Healthy Holiday Tips That Won’t Leave You Feeling Deprived

Finding balance between your commitment to staying fit and well, reality, is tough and it only gets tougher in the holiday season. Close quarters and cold weather challenge our immune systems and unrestricted family time presents its own challenges to our mental health, not to mention the dinner table and the threat it poses to undoing our efforts to eat right and exercise. Here are six tips to stay on track this holiday season and beyond.

Have a good breakfast. While it’s tempting to skip breakfast to offset the damage of the feast to come, doing so sets up a cycle of plummeting blood sugar that leaves you likely to skip your workout, head into the festivities feeling cranky and unlikely to enjoy the party, and ready to put anything into your mouth to hold you over until dinner. Start your morning right with a protein-heavy meal that will hold you for hours to come. Including eggs in your breakfast is a great bet to support weight loss (or maintenance) and a healthy immune system. For just 70 calories per egg, you invest in a high nutrient food that is likely to leave you eating less throughout the day (as much as 400 calories less according to one study)!  You can offset the calories by including a quick workout that will rev up your metabolism and your mood for the rest of the morning.

Squeeze in a morning workout. You’ve already taken a big step towards making your daily workouts convenient and accessible through investing in your home fitness equipment. On days that you’re pressed for time, use your treadmill, elliptical or recumbent bike for a quality workout that packs a big impact in a short period of time. A High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session is approachable for all fitness levels and will rev up your metabolism and improve your blood sugar in as little as ten minutes (though if you can go for 20 that’s even better). Start out with a short warm-up of 2-5 minutes, then alternate between period of maximum effort (45-90 seconds) and recovery (1-2 minutes). The shorter the recovery period and the longer the intervals, the tougher your training session, so base your approach on your fitness level.  Finish your workout with 2-5 minutes of recovery and enjoy the bragging rights that workout gives you at the day’s festivities.

Practice gratitude. From lowering your blood pressure to improving your mental health, the benefits of gratitude go far beyond lip service. As you head into potentially stressful days, take the time to really recognize the abundance that exists in your daily life. If you have the time, you can even complete this gratitude exercise and see the difference that bringing appreciation into your morning creates throughout the day.

Make plans. Even though family events and a full house can bring their share of stress, they might also be good for you in the long run. Research shows that strong social connections lead to happier, longer lives. Steer clear of those you know set you off and take the opportunity to really connect with someone you care about, whether that’s in person or taking the time to call or send a card. Including the right people in your life can also be a great opportunity to boost your commitment to a healthy lifestyle through supporting your diet and exercise plans.

Get outside. While you’re enjoying your social connections, why not grab your favorite cousin or sibling and head outside? Not only does this give you the chance to create some memories, you can also ditch family members who might be less than supportive of your healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that spending time outdoors is good for you.  You’ll also receive benefits ranging from strengthened immunity, a healthy dose of Vitamin D (harder to come by at this dark time of year) and improved concentration (just the thing for cleaning up at the post-feast card game).

Enjoy your meal. Sure, the holiday table spread is loaded with caloric nightmares that start with butter and end with whipped cream, however, there are some seriously nutrient-dense choices that grace every traditional table as well. Enjoy your turkey, even the dark meat. Loaded with protein and iron, it’s filled with the stuff you need to build muscle and recover from your tough workouts. Whether you take them baked, in a casserole, or in pie form, enjoy your sweet potatoes and squash. They’re packed with beta carotene that can strengthen your resistance to the cold someone inevitably brought to the party, and maybe even help you to fight off cancer in the long run.

Wishing you a healthy holiday season!

The Benefits of Using Stationary Bikes

Although new exercise routines and regimens seem to appear on a daily basis, and treadmills and ellipticals continue to be the most popular cardio pieces in the gym, don’t overlook the original piece of stationary exercise equipment, the bike. The benefits of using an exercise bike are numerous and diversified. It is a great workout for beginning exercisers, elite athletes, those returning from injuries, or someone doesn’t have the space or budget for a high-end treadmill or elliptical.

Other than training your cardiovascular system and burning calories, the single most significant benefit to using a stationary bike is that it allows you to do those things without the pounding and impact of weight bearing exercises. An exercise bike allows you to train while giving your skeletal system and joints a break. So physiologically, you can see how it is useful to every type of exerciser.

Although there are dual action bikes (with upper body arms) available, most bikes in use today are lower body upright and recumbent bikes. Don’t fall into the trap believing that because you are not using your upper body, you are not getting a good workout. The largest muscles in the body are in your legs and when you put them in motion against resistance, you will get a great workout.

