Healthy core muscles are essential in providing a link between your upper and lower body. Practically every motion your body goes through is conducted through your abdominal section due to the body’s need for stability and balance. Along with the intake of vitamins and antioxidants, a proper workout regime is the key component to losing the gut and sculpting perfect washboard abs.
When you think of improving your abs, typically simple crunches and sit-ups spring to mind. Though minor improvement can arise from these standard exercises, they’re often executed poorly, resulting in lower back pain as well as little progress in strengthening the muscles. Instead, here is a list of six quick and easy exercises to build your abs and see results.
This is a quick activity that requires no machinery. First lie flat on a mat, face up, with your hands behind the back of your head. Bring your right knee up to your chest while lifting your shoulder blades up, tilting them to the right side of your body. Do the same with your left leg while shifting your shoulders to the opposite side, and continue the process with your legs simulating a pedaling motion. Do 3 sets of 15 pedals to start to feel the burn.
Position an exercise ball under your lower back with both feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Cross your arms over your chest and raise your torso off the ball, dragging your ribs down to your hips. Descend back to the ball and repeat the motion. Speed isn’t a factor with this exercise, so take your time and work out multiple reps of 10 for a few minutes
Vertical leg crunches
Here’s another workout you can do in any location. Lie on your back and extend your legs vertically, crossing them at the ankles. With your hands supporting the back of your head, lift your shoulders up toward your feet, holding that position for a few seconds and then release your chest back to resting posture while keeping your legs raised. Repeat the exercise, completing 4 sets of 15 crunches.
If you have access to an Ab-roller machine, this is a great exercise to do. To start, sit on the seat and grab both handles. Rock back and forth, making sure to move your body by contracting your abs, rather than swinging your body for momentum. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Lie back on the floor, placing your hands at your waist. With your feet together, raise them in the air until your body is positioned at 90 degrees. Contract your abs as you lift your legs so your hips curl up a few inches from the floor. Avoid simply swinging your legs upwards and focus on the lifting aspect of the exercise. You’ll especially feel the burn in the lower section of your abs with this exercise. For a good conditioning, do three sets of 15.
Put yourself into a pushup position, resting on your forearms. Push off the floor with your toes, resting on your elbows and hold that posture for 30 to 60 seconds. Keep your back flat and don’t let your rear tilt up in the air. Do three to five reps.
These are a number of quick and simple workouts constructed to strengthen your inner core muscles. Sturdy abdominal muscles are the secret to making all those hours bending over at work or at home much more comfortable. Merely doing a few of these exercises every day will provide the toning you need to finally attain that six-pack you’ve been dreaming of.
Have you tried just about every weight loss method in the book and still aren't seeing the results you desire? Still struggling to find that secret formula to lower cholesterol and stay fit? Sure, everyone knows that exercising and healthy eating habits are the backbone of any good diet plan. But perhaps simply writing down everything you eat in a day can help you monitor your calorie intake.
Studies conducted at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research have found healthy dietary routines and maintaining a food diary to be a successful combination for losing weight. In one study, nearly 1,700 participants were instructed to turn in weekly food journals, get a moderate amount of exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables. After six months of this routine, the participants lost an average of 13 pounds, with two-thirds reporting they lost at least 9 pounds in the process.
Lead author Jack Hollis asserted that food journals can motivate people to lose weight:
"The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost," Hollis said. "Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories."
By simply monitoring what we eat on a daily basis, we can recognize flaws in our dietary habits. Here are five tips to help you keep a successful food journal and get on the right track for weight loss.
It's easy to scrawl out a bunch of meals you had in a notebook, but making sure everything is in order will help ensure an easy way to catalog your dietary intake. Create proper columns that indicate the date, time, place, food consumed and overall quantity of food during the meal. When referring to quantity, try to be as specific as you can, like using proper measurements such as teaspoons or grams. It's important to include every single item of food you eat and beverage you drink to help detect destructive eating patterns.
Record your feelings
This also includes mentioning how hungry you felt prior to eating. Writing down simple feelings you experience during your meals, such as happy, tired or angry can help distinguish why you eat certain foods. If you're consuming foods because of feelings other than hunger, this might be what's setting you back on your weight loss goal.
Write down the place you're eating
Monitoring the location you eat at is another important step in understanding your dietary habits. If you notice you've been eating in bed or in your car frequently, you might be able to find more active environments to dine and help stimulate metabolism.
Record your weekly physical activity
This can serve as a blatant reminder of how active you're staying throughout the week. If you start noticing vacant spaces where your daily exercises should be scribbled down, it's time to pencil in an appointment to the gym.
