constantly hungry? Is your stomach always growling? If you're hungry all the time, then your nutrition plan is not sustainable, since your leptin and ghrelin are constantly going through extreme fluctuations, which will eventually lead to a resistance to either one of the hormones. Leptin resistance is now thought to be one of the leading drivers of fat gain in people, so this is important! Here's a little trick- if you find yourself going through the hunger games, eat your protein and fiber first, before consuming anything starchy.

5. Cravings: Whether it's PMS, pregnancy,  or being stressed to the max, we women know that when we have food cravings, all hell tends to break loose- typically at night, when alone, or over the weekends. Most cravings can be managed pretty simply by doing things like adding sugar-free cocoa powder to a healthy snack or by enjoying leucine-rich foods such as parmesan cheese, eggs, spirulina algae, red and white meat, and pumpkin seeds.

You might be reading this and thinking, "wow, I'm already overwhelmed!" Remember, sustainable change does not happen overnight. You've got to start looking at this from a long-term holistic perspective and treating it as a learning journey. 

So, there you have it- these are five indicators that will let you know if your current plan is working for you, and can be used to measure hormone balance and overall fat loss success moving forward. One note, when it comes to endocrine-related illnesses and autoimmune disorders, finding the proper nutrition and exercise approach is a delicate and somewhat experimental process. It's critical to be patient, and to collaborate with someone who is trained and experienced in working successfully with clients who deal with these issues. We're all individuals with our unique needs and challenges, and addressing fat loss from a hormonal perspective means creating a tailored plan and approach.

Thanks for reading this post- I hope you found it helpful! In my next post, I'll be detailing how to get started on a hormonal approach to fat loss. If you have any questions for me, just leave a comment here or email me at Yan@tangramwellness.com- I'm always here to help. If you'd like to set up a complimentary consultation with me, email and we'll schedule some time together. 

In Love, Health & Wellness,

 

Yan - Blog Signature.png

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What Team Tangram REALLY Does to Stay Fit

It's commonly assumed that many fitness & wellness pros live in the gym, employing magical and gruelling workout routines to keep their bodies in tip top shape. The truth is, most of us work long hours, have families and responsibilities well beyond fitness, and generally try to make the most of the little spare time we have. This week, as part of our series on how we wellness professionals actually live, we're sharing our real deal weekly exercise routines with you. We all come from different fitness backgrounds, and we've also got individual priorities and goals. Our hope is that we inspire you to carve out some time for physical self-care while giving you a few new ideas! 

Yan Huang, Metabolic Trainer & Nutrition Coach

Routine, routine, routine - but don't let it bog you down! Humans thrive on routine to improve and reach the next level. Remember that our routines will have to depend on our priorities and current learning abilities. Find the one that works for you NOW at this stage in your life and then keep at it consistently until you're ready to reach the next phase.

My fitness routine has definitely changed a lot over the years, depending on if I am preparing for a competition, dance event or simply the lifestyle I am leading.

Currently, my focus is on my hip stability, strength and overall conditioning while keeping a close look at a few key signals. This will tell me if I am overtraining, under-eating or have found my hormonal balance sweet spot.

I do daily mobility work for my entire body, in particular the hips and back, including the joints and ligaments of my wrists, elbows and toes. If there is time, I will also include a Pilates sequence as the slow and controlled movements really energizes the entire body, through deep breath and core work.

A little Pilates action for Yan

A little Pilates action for Yan

My weekly routine will look something like:

  • 4 days of strength-based workouts in the gym;
  • 2 days of simply bodyweight/banded metabolic-based conditioning outdoors.

Don't underestimate the intensity of the metabolic-based workouts using just the bodyweight! When done right, they can really torch up lots of fat-burning hormones.

As I get bored easily, I like to keep my fitness routine fun and outdoor-based for the extra benefits of Vitamin D - known to raise serotonin and GABA indirectly as it raises oestrogen. These are all your feel-good, happy hormones. Depending on time, I will always include a 20 minute slow & relaxing walk by the beach or in the park, after all that intense exercise. The long walks are critical to lower stress hormones and stabilize the body for a more efficient and sustainable fat loss.

Some days I may include just simply a total body stretch or lots of slow, restorative activities like a swim in the sea or just trigger point release or any fun activity such as dance or acroyoga.

I have learnED to prioritize sleep and recovery over my workouts. if my body is just simply too tired or my mind is too wired, I usually will skip the workout and go for a swim in the sea, read and just relax, or catch on sleep!

