Seated Stretching Routine

7 Stretches that Reduce Stiffness and Tension
  — By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
When you spend a lot of time sitting, especially at a desk or computer, it’s important to take stretch breaks. A couple of breaks each day will help you stay alert and keep stiffness at bay. This set of stretches is perfect for people who are already sitting or those who prefer to stay seated for balance reasons. Make sure the chair you are using is sturdy. Remember never to stretch to the point of pain. For more stretching tips and guidelines, refer to our Reference Guide to Stretching.

Hold each stretch listed for 15-30 seconds, repeating two or three times, depending on how you feel. For detailed instructions and larger photos, click on the name of each stretch. Please note that while some of these stretches depict various body positions, you can perform these upper body stretches while sitting in a chair.

Neck Stretch
Sit or stand with shoulders relaxed, back straight. Bring your left ear toward your left shoulder and hold. Roll your head toward the ground and bring your chin to your chest. Hold and finally, roll your head to the right and bring that ear to your right shoulder. Inhale and exhale in a slow and controlled manner.

Chest and Biceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms. With arms straight, lift arms up behind you while keeping your back straight and your shoulders down. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears.

Triceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Place your left elbow in your right hand. Reach your left arm overhead, placing palm on the center of your back and supporting the elbow in your right hand. Reach your fingertips down your spine. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Repeat with opposite arm.

Shoulder Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Bring your left arm across your chest, holding it below the elbow with your opposite. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Wrist and Biceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Extend left arm in front of you, palm facing outward and fingertips pointing downward. Use your right hand to apply light pressure to the hand, as if pulling your fingertips toward your elbow. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Wrist and Forearm Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Extend left arm in front of you, palm facing outward and fingertips pointing upward. Use your right hand to apply light pressure to the hand, as if pulling your fingertips toward your shoulder. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Torso Stretch
Clasp hands together and slowly raise them above your head toward the ceiling. Reach as high as you can while inhaling deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds. Bring your hands down slowly while exhaling.


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7 Places Germs Hide at Your Gym

Where They Lurk & How to Avoid Them
  — By Melissa Rudy, Staff Writer
You hit the gym to improve your fitness, not to pick up sickness. But with the combination of sweat, humidity, shared equipment and confined spaces, health clubs can be hotbeds for germs. From the common cold to hepatitis A to Novovirus, there could be dozens of bacteria and viruses lurking in, on and around your favorite workout gear—some of which can live for days on hard surfaces. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that 63 percent of workout equipment was contaminated with rhinoviruses (RVs), which are known to cause the common cold as well as upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

This doesn’t mean you should stop going to the gym—the benefits far outweigh the risks. With the right awareness and precautions, you can still get your sweat on without bringing home any unwelcome companions. The first step to avoiding gym germs is knowing where they live. Below are some of their favorite health club hangouts, along with precautions you can take to protect yourself.

Hotspot #1: Water Fountains

Studies have found that water fountains can actually harbor more bacteria than toilets, as their wet surface makes them a breeding ground for germs. The basin is most likely to be contaminated, but the handle may also contain some nasty microbes.

The safest way to hydrate is to bring your own water bottle. If you must use the fountain, follow these precautions: Turn it on for a few seconds before drinking from it, don’t let your mouth come in direct contact with the spigot, touch only the handle and wash your hands afterward.

Hotspot #2: Locker Rooms and Showers

Germs thrive in wet, humid areas–putting locker rooms and showers right in the danger zone. The biggest threat is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that can cause skin infections. Showers can also pass along warts, ringworm, strep, athlete’s foot and other not-so-fun fungi.

The best way to stay safe is to shower at home—but if you must lather up in the locker room, wear flip-flops to avoid coming in direct contact with floor-dwelling microbes (and to prevent slipping). Other best practices include bringing your own antimicrobial soap and shampoo, drying your feet thoroughly after showering, and wearing a towel when sitting in the steam room or sauna.

Hotspot #3: Yoga Mats

Next time you’re doing crunches or settling into your favorite stretch, consider that your exercise mat most likely absorbed the sweat and germs of whoever last sweated on it. The best precaution is to bring your own mat. If you must use a shared mat, wipe it down with a disinfecting spray before and after each use, and place a towel on the mat as an extra germ barrier.

Hotspot #4: Cardio Machines

Treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes are great for burning calories, but the trade-off could be a burning fever later. To reduce the threat, use hand sanitizer after your workout. Most gyms provide sanitizing spray to wipe down machines before and after each use.

Hotspot #5: Weight Machines & Free Weights

As people do full-body exercises with shared weight machines, there’s a bigger chance of spreading germ-filled sweat. Again, sanitizer is the best defense: Spray down and wipe each machine before and after each use, and apply hand sanitizer between sets.

Hotspot #6: Gym Bags

In addition to clothes and gear, your gym bag could pick up some unwelcome passengers—like E. coli, Norovirus and staph—through contact with benches and floors. To prevent this, choose a bag in a material that’s less germ-friendly, such as plastic or vinyl, and wipe it down with disinfecting spray when you get home. Store sweaty clothes in a separate plastic bag.

Hotspot #7: Towels

Even if the gym’s towels have been washed, they could have picked up bacteria or viruses from baskets, benches or lockers. To stay clean, dry and germ-free, bring your own towels from home: One to absorb sweat during workouts and another if you’re showering.