Analyze your journal
At the end of the week, sit down and look over everything you've recorded. Calculate your portions of meat and dairy compared to those of fruit and vegetables. Observe any frequent or occasional drive-thru stops at fast food restaurants. The more you can understand your dietary flaws, the quicker you can correct them and maintain a healthy living.
Eggs have always been perceived as a hearty morning staple. Whether it was Rocky gulping down a raw yolk smoothie before a fight or Cool Hand Luke eating 50 of them in an hour, eggs are seen as a perfect high protein way to start your day. Then somewhere along the way, eggs became seen as a danger to health and one's attempts to lower cholesterol.
Here's a few facts about eggs to debunk all the health myths. Containing just 70 calories, consuming one egg a day fulfills your daily cholesterol requirements, so monitor your intake carefully. One egg can also provide 10 percent of your daily Vitamin D intake, and each egg contains six grams of protein, which is 12 percent of your daily regiment. The yolk makes up 90 percent of all the vitamins and minerals in eggs, and is also an essential source of choline, which aids cardiovascular health and brain function.
It's important to understand where your eggs come from and their nutritional value, which will help you evaluate which choices can provide the healthiest breakfast possible. Another key factor in determining the best egg for you is knowing the farming process and living conditions of the chickens hatching the eggs. Here's a list of healthier egg alternatives:
A lot goes into ensuring that hens laying organic eggs are truly producing the freshest commodity available. First off, to be determined organic by the USDA means that the hens must have frequent outdoor access, cannot ingest any unnatural antibiotics or vaccines and the grains provided for the hens must be void of pesticides of any kind. Genetically altered crops intended for the birds are not allowed, and hormones or other drugs must never be injected into the hen. This provides an all-natural egg that delivers you essential protein and nutrients.
These types of eggs are laid by hens living in open barns who are never subjected to steel confinements. While it's not a total lap of luxury, it's a change of pace compared to the normal 90 percent of chickens forced to lay eggs behind wire cages packed with other birds. While the core nutritional value of cage-free eggs is the same as those produced by wire-caged hens, research reveals that you're 25 times more likely to contract salmonella from wire-caged eggs than cage-free ones.
Omega-3-enriched eggs come from hens that were fed extensive amounts of omega-3-rich flaxseeds. This essential fatty acid is not produced by the body, and adding Omega-3 to your diet can reduce your blood pressure and inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3 has also been noted to help with arthritis and lower symptoms of depression. The hens fed with flaxseed are normally given outdoor access as well.
Eggs are an excellent source of beneficial vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron and vitamins A, D and E. It's suggested that only consuming up to three eggs per day will not increase your risk of heart disease, nor your ability to achieve lower cholesterol levels. The science that goes into how eggs are produced affects its overall nutrition, so it's important to be aware of not only what's inside your eggs, but where they came from.
Finding yourself tossing and turning all night? Can't sleep because your mind won't shut off? One recent survey by The Better Sleep Council found that almost fifty percent of Americans admit they don't get enough sleep but don't take any action about it.
One thing to consider is that the source of your restlessness in bed may have less to do with your daily stressors and more to do with what foods you're consuming during the day. The antioxidants you ingest may be a big factor in determining how many hours of sleep you get every night. Here's a list of five foods packed with the antioxidants needed to have you counting sheep in no time:
Normally associated with breakfast, oatmeal isn't just a nutritional way to wake up in the morning. It's packed with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, and can be just what the doctor ordered for a peaceful slumber. Be sure to avoid mixing with sweeteners and sugar before bed, however.
Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, a hormone in the body that produces sleepiness, monitors sleep regulation and stimulates dreams. Eating just a handful of these delicious fruits an hour before going to bed might help you achieve that solid eight hours you're looking for. While cherries are often out of season, drinking a glass of cherry juice can produce the same effects.
Peel yourself a fulfilling night's rest with a banana, an amazing source of potassium and magnesium. These two nutrients work as natural muscle relaxants. Bananas are also packed with tryptophan, which is a sleep-inducing amino acid that eventually is transformed by the body into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts relaxation. Tryptophan typically takes an hour to reach your brain, so keep that in mind when considering a bedtime snack.
Protein is another source of tryptophan, and almonds are a great way to reach your protein requirement without overeating. Spreading almond butter on a slice of toast is a light protein snack that's filled with enough carbohydrates necessary to catch the sleep you need.
According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating a bowl of Jasmine rice four hours before your normal bedtime will significantly reduce your chances of sleep disturbance. Foods such as Jasmine rice have a high glycemic-index that helps measure a food's impact on blood sugar levels, and also provide healthy doses of tryptophan and serotonin.
The philosophy behind the Paleo Diet sounds too good to be true. Often referred to as the "Stone Age" diet, the Paleo Diet is a high-protein meal plan that gets its name after the hunter-gatherer eating methods our extended Neanderthal family survived on during the Paleolithic Era over 10,000 years ago.
