During the spring and summer, many people's motivation for hitting the gym or trails is to look healthy and toned on the beach. But when fall hits and it's time to put the shorts and swimsuits away, what's your motivation? Here are some tips for keeping the focus on exercise even after the cozy sweaters and skinny jeans are keeping you covered up:
- Set goals. If your summer goal was to look good in your bathing suit, pick something else to focus on. Did you plan a winter trip to Mexico? Do you want to tone up your arms? Do you just feel better when you get your sweaty boxing routine in every morning before work? It's important to have a central motivation, and then set several small and attainable goals along the way.
- Change it up. Fall weather calls for different activities than summer. Now that the weather is cool, maybe you can hop off the treadmill in the air conditioned gym and hit the local trails. Or instead of swimming you can switch to biking and the classes at your local gym. Workouts should be enjoyable while still challenging, so if you start to get bored, don't be afraid to venture out. If you're hesitant, invite a friend to try something new with you so you feel more comfortable.
- Keep a photo journal. Take a picture of yourself each month or every two weeks in the same workout gear. Note the differences between each picture – maybe you look a little slimmer and a lot happier! Take notes in your journal each week about what you did, if you've met your goals and what your plans for the following week are.
- Accessorize. It sounds strange when referring to exercise, but if you want to get serious, purchase gear that makes you feel seriously good. Also, if you're trying to build lean muscle, consider treating yourself to some high-quality, healthy supplements, such as VeganSmart All-In-One Nutritional Shake, which has a complete plant-based protein blend, probiotics, omega-3s and various vitamins and minerals for an excellent meal replacement.
Don't let exercise be something you dread. Try to build it into your daily routine – just as you would brush your teeth and get dressed every day, plan time to exercise every day.
If it's 3 p.m. on and you're trying to power through the last few hours of work, it can be tempting to grab another coffee. While caffeine is definitely an energy booster, it isn't always the best choice. You should also avoid candy and other simple sugars – they can give you a quick spurt of energy because they're converted more quickly, but they aren't the healthiest options and can leave you feeling tired later. The best option is to eat foods that give you a sustained energy reserve and are healthy to boot. When you need a boost, skip the coffee, cake and candy and go for one of these healthy snacks instead:
- Edamame: One cup of edamame has 8 grams of fiber, 15 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of protein, making it an excellent energy-boosting snack.
- Trail mix: Make your own trail mix with various dried fruits, seeds and nuts. That way, you can avoid the oils and sugars that are sometimes added to store-bought mixes. Some good options to include are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, raisins and dried cherries. The fats and oils in nuts provide a lot of energy, not to mention protein, and the fiber in all of the ingredients slows down the release of glucose to give you longer-lasting energy.
- Whole grain cereal: The high amount of fiber in whole grains means you'll have more energy during the day as it slows the release of glucose. For a tasty, healthy snack, layer your cereal with plain Greek yogurt and berries for a parfait that's probably easier to eat at work than a bowl of cereal and milk.
- Lentils: If you have very low iron in your body, you might frequently feel exhausted. For people with low iron levels – or anyone, really – lentils are an excellent option because 1 cup provides nearly 80 percent of your necessary daily iron intake. Iron carries oxygen through the body, which is vital in staying energized. Vitamin C maximizes your body's iron absorption, so try eating your lentils with red or green bell peppers, which are rich in vitamin C.
- Eggs: Egg yolks have been given a bad reputation, but they're rich in B-vitamins, which help convert food into energy, and also vitamin D, another important nutrient. Egg yolks do have saturated fat and cholesterol, but eating just one per day is fine. Bring a hard-boiled egg to work for a boost of energy and vitamin-fueled protein.
- Water: Staying hydrated is very important and has much to do with your energy levels. Because water transports all the nutrients in our blood and gets rid of waste, it's important for metabolizing our food and keeping us energized and refreshed. Keep a refillable water bottle on your desk at work so it's always in your line of sight. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water – typically 8 to 10 cups per day – is the basis for keeping energy levels high.