Quick Tips for Germ-Free Workouts

  • Before choosing a new gym, take a tour and check to make sure it’s clean and well-ventilated. Ask about the gym’s policies for day-to-day cleaning of equipment and machines.
  • Keep any cuts covered with a moisture-resistant bandage during workouts. Most infections enter the skin through lacerations.
  • Bring your own water bottle, mat, towels, boxing gloves and toiletries.
  • Wipe down all cardio and weight machines with sanitizing spray before and after using.
  • Wear flip-flops in the shower and locker room.
  • Wear a towel when sitting in the steam room or sauna.
  • Even if you plan to shower at home, wash your hands before leaving the gym.
  • Store sweaty workout clothes separately from other items.
  • Spray your gym bag with sanitizing spray and wipe it down after each use.
  • If you notice any skin irritations, such as a rash or red, painful area, contact a doctor to check for possible infection.

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13 Naturally Green (and Good-for-You) Recipes

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with These Healthy Dishes
  — By Stepfanie Romine, Staff Writer
St. Patrick’s Day is the one day of the year when it’s easy to be green! Unfortunately most of the popular green foods are simply tinted with dye… and aren’t very nutritious. While a green beer can have a place in an otherwise healthy eating plan, we thought it would be more fun to round up food that are naturally green–and good for you!

Be sure to “Pin” this graphic for easy reference.

Artichoke-Spinach Dip: This creamy, dreamy dip is packed with two green veggies. Good hot or cold, it’s the hit of any party.

Basil-Avocado Spread: What do you get when you mix guacamole with pesto? This delicious spread, which is equally scrumptious on sandwiches, pasta and crackers as it is with raw veggie dunkers.

Classic Spinach Dip
: This classic dip is made healthier with a whole package of frozen spinach, plus water chestnuts for crunch. Serve it cold in a whole-grain bread bowl, and tear off bits to eat with the dip.

Creamy Asparagus Soup
: This spring vegetable yields a rich yet light soup that’s the perfect hue for a St. Paddy’s Day bash. We like it topped with chopped ham.

Creamy Pesto: While pesto is usually heavy on the oil, this version swaps in a light cheese–and adds plenty of garlic and spinach for a nutrition boost. You could serve it over pasta (we like penne) or with crackers for a snack.

Greek Spinach Pie (Spanikopita): Make flaky pastry and salty feta a bit healthier by adding a whole bunch of spinach to the mix. Suddenly a savory pastry becomes a more saintly dish.

Mushy Peas with Dill: Instead of mashed potatoes, try mashed peas, which pair perfectly with fresh summertime herbs like dill or parsley. These “mushy” peas are a traditional side in the emerald isle.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus: Paper-thin slices of salty prosciutto are the perfect contrast to crisp, fresh asparagus. This easy dish turns a cherished vegetable to festive hors d’oeuvres without many calories.

Spinach Cheese Pie: Spinach and cheese are such a great pairing that we had to share two versions. This recipe yields a cross between spanakopita and a quiche, making it a filling side dish.

Tabbouleh: Brighten up bulgur with fresh herbs and chopped vegetables. This hearty salad is a nice balance to salty corned beef.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde: The mild flavor of tomatillos pairs well with other green ingredients like cilantro and jalapenos. This salsa is great with veggies and chips–or use it as an enchilada sauce!

Vegan Cilantro Pesto: Cilantro lightens and brightens olive tapenade to create a fun take on pesto. Spread on crackers, use as a pasta sauce, or add a dollop to grilled chicken or fish.

Vegetarian Collard Wraps: Ditch the tortilla and wrap your burrito in a steamed collard leaf to cut calories and carbs. You can actually use this tactic for all your favorite sandwiches and wraps. These are a fun presentation for a St. Patrick’s Day party–or any special occasion.

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Why It’s Important to Focus on What You Gain in Weight Loss

  — By Sara Lindberg
People jump into health and fitness plans for a lot of reasons—maybe a new diet promising amazing benefits has been floating around social media, perhaps it’s part of your new job’s health incentive program or you’ve been roped into a monthly challenge with your best friend. Whatever the reason, if you’re anything like the millions of Americans who go full-force into a healthy eating and exercise program, though, there’s a good chance you’ll lose motivation and regain any lost weight when the initial excitement wears off.

The real question then becomes, why do we keep looking for the “best” diet plan—you know, the one that will finally be the answer to every weight-loss roadblock—without first addressing the real reason why you want to lose weight?

What Is Your “Why” for Wanting to Lose Weight?

Most diet programs focus only on the “what” of weight loss. Participants have a list of foods they can and cannot eat and losing weight is the only pre-determined outcome. Goals are set based on the answer to one question: “How much weight do you want to lose?”

And consequently, your success is measured by the scale, not by how you feel. Unfortunately, when your focus is only on what you want to lose, the results are often short-lived. After all, physical appearance can only bring you so far—real happiness lies in a healthy lifestyle and positive body image.

Shifting your focus from what you want to lose to what you want to gain, or your “why,” is no easy feat, though. Ditching the fixed diet mindset can be difficult— especially if your value comes from external sources like your doctor, spouse, friends or societal expectations.

So, what should you do instead?

According to NASM-certified trainer Dani Singer, director of Fit2Go Personal Training, the key is to forget about all of the external sources telling you (be it directly or indirectly) to lose weight and figure out why you, as an individual, want to get in shape. Defining your “why” before you decide which weight-loss program to commit to is often the single-most important step you can take if you want to achieve lasting change.

But here’s the catch: Your “why” can’t just be, “I want to lose weight.” You need to dig deeper and find out why you actually care enough to proactively work toward self-improvement.

“Your why is everything,” says Singer. “If you don’t understand exactly how your weight-loss goals are going to affect the important areas of your life, you’re going to drop off as soon as you hit the first road bump.”

