How diet and lifestyle affect health: evidence in maps

Sometimes picture is better than a thousand words. What if we just look at the US statistical maps for obesity and heart disease and see how they relate to lifestyle and nutrition?

The full maps are shown at the bottom of the page, and if you examine them, you will see that:

  • heart disease rate and obesity are almost perfect overlap;
  • obesity, heart disease and percentage of inactive adults are in very good correlation;
  • obesity, heart disease and soft drink consumption are very good correlation;
  • higher fruit and vegetable consumption in most cases correspond to lower rate of obesity and heart disease;
  • higher meat and poultry consumption usually, but not always correspond to lower rate of obesity and heart disease;
  • solid (saturated) fat consumption does not correlate with obesity and heart disease

Most of these results reflect what we already know: sugar-rich foods are the worst for health.

A noticeable good effect of meat and poultry consumption is in line with research that shows that protein rich diet is best for weight loss and exercise.

It is also interesting, that we cannot see no bad effect of higher saturated fat consumption.

Lets focus on the southeast region. I highlighted and numbered four areas for more careful analysis: San Antonio / Austin Texas (area 1), Mississippi (area 2), Northern Georgia (area 3), and Southern Florida (area 4)

AreaObesityHeart Disease% InactiveSoft drinksFruits and vegetablesMeat and poultry

Region 4 is an exception for meat and poultry consumption, with low meat/ poultry and low obesity. Because this is South Florida, I suspect that people there substitute various fish and seafood for meat. But based on the other three regions, we can see that high meat and poultry consumption is certainly compatible with good health.

I did not use saturated fat for this sub-analysis, because the way it is concentrated on the map (the bottom one) probably reflects higher cheese and milk consumption in North Central states. It doues not show clear correspondence to any other map.

Below are full versions of these maps (taken from and


Heart disease deaths per 100,000:

Percentage of adults inactive in leisure time:

Soft drink consumption, gallons per capita:

Fruits and vegetables, Lbs per capita:

Meat and poultry, Lbs per capita:

Solid (saturated) fat, Lbs per capita

Healthy nutrition: go sugarless and increase protein

To understand the claim in the title of this article, we need to start with the basics. All nutrients you get with food can be divided in two categories: essential and non-essential.

Essential means “indispensable” – they are the ones that your body does NOT make on its own.

Non-essential nutrients are the ones that your body does make on its own. You body’s ability to go from one nutrient to another is as follows:

  • All carbohydrates (sugars) can be made from proteins and fats. They are non-essential nutrients.
  • Fats can be made of any other nutrient, with an exception of essential fatty acids (EFAsomega-3 and omega-6) that must be obtained with food in small amounts.
  • Protein is an essential nutrient. Protein cannot be made completely from scratch, because 9 out of 20 protein building blocks, called amino acids are not made in our body and therefore must be obtained with food. They are essential. This means that we must eat protein to build our own.
  • Carbohydrate, fat and protein can all be used to produce energy. The default energy source is carbohydrate (glucose); if glucose is not available then your body will readily burn fat and then protein. Carbohydrate, fat, and protein together are called macronutrients (“macro” means “big”), to stress the fact that we get most calories in food from them three.
  • Water, vitamins and minerals are all essential: they are not produced in our body and must be obtained with food. (To be precise, some water is produced in your body, but that amount is not nearly sufficient to keep you alive).

The following diagram represents these rules:

Since I majored in biochemistry this simple concept about nutrition is as obvious to me as multiplication table, yet I find that so many people are unfamiliar with it.

So if you are trying to build a low-calorie diet that is balanced and contains all essential nutrients, does it mean that you have to get obsessed with looking at those nutritional facts and count all those calories and grams of fat and protein? Well, the answer is both yes and no. You need to understand basic facts about foods once, and after that you will not have to worry too much about how those numbers add up.

Below are three simple rules you can use to build a well balanced diet:

  1. Carbohydrate rich foods that contain no or little essential nutrients can be safely reduced to a minimum. That is the easiest way to keep your calories low. I call it a carbohydrate avoidance strategy. If protein content is below 5 grams per serving – reduce this food or exclude it from your diet. This way you will stay low on calories automatically, without having to count them.
  2. Build your diet around animal protein-rich foods. The best ones are those that have calorie to protein ratio anywhere between 5 to 10 (using kilocalories and grams for protein). Examples are meat (with fat trimmed off), milk, poultry, eggs, fish and “light” cheese. In these foods, most calories will come from fat, which it fine. Regular cheese and sausages are bad examples, because in those foods, calorie to protein ratio is about 20. That is way too many calories per gram of protein. You can still include these, but limit serving sizes.
  3. Include a variety of plant products – oils, vegetables and fruits to supply essential fatty acids and vitamins. Use a normal portion size for oil, about half ounce (15 ml). Green veggies, salads and fruits are unlimited, because they are very low in calories.

When on a fitness program, best results are achieved by cutting carbohydrate to a minimum while increasing protein intake. Here is an example of how reducing carbohydrate while keeping the total energy intake the same results in improvements in weight loss (this particular experiment was in obese women; all diets were reduced in calories, from Meckling, 2007):

Carbohydrate to protein ratio (in calories)Exercise included?Weight Loss (kg) over 12 weeks
3 to 1No2.1kg
1.5 to 1No4.6 kg
2.7 to 1Yes4 kg
1 to 1Yes7 kg

We can see that reducing carbohydrate relative to protein while keeping the total calorie intake constant results in a better weight loss. The best combination for weight loss in this experiment was 1 to 1 carbohydrate to protein diet in combination with exercise.

To make certain important chemicals in our body, called leukotriens and prostaglandins, we need two kinds of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. (Omega-9 fatty acids advertised on some supplements are not essential.) There are several different subgroups in each class, but we will just refer to omega-3 and omega-6 to keep it simple.

Despite the presence of many products on the market advertized as “omega-3 supplements” the truth is that you can easily meet your daily need for both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids with 2 servings (1oz, 30 mL) of canola or vegetable cooking oil, or blended oils that include eigher one of these two. The trick is that these two common oils are very high in omega-3, and most other oils are high in omega-6. So you could use either pure canola and vegetable or blended oil like canola/corn or canola/vegetable. Important: olive oil is a poor source of essential fatty acids, despite being more expensive. Here is my full article about this. Including 1 to 2 servings of plant oil is also good for another reason: polyunsaturated fat in your diet may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, although some scientists argue that evidence is not strong enough to claim this.

Your customized diet

You are ready to build your own diet customized to your needs. One common mistake is attempting to write a weight loss diet from scratch, and abandon most foods you love to eat. It is a very bad idea. Your feeding habits took years to form, and you will feel very unhappy without foods you love. Your chances of sticking to such a diet in a long term are fairly low.

Much better idea is to analyze your current diet and make adjustments to it based on your goal. I call this method do-it-once calorie adjustment. Here is my detailed article about it.

