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Fitness Friday: What your heart can tell you about your golf game

The typical response to a bad round is to get back out there and work harder on your game. But instead of grinding on the range, what you might need to improve is quality couch time. That could be oversimplifying things, says Dr. Ara Suppiah (@draraoncall), a physician who treats several players on the PGA Tour including Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh and Ian Poulter. But studies on good heart health are concluding more and more that it's important to know when to rest and when to train.

Ever notice that after a substantial lapse from the gym or golf course, your first time back is better than you expected? "That probably is the result of your stress level being low and your rested body and heart functioning very well. It can absorb the training," Suppiah says, "but if you're training under duress, you're hurting your performance, hurting your health and risking total burnout."

The secret to understanding when to train might come from a measurement known as heart-rate variability (HRV). HRV is the variation in intervals between your heartbeats and is directly tied to the nervous system. A high variability is a good thing because it demonstrates a dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation, digestion and recovery. A low variability demonstrates a dominance of the sympathetic system, which is associated with anxiety, stress, inflammation and fatigue.

If your HRV is low, you're significantly more likely to suffer a heart attack or develop disorders such as diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol. "And the last thing you should be doing is pushing yourself during these high-stress periods," Suppiah says. "It's counterproductive. You're unlikely to see good results and more likely to get injured. Sometimes you have to put the clubs down and rest."

the-loop-monitaring-your-heart.jpgIf you want to know when is a good time to train, you have to determine a baseline HRV. This involves buying a heart-rate monitor (strap or finger harness) and syncing it with a smartphone app like Ithlete ($9) or BioForce HRV (free). The monitors cost about $50 to $125. Once you have the correct equipment, start checking your HRV at the same time each day. Suppiah suggests doing it in the morning before you drink coffee or tea, which can impair a correct reading. You need to do this for about a month to establish a baseline HRV (1 to 100). Then you need to pay attention to daily changes in that number.

If you see a downward trend over a handful of days—your HRV is getting lower—that means it's time to rest or limit training to low-intensity activities. Maybe work on your putting, Suppiah says. Once your HRV returns to its baseline, then you're free to work harder. "Perhaps the best part of tracking your HRV is that you'll become much more aware of your stress levels," Suppiah says. "You'll try to relax more."

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Illustration by Noma Bar)

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That bowl of peanuts might save your life

If you want to feel a little less guilty about snacking in the 19th hole after a round of golf, reach for the peanuts—or any type of nut, actually. A study of 120,000 people in the Netherlands conducted over roughly a 30-year period concluded that if you eat 10 grams of nuts or more daily, you reduce the risk of death from respiratory disease, neurodegenerative disease and diabetes. Eating nuts also reduced the risk of getting cancer or suffering cardiovascular issues like heart attacks, the study said.

the-loop-peanuts.jpgNo one is sure why they are such a healthy choice, but almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, etc., have long been touted as super foods because they contain protein, fiber, good fat and antioxidants. So a couple handfuls might be doing more than just satiating your appetite. The study was conducted by Maastricht University in the Netherlands and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.  

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.


(Photo by Getty Images)

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Fitness Friday: The painless warm-up for golf and the gym (part 3)

If you're looking for an easy way to prep your muscles, tendons and ligaments for either your workout or a round of golf, Golf Digest Fitness Advisor Ben Shear (@ben_shear) has a simple routine that can get you ready. Over the past week, he and trainer Ryan Anderson have demonstrated two of his multi-purpose exercises that do a great job of priming the body. The first two exercises were the "step-and-reach" and the "lateral-lunge crossover."

You can see them here:
Part 1: Step-and-Reach Exercise
Part 2: The Lateral-Lunge Crossover

The final exercise is known as the "lunge, reach and twist." The purpose of it is to warm up the muscles on the front part of the body as well as prepping it for the rotational movements critical to playing good golf. Watch the video below to see how it's performed.



Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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The painless warm-up for golf and the gym (part 2)

Last Friday Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear (@Ben_Shear) showed you the first of three exercises he uses to get his clients prepped for either a workout or a round of golf. The goal is to make a warm-up simple, efficient and easy to do no matter where you do it. The first warm-up exercise was the step-and-reach.

Today he and trainer Ryan Anderson from Shear's Athletic Edge facility in Scotch Plains, N.J. demonstrate the "lateral-lunge crossover." This exercise not only preps the muscles that run laterally along the body, it also covers some of the muscles that work together forming diagonal "slinging" patterns such as the adductors (inner thigh) working with obliques (side of the torso) on the opposite side. Click on the video for a demonstration. Work in both directions doing 8-12 reps.

The final warm-up exercise will be demonstrated on Friday.


Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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A painless way to warm up (for the gym or golf!)

Many fitness experts think it's a mistake to prepare for a workout or round of golf by doing long-hold stretches. Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear (@Ben_Shear) says you do want to stretch your muscles before any vigorous activity, but it's much more effective to do that with warm-up exercises. Over the next week, Shear will reveal how he gets his athletes ready for action using three basic exercises.

The first is called the "step-and-reach" and it's designed to activate the muscles on the back side of the body. The posterior muscles play a significant role in the golf swing, most notable allowing you to stand and swing with good golf posture. Click on the video below to see Ben and Ryan Anderson demonstrate the step-and-reach. Alternate stepping and reaching with each side of the body for a few minutes.



Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Why simple carbs are killing your golf game

You've probably been told to ditch the pre-round bagel and orange juice and avoid a soda or sports drink at the turn. "They're bad for you," you've heard. But if you've ever wondered why eating simple carbs like refined flour products, cereals and high-sugar drinks and snacks hurt your golf game, it goes beyond the message of "empty calories."

