Fitness & Nutrition Blog

Health Benefits of Grilling

There are health benefits to cooking your food on the grill versus on the stove or oven. We’ll go over some of the health benefits and give you some tips to serve up some tasty and healthy meals. Let’s start with the five health benefits.

1. You Eat Less Fat
When you grill, you eat less fat because the excess drips off the grates. Think about cooking a burger on the grill versus in a pan on your stove-top. On the grill, the fat cooks off. In a pan on the cooktop, the fat has nowhere to go, so it pools and is eventually re-absorbed by the meat.

2. Vegetables on the Grill are Better for You
Most people don’t realize that vegetables retain more of their vitamins and minerals when they’re grilled. This is especially true with veggies that have a low water content.
Plus, vegetables that you toss on the grill are usually fresh and in season, which are a step above the canned versions. Wrapping in tin foil or just placing on top of your grill, cooking your veggies in this manner is nutritionally advantageous than boiling or frying.

3. Meat Retains Nutrients
When you toss a slab of meat over the fire, it actually preserves more riboflavin and thiamine. Both of these nutrients play a vital role in a healthy diet, as well as have many health benefits associated with each of them.

4. You Use Less Butter
If you’re a master with the grill, and not overcooking your food, you’ll have juicy cuts of meat and tasty veggies. Because the grill locks in more moisture, you’ll be less inclined to reach for the butter or other condiments to jazz up your food. Not only does that means you eat fewer calories, but you put less unhealthy stuff in your body.

5. Grilling Goes With Outside Activities
The act of grilling gets you outdoors. A lot of parents toss around a Frisbee or kick a ball around the grass with their kids while grilling dinner. The act of cooking and eating outdoors encourages more activity, which we all know is just an added health bonus to go along with your delicious dinner.

5 Tips for Healthy Grilling
Before you fire up the grill for tonight’s dinner, we have a few tips to make your next meal even healthier. Here are five tips to improve your family’s diet as you grill away.

1. Buy Lean Meats
While cheeseburgers are grilling staple, you should vary your outdoor menu. Try lean cuts of meat like chicken, fish or pork. When you’re craving a burger, pickup the leanest beef you can find. Look for 93/7 marked on the package. That means just 7 percent is fat. The leaner the meat, the healthier it is for you.

2. Grill Your Veggies
Every meal should have veggies, so when you’re grilling, add a few peppers or zucchini to the grill. Try grilling sweet corn or make veggie kabobs as a side dish. A spinach salad with light vinaigrette dressing is another nutrient-packed addition that is a favorite amongst many people.

3. Use Gas Rather Than Charcoal
Depending on who you ask, some doctors have suggested that charcoal used during the grilling process can expose you and your food to cancer-causing chemicals.
If you want to use charcoal to cook, it’s recommended that you don’t overcook the meat and keep it out of the smoke as much as possible. If you can, doctors recommend using a gas grill. Not only is it a cleaner way to cook, you also avoid the possible side dish of a well-known carcinogen. 

4. Marinate Your Meats
Who doesn’t love a steak marinated in a honey garlic glaze, or lemon pepper pork chops?
The good news is that marinating doesn’t just improve the taste of your dinner, it may actually improve your health. When meat is cooked at high temperatures or cooked over charcoal, there are some concerns about cancer-causing chemicals seeping into the meat. Marinating the meat, however, is believed to help eliminate these chemicals by up to 99%.

5. Try Healthy Alternatives
If burgers and steak are your go-to grilling options, you can always take to the Internet for some inspiration. There are all sorts of creative and surprising recipes for the grill. For example, have you ever tried making a pizza on the grill? It’s an option. Grab some whole-wheat dough at the store, turn the grill on high and add some sauce and veggies to grill something other than beef.

While summertime is usually synonymous with grilling, when the weather starts to chill and the seasons change, you can also try a small electric grill that you can use indoors. It will tide you over until you fire up the barbie once again.

Why Summer Is Good For Your Health

Get your dose of vitamin D
Perhaps, the most obvious benefit of the extra sun is getting a daily boost of Vitamin D. Maintaining a steady supply has been shown to slow down aging, prevent inflammation, improve bone health, and improve immunity and resistance against diseases. Recently, a study found that the vitamin can reduce the risk of early death in people diagnosed with heart problems.

The season of the fruits
With all the fresh produce filling up grocery stores and farmers markets, it can be difficult to avoid fruits during the heat of the summer. Due to the high levels of humidity, we are more likely to crave a few slices of watermelon or a delicious mango smoothie. Other healthy summer fruits including berries, pineapples, kiwis, oranges, and peaches can prevent dehydration and provide a generous diet of vitamin C and vitamin E. 

You're sweating and that's good!
The more you sweat, the cooler your body gets and the more your blood circulation improves. Perspiration also helps clear out your skin by purging bacteria, dirt, oil and other impurities. The benefits aren't just limited to physical health. Prolonged sweating is associated with the release of endorphins which improve your mood and overall mental health.

Nature and the great outdoors
Ecotherapy simply cannot be underestimated and summertime means no more excuses to hide indoors. A 2016 study found that spending just 30 minutes in nature every week would reduce the risk of high blood pressure and depression.
Exposure to fresh air is important, particularly for those who live in a busy city and are subject to pollution. Breathing cleaner oxygen can increase your levels of serotonin, promoting happiness and well-being.

Rejuvenate with a vacation
Research has suggested that taking a break from your usual life and schedule to travel and relax is required to keep yourself healthy and productive in the long run. No matter how old you are, taking some time away from the corporate and academic environments can provide some well-rounded benefits that include reducing stress, boosting creativity, improving focus, and developing family bonds.  

Your heart is healthier

Studies have shown that the risk of heart disease peaks during the months of winter, but reaches its lowest point during summer. Experts have yet to identify the exact cause but the aforementioned benefits may suggest why your overall health is better during summer. Good cholesterol levels are said to be higher during this season compared to colder months, possibly since the hot weather is not as likely to constrict blood vessels.

How To Embrace Chaos For A Happier Life

We live in chaotic times. Our days and weeks are taken up by fast paced modern living, mad rushing to get a lot done each day, crazy amounts of information and messages vying for our attention, and more and more stuff going on around the world. Plus, uncertainty about so many aspects of life; who knows what next week will be like? Life is chaotic, inherently so. The very nature of life is quite chaotic and we often use a lot of energy attempting to create some order of it.

The pain and positivity of Chaos:
Chaos is new, unexpected and sometimes even undesired and distressing. It can often have a darkness to it. But embracing chaos as a positive in our lives is a wonderful way to deal with the unknowns and the possibilities of how things might be; it’s where and how we learn, explore and find meaning. When we attempt to tame the innate chaos in life and control all that cannot be controlled, it can cause us to feel depressed, anxious or sad.

Most of us experience times when the chaos feels like it is too much for us – when we feel overwhelmed and swamped, where life is out of control and where we fantasize of a simpler way of being, that takes less out of us.

The impossible promise:
What’s wrong with chaos anyway? Chaos is one of nature’s greatest forces, and it has brought forth much more wonder and joy than we realize and typically tend to imagine. It is probably unrealistic to think or hope to control chaos. Today, let’s focus on why we should and how we can embrace chaos. How we should let it wash over us from time to time, and focus more on the things we can control.

By accepting and embracing chaos as our friend or guide, we manage to organize a work life that is conducive to both performance and happiness.

Most of the time we’re multitasking. That’s just what it takes to live modern lives like ours. But that doesn’t mean it is ultimate chaos, it is just how our minds work. That is how we work. We do multitask, but when we focus on one specific task, it is with the greatest of our attention. We get in the zone. By accepting and embracing chaos as our friend or guide, we can manage to organize our life that is conducive to both performance and happiness.

How to Embrace Chaos in Life? 
Here are some ways…. Only Attempt to Control “the Controllable”
DO not try to control the uncontrollable! We can plan for the future, but most of the variables that can change our plans in the future are unpredictable, so focus instead on what you can control.  Most of us want to feel like we are in control of things, but when it comes to people and situations beyond our control we have to let go.  Stuff happens.

Most of the thoughts stored in our brain are not totally true, outright false or not applicable. If you have set up, ahead of time, criteria to judge a thought, you have the ability to discern, distinguish and judge a thought. Once you realize that imagined fears are baseless (which is the 1st test), then you understand there is no immediate need for action on your part, and you can choose to consider the thought further and select it or deselect it.

Counter Negative Thoughts:
Since many of the thoughts stored in our brain are skewed, we need to create a health-producing filter to accept or reject each thought. If you have already prejudged the criteria for assessing a thought, by expecting a positive outcome, you then have the ability to discern, distinguish and judge a thought from a perspective of hope.
Find out whether it is your own thought, or someone else’s. Also, decide whether it is for your own good to follow. This will lead to more control over your thinking process. 

Be Present:
Be present. Be mindful. See the flowers in your neighbor’s garden, hear the birds in the early morning, feel the warmth of the sun on you while you are driving. Stop being in another place in your mind all the time. Stop cluttering your brain with what happened yesterday and the discussion you are going to have with your partner because of his/her misbehavior, and what you are going to cook for supper.
Be present – really BE where you are, stop being somewhere else in your mind.

So often we can’t name the emotion we are feeling. We just know that we are not comfortable with what we feel. And we dwell in that feeling of discomfort – whether it is sadness, jealousy, anger, fear. It is just easier to really settle into the comfort of your discontent.

Attempt to be your own observer and explore your emotions. What emotion am I feeling? What triggered this emotion? Why?

Thinking about your thinking. How can I change this? What can I do differently next time? How can I handle this situation NOW? Responsibility really means “the ability to respond”, to make an active choice. You can make an active choice in terms of how you interpret things and how you act on them.  Research on the brain also reveals a direct link between patience and a vivid imagination. When we can counter an initial impulse, it leads to better decision making at a later time.

David Rock in his book, “Your Brain at Work” refers to this process as “reappraisal”. How to interpret what things mean to you differently. If you can shift your interpretation, your emotional response will shift too.

Do this 3-step exercise:
Step 1: Awareness. Think of an example last week you responded in a “less favorable” way; in other words, you had a strong emotional reaction to this situation. For example, when you were stuck in traffic for hours, someone said something very negative about you, or perhaps a business meeting that was canceled on short notice. Think of such an example now.

Step 2: Label it; give this emotion a name.

Step 3: See if there is maybe another way of thinking about what happened to you. Try to reinterpret, normalize, reorder, or to reposition.
Next time you become aware of the fact that you are experiencing discomfort in terms of your emotions, apply these 3 steps. It will create a greater awareness of your emotions and your reactions.

Be brave enough to explore alternative ways of thinking and be bold enough to embrace whatever insights come your way.

