12 Tips to Drink 8 Cups a Day

Water Tactics that Help You Get in Your 8
  — By Cindy Dyson, SparkPeople member
Eight glasses of water every day? No matter how you pour them, that’s a lot of liquid. We’re talking cups and cups…and cups. Even knowing about the many benefits of meeting your daily quota—increased fat burning, healthier skin, more energy, better digestion, fewer cravings—doesn’t make drinking it (or dealing with increased bathroom visits) any less of a struggle for many of us.

If you feel like you’re barely treading water when it comes to drinking your water, don’t despair. There are lots of little secrets—time-honored tricks that those elusive “water drinkers” use—that even you can try to transform yourself into an H2O-guzzling machine.

For best results, try the two that Spark your interest immediately, then add one each week until you’re getting all the water you need. And remember, there is no magic number. The recommended eight cups a day is not a one-size fits all. You’ll need more if you’re sweating through workouts; less if you eat a lot of water-rich fruits and vegetables.

1. Try comfort water
This is a great tactic for coffee and tea drinkers. While you’re waiting for the coffee to brew, nuke a glass of water (or herbal tea), squeeze in a bit of lemon and sip while you wait. Try another cup of warm water after you’ve had a mug or two of coffee. Hot water is also a great treat on a cold afternoon or evening. Invest in a new kind of herbal tea every time you grocery shop until you’ve found a couple that are just right.

2. Tag your water bottle
Splurge on the perfect reusable water bottle. Whether it’s your favorite color or a unique design, the more you bond with your bottle, the less likely you’ll be to lose it. Slap an inspirational sticker or image onto it, or even write on it with a permanent marker. Now you’re ready to drink from it throughout the day—don’t forget to refill it as soon as it’s empty.

3. Sip up
Gulping all that water can seem daunting. So get a package of straws to slowly sip it instead. You can even pick up a water bottle with built-in straw.

4. Become a connoisseur
Think of water drinking like wine tasting. Taste the various brands and types of bottled waters available (sparkling, spring, mineral, vitamin-enhanced, reverse osmosis, filtered, fruit-flavored, etc). Be sure to read the labels as some “waters” have significantly added calories. Many bottles of water contain two to three cups of water.

5. Drink water and drive
Keep your water bottle next to you every time you hop into the car, or buy a package of bottled water to keep in the car. Whenever you’re driving about, your water will be within easy reach from your car’s cup holder. Think about other places you can stash some water bottles (under your desk, next to the couch, in your purse, and more).

6. Drink your vitamins
Create your own vitamin drink. Consider combining your water with your vitamin supplements, if you take any. There are several powdered vitamin supplements that are designed to be mixed with water. Some contain little to no calories too. If you prefer to take vitamins in tablet form, then promise yourself to drink at least one whole cup of water every time you take them.

7. Fill your dinner glass
Set a glass of water at each place setting at the dinner table just like restaurants do. Don’t fret about drinking it all—just place it there. By sipping water between every few bites, you’ll slow you down and enjoy your meal more, while also meeting your water needs.

8. Filter out
Sometimes tap water just isn’t very good. If your well or city water leaves a bad taste in your mouth, change it. Get a faucet or pitcher filter to keep out the bad and leave in the good.

9. Pace yourself
Holding (and drinking from) a cup of water will help you pace yourself at social events, parties and dinners that offer tempting food and drink. Try drinking a cup of water between bites of the calorie abomination you’re faced with. It is hard to eat an entire piece of cake if you have to drink a glass of water between every single bite! To keep the wine, beer, or liquor from ruining your calorie count, drink a cup of water for every glass of alcohol you consume. (I’m a wine drinker, so I fill up my wine glass with water every time I empty it of wine.) Not only does this help to limit your consumption, but it helps counteract alcohol’s dehydrating effects. And when you have a glass in hand—no matter what’s in it—you won’t be bombarded with more drink offers in the meantime.

10. Find watering holes
When out and about, make it a point to stop by drinking fountains, drink your water when out to lunch while reading the menu, and by all means if someone offers you a cup of herbal tea, say yes.