Working out in the winter can be a real drag, especially when there are heaps of snow on the ground and it's -10 degrees outside. If you don't live close to the mountains, where you can get your exercise and drown your wintry blues by racing down the mountainside on skis or a snowboard and warming up in the lodge with hot cocoa and a fire, you'll have to find other ways to stay motivated to get fit. It's a lot easier said than done, especially when swimsuit season is far in the distance. Here are some tips for staying motivated to workout so that even under that knee-length parka, you're as fit and healthy as ever:
- Stay warm! There's nothing less motivating than knowing you're going to be cold, so get the right cold-weather gear. If you're going for a run outside, or even if you're just walking to the gym, make sure to have some warm gear like insulated running tights and tops, thin wool socks, running gloves and a hat to keep the heat in.
- Having a cold or the flu is pretty common in the winter, but staying in shape and exercising has been shown to be a good way to stay healthy. Use avoiding sickness as your motivation!
- Plan a sunny winter getaway – even a weekend in Florida or Mexico! You'll be more motivated to stay in swimsuit shape.
- "Check-in" on Facebook, Foursquare or another app before you go to the gym. Then, there's no way to avoid it because you won't want to look like you're pretending to be at the gym!
- Treat yourself to a new workout class. Many gyms will let you take one trial class to see if it's for you. It's a great idea to try new things when your outdoor exercise is limited in the winter.
Many people decide to combine diet and exercise to drop a few pounds. But it's important to talk with your doctor to determine the right routine for you. For example, the caloric intake of a 25 year-old female marathoner will be vastly different than that of a 60 year-old male trying to lose some weight. Still, there are some diets that are so "out there" that most everyone agrees that they are ineffective or – even worse – unsafe. From the bizarre, gross and downright unhealthy, here are the worst dieting fads that no one should ever try:
- The soup diet: This usually involves eating a normal breakfast and then chicken or cabbage soup for the rest of the day. But this diet is actually harmful – not only is soup often high in sodium, which is very unhealthy for the heart, it's also empty of necessary vitamins and nutrients.
- The vinegar diet: Supposedly, poet Lord Byron drank vinegar and water daily to "cleanse" his body, which caused vomiting and diarrhea. He also added raw egg to his tea every morning, and encouraged others to try his diet. It's safe to say this master of words should have stuck to what he knew best.
- Grapefruit juice diet: The plan for the grapefruit diet is to eat whatever you want as far as fats and proteins go, but to avoid carbohydrates and only eat around 800 calories per day. You're also supposed to drink 64 ounces of grapefruit juice, which supposedly combines with protein to increase your body's fat-burning capabilities. This diet emerged in the 1930s and was made popular again in the 1970s when it was referred to as the Hollywood Diet. Needless to say, science has proved that it doesn't work and, in fact, isn't healthy.
- Baby food diet: People who try this diet – eating up to 14 jars of baby food a day, and then possibly eating a real adult dinner – are banking on the lower amounts of fat, sugar and calories in baby food compared with adult meals. However, baby food is formulated for babies – though you can lose weight on diet, you wouldn't be doing it in a healthy way because it doesn't have the nutrients that adults need.
- The cotton ball diet: This one is extremely dangerous. There have been rumors that different models have tried eating cotton balls because they're full of fiber and also filling so you don't feel hungry. However, cotton isn't meant to be consumed by people. In fact, eating cotton balls can give you serious digestive issues that require surgery.
- Sleeping Beauty diet: The idea behind this diet is that you can burn plenty of calories while sleeping – and you won't be eating. People who tried it out used to take a sedative and sleep for a few days at a time, but it's obvious that this isn't safe nor is it healthy in anyway. There are rumors that Elvis Presley did this after he gained a lot of weight in the 1970s.
- Tapeworm diet: This one is downright scary. Tapeworms are parasitic flatworms that can thrive in the intestine. Though they typically don't cause too many symptoms, they can cause diarrhea, anemia and potentially even seizures. This diet became a thing in the 1920s and horse jockeys were said to have ingested tapeworm larva to stay thin.
Needless to say, the above diet plans are unhealthy, unsafe and not worth any risks you'd take to lose the weight. It's a better idea to see a doctor and trainer to help you come up with an exercise and diet plan that is right for you.
Maybe you've been off your workout routine after an indulgent vacation of relaxation, eating and soaking up the sun; maybe you're trying to amp up your fitness routine to get in shape for an event or just to feel good about yourself; or maybe you don't want to trudge to the gym in extremely hot or cold temperatures. Whatever your reason for beginning a new workout or getting into the swing of things again, being motivated can be difficult, especially with today's busy lifestyles. It takes a lot of motivation to drag yourself out of bed and go to the gym at 5 a.m. before heading off to a long day at the office, or to come home from work ready to hop on the treadmill. If you're struggling with motivation, here are some tips to get you back on track and to help you make fitness a habit:
- Do something you enjoy. If you absolutely, positively hate running because it's boring and hurts your knees, don't do it. There's nothing less motivating than dreading your workout. Make sure your fitness routine is something that you enjoy or, at the very least, exercise that doesn't cause you unnecessary pain.