“In the space between chaos and shape, there was another chance.” – Jeanette Winterson.

When there is a sense of chaos, raise your arms in the air and embrace it, let it happen, resistance is futile. Embrace the chaos.

Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles

Core exercises improve your balance and stability
Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, whether on the playing field or in daily activities. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles.

Core exercises don't require specialized equipment or a gym membership
Any exercise that involves the use of your abdominal and back muscles in coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. For example, using free weights in a manner that involves maintaining a stable trunk can train and strengthen several of your muscles, including your core muscles.

You may also try several specific core exercises to stabilize and strengthen your core. Some examples of core exercises include planks, situps and fitness ball exercises. A bridge is another example of a classic core exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Avoid tilting your hips. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold the position for as long as you can without breaking your form.

Core exercises can help tone your abs
Want more-defined abdominal muscles? Core exercises are important. Although it takes aerobic activity to burn abdominal fat, core exercises can strengthen and tone the underlying muscles.

Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities
Strong core muscles make it easier to do many activities, such as swing a golf club, get a glass from the top shelf and bend down to tie your shoes. Strong core muscles are also important for athletes, such as runners, as weak core muscles can lead to more fatigue, less endurance and injuries.

Weak core muscles can also leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Strengthening core muscles may also help improve back pain.

Core exercises can help you reach your fitness goals
Aerobic exercise and muscular fitness are the primary elements of most fitness programs. But to have a well-rounded fitness program, consider including core exercises in the mix as well.
Whether you're a novice taking the first steps toward fitness or a committed fitness fanatic hoping to optimize your results, a well-rounded fitness program is the best way to reach your fitness goals.

Tea Has Amazing Benefits

At the very least, it’s a flavorful way of getting enough fluid into your body each day. On top of that, studies have shown teas can help protect your teeth and your heart, as well as possibly even helping to stave off cancer.

Which type of tea you drink can make a difference. All non-herbal teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The amount of time the leaves are processed determines whether you end up with a green, black or oolong tea.

The green teas are the least processed and tend to have the highest amounts of polyphenols, and the only type that contain the polyphenol, catechin, which is why many studies have been done using only green teas. Certain herbal teas are known for their medicinal values, including soothing the digestive system.

Here are health benefits of tea and some options for delicious teas to try:

Tea contains antioxidants. 
Antioxidants work to prevent the body’s version of rust and thus help to keep us young and protect us from damage from pollution. Load up on antioxidants with a white tea, which is less processed than black or green tea so it retains more beneficial antioxidants.

Tea has less caffeine than coffee. 
Herbal blends have no caffeine, while traditional teas have less than 50 percent of what typically is found in coffee. That means you can consume it without those pesky effects on your nervous system. If you're trying to switch from coffee to tea, try a chicory root tea which has a mouth feel and flavor similar to coffee. Chicory root is also known to help reduce stress and is a prebiotic so may be helpful to your gut. Bonus: this tea will give you a kick of energy without the caffeine.

Tea may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
There’s a lot of literature out there on tea and heart health. This is a health effect for which there is the strongest evidence. In fact, a study published earlier this year that combined data from a host of earlier reports found a nearly 20 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack and a 35 percent reduced risk of stroke among those who drank one to three cups of green tea a day. Those who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 32 percent reduction in the risk of having a heart attack and lower levels of LDL cholesterol. Four cups of green tea may keep you running to the bathroom, but you can get the same benefit from drinking one cup of matcha tea, which is made from ground green tea leaves and is said to be the nutritional equivalent of 10 cups of regular green tea.

Tea may help protect your bones.
Data from recent animal studies has shown that green tea may prevent bone loss. Moringa, a plant that's native to South Asia, has been known for its medicinal properties and is now quickly becoming a mainstream superfood. With more calcium than milk, as well as iron, vitamin A and K, moringa tea is a great addition to help keep those bones strong.

Tea may help you smile bright.
Japanese researchers have found that tea can decrease tooth loss. It changes the pH in your mouth when you drink it and that may be what prevents cavities. Beyond that, tea, unlike many other beverages does not appear to erode tooth enamel.

Tea may boost the immune system.
Studies have shown tea can tune up immune cells so they reach their targets quicker. Holy basil or tulsi tea has been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for centuries to help keep the immune system strong after injuries or illnesses thanks to its antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.

Herbal tea may smooth the digestive system.
Herbal teas, in particular chamomile, can be good for people with irritable bowel syndrome because it is an antispasmodic. And ginger teas can calm nausea. Get a dose of both with a ginger chamomile tea.

Tea -unadulterated, that is- is calorie free. 
It’s a great no-calorie alternative to water.  It provides so many options for flavor and versatility. You can have it hot or cold. And you don’t have to put anything in it, though you might want to add a cinnamon stick or some ginger. That means you’re able to hydrate with something other than water alone.

Stay Motivated and Reach Your Fitness Goals

Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
Planning to lose 20 pounds in one month? Unless you're a contestant on The Biggest Loser, it's unlikely you're going to do that. Unrealistic goals actually set you up for failure; you won’t stay motivated to continue when it doesn’t work out.

If you read about a diet or exercise plan promising super-speedy results, remind yourself of the adage we’ve all heard a million times: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!” Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint and lasting results take time and effort, so get real!

Keep a Photo Diary of Your Successes
Having a collection of progress photos is an awesome way to keep your spirits high! One study even shows how a photo diary can keep dieters motivated, making them more likely to reach their target weight.

It makes sense. When you look at your body in the mirror every day, it's hard to see a difference. But having photographic proof of what you looked like before and after (and during) your weight-loss journey will show you how far you’ve come. For even more motivation, post your photos on social media to share with supportive friends.

Enjoy What You Do for Exercise
If you hate running on the treadmill, chances are, you won’t do it. It’s hard to stay motivated if an activity feels like torture! But there's good news: Exercise comes in so many forms; you just need to find something you love!

Like to dance? Check out Zumba classes or online videos. Eager to squeeze in some quality friend time? Enlist your buds for daily walk and talks. Not sure where to start? Grab a class schedule from the local gym and see if any of the options pique your interest. Sometimes an inspiring instructor is a motivation you need to get your butt to class! Find a workout that you truly look forward to, and motivation won't be a problem.

Get a Full Night’s Rest
This might seem like an unlikely tip for motivation, but it works. Why? When we're tired, our ability to think straight falters and our emotions take over. And who hasn’t reached for a pint of ice cream when feeling yucky? Seriously, sleep could be the sup rising reason you aren't losing weight! 

Buddy Up!
Finding a partner in your weight-loss efforts will make a huge difference in your success. Having someone to hold you accountable is extremely motivating. You’re less likely to skip that workout if you know your friend is counting on you, right?

And even if you don’t have someone to lose with, you can find support from all over the world, courtesy of social media. There are so many inspirational weight-loss groups on Facebook that you can join. Get involved!

Finding a partner in your weight-loss efforts will make a huge difference in your success. Having someone to hold you accountable is extremely motivating. You’re less likely to skip that workout if you know your friend is counting on you, right?

And even if you don’t have someone to lose with, you can find support from all over the world, courtesy of social media. There are so many inspirational weight-loss groups on Facebook that you can join. Get involved!

Reward Yourself
Who isn’t motivated to succeed by the promise of reward? Choose something that correlates to your weight-loss success. Drop a pants size? Buy yourself a new pair of jeans! Are muscles sore because you’ve been working out hard? Sounds like you’ve earned yourself a massage. There are even apps and group challenges that promise financial rewards for weight-loss success... Put your money where your mouth is!

Don’t Live or Die by the Scale
Yes, the scale is the most tangible way to monitor weight loss, however, we put too much weight (pun intended) into the numbers. Many factors affect your weight, like how much water you’ve had to drink that day and how much sodium you consumed the day before.

If you weigh yourself daily you may lose motivation. I recommend picking the same time once a week to weigh yourself. Wear similar clothing when you weigh in. And to really grasp your progress, use other things, like the fit of your jeans and those photos I mentioned!

Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Get rid of that all-or-nothing attitude. It's awful for motivation. When goals become un-achievably rigid, we give up. One inevitable slip-up, and you'll want to throw in the towel.

Don’t be that way. Be kind to yourself. You're only human, after all! Setbacks are normal. You don’t have to give up all your favorite foods when dieting; that's a total weigh-loss myth.   Remember that, and weight loss will get easier. 

Stay On Track Over Memorial Day Weekend

1. Hydrate!
You may indulge in a few alcoholic beverages this weekend so be sure to drink lots of water! Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. This will prevent dehydration and prevent a hangover. Add lemon to your water to replenish electrolytes. You'll feel great the next day and won't miss a morning workout! 

2. Get up early and get in a good sweat!
You may overindulge a little this weekend and that's ok, however it's a good idea to crush a PPW before the barbecues and festivities begin!  If you wait too long the day will get away from you and chances are you won't fit it in, so get moving early!! 

3. Go for lean meats when barbecuing this weekend!
Load up on chicken, fish and veggies! And stay away from condiments! Those sauces are loaded with sugar and fat and those calories add up! Choose fruit instead! Make a fresh pineapple salsa to add to burgers, brats and hotdogs. It's also a great dressing for fish and chicken. 

4. Weekend Parties: NEVER go hungry!
Grab a handful of almonds or an apple with all natural peanut butter before heading out to parties. 
This will prevent you from overeating and you will make better choices. If you don't love it, leave it!… Indulge in the things you love but don't pick at foods that aren't worth your calories. 

5. Most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Portion control is important but don't stress out over every calorie. Get in a few PPWs this weekend, hydrate and have fun with family and friends. 

Do Workout Supplements Give Us An Edge?

Maybe, but results vary from person to person. When scientists study these products, mixed reviews are pretty common. Also, most research focuses on highly trained or pro athletes, so your results might be different. But if you're healthy and have no problems with your heart, kidneys, or liver, the most popular sports supplements are safe and inexpensive.

It's best to talk with your doctor before you take any product, even if it's natural, in case you have any conditions or take medications that it could affect.

Caffeine for Endurance
Caffeine gives you a pick-me-up in the morning, and it can pick up your game, too. If you take it about 30 minutes before your race, game or workout, it could improve your endurance. For long challenges, like a marathon, caffeine during the event can help, too.
Tennis players, cyclists, soccer players, runners, rowers, and others got an edge from caffeine in scientific studies. In some trials, the stimulant boosted athletes’ speed. In others, it helped them last longer before they spent all their energy. Some studies show that it can curb soreness after exercise, too. This means you could get back to your training sooner.

