Woman working out

Strengthen Your Back For These Health Benefits

There seems to be a lot less slouching going on. For Generation Xers, the slouch was the standard. It was a symbol of rebellion and rock and roll. It was the “guitar slouch,” modeled by rock gods Slash and Ace Frehley. However, with the emergence of a new millennium, the guitar has been replaced by “Guitar Hero” and pilates has improved the postures of the would be slouchers. While it may be with bittersweet sorrow and fond memories, it is high time to bid farewell to the sullen slouch and embrace the benefits of survival of the fittest, starting with the benefits of a strong back.

Get a More Shapely Body
Even though it may not be your first priority when you think of toning, the large muscles in your back actually have a lot to do with the shape of your body, The latissimus dorsi, which are the wing shaped muscles on either side of your back, should create an inverted triangle, lending width to the upper body making the lower body look smaller. If its a great butt your after, target the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus to shape the sides and back of your rear end.

Better Spinal Stability
Your back has multiple muscle groups including your traps, lats and core erector muscles along your spine. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, back strengthening exercises help build the strength you need to keep your spine in proper position and provide your back with adequate support. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends exercises such as squats, crunches, and back bridges done with your back against a wall.

Increase Flexibility
Stretching exercises can increase muscular endurance and range of motion, says the NIH. Whether or not you participate in athletic activity, a flexible back is important for turning, lifting and general movement. Even everyday chores require a flexible back. Having a full range of motion allows for a broader choice of exercise without the limitations of tightness in the back.

Improve Posture
Height commands respect. If you want to look taller, stand up straight.The erector spine muscles that line up along the spine help to improve posture and support the body. Try adding back flexion exercises to your regular routine to prevent hunching.

Reduce Back Pain
When it comes to back pain, sitting in front of a computer is a very common culprit. When your back muscles are as strong as the muscles in your abs and chest, it is easier for the back to support the weight causing less chance of discomfort. A Harvard Health Publication article states that exercise is essential for the healing and prevention of back pain. The NIH supports these findings, suggesting that the regular back exercise is the best way of avoiding back pain. It recommends a minimum of a combination of flexibility and stretching exercises for 15 minutes, three times a week.

How do you keep your back strong and pain free? What are your best back exercises? Let us know!

Woman weight training

Try Weight Training For A Flatter Belly

Over the years, we have watched the shirts get higher and the pants get lower. Unless our dryers are just getting more powerful, there seems to be an American obsession with the abdominal area. If Gwen Stefani and Beyonce are any indication, midriff exposure may be the new black. And we all know that dedication to fashion can take hard work. If you want to show off your killer abs, you have to have the killer abs to show. Weight training is a great way to get your belly in shape so you can model the latest crop top/ hip hugger combo. Here’s how!

Spot Reduction Demystified
It may seen logical that exercising one part of your body is the best way to trim fat from the area; hence, performing crunches will strengthen the abdomen. The truth is, that while crunches may provide for a more toned appearance, they won’t burn fat around your stomach. If your goal is weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you ingest, and burning calories includes a strong aerobic component. Circuit training is a great way to combine aerobics with strength training.

Circuit Training
Circuit training includes a variety of exercises performed consecutively without rest in between. It helps to calories and raises the heart rate. Combined with a healthy diet, circuit training can help you burn fat all over your body, belly included.

Circuit Training Exercises
You can include almost any type of weight training exercise into your circuit, as long as you keep moving for a minimum of twenty minutes. Lifting free weights and using exercise machines are both acceptable circuit training activities, however, because you want to avoid taking breaks, you may not want to do multiple barbell exercises that require the addition or removal of weights or any machines that have to be set up.

Vary Muscle Groups
For best results, you should give your muscles 48 hours to heal between sessions. You might choose to do a full body workout every two days, or work your lower body on one day and your upper body the next.

