Photos C/O Amina Khan

By: Donna Nadeem

After completing her bachelor’s degree in McMaster University’s psychology, neuroscience and behavior program in 2014, Amina Khan founded Amanah Fitness, a culturally-sensitive online female fitness community. In just three years, it has grown to become one of the largest global Muslim fitness education programs, helping over 50,000 women across the globe.

Amanah Fitness’ online workouts feature diverse female fitness instructors and are performed with no equipment so that individuals of all fitness levels can access them. For instance, Khan’s 30 day online fitness bootcamp, which is offered at $129 for lifetime access, gives users 22 unique equipment-free workouts and personal coaching from Khan.

“As an alumna of McMaster University, I am honoured to be using my degree to promote social change on a global scale. Our goal is to use the psychology of motivation to help women of all cultural backgrounds feel their best through healthy active lifestyles,” said Khan.

During her second year at McMaster, Khan hit her heaviest weight and felt that something had to change.

“At the peak of my frustration, I decided to try losing weight one last time. This time, through fitness. After years of failed dieting attempts and feeling intimidated at the gym, I found a small ladies-only gym,” said Khan.

With the support of inspiring female fitness instructors who helped her discover a love of exercise, she was able to lose 60 pounds. With a newfound passion for health and fitness, Khan sought to share her journey to inspire other women.

To meet the growing demand for our culturally-sensitive health and fitness classes, education and workshops, she founded Amanah Fitness.

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Khan started by teaching fitness classes for female students in the David Braley Athletic Centre with the McMaster Muslim Students Association and continued to expand her fitness classes to other community centres and mosques, with a focus on cultural and religious barriers to fitness.

Her goal was to provide a space for women from diverse backgrounds to learn about their health. By popular demand, she also created an online workout bootcamp program that is now used by Muslim women across the globe.

As a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, Khan had always struggled to find a fitness community.

“As someone who struggled with weight loss before becoming a fitness instructor, I know first-hand that Muslim women and women from diverse cultural backgrounds can feel neglected by the mainstream fitness industry,” she said. “When I was struggling with my weight, I never saw anyone in the fitness industry who looked or dressed like me. As an overweight Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, I felt excluded from the fitness industry.”

According to Khan, another challenge Muslim women face is maintaining health and fitness while fasting during Ramadan.

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Amanah Fitness believed a collaborative approach needed to be taken. In particular, Khan worked with dieticians, doctors and medical professionals in Canada to launch a comprehensive online resource called Ramadan Reset.

to provide research-based resources for fasting nutrition and fitness.

Ramadan Reset has become a globally recognized resource to help Muslim individuals live a healthy active lifestyle while fasting.

Last August, Khan was named Fitness Professional of the Year at the World Fitness Expo, making her the first Muslim woman to be awarded the title.

In the future, Khan aspires to continue to expand Amanah Fitness’ audience internationally and release a second online workout program.

 

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By: Jennifer La Grassa

Public Health guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. McMaster’s chair of kinesiology, Dr. Martin Gibala, has revealed that it only takes one minute of intense exercise to achieve the same long-term health benefits as a 50 minute one.

One of Dr. Gibala’s research interests is interval training, which involves alternating periods of high-intensity activity with periods of recovery. Over a three month span, Dr. Gibala compared the data he received from two groups of individuals. Both groups participated in three cycling sessions a week, with one group exercising for 10 minutes and the other exercising for 50 minutes. Those who cycled for 10 minutes had three 20 second periods (one minute) of intense exercise interspersed throughout their session, with recovery periods that consisted of low-intensity cycling. Those who cycled for 50 minutes had to do so at a moderate level of intensity.

At the end of the three month study, Dr. Gibala found that those who had only exercised for 10 minutes reaped the same health benefits as those who had done 50 minutes. These health benefits included an increase in insulin sensitivity, as well as strengthening of one’s respiratory and muscular fitness. Both groups had also increased their level of fitness by about 20%.

This research is beneficial for those whose fitness regime is restricted by lack of time or endurance. For those who want to work out, but lack the stamina to last longer than 20 minutes, interval training will assist in building up your endurance. You’ll soon find that your body will be able to easily complete those 10 minutes, after which you can begin to push yourself for longer periods of time.

“Brief bouts of intense exercise can be very effective to promote health and fitness. Interval training can be applied to many different forms of exercise and it does not require specialized equipment. Repeatedly climbing a few flights of stairs is a great practical example,” Dr. Gibala noted.