You can get caffeine from energy drinks and shots, tablets, chewing gum, sport gels, and sprays. Each product will give you different doses, so read the label before you take it.
You don’t need all that much caffeine to get the effect, and it is possible to overdo it.  No matter what form you take, make sure you don’t get more than 400 milligrams a day. And don’t forget to count your other daily sources of caffeine -- there’s about 100 milligrams in your morning coffee.

Too much caffeine can cause headaches, irritability, stomach upset, dehydration, and trouble sleeping.

Creatine for Reps
Are you a sprinter or weight lifter? Creatine monohydrate could help with these and other repeated short bouts of intense exercise. It doesn’t seem to benefit players of other types of sports. And, like studies of many supplements, not all studies show that it benefits athletes.

Your body makes creatine naturally, and your muscles use it to do high-intensity exercise. When you do a lot of reps, you use up your natural store of it. That’s one reason your tenth rep is so much harder than your first. A supplement boosts the amount your body has to work with. You also can get creatine from beef and pork. If you already eat plenty of these, you won’t notice as much of a difference from a supplement as a vegetarian might notice.

Experts consider creatine safe for healthy people. Some people take a higher dose for the first week -- about four servings of 5 grams each per day -- to “load” their muscles with the supplement. Then they drop to a “maintenance” dose of about 2 grams per day. Others skip the loading phase and start with the lower dose.

Some studies have shown that creatine could increase fat and not muscle. There’s also evidence that high doses could cause kidney, liver, or heart damage, but it's unclear how much might be too much.

Beta-Alanine for Burning Muscles
When you do short bouts of exercise at maximum effort for 30 to 90 seconds (think indoor cycling classes), your muscles make a lot of lactic acid. That’s what makes you “feel the burn.” Athletes take beta-alanine in a capsule or a drink powder to curb that burn so they can push through their workout.

Does it work? Cyclists and runners who took beta-alanine for 4 weeks improved their game in scientific studies. But not all studies agree.
Some studies show a benefit. Others don’t, so it’s not completely clear yet. We need more studies on it.

Protein for Muscle Growth
Like branched chain amino acids, many athletes take protein, usually in a protein shake, after workouts to try to curb muscle damage and boost growth.
There’s a window of about at least 30 minutes after you stop exercising during which you can take in protein and promote [growth] of lean muscle mass. A number of scientific studies show that protein after exercise helps reduce muscle damage or promotes its growth.

Protein seems to work best after resistance exercise, like weight training.  But you don’t have to get the nutrient from a supplement. A high-protein meal after a workout would do the job, too. A protein shake on top of that might give you an extra boost.  Whey protein is a popular go to protein source, however, it is dairy derived which makes it hard to digest.  Whey is also acidic in the system.  Soy is also a common source for protein shakes.  Be mindful of soy because it mimics the effects of estrogen so it can impact your hormones.  Also, soy is a highly processed making most of it Genetically Modified.  Other vegan sources have become quite popular in the last few years, some examples are yellow pea, brown rice and cranberry.  Do your homework when choosing a protein supplement.  

Rules To Building Muscle Mass

Rule #1: Building Muscle Mass Requires SMART Goals
Wanting to add more muscle mass is a good goal, but it’s vague. SMART goals are designed to ensure you can actually reach them. Here’s how to make your muscle mass goal smarter:

Specific. Do you want particular muscles to get bigger? Are there areas of your body you want to create more definition?

Measurable. It’s reasonable to gain 1-2 pounds of muscle a month. Decide how many months you will invest in this goal and pick your pounds accordingly. Remember you might gain pounds faster at first, so don't set your long-term weekly goals based on the first few weeks of gains.

Achievable. Consider what else you have going on in the coming months. Adjust your goals accordingly.

Relevant. Remind yourself why you want to reach this goal. If it’s hard to stay on track, find ways to remember your reason on a daily basis, like hanging a picture of the physique you want where you’ll see it.

Time Bound. Determine how long you want to spend on this goal. Make a plan on your calendar in that timeframe.  A goal is not goal unless it is time activated.

Rule #2: Be Prepared
No one builds muscle mass by accident. If you want to reach your SMART muscle gain goals, you’ll need to have a plan and stick to it. Your plan will need to include a muscle mass workout program and a nutrition program, plus you’ll need to factor in more rest.

Besides your planning, you’ll need to have access to the right gym equipment. Strength training equipment and a wide range of free weights are important. 

Rule #3: Modify Workout Plan
Have you ever heard of a fitness plateau? That’s what it’s called when you’re working hard and a regular at the gym, but you just aren’t making visible progress towards your goals. Often, small adjustments will make the difference.

Some simple but effective changes you can make to your workout regimen to add muscle are:  

> Start with your free-weight exercises, then move onto machines
> Ask for feedback on your form since it’s easy to stand, grip, or lift improperly
> Do more compound exercises because they are simple and let you increase weights faster
> Lift heavier weights using more muscles instead of isolating a few and lifting less
> Try to move slowly as you lift weights
> Change your routine every 6-8 weeks because otherwise your muscle adapt to your usual exercises and progress slows down
> Pick exercises that pair large body parts (like your shoulders) with smaller muscle groups (like your traps)

Rule #4: Eat to Gain Muscle, Not Lose It
It’s easier to gain weight in the form of fat than it is to put on muscle. Just like with weight loss, what you eat matters. You’ll also need to be eating more calories than you are burning. A great rule of thumb is to have your diet be 12 to 15 percent protein, 55 to 60 percent carbs, and 25 to 30 percent fats.

Of course, not all calories are equal. Opt for healthy protein, carbs that are nutrient dense (like whole grains,) and fats that are good for you. Basically, aim to eat meals like steak and potatoes with greens. Snack on proteins like nuts or meats between meals, and definitely find a few good protein smoothie recipes.

Rule #5: Hit Snooze
Believe it or not, rest is one of the most important factors when building muscle mass. You need to take at least one day a week off from working out so your muscles have to adapt and rebuild. Avoid performing concentrated exercises on the same body parts two days in a row for the same reason.

Muscle building is a lot of work for your body. Getting anywhere from 9-11 hour of sleep a night is recommended. If that’s not possible, don’t dip below 8 hours. Your muscles need it.

Exercise Helps Your Gut Bacteria

Something new emerges from the world of gut bacteria seemingly every other day.  That's why it's worth taking a look at a study from the University of Illinois that was published near the end of 2017.

In the human study, 32 obese and lean individuals were tested. They did supervised cardiovascular exercises for 30-60 minutes three times a week for six weeks.  Short-chain fatty acids—in particular, butyrate, which promotes healthy intestinal cells, reduces inflammation, and generates energy—increased in the lean participants as a result. Short-chain fatty acids in general are formed when gut bacteria ferment fiber in the colon. In addition to butyrate's specific role, these fatty acids also improve insulin sensitivity and protect the brain from inflammation and neurodegenerative disease.  

Butyrate's role in your gut manifests itself in a variety of ways: if you have Crohn's disease, an increase in butyrate production can strengthen your intestines.  It also plays a role in guarding the body against diet-induced obesity.  

The study also found that lean individuals produced more butyrate than in obese individuals. Why this happened is still unknown and represents the next question for researchers to explore.

Perfect Your Push Up

The push-up has long been used to develop strength in the arms, shoulders and chest. However, the push-up is also a great core exercise. During the exercise, the trunk and hips should remain as stable as possible to create a lever for the working muscles. The deep core muscles, such as the transverse abdominus, become actively engaged to stabilize the spine and pelvis so that the force generated by the pectoral, deltoid and triceps muscles can move the body around the axis of rotation at the toes (or knees, for modified push-ups).

Before one can learn the push-up, it’s important to first develop the strength of the deep core muscles to maintain stability around the spine so the arms and shoulders can move the body. This is the role of the first three exercises described below—they create the foundation. Perform these exercises consistently for at least four to six weeks before progressing to the more challenging exercises described later in this article.

The first step is to develop the proper strength and placement in the wrists and shoulders. This can be done in a quadruped or all-fours position, which reduces the amount of weight directly on the arms. Position the wrists under the shoulders, the knees directly under the hips and keep the spine in a neutral position. Push the hands into the floor while pushing the upper back and shoulders up to the ceiling.

The goal is to push the hands down into the floor while pressing the shoulders in the opposite direction to create tension in all of the muscles. The hands have a high number of sensory nerve endings; when they are placed directly on the floor for a plank, the pressure of the hands pushing into the floor helps to engage and activate many of the muscles responsible for shoulder strength and spinal stability. Hold for 20-30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds and repeat for three to four repetitions. This exercise should be performed as part of warm-up when working on improving the push-up.

Modified High-plank
A common way to do the plank exercise is with the elbows on the floor directly under the shoulders. This position does not allow for proper strength to develop between the hands, shoulders and the muscles responsible for stabilizing the spine (see above). Doing a modified plank with the knees on the floor (instead of the feet) and the hands on the floor helps strengthen the connection between the palms, shoulders and spine by using a shorter lever (the distance between the hands and knees versus that between the hands and feet), which results in less resistance. This is helpful for developing the strength to do a push-up. Start by holding for 20 seconds, gradually progress to holding the modified plank for 45 seconds. After each plank, rest for the same amount of time you held the plank and perform three to four sets. Once you can do four sets of 45 seconds, your are ready for a greater challenge.

High Plank
The high plank is basically the “up” position of the push-up; practicing high planks helps develop the wrist, shoulder, upper-back and core strength to maintain a stable body throughout the entire range-of-motion of the exercise. Place the hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart so that the thumbs are pointing toward the midline of the body and the fingers are pointed the same direction as the head. To increase stability while pushing the hands into the floor, rotate the elbows to point back toward the feet to increase the strength and stability in the shoulder joints. Squeeze the thigh and glute muscles to increase stability around the pelvis (this is a more effective than “contracting the core,” which doesn’t address any specific muscle). Start by holding the high plank for 20 seconds and rest for the same amount of time as the plank; perform three to four sets. Gradually increase the time up to 45 seconds. Once you can hold a high plank for four sets of 45 seconds, it is time to work harder.

During the lengthening phase of muscle action, there is more tension within the muscle fibers so the muscle is capable of generating higher levels of force. Placing the emphasis on the lengthening phase of muscle action by practicing the lowering phase of the push-up can help develop the strength to control movement of the body through the entire range of motion.  Perform the following exercises for three to five weeks before progressing to the full range of motion of the push-up.

Modified Negative Push-ups
The word “negative” is used here because the weight is going down (as opposed to up), which causes the muscles to lengthen and increases the tension in the fibers. This is an effective strategy for initiating strength gains. Start in a modified high-plank position with the knees on the floor and the hands slightly wider than the shoulders. Slowly lower the body to the floor for a count of five or six seconds. At the bottom of the movement, return to the starting position in a way that feels comfortable. Working on the lengthening phase of muscle action can help develop the strength that will be used later for the complete range of motion of the push-up. Begin with two sets of six to eight repetitions, rest for 45-60 seconds after each set. Gradually add one or two repetitions each workout until the client can perform 10-12 reps with control. Complete four sets, resting 90 seconds between each one.