Stationary bikes are a great way for first time exercisers, overweight users looking to lose weight and those needing a low-impact workout to begin an exercise program. They are fixed motion pieces that require very little coordination and are relatively easy to use. You can elevate your heart rate and burn calories and fat without the stress of a weight bearing exercise.

For elite athletes, the bike provides a great complementary cross training workout, while reducing the risk of developing overuse injuries. You can get off your feet and give your joints a break from impact activities, yet you can continue to train your cardiovascular system. Each activity you do works your muscles differently. The bike can also add variety to you workout routines.

Finally, if you are recovering from an injury or joint replacement, the bike can be an integral part of your recovery and help get you back on your feet doing what you love to do.

Finally, cost and space. These are two of the biggest factors or hurdles people encounter when trying to decide on a piece of fitness equipment for the home. If you can’t commit to at least $1,500 for a quality treadmill or a $1,000 for a quality elliptical, a stationary bike may be the better option for you. There are many quality choices for under a $1,000. Or, if you are tight on space, the bikes take up less room and are portable. Just wheel it out in front of the TV and you are on your way to a healthier future.

Summary of Benefits

  • Trains cardiovascular system
  • Burns calories
  • Low impact
  • Easy to use
  • Low risk of injury
  • Helps develop leg strength
  • Excellent form of cross training
  • Can add variety to weight bearing exercise routines
  • Bikes take up less space
  • Are typically more affordable
  • Are portable

So if you’re in the market for a new piece of cardio equipment, consider an exercise bike for a great low impact workout that you can easily fit in your home.

Why Running is Good for Your Health

The jury still seems to be out on whether running is really good for you, but I’m here to make the case that it is. With a well-balanced workout plan, running can provide tremendous health and emotional benefits for years (and years) to come.Vision Fitness running lifestyle image

Improve Cardio Health

Running is a fantastic way to improve your heart strength. As you run, your need for oxygen and blood flow increases, therefore making your heart pump harder and more frequently to supply the muscles with the energy they need to keep you moving. As you continue a running program, your heart, much like your other muscles, get stronger and more efficient. Also, running improves your immunity, which means less sick days.

Improve Muscle Tone

It’s a misconception among non-runners and beginners that running only works your legs and your heart. In reality, a proper running form engages a variety of muscles, helping you create tone and definition. Endurance running is great for achieving a lean look overall, but if you want to focus on different areas, you should try different workouts. Shorter intervals and sprint workouts can really help target more fast-twitch muscles, which are different from the slow-twitch muscles used in slow and steady long runs. Incorporating hill sprints will also target additional muscles you might otherwise miss. By its very nature, running also helps engage your core – how else would you stay upright? Pumping your arms triggers your back and shoulder muscles. So, focus on using everything you’ve got with every stride you take.

Lose Weight and Increase Bone Mass

Common sense tells you that in order to lose weight your calorie intake has to be less than your calories burned. If you naturally burn 2,000 calories per day, you have a lot more leeway than someone who only burns 1,200. Running is a powerhouse when it comes to calorie expenditure, even when walking the same distance.

“When you walk, you keep your legs mostly straight, and your center of gravity rides along fairly smoothly on top of your legs. In running, we actually jump from one foot to the other. Each jump raises our center of gravity when we take off, and lowers it when we land, since we bend the knee to absorb the shock. This continual rise and fall of our weight requires a tremendous amount of Newtonian force (fighting gravity) on both takeoff and landing,” says Runner’s World Editor Amby Burfoot.

It’s also worth mentioning that running, a weight bearing activity, is also great for increasing bone density, helping to decrease your risk of osteoporosis. As you run, your muscles pull on your bones to withstand the stress of the activity, thereby also making your bones stronger.

Improve Your Emotional Health                                                         

Being part of a social group may help decrease risk for depression. There is an enormous community centered on those who enjoy running. You may benefit from seeking out a run buddy, but even if you choose to run solo, you can be active socially with online and in-person running groups. Share your triumphs and tribulations with those who can relate.

Another positive aspect of running is the fund-raising sector. Train for and run in a community race that raises money for a cause you support. Running for a charitable event is a great way to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. Plus, you may meet some new friends.

Running is also great for helping you sleep better at night, therefore giving you more energy during the day. It also increases endorphins, which are what prompts the runner’s high you may have heard of.

How to Prevent Injury

Running is an incredibly healthy sport, but as with all activities, there is always a risk for injury. Mitigate that risk with a few quick tips.

