If you like to exercise but aren't exactly a fanatic about it, you might need a little extra motivation to get to the gym or get outside, especially when the weather is not ideal. For many people, a workout buddy does the trick to inspire mutual motivation. Sometimes, it's best to choose an acquaintance rather than very close friend – someone you wouldn't want to be a slacker in front of, especially since friends are more likely to let things slide.
But, just as a fitness friend can be a boon to your workout routine, some friends can also bring you down when it comes to exercise and weight loss. In fact, several studies have revealed a type of waterfall effect that comes with surrounding yourself with people who don't practice healthy habits.
For example, according to an October 2013 article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which was an analysis of previous studies, researchers from the University of Liverpool found that both the amount of food others eat and the type of food they eat influence people's food decisions, provided they are in our social circle. This relates to perceived social norms of the group. Surprisingly, the researchers found that this was true even when people ate alone. What this indicates is that the influence of others' food choices on us – which leads to weight loss, gain or maintenance – is very subtle, so much that we might not even recognize it is happening.
Previously, a May 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers at Arizona State University looked into three different pathways for friends influencing weight gain. Researchers found that if one has heavier family members, friends and colleagues, it's more likely that he or she will be heavier too. And, interestingly, the closer the relationships are, the bigger the influence on weight there is.
What lead researcher Alexandra Brewis Slade found was that – rather than feeling peer pressure or slowly taking on friends' viewpoints over time – the mechanism for this social influence is more subtle. It's often not discussed or even really thought about, but can be as simple as ordering dessert at a restaurant, even when you're full, because everyone else in your group is doing it.
"The key message is that behavior and what people do together is important," Brewis Slade said. "So parents might want to go bicycling with their kids, go to a salad bar with kids, focus on what they do together."
The bottom line?
While this research might be interesting and convincing, it shouldn't be taken as a reason to ditch friends because they are on the heavier side or enjoy junk food more than most. In fact, awareness is important, and knowledge can help you resist what you probably never thought about before. Plus, influences can be positive as well. Perhaps you can be the catalyst for change to healthier habits in your friend group.
In this day and age of technology, it's almost surprising that our phones can't do even more for us. But that's OK – they'll get there. One thing that our smart phones can do is track calories and weight loss goals. If you're searching for something to give your weight loss and fitness routine a boost, here are some apps that we think definitely make the cut:
Diet Tracker & Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal
The Diet Tracker & Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal is one of the most highly raved about on the web. It's free for both iOS and Android. This all-in-one app uses your stats – height, weight, exercise levels, age and target weight – to calculate a daily caloric intake. By entering the nutritional and calorie values of everything you eat, you can target your eating goals. But it's easier than that! MyFitnessPal is equipped with a barcode scanner that you can use to pull the data from the food's packaging when possible, making it less time-consuming. The app has over 3 million food items, and counting, so it's unlikely that you'll need to input data about what you eat, but if you do, it stores the information for next time.
MyFitnessPal's calorie counter also tracks your exercise regime, can tell you the healthfulness of the food you've eaten and submits progress reports.
Lose It! is a free app for both Android and iOS that is similar to MyFitnessPal. It helps you set weight loss goals by using your vital stats and how many pounds you'd like to lose per week – with a maximum of two. Lose It! tells you your target calories per day to meet your weight loss goals, and it keeps track of both the calories you consume each day and those you burn during exercise. It's cited for being especially user-friendly. The premium version allows you to see stats on hydration, body fat, sleep cycles and other statistics that might help. You can also add friends to help you stay motivated!
Noom Weight Loss Coach
Noom Weight Loss Coach does more than just log your foods to track your daily and weekly calorie intake and weight loss progress. It also has a pedometer to track how many steps you walk or run per day, the data of which is incorporated into your exercise and weight loss progress. Noom focuses a lot on motivation, providing users with daily health and wellness articles to help them work toward various goals and to encourage them to stick to their fitness plans. In this way, it's a virtual coach, not just an app! The goal is to help you form healthy habits in your daily life, no matter what your goals are.
Though there are only currently around 1 million foods in its calorie logging database, Noom Weight Loss Coach teaches you which foods are healthiest by using color-coding after foods are logged, which is great for people who have just started paying attention to what they eat. The design is appealing and easy to use, and Noom is available for Android users.
Calorie Counter PRO by My Net Diary
This app – available for both Android and iOS – is not free, but it has more impressive advanced features than many of the free apps, making it well-worth the costs. Calorie Counter PRO allows you to track foods using a barcode scanner and set weight loss goals, just as other apps do. But it also allows you to easily compare foods side-by-side so you can make a healthier choice more easily. Calorie Counter PRO also gives you real-time tips based on how you've been eating during that day. You can also track exercise and workout data, making it a comprehensive fitness and weight loss app!