From a psychological perspective, the “why” behind human behavior is as important, if not more, than the “what.” That’s because when you target a deeper motivation for why you want to lose weight, you’re able to target the behavior (the what) that will help you reach your goals.

“Chronic dieting and a weight loss focus are two of the barriers to shedding weight and keeping it off, as well as [being] major promoters of weight-cycling and the despair felt by many people who struggle with food and the scale,” says intuitive eating counselor Paige O’Mahoney, M.D.

She explains that weight loss is an external goal and doesn’t work as well as internal goals such as living a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to consistent self-care, body appreciation and self-kindness.

Moreover, she says, weight-loss as a goal puts the emphasis on the end of a process, whereas focusing on habits such as tuning into hunger and satiety signals, practicing kind and motivating self-talk, and nutritious eating, focus on the process itself.

Defining Your “Why”

If you are struggling to define your “why” one thing to consider is whether or not you have a personal or emotional investment in what you are trying to accomplish. If the answer is “no,” then you need to go back to the drawing board and start over. Try asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Why is losing weight important to me?
  2. Why does that reason matter?
  3. Why do I feel strongly about that reason?

Once you have determined your “why,” the motivation to change should be obvious. Singer recommends envisioning your life and detailing exactly what is going to be different as a result of achieving your goals. People who are intrinsically motivated are far more successful than those who are only motivated by extrinsic rewards.

What if your only driving force is that you really just want to lose weight, though? How do you adjust your mindset? While it’s easy to say, “I want to lose weight because I want to be healthy, so I’ll never drink another diet soda or eat another cookie again,” it’s rarely realistic. Realistic goals lead to a realistic life, so do your best to set manageable goals that will eventually result in sustainable change.

“It’s important to set realistic goals, that you can achieve easily in the first few weeks so you have success—even if it’s small—which can help motivate you to keep moving forward,” explains nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D. When you’re ready and willing to reset your “why,” consider the end first. What will be easier when you lose weight? How will your health improve? How will your overall wellness benefit? Will your happiness improve?

Shifting your focus from what you want to lose (i.e., 20 pounds) to what you want to gain—more energy, improved physical and mental health, more quality time with family, etc.—will help you stay on track when you inevitably encounter setbacks.

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25 Cheap Foods That Are Good for You!

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Get BIG Nutrition for Less Dough
  — By Stepfanie Romine, Staff Writer
Watching your wallet and your waistline can be tricky. Eating right is easy when money is no object, but a trip to the supermarket often yields frustration for healthy eaters on a budget (which is most of us!). Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein are on your list, but they’re so much pricier than Ramen noodles, frozen pizzas and bottles of soda!

Sure, some healthful foods are more expensive, but the same rules of smart shopping apply: Price compare, be flexible about brands and choose larger sizes to save money per serving.

To help make your next shopping trip a breeze, we’ve scanned the shelves and roamed the aisles to find 25 foods that are nutritious and affordable. (Prices from, Cincinnati area, September 2016. These prices will vary according to location.)


1. Canned salmon: $2.75 for 14.75 ounces (39 cents per serving)
Get your Omega-3’s for less. Salmon is full of these healthy fats, which help lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks.

2. Chicken breasts: $7.49 per 2.5-pound bag (58 cents per serving)
Easy-to-prepare, chicken is full of lean protein, which helps keep you fuller longer.

3. Natural peanut butter: $1.99 for 16 ounces (14 cents per serving)
Skip the sugary, processed varieties and spread the real stuff on whole-grain bread. Throw a tablespoon in smoothies or yogurt, use it as a dip for carrots and pretzels or mix it with a bit of low-sodium soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic, then thin with water for a quick sauce.

4. Canned beans: $1.00 for 16 ounces (29 cents per serving)
Bulk up soups and stews while getting protein and fiber. Try chickpeas or black beans if you’re not a fan of kidneys or pintos. Drain, rinse and blend with lemon juice, garlic, cumin and a bit of vegetable broth for a quick dip.

5. Eggs: $1.89 for a dozen large (16 cents per serving)
Not just for breakfast, eggs are among the easiest foods to cook. If you’re watching your cholesterol, scramble one egg and two egg whites. Add onion and spinach and you’ve got a great omelet.

6. Dried lentils: $1.49 per pound (11 cents per serving)
Full of protein and fiber, lentils cook in just 15 minutes! Throw some in soups and stews or cook with curry powder for a quick, spicy meal.

7. Almonds: $6.49 for 12 ounces (54 cents per serving)
Get vitamin E, fiber and protein while satisfying a crunchy craving. Nuts are rich in an amino acid that could be linked to heart benefits. Chop a few raw ones and throw them on yogurt.


8. Frozen berry medley: $4.19 for 12 ounces ($1.40 per serving)
Throw some in the blender with milk or yogurt for a healthy treat. Frozen berries can be used in oatmeal or drained and baked into muffins and quick breads.

9. Apples: $1.68 per pound (84 cents per serving)
They might not keep the doctor away, but apples are actually full of antioxidants, which help slow the progression of age-related diseases.

10. Bananas: 54 cents per pound (27 cents per serving)
Slice one on your morning yogurt or oatmeal for some added fiber and only 100 calories or so. Snack on a potassium-rich banana to prevent cramps after a workout.

11. Grapes: $1.49 per pound (57 cents per serving)
Freeze grapes for a low-calorie dessert or snack. Grapes–especially the dark purple ones–contain plenty of antioxidants that are known to help heart health.


12. Romaine lettuce or other hearty lettuce: $1.59 per pound (80 cents per serving)
Banish the iceberg and choose sturdy Romaine for your salads. It will give you more fiber and nutrients, plus a satisfying crunch.