11. Combine habits
Get in the habit of drinking a cup of water when you do other things in your daily routine. Love long baths? Fill your water bottle when filling the tub. Working out? Keep your bottle beside you. Heading for bed? Set a glass on the nightstand. Reading by the fire? Always bring a cup of tea along. Develop water habits that go with your routines.

12. Reward your hard workf
Make a habit of having special water after each workout, for example. This can be water you gussy up yourself with a slice of lemon or lime, a fruit-flavored water, or (what I enjoy) a tall sparking mineral water.

Just a couple of these tricks can push you across the eight-cup finish line fairly painlessly. So raise a glass and tell your metabolism who’s the boss. Sometimes, simply conquering your water goal is enough to set you on the right path in even more areas. Cheers!

Cindy Dyson is a novelist, who discovered SparkPeople through her sister. Although she doesn’t struggle with getting enough water anymore, several members of her SparkTeam do. She created this list to help them, but found herself enjoying water more than ever as a result.

Original Post on SParkPeople.com

Finding Exercise Motivation When You’re Depressed

How to Get Moving When You’re Low on Energy
  — By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
I know exercise is supposed to help me fight depression, but how can I find the motivation to work out when I’m depressed?

Depression definitely can make it hard to find the motivation for exercise (among other things) because loss of interest in normal activities, along with the ability to enjoy them, is often one of the main symptoms of depression. But what does that mean in practical terms?

It definitely doesn’t mean that you’ll have to wait until your depression has cleared up before you’ll be able to start building up a regular exercise routine. In fact, it probably means just the opposite. You might need to stop looking for your motivation or waiting for it to appear before you start working out.  Instead, recognize that feeling unmotivated is part of the illness and that starting a regular exercise routine is an important part of the cure. It’s a lot like getting out of bed in the morning on a low day—you might not feel like it; but you know that if you don’t do it, things are only going to go downhill from there.

The good news is that actually starting an effective exercise routine isn’t as unpleasant or difficult as it seems. Just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean you’ll to have to spend weeks or months forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing; you just have to start by taking the first few steps on faith. That’s because motivation is actually a mental muscle that works a lot like your other muscles—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And just like there are good (and bad) ways to train your other muscles effectively, there are good ways to train your motivation so it gets stronger as you go along, and makes it easier for you to establish and maintain a good exercise habit. Here are a few good motivation muscle training tips to get you started.

Start with where you are today, and move forward from there. Exercise doesn’t have to mean 60 minutes of heart-pounding, heavy-breathing activity that leaves you sweaty, sore and exhausted. And you don’t need any special equipment or a gym membership to get started. You can start with something as simple as a walk around the block, going up and down your stairs a couple of times, or just taking some time to stretch your muscles while you’re watching TV. The important thing at first is to make a deal with yourself that you’ll do something every day rather than nothing. Once you’ve established a good streak of doing some activity every day, you can take the next step of trying to do a little more today than you did yesterday, and setting yourself some realistic goals or physical challenges that will keep things interesting.

Pay attention to how your efforts make you feel.
One of the chief benefits of exercise, especially if you’re dealing with depression, is the way it stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters in your brain. These are your body’s natural feel-good chemicals, and they can provide a significant mood boost at the same time they’re helping you generate some motivation to keep moving. You can make it easier for your endorphins to do all this for you if you pay attention to how your exercise makes you feel.

Notice how you’re feeling before, during, and after your exercise. Did your energy level pick up once you got started? Did you feel better afterward than you did before you started? How do you feel after you decide to skip your workouts, and how does that compare to how you feel when you decide to just do it? On days when you find yourself struggling to get started with exercise, take a moment to ask yourself how you’d rather feel today and which choice seems most likely to help you make that happen?

Be aware though, that exercise isn’t a substitute for other forms of treatment you might  also need when you’re dealing with a clinical depression. Rather, it’s a way you can help increase the positive effects of those treatments.