Abdominal Exercises

  1. Barbell Crunches: Lie on an incline bench face up. Your knees should be on the bend of the bench and your feet should be below the foot pads. Use an overhand grip to hold a barbell with your arms extended upward and your hands a shoulder width apart. Exhale, curling your upper body in the direction of the ceiling keeping your arms vertical and your lower back on the bench. Inhale and lower yourself back to the starting position.
  2. Dumbbell Pullover: Lie down face up with your upper back across the bench and your feet pressed flat to the floor. Your body should be straight from your shoulders to your knees. Grip the dumbbell with both hands and extend arms past your head horizontally. Exhale while lifting the dumbbell over the upper chest, then inhale while you return the weight to its starting point.
  3. Low Pulley: Lie on the floor in front of a low pulley machine and attach the straps to both your ankles and the low pulley. Grab a support behind your head. Exhale and bring your knees to your chest using your hips and knees, and then your lower back. Inhale and return to starting position.

Are you doing circuit training to keep that six pack firm? Let us know how you do it, send us every sweaty detail.

Women jogging on the beach

Yes, Women Can Be Fit

“I’m not flawless. I have unattractive feet. unruly hair and oversized calves, but I push this body to its absolute limit and it has never let me down.” These are the words of Ironman Chrissie Wellington. Chrissie’s sport of choice is one which entails completing a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a full marathon, consecutively executed. Athletes staggering toward the finish line is not a rarity in this challenge. Wellington won the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2007, on her first attempt, easily outperforming many top male athletes. Talk about endurance.

Although women may never be a physically powerful as men in general, recent studies show that women can exercise at the same intensity as men for a longer time. Read on for what these studies show and what this means for ladies.

Why is This Important?
Knowing the differences between the way women and men perform may be helpful in determining which sports are best for each gender. A new paper published in the “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” journal reports that most studies on performance and activity are only done on men. However, the few that do involve women have shown that routines designed for men may not be well suited to women.

Men and Women Are Different
Sandra Hunter, PhD, associate professor of exercise science at Marquette University says, “The bottom line of training or rehab is that you have to fatigue a muscle in order to increase its strength. So if men and women fatigue differently, they should be treated differently.”

Research that women have more strength in their legs after cycling or running for a long time than men. Ladies can also hold isometric contractions (flexing a muscle, making a fist)for longer periods of time at maximum strength as their male counterparts. “We perform these types of subtle contractions all day long,” says Hunter. “They’re important for holding us up, for example, while we’re standing or sitting upright.”

Another reason for women’s increased endurance has to do with their metabolism. Women’s bodies burn fewer carbohydrates and more fat than men, which, as Hunter says, “sets them up to perform potentially for longer periods of time. But they have smaller hearts, smaller muscles and more body fat than men, so it can be hard for them to keep up with men in a sport like running, while in activities like swimming the differences are less important.” Hunter refers to Diana Nyad, “The first person to swim from Cuba to Florida was a woman.”

The Tougher Sex?
While it would be nice to claim it, there is still no hands down winner for the title of “The Tougher Sex,” but for now it is safe to say that women get more points when it comes to withstanding fatigue. However, it is a small victory for women in that they’re being recognized as a force in the athletic arena and that they’re specific concerns are being addressed. Thank you, Chrisse Wellington, et al.

So, what do you think? Does this give women the edge or are men still on top when it comes to sports? Let us know! And, if you’re a female athlete, let us know how you endure!

Woman doing some exercise

Ideal Amount of Exercise

Humorist Dave Barry once said, “Albert Einstein discovered that a tiny amount of mass is equal to a huge amount of energy which is why you have to exercise for a week to work off the thigh fat from a single Snickers.” Although this may be a bit of comedic hyperbole, looking at the calorie burn exercise time ratio can be quite disheartening. For example, according to an infographic, a 490 calorie Big Mac will take the average women over an hour of weightlifting to burn. Wash it down with a soda and that’s about two hours of cardio. With those kinds of figures, you could spend the next few years in a never ending cycle of eating and exercising. So where do we draw the line? How do we decide how much exercise is enough and how much is too much? Here are some hard and fast guidelines that will help you find out the ideal amount of exercise for your body.