The idea is that when you are starting you diet and fitness regime, do a summary of foods you eat, including protein content and calorie content. You really do not need to include fat and carbohydrate here, since you know that they can be converted one into another. In protein-rich animal foods, most energy comes from fat; in plant foods it is both fat and carbohydrate, but all you care about istotal calories. Most certainly, your breakdown of foods will fit on one page. Example:

Food servingCaloriesProteinCalorie to Protein ratioNotes
1 egg70611OK
120g (4oz) sardines in tomato juice156246.5OK
120g (4oz) tuna in water133284.7OK
1 cup (240 mil, 8oz) 2% reduced fat milk130816limit
1 cup whole milk1731116limit
120g (4oz) chicken breast220327OK
0.5 oz (15mL) plant oil1200Must have 2 servings
Potato, large250736Limit
360 ml (12oz) beer, regular1400Exclude
360 ml (12oz) beer, light1000Limit
120g (4oz) pork2802810OK
113 g (4oz) muffin300650Exclude

The food nutrition facts are eigher on the packaging or you can do a quick search on a website like this one: .

When you do your diet analysis you will be able to evaluate your foods, see how much total calories you are consuming and most importantly, how and where to cut down on your calories. Identify poor food sources, and put a note. That means that you will either have to abandon them or limit serving sizes.

You will have to do this table only for foods rich in calories, which includes all animal products, all flour and starch rich products, including grains, and all fat rich products. Green vegetables, salads and fruits are very poor in calories, so you do not have to include them in your analysis. Consume them in unlimited amounts in any combination.

When you have your custom food summary, follow these steps:

  1. Determine you current calorie intake.Simply write out foods you have consumed yesterday and add up calories.
  2. Adjust it according to your goal: weight loss, muscle gain or both. You will need to go down on calories a little bit in order to push your metabolism out of its stable weight zone into a weight loss zone. Use theses guideline for calorie adjustment:
  • For most effective weight loss, reduce total calories to about 70% of your starting point.
  • For most effective muscle gaindo not limit calories, stay at normal energy consumption.Substitute carbohydrate and fat with protein calories whenever possible.
  • For a combination of fat loss and muscle gain go anywhere between 75 and 95 % of you starting point. The exact point will depend on many factors: your will power, eating habits, social habits, etc. To preserve or gain muscle, you absolutely have toexercise. If you do not exercise, you will lose both fat and muscle.


1 Potato, 4 oz pork, 15ml oil/salad250+280+120=6507+28+8=43
1 Potato, 2 eggs, 15ml oil/salad250+70*2+120=5107+12=19
120 g (4oz)Tuna in water13328
One 24oz can of light beer200
2 cups (500mL) reduced fat milk130*2=2608*2=16

This 1750 calories, 106g protein diet would be a good weight loss starting point for many. As you can see, it is easy to design your customized diet which will also supply necessary amount of essential nutrients. No additional supplements were needed.Below are few more suggestions on healthy nutrition:

  • Rely on what your body signals about its energy needs. Always be a little “hungry”. Do not indulge on food. Limit portion sizes and split food consumption evenly throughout day for best appetite control. When you exercise more the first thing that happens is that your appetite will increase. Watch your calories and do not indulge! Here is my article about managing your appetite.
  • Do not attempt to starve and lose weight very fast. I do not recommend attempting to lose more than 2-3 kg (6 pounds) per week.
  • Drink plenty of water. A lot of times you feel like you are hungry, but you are in fact thirsty. Drinking plenty of water fills up your stomach and helps reduce food cravings.
  • Use two rules of legendary Mr. Jack Lalanne: “if man made it, don’t eat it”, and “if it tastes good, spit it out.”

In conclusion, I would like to mention that in a whole picture of health and fitness, your diet only comes second to physical activity and exercise. The importance of diet is overstressed, while physical activity and sleep regime in underestimated. The reason for this is simple – foods are easy to advertise and sell and require no effort on your side. And most people want something with no effort. That is why the market is flooded with all kind of nutrition and food supplement products that claim to “burn fat” with no effort required.

Some of these products are certainly good, but take any claims with healthy skepticism. Free-ranging eggs and vegetables from Whole Food stores are definitely better choices than regular products from cheap Mexican stores. But they will not do magic. You can lose weight with just diet, but you will lose both fat and muscle. And losing muscle means decrease in your body’s ability to burn food into energy. There will be very little or no gain to your overall health with just diet and no exercise.


Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease.
Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-9.

Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.
Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46.

Metabolic effects of weight loss on a very-low-carbohydrate diet compared with an isocaloric high-carbohydrate diet in abdominally obese subjects.
Tay J and others. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Jan 1;51(1):59-67.

The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010?
Astrup A and others. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):684-8

A randomized trial of a hypocaloric high-protein diet, with and without exercise, on weight loss, fitness, and markers of the Metabolic Syndrome in overweight and obese women.
Meckling KA, Sherfey R. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Aug;32(4):743-52.

Effects of a hypocaloric, low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss, blood lipids, blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and body composition in free-living overweight women.
Meckling KA and others. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002 Nov;80(11):1095-105.

Effects of a popular exercise and weight loss program on weight loss, body composition, energyexpenditure and health in obese women.
Kerksick C and others. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 May 14;6:23.

Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular mortality among U.S. adults, 1987 to 2002.
Mukamal KJ and others. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Mar 30;55(13):1328-35.

Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highlyresistance-trained men.
Mora-Rodríguez R and others. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33807

Dietary cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients: a review of the Harvard EggStudy and other data.
Jones PJ. Int J Clin Pract Suppl. 2009 Oct;(163):1-8, 28-36.

Egg consumption as part of an energy-restricted high-protein diet improves blood lipid and bloodglucose profiles in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Pearce KL and others. Br J Nutr. 2011 Feb;105(4):584-92

Effects of eggs on plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations.
Fernandez ML. Food Funct. 2010 Nov;1(2):156-60

A five-step program to fix metabolism, lose fat, and build muscle

If you are visting this site, you are probably looking for a solution to lose weight. Most people want an easy solution, they are not willing to invest time and effort in educating themselves or in improving their lifestyle. I never understood that. People invest enormous amount of time in learning about TV celebrities or playing video games, which has absolutely no effect on their own lives, but are not interested in learning about their health.

Before looking for a solution we need to understand the problem a little better. Obesity itself is neither the problem nor the cause of problems.

Obesity is a manifestation of a messed-up metabolism.

Messed-up, unhealthy metabolism is the cause. Improperly functioning metabolism, in turn, has its own underlying cause: unhealthy lifestyle. This whole website is about careful analysis and finding solutions to adjust lifestyle in developed countries, with U.S. being the extreme. There is a solid scientific proof to suggest four major problems with lifestyle:

  1. Too much sitting
  2. Too little exercise
  3. Too many calories in food, particularly in a form of sugar
  4. Too little or irregular sleep time

I created this website not just for analysis but also to provide a comprehensive solution.

SOLUTION: A five step program to fix metabolism, lose fat, and build muscle

I could have called my program like others do, something like “Five easy steps to lose weight”. But I will not, because it would be lies. Nothing about human body is easy. If you want an easy solution, you might want to get one of those “fat burning” pills and see how that works for you. This program is a life-long commitment to healthy lifestyle. If you are not ready to make a life long commitment to healthy lifestyle and just looking to quickly drop 10 pounds, then look elsewhere.