By: Francesca McFadden

New research indicates that being active has a strong impact on health, specifically targeting brainpower, coping with stress and improving mental health.

Dr. Jennifer Heisz, McMaster assistant professor and director of the Neurofit Lab, is engaged in research on the cognitive neuroscience behind exercise. Her research examines the effects of physical activity on brain function to promote health and cognition in young and older adults.

“A single bout of exercise focuses your attention so that you can learn better in class. Regular physical activity can help you to cope with stressors for overall better mental health,” Heisz explained.

“Mental illness is on the rise, and students are more at-risk than most. One in three university students will experience symptoms of depression at one point during their time at school. With expectations for high grades come high-stakes pressures for exams leading many students to experience chronic stress and anxiety.”

Examinations act as physiological stressors, which release cortisol into the body. In small doses, cortisol is beneficial as it allows us to effectively deal with stressors. However, Heisz explains, “Prolonged increases in cortisol can damage the hippocampus — a key brain region involved in learning, memory and regulation of the stress response. Ironically, the intense pressure to achieve top grades can compromise a student’s ability to effectively learn and retain the knowledge they need to perform well academically.”

During exam season, time is of the essence, thus many students don’t see physical activity as a priority. Heisz debunks this misconception through research by concluding that exercise can be beneficial to students by creating resiliency to physiological stressors.

There are many opportunities on and off campus for students to get active. McMaster Recreation offers intramural sports, yoga, a climbing wall and fitness classes. The Arrive and Thrive project offers a gentle approach to blending physical activity with engagement in the student community. Another possibility for students is to explore Hamilton’s nature trails or visit a nearby waterfall.

Getting physical activity does not need to be a long and tedious endeavour. “The benefits can be achieved with just thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, three times a week. This may sound like a costly time investment during a hectic period when other activities demand your attention. However, prioritizing exercise can increase the quality of the time spent on these demanding activities,” Heisz explained.

Heisz uses social media to interact with the community and bring awareness to her research. Recently, Heisz posted the hashtag #FeedYourHippo on Twitter.

“In the context of #FeedYourHippo, your ‘hippo’ refers to your hippocampus — a key brain region involved in learning and memory and regulation of the stress response. Exercise helps to #FeedYourHippo by promoting neurogenesis (i.e., the birth of newborn neurons) in the hippocampus to improve memory function.”

With the Pulse recently having undergone renovations, it is a perfect opportunity for students to get active and feed their hippos. Students can greatly benefit from making exercise an essential part of their week, positively impacting performance academically and mentally.

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By: Jennifer La Grassa

“Stand up. Stretch. Take a walk. Go to the airport. Get on a plane. Never return.” This is one of the more popular memes about studying to pop up in everyone’s least favourite month, November. I dare you try to escape the flood of study memes during this year’s exam season. In that sleep-deprived, “what is life?” state, study memes are the university student’s main form of solace. During fall finals the urge to just hop on a plane is almost unbearable. As temperatures plummet into the negatives and the amount of sunlight continues to decline, the darkness of exams is a repelling force that is enough to push anyone onto a plane headed for a warm destination. Thankfully, the force of “you will fail life” tends to be stronger, and usually acts to keep those within the university population firmly rooted.

Believe it or not, as unhelpful as the above tip may seem, there lies within it a noteworthy statement: “take a walk.” Whether you regularly exercise or not, a mere five minutes of moderate exercise is all it takes to enhance your overall mood. Just think of all that this insinuates; actually don’t think, rest your academically distraught brain and let me delve into the realm of possibilities that this statement holds.

All those times that you end up walking during exam season (be it to the library or grocery store) and feel that your chosen method of transportation is wasting precious study time, think of Jim Carrey’s Grinch waving his hairy green finger while saying “wrong-o.” You may just be doing more good than harm to your studying. That stroll you are engaging in is considered to be light physical activity, which not only counteracts many detrimental health risks posed by long periods of sitting, but also boosts your mood and creative potential. Endorphins, which are one of the countless “feel good” substances within the brain, are released during exercise and are active in reward systems to create a sense of pleasure. Numerous studies claim that being in good spirits can enhance your productivity — mix this with coffee and your studying efficacy may just reach an all-time high.

A properly timed workout session of moderate exercise is known to show a more pronounced effect. Regular exercise promotes brain growth within the hippocampal region (a part of the brain dedicated to memory formation) and prevents brain deterioration. Committed exercisers may also find a stronger sense of satisfaction at the end of a workout. Regardless of how much exercise you normally engage in, just know that even small amounts can help. Amidst the countless hours of studying you will undertake during this year’s upcoming finals, do not feel guilty for the many walks you may take to the fridge for another snack. Instead, consider extending this journey into a light stroll around the house before reaching your food destination. The benefits of that walk could be doing more for your studying than the snack you will grab.

