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.
If you love your furry friend or are considering adopting a pooch, you should know that despite being human's best friend, the benefits of having a dog are abundant. Research has shown that dog ownership – and even interacting with and petting someone else's pup – has positive social, emotional and physical benefits. Here are the health benefits of having a loyal dog:
People with pet canines are more likely to be physically active because dogs need walking. This is especially true of people with large pooches – weighing over 45 pounds – because they need more exercise than smaller breeds. Other studies have even found a link between petting a dog and lowering blood pressure, and that pet owners may have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, suggesting that dog ownership or regular visits with one might contribute to improved heart health. One study even indicated that dog ownership significantly increased the survival rate of people who had a heart attack.
Additionally, other studies have shown that growing up with a dog or other pets is good for a child's immune system. According to one study of 397 1 year olds, those with dogs at home had fewer respiratory and ear infections than those without a furry friend in the home. Additionally, babies with a canine friend in their homes were rated as healthy 81 percent of the time, while babies without dogs in the house were healthy only 64 percent of the time. Researchers believe that exposure to dogs' germs is actually what helps to improve immune health in children.
Dogs can also improve emotional health. Pets have been shown to reduce depression, stress, loneliness and anxiety. Owning a pet helps to give structure to a person's day, as animals need to be taken care of regularly. Studies show that touch is very important for emotional well-being, and for those living alone, pups can provide this important physical contact. Additionally, children and adults alike often find comfort from a dog during times of grief. Dogs are often used as therapy animals in hospitals to bring comfort and happiness to children and adults with serious illnesses.
Aside from the myriad emotional and physical benefits of dog ownership, these loyal pals can also provide vital social benefits. When people go outside to walk them, they're more likely to have conversations with people around them like other pet owners – animals provide an easy topic of conversation. In one study at a veterans' hospital, people were more likely to talk with each other when a dog was in the room. This is very important for people who live alone, such as elderly adults who are more likely to be isolated.
Also, children with autism who have difficulty connecting with people are able to interact more comfortably with their pets, which may help to build a sense of empathy and promote better interactions with other people over time.
Have you seen your social media contacts post about how that extreme Piloxing workout just kicked their butts or that they're heading off to their Zumbarobics class in 10 and wondered "What am I missing?" There are some interesting new fitness fads that have everyone on their toes – literally. The question is, will they last? Here's the scoop on the latest workout trends:
Ballerinas are graceful, slim and strong, but it takes a lot of work to get that way. Pure Barre is fitness routine that was developed by a choreographer and dancer Carrie Rezabek Dorr in 2001. It's based on small isometric movements, done at a ballet barre, that tone and burn fat from the entire body. Each one-hour routine is set to motivating music. Pure Barre does not involve jumping or bouncing, so it's easy on the joints while still being an intense workout that requires meditative focus. The benefit of Pure Barre over other routines is that it creates long, lean muscle by alternating strength-training with stretching.
The intense lifestyle known as crossfit seems to have exploded on the workout scene lately, but it was actually developed in 2000 as a training for general fitness and preparedness. Workouts are typically less than 30 minutes but are high intensity and extremely varied. Some examples include climbing rope, flipping tires, jumping rope, weightlifting, pull-ups, bodyweight exercises like gymnastics and sprinting – exercises that build a lot of muscle. People who do Crossfit often also eat a Paleo diet and consider it a lifestyle.
This dance-based workout has its roots in Latin American dance. The developers of this routine call it a "calorie-burning, dance-fitness party" because it's so fun that you won't even realize you're getting a workout. Its basis is aerobic activities, which are important for heart health, including interval training, resistance training, and fast and slow rhythms to the beat of lively music.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)
This workout style has been around since the 1970s, but it's coming back with a vengeance as people seek to find ways to pack more and more into their busy days. High intensity interval training relies on alternating between periods of intense activity, followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity movements. HIIT exercises are highly efficient and can be done anywhere, and they provide heart healthy and fat-burning exercises. For example, one basic workout is to run as fast as you can for one minute and then walk for two minutes, repeating this four more times for a 15-minute workout.
Drawing some inspiration from the military, boot camp workouts have become increasingly popular lately. They're fun because exercises have a lot of variability – based on the principles of strength, agility and cardio, and they're convenient – you need little more than your own body weight and an instructor. These bare essential exercises include things like jumping jacks, squats, sprints and pushups with little rest in between.