- Get a trainer. It's typically pretty pricey to get a personal trainer, but it's a great way for some people to get and stay motivated. First, you won't want to miss training sessions because you're paying good money for them. Second, you'll want to impress your trainer so he or she thinks you're the hardest working person around. Third, it's pretty fun – and even a bit flattering, even if you're paying them – to have another person invested in your fitness and designing personal workout plans for you!
- Avoid the out-of-sight, out-of-mind conundrum. Keep your workout clothes visible – place your shoes near your bedroom door and hang your workout clothes on the door handle or a railing in the bathroom – in a spot where you'll immediately notice them in the morning.
- Speaking of workout clothes, invest in some gear that makes you feel cute, attractive or comfortable. The point is to buy workout clothes that you'll actually want to wear.
- Grab a friend or two. Friends can hold you accountable. It's an especially good idea to pick a competitive friend because you won't want to look lame to the other person.
- Ease into it. If you've been off of your fitness routine for awhile or are just starting a new, more intense workout, don't go full blast right away. Besides possibly injuring yourself, it won't be any fun. There's no shame in going slowly as long as you're moving.
- Turn your commute into a workout. If you simply can't bear to go to the gym before or after you work, consider turning your commute into your exercise. You have to go to work anyway, so change the method of how you arrive there. If you're close enough, consider biking or jogging!
- Keep track of your progress. There are abundant sites to help you log your mileage or other important details about your exercise routine. Monitoring your progress is also a great way to set visual short- and long-term goals.
- Stay close. Choose a gym near your home or place of employment. That way, it isn't inconvenient to get a workout in and you can even give yourself a bit of a guilt trip if you pass the spot frequently enough.
- Incentives: treat yourself! Set goals and, when you accomplish them, treat yourself to something you've been wanting – even if that something is a hot fudge sundae or another delicious treat.
Whether you want to get a workout and some quality family time in, or you just need a way to get your couch potato kids out of the house, exercising together as a family is a great idea and it can be done – it just takes a little patience and creativity! Here are some great family-friendly ways to get some exercise and spend quality time together:
- Take a bike ride! If you don't have bicycles already, you can likely find them on the cheap at garage sales or resale shops. Make sure everyone is strapped into their helmets and hit the pavement on two wheels. If you have little ones, you can tote them along in an kiddie trailer or attach a trailer bike to yours so they can tagalong easily. You can map out your route and miles on different sites like Map My Ride beforehand.
- If you're stuck in the house on a rainy day with toddlers, pop in one of their sing-along DVDs and dance your hearts out. They're young enough to think your "moves" are cool, and they'll happily join in. Or, if your kids are older and stuck inside, play a dance game on the Wii or Xbox to get the blood pumping.
- Go on a nature walk at a local trail, or go hiking if you happen to live in a hilly or mountainous area.
- Plan a scavenger hunt or obstacle course around the neighborhood or at a local park. Kids love these and it will get them moving.
- Hit the mall – as long as you don't eat anything greasy at the food court, do some window or actual shopping at the mall for some exercise. Make a point of parking in the back of the parking lot and hitting the stores even at the farthest end of the shopping center.
- If you exercise at home, create modified exercises that the kids can do with you. For example, if you do yoga, look up some easy poses for children and teach them. Yoga is also a good way to get a little peace and quiet. If you use weights, give the kids beanbags or filled water bottles to use as their own weights. Or, if you are doing pushups, teach your kids how to do modified versions on their knees.
When trying to lose fat and build muscle, many people opt for low-carb diets. If you're thinking about decreasing your carb intake, here's the scoop on carbohydrates and how you can do it healthfully:
What are carbohydrates?
There are three macronutrients in the food we eat – protein, carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates come from plant-based foods – starchy vegetables, fruit, cereal and bread – while most of the foods ingested from animals have less carbohydrates and more protein. Carbs are the main source of energy for our bodies, but they also are important in storing energy from food, as most of the time, we eat more food than our bodies need to use immediately. Often, the body stores the extra energy as fat.
Carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels because they're converted to the simple sugar glucose. This is not a bad thing, but eating too many carbs can cause the pancreas to produce excessive insulin. This directs the body to store fat and prevents it from burning already stored fat. So when people consistently overeat carbs, they gain weight and also have low energy levels.
How to cut down on the carbs
If you're trying a low-carb diet, you'll be restricting your intake of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and even milk, among other things. Low-carb diets typically restrict calories from carbohydrates to between 50 and 150 grams per day. On the contrary, a typical diet according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes between 225 and 325 grams per day, which is between 45 and 65 percent of one's caloric intake.
Starting a new diet can be difficult, and not all diets work for everyone. It's often best to start slowly. Here are some tips for when you give it a go:
- Cut out "hidden" carbs, including sports drinks, juices with added sugar, sauces and dips. We often don't think about these things, but they have added, unnecessary carbohydratess.
- Make an extra serving of vegetables for dinner and cut out high carb, less healthy parts of the meal like pasta.
- Instead of eating a pastry or toast and jam for breakfast, try a hard-boiled egg or a protein meal replacement shake. One good option for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores is the VeganSmart All-In-One Nutritional Shake, which comes in chocolate, vanilla or chai. This is a great option because it's low in carbs with only about 14 grams per serving, but high in fiber.
It's always best to talk with your doctor before starting a new diet. If you restrict your carbs too much, it's not healthy. Too few carbohydrates can lead to ketosis – the body no longer has sufficient glucose to keep the brain and muscles working properly. Fat is burned for energy, but large numbers of ketones can enter the bloodstream, which can cause confusion, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, nausea and even death.
Consuming too few carbs can also lead to constipation due to lack of fiber, and feeling lethargic because they are the cells' main energy source.
If you're worried about these things, you can also switch to a moderate carb diet. Rather than eating simple, refined foods that contain little fiber and cause a spike in blood sugar – like white rice, pasta, cereals and sugary foods – opt for unrefined carbs. These "good" carbohydrates are complex, meaning they're broken down slowly and don't cause a spike in blood sugar. They're also a good source of fiber. Some great unrefined carbs are anything with whole grains, vegetables, fruit, brown rice and bulgar wheat.
Bread has been consumed in some form by people for ages – you could say it's a staple of human culture as a whole. Though bread has played a major role in our collective culinary history, it's a much maligned food form by various healthy folk. But it isn't all bad for you! Whether you're enjoying buns, biscuits or rolls, we have some tips and basic information for choosing the healthiest bread:
In the past – and indeed, in many European countries today – bread was made fresh daily either at home or by a local baker. This is because after more than one day, the bread became as hard as a rock and inedible. Back then, the dough typically contained only four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. But today, most people don't make their own bread due to lack of time and patience. Instead, we buy it at the grocery store and expect it to stay fresh for up to two weeks. However, this means that extra ingredients are added to keep the bread soft, edible and mold-free. Here's what to look for when grocery shopping so you can buy the healthiest bread:
- Look for whole grains. Your bread should say "100 percent whole grains" and the first ingredient listed should be "100 percent whole-wheat flour." The words "made with whole grains" don't mean much. Whole-grain bread is better for you than whole-wheat bread because of the variety of grains included.
- It's also good to look for actual grains or pieces of grain in the bread, rather than just on top. This is also helpful when you're eating out or ordering from a deli and don't have the benefit of seeing the label.
- Double-fiber breads aren't necessarily better. The extra fiber is added from soy, cellulose or oats. There's no evidence that this is either harmful or beneficial. But, whole foods, rather than those reconstructed from various parts, are usually seen as better options in any food scenario.
- You should avoid anything that says "enriched" – this means that it's refined white flour, not really wheat flour.
- If you're trying to restrict your intake of carbs, pay attention to the serving size listed and the weight of the bread. This varies according to brand but can throw some people off if they don't read carefully.
- Avoid breads that have trans fats, hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening.
- Don't purchase breads made with dyes, high sugar content and high-fructose corn syrup.
- If you try to avoid wheat due to Celiac's disease or low-gluten tolerance, there are many non-wheat options on the market so you can still enjoy bread.
- Sprouted breads are an emerging trend because they're actually better for you. It's a bit complicated, but breads made with sprouted grains are easier to digest and have more B vitamins, amino acids and minerals because sprouting converts the proteins and starches into more digestible, smaller molecules.
