Dr Tony Boutagy

Staying Healthy at Home

Many Australians are presently working from home. Cutting the travel time to and from work provide opportunities to spend that time doing other things we wouldn’t ordinarily have time for. But working at home can be a disruption to normal routines that we all tend to thrive on. One of the most common sentiments I hear as extended holidays draw to a close is that many actually look forward to having the routine that the work life brings. Lack of regularity is just one of several challenges being house bound presents us. With that in mind, I offer six suggestions to stay healthy and sane whist working from home for this next, unspecified period of time.


  1. Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule: Not having to wake up at a specific time to catch the bus to work and merely having to open the computer to start our day can allure us into creating haphazard sleeping schedules. Humans have evolved to keep regular sleep/wake, light/dark rhythms that rewards us with vitality, productivity and energy when we observe these regular sleep-wake cycles. This period of physical isolation allows us to firmly entrench an 8-hour sleep opportunity and circadian rhythm that we might never have again, as going out to restaurants and other entertainment is off the cards for the foreseeable future. Decide what time you would like to wake each day, work back 8-hours, allowing an extra 30 or so minutes for wind down, shower, intimacy and so on. Remembering to use bright lights in the morning hours and dim light in the period before bed. Then stick to this schedule every day. 


  1. Respect work/life balance: in our parents and grandparent’s day, for the vast majority, there were no mobile phones, computers and internet. Once the work day was done, adults did not go home and keep working until all hours.  Now that we are house bound and have access to emails on our phones, there can be a strong temptation to essentially work 7 days a week, without truly respecting down time. It would be wise to maintain ‘office hours’ and ‘personal hours’, where, during the latter, the phone and computer are off to work and on to family, friends and entertainment. 


  1. Set an exercise schedule: just as we have group exercise classes, personal training and running clubs, keeping a scheduled daily exercise regime (especially in the morning before work hours) is critical to maintaining momentum and not falling off the bandwagon during this time we are at home. Here are several suggestions:
  • Talking a 5 to 10-minute walk after meals aids blood sugar control and the energy slump we often get mid-afternoon. This is a very little time investment but has a huge potentially to make us feel great and energised;
  • Aim to walk in nature several times a week, so we don’t develop cabin fever from doing everything indoors.
  • Exercise every day and alternate hard (see next point) with easy sessions, such as walking and jogging;
  • Use time efficient modes of interval training, such as stair or hill runs, as the ‘hard’ sessions. Aim to accumulate at least 10 minutes of high-intensity work in these sessions. After a 5-minute warm-up, finding a hill or stairs it takes about a minute to reach the top, tackle these 10 times with a slow walk back down. Skipping is another tremendous exercise mode, where you would aim to do a similar workout (10 x 60-seconds of skipping with, say, 30-seconds rest in between);
  • Set up a body weight circuit three times a week. An example of a circuit might be: squats, push-ups, lunges, abdominal planks and skipping. Do each exercise for 60-seconds, moving quickly on to the next exercise. Rest a minute at the end of the circuit, and perform five rounds of the circuit, 


  1. Use house bound time wisely: This unusual time provides us with the perfect opportunity to work on aspects of health and fitness that we do no ordinarily have time for, such as stretching, trigger point work or foam rolling, deep breathing and meditation. It can be as simple as a 5-minute stretch, foam roll or deep breathing while you make your morning coffee or tea. It’s another healthy habit that takes basically no extra time from your day but doing it regularly will make you feel great.


  1. Be mindful of eating ‘as something to do’: Most people working from home have already worked this out – we eat because we are bored, procrastinating or as something to do. So that we all don’t gain unwanted weight over this time, it would be helpful to set an eating schedule that we stick to every day and avoid mindless walks into the kitchen to snack.