Essentially, the diet stresses the substitution of processed foods, wheat and dairy, in favor of fresh meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables. Those touting the Paleo Diet want you to eat the same way your ancestors ate: chowing down on a juicy home cooked steak or indulging in freshly prepared salmon. Cooking from scratch is emphasized, and the diet's main enemies include salt, refined sugar and boxed or canned goods.
Free range meats such as beef, pork and poultry are the suggested main entrees for the Paleo Diet. Avocados and macadamia nuts are good choices to pair with high protein meals and can be drizzled with healthy olive or coconut oils for added taste.
Though there is contention about whether the Paleo Diet is healthy, in a recent U.S. News article, Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar," advocated for the diet and insisted that this method is not only a great way to lose some pounds, but will also increase mental activity. Perlmutter alluded to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic that concluded people consuming the high-fat, low-carb diet reduced risks of dementia by up to 65 percent. He railed against gluten, referring to the substance as, "the main culprit of obesity and why people suffer from brain diseases." Perlmutter also suggested that even cutting out the usual morning orange juice can help sustain proper blood sugar needed throughout the day.
What makes the Paleo Diet a realistic weight loss opportunity is the overall low level of effort involved. There's no need to monitor your calories as long as you're eating the recommended foods provided. The Paleo plan also allows for a slight bending of the rules, suggesting that new users can consume "open meals" that may include grains or processed foods up to three times per week. Exercise is not required for participating in the diet, but is encouraged.
Our caveman predecessors stayed fit by physically hunting down their food, so keep that in mind if you choose to pursue this ancient diet! Also, it's best to consult your physician before starting a diet plan to ensure it's the right one for you.
New research shows that our bodies may benefit more from short, intense workouts rather than long, drawn-out ones. This might mean running at a fast speed for 15 to 20 minutes, or doing a short but very intense workout that targets one muscle group.
Thus, we present to you four intense leg-toning moves to work into your leg routine as you choose for an excellent 20-minute workout:
Squat and side lift
This move engages the glutes, quads, outer thighs and hamstrings. You'll need weights to do it.
Stand with your feet together, holding small hand weights. Step to the side with your right foot so feet are shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and squat for a count of two. Straighten your legs and lift your right leg to the side for a count of two, making sure to tuck your abs in. Then lower your right leg again and bend into a squat. Repeat on the left side and do a set of 10. Remember – the heavier the weights, the better the workout!
This exercise engages the hamstrings, glutes, quads and inner thighs.
Stand with your feet together and arms overhead with palms facing forward. With your right foot, take a wide step to the corner of the room – a 45-degree angle – bend your right knee, and reach your arms and body over your right thigh, making sure to keep your back straight. Touch the floor with your fingertips if possible before pushing off the right foot and returning to standing. Do this move 15 times in a row on the right leg before switching to the left.
Scissor jump switch
This powerful move works the fast-twitch muscle fibers to trim the thighs.
Stand with your right foot forward and left leg behind you, lowered into a slight lunge. Reach your left arm toward your right foot, and extend your right arm straight behind you for balance. Push off the floor with your feet and jump straight up. Scissor your legs in the air to land switching positions, with your left leg forward, right back, and right arm reaching across to your left foot. Do 20 of these intense jumps, making sure to focus on balance and keep your knees behind your toes in lunge position to avoid injury.
Hip extension and cross
This exercise tones the back of your thighs and your glutes through targeted isolation of muscles, as well as the abs.
Kneel on the mat and place your elbows on the floor, directly below your shoulders, with your hands clasped in a praying position in front of you. Extend your left leg up and behind, pointing your toes. Then, bend your left knee and pull your leg in, tapping the back of your right knee with your left knee. Slowly extend your left leg back again. Repeat this move 15 times before switching legs, making sure to focus on keeping your abs tucked in. Do two sets to really feel it!
Tea has been enjoyed around the world for thousands of years, and its origins are said to be in China, where it was enjoyed for its medicinal purposes. With such a long history as a popular drink around the world, it shouldn't be surprising that tea's effects on health have been well studied. Here are some of the research-driven health benefits of green tea:
Research by Harvard and other institutions revealed that people who drink green tea frequently are more likely to have better heart health than others. It's uncertain why this is true, but it might be due to the evidence that green tea lowers total cholesterol and ups good cholesterol levels.
Other studies indicate that green tea might play a part in improving bone health and reducing one's risk of having fragile bones. This could be for various reasons, including that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of tea stop or reduce the breakdown of bone that often happens when people age. Additionally, some researchers think that green tea can stimulate bone-building activities in cells.