Negative Push-ups
Once you can easily perform 10-12 reps of negative modified push-ups, it’s time to progress to the full version. Assume a high plank position with the feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Keep the hands pressed into the floor and the thigh muscles squeezed while slowly lowering the body toward the floor. At the bottom of the movement, place the knees on the floor and return to the starting position. Start with two sets of six to eight repetitions and progress to performing two to three sets of 10-12 reps.

Modified Push-ups
Many people are familiar with modified push-ups, but these are obviously not the best starting point for learning the push-up, especially not for those who first need to develop a foundation of core strength. While the normal push-up has the feet and hands as the points of contact, bending the knees and placing them on the floor shortens the lever of the body significantly thus reducing the amount of resistance. Place the knees together on the floor so that they are bent and the feet are in the air. Keep the hands about shoulder-width apart with the fingers pointed away from the knees. Slowly lower the body to the floor and then push the floor away to return to the original starting position. To increase stability of the core, encourage your clients to grip the floor with the hands and squeeze the thighs to engage the deep spinal stabilizers. Start with two sets of six to eight repetitions and rest one minute between sets. Gradually progress to performing 10-12 repetitions and then start adding sets. Once you can perform three to four sets of 10-12 reps of modified push-ups, it’s time to progress to full push-ups.

Full Push-ups
To perform a full push-up, start in a high-plank position with the legs hip-width apart. Press the hands into the floor with the fingers pointed away from the feet. Contract the thigh and glute muscles to increase stability and slowly lower the body toward the floor. Press the hands into the floor to return to the up position. Start with two sets of five to six repetitions, resting for one minute between sets. Gradually add repetitions until you can perform two sets of 10-12 repetitions and then start adding sets.

April Is Financial Literacy Month

Financial Stress

Let's begin with stress. Stress is the body's response to any demand made on it. It affects almost every system of the body, including heartbeat, breath, muscles and our brains. A little stress can be a good thing, if it motivates us to respond constructively to a threat or opportunity and if it doesn't last too long.

Unfortunately, stress resulting from financial challenges is often chronic, affecting 26% of Americans most or all of the time.  Unexpected expenses, the need to save for retirement and out of pocket health care expenses are major culprits.

Stress Spiral No. 1: Physical Health

Chronic stress is linked to physical health issues. High stress causes a fight-or-flight reaction, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can suppress immune, digestive, sleep and reproductive systems, which, if sustained, may cause them to stop working normally.

Employees with high financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health overall and are more than four times as likely to complain of headaches, depression, or other ailments. The chart below shows how much sicker people with "debt stress" were during the depths of the financial crisis.

Stress is also associated with high-risk behavior including alcohol and drug abuse: overeating, sedentary behaviors like web surfing and TV watching. These behaviors can worsen one's health and finances.

The potential feedback loop then is financial challenges leading to poor health, directly and indirectly via unhealthy behaviors. Poor health can worsen money challenges and financial stress by increasing medical expenses, reducing productivity at work and making it harder to make good financial and medical decisions.

Stress Spiral No. 2: Delayed Healthcare

Financial stress can also harm health when lack of financial resources causes people to delay necessary medical treatment. One in four Americans has trouble paying medical bills, with some delay treatment. Cost-related non-adherence may be most important for people with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. Fifty-six percent of Americans with common chronic diseases say they've have missed medication because of cost.

This leads to the second feedback loop: a medical condition results in unexpectedly high out of pocket costs, increasing stress, which worsens the condition directly and indirectly as the patient delays needed medical care and medication. This spiral may become more widespread as more employers switch to high-deductible health plans, which put a greater financial risk on patients.

Stress Spiral No. 3: Mental Health

Of course, we experience financial stress mentally as well as physically. People with debt are three times more likely  to have a mental health issue, especially depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders. Financial stress is the second most common cause of suicide, after depression.  Unfortunately humiliation among the financially stressed makes it harder to seek help as it worsens mental health.

Mental health challenges can impair financial (and medical) decision making, self-control and employment possibilities. Those with dealing with scarcity suffer from greater cognitive loads  from managing the various challenges of making limited means work, impairing executive functioning including creativity, empathy, planning for the future and problem-solving.

So we have our third vicious cycle. Financial stress is associated with mental health challenges, which impair financial decision making and employment, further worsening the financial situation. This can increase stress, which may then worsen the mental health condition. 

Breaking the Chain

Left to themselves, vicious cycles like these can spiral out of control, with grave consequences for individuals, employers and societies. Fortunately, there are things individuals and organizations can do to break these loops.

Individuals can take steps to improve their financial behaviors, by better controlling spending and increasing savings. This begins with empathetically planning for one's future and creating a budget designed to make you happier.  Others may benefit from the advice of a financial advisor or credit counselor. We can also work on developing "pride in good money habits instead of money itself,"  exercising, using relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, and obtaining support from friends, family and, perhaps, a therapist.

Governments, healthcare providers and businesses have a moral responsibility and a direct interest in breaking these loops which destroy welfare, social capital and shareholder value. They should sponsor financial  (as well as general and mental) wellness programs to help people control their spending, attain resiliency with emergency funds, and plan for the future. Financial institutions need to support such programs and provide products and services more appropriate to low and middle-income consumers.

In short, the status quo for millions of Americans is not sustainable. The typical American is stressed because she lives paycheck-to-paycheck, saves nothing for retirement, has little financial literacy and is increasingly being asked to shoulder the costs and uncertainties of healthcare and retirement. The resulting stress can cause physical and mental health to spiral along with financial health. It's time we do something about it.

Natural Seasonal Allergy Remedies

1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar might just be the most useful condiment in your kitchen. It can help you clean showers and sinks. It’s wonderful in dressings. It adds a pop to marinades. It can remove odors from sweaty clothes, reduce heartburn, and treat dandruff. Like we said, it’s a rock star.

Apple cider vinegar is also an amazing natural allergy remedy, as it can help reduce mucous production and cleanse your lymphatic system. The quick and dirty approach is to swallow a tablespoon. For a more palatable option, try adding a tablespoon to a cup of hot water with a small bit of honey.

2. Exercise
Yes, the last thing you probably want to do when you feel crummy is workout. But, researchers in Thailand found moderate to intense activity for just 30 minute can result in substantial allergy relief. The hypothesis is that this relief occurs because exercise produces an anti-inflammatory effect in your nasal passages, helping to naturally reduce allergy symptoms.

If pollen counts are extremely high, an indoor workout will most likely be more beneficial as it will reduce re-exposure.

3. Local Honey
Allergy symptoms are your body’s reaction to a substance it deems hazardous to your health. The runny nose and watery eyes are your body’s attempt to flush the foreign substance from your system.

Unfortunately, you can’t simply tell your body that grass and pollen aren’t bad for it. But you can help your body learn that the local habitat isn’t deadly. You do so by giving your body small doses of the grass and pollen that are irritating it.
This is where local honey comes in so handy. Bees create their honey from what’s around. Thus, their honey contains trace amounts of the very pollen that could be making you feel sick.

While a tablespoon (or two) won’t immediately relieve your allergy symptoms, it can help naturally reduce your allergy symptoms over time. Start administering it immediately to begin seeing results. 

4. Neti Pot + Saline Rinse
Your nasal passage is an elaborate system of tiny passageways. For most of us, these passageways are filled with nooks and crannies where dirt and pollen can easily be trapped.
Until that foreign substance is expelled, your body will most likely keep trying to flush it from your system. This can mean lots of mucous (aka a runny nose), coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes.
With a neti pot, you can use saline to flush your nasal passages and help relieve your allergy symptoms.

5. Nasal Sprays
Not sure you want to pour liquid in your nose? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Neti pots aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. A nasal spray is an alternative. By spritzing saline solution in your nose once a day, you can help flush those same harmful irritants from your nasal passage.

6. Bee Pollen
Like honey, bee pollen contains the natural substances where the bees live. It offers an alternative way to introduce these substances into your immune system. Because sometimes we all want to add a little variety to out diets.
Great sprinkled on fruit or tossed in salad, it offers a bit of a sweet crunch.

7. Acupuncture
Acupuncture treats a wide variety of health issues, including depression, digestive issues, pain, muscle weakness, and immune deficiency. And, as a study in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reveals, it can help naturally reduce allergy symptoms.

8. Probiotics
In some cases allergy symptoms are a result of your body’s immune system being imbalanced. This can cause you to have a more severe reaction to foreign stimuli – like pollen, dust, and grass.

Probiotics give your immune system a boost by introducing beneficial bacteria into your digestive tract. A good source of probiotics can be found in fermented foods, like kimchi. Kombucha is another great source of probiotics. Both make yummy additions to nearly any meal!

9. Dietary Changes
Our diet plays a huge roll in your overall health. It contributes to your mood and ability to get a full night’s rest. It’s a major factor in energy levels, skin appearance, and weight balance.

It can also play a big role in how our body handles allergies. The healthier you are, the better your body will respond. Additionally, some patients have found that certain foods can trigger more intense allergy symptoms. For example, many allergy sufferers experience an allergic response to the following foods:

Sunflower seeds

10. IV Drip Therapy
When your body is missing key vitamins and nutrients, dietary changes and adding probiotics can often a long time to start having an effect. This means you’re stuck, suffering through the symptoms.

IV drip therapy bypasses your digestive tract, delivering they key vitamins and nutrients you need directly to where you need it. Administered through an IV in the comfort of our clinic, you can get a cocktail tailored just for you.

11. Nettle Leaf
Nettle leaf can help naturally block your body’s ability to produce histamine, which can provide allergy relief naturally. While you may be able to find nettle leaf grown locally, we think it’s easiest to buy it.
You can get it in capsules or buy the leaf whole, which is our preference. Steep it with peppermint leaves and a small amount of honey to create an herbal tea that will be as tasty as it is beneficial.

12. Water
Hydrate like it’s your job. That sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how many people are dehydrated!

And, the side effects of being dehydrated are immense. It can cause you to be moody, make you hungrier, and make it harder to lose weight. Being dehydrated can make you tired and make it difficult for you to get a full night’s rest. It can cause headaches, breakouts, and bloating. And, it can heighten any allergy symptoms you’re experiencing.

In short, being dehydrated is bad for your health. The more water you can drink, the better you’re going to feel.