Reward yourself for successes, small and large.
One of the best ways to turn one good decision into a string of good decisions is to reward yourself. Earlier I mentioned starting a streak of days on which you decide to do some kind of physical activity rather than none. You can help yourself achieve this goal by setting a specific and reasonable target of consecutive days (let’s say seven) and then setting up a reward you can earn by achieving that goal. Maybe there’s a book you think you might enjoy or a movie you’d like to see, or maybe it’s been a while since you’ve gone out for dinner with a friend. It can be anything, really, as long as it won’t bust your budget or add any stress to your life. And if you can pick a reward that involves something you used to enjoy before becoming depressed, all the better.

Once you’ve achieved your first goal, set another one that’s a bit more challenging, like working your way up to 30 minutes of exercise, and find a new reward. Keep your goals specific, relatively short-term, and reasonable, and always keep in mind that progress doesn’t require perfection. If you miss a day of exercise that doesn’t end this whole project—it just means you start counting your seven days over at one again.

Share your efforts with someone else in the same boat.
One of the factors that can make depression especially difficult to beat is that people who haven’t been depressed often don’t seem to understand what you’re going through. Often, they seem to think (and will be happy to tell you) that you just need to snap out of it or pull yourself together. That’s not true, any more than someone with diabetes or pneumonia just needs to snap out of it; and it’s not helpful. One thing that does seem pretty clear is that people do a lot better at overcoming depression when they have the support and company of people who do know what you’re dealing with—because they’re also trying to do the same thing. So if you’re struggling to establish a regular exercise routine, find others in the same boat.

Most communities have in-person support groups focused on depression recovery, and there are many online resources that include social communities—like right here on SparkPeople. You can find active message board threads and exercise challenges, as well as online exercise buddies and accountability partners you can hook up with if you think that would be helpful. There’s nothing like the feeling of not wanting to let your exercise partner down to get you up and moving when you might otherwise not. There are also SparkTeams of members dealing with depression that can give you a place to go when you need to talk about what’s going on for you, or find someone you can help out when you want to get your mind off your own problems for a little while.

Source
Mayo Clinic. “Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms,” accessed February 25, 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Sneak It In and Tone It Up

Try to Fit in Exercise No Matter Where You Are
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
If you think that you’re too busy to fit in a full workout, think again. Plenty of research shows that small bouts of exercise can add up and provide just as many heart-healthy benefits as longer workouts. You don’t even have to be at the gym or wearing workout clothes for it to count. You can squeeze in little bits of activity here and there so that even when you’re too busy for a full workout, you can stay active and burn calories.

Below are simple and inventive ways to transform the must-do activities of daily life into mini-workouts.

Cleaning the House
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a housekeeper, most of us probably have cleaning on our to-do lists. Instead of seeing it as a chore, start thinking of cleaning as a serious double-duty workout. Simple and easy cleaning, such as dusting, taking out the trash, straightening and changing the bed linens, can burn up to 170 calories per hour for a 150-pound person. And heavier duty tasks such as sweeping the floor, washing windows and cleaning the garage can burn more than 250 calories an hour.

To up that calorie burn even more, get creative! When scrubbing the bathtub, take fewer breaks, and scrub extra hard to work your muscles (don’t forget to switch arms). While vacuuming, add some lunges instead of letting your arms do all the work. When cleaning the stove, don’t just bend over; squat down to get to those hard-to-reach places. When doing laundry, use the bottle of detergent as a dumbbell and do a few bicep curls on your way out of the laundry room. Or sneak in a few push-ups on the kitchen counter before you start scrubbing. The opportunities when cleaning are endless, and how awesome is it to have both a fit body and a clean house?

At Work
We’ve all heard the advice to take the stairs instead of the elevator and park at the back of the lot to get more walking in, but there are even more easy ways to squeeze activity into your workday. Instead of emailing or calling a coworker, walk over to his or her office for that report you need. Or suggest trading the normal sit-down meetings (which normally also feature not-so-great pastries and sweet treats) for walking meetings. Walking meetings aren’t perfect for all types of business, but the activity and break from the norm can encourage new thoughts and unique solutions to problems, making it great for brainstorm sessions.

If you have a buddy at work who is also looking to get fit, invite him or her to an active lunch break where you go for a brisk walk outside, climb a few flights of stairs or even hit the work gym if you have one. Plus, having a buddy can certainly help you to avoid office temptations (like the vending machine at 3 p.m.) and remind you to take a break to be active no matter how stressful or busy your day is.