It's not certain, but some evidence suggests that tea – especially green tea, due to its high rates of catechins – can stimulate weight loss by raising the metabolic weight through thermogenesis. Of course, if proven true, green tea wouldn't be a magic bullet for weight loss but just a potential tool to use.
Why green tea?
The reason green tea is so good for overall health is its high concentration of flavonoids - antioxidants from plants. One main group are catechins, which prevent cell damage from various environmental sources. In fact, green tea contains six different catechins. Other things in green tea are alkaloids, which includes caffeine, theophylline and theobromine, all of which give it stimulant effects. Finally, a component called L-Theanine calms the nervous system.
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!
Aspartame and similar sweeteners were developed to provide people with a low-calorie substitute for sugar to improve chances for weight loss. There has been a lot of talk for many years concerning whether or not aspartame is bad for the health. However, according to the FDA and more than 100 clinical and toxicological trials of aspartame's effects, it is decidedly safe for human consumption at – and in fact, far above – suggested servings.
However, anything in excess can be bad for your health. In general, Americans eat far too much sugar – some research shows that we eat our body weight in sugar each year! Too much of the sweet stuff can cause various health problems, including:
- Weight gain – sugar means calories. However, some research shows that the prolonged eating of too much sugar can lessen the body's ability to know when it is full, causing people to eat more.
- Elevated blood sugar levels.
- Decreased brain function. Too much sugar consumption can impair memory and learning.
However, our bodies do need sugar to function, but we typically get enough sugar for energy from natural sources in our diets, including:
- whole grain products
Many people crave sugary drinks like soda or juice, as well as candy. But you can do a lot to reduce your sugar intake by ditching these products. Rather than reaching for soda or juice, add some lemon and mint to your water for a refreshing taste. Also, instead of candy, eat unsweetened dried fruit or fresh fruit to satisfy your craving.
Also, beware of hidden sugars. Many products like pasta sauces, yogurt and bread have added sugar that really isn't necessary. Be vigilant about your food choices to protect your health.
Not only does what we put into our bodies have physical effects like weight gain or building muscle mass, but it also has emotional effects that can either elevate or sink our moods. Basically, all foods are broken down into their chemical properties by our digestive systems to feed our cells, and can either raise or lower blood pressure. Here are the top mood-boosting foods to make you feel good every day:
Dark, leafy greens
Spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, kale and other leafy greens contain folate, which is needed by the brain to make serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – the so-called "mood chemicals." Research has shown that a boost of folate can improve the mood. Also, leafy greens are bountiful with magnesium, a nutrient that can increase our energy levels and possibly stave off or reduce depression.
These shellfish have the highest naturally occurring levels of vitamin B12 of any food on earth. Many people are B12-deficient because this essential vitamin for brain health is only found in a small number of foods. But vitamin B12 is important for producing myelin, which protects the brain's neurons. Mussels also have iodine, zinc and selenium, which might be good for balancing your mood. Aside from eating these healthy mollusks, do an extra dose of good by choosing farmed mussels raised in the U.S. to ensure they're a good environmental decision too.
Salmon is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical in both heart and brain health and can reduce the chance of depression. You can also find omega-3s in flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and olive oil, and milk, eggs and other foods are sometimes fortified with these important fatty acids.
Sure, you've heard that turkey has tryptophan, which can make you sleepy. But asparagus is one of the vegetables with the highest dose of tryptophan, which is very important for its role in serotonin creation. Serotonin is one of the main mood-regulators in the brain. Asparagus also has high levels of folate, which can improve the mood. An extra bonus: The enzymes in asparagus are good at breaking down alcohol in your system and preventing a hangover.
Sugar can be very damaging to the body because of its harmful free radicals, which are linked to various diseases. But honey makes an excellent substitute to flavor your tea or oatmeal with. It has quercetin and kaempferol – compounds that can banish free radicals and reduce inflammation. Much research has shown that inflammation is likely detrimental to brain health and may lead to depression in some instances. Honey could be a good food to potentially have an impact on brain health.
Other diet tips
Aside from enjoying these foods to boost your mood, there are foods you should avoid and eating rules you should follow to improve your emotional health:
- Eat regularly. Don't skip a meal or you'll risk feeling cranky. Eat a filling breakfast with complex carbs like oatmeal, which will help you stay full longer.
- Do your best to avoid processed foods. They usually have plenty of sugar and bleached white flour, which can give you an energy boost quickly but make you crash sooner too. If you're in the mood for cookies, it's healthier to make your own using whole grain flour, for example.
- When eating meat, opt for grass-fed if you can. Grass-fed meats contain a higher amount of omega-3s than grain-fed animals.
- Try to eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains.
- Limit the amount of caffeine you ingest – it gives you a quick boost but can leave you feeling anxious and irritable.