13. Carrots: 89 cents per pound (44.5 cents per serving)
Mom was right. Carrots are good for your eyes, thanks to the antioxidants, including beta-carotene, in them. (That’s what makes them orange!) Dip them in hummus (made from canned beans), natural peanut butter or low-fat dressings.

14. Frozen spinach: $1.79 for 16 ounces (36 cents per serving)
Thaw and drain this good-for-your green, then toss it in omelets, soups, stir-fries and pasta sauces. Spinach is full of vitamins A, C and K, plus fiber and even calcium.

15. Canned tomatoes: 89 cents for 14.5 ounces (25 cents per serving)
Choose low-sodium varieties and throw a can in pasta sauces and chili to stretch a meal. Puree a can with a cup of skim milk and season to taste for your own tomato soup. You’ll get a dose of vitamins A, B and C and lycopene, an antioxidant known to prevent cancer.

16. Garlic: 33 cents per head (3 cents per serving)
Ditch the bottled and powdered stuff if you want to reap more of the myriad of health benefits. Pungent and tasty, garlic can help lower cholesterol and blood clots, plus it can have a small effect on high blood pressure. Crush or chop it to release more of the antioxidants.

17. Sweet potatoes: $1.29 cents per pound (96 cents per serving)
Aside from being sweet and delicious, these bright root vegetables are a great source of fiber and antioxidants. Bake, mash or roast them–you’ll forget about those other, paler potatoes.

18. Onions: $1.49 per pound (74 cents per serving)
Like garlic, this smelly vegetable is full of health benefits. Onions have been proven to lower risks for certain cancers, and they add flavor with few calories. Try roasting them to bring out their sweetness and cut their harsh edge. (If you well up while cutting them, store onions in the fridge for a tear-free chop.)

19. Broccoli: $1.29 per bunch (22 cents per serving)
Broccoli is like a toothbrush for your insides. Full of fiber, it will provide you vitamins A and C, plus fiber and a host of antioxidants. Broccoli is a superstar in the nutrition world.

Whole Grains

20. Whole-grain pasta: $1.00 for 1 pound (13 cents per serving)
With a nutty flavor and a subtle brown color, whole-wheat pasta perks up any meal. Start with half regular, half whole-wheat pasta, then gradually add more wheat pasta for a burst of fiber and nutrients.

21. Popcorn kernels: $1.99 for 32 ounces (.066 cents per serving)
Air-popped popcorn has just 30 calories and a trace of fat. Pop a few cups, spritz with an olive oil or butter spray and sprinkle on your favorite seasonings for a guilt-free treat.

22. Brown rice: $1.99 for 14 ounces (22 cents per serving)
Brown rice is a great side dish, but you can also use it to help stretch your ground meat. Mix a cup of cooked rice with 8 ounces of lean ground beef next time you make meatloaf to save 45 calories and five grams of fat (and some money) per serving.

23. Oats: $3.50 for 42 ounces (12 cents per serving)
Oatmeal is a hearty breakfast, but you can also cook sturdy steel-cut oats in chicken broth for a savory side dish. Or, mix oats with ground turkey to stretch your meatballs.


24. Quarts of low- or fat-free yogurt: $2.59 for 32 ounces (57 cents per serving)
Buy large containers of plain or vanilla yogurt, then add real fruit. You’ll save money and calories by not buying fancy single-serve yogurts.

25. Gallon of skim milk: $1.99 (13 cents per serving)
It really does a body good. Full of calcium and protein, milk can help stretch a meal. Pair an eight-ounce glass with a piece of fruit or a granola bar for a filling snack.

(Prices from, Cincinnati area, September 2016)

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5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Do You Avoid These Danger Zones?
  — By Dean Anderson, Certified Personal Trainer
Most people believe that all exercises are good, safe and effective. After all it’s exercise—and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

The truth is that some common exercises aren’t safe at all (especially for people who have muscle, joint, and health problems). Certain exercises require a bit more know-how than the average person possesses. And other exercises are downright wastes of your time.

But before we examine some of the most controversial exercises, I want to make it clear that every exercise on this list isn’t always unsafe or ineffective for everyone. What you should do—or avoid—depends on your goals, fitness level, health history, workout schedule, and other personal issues. An article like this can’t replace your own efforts to identify your goals and needs. That requires you to do some research on your own, talk to your medical professional about any pain or physical limitations you have, and learn how to exercise with proper form and technique.

So what makes an exercise risky? Here are a few red flags to look out for:

  • Any unusual or “unnatural” movement pattern in the exercise
  • Any movement that causes pain or discomfort in any way
  • Any movement that enhances muscular imbalances that are already present
  • Any movement that requires joint flexibility that is above and beyond your range of motion
  • Any exercise with risks of injury that outweigh the potential benefit of the exercise itself

That said, the following exercises pose high risks and are generally considered controversial by reputable fitness organizations and experts.

Think Twice Before Trying These 5 Moves

1. Behind-the-Head Lat Pull-Downs
In the old days, people were actually taught to pull the bar behind their heads when doing a lat pull-down exercise–and many people still do that today. Bad idea.

The problem? Pulling the bar behind the neck puts far too much stress on the shoulder joint, explains Michele Olson, PhD, an ACSM fellow and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

“The amount of outward rotation on the humerus combined with pulling it downward has a very un-stabilizing effect on the shoulder joint. The top of the humerus is actually pushing outward and away from the joint, overstretching the tendons and ligaments on the front of the shoulder,” she explains, which can lead to injury. In addition, almost anyone who spends their days deskbound is likely to have rounded shoulders or poor posture—a symptom of poor shoulder flexibility (among other things). Pulling the bar behind your neck only accentuates this misalignment, making this exercise a no-no.