13. Immunotherapy
Like local honey, immunotherapy introduces small amounts of the allergen into your system to train your body’s immune system to have a better response. The treatment typically takes 3 to 5 years. However, once it’s done, most patients are allergy free for the rest of their life!

What Is Reflexology?

Reflexology is the application of appropriate pressure to specific points and areas on the feet, hands, or ears. Reflexologists believe that these reflex points correspond to different body organs and systems, and that pressing them creates real benefits for the person's health.

For example, reflexology holds that a specific spot in the arch of the foot corresponds to the bladder. When a reflexologist uses thumbs or fingers to apply appropriate pressure to this area, it may affect bladder functioning.

Reflexology foot maps
Reflexologists use foot maps to guide their work. The left foot corresponds to the organs found on the left side of the body and the right foot to the organs on the right side.

How does reflexology differ from massage, Reiki, or acupuncture?
Many people confuse reflexology with massage, Reiki, or acupuncture, but there are essential differences between these therapies.  Massage therapists manipulate larger areas of soft tissue in the body while reflexologists apply pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, and ears.  Unlike either massage or reflexology, Reiki does not involve any physical manipulation or pressure, but instead uses light touch to work with the subtle vibrational field thought to surround the body. Finally, while acupuncture and acupressure, like reflexology, use reflex points on the body to influence other parts of the body, the points are not the same and acupuncture uses points over the entire body.

While these are different practices entirely, one thing they all have in common is that they are sometimes used to help manage symptoms associated with stress. 

What does reflexology do?
Although reflexology is not used to diagnose or cure disease, millions of people around the world use it to complement other treatments when addressing conditions like anxiety, asthma, cancer treatment, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, headaches,  kidney function, PMS, and sinusitis.

Why You Should Stretch

1. Increases your flexibility
Regular stretching can help increase your flexibility, which is crucial for your overall health. Not only can improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.

2. Increases your range of motion
Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion gives you more freedom of movement. Stretching on a regular basis can help increase your range of motion.

One study found that both static and dynamic stretching are effective when it comes to increasing range of motion, although proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) - type stretching, where you stretch a muscle to its limit, may be more effective for immediate gains.

3. Improves your performance in physical activities
Performing dynamic stretches prior to physical activities has been shown to help prepare your muscles for the activity. It may also help improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise.

4. Increases blood flow to your muscles
Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS).

5. Improves your posture
Muscle imbalances are common and can lead to poor posture. One study found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. That, in turn, may help improve your posture.

6. Helps to heal and prevent back pain
Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in your range of motion. When this happens, you increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in your back. Stretching can help heal an existing back injury by stretching the muscles.

A regular stretching routine can also help prevent future back pain by strengthening your back muscles and reducing your risk for muscle strain.

7. Is great for stress relief
When you’re experiencing stress, there’s a good chance your muscles are tense. That’s because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. Focus on areas of your body where you tend to hold your stress, such as your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

8. Can calm your mind
Participating in a regular stretching program not only helps increase your flexibility, but it can also calm your mind. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break.

9. Helps decrease tension headaches
Tension and stress headaches can interfere with your daily life. In addition to a proper diet, adequate hydration, and plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches.
Stretching techniques

There are several types of stretching techniques, including:
active stretching

The most common forms of stretches are static and dynamic:
Static stretches involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically between 10 and 30 seconds. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise.
Dynamic stretches are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. These stretches are usually done before exercise to get your muscles ready for movement.
Use dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare your muscles.
Use static stretches after exercise to reduce your risk for injury.

How to start a stretching routine
If you’re new to a regular stretching routine, take it slow. Just like other forms of physical activity, your body needs time to get used to the stretches you’re performing.

You also need a solid grasp of proper form and technique. Otherwise, you risk getting injured.

You can stretch any time during the day. On days you exercise:
aim for 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to your activity
do another 5 to 10 minutes of static or PNF stretching after your workout

On days when you aren’t exercising, still plan to schedule at least 5 to 10 minutes of time for stretching. This can help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tightness and pain.

When stretching, focus on the major areas of your body that help with mobility, such as your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps. For upper-body relief, try moves that stretch the shoulders, neck, and lower back.
Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and avoid bouncing.

You can stretch after each workout or athletic event, or daily after your muscles are warmed up. Try this 5-minute daily stretching routine to get started.  

Risks and safety tips
Stretching may not always be safe:
If you have an acute or existing injury, only perform stretches recommended by your doctor.
If you have a chronic or nagging injury, consider talking with a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist to design a stretching protocol that fits your needs.
If you have any physical limitations that prevent you from properly performing a stretching exercise, consult your doctor for alternative exercises that can help increase your flexibility.
Regardless of your fitness level, there are a few standard safety tips for stretching that you should follow:
Don’t bounce. Years ago, ballistic stretching was thought to be the best way to increase flexibility. Now, experts suggest you avoid bouncing unless these types of stretches have been recommended to you by a doctor or physical therapist.
Don’t stretch beyond the point of comfort. While it’s normal to feel some tension when stretching a muscle, you should never feel pain. If the area you are stretching starts to hurt, back off the stretch until you don’t feel any discomfort.
Don’t overdo it. Like other forms of exercise, stretching puts stress on your body. If you’re stretching the same muscle groups multiple times a day, you risk over-stretching and causing damage.
Don’t go into your stretches cold. Cold muscles are not as pliable, which makes stretching a lot more difficult. The best time to stretch is after you work out, but if you’re not exercising before performing your stretches, consider warming up for 5 to 10 minutes with some light cardio, such as walking or jogging.

The takeaway
Whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned athlete, you can benefit from a regular stretching routine. By incorporating 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic and static stretches into your daily workout, you can increase your range of motion, improve your posture, and ease your mind.

What You Need To Know Before Taking Collagen Supplements

Your body uses amino acids to build muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, hair, connective tissue, and much more. There are many different types of amino acids, but the type found in collagen are the most abundant in your body thanks to the role they play in forming your connective tissues and skin.

When you consider that your body’s collagen production declines as you age, and that adequate collagen is needed for strong bones, joints, and skin, it seems like adding collagen to your diet is a no-brainer. That’s why many supplement makers have started selling collagen powders and pills, which are made mostly from "animal parts" — usually bones or skin of cows, or scales of fish. (Vegans, take note.)

But do these supplements really do anything? Here’s what you need to know.

1. There are different types of collagen.
There are more than a dozen types of collagen, each composed of different "peptides" or amino acids. Different types form skin and tendons as opposed to cartilage. Figuring out which may help your health has proved tricky. (More on that in a minute.) Also, supplements containing collagen vary a ton.

In most cases, if you’re buying a collagen peptides powder, you’re buying "hydrolyzed" type-I collagen that has been extracted from animal hides or bones, or fish scales.Hydrolyzed simply means that the amino acid chains have been broken down into smaller units, a process that allows it to dissolve in both hot and cold liquids.

This type of collagen has become incredibly popular due to the fact you to add it to everything from hot coffee and soups to cold brew and smoothies. It also packs a protein punch, with a two-scoop serving of most collagen peptides delivering around 18 grams.

2. The most-complete research focuses on joint health.
Going back to at least the early 1990s, studies have linked collagen supplementation with reduced symptoms of arthritis. In one 2009 study in the International Journal of Medical Sciences, four out of five osteoarthritis sufferers who took a daily 40 mg dose of undenatured type-II collagen ("UC-II") saw their pain drop by an average of 26%. (Unlike type-I collagen, mentioned above, type-II collagen is derived from chicken cartilage — not cow bones and hides or fish scales.)

What’s not clear is how the collagen in the supplement actually helped the OA sufferers’ joints. Rather than contributing to your body’s supply of collagen or cartilage, these supplements may reduce inflammation, which would improve OA symptoms, the authors of that study write. The effectiveness of collagen when it comes to arthritis and joint pain is still questionable, but there’s enough promising research to give it a shot.

3. The beauty benefits are sketchier.
Talk to nutrition scientists, and they’ll tell you one of the biggest mistakes they hear when it comes to food and supplements is assuming that something you swallow turns into the same something in your body. That’s not really how digestion and biochemistry work.

In terms of collagen supplements offering skin and hair benefits, Adam Friedman, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University, says, "No way.""The collagen is going to be digested by your GI tract because it isn't built to survive the massive pH changes in the gut," he explains.  There’s research to back him up on that. A 2002 study found your gut’s digestive enzymes and acids break down hydrolyzed collagen, which is the type found in most powders. But the same study found type-II (UC-II) collagen may be able to slip through your gut without losing its chemical structure.

Of course, we're still learning about the human gut. More research has linked some collagen peptides to reduce skin wrinkles and healthier skin, so it’s possible some new finding will explain the anecdotal evidence linking collagen powders to nail and hair benefits. But at this point, there are many more questions than answers. There’s some evidence that certain amino acids found in collagen — in particular, one called glycine — may reduce GI inflammation and aid digestion. But again, the evidence is mixed. Most of it didn’t involve collagen powders or supplements, but instead looked at specific amino acids in a lab setting.

5. The FDA doesn't regulate these supplements.
As is the case with any supplement, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not monitor collagen powders for safety or efficacy unless a manufacturer claims its supplement can cure disease, or something goes wrong and people get sick. For this reason, it's important to do a little research before stocking up.

How to Choose a Collagen Supplement
Any type of protein isolate could help you meet your protein needs if you require more (due to disease, injury, sports, or skin conditions) or you’re experiencing loss of appetite. Regardless, it’s crucial to look for the following when buying a collagen supplement:

1. Choose ones with as few simple ingredients as possible. Collagen protein powder should just be collagen protein isolate, a.k.a. collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides.

2. Skip the flavored versions. These can contain added sugars, which could upset your GI tract or just add calories where you didn’t want ‘em. Go for the plain version and add a sweetener to desserts yourself.

3. Look for a third-party certification. Given the lack of FDA regulation, any time you're choosing a dietary supplement, check if a credible group like the NSF, UL or USP has tested it for safety before.

If you want to try a collagen supplement for two to three months, the health risks should be minimal and there may be some benefits.  Regardless, it's always better to choose food over supplements no matter what. We know tons about the benefits of eating protein (among all other nutrients), but very little about the benefits of eating it in isolated form.

For most of us, as long as you’re eating regular meals and snacks made from a combination of different types of protein (from plants, seafood, or animals), you’re good to go!

How Sleep Can Help With Weight Loss

Most research indicates that less than 7 hours of sleep correlates with being heavier, gaining weight, risk of disease, cancer and struggling to lose weight. Other research suggests than 6.5 hours is a sweet spot and anything more increases inflammation, depression and mortality rates (Walker, 2017). Many experts believe that a range of six to eight hours or seven to nine hours is ideal for most people.