Lastly, let's not forget the mental and spiritual fitness as well; having good reads and meditation are now part of my routine.


Aimee Barnes, Health & Recovery Coach

My routine is similar to Yan’s. We are both figure athletes and love the heavy lifting, as well as paying attention to the functional and recovery side of fitness.

I used to train in the gym 5 days a week, but I’ve cut it down to 4 now and just make my minutes there super efficient. I usually time everything on my FitBit, including my breaks between sets, and I also track all of my reps and sets in a notebook, keeping a close eye on progress and setbacks as I move forward. 

Two days a week in the gym I spend an hour powerlifting- mainly compound movements, squats, deadlifts and bench press at a 3-6 rep range for 3 sets plus 2 warm up sets. The other two days a week in the gym I focus on hypertrophy workouts, and I always change my exercises up. Pull-ups are one staple- I do them a few times a week, both at the gym and outdoors behind my home.

I’ve trained with different coaches over the past few years, and decided that this time around I would train myself, putting all of my knowledge to good use and using my intuition and power of observation to dictate how each week is going to go. I’m proud and happy to say that it's working out beautifully so far. 

What time you get your exercise in isn't so important- it just matters that you're doing it!

What time you get your exercise in isn't so important- it just matters that you're doing it!

 

Usually I will work out by myself, but when I’m lucky, my favorite workout buddy, PNBA PRO FIGURE ATHLETE Roz Alexander, is there to push me. We love motivating each other with a little healthy competition and geek out about physiology and training modes.

I go to yoga class 2-3 times a week- I take Forrest Yoga on Mondays with Katheryn and then I go to Pure for Restorative Yoga. It’s no secret that I don’t really enjoy yoga and find it extremely difficult, as Katheryn knows- I’m a big class whiner- but it’s what I need to be doing right now because my muscles are so tight and my mind could use some loosening up as well. So, I show up and leave what I can on the mat.

Cardio is an ever-changing landscape for me. Currently, I walk home from the gym, which takes me a good 45 minutes 4 days a week. I’ll run for 30-45 minutes once or twice a week around the Quays- it's so pretty at night and relaxes me instantly. Pretty soon, I’ll start training for the Yellow Ribbon Run which I'm doing with a friend for mutual support, which means my running will increase to 3 or 4 times a week on a progressive plan.

Exercise is my antidepressant. To me, fitness is miracle medicine and I’ll still be pumping iron when I’m 80. It keeps me healthy, sober and sane.

 

Katheryn Meadows, Yoga Instructor

My personal fitness routine centers on not having time to sit down during the day! Whether it’s teaching a class or running after a kid, I’m ALWAYS on the move. Being a busy mom is a great workout for the body, mind and spirit!

I devote a lot of time to my yoga practice and am a disciple of Hee Boon Tan and Marysia Do at Pure Yoga, practicing 5+ hours per week there. My home practice generally consists of developing sequences for my classes and then kicking up to handstand two dozen times.

Additionally, I work out twice a week at Level on Telok Ayer. I train with Lorne Peart, who is begrudgingly teaching me super fun Ido Portal movements despite my constant arguments that yoga is better (which, for the record, it is). I also work with the fabulous Casey Mathes who forces me to do squats and cleans while listening to my crazy stories (and endless complaints about how much I hate squats and cleans).

Katheryn's got those handstands down! 

Katheryn's got those handstands down! 

I am definitely the type of person who benefits from having a personal trainer - when I go to the gym by myself I half-ass everything, skip reps and generally don’t know what I’m doing (despite training with the Amazing Aimee for like three years!!!). I’m eternally grateful to my dedicated trainers for helping me reach my potential, despite my bitching, moaning and complaining!

Combining yoga and strength training is my personal fitness routine. Being a strong yogi means that I can do fun arm balances, inversions and thousands of boat poses (and my students just LOVE boat pose!). And yoga helps me let go of expectations and deepen my gratitude and appreciation for life, while also lengthening and stretching my muscles.

Both also come in handy when wrestling a cranky and slippery three year old out of the bath and into his pyjamas ;)

 

Anna Kwan, Health & Fitness Specialist

My daily fitness routines vary depending on my energy levels. If I have a heavy day with lots of clients then I'll tend to do a yoga class in the evening to relax my body and mind, a few laps of the pool or even just a walk along the river. 