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By: Abi Kirubarajan

With midterms looming and the temperature plummeting, it’s easy to forgo walks outside and other physical activity. However, the benefits of exercise are not limited to the body as physical activity also ameliorates mental health.

Unfortunately, stress is a major issue for today’s university student. From strenuous examinations to living away from home, university students do not have it easy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 30 percent of university students have symptoms of depression that affect day-to-day activity. In addition, a 2008 survey found that over 40 percent of college students are stressed often, with over 20 percent of students feeling stressed for the majority of their day.

However, according to a recent McMaster study, less than half of Canadians use exercise to cope with stress and anxiety.

Researchers from the Department of Family Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, as well as the Department of Kinesiology, used data from over 36,000 Canadian to find their results. Exercise, out of thirteen possible coping behaviors, was ranked to be the eighth most popular. Only 40 percent of Canadians stated that they exercise regularly to purge anxiety. More popular coping mechanisms included communicating with friends, problem-solving, denial and attributing failures to others. Exercise as a stress-reliever was found to be more common in young, female, single and non-smoking demographics. The study also found that people who exercised regularly were less like to abuse alcohol or drugs, in pursuit of coping mechanisms.

John Cairney, a lead investigator, said, “we know stress levels are high among Canadians, and that exercise is effective at managing stress and improving health and well-being, so the fact exercise is number eight and that less than half of the population use it is worrisome.”

Exercise is a known stress-reliever, as it floods the body with endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that inhibit pain and reduce stress. They trigger feelings of happiness, by also modulating appetite, releasing sex hormones and enhancing immune response. Moreover, regular workouts ease the physical symptoms of stress. For example, exercise relaxes tense muscles and tissue, alleviating pain from stress-related neck aches and back pains. Exercise also helps individuals sleep sounder, combatting the insomnia that can arise from anxiety. In addition, exercised muscles generate copious amounts of a protein known as PGC-1(alpha)1. This protein eliminates stress-related neurochemicals, such as kyneurenine, in the brain. When a Swedish study genetically modified animals to contain this protein, they found that the GMO animals were less likely to get depressed and anxious in unsettling environments.

Thus, it’s a shock that a majority of Canadians do not take advantage of exercise to combat stress. So next time you feel overwhelmed about exams or relationships, consider taking a walk. It will not only clear your head, but also trigger a plethora of physiological responses to help you feel better.

As Cairney said, “exercise as a coping strategy for stress can be a ‘win-win’ situation.”

Amanda Watkins
LifeStyle Editor

Zumba

Offered on: Monday 3:30-4:20, Tuesday 4:30-5:20, Wednesday 6:30-7:30, Thursday 12:05-12:55, Sunday 4:30- 5:20

Burn rating: 2/5

You will have fun when you go to Zumba. Your instructor will probably warn you not to look at your reflection in the mirror, and that is because it will make you feel viagra canadian meds like a fool. But don’t worry, everyone else looks crazy too!

An intensive cardio dance session based around classic Spanish styles, you will go through several routines led by the instructor that feature dance moves coupled with stretches, jumps and standard exercises (think jumping jacks and squats). With all this movement, Zumba will have you sweating profusely by the end of the session. Not as direct in strength training as other classes, it will still have you on your feet while burning calories and building muscle.

 

Step It Up!

Offered on: Thursday 5:30-6:20

Burn Rating: 3/5

If you’ve never done a step class before, be warned that this does feature some fancy footwork that may not be familiar or easy for beginners. But, after a few sessions, you should be a stepping pro with thighs of steel.

As a beginner (and a person below average height), I’ll set my risers with a single level. The more risers you have, the harder the workout will be. But with a series of twists, turns and jumps, keeping it closer to the ground may be your best option.

The workout increases in pace to a point where I needed to leave early my first time taking the class. But with a bit of practice and consistent water sipping, your lower body should be plenty ready for the road ahead.

 

“GTL”- Glutes, Torso, Legs

Offered on: Monday 12:05-12:55

Burn Rating: 4/5

This class comes with a lot of accessories. For the exercises and stretches involved you will use a step and risers, hand weights, an exercise mat and an exercise ball. Targeting your core and lower body, the first few exercises do a good job at easing you into the workout ahead. And then the squats start. You will definitely feel the burn, and possibly, you may actually feel your ass as a separate entity of your body.