For some people, their playlists make all the difference between lackluster cardio workouts and the most refreshing workouts. The key to choosing your perfect cardio jams is to pick songs that match where you want your heartbeat to be during each part of the workout. Here are some tips for engineering your playlist:
Of course you should choose songs that you enjoy and that really pump you up, but it's important to place songs in the correct order for the maximum effectiveness. Pick songs based on their beats per minute (BPM). If you aren't sure how to find the BPM, you can use the site jog.fm to search for your favorite songs and determine where to place them in your routine. This site also offers playlist suggestions based on the time it takes you to run 1 mile. If you don't have time to engineer your own list, there are two new iPhone apps – Tempo Run and Cruise Control: Run – that will choose music for you based on your pace.
Keep in mind that the pacing of the music you choose will differ depending on whether you're running several miles or going for a fast-paced 5k. If you're running a marathon, most of your songs will be between 120 and 130 BPM, with a few higher BPM songs to get you pumped up when you need it most. If you're running shorter distances, here are some song ideas for each part of the workout:
Whether you're biking, running or spending time on the elliptical, it's important to have a warm-up so you don't pull anything. Pick two warm-up songs that are around 120 BPM. Here are some ideas:
- Song of the summer: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, Pharrell, 121 BPM
- Song of last summer: "We Found Love" by Rihanna, 128 BPM
- Alternative: "Hearts on Fire" by Cut Copy, 125 BPM
- Throwback: "Push It" Salt-N-Pepa, 128 BPM
Depending on how hard and long you plan to run, your cardio songs will probably be more than 145 BPM for sprints and between 130 and 140 for your recovery period. Here are some good ones:
- Song of the summer: "Ceiling Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, 146 BPM
- Song of last summer: "Rude Boy" by Rihanna, 174 BPM
- Alternative: "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure, 151 BPM
- Throwback: "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" by The Police, 165 BPM
A cool-down is also important for a cardio workout because it will reduce your muscle soreness later on and it allows your heart rate to gradually decline, helping you stave off post-workout dizziness. Pick two cool-down songs that are around 110 BPM, such as:
- Song of the summer: "Some Nights" by FUN, 108 BPM
- Song of last summer: "What Doesn't Kill You" by Kelly Clarkson, 116 BPM
- Alternative: "Gives You Hell" by The All-American Rejects, 100 BPM
- Throwback: "Rock Your Body" by Justin Timberlake, 101 BPM
Stand up paddleboarding, also known as SUP, has become an extremely popular sport for anyone living or vacationing near a body of water. Why has SUP become so popular? Besides the cool name and the fact that, unlike surfing, no massive tidal waves are involved, SUP is pretty strenuous, making it an excellent workout. Here are the basics about SUP:
What is it?
Stand up paddleboarding is a sport in which you stand on a board, similar to a surfboard, and use a single paddle to travel around on the water. It first originated in the 1960s in Hawaii as a way for instructors to take photos of the tourists learning to surf. Additionally, experienced surfers found that standing on their surfboards with a paddle was an efficient way to travel further distances to catch big waves.
SUP started gaining traction as a sport in the mid-2000s, partly because it's easy to learn. Surfers, snowboarders, skiers and other athletes use SUP as a cross-training activity because it provides an awesome full-body workout.
Everyone else is catching on, too. You can rent paddleboards and take lessons at virtually any tourist spot that is located near a body of water.
How can you get fit with SUP?
While standing on a paddleboard provides excellent views, it also provides a great core workout because it takes a lot of balance to stay upright.
The body's core is composed of abdominal muscles and the small muscles in the lower back. Getting a good core workout is important for athletes because it's transferable to any sport one plays. During SUP, you must continuously adjust your body weight from one foot to the other as you paddle to maintain balance on the board on an uneven surface – the water. You might only be slightly aware of it, but the motion of paddling causes you to rotate your torso while at the same time shifting your core muscles to balance against the force of your foot on the board as you lean forward to paddle. This twisting provides an excellent core workout. Just make sure to stretch before you hit the water!
There's also a new trend emerging in paddleboard fitness – SUP yoga. As balance and a strong core are important in yoga, doing different positions on a paddleboard is taking blanace and core strength to the next level! It's not recommended for beginners in either SUP or yoga, but one can likely work up to that point.