The right amount of sleep depends on each individual’s unique physiology. We urge you to devote time and attention toward finding what works for you, because it could make or break your weight-loss efforts. Take away the bedrock of sleep, or weaken it just a little, and careful eating or physical exercise become less than effective. 

How Sleep Influences Weight Loss
Sleep is the foundation needed to support exercise and healthy eating habits. When people don't get enough sleep, it can become more challenging to control behavior and inhibitions. They might be more likely to seek pleasure in foods and replace exercise-related activities with those that offer a "quick fix" reward, such as surfing the Internet or watching television.

Lack of sleep strengthens the desire for rewards, which usually leads to unhealthy eating. More specifically, leptin (which decreases hunger), ghrelin (which increases hunger) and endocannabinoids (which are linked to snack cravings) are hormones that regulate appetite. When sleep volume is low, these hormones stimulate a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods.

Without enough sleep, the body is essentially in a state of duress, which can lead to eating more calories to deal with the “threat” it perceives. Also, the more time spent awake, the more time there is to consume snacks.

Another hormone, cortisol, ideally spikes in the morning, providing energy for the day, and reduces at night, encouraging sleep. When sleep habits are poor and stress is high, cortisol levels remain elevated, which may inhibit weight loss and disrupt sleep. A cycle of stress and sleep disruption results. Stress affects sleep and sleep affects stress, which once again makes it challenging to implement even the most well-designed program for weight loss.

Getting enough sleep and rising at a consistent time every day supports hormones to regulate appetite and food choices. We encourage you to take small steps toward better sleep and be gentle with yourselves. In other words, don’t let stressing about not getting enough sleep add more stress. You don't need to (and probably cannot) fix your sleep habits overnight. Progress slowly.

Finding Your Sleep Sweet Spot
You can use sleep to help you lose weight by rising within 30 minutes of the same time every day and getting into bed with the lights out at the same time each night. Experiment with eight hours of sleep per night, plus or minus 15 minutes, until you find how much sleep you truly need.

Be honest about how much sleep is ideal for you,  Many people believe they can get by with little sleep, when they really cannot. When people get an adequate amount of quality sleep per night, they are more likely to have the energy to exercise and the motivation to make choices that align with their goals.

If you are having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep we encourage you to try the following tactics: 
~   Prioritize relaxing, stress-free evening activities that help wind you down to rest.
~   Avoid stimulating evening activities until you get into a sleep rhythm.
~   Avoid electronics and blue spectrum light exposure one hour before bed.
~   Reduce or, ideally, eliminate alcohol and caffeine.
~   Aim to finish dinner two to three hours before you get into bed.

We often take sleep for granted because it seems to "just happen" and we seem to get by without getting enough. However, research suggests that productivity increases, car accidents decrease, mental health improves and risk for disease reduce when we get the ideal amount of sleep. Make a commitment to increase sleep consistency, not only will you sleep better but also be more likely to achieve weight-loss goals with greater ease. 

Amazing Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice

Cherry juice is not only refreshingly delicious, but it provides some solid health benefits, too. With about 120 calories per 1-cup serving, it’s rich in nutrients like potassium and iron. 

There are many different varieties of cherry juice. Look for juices that use 100-percent cherry juice with no added sweeteners. Cherry juice “cocktails” typically add sugar and preservatives.

You will also see juice “from concentrate” and “not from concentrate.” Both options are nutritionally similar.

“Not from concentrate” means they put the fresh juice directly into the bottle. “From concentrate” means they squeezed and then filtered the juice, extracting water. It is then rehydrated and packaged.

There are also different types of cherries used to produce juice. Tart cherry juice is sour to taste and provides a higher amount of anthocyanins compared to black cherry juice, which is sweeter in taste and has less anthocyanins. Anthocyanins promote anti-inflammatory processes in the body. Both are great, nutritious options.

Read on for seven reasons to sip and savor cherry juice.

1. Helps post-workout recovery
Cherry juice may help recovery post-exercise. It is naturally high in potassium, which conducts electrical impulses throughout the body.
This mineral also helps maintain blood pressure, hydration, muscle recovery, nerve impulses, digestion, heart rate and pH balance.  Cherries contain about 330 milligrams (mg) of potassium per cup, which is almost 10 percent of your daily recommended value.

2. Fights inflammation and arthritis pain
Research shows that the antioxidants in tart cherry juice can reduce pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis (OA). 
A 2012 study showed that drinking cherry juice twice a day for 21 days reduced the pain felt by people with OA. Blood tests also showed that they experienced significantly less inflammation.

3. Reduces swelling
When people experience pain from swelling, they often turn to non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs. However, the effects of these drugs can be harmful, especially when you take them too often or have allergies.
A  2004 study found that cherry juice supplements can reduce inflammation and pain-related behavior in animals, showing promise as a treatment for swelling in humans.

4. Boosts immunity
Like all fruits and vegetables, cherries pack a powerful antioxidant and antiviral punch. Flavonoids,  a type of antioxidant in cherry juice, are made by plants to fight infection. Research shows that these chemicals can have a significant impact on immune system function.

5. Regulates metabolism and fights fat
There is some evidence in animals that tart cherries can help adjust your body’s metabolism and your ability to lose abdominal body fat. One study showed that anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid responsible for cherries’ red color, act against the development of obesity.
Another study in rats found that tart cherries can help reduce inflammation and abdominal fat, abdominal fat, and lower the risk of metabolic syndrome. 

6. Helps you sleep
The anti-inflammatory properties of cherry juice combined with a dash of sleep-regulating malatonin may help you sleep better.  The results of a 2010 study suggest that tart cherry juice has similar effects as insomnia medications like valerian or melatonin on older adults. 

7. Blocks cancer growth
In a 2003 study, researchers pitted cherry juice against the NSAID sulindac, which is the most common preventive anti-inflammatory treatment for colon tumors. Although an animal study, it is notable that cherry juice — unlike the NSAID — reduced the growth of cancer cells.

Even without its antioxidants and nutrients, cherry juice is deliciously tart and refreshing. Try replacing sodas and sports drinks with something that can really make a difference to your health.

Benefits of Losing Body Fat

Losing only 5% of your body weight doesn’t sound like much does it? However it could mean that you’re well on your way to dropping a dress size, plus there are significant health benefits too, aside from looking better and feeling more energetic.
Research has shown that a loss of 5-10% of your starting weight can make a real difference. For a lot of people, losing 5% body fat is enough to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and may also help to lower your blood pressure too.
It has been proven that this weight loss success can provide a host of health benefits which include:

–          Lowering your body’s cholesterol levels
–          Improving blood sugar control
–          Reducing aches and pains
–          Improving mobility
–          Improving your breathing
–          Enabling you to sleep better
–          Reducing the risk of sleep apnoea
–          Preventing angina which is chest pains caused by decreased oxygen to the heart
–          Decreasing your risk of sudden death from heart disease or stroke
–          Reducing the risk of certain cancers
–          Reducing the need for regular medication

Many people who have lost 5-10% of their body weight report improvements in quality of life which shows the weight loss will benefit your emotional health hugely. A noticeable reduction in depression symptoms, increased energy plus a more positive attitude to life have been other improvements reported by those after weight loss success.

When it comes to weight loss, many can be very hard on themselves and will not be content or happy until they have lost three or four times the amount necessary to start seeing a difference.

It is utterly important to be realistic about your weight loss goals and how long it will take to achieve them. Don’t discount the small losses you’ve accomplished either, as these are very significant and should spur you on to losing more weight. If you lose a lot of weight too quickly, this is more likely to result in your weight yo-yoing and this will undermine your efforts and ultimately go against you.

You will keep yourself motivated by breaking your weight loss journey into manageable steps of 5-10%. However if you have a lot of weight to lose, reaching your goal may seem like a daunting task, but you don’t have to worry! If you set yourself measurable targets, this will help you stay on track and keep you focused.
As you achieve each goal, your level of motivation will increase to keep you going and achieve your goal weight.

As you lose weight, your overall energy needs are also naturally reduced. You will need to step up your daily activity levels to counteract this and to resume your weight-loss rate. These small adjustments will make all the difference and get you back on track.

How much weight would you have to lose to reduce your body weight by 5%?

Top Fitness Trends For 2019

The trends that have staying power (such as HIIT training and group workouts) are ones that are easily accessible in everyday life. and deliver results, fast. Wearable technology is seeing a resurgence, taking the first place for 2019 (after dropping to 3rd place in 2018). Here are some of the top 2019 fitness trends along with their health pitch or claim, plus a takeaway for how you can integrate them into your current fitness plan.


The Trend: Streaming workouts allow you to have the convenience of an instructor-led workout accessible no matter where you are. If you travel a lot and are stuck in hotel rooms, or if you’re unmotivated to get to the gym and go to an in-person class, these streaming workouts are for you.

The Verdict: As with all exercise, consistency is key. I’d recommend trying a streaming workout for a month, and track how often you use it. Then take the amount you paid for the subscription for the streaming workouts, and divide it out into how many workouts you actually did. Then decide if it's financially worth it to you. Celebrity trainer Joey Thurman (creator of the Joey Thurman fit app) warns that with streaming workouts, you don’t have a professional checking your form and prescribing the right exercises for yourbody, so you could risk injuring yourself or enforcing bad habits. So it may be worth scheduling a session or two with a personal trainer in person first to get instruction on proper technique. “All in all,” he says, “If it’s a reputable source, trainer, coach and company, you should be fine.”

The Takeaway: If you have an erratic schedule or travel often, the convenience of having workouts ready to play wherever you are can help you stick with a routine. What’s the difference between buying a subscription to streaming workouts and searching for workouts on YouTube, you ask? Good question. If you’re financially invested in a workout program, you’re more likely to stick to it. So while the free workouts may be tempting, the financial commitment may help keep yourself accountable.


The Trend: Traditionally, the benefit of HIIT workouts (high intensity interval training) is that you can get a big bang for your exercise buck. By pushing yourself through interval training, and alternating between high intensity and lower intensity, you’re all in for a shorter workout that rarely provides breaks or time to catch your breath. HIIT is being incorporated into more and more workouts – from boutique gyms to bootcamps. They’re even starting to pop up in Pilates classes and yoga classes. 

The Verdict: According to Thurman, “This is a trend that never should go away.” He says that the point of HIIT is to, “Go hard or go home!” He has his clients do these workouts on their own one to three times a week and incorporates HIIT into his training sessions. Research shows that high intensity interval training is one of the best ways to burn fat quickly. By pushing your body full force for a shorter amount of time, you’re getting a strength training workout, cardio workout and a full-body workout all at once.