I love exercising outside, so if i'm feeling up for it I usually go down to our little fitness corner in the condo and knock out a 30 minute circuit!

I just keep going for 30 minutes with as little rest as possible repeating a body weight circuit of a few different exercises back to back. I use 1 exercise as "active rest" and then start again! Its pretty knackering and 30 mins is plenty...I usually have to bust out some good tunes to keep me motivated!

Anna's squeezing in a condo workout outdoors

Anna's squeezing in a condo workout outdoors

This was today's little gem:

1 minute rope skipping
5 wide pull ups
10 press -ups
20 walking lunges
5 narrow pull ups
10 tricep dips on parallel bars
10 squat jumps
1 minute plank (active rest)

Afterwards i'll jump in the pool which always feels amazing!

What does your current fitness routine look like? Are you ready to change it up? What's working for you- and what's not? Leave your comments below- we'd love to hear from you. And, if you like this post, please share! 

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What's In the Fridge at Team Tangram?

Have you ever wondered how so called "health nuts" live? In this series, Team Tangram gives you an uncensored peek into our day-to-day. We hope you'll find it refreshing! If you missed part 1- "What's For Breakfast?"- you can check it out here.

The contents of our fridges can be a window into our general health, and will either support our wellness goals or sabotage them. One exercise we recommend to all health coaching and personal training clients is a thorough cleaning of the fridge and cupboards, removing any foods from the home that aren't doing your body good. As you'll see in this post, every body really is different, and we all have different needs and habits. 
 

Aimee, Director & Coach

"The contents of my fridge are pretty random, because my husband and I like to eat quite different things and we're always changing it up! I usually follow a Paleo-style way of eating called the Autoimmune Protocol, which helps reduce inflammation in the body. So, my diet is higher in healthy fats and protein, and lower in carbohydrates. 

In my fridge, you'll find lots and lots of leafy green veggies, as well as various fruits and berries. Every evening I have a green juice before bed which helps me sleep, and it usually includes papaya and celery. We're also big on preparing large batches of food for the week, so there's lots of Tupperware filled with antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, beef, cooked sweet potatoes, and various salads. Some staples are sauerkraut, 90% dark chocolate, ghee or duck fat or grass fed butter, hot sauce, sparkling water and fish oil! I need to learn how to make fresh sauerkraut and kimchi at home- it's on the list of 2016 goals!"
 

Katheryn, Yoga Instructor 

Decisions, decisions! 

Decisions, decisions! 

"What's in my fridge? Honestly I couldn’t tell you.... because I have no idea.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a foodie. I know, shameful! It’s just not my thing and I’m consistently trying to make time in my busy schedule for nutrition. I see amazing results in my energy levels and overall physique when I focus on increasing my caloric intake - and especially when I eat more protein!

My relationship with food is like my relationship with my car. Some people LOVE cars (like my husband for example) and see them as works of art. Personally I couldn’t care less what car I’m driving as long as it gets me where I need to go and can fit all of my stuff in it. However, if totally neglect my car’s maintenance, it will break down. Similarly, even though I don’t really care about food, if I neglect my nutrition, my body won’t run as efficiently.

I also don’t cook - shocking, yes! Both because I don’t like to cook and because I’m terrible at it. So, the million dollar question, what’s in the fridge? Lots of milk for the babies, yogurt, eggs, bread, cheese, fruit, leftovers... pretty boring stuff!"
 

Anna, Health & Fitness Specialist

"So, we have lots of cans of soda water, which I just love when I come in from the heat. I try to limit myself to one daily as still water is a lot better for me but soda water is such a treat!

Quest bars, both myself and Nige adore, I prefer the almond vanilla as they're not as sweet as some of the others. I tend to chop a quarter in to my muesli in the morning, have a quarter after lunch as a sweet treat and then the second half in the afternoon if I'm feeling empty...such a good source of whey protein at 20g, with 15g of fibre and only 1g of sugar... Amazing and tasty, too.
I keep my fridge stocked with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, I buy them weekly at Tiong Bahru wet market so they're juicy and fresh. We also buy our meat and fish at the wet market, I find the quality is just so much better than supermarket brought. This week we've enjoyed snapper and salmon, tonight I'll be cooking pork loin (in the yellow bowl!) I marinade it in lemongrass, chilli, soy, ginger and garlic then grill to perfection.
 