A really great and effective workout, it offers both a strength training and cardio workout. The fifty minute session includes, jump and squat activities on the step and risers, balance and core exercises on the ball, hamstring and core exercises on the mat, and squat and lunge activities with the hand weights. A little bit of everything, your muscles will thank you for GTL.

Fitness trends go in and out of fashion. Jane Fonda and Russell Simmons created an aerobics frenzy and Billie Blanks knocked us on our butts with his Tae Bo. The home exercise tape that focused on your individual performance was where it was at. But a whole new wave of fitness trends have reset where our fitness priorities now lie.

It’s no longer about just breaking a sweat. It’s about having fun while doing it, or looking sexy or reflecting on your daily life. Whatever it’s about, it’s definitely about more than just getting fit.

Zumba

I was recently introduced to Zumba and hot yoga, both of which I am slowly becoming addicted to. When it comes to Zumba, it’s important to acknowledge that I was the first person to chide or mock my friends who initially jumped on the Zumba bandwagon. I was partially right; you can definitely take a Zumba class and end up looking goofier than your 5 year old cousin doing the hokey pokey, but just because your hips don’t lie (and move) as sexily as Shakira’s , that certainly doesn’t mean you should write off Zumba.

Zumba was first developed in the ‘90s by Alberto Perez, and became mainstream in the US in 2001. It was developed as a dance-fitness program that sought to integrate moves from samba, salsa, merengue and even Bollywood and belly dancing. My first experience with Zumba confirmed that it truly is a smorgasbord of dance styles rolled into one class.

My first class was packed with female attendees and as soon as the instructor and the music started booming, it was hard to not get into it. Zumba instructors are well known for their over-the-top energy and shouting that reminds you to have fun and let loose. While this ambience can be a lot at first, the music is the best of soca and reggaeton and keeps you smiling through the surprising amount of soreness you feel after “getting low” so many times you’re about to fall over.
Still not convinced Zumba is worth a try? Baring the dance skills you will inevitably have picked up and the smile that will be plastered on your face as you leave the class, it is worth noting that most people burn between 500-900 calories during a one hour Zumba class. But really, as its motto states, it’s less about exercising and more about “joining the party.”
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable breaking it down publicly? Or maybe you just seek more serenity in your workouts? Then hot yoga might be the exercise trend you should try out.

Hot Yoga

During my first time in hot yoga, I quickly learnt that it is completely acceptable and expected that by the end of class you will be dripping sweat from every pore.
Hot yoga is typically affiliated with Bikram yoga, a practice pioneered by Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury aimed to replicate the hot, humid conditions of India in yoga studios in order to increase the flexibility of participants while they moved through poses.
In hot yoga (specifically the Moksha variation) the room temperature is typically kept at 40 Celsius with 35% humidity. While city-dwellers might gawk and compare this to an average summer day in downtown Hamilton, I would challenge them to exercise vigorously for up to 90 minutes in this weather.
Hot yoga provides participants with the opportunity to vastly increase or enhance their existing flexibility while also developing a significant amount of muscular strength required to hold poses for long periods of time. Hot yoga also promotes proper breathing techniques to enhance your workout and help you efficiently exercise.
So while you may be petrified of sweating profusely in a room full of people, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Seasoned pros cover their mats with towels to absorb sweat so they don’t slip and most people also bring a small face towel to wipe away those pesky pearls of sweat. The instructor’s soothing voice helps guide you through the exercises even when you just want to give up and fall over.
One of the best (and most crucial) parts of yoga is its focus on meditation and providing a calming experience for both your body and mind. Hot yoga is no different, except the warmth provides a comforting environment for your body, especially in the winter. But in my experience I also found that while the heat is merely an external constraint, you are so focused on your practice and moving through the heat that it becomes very difficult for your mind to wander, and thus it is much easier to think and be in the moment.
If this seems too much like new-age mumbo jumbo for you, I would implore you to rethink your preconceptions of yoga. As students, we’re often totally immersed in campus life and constantly interacting with classmates, friends and housemates, but how much time do you truly have to reflect on yourself and your decisions?
So while you may not buy into the spiritual component, or may not be interested in increasing your flexibility, having a refuge from a busy, crazy world is something that every student could do with.
As the weather gets colder and we move closer to exams, it becomes easy to hide away in your house or the library and forget to exercise. But in the winter you should do just the opposite. You might not be able to exercise outside, but you can certainly find a way to get warmed up. My recommendation, join the Zumba party or sweat up a storm at hot yoga, either way, you’ll feel the heat.