Follow a diet filled with lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Of course running is a great way to lose weight, but incorporating a healthy diet can also help get you to a manageable weight, reducing strain on your back, knees, hips and ankles.

Stay relaxed. While you run, try to focus on any tense areas, in your shoulders for example, and work on letting it go. Drop your shoulders, unclench your hands and relax your facial muscles.

Strengthen your running muscles. If you find you have achy knees, it may be an issue of hip strength. Try squeezing in a few sets of walking lunges, wall sits and planks into your non-running days. Increase foot stability and strength by spending some time barefoot and including some balance work. Also, try cross-training, like biking, which is a fantastic way to get stronger and faster.

Stretch and recover. What you do after and in between runs is just as important as your running and strength workouts. Warm up for a run with a fast walk, not by stretching cold muscles. You increase your risk for injury. Instead, save your static and dynamic stretching for after your run, when you’re warm and your muscles have loosened.

Also, use a foam roller – every day if you can – it will help you recover faster by getting at those really tight spots and reducing inflammation. Make no mistake; it will be painful – at first. But if you continue rolling every day, you’ll find the trouble areas will begin to melt a bit, and you will start to look forward to self-myofascial release.

If you feel a nagging pain, take time off from your workout. As always, prior to starting a new training program, check with your health care professional to make sure you are in good enough health.

So there you have it. If you have always wanted to try running, but have been afraid of the hype, fear not. Follow these tips for a healthy, happy running habit.

Sources:

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/health-benefits-of-running

http://www.runnersworld.com/weight-loss/how-many-calories-are-you-really-burning?page=single

http://www.livestrong.com/article/368647-running-your-bone-density/

http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/rehabilitation-exercises/lower-leg-ankle-exercises/strengthening-exercises-foot

http://beta.active.com/running/articles/10-selfmyofascial-release-exercises-for-runners

Fitness Equipment and Location, Location, Location!

I’m sure we are all somewhat familiar with that chant. They say it’s all about the location! When it comes to fitness equipment, location is also very important. Not necessarily which room will the equipment look best in, but which room is best for the product itself. Put it in a place that you like to be. There is no need to make using the equipment a hassle by going somewhere in your home you don’t want to be.

If you prefer looking outside at nature, people passing by or just the traffic, go ahead and put the product in front of a window. If you like to watch TV, then you can put your fitness equipment near a TV. Or, go ahead and buy a TV to put in front of your fitness equipment!

You may reference your Owner’s Guide for particular instructions, but generally you want your product in a finished, temperature-controlled part of your home. The unit should be on a level, stable surface, and make sure that you have enough space around the entire unit for safety (reference Owner’s guide for specific measurements). Humidity, heat and cold can all negatively affect how the product will operate, and if it doesn’t affect it immediately, it can cause problems later on. To that note, we highly recommend keeping equipment out of garages, unfinished basements or unenclosed sun rooms and porches.

These are just a few small tips on getting the most out of your product, and helping the product work its best for you. Think of it as any high-priced electronic item. Would you want to put that in a damp musty basement, and then hang out there? No, I didn’t think so.

 

 

Is Functional Training Right for You?

Functional training is a very popular term in the fitness community and with the general public these days. Although fitness professionals and enthusiasts are teaching and using the concepts, many in the mainstream population are not that familiar with the potential benefits and actual improvements these training methods could bring to their daily lives.

What is Functional Training?

Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation. Physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work in order to return them to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery. I have come across many definitions of functional training, both in strict literal terms and loose interpretations. As you do your research, I suspect you’ll encounter the same.

Functional training has actually evolved from, and now seems to encompass, some of the terms and benefits of core training. I like the following definition of functional training: A range of total body activities that build strength, balance and coordination for general fitness, and also improves your ability to easily perform day-to-day movements or activities. 

What Are the Benefits of Functional Training?

As with most fitness programs, functional training may be performed using various levels of difficulty and intensity. Although the average person can use it as a tool to help with every day activities, elite athletes and their trainers are using it to gain a competitive edge on the field of play.

To begin to understand functional training and its benefits, we must take a look at how it differs from traditional training methods we have used in the past.

  1. Functional training engages large groups of muscles and multiple joints; not just a single muscle or small group of closely related muscles.
  2. Functional training involves unrestricted, user-defined motion against resistance, which activates the neuromuscular system in ways that increase your balance and coordination.
  3. Finally, many of the exercises involve the core muscles of the body, which when trained properly, provide the strong foundation you need to live a healthy active life, perform activities you enjoy, or compete in your favorite sport.