The program is made of five steps which all start with letter “S” to make it easy to remember. The diargam below illustrates those steps and how your body will respond:

This map is actually is an extremely simplified diagram of some of the things that we know. Behind this map, there is a whole kingdom of things hidden from us. But we will work with what we know about our body, listening to its needs, and keeping us updated with latest research.

First three out of five steps in this program are all about increasing you activity level and giving your body a level of physical challenge it direly needs. With some thought and creativity you can fill most of your day with some kind of activity – standing, walking, aerobic exercise and resistance exercise. Make physical activity a default during your wake hours: whatever you are doing, you should be standing, walking, or running, or doing some kind of exercise. Reduce your sitting time to a minimum — it hurts you most and is the major problem with lifestyle in developed countries. This will take some thought, creativity, and planning. Provide your body with protein to build its own, vitamins and minerals, and necessary amount of sleep time. Exclude carbohydrate-loaded foods that have no essential nutrients, especially sweet stuff that gets you addicted by acting on your happiness centers.

Sweat. “Sweat” is aerobic exercise; it is also called endurance exercise, or simply “cardio”. This is really the most important component of the program, and there is absolutely no substitute for it. What aerobic exercise does is improving your cardiorespiratory fitness, or CRF. CRF is the single most important parameter of your health.

So how about all those “lose-20-pounds-in-2-weeks-with-no-exercise” kind of advertisements? You see, this is not strictly about weight loss, it is really more about fitness. Certain diets will cause weight loss, but diet with no exercise will cause you to lose both fat and muscle. Losing muscle means decreasing energy-producing capacity, or metabolic rate. Why there is so much talk about all those organic foods and food supplements? Because they promise you results with absolutely no effort. A well-balanced nutrition will only prime your body to become healthier, that is to burn fat and build muscle, but you only can make your body do it through exercise. If you thought you could increase your fitness and health level with just expensive all-organic diet, while still spending most of your time in that comfortable chair, keep dreaming. The only way to improve it is by doing aerobic exercise – the kind of exercise that brings your heart rate to 70% or more above rest.

Research shows that the particular kind of aerobic exercise is not important, what is important is duration and intensity. You could be jogging, swimming, dancing, or on a treadmill; as long as it is intense and duration is at least 30 minutes. Find the kind of exercise that you enjoy and that best fits your schedule to make it a daily routine.

The bottom line: exercise is a must. People worry too much about their BMI (body mass index) and weight and are not paying attention to cardiorespiratory fitness level. Research shows that higher BMI/higher fitness is far better than lower BMI/low fitness level.

Stand. We know everyday exercise is important. How about the rest of your wake time? Does it make sense to spend most of wake time sitting, do a 30 min workout, and expect great results?

In 1953, they found that in England, bus drivers have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease than train conductors. The underlying cause? Bus drivers sit their entire work shift, whereas train conductors stand. The healthiest occupations turned out to be mail carriers who walk all day. Sedentary work is a huge occupational hazard, on par with smoking. The problem though is that we do not just sit at work. On average, Americans sit additional four hours at home in front of a TV or a computer. And for every hour per day of TV viewing all cause mortality increases by 11% , whereas mortality due to cardiovascular disease by 18%. That is for every hour of sitting per day.

The bottom line is: quit sitting. Do all your favorite activities, including internet, TV, video games, while standing. It will take some creativity and thought, but little or no money. Look here how I made my standing work area at home. Some people went as far as mounting some kind of a treadmill underneath their desk.

Fill your day with activities that engage most of your body muscles. They absolutely do not have to be physically demanding. Activities that you love and enjoy. Gardening or walking with your dog are great examples. Poker or eating out clearly not. When you go shopping, see how everybody wants to park as close as possible to the store? Do not follow the crowd — park as far as possible, so you can walk a little. Very soon, you will get into a habit, and you will actually get tired of sitting. I remember it was pretty hard to wean myself off that chair, but now I get tired of sitting for more than 10-15 minutes! Because I do not even use chairs now, I hid them all in a closet, one day they will go on a yard sale.

Strength. “Strength” is resistance exercise – the kind of workout when you are pushing targeted muscles to the limit by giving them a load that you can only repeat about 10 to 20 times. A basic resistance workout can be done at home; a pair of dumbbells or a barbell are desirable but not absolutely necessary. Push-ups are great example of a basic resistance exercise. While resistance exercise will not raise your cardiorespiratory fitness level, it has its own unique benefits: it helps maintain and increase muscle volume and strength.

By including resistance training you build up larger muscle mass, increasing your body’s energy-producing ability. An added benefit is athletic looks, which will definitely increase your self-esteem level and general satisfaction with life. Anabolic hormones, such as testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor all spike after intense resistance training. They stimulate recycling of muscle, bone and cartilage tissue and slow down aging.

According to research, the benefits of resistance training are greatest when it is used in combination with aerobic exercise. In a way, by doing cardio+resistance program, you are doing a better cardio!

Sugarless. Healthy nutrition will provide necessary fuel and building blocks so your body can do all those wonderful things and flourish. Based on research and experience, I recommend low sugar / high protein diet. Out of three main nutrients, protein, fat, and carboydrate, only protein is an essential nutrient. This means your body needs to get protein with food in order to build its own. Everything else is disposable: your body can build all of its fat and all of its sugar (with one exception, read my article about nutrition). And it can use all three major nutrients as energy source. Build your diet around protein, using a variety of protein-rich foods, and also making sure that you get other essential nutrients: vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Examples of such foods are meat (both lean pork and beef), poultry, fish, eggs and reduced fat milk.

This diet is the easiest to maintain, because if you dump sugar, you will not have to worry too much about counting calories – your body will decide how much protein to use as building blocks and how much burn to obtain energy. Most protein-rich foods, such as eggs and meat, come with a decent amount of fat, and that will be your primary energy source. To mention here, there is nothing wrong with consuming fat. What makes you get fatter is not fat that you eat, it is the total amount of calories you consume in any form.

It is particularly important that you completely avoid simple sugars — glucose, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup — a major sweet sugar in US), and sucrose (hite power sugar sold in stores is sucrose; it is made of one glucose and one fructose). Anything that tastes sweet. Apart from the fact they are loaded with calories and usually contain no essential nutrients, there is something else about the sweet taste: it really has the power to make you feel happy! Did you notice that you tend to crave for that chocolate bar a lot more when you are stressed and tired? Sweet calorie-rich foods act as antidepressants and provide positive feedback to make you crave them even more. They almost make you overeat. Kind of like any smoker will tell you that you cannot limit yourself just to one cigarette per day. If you smoke, you will eventually be smoking exactly a pack per day. It has to do with appetite control, here is my full article about it.

Sleep. If you are serious about your health, get least 7 hours of sleep every day and wake up at the same time. Not having enough sleep with cause you to overeat (on average, by 500 calories), will cause imbalance of glucose, will mess up hormones that control appetite so it will negate all the benefits of exercise and healthy diet. Irregular sleep hours, a result of shift work that many people have to do, is as bad as having not enough sleep.