By: Johnny-Wei Bai

 

For years, people have recognized that physical exercise improves cardiovascular and mental health, controls weight gain, and enhances academic performance. In fact, some even estimate that 20 per cent of premature deaths could be prevented by regular physical activity. Despite the benefits of physical activity, recent studies show that 85 per cent of Canadian adults do not fulfill the recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. Looking at the bustling activeness in young children, one may wonder at what stage of development this drop in exercise level comes about. Well, it is known that decline in physical activity occurs most drastically in adolescents transitioning into early adulthood, especially from high school into college/university.

To further explore this phenomenon, a recent research study was headed by Matthew Kwan, a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University's Department of Family Medicine. Participants for this prospective cohort study were recruited from the Canadian National Population Health Survey; in total, 683 adolescents of ages 12-15 were followed until they turned 25-27 years old. During this period, scientists looked at factors such as physical activity, education status, binge drinking, and smoking levels in both males and females. Comparing such a wide-range of factors allowed researchers to evaluate whether decline in physical activity is truly as big of an issue as other, more publicized health-risk factors.

Results showed that the average physical activity level across all participants decreased by a drastic 24 per cent, with a steeper decline in college/university males than in females. This difference across genders, however, may be because females in this study generally exercised less than males did, even in high school. Other health-risk behaviours, such as smoking and binge drinking, predictably increased during the high school-university transition, likely because of reduced parental influence and greater social pressures in post-secondary settings. Although levels of drinking and smoking began to plateau in later years, physical exercise levels continued to decline in adulthood.

Kwan’s findings suggest that an increase in unhealthy behaviours in early adulthood puts university and college students at greater risk of future health complications. It is commonly known that excessive smoking and drinking can cause various cancers, lung conditions, and cardiovascular diseases. McMaster researchers claim that in addition to the usual focus on preventing negative behaviour, health promotion strategies should emphasize the benefits of positive health activities such as physical exercise. Kwan called for greater efforts in targeting the decline in physical activity levels in adolescents to encourage healthy life-long habits.

Cassandra Jeffery 

Assistant InsideOut Editor

It’s a beautiful, crisp Wednesday morning. As most students are just pulling themselves out of bed, the active, athletic types have been up for hours getting their daily dose of exercise in before breakfast. Although getting up before eight o’clock in the morning seems to be a seldom fought battle, making sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle is important. With exams right around the corner, running a marathon is the last thing on our minds, however keeping up the physical flow will pay off in the end.

With that being said, getting out of bed to beat the crowd at the McMaster athletic center can also be more nauseating than the pounding headache you’ll have to endure after running on the treadmill for thirty minutes. If you’re frustrated with a boring and mundane workout routine but are desperately seeking a way to maintain that perfect body, try the McMaster spin classes.

Most of the student population has a general lack of knowledge when it comes to exercise involving a bicycle. If you’re anything like me, you would assume that biking can’t possibly be that difficult, let alone provide an adequate workout.

From visiting and experiencing various Mac cycle classes, I can vouch for the intensity and quality of workout. The cycle classes range from beginner (Mac cycle), to intermediate (extended cycle) and advanced (psycho cycle), though the Mac cycle, if done correctly, can be just as intense and difficult as the psycho cycle or the extended cycle. Usually, the spin classes last for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and for the entire duration, the talented instructors push for the best possible effort.

A common misconception of Spin is that the class simply gets on a stationary bicycle and peddles for an hour. At the half hour mark, you’ll be wishing this myth was true, but instead, the instructors push pulse members through a vigorous and exhausting workout routine that involves frequently shifting gears, working the abdominal/core area and completing a series of standing exercises in order to properly work leg muscles.

Variety is key to a good workout, which is why the McMaster athletic center has a range of trained cyclists teaching the spin classes. Each instructor has a unique way of making everyone sweat and a different taste in motivational music. From Saturday morning Canadian rock to Tuesday morning modern dance hits, the Mac spin classes will surely have you coming back for more. And if you can’t pull yourself out of bed for an early morning class, Mac cycle offers various afternoon classes as well.

If you don’t have a Pulse membership, you can always purchase a day pass and try a class out for yourself. Otherwise, grab that rusty bike that’s probably been collecting dust in the basement all year and go for a spin around the block.

Take advantage of Hamilton’s beautiful weather and charming bike trails while it’s here and start getting in shape. After all, bathing suit season is just around the corner.

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