You can squeeze plenty of activity in on your own if you don’t have a like-minded coworker. Try this printable 15-minute desk workout that you can do anytime, as long as you have an open wall and a chair! Better yet, stash a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band in your drawer or locker to use during breaks or while you talk on the phone. If you have the space, play a workout DVD or one of SparkPeople’s online workout videos on your laptop and have a co-worker join you. Unless you have a shower at your workplace, go for yoga and Pilates DVDs that will tone your muscles and give your mind a break from work without leaving you a sweaty mess.
<pagebreak>
During Your Commute
Most of us spend more time in our cars than we’d like, either commuting or driving kids to and from various practices (or both!). Instead of having this time be completely passive and sedentary, make the most of it with a few simple exercises that are safe behind the wheel. The first thing you can do is throw any self consciousness out the window, turn up your favorite tunes and “car dance” your heart out—just be sure to watch the road and save your most complicated dance moves for sitting at a stoplight. If you’re a female, you can also do Kegels, which help with core strength.

Sitting in the car is the perfect time to work on improving your posture. Most of us allow our shoulders to round and our heads to push forward when we drive. Instead, sit with your back straight (adjust your set back to help with that), your chin tucked in toward the tag of your shirt, and your shoulders relaxed down and back away from your ears. Try to keep your abs engaged and sit with perfect posture for as long as possible, adjusting it each time you notice you’re slacking. Sitting tall is hard work and takes effort. Simple adjustments like these can also help alleviate tension as well as pain in your shoulders, neck and back.

And anyone, male or female, accomplished dancer or not, can stretch when stuck in traffic. Shoulder, triceps, neck and spine stretches are perfect for stoplights and also tame your tension; hold each for 30 seconds (or until the traffic starts moving, whichever comes first). Sure, they won’t burn mega calories, but they’re definitely better than nothing, especially if you tend to skimp on flexibility training! And if you really want to turn your transportation time into a workout, consider walking or biking to work or your destination whenever possible.

Getting Ready
Getting ready in the morning may seem like a weird time to sneak in activity, but you totally can. Make it part of your morning routine to do a few stretches, jumping jacks or push-ups. Just a few minutes of activity first thing in the morning can wake you up and get your endorphins going. Just be sure to start slow and easy if you just woke up, as your muscles may be tight from not moving for hours while you slept.

Try squats and lunges while you blow-dry your hair or pump out a few calf raises while you brush your teeth. I personally love to stretch in the shower, as the warm water helps loosen up muscles. It’s good for you, and it feels great.

Yard Work
Mowing, trimming bushes and gardening are huge calorie burners. A 150-pound person can easily burn 200-400 calories an hour working in the yard. And for those who love power tools, just remember that automatic tools do most of the work, meaning you’ll burn fewer calories than if you mowed the lawn with a push mower, for example. So when in doubt, go with the manual option. It might take a little longer to trim that tree, but you’ll be getting in quite a workout and keeping your body in tip-top shape.

And don’t be afraid to get creative. When working in the yard, there are ample opportunities to squat or lunge to pick up tools or do a few reps with bags of soil or mulch! When it’s snowy outside, you can burn 400-plus calories an hour shoveling the powdery stuff.

Shopping
Save time and get fit by making your shopping a full-out workout. Power walk through the store, and unless you absolutely have to, forgo the cart for a handheld basket. As the basket gets heavier, you can build some serious muscle carrying it around the store. Just be sure to carry the basket on both of your arms so that they both get an equal workout. And if you do have to use a cart, do some small lunges while pushing it out to your car and really use your arms to push the buggy.

TV Time
Many of us watch our favorite television shows to relax after a hard day. While it may be tempting to plop on the couch and veg, don’t. After a long day the last thing your body needs is to sit down; moving will make you feel better and get you closer to your goals. Vow to do push-ups, crunches, jumping jacks or some sort of exercise during each commercial break. Performing these moves during the commercials of an hour-long show can help you burn at least 100 calories more than sitting, and you still get to enjoy your guilty-pleasure show.