The Takeaway: You don’t need a fancy HIIT class to incorporate this trend into your workout. You can apply the HIIT training principles to any workout that you’re already doing. If you’re the queen of cardio, you can make your cardio workout more effective by changing your speed or changing the difficulty every few minutes. Or you could add 30 second sprints every few minutes. If you’re doing a strength training workout, you can cut out breaks in between sets and add in some cardio bursts to get your heart rate up. If you’re looking to spice up your yoga or Pilates routine, move through some parts of the sequence faster and go slower through other parts.


The Trend: If you’re motivated by a competitive spirit or can't afford one-on-one training but would like direction from a fitness instructor, group training classes are a popular trend that allows participants to use the energy of a group to push through a workout.

The Verdict: Group training classes can serve as a good motivator to push yourself harder or faster compared to the people around you. One study found that 95 percent of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76 percent completion rate for those who tackled the program alone. Other studies confirm that working out with a partner significantly increases time spent exercising. Plus, with an instructor-led workout, you can bank on a good, hard workout, that doesn't take much forethought or planning on your part. However, Thurman warns, “Beware that everyone is doing the same workout, and one instructor has to watch 20 or 30 of you. Be sure to keep strict form and always speak up if something doesn’t feel right!”

The Takeaway: Enlisting a group mentality can help when your motivation starts to wane. Consider working out with a group of friends in your living room, joining a run club for weekly jogs in the park or signing up for a group training class to help hold yourself accountable and push yourself harder.


The Trend: Wearable trackers are definitely here to stay. They’re helping everyday people track their health on many different levels. From encouraging you during a tough workout to giving you feedback on your sleep, there’s a tracker to suit your needs.
The Verdict: Many of my clients use trackers in addition to their other health and fitness goals. For example, one of my clients has a tracker and tries to close her “rings” everyday. She has a step goal (10,000), a water goal (she has to manually enter this), and a sleep goal (a minimum of 6 hours) to meet. This is in addition to her other goals that help with weight loss. But when she closes her rings, it gives her an extra confidence boost. So while trackers are great, I’d recommend using them as a supplement to other goals. Thurman echoes this, “Wearing a smart watch is great … if you use it correctly. It’s nice that you hit your 10,000 steps a day, but how many steps were you taking before you got the watch?”

The Takeaway: Take the wearable technology with a grain of salt. Thurman even says, “Sometimes technology gives you a reason to slack off. They can also give you a false sense of accomplishment by overestimating your calorie burn or how hard you worked.” So use this tool to help keep you on track, but don’t rely on them fully.


The Trend: When you’re working with a personal trainer, all you have to do is show up and let him/her do the coaching. A personal trainer not only provides a well-rounded and educated workout for you, but also ensures accountability with the appointments. Thurman (who, as a personal trainer, admits he's biased) says, “For the most part, I would say this is the best way to get you the most efficient workout and results the fastest.”

The Verdict: As a certified personal trainer myself, I know the kind of results we can deliver. But sometimes I cringe when I see trainers in the gym staring off or checking their phones instead of checking the form of their clients. Make sure you have an attentive trainer who pushes you, but never makes you feel like it’s “all pain and no gain.” Ideally you want to feel like you’re working together with the trainer.

The Takeaway: “Make sure the trainer knows what they’re doing, will push you safely, is certified, and will give you 95 percent of what you want and 5 percent of what you need,” says Thurman. Communicate with your trainer so that you’re both on the same page, and if one isn’t working out for you, shop around for someone with a coaching style that fits your needs. If expenses are an issue, go to one personal training session a week and ask for a written out workout routine that you can follow for a few other days during the week. It is also important to know that trainers realize it won't be a life long partnership! The goal is to help you reach your goals and equip you with the tools you need to succeed on your own. So be honest about how many sessions you can afford and what you hope to accomplish in that time.


The Trend: Working out the mind is becoming almost as popular as working out the body. By practicing meditation and mindfulness, you’re able to be more in tune with your body and how you’re feeling. Whether you flow through a moving meditation (like in a yoga class) or set aside time each day to sit in a traditional pose and meditate, it’s becoming more and more common for people to have their own personal meditation practice.

The Verdict: Thurman says, “Meditation has been around for thousands of years for a reason … it works! The mind is a powerful thing, and I suggest getting to know yourself.” He also says that we can utilize our own energy for good or bad, and I’ve noticed this with my clients as well. When we go through positive body-image meditations, their outlook on themselves slowly (but positively) changes. What’s more, along with the mental effects of meditation, research shows that there are also physiological effects from meditation. Pain reduction, improvement in immune system, increasing blood flow to the heart, and decreasing cortisol are just a few of the effects that are similar to the effects of exercise.

The Takeaway: You can integrate meditation into your everyday life by using meditation apps. There are also some boutique studios that specialize in meditation, and even some mainstream gyms now offer meditation classes. The practice of mindfulness can also be brought into any workout — not just traditional meditation. Bring your awareness to a certain body part during a bootcamp session or pay attention to your breathing pattern as you run on a treadmill. Not only will you quiet your mind, but focusing specifically on certain aspects of your body may also push you to work harder and better target muscle groups.

Make Your New Year Resolution Work

1. Dream big 
Audacious goals are compelling. Want to compete in a marathon or triathlon? Lose 50 pounds or just enough to fit into clothes you once loved? With perseverance, encouragement, and support, you can do it. An ambitious aim often inspires others around you. Many will cheer you on. Some will be happy to help in practical ways, such as by training with you or taking on tasks you normally handle in order to free up your time.

2. Break big dreams into small-enough steps 
Now think tiny. Small steps move you forward to your ultimate goal. Look for surefire bets. Just getting to first base can build your confidence to tackle — and succeed at — more difficult tasks. Don't disdain easy choices. If you start every plan with "Make list," you're guaranteed to check one box off quickly. That's no joke: a study on loyalty programs that aim to motivate consumers found giving people two free punches on a frequent-buyer card encouraged repeat business. So break hard jobs down into smaller line items, and enjoy breezing through the easy tasks first.

3. Understand why you shouldn't make a change
That's right. Until you grasp why you're sticking like a burr to old habits and routines, it may be hard to muster enough energy and will to take a hard left toward change. Unhealthy behaviors like overeating and smoking have immediate, pleasurable payoffs as well as costs. So when you're considering a change, take time to think it through. You boost your chance of success when the balance of pluses and minuses tips enough to make adopting a new behavior more attractive than standing in place. Engaging in enjoyable aspects of an unhealthy behavior, without the behavior itself, helps too. For example, if you enjoy taking a break while having a smoke, take the break and enjoy it, but find healthier ways to do so. Otherwise, you're working against a headwind and are less likely to experience lasting success

4. Commit yourself
Make yourself accountable through a written or verbal promise to people you don't want to let down. That will encourage you to slog through tough spots. One intrepid soul created a Facebook page devoted to her goals for weight loss. You can make a less public promise to your partner or child, a teacher, doctor, boss, or friends. Want more support? Post your promise on Facebook, tweet it to your followers, or seek out folks with like-minded goals online.

5. Give yourself a medal
Don't wait to call yourself a winner until you've pounded through the last mile of your big dream marathon or lost every unwanted ounce. Health changes are often incremental. Encourage yourself to keep at it by pausing to acknowledge success as you tick off small and big steps en route to a goal. Blast your favorite tune each time you reach 5,000 steps. Get a pat on the back from your coach or spouse. Ask family and friends to cheer you on. Look for an online support group. Or download the "Attaboy" app for your iPhone or iPod to enjoy a stream of compliments whenever you need to hear it.

6. Learn from the past
 Any time you fail to make a change, consider it a step toward your goal. Why? Because each sincere attempt represents a lesson learned. When you hit a snag, take a moment to think about what did and didn't work. Maybe you took on too big a challenge? If so, scale back to a less ambitious challenge, or break the big one into tinier steps. If nailing down 30 consecutive minutes to exercise never seems to work on busy days, break that down by aiming for three 10-minute walks — one before work, one during lunch, one after work — or a 20-minute walk at lunch plus a 10-minute mix of marching, stair climbing, and jumping rope or similar activities slipped into your TV schedule.

7. Give thanks for what you do
Forget perfection. Set your sights on finishing that marathon, not on running it. If you compete to complete, you'll be a winner even if you wind up walking as much as you run. With exercise — and so many other goals we set — you'll benefit even when doing less than you'd like to do. Any activity is always better than none. If your goal for Tuesday is a 30-minute workout at the gym, but you only squeeze in 10 minutes, feel grateful for that. It's enough. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Why Do Muscle Tighten Up?

So, what causes muscle tightness? During periods of prolonged inactivity, for example, long days and weeks working at a desk, some muscles can get tight as a result of their restricted movement.  When you are seated at a desk, your hips are in a bent, or flexed, position. This puts the muscles on the front of the hip (hip flexors) in a shortened position, and the muscles on the back of the hip (glutes ) in a lengthened position. In addition, as you sit at a desk reaching forward to work on a computer, your chest muscles (pectorals) will be in a shortened position, while your upper back muscles (rhomboids) will be in a lengthened position. Over time, this can result in muscle imbalances with the shortened muscles becoming “tight” and the lengthened muscles becoming weak.   If you look around you, you’ll notice many people have developed poor posture with forward rounded shoulders and underdeveloped glutes .  The key to preventing this tightness due to decreased range of motion is three-fold.  It is important to maintain porter posture, even while seated.  You should also specifically strengthen those small muscles which have become lengthened and weak.  Lastly, you should make sure to stretch the tightened muscles, specifically the chest and hip flexors. 

Another time when muscles tighten up is during exercise, for example, a muscle cramp.  Cramps are unpleasant, often painful sensations caused by a variety of factors that include muscle fatigue, low sodium, or low potassium.  Muscle cramps can also happen even when you’re not exercising.  When muscles contract, the muscle fibers shorten, increasing tension in the muscle. When the contraction is completed, the muscle fibers lengthen and decrease tension.   During a muscle cramp, however, the muscle fibers remain shortened and are unable to lengthen due to fatigue or improper hydration and nutrition.  Forcibly stretching the muscle when it is in such a tight, contracted form can tear the muscle fibers and lead to injury.  Allow the muscle spasm to relax and recover before attempting to stretch out the cramp.  In order to prevent these from occurring in the future, make sure to be properly hydrated, properly fed, and not overly fatigued when exercising. If engaging in exercise bouts lasting longer than 60 minutes, consuming an electrolyte replenishing drink may help prevent muscle cramps.