Many people have questions about food labels and what they really mean. If you're curious about products labeled "natural" or "organic," you should know that the two designations are not created equally. Here's the scoop on what these designations really mean:
In the U.S., the organic designation is tightly controlled by federal regulations. For a product to be labeled organic, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that it is certified by its National Organic Program. Foods that are organic must be grown without the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, sludge-based fertilizers, ionizing radiation, antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs. Additionally, they have some animal welfare requirements and are likely to cause less environmental pollution. Products labeled "organic" must contain 95 percent organic ingredients and the remaining 5 percent of ingredients must be from an approved list.
There are a few other organic designations. Products labeled "100 percent organic" must be produced with entirely organic ingredients and meet the regulations listed above. Foods that say "made with organic ingredients" have less strict requirements. They must be made with food that is at least 70 percent organic, and none of the remaining 30 percent of ingredients can have been produced using ionizing radiation or sludge-based fertilizers. However, the other requirements are relaxed. Also, the USDA has strict requirements in the labeling on the foods' packaging, including the rule that the word "organic" and the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the products' "principal displays."
Many people think that organic and natural foods are the same but, though organic foods must go through a thorough certification and inspection process, "natural" is a label used more as a marketing term. Unlike organic foods, the labels "natural" and "all natural" are not tightly regulated. Producers must submit paperwork, but no inspections take place and thus no certification is required. The only requirements are that foods labeled "natural" are minimally processed and do not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. What this means is that there is a wide variety of growing and processing methods for these types of foods. Natural and all-natural products can contain growth hormones, antibiotics and be grown with the use of toxic chemicals. There are no animal welfare requirements and products can be fertilized with sludge and irradiation methods.
When some people want to build muscles fast, they will turn to steroids to get the job done. We often find out about steroid use when a major scandal hits - big name athletes revealed to have been using steroids to boost their performance. However, people outside of the professional sports industry use them as well, often with complete disregard or lack of knowledge about the serious health effects. Not only is steroid use illegal, but it also damages your body and brain. Here's some information on steroid abuse and the serious health consequences:
Many types of steroids, including anabolic, are legally prescribed by doctors for people with hormone deficiency, AIDS, cancer and delayed puberty. But steroid abusers take doses that are 10 to 100 times higher than those deemed safe for medical use. There are three types commonly abused: anabolic-androgenic steroids, androstenedione and human growth hormone.
These steroids are often injected, taken orally or occasionally applied as a cream. Our bodies produce anabolic steroids naturally in the form of testosterone, which affects the body in two ways: It promotes muscle building with anabolic effects and the androgenic aspect produces facial hair, a deeper voice and other male traits. Anabolic steroids are most often abused in synthetic form and are said to make muscles bigger but also reduce damage that occurs during a tough workout, decreasing recovery time. They can be very addictive and often may cause these health issues:
- Shrinkage of the testicles, low sperm count, increased risk of prostate cancer, baldness and development of breasts in men
- Pattern baldness, menstrual cycle issues, deepened voice, enlarged clitoris and growth of facial hair in women
- Severe acne, liver abnormalities, heart issues, hypertension, prostate gland enlargement, tendon rupture, decreased good cholesterol and increased bad cholesterol and drug dependence in both men and women
- Psychological effects like aggression and violence, known as "roid rage," depression, impaired judgment due to invincibility, delusions and paranoid jealousy
Our adrenal glands, ovaries and testes naturally produce androstenedione, which is converted to estradiol and testosterone in both males and females. Andro can be prescribed by doctors, but athletes and bodybuilders illegally use it to recover more quickly from workouts and train harder in the first place. However, studies have shown that andro does not have these effects – instead, it is rapidly changed into estrogen in the body. Also, it may cause many of the same issues as anabolic steroids.
Human growth hormone
Also known as gonadotropin, this hormone is injected and abusers believe it improves endurance and strength. However, studies have shown few positive effects. Instead, HGH causes adverse effects such as:
- Cardiomyopathy – a weakening and enlargement of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure
- Fluid retention
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Carpal tunnel
- Impaired glucose regulation
- High cholesterol
Instead of using steroids, those looking to boost muscle mass should seek guidance in carefully planning a workout routine composed of muscle-building activities, and they can also supplement their diet and workout regimen with protein powders, which help boost muscle mass.