Remember that while you may work out regularly, that’s only a few minutes out of your entire day that you’re actively moving your body, which is designed for physical activity. Squeezing in short bursts of exercise is great for beginners and experienced exercisers because it burns calories, tones muscles, strengthens your heart and helps you achieve an active lifestyle, the benefits of which are far reaching. So start thinking of more ways you can get active on the job, at home and throughout the day!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Stop and Chew Your Dinner

The Benefits of Slowing Down & Chewing More
  — By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
In this era of fast-paced everything, even the act of eating a meal has become something we can do on the run. Breakfast comes in bars, lunch can be eaten while speeding down the highway, and dinner is merely an accompaniment to the evening news, squeezed in between other pressing activities. Invariably, when eating plays second string to everything else, every meal becomes “fast food,” as in eaten-very-fast food. If you find yourself wolfing down your meals in a hurry, you’re actually shortchanging yourself in more ways than you might think.

It turns out there’s a reason food tastes so good. You’re supposed to enjoy it—slow down and savor it, not just get it to your stomach as quickly as possible. Chewing your food thoroughly is actually the first step in the complex process of digestion, and if you glaze over it, just chewing the minimum amount of times necessary to get the food down your esophagus, you’re actually compromising this process. And it’s a mistake many people make.

If you try to imagine swallowing a whole piece of pizza, it’s easy to see why chewing is necessary. But besides breaking up your food into manageable chunks, there’s another good reason to put in the effort and chew. The saliva that coats your food as you chew actually contains digestive enzymes that begin to digest your food before you even swallow it. The enzymes alpha-amylase and lingual lipase begin digesting carbohydrates and fats, reducing the amount of work for which the stomach will be responsible. And it isn’t just a nice gesture. If food fragments are swallowed un-chewed, not only do nutrients remain locked in the fragments, but these fragments create an environment in the colon that is conducive to digestive distress—bacterial overgrowth, gas, and bloating. <pagebreak>

For food particles to even leave your stomach though, the “gates” of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter, must open. Conveniently, chewing also aids in this process, signaling this event. And speaking of signals, just seeing your food causes your brain to send signals to the pancreas and stomach to secrete digestive acids and enzymes that are essential to digestion. And the longer your food has contact with your taste and smell receptors—the longer you chew each bite—the stronger these signals become. Strong signals mean more digestive molecules, less indigestion, less acid reflux, and superior nutrient absorption.

Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly has another benefit. It might shrink your waistline—and not just because you’ll have less bloating and indigestion. Eating more slowly gives your body a chance to tell your mind that it’s full, so that you stop eating before you go overboard. In a preliminary study presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity’s Annual Scientific Meeting in 2004, study subjects ate less when they were instructed to eat more slowly.

Here are some practical tips for chewing more thoroughly and eating more slowly:

  • Give yourself enough time to eat—at least 20-30 minutes just to eat the meal, plus additional time to prepare it.
  • Don’t eat amidst distractions, like the TV, computer, or while driving.
  • Be fully present while you eat. Notice the smell, temperature, texture, color, and subtle flavor differences of each food you consume.
  • Take smaller portions, taking a break before refilling.
  • Put your fork down after each bite.
  • Eat mindfully, chewing each bite as many times as necessary to pulverize any texture.
  • If you’re eating in a group, be aware of the speed at which others are eating. Challenge yourself to be the last to finish.

Besides all of the physical benefits, perhaps the most pleasant benefit of all is that, if you allow yourself to slow down and chew, you’ll enjoy your food much more.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

What to Eat After You Work Out

Refuel and Recover with a Post-Workout Meal or Snack
  — By Dean Anderson, Fitness Expert
Everyone knows that athletes must plan and time their meals and snacks very carefully to reach their performance goals. But what about the rest of us? You try to squeeze in 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Do you have to be careful about what you eat before and after your workouts, too?

If you’re eating a healthy diet and getting enough calories to support your activity level, you can probably rely on your own appetite, energy levels and experience to tell you whether you need to eat anything before or after exercise and what it should be. The basic rule here is: Find out what works best for you, and do that.