How Much Exercise Do I Need?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should be getting thirty minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week. But the American College of Sports Medicine says that if you’re are doing a high intensity workout, you can cut that number down to 75 minutes a week with strength training and stretching 2 -3 days a week.

For Weight Loss
If you are looking to drop pounds, a study in JAMA Oncology found that 300 minutes of physical activity each week was the best way to obtain the greatest loss of weight and body fat. However, if that number seems a little out of reach to you, there may be other ways of achieving weight loss goals. Lisa Cadmus- Bertram, Ph., assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin explains, “… for most people, there is more room to cut calorie intake than to expend very large numbers of additional calories.” In other words, the key to success is burning more calories than you are taking in, so if you cut down on food intake, you may be able to avoid spending half a day at the gym.

To Tone Up
To add additional tone, incorporate resistance and strength training. This will help to build muscle and also increase the basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories your body will burn calories when it is resting. Also, try to engage in a variety of exercises to challenge your body in different ways.

For Longer Life
By engaging in the 150 minute minute of activity per week with 2 to 3 days of resistance training, you are not only ensuring a fit body, but you are also working to strengthen the lungs and heart, to avoid inflammation and to prevent insulin resistance from developing.

woman sleeping
For Better Sleep
A study of over 2,600 adults found that those who did their recommended amount of physical activity reported a 65% improvement in quality go sleep, were 68% less likely to have leg cramps at night and were 45% less likely to have difficulty focusing when they were tired as compared with individuals that did not get the recommended amount.

In short, aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week and double that if you want to see weight loss results, but in the end it is most important to balance your exercise with food intake and maintain a schedule that works for you. Let us know how you do it. Eat happy and be healthy!

Woman stretching on the beach

The Connection Between Happiness and Health

Can happiness ever be unhealthy? When R and B artist Pherell Williams felt his song “Happy” needed a visual, he and his team created “24 Hours of Happy,” the world’s first all day music video. The groundbreaking project featured a cast of hundreds of Angelenos dancing to the song round the clock, with Pherell appearing at the top of each hour to lend his support. The New York Times referred to this as “punishment level glee.” Leave it to the Times to add a touch of cynicism to a celebration of bliss. While staying awake for 24 hours may take its toll, it is generally believed that happiness may be a major component in maintaining physical health. Not convinced? Read on!

Why You Should Be Happy
So what’s so great about being happy? A 2012 review of over 200 studies found a correlation between optimism and a lowered risk of heart disease. This is not to say that happiness directly prevents heart attacks, rather that happy people are more likely to maintain good habits, like exercising, eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. However, some research seems to suggest that there are direct health benefits to a positive mental state. Studies published in the Psychological Bulletin show that optimism may help decrease levels of inflammation and a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that unhappy people 60 and older were more likely to develop disabilities, suggesting that merely being cheerful can lead to an improved physical state.

Genes and Environment
So, when it comes to happiness, is it nature or nurture? Research shows that identical twins have similar levels of happiness and that one twin’s happiness can be used to predicts the current and future happiness of the other with more accuracy than income and achievement. This would offer substantial evidence that genetics play a big role in happiness. However, if you were not lucky enough to hit the genetic jackpot, there are alternatives. Your environment can also have a lot of impact on your mental state.

Ways to Get Happy
Susan Albers, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic suggest practicing a technique she calls mindfulness, or being present in the moment. Activities like keeping a diary of gratitude or helping others are known to increase happiness and there are also smartphone apps available to help you monitor your moods.

Are you insanely happy or insanely healthy or just insane? If so, or if not, tell us how you manage to be all or none. We love to hear it.

Woman exercising on stairs

Switching Up Your Cardio Routine

In Dante’s Inferno, the Sixth Terrace of Purgatory is devoted to the gluttonous, or those who have spent their lives overindulging on food, drinks and comforts of the body. As punishment, they are starved in the presence of trees whose fruit they can never reach. Some would argue that a more apt punishment for these gluttons might be endless cardio. Many refer to cardio as the most monotonous form of exercise, comparing treadmills and stationary bikes to hamster wheels, yet few would ever argue its myriad of benefits. The American Heart Association suggests 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times weekly to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. So what can you do to switch up your cardio routine to keep things interesting?