I always keep eggs in my fridge as they're great hard boiled as a quick protein hit if I'm on the go! Similarly peanut butter is perfect as a quick yet satisfying snack; I tend to have a tablespoon of it with apple segments for an afternoon energy boost. I get my peanut butter from the UK when I have people visit...it's whole meal, very low in sugar and sodium and extra crunchy!

I use a dash of low fat milk in my morning coffee and soya or almond milk on my muesli. I'm not a huge milk fan though as I don't particularly like the taste.
We always have a tray full of fresh herbs ready for marinades. My husband and I love to cook and experimenting with different flavours is so much fun! Today I have lemongrass ready for my pork dish and mint which I'll use for my salad."


Yan, Metabolic Personal Trainer & Pilates Instructor 

"My fridge is so empty. I need to go to the supermarket! Oh, and I share the fridge with the family. 

The usual things I have in my fridge are Blueberries, Greek Yoghurt, herbs herbs herbs :)) , eggs, 
salmon for later, butter, lemon/lime infused water, unsalted natural peanut butter, butternut pumpkin, leafy greens, and mushrooms."
 

And, that's a fridge wrap! Remember, every body is different- find what works for you! What do you keep in your fridge? How can you have your fridge help you with your wellness goals? What do YOU want to know about how wellness pros live? As always, we'd love to hear from you. Leave your comments, and if you liked this post, share it! 

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Q&A With Tangram's New Metabolic Personal Trainer & Mat Pilates Instructor, Yan Huang!

As Tangram expands, demand for our women-focused integrative fitness offerings have quickly increased over the past year, and we're happy to welcome Yuyan (Yan) Huang on board! Yan will be serving as a metabolic personal trainer and mat pilates instructor, providing tailored fitness services to women across central Singapore. Yan's answered a few questions to help you get to know her better. 

You've been involved in the fitness & wellness world for 8 years now. What changes have you seen in Singapore? What's one thing that works…. and one thing that doesn't?

Over the last 8 years in the world of fitness and wellness, I have noticed how people are definitely starting to value the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle as a way of balancing the high strung and stressful life in Singapore.  There is also a lot of conflicting information out there regarding what's healthy or not, and what's the best method to lose weight/get stronger/lose bodyfat. Many people are confused!

I've noticed a rise in injuries as a result of sudden engagement in various fitness activities that people just aren't ready for, and also how people's health changes with the current quality of their life, food and sleep. 

The one thing that works will be what works for YOU as an individual which is in line with your goals, not the goals of others! The one thing that doesn't work...  If I have to say what doesn't work, it would be sticking to one modality of training without looking at your lifestyle and physical, emotional and mental self as a whole. 


You focus on the relationship between nutrition, exercise and hormones. Why the emphasis on hormones?

I love this question! This revelation of looking at your fitness or health goals from the hormonal point of view came at a turning point in my life right after my fitness competition in 2011. Like most people, I started out thinking that to lose weight or fat, it's all just about caloric deficit and exercising more. I did that and lost the weight, but I did not gain the strength nor manage to lose the typical female "trouble spot" areas. 

I'm a person who has always wanted to get to the root of the problem and seek a solution. So, that's when I got into bodybuilding- to learn how the competitors get so lean. I did get lean for sure however, no one in Singapore talks about life after competition openly or how to maintain the lifestyle and leanness. 

That is when I found out about the impact our hormones have on the human body through Dr. Jade Teta and Jill Coleman at the Metabolic Effect. It opened my mind to how we have been misled for many years thinking that weight loss is equivalent to fat loss.

From this viewpoint, I noticed the relationship between hormones and weight when I was teaching youths- how their stressful lifestyle was causing them to weight gain around the midsection. Meanwhile, my female friends and family were talking about their fat gain around their midsection, arms, mid-back and thighs. If stress levels and hormones aren't in balance, our bodies will tell that story.

What's the biggest challenge you've overcome and how did you do so?

Learning to embrace the big failures - having to close my horology showroom in 2013. The shop was a culmination of almost 8 years of my heart and energy. Like many entrepreneurs, lots of sacrifices were put into the business. Having to make the decision to let go and close the company was a huge challenge for me.

How I overcame it: through lots of reading, meditation, and the power of mind -- realizing that no success in life comes without falling -- because it is through the bitter moments and the challenges that we grow and develop to be best version we can be. And, once you see the bigger picture and break through it, you will be so grateful that you did. 