It's what they do to your brain, says Matt Jones, a nutritionist who works with some European Tour golfers as well as many other professional athletes.

To simplify the science behind how nutrition impacts athletic performance, focus on two well-known neurotransmitters—serotonin and dopamine, Jones says. When you eat processed foods loaded with simple carbohydrates, the concentration of an amino acid called tryptophan increases in the bloodstream. When tryptophan passes the blood-brain barrier, it's rapidly converted into serotonin.

WhySimpleCarbskillinggolfgame.jpgThis is the part where you golf game goes in the tank. Serotonin has been proven to reduce alertness and muscle function, while promoting feelings of lethargy and relaxation, Jones says. In simpler terms, it produces a sugar crash.

"On the other hand, dopamine is associated with cognition, mood, memory, attention and learning," Jones says. "Following consumption of a meal low in carbohydrates but high in quality protein and fat, the concentration of dopamine increases."

This occurs because protein/fat whole foods increase levels of the amino acid tyrosine into the blood. And this quickly accelerates the synthesis of dopamine the same way tryptophan impacts serotonin, Jones says.

So the message here is to eat quality protein (eggs, chicken, salmon, nuts) and heart-healthy fat (avocado, nuts) before you play. Complex carbs (fruit, vegetables, beans) are OK, too. Improve your diet and you'll have an easier time focusing on shots, recalling key feelings on how to execute them, and concentrating over those must-make putts.

To learn more about Jones' work in performance nutrition, follow him on Twitter (@mattjonesnc) or go to his website: mjnutrition.co.uk.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Fitness Friday: A quick fix for low-back pain

Lower-back pain is perhaps the most common problem for golfers. While the reasons you might feel pain down there can range from a bulging disc to a narrowing of the spinal column (stenosis), it's most often a soft-tissue injury (tears, inflammation, etc.).

fitness-friday-back-pain-300.jpgA key reason for this pain is an overuse of muscles that aren't strong enough or functional enough to handle the loads placed on them during a typical round of golf. This is especially true if you sit for the majority of your day and aren't overly active. "The core muscles do two things when you swing," says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear (@ben_shear). "They stabilize the body and they rotate the trunk." But if the lower back lacks stability when you swing, it can eventually produce injuries to muscle fiber and/or connective tissue.

While acute pain is all the notice you need to go see a doctor, minor aches can be prevented in the future with some exercises that focus on activating and strengthening the core muscles, particularly around the lumbar spine. Watch Ben and Baltusrol Golf Club's new director of fitness, Joe Yoon, demonstrate a great exercise you can do in the gym or even in the living room to help prevent future lower-back issues.



Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Illustration: Getty Images)

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Bask, but don't bake, in the sun

Using sunscreen is a must for golfers, and the message to protect against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays is one you've probably heard time and time again. I'm not going there today. Instead, I'm really going to confuse things by telling you that you might need more exposure to the sun.

Natural Vitamin D is difficult to get in the winter because the sun's UV rays can't sufficiently penetrate the atmosphere. But come summer, there's no excuse. Ten to 20 minutes of sun exposure directly on the skin—without the use of sunscreen—is the key to an adequate amount of the wonder vitamin, says Dr. Ara Suppiah (@draraoncall). Suppiah is the health consultant to several PGA Tour pros including Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker and Vijay Singh. Vitamin-D deficiency is a nightmare for most, and is linked to everything from depression to heart disease. It also contributes to aging issues such as diabetes and bone diseases.

the-loop-health-dont-bake-560.jpg

"Even the tour pros don't get enough," Suppiah says. "It's the No. 1 abnormal blood test on tour."

Suppiah suggests getting tested at your next physical. If you're deficient, take supplements—especially in the winter—but also expose your skin to the sun for short periods. "Sunscreen is a must for golfers," Suppiah says, "but you can't ignore the importance of sun exposure to your overall health."

Think of it this way. It's OK to bask in the sun. Just don't bake in the sun.

Related: Six Things To Remember About Sunscreen

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Fitness Friday: Stronger hips = Longer drives

Watch Rory McIlroy hit a tee shot (see below) and you can't help but notice how fast his hips rotate counterclockwise when he starts his downswing. They look like they snap toward the target, leaving his upper body and club in the dust. This lag between lower-body and upper-body rotation generates a tremendous amount of force for a golf swing and is a good reason Rory can regularly bust drives in the 330-yard range or longer.

mcilroy-swing.gif

Most golfers don't have that kind of explosive hip action when they swing down, but even modest improvements in the way you move them can yield noticeable results in how far you hit the ball, says Dave Herman, a trainer to many professional golfers and creator of @superflexfit stretch bands.

Herman, teaching professional Andrew Park (@andrewparkgolf) and LPGA Tour 2013 Rookie of the Year Moriya Jutanugarn demonstrate a few exercises you can do to not only improve your hip action, but also strengthen your glutes, shoulder and mid-back muscles. Click on the two videos below to see what you need to do to launch the ball farther than ever.





Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Blisters 101

Your hands feel like tenderized meat—now what?

In hindsight, maybe that third bucket of range balls was a mistake. It's OK, we all get a little overzealous when golf season begins. If the result of your practice session is a blister or three, here's a refresher on how to deal with them (so you can go hit more range balls).

the-loop-blisters-101.jpg1. Drain with a sterile needle by piercing an edge, not the middle. Leave the layer of dead skin intact if possible.

2. Dab antibiotic ointment on it.

3. Place a padded bandage over the area. Moleskin works best if the blister is at the base of the fingers or on the palm.

PREVENT DEFENSE
Feel a tender spot? Before the blister occurs, cover it with thin athletic tape. You might look like Rocky, but you'll be able to last at least another round.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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