There are some advantages to knowing how your body works and what it needs to perform at its best. The bottom line for healthy weight loss and fitness sounds simple: You have to eat fewer calories than you use up—but not fewer than your body needs to function at its best.

The size, timing and content of your pre- and post-exercise meals and snacks can play an important role in your energy levels during your workout, how well your body recovers and rebuilds after exercise and whether the calories you eat will be used as fuel or stored as fat. Here’s what you need to eat and drink to get the results you want.

Your Post-Exercise Fluid Needs

Most moderate exercisers will lose about one quart (four cups) of fluid per hour of exercise, so try to drink about 16-20 ounces of water shortly after your workout to aid the recovery process. If you sweat a lot or the weather is hot and/or humid, consider weighing yourself before and after exercise, and drinking an ounce of water for every ounce of weight you’ve lost. Because heavy sweating also causes loss of minerals and electrolytes, consider using a sports drink with electrolytes if you need to replace more than two or three cups of fluid.

Your Post-Exercise Meal or Snack

As long as you’re staying within your overall range for the day, you don’t need to be obsessive about matching the following calorie and nutrient ratios perfectly. Just be careful not to fall into the very common trap of thinking that it’s okay to eat anything and everything in sight because you just worked out. Many people are very hungry after a workout, making it easy to eat more than you really need or to choose foods that won’t really help your body. Eating too much of the wrong thing can cause your body to store that food as fat instead of using your post-workout meal to refuel and repair your muscles. <pagebreak>

So what does the ideal meal or snack look like?

  • Calories. Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal 50 percent of what you burned during your workout. So if you burn about 600 calories, try to eat 300 calories after exercise.Don’t worry about undoing the calorie-burning benefits of your workout—that’s not how weight loss works. As long as you’re eating within your recommended calorie range (whether for weight loss or maintenance), you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals.
  • Carbohydrates. Roughly 60 percent of the calories you eat at this time should come from carbohydrates. Contrary to popular belief, your body needs more carbohydrates than protein after a workout, to replace depleted muscle fuel (glycogen) and to prepare for your next exercise session. Moderate exercisers need about 30-40 grams of carbohydrates after an hour of exercise, but high-intensity exercisers need around 50-60 grams for each hour they exercised.If you have some favorite high-carb foods that are lacking the whole grains and fiber that are often recommended as part of a healthy diet, this is a good time to have them. Your body can digest refined carbohydrates faster during your “refueling window,” but if you prefer whole foods, don’t force yourself to eat processed foods.
  • Protein. While carbs are essential, it’s also important to include some high-quality protein in your post-workout meal or snack. This protein will stop your body from breaking down muscle tissue for energy and initiate the process of rebuilding and repairing your muscles. About 25 percent of the calories you eat after a workout should come from protein—that’s about 10-15 grams for most people.
  • Fat. Fat doesn’t play a big role in post-workout recovery, and eating too much fat after a workout won’t help your weight control or fitness endeavors. Only 15 percent (or less) of your post-workout calories should come from fat—that’s less than 10 grams.

The ideal time to eat after a workout is within 30 minutes to two hours, when your body is ready and waiting to top off its fuel tanks to prepare for your next session.

But if your appetite or schedule doesn’t allow you to eat a meal right after exercise, don’t panic. Your body can still replace your muscle fuel over the next 24 hours, as long as you’re eating enough food to support your activity level. Try to have a smaller snack that contains carbs and protein as soon after exercise as possible. Liquids like smoothies, shakes or chocolate milk, and/or energy bars, can be especially effective post-workout snacks.<pagebreak>

Here are some sample food combinations for your post exercise meal:

  • Bread, a bagel or an English muffin with cheese or peanut butter
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Fruit juice with cheese
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Veggie omelet with toast or roll
  • Chocolate milk
  • Cereal with milk
  • Eggs and toast
  • Turkey, ham, chicken or roast beef sandwich
  • Vegetable stir-fry with chicken, shrimp, edamame or tofu
  • Crackers with low fat cheese
  • Rice or popcorn cakes with nut butter
  • Smoothie (with milk, yogurt or added protein powder)
  • A protein or energy bar
  • A protein or energy shake
  • Pancakes and eggs
  • Any regular meal that contains lean protein, starch and vegetables

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

As a moderate exerciser, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to timing your meals and choosing your foods. The most important thing is getting to know your body and how it responds to exercise, so you can give it what it needs to perform at its best. Eating the right things at the right times after you work out is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high and your body in fat-burning mode.