Our ape-like ancestors did not have no electricity, so they woke up with sunrise and went to sleep with sunset. Every day, for millions of years. No wonder that your sleep cycle is such a powerful mechanism in your body, that trying to mess with it will only cause serious problems in all your body systems. Yet these days people mess with it all the time. They watch TV till 2 am and wake up at 6 to go to work. Have late parties. Work night shifts. Actually, if you wake up to an alarm clock, you are already messing your sleep to a certain extent. The bottom line is: get enough sleep.

Biological perspective

Human body is an incredibly complex thing shaped by about 23000 genes (from each parent) and millions of years of evolution. Did you know that in the last 50000 years our genome almost did not change? That we only have 18 unique genes, the rest are just very slight tweaking of ape genes? (yes, gorillas and chimps). Forget apes though. Only 300 of our genes are not found in mice. Have you heard how scientists test all new theories and drugs in mice?

Think for a second how we lived 50000 years ago. You think we would never know an answer to this question? Actually, this one is easy, because we can just look at how native South American tribes live right now. And you would see that you would be spending most of your wake time trying to locate, catch, dig out, kill, or steal food. You would be close to starvation most of the time, and the food you could catch and find would only barely meet your calorie expenditures for that day. In fact, the food was so scarce and precious that you would also cut, cook and eat the dead people in your tribe, then you would just bury their bare bones with due respect. And the reason is because out of all scarce and hard-to-find foods, protein was especially precious. Getting a good protein-rich meal meant killing a wild animal, which is not even easy these days when people have fishing rods and rifles. Imagine having to do it with arrows and stone axes! Yet we clearly were successful at that sometimes, otherwise there would be no humans walking on this planet now.

If you think for a second how much energy it should take just to get food, you realize that being active all day walking, running, using our arms and legs should be our default, normal behavior. Instead, the default activity for many people is sitting comfortably in the char at work or at home in front of the TV. 30% of Americans live their lives just like that – with NO physical activity. (This number is actually a perfect match with the rate of obesity in US – also about 30%). And most of the rest of us are not even close to the activity level that nature has designed us for.

Why give this program a serious consideration?

With hundreds of different fitness programs, food supplements, and other products on the market, what makes this one special? A few things:

1) It is based on latest research. Being a scientist (a doctor of science), I have developed a broad perspective of a “big” picture, which includes biochemistry, neuroscience, physiology, and other disciplines, even evolution. I know that human body is an intricately complex system shaped by millions of years of survival of the fittest, and our current lifestyle is drastic departure from what mother nature designed us for. I constantly monitor literature and keep my site updated with new findings.

2) It is comprehensive: all of its components are essential and work together. There are many products on the market which focus on only one thing, and usually it is selling you a specific product, such as a magic exercise machine or a food supplement. Human body is an incredibly complex system and to make progress toward health, a lot of things need to be adjusted and tweaked. Exercise and general activity level is the most important thing; it is complemented by the diet that provides all the essential nutrients and also necessary amount of sleep that makes everything else possible.

3) I am not trying to sell you anything: I merely provide information to guide you. You read, you do your own research; you make your own choices.

4) An ultimate test: test on myself. I kind of tried separate components of this program and I was confident they work separately, but in the summer 2012 I decided to go one step further: put together a well-structured course and try it on myself as an ultimate proof. It did work great! I carefully documented my progress and the results exceeded my expectations.

5) Home-based. In my program, there is no need for gym membership, special equipment, food supplements or pills. Instead, using information from this web site, you set up an exercise plan of the exercises you love and enjoy and can do at home or in the area where you live. Access to the gym would not hurt of course, especially for bad weather days, but it is not necessary either. The only limiting thing needed on your side is your determination!

A concluding message from Dr. Boris.

The reason I even made this site in the first place is that I got sick and tired of being fed with lies and scams about health. I want facts, analysis, truth and experimentally proven strategies. And I have a passion to tell what I have learned to everybody else. So, keep educating yourself about fitness and health, do your own research, analyze, and remember: you can do it no matter what the stage of your unfitness is.

Diet: reduce fat or carbohydrate?

If you are trying to lower calorie intake for better weight loss, you will probably ask a question at some point: is it better to cut fat or carbohydrate calories? This is what this articles is about and I start with probably somewhat surprising answer. Actually, two answers because they are different for diet in general and diet for weight loss and exercise:

For general nutrition, cut down on carbohydrate first, especially refined sugars and starch products. It is very likely that you are overeating particularly these kinds of carbohydrate, which have proved to be most detrimental to human metabolism.

For weight loss and exercise, it does not matter if you cut down on fat or carbohydrate or both, as long as you:

  • Supply essential fatty acids as 1-2 serving of unsaturated fats (oils);
  • Supply sufficient protein to maintain and build muscle: preferably, at least 1 grams protein per kg body weight.

Lets get into detail on how I arrived to this answer.

The 2010 nutritional guidelines by US government call or the following proportion of energy (calorie) intake for adults:


As we can see, this diet is biased in favor of carbohydrate. Is this something that is based on research or something that merely reflects our habits?

Talking about out real habits, take a look at the graph of soft drink consumption here(from here):

The soda sales in US have pretty much hit the ceiling but in developing countries, which strive to live by “western” standards, sweet water sells pretty well. Coca Cola spends about 10% of its 12 billion profits on advertisement and it goal is to double business by 2020, mostly by growing in developing world.

In soft drinks sold in US, carbohydrate comes in a form of HFCS – high fructose corn syrup. It is a mixture of sweet simple sugars glucose and fructose obtained by chemically processing corn. Fructose is very sweet, it is sweeter than regular sugar (sucrose), which is one reason for using HFCS. Another reason is price – HFCS is cheap because US companies get subsidies to grow corn, or else cheaper foreign sugar made of sugar cane would put them out of domestic market.

Not only we mostly replace water with soft drinks, but we have also created negative image for water consumption. Many people think that tap water is somehow inferior in quality to bottled water, which is a misconception. About half of bottled water sold is nothing but a regular tap water. If you go to any fast food place, you will be offered a huge 24 or 32 oz brightly colored cup for soft drink (free refills, of course). If you ask for water, you well be offered a tiny inconvenient 8 oz cup. Not enough for a hot Texas day! 32 oz cup of soft drink is, by the way, 4 servings – about 400 calories with absolutely no essential nutrients.

The map of soft drink consumption in US is a pretty good overlap with a map of obesity and heart disease. Here is my article about that. This is not surprising since every known metabolic marker is affected by high carbohydrate consumption. Glucose tolerance is reduced, “bad cholesterol” (smaller LDL) rises, good cholesterol (HDL) drops, and fats (triacylglyceroles) also rise. Yes, you are reading this right – high carbohydrate in diet raises fat level in blood. This leads to diabetes, obesity and elevated risk of heart disease.

There are generally three problems with carbohydrate rich foods:

  • Too high on calories. Just an example: a 4 oz chocolate muffin has 8g protein and 360 calories. 4oz of pork have 28g protein and 280 calories.
  • Too high in simple sugar (glucose), causing a blow to your metabolism by messing up glucose balance. Note that starch is also glucose but connected in a chain: in your stomach and small intestine, it is digested and absorbed into blood as glucose.
  • Too low on essential nutrients. Companies are trying to get around this by adding things like vitamin C and labeling it “Vitamin Water” but it does not make no difference – it still over 100 calories, and still no protein. You can easily get you daily dosage of vitamin C from real fruits and vegetables, like onions and oranges. The problem of course is that real stuff is not as sweet and that is why so many people prefer varous forms of sweet water labeled as “juice”.