  1. Stay connected: It has already been observed that the phase ‘social distancing’ is unhelpful and the term ‘physical distancing’ might be more appropriate. We are very used to seeing people at work, on the bus or after work. This, for the time being, has largely stopped. Rather than just texting people, make the time during ‘personal hours’ try to use FaceTime, Skype and Zoom as a way of connecting with others, especially those really affected by isolation, such as the elderly. Try to call people as well, rather than texting. In this way, those who are more affected by physical distancing will feel a much greater sense of connection, which is far better for everyone’s mental health.


Dr Tony Boutagy is an Exercise Physiologist with a PhD in exercise and sports science from Charles Darwin University. He’s conducted over 50,000 training sessions in his career that has spanned 25 years, and is regarded as one of the premier personal trainers in the country. 

Research Review: Diets Rich in Fermented Foods Reduce Inflammation in our Bodies

In this article, our expert Dr Tony Boutagy – reviews Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status   by Wastyk et al. 2021, and breaks it down to give us the vital parts we need to know. 

1) What was the high-level summary of the research?

The microbial cells that live in the human gut are collectively called the gut microbiota or microbiome. These cell colonies significantly affect our metabolic and immune health and we know that diet plays a major driving factor in the composition and function of these microbiota.

This study found that a diet rich in fermented foods (things like sauerkraut, cottage cheese, kombucha, miso and kimchi)  enhances the diversity of these gut cells and decreases several markers of inflammation, which are linked to increased risk of chronic disease.

This is the first study to show that we can boost the diversity in these cells and lower certain markers of inflammation by eating a diet rich in fermented foods.


2) How was the study undertaken and what did it try to measure? 

This was a clinical trial of 36 healthy adults who were randomly assigned to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fibre foods. The two diets were analysed to examine the potential for different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system.


3) What did the study find? 

Over the course of the 10-week intervention, the researchers observed a decrease in many inflammatory markers in individuals consuming fermented foods and an increase in microbiota diversity. Eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings

The results suggest that fermented foods may be powerful modulators of the human immune system and may provide an avenue to combat many diseases of modern civilization.

The findings also paint a nuanced picture of the influence of diet on gut microbes and immune status. On one hand, those who increased their consumption of fermented foods showed similar effects on their microbiome diversity and inflammatory markers, consistent with prior research showing that short-term changes in diet can rapidly alter the gut microbiome. On the other hand, the limited change in the microbiome within the high-fibre group supports previous reports of a general resilience of the human microbiome over short time periods, with the researchers speculating that changes in the microbiome may require more than 10-weeks in response to increasing dietary fibre intake.


4)  Is there any other research out there that supports these findings or contradicts it?

It has been known for some time that the microbiota is highly malleable and can be radically reshaped within days to months of certain events, such as when someone migrates to another country, takes antibiotics or changes their dietary habits. 

Previous research has demonstrated that humans living today in industrialised areas have reduced diversity in gut microbiota compared to our ancestors. Studies have also shown reduced diversity in these cells in modern industrialised communities compared to those eating a traditional, non-Western diet, without heavy food processing. 

This is the first study to demonstrate an increase in microbial diversity and lowered inflammation in response to a diet rich in fermented foods. The findings support previous reports that diet is an important modulator of the composition and function of the microbiome, and these changes can occur over a relatively brief period of time.


5) How much weight should we give this research?

This study was conducted by a multi-centre team of world leaders in both diet and the microbiome. They used state-of-the-art technologies to examine the composition of the microbiome and several markers of inflammation and found that high-fibre and high-fermented-food consumption influence the microbiome and human biology in distinct ways. While these findings are promising, they need to be further demonstrated in larger studies across diverse populations, 

However, given the fact that our present understanding of low microbiota diversity is associated with many chronic diseases of modern civilisation, such as obesity and diabetes, coupled with the knowledge that high levels of sanitation in industrialised populations has led to reduced microbial diversity, studies like this that show increases in microbial diversity by simply eating fermented food appear to be a simple and user friendly way to improve health.


6) What does this mean for your work/research/industry?