Now that you know what to eat after, here’s how to fuel up before you start sweating!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

3 Strategies to Prevent Relapse After Reaching Your Goal Weight

Winning the Mental Game
  — By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
When it comes right down to it, the “secret” to keeping the weight you’ve lost off is really very simple: Don’t stop doing the things that helped you take it off in the first place.

Obviously, you’ll need to make some small changes in your eating and exercise so that you’re achieving energy balance (to maintain weight) instead of creating a calorie deficit (to lose weight). But other than that, the key to successful weight maintenance is maintaining the healthy practices that got you to this point.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always as easy or simple as it sounds. Old habits really do die hard. If you struggled with obesity for a long time, or if you lost weight by following some diet plan that you can’t stick with safely or easily, you can’t assume it’s going to be easy to continue eating and exercising in a healthy way now that the weight’s off. Just stopping your healthy lifestyle and going back to “business as usual” will put you on the fast track back to your original weight, and maybe with a few extra pounds.

Even if you’ve taken the gradual “lifestyle change” approach advocated by SparkPeople, you’re likely to find yourself facing a new set of challenges as you shift gears into maintenance mode. Being aware of and prepared for these challenges can make it a lot easier to meet them successfully. So let’s take a look at some of the strategies and approaches of people who have lost weight and kept it off.

Strategy 1: Redefine Your Goals

The Problem: Having a goal weight provided a focus and direction for all the mental and physical energy that you put into this project. But reaching your goal weight can leave you feeling a little disoriented and unsure of what to do next—all the energy, momentum, and purpose you’ve been relying on can evaporate pretty quickly, making it easy to fall back into old habits. Simply trying to maintain your weight loss often isn’t the kind of goal it takes to avoid this problem.

The Solution: Set some challenging new goals for yourself, beyond maintaining your weight loss. Ideally, include at least one goal that requires you to stay at least as fit as you are now, or more so. For example, if your main motive for exercising was to burn calories and lose weight, try to find a sport or physical activity you enjoy for its own sake. Then you can put your efforts into getting better at that activity. My own interest in going to the gym every day for a stint on some cardio machine started to fade pretty quickly when I shifted gears from weight loss to maintenance. But when I took up hiking and biking instead, a whole new world of challenges and goals opened up. This year I’m aiming to complete my first 100-mile bike ride, and training for that gives me all the motivation I need to get out on my bike almost every day.

Key Attitude: The key thing here is not what you do—that can be anything from mall or pool walking to training for a competitive triathlon. It’s finding something you like to do, and then trying to get progressively better at it.

Strategy 2: Carry the Message

The Problem: You’re probably not going to want to spend the rest of your life tracking every meal you eat and counting calories—and you shouldn’t need to do that. But one of the things that tracking and recording your food and exercise does is give you a concrete, simple way to hold yourself accountable to your goals. As you make the shift into maintenance mode, it’s important to find other ways to hold yourself accountable to maintaining your weight.

The Solution: One of the very best ways to help yourself keep the weight off is to do what you can to help others who are trying to lose weight and improve their lifestyles. Tell your success story. Share tips on how you dealt with a particular problem. Or simply offer encouragement and support. Every time you do these things, you remind yourself of how things were for you before you reached your goal and how important it is for you to maintain what you’ve accomplished. Every time you preach the value of sticking to it when the going gets tough, you’re giving yourself another reason to practice what you preach when you have hard times yourself.

Key Attitude: Maintaining your weight loss can take just as much support as losing the weight, and the best way to get what you need is to give. Stay active (or get active) on the Message Boards, SparkTeams, and blogs here at SparkPeople.