Fat, especially fat from meat and diary products (solid, or saturated fat) has been getting negative publicity. It is easy to convince people that fat is bad if you tell them that fat is what makes them “fatter”. So many people are looking for “zero saturated fat” products and often replace them with foods rich in carbohydrates. Our body can easily convert fat to carb and carb to fat in a snap. What really matters is the total amount of consumed calories. Unused calories from either source will be saved as fat, mostly in abdominal area.

In 2010 analysis, some prominent experts in a field, Ronald Krauss and colleagues, have reached a conclusion that there was “no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease”. However, increasing consumption of polyunsaturated fat is independently associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The take home message: you can have nutrition rich in saturated fats (meat, diary products, eggs), but be sure to also include products rich in polyunsaturated fats: fish and plant foods. Replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate is a bad idea.

All above is described for diet unrestricted in calories and for those who do not take steps to include exercise and/or increase their activity level. For an individual with an average genetic makeup, eating as much as you want and not exercising will result in a slow weight gain, slow muscle loss, and all chronic diseases that come with it. This will happen regardless of what you are eating. Under those conditions, lowering carbohydrate to a minimum, reducing saturated fats, and increasing unsaturated fats is a good idea, but it will only slow down the process of slow decrease in fitness. With these diet modifications, expect better weight control and about 30% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

But things are a little different when calories are restricted. When calories are down to about 70% (1400 kcal), both low fat / high carb and high fat / low carb diets worked about equally well. Low high fat / low carb diet showed slightly more of weight loss (9.2% vs. 7%). In both diets, cardiovascular markers were also improved: lower fat (triacylglycerol) level, higher “good cholesterol” (HDL) and lower “bad cholesterol” (small LDL).

So the take home message is:

it is not the particular fat to carbohydrate ratio that matters, but the total amount of consumed calories.

With calorie restricted diet alone, both loss of fat tissue and loss of muscle tissue will occur, accompanied by a decrease in metabolic rate – body’s ability to burn food into energy. This is described in more detail here. For both weight loss and increase in fitness level, diet needs to be combined with an exercise regime and an increase in low-level and moderate-level activity. When combined with exercise, very different types of diets give significant improvement in all health parameters, but high protein / low carbohydrate diet allows for better muscle gain and better fat loss.

Here is an example of how diet and exercise combinations worked for obese women (average weight 94 kg, BMI 34.9) over 14 weeks:

RegimenDietWaist size change, cmBody mass change, kg
Exercise + 1200 kcal diet63% protein, 7% carbDecrease by 6.3Decrease by 5.6
Exercise + 1200 kcal diet50% protein, 20% carbDecrease by 6.7Decrease by 6.5
Exercise + 1200 kcal diet15% protein, 55% carbDecrease by 5.7Decrease by 4.0
Exercise only, no dietNormalDecrease by 5.1Decrease by 0.2
No exercise, no diet (control)NormalIncrease by 8.2Increase by 1.4

(from Kerksick, 2009).

I marked best results I bold. Clearly, limiting calories, keeping protein high and carbohydrate low gives best results for weight loss in combination with exercise. Also note two other things: 1) No exercise, no diet group got significantly fatter over 14 weeks and 2) Exercise only also gave small, but visible improvement.

In summary, for exercise and weight loss, the total amount of calories and amount of protein is more important than a fat to carbohydrate ratio. As long as you keep calories low, weight loss will occur. High protein, on the other hand, will facilitate muscle gain.

Whether you are focusing on lowering carbohydrate or lowering fat, there is a couple of things to remember:

  • Refined sweet sugar (sucrose and HFCS) is extremely unhealthy and mess up metabolism. It should be avoided at all cost.
  • Daily need for essential fatty acids must be met. This can be easily done with 1 to 2 servings of regular cooking oils such as canola oil and vegetable (soybean) oils. There is no scientific basis for providing more than necessary amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a form of supplements (flax seed, fish oil, etc.).
  • It helps to increase protein to above the recommended daily amount to retain and build muscle: 1 gram per kilogram body weight or more. If you are more into muscle building (“bodybuilding”), then go up to 2 grams per kilogram, or 1 g per pound. You cannot overeat on protein – whatever is not used as building material will be used as energy source.

When you decide to limit calories there is a practical consideration though: most animal protein sources are rich in fat calories and low on carbohydrate. This means that if you build your diet around these products, you will quickly max out your calories, and there will be little or no space left for carbohydrate products. This is exactly how I build my diet – around meat, eggs, milk, poultry and fish. I really do not mind dumping most carbohydrate. My staple food is meat, mostly trimmed pork, and eggs – two per day. I call is a “caveman’s diet”. My full article about it is here.

I personally use a “carbohydrate avoidance strategy” – for me, this is the easiest way to limit calories. This means no sugar in the house, no soft drinks, no sweet stuff, no bread, grains limited. But there is an advantage to it also – I can enjoy an occasional sausage (200 kcal) or a beer (another 200 kcal). I do get some carbohydrates from vegetables though – mostly potatoes. I found that this approach works great and is very easy to maintain, I only need to buy a few very basic foods in a grocery store.

Advanced reading:

Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease.
Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-9.

Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.
Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46.

Metabolic effects of weight loss on a very-low-carbohydrate diet compared with an isocaloric high-carbohydrate diet in abdominally obese subjects.
Tay J and others. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Jan 1;51(1):59-67.

The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010?
Astrup A and others. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):684-8

A randomized trial of a hypocaloric high-protein diet, with and without exercise, on weight loss, fitness, and markers of the Metabolic Syndrome in overweight and obese women.
Meckling KA, Sherfey R. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Aug;32(4):743-52.

Effects of a hypocaloric, low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss, blood lipids, blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and body composition in free-living overweight women.
Meckling KA and others. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002 Nov;80(11):1095-105.

Effects of a popular exercise and weight loss program on weight loss, body composition, energyexpenditure and health in obese women.
Kerksick C and others. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 May 14;6:23.

Diet versus exercise: what is more effective for weight loss and health?

Many people think that it is possible to effectively manage body weight with low calorie diet only and absolutely no exercise or little physical activity. They believe that by simply switching from coke to diet coke or from red meat to chicken breast or eating some kind of “omega-3” supplement they can lose weight and be healthy. This is one of the most common myths about weight loss. The market is full of products that help you “burn fat”.

Sugar-blocking brownies… Wow!
Very often, attempts to shed pounds with diet only either fail miserably or weight is quickly regained after diet regime is stopped. Here is why: with low calorie diet only, you will lose both fat and muscle. Because muscle burns most calories in your body, dieting only will cause a decrease in your energy producing capacity, or metabolic rate, and therefore a decrease in your endurance, fitness and strength. When you start cutting down your calorie intake, the first thing your body does is shutting down energy usage in order to save energy. Stop your diet for a while and quickly regain all those pounds lost and even put some extra!