There is always something better ahead. That's how I followed my heart and entered the health and wellness industry as a professional.

Favorite exercise - and why!

Romanian deadlift! It's a compound technical exercise that works both the physiological and neurological aspects; the bigger muscles and smaller stabilizing muscles groups and breathing are all utilized. 

It also exposes the areas where we may be weaker, such as the inner TVA unit, the muscles around the shoulder blades, the mobility and strength of our wrists and fingers, right down to our ankles and feet. 

It is very empowering and yet metabolic boosting exercise when performed well, and it's effective in developing the hamstring and glutes and works the posterior chain, which helps with posture.

 
Tell us about your approach to fitness.

How I look at fitness has definitely evolved from when I first started.
My approach to fitness is now targeted more from the lifestyle point of view. Aiming at long-term sustainability towards maintaining strength, grace and a healthy body fat percentage. 
 
By lifestyle, I mean looking at the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental aspects, delving deep within into the why and the purpose of why people do what they do, why they eat what they eat.


You have some experience on the bodybuilding stage. What did you learn from that experience?
One major takeaway I learned is this -- the mind is a very powerful gift we all have been blessed with. Anything is possible if you truly put your heart, body, mind and soul into it. I say this because in my lifetime, I would never have thought of myself wearing a two-piece bikini and walking on stage. I was never that kind of girl so this was definitely a mental breakthrough. 

All I had in mind that day was -- I wanted to debunk the myth that weightlifting causes bulk in ladies and more importantly it is possible to get really lean through pure nutrition and training.

But I also learned that most people just want to know what works for them to get healthier, leaner, stronger and feel really good and confident about who they are. They don't necessarily want to be standing on stage.
 

Favorite food?
I love anything that is packed with natural wellness and colours without excess additives, salt and sugar. But an all-time favourite, surprisingly is a good ol' simple baked Portobello mushrooms with melted cheese, salmon with fresh herbs and sweet Japanese potatoes. 


If you could give one piece of advice to a client that's been on the yo-yo diet rollercoaster, what would that be? 

Ditch the "eat less, exercise more" model. It is not sustainable, and more importantly, it wrecks your entire hormonal system which makes you gain more weight and fat. It makes maintaining one's weight or losing fat a lot harder later on! 
Treat your hormones right, love your body entirely, and she will love you back in return. It will show, without a doubt.

As always, thanks for reading! To learn more about Yan's background, experience and qualifications, visit her profile here. book personal training or pilates sessions with Yan, contact us via email or call + 65 9725-0583. Have a question on hormones and fat loss for Yan? Leave it in the comments section! 

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Meet Tangram's Health & Fitness Specialist, Anna Kwan

Anna Kwan, Tangram Wellness's new Health & Fitness Specialist, has had a whirlwind first month in Singapore and is already bringing her passion for all things fitness to women across the city, as well as thinking about her own athletic goals for the coming year. To help you get to know her a bit better, I've asked Anna ten questions about training, food, and her new life on the Little Red Dot. 

You've just moved from the UK to Southeast Asia- that's a big leap! What brought you to Singapore?
My husband and I have always had our hearts set on living in Southeast Asia; his family are from Hong Kong and I’ve been really keen to learn more about his heritage. We decided on Singapore over Hong Kong in the end due to the lifestyle factors and Nigel (my husband) secured a job here.

How long have you been involved in health & fitness? What attracted you to this field?
I’ve always been keen on Health Sciences since studying Human Biology at university. Back then I was a competitive swimmer and exercise was already a huge part of my life. It seemed obvious to combine the two. I got certified with the American College of Sports medicine for Personal Training straight after I graduated from university and have been working in this field ever since.

Tell me about your approach to fitness.
I believe a varied approach to fitness is the best. In the past I’ve focused solely on individual sports like swimming, triathlon and marathons but this has unfortunately often resulted in injury from overtraining. Nowadays I like to carefully combine a number of disciplines which compliment running such as yoga, core work and weight training to keep me balanced and injury free.

You've worked with hundreds of clients over the years. Any memorable moments or success stories you can share?
It has To be the first client I trained up for a marathon. My client Joe was an ex-boxer with numerous injuries but had his heart set on competing in the New York Marathon! He’d never attempted long distance running but after months of hard work with a bespoke training regime and constantly battling reoccurring injuries, he succeeded in completing the marathon in 3hrs 30 mins! It was an emotional journey that we both will always remember.

