If you've ever been downhill skiing, you know that it can be quite good exercise. You work up a sweat and use muscles in both your legs and core that aren't always exercised. Here are some of the specific ways that downhill skiing is good for your health:
Building muscle strength
The knees-bent, squatted posture of skiing is similar to a lunge, albeit a lunge you don't notice because you're too busy having fun. Anyway, this posture and the movements necessary for downhill skiing help to tone the glutes, thighs and other lower body muscles. The core muscles are also activated to help the body maintain balance, and even your arms get a work out through using poles to push yourself. If you want to prepare your muscles so they aren't aching after a day out on the slopes, do squats regularly for a few days beforehand.
Skiing can aid in flexibility of the lower body, but it's also important to first stretch before going out on the slopes so that you avoid a sprain or muscle strain. Do the superman stretch to prepare. Lay on your stomach with arms and legs stretch straight out. Raise your arms up as far as possible, lift your head and look up and raise your feet up at the same time. Hold the position for 10 seconds – you'll feel the stretch in your lower back, upper thighs and core.
Getting a cardio workout
You might notice that skiing can make you quite out of breath after awhile. The physical energy required to walk and carry your ski equipment, pull yourself along flatter slopes, moving to maintain your balance and skiing itself is enough to elevate the heart rate, providing a great cardio workout.
Aside from cardio, muscle strength and flexibility, downhill skiing is good for your health because – as a sport – it provides you with adequate exercise. Skiing can also elevate the mood through the release of adrenaline and endorphins into the bloodstream, which is good for emotional health.
Triathlete Dustin Hinton’s tips on going vegan for individual, environmental and community-wide effects
We recently interviewed Dustin Hinton, a three-time IRONMAN triathlete, dedicated father and vegan. In part one of our two-part interview, which you can read here, Hinton shared his story.
Here, Hinton shares his tips for living a vegan lifestyle and discusses the positive impact that veganism can have not only at the individual level but also on environmental and community levels.
Tips for going vegan
Though Hinton is a man of big goals, his philosophy on going vegan and encouraging others to do the same for both personal health and a positive impact on the world is based on taking small steps:
Ease into it
Hinton says that some people go cold turkey and jump right into veganism, but this isn't the best path for everyone and can maybe lead to long-term failure:
"Anybody can do anything for six weeks. But can you do it for six years?" he asks.
Personally, Hinton says that living in New Orleans – "the worst possible place ever in the history of humanity to try to become vegan because you're surrounded by the best food on the planet" – was a challenge when he was becoming vegan, but he's never looked back.
Hinton says that anyone easing into veganism should make it fun and routine – rather than a chore – by hosting a vegan night, just like pizza or pasta night:
"Take one of those nights and say, 'Hey, tonight we're going to be vegan. We're going to experience that, we're going to live it, we're going to cook completely vegan … We're going to look at what goes into our food, pay attention to what goes in that pot. We're going to cut it up, be involved with what is going into our bodies,'" he says. "Have friends over, make it a social thing. Have them all cook, and sit down and enjoy that meal and just embrace it as one of the nights – just like pizza night, just like pho night – and make it a positive experience."
Be in the now
Along with easing into it, Hinton recommends living in the moment to stay on track:
"Don't think, 'I'm going to do this for the rest of my life,' but just 'I'm going to do this – right now, for now – once a week,'" he says.
For many people, Hinton says, this will eventually snowball to a greater commitment to veganism, or at least healthier eating.
Eat that cupcake if you need it
Though he is very disciplined in his eating – only enjoying the occasional "cheat" night and always avoiding sugar – Hinton says that if you're the type that needs that brownie, go for it.
"But just do it once a month, on a schedule," he says. "But then leave it alone, because you just have to be on 90 percent of the time. Ten percent of the time, you can fall off the cliff, but if you're 90 percent on, you're good to go, you will always stay on track."
Veganism: A movement
On sustainability and compassion
When asked earlier in our conversation about his motivation for becoming vegan, Hinton mentioned dual reasons:
"A lot of it started as health, but I've always been very conscious of animals – there's a lot of compassion and a lot of health involved in that choice," Hinton says.
He explains that for someone who cares about the humane treatment of animals, even easing into veganism can help because, though it may not seem like a lot, going vegan even one or two days each week, year-round, "may be enough for somebody to order one less cattle to be slaughtered."