Muscles are you body’s power machines – they burn food you eat into energy. It is the physical activity and exercise that maintains oxygen supply and energy production ability of your muscles in top shape. No exercise = slow loss of muscle = burn less food into energy = gain weight = become less fit. This process will be happening naturally as you age, no matter what you eat. This weight gain is not merely an increase in fat tissue – it is more a conversion of muscle mass into fat mass.

The best results for both weight loss and maintaining your metabolic rate are achieved when low calorie diet and exercise regime are combined together, which is shown on the diagram below.

Exercise only regime (bottom right) is still a better choice than going low calorie diet only. Exercise only will not necessarily result in a net weight loss, but if done correctly, it will result in losing fat mass while building up muscle. This alone will make you a whole lot fitter, even with no net weight change. When you are exercising, even minor adjustments to your diet, such as just cutting down on soft drinks, will have noticeable effect – because now you body is more limited for energy. Your muscles have a lot more blood flowing through them and burn a lot more calories, during exercise and after exercise, and even when you sleep. Reduce energy supply by a little – and observe a significant weight loss.

Every form of physical activity counts – light activity (standing and walking), moderate activity (brisk walking, bicycling), aerobic exercise and resistance exercise. Whether you can put in an extra 10 minutes of jogging, do an extra set of yoga, park at the far corner of a parking lot to have a little walk, or stand at your office job – do it. They all work through somewhat different mechanisms, but they all are good for you. Just like there is no “magic” organic food, there is also no single “magic” exercise. All forms of physical activity are great, but the best ones are the ones you enjoy!

If you do not maintain a necessary level of physical activity as you age and, your metabolic rate will gradually decrease. At the same time, as you advance in your career, your job usually becomes more sedentary. (Few people still flip burgers in their forties). That is why most people, as they progress from their 20s to their 50s, gain weight. This slow weight gain is detrimental to health. In one study reference below, individuals with high weight gain (22 lbs) between ages 20 to 50 years had 4-5 times higher risk of chronic disease (cardiovascular and diabetes) than folks who did not gain weight (from Haffner,2006):

Some people may say that this reasoning is wrong, because they know a lot of people who do not exercise and are lean in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This is true, because your energy balance and weight also depends on your genetic makeup. I have two objections to this. First, this is a minority of people – most people do gain weight as adults. It is a fact. Just think of your last college reunion. Did many people look as fit as they did in their 20s? Second, even though these people are lean it does not mean that they are also healthy. They are fitter that overweight folks, but nowhere nearly as fit as the lean folks who also exercise. I had a lean friend of mine who thought he was healthy. He even played tennis sometimes. He died from a heart attack, at age 52.

Scientists can never figure out exactly what diet is right. Few years ago, they were recommending reducing fats. Then cooking oil became the culprit. Then there was talk about virtues of fish oil, flax seed oil, vitamin pills, and so on. We are always looking for an easy in-the-bottle solution, which requires no effort on our side. There is still “fat versus carbohydrate” argument going on right now, with neither side winning. Most of these recommendations later did not confirm, and even when effects were significant, they were relatively small (which is one reason why they are hard to prove). The only food that is consistently proven to be very unhealthy is simple (sweet) sugars, because they tend to mess up your blood lipid and glucose profile.

The level of physical activity and fitness are by far stronger predictors of mortality and risk of chronic disease (cardiovascular, diabetes) than the exact composition of food you eat. In various studies, effects of physical activity and fitness level on reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and all cause death were measured into 2 to 3 fold. And there is no disagreement on this in the scientific community; only research on mechanisms of how physical activity improves various functions of human body.

So, if you were thinking that you could significantly improve your health by somehow mixing just the perfect amount of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin pills, while still comfortably sitting in your chair most of the time, keep dreaming. When we were apes and prehistoric humans, we were not spending days cooking and mixing perfect food – we were spending most of our time trying to find, catch or kill it. And our body was happy with whatever we could obtain.

Do not get my message wrong though. I have a whole chapter on nutrition here. Nutrition is very important and can prime your body to flourish, but good nutrition alone does surprisingly little. Combine it with some exercise – and see your body respond immediately and robustly!

The importance of diet is overstressed, while physical activity and sleep regime in underestimated. The reason for this is simple – foods are easy to advertise and sell and require no effort on your sideother than spending some extra bucks. And most people want something with no effort. That is why the market is flooded with all kind of nutrition and food supplement products.

Some of those products are certainly good. Free-ranging eggs and vegetables from Whole Foods are definitely higher quality and better choices than same products from cheap Mexican stores. But they do no magic. Exercise and physical activity requires significant effort on your side and it is harder to sell to you. If you noticed, most exercise products on the market aim to decrease your time and effort invested in exercise, such as “get flat abs in 10 minutes a day” or “get perfect abs with no crunches”” and so on.

These strategies might work for some people who are lucky to have a perfect genetic makeup. They are primed to burn energy and have a significant response even to a small amount of exercise.

For the vast majority of us magic will not happen. So instead of trying to decrease your exercise time, come up with clever and creative strategies to increase it and integrate physical activity in your daily routine whenever possible. Not just vigorous exercise, but also light and moderate physical activity, such as simply standing and walking instead of sitting. When I started in 2012, my personal goal was about 30 minutes of aerobic and 30 minutes of resistance exercise on most days as well as doing my regular activities at work and at home while standing and walking.

So the bottom line is:

Whether or not you want to go on a low calorie diet, do exercise.

Recent research study says that those who exercise even tend to earn more money. When you are physically fit, you will perceive yourself differently, and the world will perceive you differently. Whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain normal weight, increase strength and endurance, reduce risk of most diseases, extend your life or do it all at the same time – do exercise!


Relationship of metabolic risk factors and development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Haffner SM. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Jun;14 Suppl 3:121S-127S.

Physical activity, fitness and fatness: relations to mortality, morbidity and disease risk factors. A systematic review.
Fogelholm M. Obes Rev. 2010 Mar;11(3):202-21.

Cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men.
Lee CD, Blair SN, Jackson AS. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Mar;69(3):373-80.

Relationship between low cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality in normal-weight, overweight, and obese men.
Wei M and others. JAMA. 1999 Oct 27;282(16):1547-53.

Energy Balance For Weight Loss, Diet, and Exercise

This article is about how human body balances its energy intake and energy expenditures, and its relevance for weight loss and exercise.

First, we need to realize that human body does not like change — it has multiple compensatory mechanisms to oppose change and keep things at balance: weight, temperature, blood glucose level and so on. This is called homeostasis. But at the same time, our organism needs to adapt to changes to increase its chances of survival. When we want to lose fat, we need to push metabolism out of its comfortable equilibrium state and make it undergo change.

Energy balance like any balance is made of input, or intake, and output, or expenditures.

Energy input is food that you eat. All macronutrients can be used to produce energy. Carbohydrate (glucose) is the default energy source, then fat, then protein. When energy input changes, human body will attempts to balance out by doing the following in this order:

  • Adjust you appetite to make you eat more or less. It you try to diet, first thing that happens it that your appetite will increase, so that you return to a normal level of food consumption. But let us assume you have iron will, then the next thing your body is going to try is:
  • Adjust energy production, or metabolic rate. For example, if you eat less, your body will slow down its energy production so you can run longer on smaller amount of calories. You will tend to be more tired, less active — those are manifestations of lower metabolic rate. If you eat more, on the other hand, your body will attempt to burn that extra food by increasing metabolic rate.
  • Tap into or make more reserves in a form of fat. If it not possible to balance out energy with metabolic rate and appetite, your body will deposit or use fat for energy. Fat is our long-term energy storage.