You're a marathoner and triathlete. Are you thinking about participating in any events in Asia, even with the heat? What has been your favorite race so far?
I would love to participate in some events out here. I’ve got to be honest, the heat will be a challenge but something I can overcome I’m sure after I’ve acclimatised first. I’ve heard lots of good things about the Angkor Wat Half Marathon and couldn’t imagine a more picturesque race! My favourite race has to be the London Marathon as there’s something so special about racing in your own city with family and friends supporting you. It’s always a great event come rain or shine and receives so much support.

We've got a lot of people in Singapore preparing now for the Standard Chartered Marathon and Ankor Wat Half Marathon. What's your advice for a successful race?
Apart from getting the miles in, I’d always advise clients to focus much more on stretching during their training. Overuse injuries are so common during marathon training and can be soul destroying if it jeopardises the big event. I also encourage clients to focus more on their diets during training. Maintaining good nutrition throughout the training programme will build muscle and help repair injuries faster and a carefully devised pre-race nutrition plan is essential and can make the difference between a good or bad race.

What's your favorite food? Have you found a restaurant in Singapore you love yet?
I’m a huge foodie and love the range of cuisines on offer here in Singapore! I adore Asian cooking, anything with zingy and fresh flavours gets my vote. My favourite so far is Kilo Lounge, which I’d highly recommend.

What are you most looking forward to about living here?
The amazing climate! Coming from London it’s so lovely to be constantly warm even if it’s grey!  I love how everything is geared to the outdoor lifestyle it’s fantastic to be able to be outside all the time.

Singapore is a massive foodie culture- we're obsessed with eating out! How can one maintain their weight and fitness with all this amazing food around? Give us some tips!
It is very difficult with the amount of good food on our doorsteps. It’s about being in control and having a balanced approach. I know there’s so much temptation! I’d say try whenever possible to eat dishes with fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetables. Almost all cuisines have their healthy dishes, obviously avoid fried foods, buttery sauces and opt for lean grilled fish and meat.

What's your best piece of wisdom for someone on the path to greater fitness?
You’re not on this planet for long and being fit and healthy is as much in your mind as it is in your body.  If you want it, you can achieve it. But most of all have fun doing it!

Thanks, Anna! If you have a fitness question for Anna or would like to make an appointment for a consultation, email her at anna@tangramwellness.com


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Knock out Father Time With Turmeric Tea

Home Brewed Turmeric Tea 

Home Brewed Turmeric Tea 

Maybe you're at a true place of peace with aging gracefully. Or, perhaps you're like me and you already have your boxing gloves on, in the ring with Father Time and fully prepared to knock him out cold. While exercise- and more specifically, strength training- is one of the very best ways to cheat the clock- what you put inside of your body makes a massive difference as well.

Turmeric, a common medicinal "super spice" used in traditional Asian medicine for over four thousand years, is a fantastic natural anti-aging and anti-inflammatory agent due to the natural phenol curcumin, which gives turmeric its beautiful yellow hue. 

A recent review issued by the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University concluded that due to "its demonstrated chemopreventive and therapeutic potential, curcumin, the bioactive extract of turmeric, promises a great future in human clinical studies designed to prevent and/or delay age-related diseases." Three other studies made similar conclusions, and also found that turmeric was shown to be a preventative in post-menopausal breast cancer. 

In Okinawa, Japan, large amounts of turmeric tea are consumed, and it's no wonder that Okinawa is also known to have the most long-lived people in the world! 

Needless to say, I've been adding turmeric to my daily diet. Alzheimer's disease and arthritis both run in my family and turmeric is shown to help prevent or slow both. Being in my mid-thirties, I have the (mis)fortune of battling acne spots and wrinkles simultaneously and, guess what? Turmeric decreases fine lines and wrinkles while acting as an antiseptic. 

Try this simple recipe for turmeric root tea, which I'm sipping as I type this: 

Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh grated turmeric root
2 tbsp. of fresh grated ginger
4 cups of water
lemon and honey to taste

Directions:
Finely grate the turmeric root and ginger root, and add to 4 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and strain. Add lemon and honey to taste.

Sip slowly and enjoy! Do you have a natural anti-aging remedy that's working for you? If so, share it in the comments section!

If you missed my post on weightlifting as the Fountain of Youth, you can check it out here: http://tangramfitness.com/blog/2014/1/6/seeking-the-fountain-of-youth-head-to-the-weight-room

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