Supersets
Supersets are great for combining weightlifting with cardio. Supersets usually consist of two or more exercises done in sequence with no rest in between. You might want to try, for example, a workout of 10 push ups, followed immediately with 10 squats, and then move onto shoulder presses, into bicep curls and ending with 10 trip extensions. You could consider his one set, and complete it three times, with a two to three minute rest in between. Certainly no hamster wheel there!

Cardio Rounds
Sure, you might get bored with the seemingly eternal sets on the elliptical, treadmill, and bike, but how about doing all three for a short amount of time, one after another? Pedal for a minute, run for a minute and use the elliptical for one minute. After five times, you should be anything but bored!

Stairs
Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator to earn some cardio points during the day. If you want an extra challenge, try taking them two at a time.

Take a Class
Sign up for a zumba, kickboxing, or hip-hop dance class. Muay Thai is a martial art from Thailand, similar to kickboxing and you can burn up to 1200 calories per class. Also, exercise in a group setting can raise motivation and improve performance while adding an element of camaraderie.

Do Cardio Between Sets
Try jumping rope or jogging between weight lifting sets or pilates routines to develop lean muscles and get your heart pumping and your blood flowing.

Timed Exercise
Another way to switch things up is by using the clock. Pick an exercise and give yourself 30 seconds to perform as many reps as you possibly can. Have a friend time you for an added incentive. See if you can increase your reps weekly or lengthen the set for some real calorie burn.

Still bored? One would think not. Let us know how you get through your cardio. We always love to hear from you!

Woman exercising in gym

Optimal Brain Function Is The Key to Long Life

When songstress Grace Slick debuted her 1967 psychedelic rock masterpiece, “White Rabbit,” there was little doubt in the minds of her intended audience as to what she meant when she belted the infamous lyric: “feed your head.” Some 50 years later, things have certainly come full circle. Although to say many things have changed in the past 50 years is a bit of an understatement, we are still focused on expanding the mind, albeit with a healthier goal: longevity. Perhaps, we should take a closer look at the newer ways to “feed your head,” optimize brain function, and prolong your life.

Exercise
There’s nothing like a good walk for generating new ideas. Exercise gets your brain working at maximum capacity by increasing the level of nerve cells in your brain and protecting them from damage. Exercising also increases blood flow to the brain and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2010 Neuroscience study showed that monkeys who exercised learned tasks two times as quickly as those who did not. Those are some smart chimps!

Omega-3 Fats
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fat which makes up 25% of the portion of the brain that is made up of fats and is a crucial component of your retina. It is also a structural ingredient in breast milk, which is thought to be the reason breast-fed babies score tend to score higher on IQ tests than those fed on formula. One study found that by taking 800 mgs of DHA a day for four months resulted in increased verbal fluency and can help reduce psychiatric illness and brain disorders.

Coconut Oil
Ketone bodies or ketoacids are substances which can renew and restore your brain’s nerve function after it has been damaged. Coconut oil has been shown to contain about 66% of the primary source of ketone bodies. According to research, just over 2 tablespoons of coconut oil could prevent neurological diseases and treat those that are already established.

Woman sleeping

Sleep
Sleep helps the brain to remove mind blocks, help you get a new perspective on problems, and enhance creativity. Harvard research shows that directly after sleeping, people are 33% more likely to make connections between ideas than before sleep. Sleep has also been shown to enhance memory and improve skill performance. In fact, as little as four to six hours of sleep can have a big impact on your clear thinking ability the following day, and we all could use that.

Gut Flora
Neurons in your gut produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which are also found in the brain and influence mood. Therefore, gut health can have an impact on your psyche, behavior and brain function.Healthy gut bacteria depends on your diet. If your diet consists of processed foods, your gut flora bacteria are likely not to perform as well. The best way to keep your gut flora at an optimal level is to limit processed food and sugar and take probiotic supplements.

It just goes to show, the more things change the more they stay the same. Let us know what you think. We love to hear from you! Really!