The Alternative: You can still work your lats without the risk of behind-the-head pull-downs by pulling the bar down in front of you. Sit with your spine straight, abs pulled in, and then lean your torso back slightly, keeping your spine straight. Pull the bar down towards your chest, but not below your collar bone.

<pagebreak> 2. Hovering Leg Lifts
Boot camps, yoga classes and sometimes even your old P.E. class or sports coach probably led you to do this common move: Lie on your back (with your head and shoulders either down on the ground or “crunched” up like the picture shows) and lift your straight legs right off the ground to hover just a few inches from the floor in order to work your abs.

The problem? Sure this engages your abs, but lifting your extended legs straight off the ground “puts an incredible amount of stress on the lower back and can lead to injury,” warns Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, and exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym (Williams Morrow, 2011). “The cost-benefit of this move is simply too high,” he says,” and there are numerous better ways to work the abdominals without the risk.”

The Alternatives: Work your abs without straining your lower back by starting with your legs up in the air (not lifting them from the ground) in line with the hips. Then lower your straight legs down to about a 45-degree angle—or only as far as you can lower the legs without feeling any strain in the back and without changing the position of your back (don’t arch or flatten). See a demo of these straight-leg lowers here. You can make this movement even safer if you have back issues by doing it with bent knees. Or work your abs doing standard bicycle crunches or plank exercises.

3. Seated Knee Extensions
This is a very popular exercise for targeting the muscles on the front of your thighs (quadriceps).

The Problem? This exercise poses major risks to the knees when the weight is heavy and when the knees are fully extended. Lifting heavy weights in this position (with all the resistance focused at your ankles) is not what the knee was designed to do. If you have any kind of knee problem, or use a too much resistance during this exercise, you can easily run into big trouble. Here’s why. Fully straightening the knees against this type of resistance “puts an extreme amount of shear stress on the knee joint, which can strain the tendons and overly compress the knee’s cartilage,” says Olson.

The Alternatives: Simple squats and lunges (known as closed chain exercises) with or without added weight, will work your thigh muscles naturally, safely and effectively. If you want to expand on these exercises (to develop explosive force for sports like soccer, basketball, or volleyball, for example), try sport-specific plyometrics. If you can’t do lunges and squats because you lack the leg strength, start with simple ball squats or modified “mini” lunges, and only lower yourself part way, gradually increasing your range of motion as you get stronger.

Olson also suggests that you can modify this exercise to make it safer. Simply lift the weight (extend the knees) just halfway versus all the way up to straight legs. This also gives the quads some direct isolation work while minimizing knee stress. She also suggests lifting a weight that isn’t too heavy—you should be able to do about 18 reps on this exercise. If you can’t do that many, the weight is too heavy to be safe.

4. Inner and Outer Thigh Machine Exercises
These machines are pretty popular in most gyms. Both involve sitting with your knees bent in front of you. The adduction machine is designed to target the muscles of the inner thighs, and the abduction machine helps target the outer thigh muscles.

The Problem? Using your inner and outer thighs to lift weight while in a seated position puts you at risk of straining these relatively small muscles and aggravating lower back and hip problems. In addition, your inner and outer thigh muscles are designed to support movement, not to be prime movers like they are in these types of exercises.

The Alternatives: The best way to target these muscles safely is with body weight exercises, such as standing adduction, standing abduction, lying adduction and abduction exercises, Pilates exercises, or similar movements that use resistance bands or the cable cross machines. Always start with a weight you know you can handle, and add resistance gradually.

5. Upright Rows
In this exercise, you stand holding a barbell or weight in the center, with hands close together, and bring your hands up under your chin.

The Problem? Upright rows are controversial because they cause the upper arm bone (humerus) to bang up against the AC (acromion process) joint, according to Olson, which can compress the nerves in the shoulder area and damage the cartilage in the AC joint, which can lead to arthritis.

The Alternatives: The purpose of this exercise is to work the shoulders (deltoids) and upper traps. So instead of standing to perform an upright row, try bent-over rows, bending forward 90 degrees at the hip, holding weight down beneath your shoulders with hands slightly more than shoulder width apart, then lift weight straight up towards your chest until elbows and shoulders form a straight line. You can also try front or lateral shoulder raises, using a modest weight, so that you don’t need to lean back or use momentum for assistance.
Olson also suggests a row variation that keeps the humerus moving behind the AC joint but still targets the desired muscles. This safe variation with a resistance band shows the movement, but you can also perform this exercise standing upright and/or holding dumbbells, palms facing the body.

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4 Signs It’s Time to Step Off the Scale

Does Weight Weigh Heavily on Your Mind?
  — By Jason Anderson, Certified Personal Trainer
It cannot talk yet it speaks to you. Some days it makes you giddy with delight. Other days it puts you into a deep depression. It judges you on a superficial level. The thought of it is enough to worry even the most optimistic person. What am I talking about? The notorious bathroom scale.

What is with this obsession we have with the scale? For most people, the scale can be an adversary or an ally, depending on the day. We often hate what it says or argue with it, but we still feel the desire to use it. When used properly and taken for what it is, it can actually be a very useful tool for weight management. But for many, the scale does more than measure the total weight of all your various parts. It somehow defines who you are as a person. And sadly, it can determine your own self-worth. We read way too much into this single-purposed tool.

Here are four signs that you might put too much weight on weighing in:

1. You constantly worry about weighing in.
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s normal to experience some hesitation when it’s time for your weekly weigh in. After all, you want to see the numbers go down as confirmation that all of your hard work has paid off. We all want to be rewarded for our efforts, and it can be discouraging when you have done everything right and things still don’t pan out. However, if you find yourself preoccupied with worrisome thoughts of what the scale is going to say tomorrow or the next day, then you might be a little too obsessed with the scale.