Though bowling is reminiscent of 1950s America to most, it has actually been around in some form for at least a few thousand years, purportedly developed in Egypt in 3200 B.C. Though we typically think of bowling as a leisure activity – all fun and games – it actually has many health benefits. Here are some examples:
Bowling promotes muscle strength and growth
As an anaerobic exercise, bowling is similar to walking with weights in hand. It works the legs, arms, shoulder, chest and possibly even core muscles. For an extra workout in between turns, practice some simple exercises, such as squats or lunges, using a lighter ball as your weight. According to some research, if one uses a 16-pound ball, a three-game series will cause him or her to swing one-third of a ton of weight!
It burns calories
Sure, you won't burn near as many calories as you would running or biking, but you can shed a few hundred per game of bowling! The important things is that bowling gets you on your feet. Remain standing, rather than sitting after your turn to burn the most calories.
Bowling keeps the heart rate up
It is weight bearing and involves stretching and walking. Standing for the entire game with keep your heart rate up.
It helps with flexibility and balance
During bowling, you flex and stretch various ligaments, joints, tendons and muscles in both the arms and legs. Additionally, supporting and swinging the ball in the way necessary requires balance.
Bowling is good for happiness
Getting out and going bowling with friends and family members, or in a competitive league, is a good way to stay social and get exercise, all in one. One of the best parts of bowling is that almost anyone can do 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.
Two beloved winter activities of all snow-dwellers and even people from warm locales are skiing and snowboarding. In fact, for many people, hitting the slopes is the one bright spot of a very long winter. Whether you’re an avid boarder or a beginning skier, here’s what to know about each winter sport as it pertains to burning calories, working the muscles and being prepared:
Different muscles are used during skiing and snowboarding. For example, while snowboarding, you use your quadriceps and hamstrings to get the board moving, and your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps are all used to make turns and guide the board. However, balance is also a huge part of snowboarding, so you engage your core muscles and those in the feet and ankles to stay upright and maintain the often delicate balance required.
Skiing also engages the core muscles for balance and stability, as well as those in the ankles, feet and calves for eversion – or turning the sole of your foot outward to put your skis on their edges. Additionally, the hamstrings and quadriceps are engaged while bending your knees, which helps stabilize the knee joints to prevent ACL tears. But skiing also uses the gluteal complex muscles – in fact, they’re vital for skiing. The stabilize other muscles, assist in flexion and help external leg rotation, which is important for steering your skis. Finally, skiing also engages arm muscles, especially when using poles to drag yourself along on flat surfaces at the bottom of the runs.
In general, even just one hour of downhill skiing or boarding burns an enormous amount of calories. However, there are many variables determining just how many calories one burns, including the intensity of the slopes, the quality of snow, one’s weight and height, the level of effort exerted and the speed you reach.
On average, an adult that weights between 110 and 200 pounds will burn between 250 and 630 calories per hour while snowboarding or skiing, depending on all of the above factors.
Pre-snow sport workout
If you don’t stretch and work the muscles you use for these downhill sports, you’re likely to feel quite sore for at least a few days after. At least a week before heading out on a ski or boarding trip, here are some things you should know, consider and do to be at your peak fitness level for winter sports:
Strong muscles will make it easier to last longer on the slopes. Skiing can quickly tire the quadriceps, and the same is true of the calves for snowboarding. You can do weight training for hamstrings, thighs and arm muscles as well as core conditioning exercises. It’s also good to bike to prepare the leg muscles.
Having flexible joints will help reduce your chance of injury. If you don’t feel particularly flexible, start stretching a few weeks in advance of your trip so as not to damage a tendon or a ligament.
Skiing and boarding are very aerobically demanding, specially for people who live at lower altitude levels but travel up into the mountains to ski. Before going on your trip, do cardio like swimming, stair training, step aerobics or running – all aerobic activities that will help you deal with the lower oxygen levels.
Exercising and stretching
Here are some good stretches and exercises to help you get prepared for your day in the snow:
- Side-to-side jumps to help your hip, lower leg and thigh muscles
- Forward lunges with weights for thighs and core
- Squats for thighs and core
- Single weight exercises with weights to hone your balance
If you're exercising for weight loss and paying attention to the calories you take in and how many you burn during each workout, you should know that making small changes in your routine can lead to increased weight loss success. For example, did you know that we even burn calories while we sleep? Here are some changes you can make in everyday things to increase the number of calories you burn:
Ditch the dry cleaner
If you have wrinkly shirts, rather than dropping them off at the dry cleaner, save money and get a workout by rounding up the wrinkly clothes and ironing them. Just 30 minutes of ironing burns more than 75 calories! Plus, you're standing the whole time, which is good for circulation and overall health. Also, folding laundry for 30 minutes burns about 70 calories.