There is an immense body of literature that supports the role of fibre in health and lower rates of mortality. Studies also reveal the role dietary fibre plays in supporting gut microbiota diversity and metabolism and the positive role of short-chain fatty acids, a product of fibre fermentation by the gut microbiota, in maintaining gut barrier health and reducing inflammation

Dietary interventions that specifically alter dietary fibre, such as increasing total fibrous carbohydrates, whole grains, and resistant starch have shown impacts on the microbiota along with improvements in numerous health markers.

A recent study found differences in microbiota composition among fermented food consumers versus non-consumers. Given that fermented foods have historically been part of many diets around the world, consuming fermented foods may offer an effective way to reintroduce evolutionarily important interactions. They may also provide a way to rebuild microbes that have been lost over the course of the over sanitising of our modern environment.

Extensive data across the field of gut microbiome science has established that diet is a major driver of the species and functions that reside within an individual’s gut. Poor diet is a known contributor to many diseases of modern culture that are rapidly spreading globally as more populations adopt Western-style diets. Furthermore, many modern diseases are driven by chronic inflammation, an immunological state that is modulated by the gut microbiota.


7) What’s the key takeaway for us to take from this research?

This is the first study to demonstrate that eating a diet rich in fermented foods can both improve the diversity of the microbiota and reduce markers of inflammation. This increase in microbial diversity may play an important role in reducing the risk of developing several chronic diseases, such as type II diabetes and obesity.


8) Will you be doing anything differently because of this research? 

I have made a concerted effort to include fermented foods several times a day in both my and my family’s meals. These have included yoghurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and cottage cheese. I’m looking forward to exploring more food options that will bring in a greater variety of fermentation to our diets.


Tony Boutagy holds a PhD in exercise science, where his primary interest is in body composition and human performance. Dr. Boutagy shares his time between hands-on coaching in Sydney and online education on topics which include health, exercise and lifestyle.

Research Review: Why Sleep is Critical for a Healthy Body Composition

In this article, our expert Dr Tony Boutagy – reviews The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment by Séverine Lamon et al. 2021, and breaks it down to give us the vital parts we need to know. 

1) What was the high-level summary of the research?

A single night of sleep deprivation can induce considerable effects on, muscle breakdown (catabolism) – by causing a significant reduction in both muscle growth by 18% and the growth (anabolic) hormone testosterone by 24%. Further, the researchers found that the muscle breakdown (catabolic) stress hormone cortisol increased by 21%. 

The findings of this study provide the support for long-term observations that show that a reduction in sleep has negative consequences on body composition.


2) What did the study try to measure?

Inadequate sleep duration has been demonstrated in several studies to negatively impact numerous aspects of health, especially metabolism and brain function. 

For example, short sleep impairs how well you can control your blood glucose and increases the risk of developing type II diabetes while also reducing cognitive function and mental performance. 

Research has also demonstrated  poor body composition – increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass – in those individuals who sleep less than 6 hours per night. 

Human muscle is in a constant state of breaking down and rebuilding. If rebuilding occurs to a greater magnitude than the rate of breakdown, then we gain muscle tissue over time. Periods of marked inactivity or bed rest cause breakdown to exceed the rebuilding process, and the loss of muscle mass follows. 

To measure the short-term flux (breakdown vs. rebuilding) of muscle protein balance, researchers can examine the synthesis of new muscle proteins in response to a variety of interventions, such as exercise modes, food types and in this instance, sleep deprivation. 

This study aimed to explore the mechanisms that can cause the negative change in body composition observed in those who experience short duration sleep by investigating the effect of sleep deprivation on muscle mass. 

In addition to measuring the synthesis of muscle proteins in response to sleep deprivation, the researchers also examined the levels of the growth hormone, testosterone and the muscle breakdown (catabolic) stress hormone, cortisol.


3) How was the study undertaken?