When energy output changes — for example, if you force you body to produce more energy through exercise, it will also attempt the same things but in slightly different order:

  • Adjust energy production, or metabolic rate, to meet energy needs. If you exercise, your metabolic rate will increase and this increase will even persist after exercise, because now your muscles have increased oxygen supply and are metabolically more active.
  • Adjust appetite. It you do not take precautions at this point, you will also start feeling hungrier — your appetite will increase and you will eat more to meet higher energy needs. But let us assume you have good will power, and are not eating more, then your body will have to:
  • Tap into or make more reserves in a form of fat. If it not possible to balance energy output by adjusting energy intake and metabolic rate, your body will use or make reserves in a form of fat.

Note that in relation to metabolic rate, food intake and exercise work in the same direction: increasing either one will increase metabolic rate. But in relation to fat storage they work in opposite directions. Increasing food intake will facilitate more fat storage, while increasing exercise will facilitate fat loss.

If we put both energy intake and energy expenditures on a graph, the equilibrium area is where intake and output are about the same. This is the stable weight zone. Within this zone, human body can adapt to changes in energy intake and / or energy output by adjusting its metabolic rate and appetite without having to change the amount of stored fat:

Stable weight zone does not mean any particular amount of stored fat; it means a zone where amount of fat is not changing. Where you are exactly in the zone depends on your genetic makeup and environmental factors. On this graph, points A and B illustrate two different people, or the same person in two different environments. Person A runs at low metabolic rate — he eats little but also spends little. Person B runs at high metabolic rate — he eats a lot, but also spends a lot through physical activity. Both are at stable weight, but could be at any weight — normal, overweight or underweight.

For weight loss, you need to push your body away from stable weight zone into the weight loss zone — where energy expenditure is way more than energy intake. In this area (upper left), your body is at its limit of adjusting metabolism and will have to start using its fat reserves.

Weight gain area is where output is less than input (bottom right). Significant part of US adults does slowly gain weight and become overweight or obese, so those folks belong to this bottom right corner.

This model describes the middle part of the human population, and takes into account its spread in genetic makeup. Some people never get fat no matter what they eat. They are in a stable weight zone, but close to the border with a weight loss zone. Other folks gain weight very easily even with moderate diet — they are borderline weight gain zone.

Lets see how this model relate to real world. In an experiment below, various diet combinations with exercise were tested on their effect on different parameters, including body weight, body composition and metabolic rate. This was a 14 week experiment on obese women. Below, I highlighted numbers that I used:

HED is for high-energy diet (2600 kcal) high carbohydrate + exercise;
ND is no diet (normal diet) + exercise;
LCMP is a low calorie (1200 kcal) low carbohydrate diet + exercise;
CON is a control — normal diet and no exercise.
REE is metabolic rate, or resting energy expenditures.

Numbers in the table show change over 14 weeks: decrease is negative, increase is positive number.

Lets put numbers on the graph where they belong. Metabolic rate is in red (kilocalories per day); weight change is in blue (kg):

In the middle, with normal diet and exercise or normal diet /no exercise, there is very little weight loss or gain, the body is able to adjust to this relatively small change in activity by adjusting its metabolic rate, and possibly appetite and food intake. (The kind of exercise used in this particular experiment was relatively modest.) Metabolic rate is a bit higher with exercise as compared to no exercise, as expected.

On the right, subjects given high calorie diet and exercise still did not show much weight change, but look at the metabolic rate increase! Actually, it went up by about 1/6th of the total energy intake. Here, human body shows that it would increase its metabolic rate and energy intake rather than start burning its fat.

In the top left corner, however, when low calorie (1200 kcal) diet was given in combination with exercise, significant weight loss did occur, 6.5 kg. There was little change in metabolic rate. What happens here is that increasing energy output and decreasing energy intake push metabolic rate in opposite directions (see above), so the net change is very small. Or think this way: exercise has compensated for a drop in metabolic rate due to reduced diet. But decreasing energy intake and increasing output both push fat reserves toward using them — that is why significant weight loss was observed.

I hope I explained everything clearly. The take home messages are:

For weight loss, you must push your metabolism out of its comfort stable weight zone.

This is best achieved by a combination of calorie-reduced diet and exercise!


Effects of a popular exercise and weight loss program on weight loss, body composition, energy expenditure and health in obese women.
Kerksick C and others. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 May 14;6:23.

At Home Metabolism Assessment

When we talk about healthy metabolism, how do we know that it is healthy or messed-up? Doctors and scientists do certain tests to look at metabolic markers that are discussed at the bottom of the page. But you do not have to visit a doctor to know if your metabolism is working right. There are simple ways to tell if things are good at home using minimal equipment.

Measure your aerobic fitness level

Aerobic fitness level, or aerobic power, is the single best description of your health, because it is the most direct measure of what your metabolism is capable of. It is your body’s ability to output energy (mechanical force and heat) by burning chemical energy sources using oxygen. Your aerobic power depends on many things:

  • ability of your heart to effectively move blood through your body,
  • ability of your lungs to provide oxygen,
  • ability of vascular system and blood to deliver oxygen to cells,
  • your muscle mass,
  • blood flow through your muscles,
  • ability of your muscles to burn food into energy using oxygen.

Scientifically, aerobic power is measured as your maximum rate of oxygen consumption under maximum exercise load on a treadmill or similar machine and when you reach your maximum heart rate. It is called VO2max and is expressed in liters per minute (L/min) or milliliter pres minute per kg of body weight (mL/(min*kg).

But you can get and quick estimate of your aerobic power without all that equipment. Aerobic respiration fully kicks in after about 2 minutes of high intensity exercise. The time you can maintain aerobic energy production after 2 minutes is a pretty good estimate of your aerobic metabolism.

So the test is: determine how much time you can run. Not sprinting, but not jogging either – run at about half maximum pace. This will get your heart rate close to its maximum.

  • under 2 minutes. You have almost no aerobic power left in you. You metabolism is in very bad shape. Expect big problems.
  • 2 to 10 minutes. You are just one step above very unfit. You need to take serious steps to become fitter, otherwise things will get worse pretty soon.
  • 10 to 30 minutes. You are at average fitness level.
  • 30 minute to one hour. You are very fit.
  • More than one hour. You belong to the elite club of very healthy people. Just keep living the way you always did, because whatever you have been doing was right.

I see people objecting to this measure because it does not take into account age and sex. As far as gender – yes, females get a little slack. Lower every number by 15%. As far as age, common sense tells us that these numbers should be lower for older people since older people are known to be less healthy. But think about it: the fact that most people do not take necessary steps to maintain their body healthy is exactly the reason for such an expectation. After all, we know many examples of people who did take those steps and could run marathons in their 60s. So you cannot be “healthy for your age”.

You are either healthy or unhealthy. If you are old and have little aerobic power left, face the truth: you are not “normally unfit” for your age, you are simply unfit.