2. You weigh in more than once per day.
SparkPeople recommends weighing in once a week (or even less). Ever wonder why it’s not a good idea to do it more often? Your body weight can and will fluctuate from day to day, and change throughout a single day, too. There is no sense in putting yourself on that roller coaster of ups and downs. In the war on weight, if you become so concerned that you weigh yourself daily or several times a day, you are fighting a losing battle and you will be discouraged. If you feel like you can’t control yourself or stop yourself from weighing in each day, then you could be headed for trouble.

3. You can recite your weight to the nearest fraction at all times.
This is a sure sign that you are relying too heavily on the scale. Anyone who can tell you not only how much she weighs each day, but measures her weight loss to the nearest quarter of a pound is probably weighing in too often. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see a lower number on the scale, even if it’s a quarter pound lower, but remember that weighing in is more about trends (an average decrease or consistency in weight over time).

4. The scale determines how you feel about yourself for the day.
When the number is down, you step off the scale singing and have a jump in your step all day. When the number goes up (or stays the same when you expected a loss), you feel like Charlie Brown walking around with a rain cloud above your head. To me, this is the saddest situation of all—to let the scale dictate how you should feel. How would you feel about yourself if you hadn’t weighed in that day? What other ways would you determine your self-worth if weight didn’t exist?

If one (or all) of these situations sound familiar to you, it’s time to step away from the scale. Go cold turkey. Or at the very least, weigh in less often. But what’s a “compulsive weigher” to do?

Instead letting the scale alone determine whether you’re a success or failure, use more reliable measures to determine your progress. My philosophy is that weight loss is not a goal, but the result of healthy habits like a better diet and regular exercise. When you do step on the scale and don’t see the reading you had hoped for, ask yourself these questions: Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing? Am I making healthy food choices most of the time? Am I exercising consistently? If you are, then rust that your body is making positive changes, and the results will come. If you are not, then resolve to be consistent in healthy behaviors to see the results you want.

Weighing yourself is definitely helpful and it has its place. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and give too much credence to this one measurement! After all, other measures (like how much energy you have, how much easier it is to climb a flight of stairs, or how well your clothes fit) might not be as precise or scientific, but they’re sure to make you feel happier and more successful than a scale ever can.

7 Smart Ways to Stay Active This Winter

Don’t Let Cold Weather Destroy Your Efforts
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Baby, it’s cold outside. And, if you’re like me, winter weather can sometimes make working out seem less than desirable. After all, who likes to dress like a mummy to go for a run, or risk slipping on ice when out for a walk? Even heating up the car in the wee hours of the morning to get to the gym for your favorite Spinning class can be quite tough!

Although you may want to stay snuggled up in your warm bed, winter shouldn’t be a time that your fitness plans hibernate—especially with all of those holiday treats around. With the right attitude and mix of exercises, winter can actually be a fantastic time to mix up your workouts, get creative and even reignite your love of fitness by trying new, fun activities. Not to mention, exercise can help you beat those winter blues!
How to Make the Most of Winter Workouts

  1. Change your mind. Winter isn’t just about cold weather, it’s a whole new season! Embrace the time of year by sitting down and revisiting your goals, then plan out what you’d like to accomplish during the next few months. We’re all so busy these days that time seems to fly, which is why it’s important to reflect on our past accomplishments and current goals. It can help you see winter in a new, inspired light.
  2. Go out and play! If you can’t seem to muster the energy to work out this time of year, try “playing” instead. You can burn quite a few calories playing indoors or out. The best part about playing is that it doesn’t feel like working out—though you can still get your heart rate up and have an excellent cardio session. Have a blast in the winter wonderland outside by making snow angels (214 calories burned per hour on average), having a snowball fight (319 calories burned per hour), or even building a snowman (285 calories burned per hour). No snow in your area? Try ice skating—an activity you can do indoors or outdoors. Ice skating can burn more than 450 calories per hour—and it’s a blast!
  3. Take up a winter sport. If you’re a competitive type, why not try a new winter sport? From skiing to snowshoeing, there are many great options that burn mega calories and put a whole new twist on your cold-weather workout plans.
  4. Get creative at home. Sure, getting to the gym can be more of a hassle when it is cold outside, but never use snowy weather as an excuse to miss your daily exercise. Instead, work out at home, where’s it’s cozy and warm. Whether you pop in a new workout DVD, invest in a few pieces of fitness equipment or even just use your body weight for a killer workout, exercising at home can be a convenient (and fun!) solution to staying on track. And the best part about working out from your own home? You don’t have to worry about sharing a TV with fellow gym goers or possibly catching an illness at the gym. Home really is where the (healthy) heart is.
  5. Try something new. There’s nothing like signing up for a new class or joining an indoor sports league to get you up and moving during chilly months. By trying something new, you reignite your motivation for fitness, cold weather and all! Whether it’s indoor volleyball, a dodgeball league, a bootcamp class or even tennis lessons at a local indoor racquet club, participating in a regular activity that you’ve paid for (or have teammates counting on you to play in) is a fantastic way to stay active in the winter time. You might even make some new friends or learn some new skills.
  6. Set a big goal—and some little goals. If winter weather leaves your motivation to exercise colder than an icicle, heat things up with a challenging, new goal. It can be anything from losing those last 10 pounds, to running a 5K (yes, you can still run outside in the cold) or even doing a full pull-up, but choose a goal that you really want and that will stretch you beyond your comfort zone to reach it. Setting a smart goal that you then break down into smaller, achievable action steps is a great way to start. Instead of focusing on simply working out this winter, this type of goal-setting allows you to focus on the bigger picture—your dreams.
  7. Get excited. If you’ve never been a winter fan, start focusing on what you do love about it and how this time of year provides new opportunities for your fitness and health. From eating delicious in-season produce (oranges, kale, and chestnuts, oh my!), to curling up with a big mug of sugar-free hot cocoa in front of the fireplace after a long workout, there is much to love about winter when you embrace and appreciate it.