Thirteen young adults who were sleeping on average 7 hours per night were studied under two conditions: (1) a full, normal night of sleep and (2) complete sleep deprivation. The sleep environment, temperature and provided food were all carefully controlled. The next day after both sleep conditions, small biopsies of muscle were taken, and blood was drawn to examine markers of protein synthesis and hormones.


4) What did the study find? 

This study found that one night of complete sleep deprivation resulted in an 18% reduction in muscle protein synthesis and this was accompanied by a decline of 24% in the growth (anabolic) hormone testosterone and a 21% elevation in the break down (catabolic) stress hormone cortisol.


5) Is there any other research out there that supports these findings or contradicts it? 

This study provides the actual mechanism behind the well-known observations that short sleep duration results in poor quality body composition. Previous investigations have observed reductions in muscle mass and testosterone and increases in cortisol with sleep restriction, and this study found the same using a model of complete sleep deprivation.


6) How much weight should we give this research?

This study used complete sleep deprivation as the intervention. Care should be given when attempting to extrapolate these results directly to those who have slept less than the recommended 7.5 to 9 hours per night. However, the results support previous research that has demonstrated reductions in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass when sleeping less than 6 hours per night. 

The protocols and methods used in this study provide what is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ level of evidence for providing a link between lack of sleep and muscle turnover, along with the hormones involved in this regulation. As such, we should take the results of this study seriously with respect to the lack of sleep and muscle health.


7) What does this mean for your work/research/industry? 

Often viewed as unimportant and wasted time, sleep has been demonstrated to play an extremely important role in maintaining our brain, metabolic and cardiovascular health. Studies like this one show how important sleep is to the quality of our muscle mass. 


8) What’s the key takeaway for us to take from this research?

Far from being wasted time, sleep duration should be a priority for those who consider muscle mass, and health in general, important. But don’t fear if you go through periods of your life when you are sleep deprived, such as raising small children or working hard to meet project deadlines. Just understand that over the long term in order to maintain a healthy body composition as you age, you must prioritise your sleep.


9) Will you be doing anything differently because of this research? 

No! I already knew how important sleep is to every aspect of our health and do my best to maintain a routine of an 8-hour sleep opportunity and a regular sleep-wake cycle every day, or as best as I can with 3 young children!


Tony Boutagy holds a PhD in exercise science, where his primary interest is in body composition and human performance. Dr. Boutagy shares his time between hands-on coaching in Sydney and online education on topics which include health, exercise and lifestyle.

Expert Q&A: Introducing Dr Tony Boutagy

1) Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

I started working in the fitness and health industry in 1995. Over the years I have worked in a number of related roles, but primarily as a trainer, strength coach and lecturer. My areas of interest are all things body composition, which covers nutrition, strength training, cardiovascular exercise and lifestyle.


2) What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place? 

I started work as a trainer while I was studying sports science at university, I immediately found the human body and the way it functioned incredibly fascinating, especially in its application to training and exercise, so my interest was captured and I’ve never looked back.


3) How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

I make exercise and sleep a non-negotiable priority. This means that most other things, other than family, are subordinate to the time I allocate to exercise and keeping regular sleep rhythms. I also cross train over the week, lifting weights, swimming, cycling, running and stretching. This keeps the stimulus and impact diverse and the exercise enjoyable.


4) Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

In Mosman, The Source Cafe in Raglan St and in the city, Mecca.


5) What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

Small behaviours which become habits have profound impact on our health and well being. Sleeping 7-9 hours a night. Lifting weights and getting up a sweat with some intervals or a long run. This actions do not require a lot of time or motivation, but when done with consistency, improve our health in a remarkable way.


6) What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue? 

Can I give three?

You can sleep less than 6 hours a night and be healthy.

Carbohydrates make you fat.

Strength training will make me bulky.


7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

For a higher level discussion, Peter Attia’s podcast the Drive and Andrew Huberman‘s Lab are extremely good. For practical sports nutrition, I love From Paper to Podium. Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep is very good and Michael Hutchinson’s Endure is a great read on endurance exercise.


8) What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Don’t spend time with boring people.