Take the stairs
Sometimes the elevator just feels like a lazy option. Plus, you're not exerting much effort just pressing a few buttons and standing there. Take the stairs instead, or if you take an escalator, walk up it rather than just standing on it.
Do the cleaning yourself
For people who can afford it, hiring someone to clean the house can seem like a luxury that's hard to live without. But if you have the time, do the cleaning yourself. Just 30 minutes of vacuuming can burn 120 calories, and cleaning in general for 30 minutes burns about 100. So, put on some music and get cleaning!
Put on your chef hat
Rather than ordering carryout, hone your cooking skills by making a delicious, healthy dinner that is absent of the fat, sodium and other unhealthy ingredients often found in takeout. You'll burn 150 calories in one hour of meal prep. Wash the dishes afterward for bonus calorie-burning!
Maybe you're an avid runner or biker but you live in a snowy region that makes these activities very difficult or impossible to do for several months out of the year. Or perhaps you're looking for a new outdoor activity that is both enjoyable and a great workout. If so, now is the time to try your hand – or foot, rather – at snowshoeing!
Why snowshoeing rocks
Snowshoeing actually started thousands of years ago among people who lived in and near the mountains as a way to get around more easily without sinking into the snow. Today, snowshoes aren't a necessity, but people enjoy using them for recreation. Here's why:
- Snowshoeing is easy – if you can walk, you're good to go. It doesn't involve too much balance or complicated technique as do skiing or snowboarding, though there are some tips that could help you get the hang of it even more quickly.
- It offers an awesome workout! Depending on the terrain and how quickly you move, you can burn between 400 and 1,000 calories in just one hour of snowshoeing. Here's a calculator to help you determine how many calories were burned during your workout.
- It's low-impact. This wintry sport doesn't put too much stress on your knees, hips and other joints, but it still is a great form of cardio exercise.
- It's a versatile sport. People of all ages and abilities can enjoy it, and you can traverse terrain that you wouldn't be able to on skis due to low-snow and closely spaced trees.
- It extends your running or hiking season. Many runners turn to snowshoeing because it can maintain their high level of aerobic activity and build strength. The unstable, snowy surface plus "weights" on your feet – snowshoes – give you a heavy-duty workout.
- Unlike beginning many other new sports, it's inexpensive. All you need is snowshoes, poles (if you want them) and, of course, the proper clothing, like water-proof, insulated boots, coats and thick socks, though it's likely if you're an avid outdoorsperson that you already have many of these items.
The snowshoes: There are three types of snowshoes, depending on the terrain you will be traveling:
- Aerobic or running: These are good for families and beginners and are meant to be used on flat terrain.
- Recreational: Recreational snowshoes are larger and a bit heavier. You can use them on moderate walks on rolling hills, or on terrain that is a bit rougher.
- Mountaineering shoes: These are meant for very serious hill-climbing, long-distance travel on rough terrains, including for those who want to walk on steep, icy and backcountry areas.
There will definitely be days where it's too cold to run outside or you just don't feel like hopping in the car, trekking to the gym and fighting for a parking spot. But that doesn't mean you can't get a work out if you really want one!
Household chores can definitely burn calories and function as a good source of cardio – think of how sweaty and tired you feel after doing some heavy duty deep cleaning, like a good bathtub scrubbing or washing the floor by hand. So rather than looking at your household chores as, well, chores, try to look at them as an alternative but excellent form of exercise.
Calories burned per chore
Here are some common chores as well as how many calories you might burn doing each one:
- Washing the dishes: If you want to get a great work out washing dishes, it will be the one time you ever think "The bigger dirty heap of pots and pans, the better!" Doing some heavy duty scrubbing will burn about 80 calories in just 15 minutes of continuous dishwashing.
- Mopping: Mopping is a great upper and lower body workout. Additionally, in just 30 minutes of mopping, you will burn around 120 calories.
- Painting: Have you been thinking of giving your bedroom a touch-up coat of paint for awhile?Talk about a good reason to stay home from the gym. Painting can be an excellent workout, burning up to 300 calories per hour and building lean muscle mass in your arms and core.
- Cleaning the gutters: This might be one of the best calorie-burning household activities you can do. It turns out that cleaning the gutters requires shoulder, upper back, arm and leg muscles – not to mention the core muscles are engaged to help you balance on the ladder. You can burn 320 calories in one hour of gutter cleaning – just be careful not to fall.
- Vacuuming: Depending on how difficult it is to lug your vacuum around the house, you'll likely banish at least 80 calories per 30 minutes of vacuuming.
- Window washing: Give those streaky windows a good cleaning, inside and out, and exercise your arms and back at the cost of 200 calories per hour.
- Scrubbing floors: If mopping just isn't clean enough for you, get on your hands and knees instead and give the floors a good scrubbing. You'll burn a whopping 175 calories in just 30 minutes!
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.
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!