Muscles can also tighten up following exercise. This is felt as muscle soreness.  Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) can be felt as pain and stiffness in the muscles for 24 to 72 hours post-exercise.  DOMS is most intense following exercises that focus on eccentric contractions where a weight is lowered or slowed. Examples of eccentric exercises include the downward phase of a bicep curl, or downhill running. The soreness and tightness felt is a result of small ruptures within the muscle.  It can be prevented by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program.  While the soreness will usually disappear within 72 hours of onset, increased blood flow to the sore area, either by moderate intensity exercise or massage may help alleviate soreness.  Stretching does not prevent soreness; however, it is still important to perform some static (holding) stretches after exercise to maintain or improve flexibility.

Proper exercise, stretching, and nutrition strategies can help prevent and correct what can be called muscle tightness.  Proper posture, choice of exercises, and stretches will prevent tightness due to decreased range of motion.  Proper exercise intensity, as well as pre, during, and post-exercise hydration and nutrition can help prevent muscle cramps.  Appropriate exercise progression and static stretching after exercise will help prevent DOMS and maintain range of motion, respectively.

Reducing The Risk of Diabetes

What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by persistently high levels of blood glucose. In a healthy person, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which the body’s cells use for energy. When glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas) signals the body’s cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and transport it into the cell where it can be used for immediate energy. Insulin also mediates the process of converting glucose that is not needed immediately to glycogen so that it can be stored in the liver and muscles for later use. When glucose levels drop, the pancreas stops secreting insulin until more glucose enters the bloodstream.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D)—or insulin-dependent diabetes—is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. T1D is the more serious form of diabetes and accounts for approximately 5% of diabetes cases. It is thought that a genetic variant predisposes certain people to T1D. People with T1D must take insulin injections or infusions daily.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D)—or non-insulin dependent diabetes—accounts for the majority (90-95%) of diabetes cases. In T2D, the body produces insulin, but isn’t able to use it properly. Both genetics and lifestyle play a role in the development of T2D. Type 2 diabetes typically develops slowly. In the early stages, cells throughout the body become resistant to the effects of insulin—a condition known as insulin resistance. Over time, the body may stop producing sufficient insulin altogether. The processes of glucose uptake by the body’s cells and the conversion of glucose to glycogen begin to fail. The consequence is higher levels of circulating blood glucose. 

Risk Factors
Diabetes is caused by a combination of environmental factors, lifestyle behaviors and genetic susceptibility. Nonmodifiable risk factors include age, ethnicity, family history and biological factors. While these factors play a critical role in a person’s risk for developing diabetes, several risk factors can be controlled. Read on to learn five things you can do to reduce your risk for diabetes.

1. Eat more whole grains.
A healthful diet in general is associated with a decreased risk of diabetes. However, one dietary habit in particular seems to have a profound effect on a person’s risk for diabetes: consumption of whole grains. There is strong evidence that diets abundant in whole grains have a protective effect against the development of diabetes (van Dam et al., 2002). The bran and fiber found in whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and whole-grain breads help to stabilize blood glucose levels in the body. Refined grains, such as white bread, donuts and sugary cereals, have the opposite effect and produce spikes in blood glucose levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half the grains you eat whole. Additionally, a prospective cohort study published by the Public Library of Sciences found that women who averaged two to three servings of whole grains a day were 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who seldom consumed whole grains (de Munter et al., 2007).

2. Get enough sleep.
You know that sleep is important for feeling your best every day, but did you know that chronic sleep deprivation could influence your risk of diabetes? People who are sleep deprived are at an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of risk factors that often precipitates chronic disease, including diabetes. One symptom of metabolic syndrome is impaired glucose metabolism—a sign of prediabetes. Chronic sleep deprivation can alter your body’s hormone regulation, causing less insulin to be produced and an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol. The aggregate effect is potentially elevated glucose in the bloodstream. Aim for at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, evaluate your personal sleep habits. Sleep can often be improved by adopting a few simple sleep, hygiene promoting behaviors. If you think your sleep problems are more serious, talk to your doctor.

3. Get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week.
You’ve heard for years that exercise can improve your overall health. According to the American Diabetes Association, two types of exercise are important for reducing your risk for diabetes: aerobic exercise and strength training. Aerobic exercise helps your body use insulin more efficiently. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week is the goal, but if 30 minutes seems overwhelming in the beginning, start with 10-15 minutes and build from there.

4. Do strength training.
The other type of exercise that can help to reduce your risk of developing diabetes is strength training. While aerobic exercise helps your body use insulin more efficiently, strength training makes your muscle cells more sensitive to insulin, which helps to lower blood glucose levels. Use the following industry guidelines to plan your strength-training program:
Select eight to 10 exercises that target the major muscle groups.
Choose multijoint exercises (those affecting more than one muscle group) over single-joint exercises.
Train each muscle group for a total of two to four sets, completing eight to 12 repetitions per exercise.
Perform resistance-training exercises for each major muscle group two to three nonconsecutive days per week, with at least 48 hours of recovery between sessions.

5. Manage your stress.
Try to do something stress-reducing daily. According to the American Diabetes Association, stress management plays an important role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and managing the disease after a diagnosis. Lifestyle behaviors associated with unchecked stress, such as poor sleep hygiene, poor eating habits and lack of adequate physical activity, increase a person’s risk for diabetes, but stress hormones such as cortisol may have a direct effect on blood glucose levels (Virtanen et al., 2014). The stress paradox can make it seem impossible to fit in stress-reducing activities such as exercise or meditation when you already feel like you’re spread too thin. But even just a few minutes of deep breathing every day can help to subdue your body’s fight or flight stress response.

Festively Fit: Thrive Through The Holidays

The Good News: There is a Better Way!
If all this sounds familiar, your first step is to change your mindset. Practicing sound nutrition, health and fitness habits is vital to life-long wellness. Healthy eating, effective physical activity and regular rest are practices that should become part of who you are and essential to your daily life, just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. This shift in mindset sets the stage for greater self-empowerment and self-confidence, as well as a transition in locus of control from external to internal.

The key is to recognize that you have the power to transform your life and live it to the fullest during times of joy, trouble, hardship, success, holidays and festivities by applying key foundational behavioral principles. When you do that, you won’t get bogged down with seemingly endless challenging choices in every situation.
If you make the following key foundational behaviors a priority, circumstantial, seasonal and unexpected events won’t have the power to derail you. Each 
“Festively Fit Tip” showcases an example of how you can apply these behaviors in real situations.

1) Drink water
Choose to drink water over anything else. Cold or hot herbal teas are a good option, too. Drink two cups of water when you first wake up in the morning and when you feel hungry outside of your regular mealtime/regular snacks.

Festively Fit Tip: When you arrive at a holiday party, drink two cups of water or herbal tea before you start eating.

2) Move more, sit less
If you have the option of standing versus sitting, stand. If you have the option of walking versus driving, walk. If you have the option of moving about versus standing, move about. Daily physical activity and structured exercise, including cardio, strength and flexibility exercises, are a part of a healthy daily routine.

Festively Fit Tip: When you attend a holiday party or an event, find a way to avoid sitting for the majority of the time (move about the room, start a dance party, etc.)

3) Something positive is better than nothing
Get away from an all-or-nothing mindset. If you don’t have time for a full workout, do 10 minutes of exercise and you’ll reap some positive benefits. If you forgot to add any fruits or vegetables to your meals during the day, add an apple at night. Apply this principle where it makes sense.

Festively Fit Tip: Focus on nutritious foods during the holidays rather than on what you shouldn’t eat. Each time you eat at home or at a holiday party, add things to your plate that are good for you, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts or other healthy proteins or grains.

4) Take control 
Focus. Reflect. Ask yourself: Is this behavior good for me? Be mindful. Choose wisely. Follow-through.

Festively Fit Tip: When you are at a party and about to fill your plate with all the goodies from the buffet, pause and ask yourself: Is it time to eat now? What have I already eaten today? What is available here that is considered healthy?

5) Half is enough
Eat only half of the less-nutritious foods on your plate. If you take a cookie, for example, eat half of it and pack the other half for another day.

Festively Fit Tip: At a holiday party or event, serve yourself only half of what is on the serving platter. For example, if you want a brownie, cut it in two on the serving platter and only serve yourself half (and don’t go back for seconds).  

Pelvic Floor Muscles

Pelvic floor muscles
Having strong pelvic floor muscles gives us control over the bladder and bowel. Weakened pelvic floor muscles mean the internal organs are not fully supported and you may have difficulty controlling the release of urine, faeces (poo) or flatus (wind).
Common causes of a weakened pelvic floor include childbirth, obesity and the associated straining of chronic constipation. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to improve muscle tone and prevent the need for corrective surgery.

What are pelvic floor muscles?
Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis. The pelvic organs are the bladder and bowel in men, and bladder, bowel and uterus in women. The diagram below shows the pelvic organs and pelvic floor muscles in women (right) and men (left).

The pelvic floor muscles stretch like a muscular trampoline from the tailbone (coccyx) to the pubic bone (front to back) and from one sitting bone to the other sitting bone (side to side). These muscles are normally firm and thick.

Imagine the pelvic floor muscles as a round mini-trampoline made of firm muscle. Just like a trampoline, the pelvic floor is able to move down and up. The bladder, uterus (for women) and bowel lie on the pelvic floor muscle layer.

The pelvic floor muscle layer has hole for passages to pass through.There are two passages in men (the urethra and anus) and three passages in women (the urethra, vagina and anus). The pelvic floor muscles normally wrap quite firmly around these holes to help keep the passages shut. There is also an extra circular muscle around the anus (the anal sphincter) and around the urethra (the urethral sphincter).
Although the pelvic floor is hidden from view, it can be consciously controlled and therefore trained, much like our arm, leg or abdominal muscles.

What do pelvic floor muscles do?
Pelvic floor muscles provide support to the organs that lie on it. The sphincters give us conscious control over the bladder and bowel so that we can control the release of urine, faeces (poo) and flatus (wind) and allow us to delay emptying until it is convenient. When the pelvic floor muscles are contracted, the internal organs are lifted and the sphincters tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Relaxing the pelvic floor allows passage of urine and faeces.

Pelvic floor muscles are also important for sexual function in both men and women. In men, it is important for erectile function and ejaculation. In women, voluntary contractions (squeezing) of the pelvic floor contribute to sexual sensation and arousal.

The pelvic floor muscles in women also provide support for the baby during pregnancy and assist in the birthing process.
The muscles of the pelvic floor work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilise and support the spine.

What can make these muscles loose?
Pregnancy and childbirth for women
Straining on the toilet
Chronic coughing
Heavy lifting
High impact exercise

How can I strengthen these muscles?
The first thing you need to do is find out which muscles you need to train. It is very important to correctly identify your pelvic floor muscles before moving into a regular pelvic floor muscle exercise program. To find out how to find and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, see the links below.