Hinton's compassionate nature extends to his meat-eating friends, of course. He doesn't "bash them over the head with it," but instead explains to them his reasons for a vegan diet, and encourages them to try to eat smaller portions of meat.
On encouraging others
So, what if you want to use your veganism for good by encouraging others in your social circles to make the change? Hinton says to be gentle.
"You don't have to say 'Hey you should be more compassionate.' No, just make it positive … I like to make it positive, make it fun, make it an experience."
What does this mean to Hinton? It's about bringing his meat-loving friends to Mellow Mushroom, their favorite place to grab a pizza, where they order the Mega Veggie.
But it's also about respecting others' choices. Hinton's young son is not vegan – he cooks meat and other foods for him because he feels that veganism is a choice that he needs to make when he is older. Hinton also explains that it's important to him to provide his friends with information, to explain his own decisions to them, but to not judge them and let them make their own choices.
On community cohesion
Hinton encourages people trying veganism to seek out foods at their local farmers market, where they can make a direct economic impact on their community as well as connect with others. In fact, he paints a scenario of the variety of positive influences veganism via farmers market purchases can have on many levels:
"You can shake hands with the person that grew the food. You can ask them about it, you can make a connection. So, now it's not, 'Hey let's go to the store and buy our groceries … and go home and close the door and lock it and watch TV and bar ourselves in,'" he says.
Instead, you can form relationships with community members and create sustainability:
"Now you're meeting the local community, you're handing the local community cash, you're helping them sustain. You're creating sustainability … [and providing a chance] for families to do more. Maybe your purchase twice a week … is just that little bit to push their crops to expand into another field," Hinton says with increasing animation.
And for Hinton, this is what it's really all about.
"It's small little things that can make the change and we can't take those small little things for granted," he concludes.
We recently had a chance to interview Dustin Hinton, a dedicated father, vegan and three-time IRONMAN triathlete – make that five times, after he completes IRONMAN Louisville and IRONMAN Florida within 10 weeks of each other later this year. Hinton radiates positivity and he has a serious commitment to veganism and ultra-endurance athletics, but things weren't always so great.
Hinton's story starts in 2011 with personal tragedy – he lost a friend to cancer and went through a divorce. When he realized that he was eating a lot and very unhealthily to cope with the stress and heartbreak, Hinton set a huge, life-changing goal for himself: By year's end, he was going to complete the IRONMAN Louisville triathlon.
It was a challenging goal - he had never made a regular habit of running, couldn't swim well and didn't even own a bike.
"I couldn't run more than a couple miles without being completely demolished," Hinton admits.
But he was determined. He joined a local free running club, bought a bike, learned how to swim from YouTube videos, and made the choice to go vegan.
He spent the year training, focused on the magic number :140.6 – the number of miles an IRONMAN triathlete must complete in 17 hours during a race, which is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
During his training, Hinton vowed to run every race he could – from 5ks to marathons, and everything in between.
"I was racing nonstop, year-round, almost every weekend," he says. "So by the time I got to IRONMAN Louisville, I was a pretty fit machine – but I was very tired," he says with a laugh.
But Hinton made it to and through the Louisville race with his entire family – including his son, Boston – watching him finish. The event was also where he debuted his new, fit self. When he started training, Hinton was 223 pounds, but by Louisville, he was down to 158.
Hinton credits his transformation to his training combined with a vegan diet. And since he's a man of big goals, he didn't stop with just one IRONMAN. In fact, he's working toward the granddaddy of them all: the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. As Hinton explains it, since he started training to be an elite athlete in his 30s rather than in high school or college like many other triathletes, the path there is a bit longer. Since he's not fast enough to win (his words, not ours), he'll have to complete nine more IRONMAN competitions for a total of 12 in order to gain a legacy entry into IRONMAN Kona, where only the best of the best make it.
"I may not be the fastest but I've got heart. I never give up. I could break my leg and I'd still finish," he proudly explains.
Being both vegan and an elite athlete
While people outside the world of elite endurance sports might not realize there are vegan athletes, for people like Hinton who are active on social media and very involved in the community, they see that veganism is becoming more common among this crowd. He cites two big names: Scott Jurek, who does endurance trail running, and Rich Roll, an ultra-endurance athlete – both of whom follow a plant-based diet.