In functional training, it is as critical to train the specific movement as it is to train the muscles involved in the movement. The brain, which controls the muscular movement, thinks in terms of whole motions, not individual muscles. Exercises that isolate joints and muscles are training muscles, not movements, which results in less functional improvement.

For example, a “non-functional,” single-joint exercise can play a critical role in helping to strengthen a weak link (weaker muscle) that a person may have, in order to restore proper muscle balance. Doing such an exercise can allow an individual to more effectively participate in functional training activities, while also reducing the risk of injury. For strength exercises to effectively translate to other daily movements (example, getting up from a chair), several components of the training movement need to be similar to the actual performance movement. This includes coordination, types of muscle contractions, speed of movement and range of motion.

There is also the “multiple planes of motion” theory many experts adhere to. Although this subject can get complicated in a hurry, it is quite simple in its premise. As we stated above, functional training is a user-defined movement which is not restricted by a predetermined path set by a machine. Therefore, the person working out determines the angles and planes on which to perform that movement. Moving forward and backward is one plane while side to side is another. Experts feel that a person gets maximum advantage through exercises that involve multiple planes of motion.

Is Functional Training for You?

We have all seen the warnings “to consult your physician before undertaking an exercise routine,” or something similar, posted in owner’s manuals of exercise equipment purchased. That’s always sound advice, but I would also advise you to consult a fitness professional if and when you decide to try functional training. User-defined and multiple plane training can open the door to injury if performed without some basic knowledge and direction.

In final analysis, it must be remembered that functional training, when properly applied, can provide exercise variety and additional training benefits that more directly transfer to improvements in real life activities. However, in my opinion, functional training should serve as a supplement to traditional strength training, not as a replacement.

Have you had success with functional training? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

Sources

  • Functional Training For Sports, Michael Boyle, Copyright 2004
  • Wikipedia
  • www.acefitness.org

Exercising During Pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy is just as important as eating right and getting good rest. Sure, we women attempt to take good care of ourselves on a regular basis, but pregnancy seems to elevate our focus on seeking out nutritious foods to help baby develop. But sometimes fitness can fall by the wayside to first trimester exhaustion or third trimester aches and pains. So how does one healthfully incorporate fitness into their daily routine once she finds she is expecting? Here are some tips to get you going on the right path.

The first question you have to consider is, were you exercising when you got pregnant or are you looking to start a program now that you are pregnant? Either scenario is fine, but different precautions and plans should be followed based on your situation.

If you were exercising before you got pregnant, it is advisable to continue. Be sure to communicate this with your physician so that together you can determine appropriate frequency, duration and intensity. There are many advantages to exercising prior to getting pregnant but, in my opinion, the number one advantage is that you know how to listen to your body. During pregnancy, you are naturally sensitive to your body’s changes. Mainly because there are so many! If you are in tune with your body already, some of these changes can be welcomed with little alarm. However, if you do not already have that built in awareness, every little change could potentially cause you to worry. The last thing you need right now is stress (save that for the sleepless nights the first few weeks).

If you were not exercising before you got pregnant but want to start now, no worries.  Your timing is just fine. The key is to take it slow. As with experienced exercisers, be sure to discuss your plans with your physician. And as with all exercise programs, start out slow and build into a routine of longer and more frequent workouts. If you are totally new to exercise, I would advise you to seek out a fitness specialist who can give advice on proper programs and techniques. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself!  There is a great deal of information out there on the subject of exercise and pregnancy.  Just keep in mind that this is written for the general public. That is why it is important to discuss your intentions with your physician and possibly a fitness specialist who can tailor your needs based on your situation.

Once the baby is born, it seems like our number one goal (aside from taking care of Junior) is losing that baby weight. Just think how much easier that can potentially be if you exercised and ate well during your pregnancy! During both of my pregnancies, I exercised all the way through. Swimming was my main focus. The one thing no one told me was how hard it was to get back into the swing of things six to eight weeks after the babies were born. I was so ready to start back, but when I actually went out to walk, run or swim – things felt different. I had stop and remember what my body had just been through. I took it slow and eased back into my workouts. I definitely could not just jump back in like I imagined and that was a little frustrating. I am so glad that I did work out during my pregnancy because if I did not and felt the way I did after each of my babies was born I probably never would have started exercising!

Jen is the mother of two children: Sarah, age 3 ½, and Connor, age 9 months.

