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!
We recently caught up with Joe Garcia, a marketing professional who spent 10 years at Equinox as a personal trainer. Though he doesn’t work at a gym anymore, Garcia still advises and trains friends when he hits the gym. His workout routine involves Crossfit training, power lifting and dead lifts, among other things. He’s very focused on matching his diet and exercise routine to his seasonal fitness goals. Garcia gave us the scoop on the best methods for doing this.
Garcia says that his diet changes depending on the season – for example, he eats less carbs in the summer when his goals include being lighter and leaner and moving faster. Garcia also advocates taking supplements and eating clean, which means “monitoring your diet completely, understanding what you’re putting into your body and what works for you … being smart about how you consume food, making sure that it fits your goals.”
But sometimes we hear people say, “I work out, so I can eat whatever I want.” So we asked Garcia what he thinks about frequently indulging in, for example, a giant cupcake.
“Look, I’m a sucker for cupcakes,” Garcia laughs. “But I’m very conscious of when, how and why I’m eating it.”
Garcia further advised individuals who are new to fitness who haven’t yet learned how to eat for their fitness goal – whether it’s losing weight, putting on muscle or looking a certain way – should do some research and check out tips for eating healthy, improving diet and even increasing metabolism. But he stresses that eating is only part of it:
“Eating should always be fun, it shouldn’t be stressful. Not everyone comes in with this idea of understanding how to eat. So going online is always a good way to find out information on how to eat,” he said.
So, can you eat whatever you want?
“You can eat whatever you want if you’re satisfied with that result. Everything that you do in the gym is based on results, so if you don’t really care about the results that you get between your diet and working out, then you can eat whatever you want,” Garcia tells us.
On eating out
Garcia says that you can definitely eat out, but it’s important to be smart about your choices:
“I always tell people if you’re going to eat out, just plan it out. Plan and know where you’re going to eat, and know what’s on the menu, and prepare yourself.”
He suggests drinking a protein shake or eating a small meal beforehand if healthy menu options are limited.
Pre- and post-workout eating
Garcia stressed the importance of pre-workout protein shakes or other sources of protein:
“You always want to have enough fuel for your body to perform during your exercise for that time period, you don’t want your body using up the muscles because you can definitely cannibalize muscle during that training,” he says.
Garcia advises to eat no sooner than 30 minutes before working out. On one hand, you don’t want to train on a full stomach; on the other, you need time for the protein to get into your bloodstream.
He also suggests drinking a post-workout shake in a window of 30 minutes after your fitness session for full muscle-building benefits, or later if you’re trying to lose weight.
Garcia says that one of the biggest misconceptions about food is that you can’t eat fat and be healthy. In fact, he says it’s better to pay attention to the amount of calories in what you’re eating, and to take in healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocados and fish. Like before, he stresses that it’s all about your fitness goals and being calculated in what you eat.
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.
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!