While there are many great workout options this winter, be sure you always stay safe no matter what you do—especially if you decide to enjoy the winter weather outdoors. Here are some safety tips to follow. But most of all, have fun out there. It’s a wonderful time of year—enjoy it!

Source List:
Get Physical: Play in the Snow, from

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9 Superfood Swaps for a Healthier Diet

Multitasking Foods to Add to Your Meal Plan
  — By Jen Mueller
Deciding to change your diet can be an overwhelming idea. You’ll have to clean out the pantry, remove any and all treats, stock up on rabbit food and mentally prepare to feel hungry all the time. That’s the only way to improve your diet and reach your health and weight-loss goals, right? Wrong. The truth is, the small changes you implement can add up to big results.

Rather than depriving yourself of foods you love, work to incorporate multitasking superfoods into your new healthy lifestyle instead. Superfoods benefit your body in a variety of ways. Not only do these nutritional powerhouses fuel your body, they can also fight illness and help prevent disease. Plus, they are easy to prepare and taste great, too. By making smart substitutions, you enjoy foods that are full of important nutrients without sacrificing taste. Try some of these simple diet swaps to incorporate more superfoods into your daily meal plan.

  1. Quinoa instead of brown rice. The trendy grain has more protein, fiber and iron than brown rice. It also contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants with numerous health benefits. Quinoa cooks in less than 15 minutes and can easily be substituted for rice in casseroles, side dishes, soups or salads. Discover the power of quinoa by giving one of these simple recipes a try.
  2. Oatmeal instead of cold cereal.  Oats have a good amount of fiber and protein, which will help keep you feeling fuller longer, but not all oatmeal is created equal. Opt for old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, which are minimally processed to retain their full nutritional value. Jazz up your hot bowl of oats with seasonal fruits, cinnamon or a natural nut butter and you’ll never be bored with breakfast again. If you do choose cereal, be sure to read labels to find the healthiest options.
  3. Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. With a thicker, creamier texture than traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt makes for a nice replacement for sour cream in a variety of dishes, including tacos and chili, or in baked goods. Compared to sour cream, Greek yogurt is higher in protein and B12, and also contains healthy probiotics.
  4. Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Everyone enjoys a treat now and then, so why not get a nutritional boost at the same time? Milk chocolate is higher in fat and sugar than dark chocolate, and also contains less of the original cocoa bean. Cocoa is a good source of flavonoids, which makes dark chocolate the more nutritional choice. Next time that chocolate craving strikes, look for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao.
  5. Kale or spinach instead of romaine. Romaine lettuce is a good low-calorie option, but it doesn’t provide much added nutrition. Instead, try kale or spinach in your salad, as a sandwich wrap or in your favorite smoothie. Both are high in vitamins A, C and K, manganese and folate. Be forewarned, though, the texture and taste of kale can take some getting used to, so start small and experiment with different methods of preparation.
  6. Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. Sweet potatoes have risen in popularity because of their great taste and nutritional benefits. They are high in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, and are also lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes, meaning sweet potatoes don’t spike blood sugar levels as much. Try them as a baked or mashed side dish, atop your next salad or as a sweet treat sprinkled with a little butter and brown sugar.
  7. Green tea instead of coffee. Before you panic about losing your daily cup of Joe, this diet swap doesn’t mean that coffee is bad. Coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases, improved cognitive function and decreased risk of depression. That said, green tea contains flavonoids, has less caffeine than coffee and won’t stain your teeth. All this is not to say you have to give up coffee if you are a diehard fan, but is rather something to consider for variety and different health benefits.
  8. Cinnamon instead of sugar. While cinnamon has a number of unproven health benefits, it is still a better option than added sugar. Too much sugar in any diet increases the risk of obesity and other diseases, making substitution key in a healthy eating plan. Swapping cream and sugar for cinnamon in your coffee to save calories, or sprinkling cinnamon on pancakes or unsweetened applesauce to add flavor are just a few ways cinnamon can help satisfy your sweet tooth.
  9. Hummus instead of mayonnaise. A turkey sandwich with mayo tastes good, sure, but the calories and fat from even a small amount of this popular condiment can be a diet killer. Made with chickpeas and other fresh ingredients, hummus is a better source of protein, fiber, heart-healthy fat and iron compared to mayonnaise. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as in wraps, on sandwiches, in salad dressing, as a dip or even on a flatbread pizza in place of sauce.

Do you have a favorite superfood swap? 

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Tips to Stay Full Longer

Beat Hunger and Boost Satisfaction
  — By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
No doubt about it, hunger is unpleasant. In fact, it can be downright embarrassing when your tummy grumbles for your attention at the most inopportune times. When you’re watching your calorie intake to lose or manage your weight, there will be days when you might experience ongoing hunger, even when you’re eating at the top of your calorie range. It can be so distracting and debilitating that you’re ready to throw in the towel. If deprivation is what eating healthy is all about, then forget it!

Not so fast. Don’t give up on your new way of eating until you add what could be the missing ingredient back into your eating and weight loss program. What’s the elusive “secret” to feeling fuller, longer? Satiety.