You level of aerobic fitness is the most reliable predictor of your health. Fact number 1: lean and unfit men have double the risk to die of any cause than lean, fit men. Fact number 2: lean and unfit men were higher mortality risk than obese (high BMI, see below), fit men.

Measure your resting heart rate

Another quick and easy measure of your metabolism is your resting heart rate. The more efficient your cardiovascular and respiratory systems at bringing oxygen to cells, the less often your heart has to pump blood through your body. Sit comfortably for five minutes, then count your pulse.

  • Under 50 beats per minute Congratulations! You are as healthy as a human being can be. Your aerobic metabolism is at the athlete’s level. Continue living the way you always did.
  • 50 to 60 bpm You are very healthy. Keep maintaining your healthy lifestyle.
  • 60 to 70 bpm. You are normally healthy.
  • 70 to 80 bpm. You are in average health category, but the trend is bad. Time to start thinking about including more exercise and general activity in your lifestyle, or things will get worse over next few years.
  • 80 to 85 bpm. You are in poor cardiovascular health category. Start taking necessary steps now or expect big problems pretty soon.
  • Above 85 bpm. You are extremely unhealthy. Time to go write a will, because every day could be your last one.

Here are a few facts about heart rate: 1) for every 10 bpm increase, your risk of death from any cause is up 25% (45% if you have a history of heart disease); 2) If your bmp is above 84, your risk of death is 80% up relative to normal range (159% if you have a history of heart disease).

Are you overweight ?

Being overweight or obese is a manifestation of improperly functioning metabolism.

Most often, you weight is assessed using Body Mass Index, or BMI. For adults, BMI is your body mass in kg divided by your height in meters squared:

BMI = mass(kg)/heigh(m)2

The following are BMI ranges:

<18.5: low

18.5–24.9: normal

25–29.9: overweight

>30: obese

BMI can be somewhat misleading, however, because it does not take into account what part of your body weight is muscle and what part of it is fat. A lot of athletes would actually be overweight by this measure.

So a better quick measure of your obesity level will be to look at specifically the amount of fat your body is storing. There are ways to do it precisely, but for a quick assessment just look at the mirror.

Can you grip a handful of belly fat at about your bellybutton level? Most of extra fat your is deposited at the abdominal area of your body. If yes, then you are most likely in the overweight category.

Look at the trend of your weight change. Has your weight been pretty stable in the last 10-20 years? If yes, that is good news, because it means that your energy metabolism is properly balanced and you are in the stable weight zone.

If your weight has been slowly increasing over last few years, even if it is by a couple of pounds per year, your metabolism is out of balance. Your energy intake (food) is way above your energy expenditures and you are in the weight gain zone.

See my article here about energy balance. Fat gain is actually the last thing your body is going to do to balance out its energy intake and output, after all other options are exhausted. So being in the weight gain zone means that your metabolism is seriously messed up. Here is a fact: those who gained 15 kg (about 30 pounds) in adulthood have 5.5 higher risk of developing diabetes compared to those who kept their weight stable. Those who lost 10 kg (20 pounds) had about twice lower risk of diabetes. It is always better to be closer to a weight loss zone. Here is a graph of this research (from Haffner, 2006):

Being obese is bad, but being obese and physically unfit (see my aerobic fitness test above) is a lot worse. Obese/unfit is absolutely the worst category. Expect 3 times higher risk of death from any cause and elevated risks for most chronic diseases and cancer.

Determine your body composition: fat content

Relatively cheap devices are out there to measure fat content in your body precisely. They work by measuring electrical resistance of your body. Fat is better insulator than muscle, so if you know resistance, you can calculate fat content (height, weight, age are also taken into account) Some of them measure total body resistance through feet, some through hands, both do a good job.

Fat content is a much better measure than BMI, because it really is a measure of your body composition, not just total mass.

Below are guidelines for fat content (normal fat content is highlighted):

Note that these “recommended ranges” are simply based on the spread of population for fat content, they just show how BMI is related to fat content at different ages. It does not mean that these numbers are your targets or indicators if good health. Given what we know now about weight gain in adulthood (see above), the recommendation I can make is: stay lean or even get leaner as you age. You can maintain and build up muscle and burn fat successfully at any age using a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise, and limiting your calories in food.

Scientific (medical) metabolism assessment

Glucose tolerance

This is a very common metabolic measure when your body’s ability to metabolize glucose is measured. You are given 75 g of glucose, about the same amount as two cans of Coca-Cola, and then your blood level of glucose and insulin is monitored over 2 hours. Insulin is your body’s response to glucose – this hormone tells muscle and liver cells to absorb and metabolize it.

The faster your body can bring glucose level back to normal and the less insulin it needs to accomplish the goal, the better is your glucose control mechanisms. Higher insulin response means that your cells are more resistant to insulin, which is a signature of type 2 diabetes. Your response will look something like this (from Hamburg, 2007):

On this picture, black squares are people who spent 5 days totally inactive resting in bed (But not sleeping! Sufficient sleep time improves glucose response).

Lipid profile

Lipid profile, or lipid panel, or simply “cholesterol” is determined primarily to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lipid profile can also be used for assessment of conditions such as atherosclerosis and diabetes.

Lipid profile includes determination of several markers, some of which are signs of good, healthy metabolism, and others are signs of problems. The table below summarizes markers of lipid profile:

AbbreviationGood healthBad health
Fat, triglyceride, or triacylglycerolTG, TAGlowhigh
Apolipoprotein BApoBlowhigh
High density lipoprotein, “good cholesterol”HDLhighlow
High density lipoprotein to total cholesterol ratioHDL to totalhighlow
Low density lipoprotein; small dense particles; “bad cholesterol”Small LDL, or sdLDL-Clowhigh
Low density lipoprotein; medium particlesMedium LDLlowhigh
Low density lipoprotein; large particlesLarge LDLhighlow

There is still an argument going on about what markers on this list are most reliable predictors of problems. Most agree on using HDL to total cholesterol ratio as a marker of good health (low risk of CVD) and small LDL-C as a marker of bad health (high risk of CVD).

Most people are not familiar with all these subtleties about “good” and “bad” cholesterol and think that cholesterol and fat are the culprits. This story has gotten a lot of publicity, as can be inferred from a variety of products labeled “zero cholesterol” and “zero saturated fat”. Consuming more cholesterol with food will not necessarily mess up your blood lipid profile, just like consuming more fat will not necessarily make you fatter.

Our body has about 30 grams of total cholesterol and is able to make cholesterol at a rate of about 1 g per day. If you eat more cholesterol with diet, your body will shut down production of its own, provided that your metabolism is working properly. 1 gram of cholesterol is the amount contained in about six eggs.

What will indeed mess up your lipid profile most are these four things in this order:

  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Over-consumption of calories in any form
  • Insufficient or irregular sleep time
  • Large amount of refined carbohydrate in diet (sweet sugars and starch)
  • and influences that will improve your lipid profile are the ones opposite to listed above.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure may either be a sign of poor salt and water metabolism, poor kidney function, or poor cardiovascular system function. I will not go into more detail on this here, because there are a lot of resources available. I will just mention that using combination aerobic-resistance training, it is possible to significantly reduce your blood pressure.


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