5 Tips to Maintain Your Fitness During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is notorious for decadent treats, calorie-laden drinks and a jam-packed schedule. So it’s no wonder that the Thanksgiving feast, watching football and festive beverages are in your top 10 list of things to be thankful for kicking off this holiday season. However, breaking out the elastic waistbands and stocking up on cookies and candies can wreak havoc on your health and fitness goals. With some careful preparation and using some tips from football, you can scoreboard the holiday season with confidence.

Have a game plan

Like many others, you may be spending the next couple months celebrating holidays with families, often traveling to get there, plus going to parties and managing your normal day-to-day on top of it all. It’s easy to let fitness fall by the wayside. But just professional football teams, going in with a game plan can make an enormous difference in setting yourself up for success. If you don’t subscribe to using calendars and lists throughout the rest of the year, try to make an exception for the holiday season.

Whether you prefer print or digital, there are a myriad of ways to create a to-do list and schedule. A weekly calendar and task list can give you an idea of everything you have coming up so you don’t feel blindsided by that child’s holiday party or Christmas dinner at Aunt Debbie’s you might have forgotten about. A daily to-do list with tasks and times can keep you focused on getting projects done without losing track of the day or forgetting what you were doing. Click here for a free weekly and daily organizer you can use to stay organized.

Start by adding any concrete meetings, appointments or parties in your schedule. Then start adding tasks you need to accomplish each day in order to be ready when your next event rolls around. Last, but not least important, schedule your workout. If you’re incredibly busy, aim for two or three workouts per week. It will keep you in the goal-achieving mindset without undoing all the hard work you’ve done throughout the year or making you feel guilty for not getting other things accomplished.

Optimize the plays

The play clock only has so many seconds on it, just as you only have so many hours in the day. Make the most of the time you’ve scheduled for a workout by performing the Sprint 8® workout. This amazing 20-minute aerobic workout has been medically proven to boost energy, reduce body fat, promote lean muscle mass, improve your cholesterol and increase bone density through the natural release of human growth hormone.

Each Sprint 8 workout consists of:

  • A four-minute warm up and cool down
  • Eight, 30-second sprints
  • Eight, 90-second active recovery periods.

That’s only four minutes of intense cardio per session. When performed three times per week, that equals 12 total minutes of high-intensity exercise per week and only an hour total of exercise.

Plan for substitutions

Exercise and diet go hand in hand. Although it’s extremely helpful to keep up with a semi-consistent fitness routine throughout the holidays, incorporating some healthy eating throughout can keep weight gain at bay. Of course, everyone indulges a little during the holidays, but some simple, tasty substitutions can allow you to enjoy without feeling guilty or miserable afterwards.

Love potatoes? Try mashed cauliflower. It offers the same creamy, fluffy texture without all of the starch and calories. You can still add some of your favorite mix-ins and toppings for a more traditional mashed potato flavor. Click here for a recipe idea. You can also forgo the sweet potato casserole by making baked sweet potatoes topped with a little butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. Or, try oven-baked sweet potato fries.

Can’t pass up dessert? Apple, blueberry, pumpkin and pecan – pies are the quintessential dessert of the holidays. It can be tough to say “no,” to one or more helpings with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Try eliminating some calories by taking out the crust and making “crumbles” instead of pies. You still get a little buttery, flaky crunch. Another tip is to make your fillings using fresh fruit instead of canned fruit. It’s extra effort, but the taste is equally, if not more, incredible and it’s more health conscious on many levels.

Take TV timeouts

Yes, there are parades and football games and Christmas specials to watch. However, scheduling some timeouts from TV-watching may be just the ticket to keep you from feeling lethargic and falling asleep during your third college football game of the day. Take advantage of nice weather and get outside for an hour.

Plan a sledding event with friends or family for a fun way to spend time with those you care about and get some exercise in. Schedule a game of two-hand touch or half-court basketball between dinner and dessert to stay awake and earn some of those sweets you’ll consume. Other ideas include building a snowman or snow fort, ice skating, skiing or snowboarding.

Celebrate your success

When football players score a touchdown, they don’t wait to get home to do their end zone celebration. You shouldn’t have to either. Only ate one piece of pie? Skipped the potatoes? Ate white meat instead of dark? Good for you! Celebrate your small successes with family and friends in person, on the phone or online. You may even want to join a like-minded group on an online community like SparkPeople ahead of time to stay inspired and to have a place to brag where your achievements will be supported. You can even post your success here in the comments section.

The holidays are a flurry of activity, but it doesn’t have to be a time of dread or diet deceit leading up to the New Year. Following these simple tips will help you stay on the ball and keep you focused on your health and fitness goals throughout even the busiest weeks.

Have a plan in place or maybe some tips that have helped you in the past? Share them in the comments.