Hinton says people unfairly call vegans "frou-frou" and weak, but that "just doesn't apply to veganism. Vegans are tough. Three IRONMANs later, I think I've proven that."
Though he says a vegan diet is safe and rewarding, it can be challenging for elite, endurance athletes who sometimes must consume a whopping 5,000 to 8,000 calories per day during training!
"When you're doing a vegan diet, that's a really tough thing to do while staying at a high level of performance," Hinton says. "When you're not vegan it's easy, you can just go eat a couple cheeseburgers and you're good. But a bag of carrots is like, 100 calories," he says with a laugh.
"You can only eat so much. So you have to get creative and you have to really sit down and become your own dietitian and nutritionist … and be a scientist of your body and try to figure out 'How do I get all this in there without getting sick and still get all the calories in me?' And it's tough."
What Hinton eats during training
During training, Hinton admits he spends a large portion of his day eating to get all of the calories he needs, though this was definitely a trial and error process.
He starts his day with a protein shake made with VeganSmart protein powder and other ingredients like oatmeal, fruit, coconut milk and peanut butter to get all the micro- and macro-nutrients his body needs.
Hinton consumes between four or five of these shakes daily, and his other staples are homemade peanut butter hummus (ask him for the recipe) and veggie and bean burritos.
"A lot of people think vegans are eating like birds all the time. You come eat with me, you'll be tired of eating. It's all comfort food," he says.
Considering adopting this healthy lifestyle yourself? Check out Hinton's tips for going vegan – and all that comes with it in part two of our interview.
Fast food restaurants have been stepping it up lately by offering healthier fare like salads and fruit, reducing the fat in their meals and providing nutritional information so consumers can make informed decisions. However, is fast food really a healthy option? Since many of us talk about it guiltily each time we consume fast food, anybody's guess is that the majority of people would say no – there's always a healthier alternative. Though it can be convenient, there's even more evidence that fast food is both bad for our health and, increasingly, our pocketbooks.
Fast food follies
So, what's wrong with fast food? For starters, it is often laden with trans fats and very high levels of sodium – two things that are detrimental to heart health. Additionally, many of the foods are made with chemicals and more ingredients than should be in a single food item. For example, fries at most fast food chains typically contain more than just potatoes and oil; rather, they include preservatives, chemicals to maintain color and unhealthy hydrogenated oils. Meats are often mixed with other materials you wouldn't expect to find in your burger or chicken sandwich, not to mention that healthy whole grains are seldom used in fast food.
In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any "real" foods - those that were produced, raised and grown in sustainable, organic and humane ways - at a fast food restaurant.
Eating fast food on the regular is definitely detrimental to your health. It's always better to know what you're consuming and exactly where it comes from. If you're craving fast food, find ways to make similar items at home in a healthier way. For example, if you're longing for fries, consider slicing and roasting your own potatoes. You can season them with olive oil, rosemary and a light dusting of sea salt for a healthier option.
Healthier fast food choices
If you do eat fast food, you can do your best to make the healthiest choices possible. Eating fast food as a special treat once a month – or even better: once every two months – isn't all that bad if you just can't break your cravings entirely.
Here are some tips for choosing a meal, whether you're in a fast food joint or any other restaurant:
- Avoid any foods labeled battered, deep-fried, pan-fried, breaded, crispy, creamy Alfredo, au gratin or batter-dipped, since this typically means the foods and their sauces are full of sodium, unhealthy fats and calories.
- Don't get anything that is super-sized. It's always much more food than a single person should eat in one sitting.
- Don't add salt to your food. A study by the NYC Health Department found that, of 6,580 fast food meals, around 57 percent exceeded the recommended daily intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium – and that was for just one meal!
- Drink water rather than soda. Sodas have hidden calories – not to mention too much sugar – that our bodies just don't need.
- Order salad dressing on the side. That way, you can use only as much as you need and avoid the unnecessary fat and calories.
- Forego high-calorie, high-fat cheeses, spreads, mayonnaise and dressings in favor of bare items or lower calories options like mustard.
- Eat slowly and savor your food – you'll eat less this way.
But if you think you can do it, consider eliminating fast food entirely. Educate yourself on what exactly you're putting into your body each time you eat fast food, and chances are you'll never look back!