Woman with vegetables

Reduce Your Risk Of Illness By Eating Cruciferous Vegetables

If you are a fan of “The Big Bang Theory,” you may have seen the episode called “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.” In this episode, Sheldon calculates his life expectancy only to find that he will not live long enough to witness the point at which man will be able to transfer his consciousness into machinery, or put simply, turn into robots. In an effort to prolong his life so he can witness the realization of this phenomena, Sheldon decides to adapt to healthier lifestyle habits, including the transformation of Thursday Pizza Night into Thursday Cruciferous Vegetable Night, beginning with Brussels Sprouts. If you have seen this episode, you will know that things don’t go well for Sheldon. Cruciferous Vegetable Night is made a thing of the past and everyone ends up at the Cheesecake Factory meeting Steve Wozniak.

Ok, so cruciferous veggies were not the way to go for Sheldon, but that is not to say that they are not without their benefits. Cruciferous vegetables are part of a healthy diet and are proven to be effective in cancer prevention because of their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxification properties.

Cruciferous Veggies
The cross-shaped four petal flowers on these veggies are what give them their name (crucifer-cross.) While broccoli is probably the most common of the crucifers, others include the heads: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, rapini (green), turnips and cauliflower (white) and the headless: dark leafy greens like kale. Cruciferous vegetables contain carotenoids and dietary fiber which have been found to lower the risk of several cancers.

Glucosinolates
These compounds, found in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to decrease inflammation, a known cancer risk factor. They can also block the enzymes that stimulate carcinogens and activate enzymes that inhibit them. According to some studies, glucosinolates can also slow cancer growth by beginning a process called apoptosis, or self-destruction of cancer cells.

Carotenoids
Carotenoids act as antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables. Beta-carotene, specifically helps to control the abnormal growth of cells, keeping you healthy and glowing.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant, supports the immune system and has great skin benefits as well.

Kampferol, Quercetic and Anthocyanins
With their antioxidant and inflammatory effects, kampferol, quercetin and anthocyanins have all been shown to be crucial in the slowing of cancer development and boosting overall health.

Folate
Folate aids in the maintenance of healthy DNA and inhibits genes known to promote certain cancers.

Detoxification and Digestive Support
Exposure to toxins is a risk factor for many diseases, including cancer. Support of detoxification activity by cruciferous vegetables may be higher any other foods. The high fiber content found in these vegetables can also help protect the stomach lining by preventing the growth of bacteria and supporting the digestive system.

Cardiovascular Health
Decreased risk of strokes and heart attacks may be linked to the anti- inflammatory compounds in cruciferous vegetables. The folate and B-complex vitamins found in cruciferous veggies can lower the risk cardiovascular disease and may also prevent or reverse damage to blood vessels caused by blood sugar problems.

Ok, so maybe it was too much too soon for Sheldon. After all, replacing pizza with Brussels sprouts can be a pretty daunting task for anyone. But maybe you could try and work them into your diet 2 to 3 times a week, and let us know how that goes for you. We want to hear all about it!

Woman doing chair yoga

Ease Into Exercise With Chair Yoga

Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic Arizona State University Obesity Solutions has been credited with coining the expression, “Sitting is the new smoking,” adding that, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people that HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Pretty scary stuff! While this may sound a bit dramatic to some, Levine’s words do seem to hold some water. Researchers have found, and are still finding evidence proving that sitting can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. However, there is a healthy activity that you can engage in without leaving your chair. Welcome to the world of chair yoga.

Benefits of Chair Yoga

Greater Strength and Flexibility
If mobility is an issue, chair yoga can increase body strength and help withstand falls while sustaining fewer injuries. This means you can better continue daily activities and hobbies. Also greater flexibility will mean greater ease when it comes to tying shoes and bending to pick things up.

Improved Bodily Control
Proprioception is the ability to know where your body is in relation to space and accurately coordinating movement. By improving bodily control, chair yoga can help people with disabilities such as MS which interfere with this skill.