Satiety (sa-TIE-e-tee) is that wonderfully pleasant feeling of fullness you get as you eat, when you’re no longer hungry, but aren’t overly stuffed or uncomfortable. You are just satisfied beyond desire. The more satisfied you feel after a meal, the less you’ll eat later. So how do you increase satiety without eating MORE?

When making food choices, it’s still important to meet the nutrition recommendations outlined in your SparkDiet. But if you’re having problems staying full, adjust your meals and snacks to incorporate these tips: <pagebreak>

Eat More Low Density Foods
Calorie density refers to the number of calories per gram of food. Foods that are HIGH in calorie density contain a high number of calories per gram; foods that are LOW in calorie density contain a low number of calories per gram. Calorie density is the key to feel full without overeating.

When you eat too many calorie dense foods, you’ll end up consuming a lot of calories to fill your belly. If you focus on low calorie density foods, you can fill up on fewer calories because low density foods contain a lot more water, which adds weight and volume to the food, but no calories.

Just drinking a glass of water along with the meal does not provide the same degree of satiety. Research has shown that to reduce hunger and boost fullness, the water has to be in the food. Why? Because there are separate mechanisms in the brain to control hunger and thirst. If the food you eat contains the water, it will stay in the stomach longer while the food is being digested. Beyond that, there is also the psychological component of eating food versus drinking water. When you eat food, even water-rich food, you get more sensory stimulation because you have more food going through your mouth and you’re eating for a longer period of time, both of which help you feel more satisfied with your meal.

The following are all water-rich food choices with about 90% bound water. They can have a great impact on the calorie density of your diet.

  • EAT MORE broth-based soups like chicken noodle or vegetable. Be sure to look for soups that have less than 200 calories per 1 cup serving.
  • EAT MORE leafy greens like lettuce, baby spinach and mixed salad greens with fat-free dressing.
  • EAT MORE fruits like apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, strawberries and watermelon.
  • EAT MORE non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes and winter squash.
  • TIP: Start your meal with a bowl of broth-based soup or low-calorie leafy green salad to fill up on fewer calories. Turn to non-starchy vegetables when you get the munchies. <pagebreak>

Fill Up on Fiber
Fiber contains only 1.5 to 2.5 calories per gram, while other carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Fiber-rich foods also necessitate more chewing and slow the passage of food through the digestive tract. The fiber in carbohydrates helps prevent those peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels that can cause cravings and poor food choices. They also may stimulate a satiety hormone in the brain.

  • EAT MORE fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables with skins, beans, lentils and legumes. Aim for 25-35 grams each day to help reduce your calorie intake and increase your satiety level.
  • TIP: Avoid refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, white pasta and sugar). When eaten alone, refined and simple carbohydrates can wreak havoc on satiety by causing rises and falls in blood sugar which trigger hunger every few hours.

Lean on Protein
Studies suggest that protein appears to help prolong satiety more than carbohydrates or fat can. Continue eating the amount of protein that your SparkDiet recommends, since consuming even a little bit of protein with each of your meals and snacks will help you stay full. Meeting your protein needs is important, but eating more protein than your body needs will NOT boost your metabolism.

  • EAT MORE lean protein from meats, chicken, seafood, low-fat dairy, legumes, lentils and soy products.
  • TIP: Prepare your meat using low-fat cooking methods like grilling and baking.

Fit in the Fat
Cutting fat intake reduces the calorie density of a food. In other words, you get a bigger portion of food for the same calories when it has fewer fat grams. However, if you go too low in fat you won’t enjoy the flavor, texture or satiety of your food. Plus dietary fat is essential for staying healthy.

  • EAT ENOUGH fat to meet the fat recommendations in your SparkDiet. This will bring the pleasure and satisfaction back to your meals so you’re less likely to overeat later.
  • TIP: Eliminate fat where you don’t need it, opting for reduced fat foods instead of full fat versions. Select low-fat dairy products, low-fat salad dressings, low-fat mayonnaise, etc. and limit saturated and trans fats. <pagebreak>

Go Nuts
Nuts have been shown to have a very positive impact on satiety because of their protein and fiber content. A SMALL handful of these nutritious nuggets will often hold you over until your next meal. Of course, portion control is important because nuts and seeds are high density foods.

  • Choose nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews and others. Even seeds make good choices.
  • TIP: Keep your portions in check! One serving of nuts or seeds is about the size of a golf ball.

Drink Up!
Drinking plain old water can help with your weight management program, especially if you are substituting calorie-containing beverages like regular soda, juice and sweetened coffee for water, which is healthy and calorie-free. For some people, drinking water throughout the day also keeps their hands busy so that they’re less likely to eat out of habit or boredom.

  • DRINK MORE water throughout the day, aiming for about 8 cups total. Some calorie-free beverages can make good choices, but moderation is important. Check out these beverage guidelines to meet your body’s needs.
  • TIP: Don’t drink your calories. Calories from beverages add up quickly and affect your weight. Most people don’t pay attention to the number of calories they drink, and that can hurt your weight loss efforts. Limit your intake of caloric beverages to less than 200 calories each day, and be sure to add these calories to your Nutrition Tracker.

Make It Work
Now that you know which foods have the staying power, it is important to spread these satisfying foods throughout the day into designated meals and snacks. Then you’ll be reaping the benefits all day long.

Even better, slow down and savor every bite. Research has shown that it can take 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you have reached satiety. So take your time and enjoy every delicious bite along the way.

Get in touch with your satiety center by giving your stomach time to signal your brain that you have had enough to eat, and by selecting the right kinds of foods when you do eat. Finding ways to feel fuller while eating fewer calories—now that’s the secret to success!