Improved Mental Clarity and Reduction of Stress
Chair yoga can relieve the impact of pain and chronic illness and can help replace stress caused by feelings of helplessness and isolation with feelings of relaxation and tranquility.

Chair Yoga Poses

Chair Cat Cow Stretch
Sit on the chair with your spine long and feet flat on the floor. Put hands on the top of your thighs or knees. Inhale, arching your spine and rolling your shoulders back and down, bringing your shoulder blades into your back, You are now in cow position. Exhale, rounding your spine and dropping you chin to your chest, allowing the shoulder and head to come forward. You are now in cat position. Continue to move from cow to cat positions for five breaths.

Chair Raised Hands Pose
Inhale, raising your arms upward. Let your shoulder blades slide down your back as you reach toward the ceiling with your finger tips. Push your sit bones into the seat of your chair and lift from there.

Chair Forward Bend
Exhale, coming into a forward bend over your legs. Rest your hands on the floor, letting your head hang heavily, Inhale, raising your arms back up over your head. Continue to switch between the raised arm position and forward fold, moving with each breath.

Chair Extended Side Angle
Bend forward and bring your left hand’s fingertips to the floor outside your left foot. Opening your chest, inhale and twist to the right, bringing your right arm and lifting your face upward. Hold for several breaths and exhale bringing the right arm down.

Chair Eagle
You can achieve the eagle pose by crossing your right thigh over your left. If you are able, try to wrap your right foot around your left calf. Cross you left arm over your right at the elbow. Bend your elbows and bring your palms together. Lift your elbows while dropping your shoulders. Hold for three to five breaths and repeat on other side.

If you tried chair yoga and liked it, we would love to hear all about it! Please send us your comments and suggestions. We love to hear from you.

Woman eating healthy

You Should Be Thinking About Your Liver

If you ever Google the words, “Dear Liver,” you will find a lot of sad sacks apologizing for the havoc they have visited or are about to visit on their liver this or this past weekend. Poor livers! What have our livers done to deserve such shameful treatment? The liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body, processing everything you eat and drink and dutifully repackaging it for use or eliminating it. Why, we shouldn’t be taking these precious organs for granted, but rather we should be doing everything in our powers to protect them and treat them with the respect that they have surely earned! So how can you keep your liver healthy?

Eat Well
According to Timothy T. Nostrant, MD, one of the most important things you can do for your liver is to eat healthy. “Because the liver stores most of out nutrients… anything bad you consume will be associated with potential for damage.” The best diet for your liver consists of protein from plant based sources, and natural foods that are low in fat. Some of the most liver friendly foods include beans, lentil and legumes. Try not to eat too much meat and load up on fruits, veggies and whole grains instead. Aim for mono saturated and polyunsaturated fats as opposed to trans fats. Good sources of healthy fats include fatty fish, avocados, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Limit your fat intake to 20% of your diet.

Exercise
Nostrant says, ” Obesity is linked to fatty liver disease,” which can cause scarring or cirrhosis of the liver, as well as liver cancer and liver failure. Exercise is an important part of keeping your weight under control. Nostrant advises those with weight problems to set a goal to lose 20% of their weight. Your liver will thank you.

Drinking too much
Limit Alcohol
Don’t give yourself a reason to apologize tomorrow. Even former drinkers are susceptible to liver damage showing up years after eliminating alcohol. G. Anton Decker, MD, advises cutting down to one drink a day for women and two for men. Also, beware of the over the counter pain reliever acetaminophen which can cause damage if taken in large quantities over a small amount of time. Avoid using IV drugs, having multiple sexual partners, abusing IV drugs and getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized needles which have all been associated with hepatitis C.

Warning Signs
If your liver is not working correctly, fatigue is the most common symptom. Other signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice, nausea and decreased appetite.

Treatment Options
The most common liver diseases are fatty liver, viral hepatitis and genetic disease. If managed properly, however, they can be handled with a minimum of negative outcomes. Viral hepatitis is especially responsive to treatment and some people may be able to eliminate it entirely from their bodies.

If you are hurting your liver, you know who you are! Send in your confessions and New Year’s resolutions! We love to hear from you.