Strategy 3: Broaden Your Perspective

The Problem: Concern for your own health and appearance is a great motivator for weight loss and healthy eating, especially when being overweight is causing you real emotional or physical problems. But sometimes, taking the weight off can also take the urgency out of this motivation, making it much harder to resist all the daily temptations to go back to old habits.

The Solution: Make your own diet a positive force in the world around you. Get to know where your food comes from, and the social, environmental, and nutritional consequences of how it is produced, marketed, and delivered. Find out, for example, if there’s a local farmer’s market in your area, and do as much of your shopping there as you can. Most of the products you’ll find there will be grown without pesticides and with environmentally-friendly methods. Plus the money you spend will stay in your local community. Another example is to look for pastured (grass fed) and humanely-raised animal products. Why? For one, the amount of grain it takes to produce just one pound of grain-fed beef or chicken would feed a lot more people than a single pound of meat would. Plus pastured animals are often higher in omega 3’s, leaner, and lower in saturated fat (making them better for you too). These are just a couple examples of how you can continue making meaningful choices when you sit down to dinner. For more ideas, check out these websites:

www.EatWild.org
www.FoodDownTheRoad.ca
www.LocalHarvest.org
www.SlowFoodUSA.org

Key Attitude: When you make food choices that line up with your own social, environmental, and nutritional values, it can be a lot easier to stick to your eating goals.

Putting It All Together

The key to successful maintenance is to know that reaching your goal weight is not the end—it’s simply proof that you have the know-how, spirit, and skills to tackle difficult challenges and succeed. One good way to carry all this with you into whatever new challenges you want to tackle (including the challenge of maintaining your weight) is to do a little inventory of what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve developed while losing weight. My article, The Three S’s of Success may help you identify some of the skills and attitudes you’ve developed, so read through it, sit down and make an inventory of your own. Think about how you can apply your knowledge and skills to maintain your weight—and to the next big challenge you decide to undertake.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Instructor
In life, we’re told to dream big. Reach for the stars. Go for the gold. While I think everyone would agree that having big aspirations is admirable not to mention inspiring, you should take a more calculated approach when setting fitness goals. It may seem counterintuitive to start small, but remember that you want to set yourself up for success not burnout or injury.

Think about it. How many times have you or someone you know set a huge goal to lose 50 or more pounds, or exercise for an hour six days a week, only to fall off the wagon a few weeks (or days) later? The truth is that even when people have the best of intentions and the willpower to set out and do something grand, without a plan and a smart goal, they stumble—and are more likely to fail.

When you first set a goal, you’re full of energy and completely motivated, but over time those feelings can wane and your overzealousness can push you to do too much too soon. The fix is to define a progressive set of fitness goals that build on one another to help propel you toward that big dream or aspiration. Breaking a big goal into smaller, realistic goals can help you both mentally and physically. This method can also help you improve your fitness level gradually and safely, which helps to build confidence.

The first step to setting realistic goals is to really think about your goal and write it down.

Then, ask yourself these three questions:

    1. 1. How big is the goal? Is your goal only attainable in three months or more? If so, make a or goals to get you to that long-term goal. Ideally, you should be able to reach the smaller goal in two to six weeks.

 

    1. 2. What does it take to achieve the goal? This question addresses your goal’s frequency. If reaching your goal requires five workouts a week, but you can only get a babysitter two days a week, then you need to scale back your goal. Be realistic about what time you have to devote to the goal and be honest about your fitness level. Building your fitness base takes time, and being smart about increasing it will help you stay injury-free. As a general rule, never increase your weight lifted or your minutes exercised by more than 10 percent in any given week. Slow and steady really does win the race!

 

    3. Can you see yourself reaching the goal? You want a program that you can stick with for the long haul—not just this week. Be completely honest with yourself and ask if you can realistically see yourself doing what it takes to achieve the goal at hand. If you can and it meets the above criteria, then you probably have a goal !

Take a look at these common situations (and fixes) that I’ve encountered as a personal trainer:
<pagebreak>
Unrealistic Goal for a Non-Competitive Exerciser: I want to complete an endurance event in two weeks. Competitive events are an excellent way to stay motivated and a great goal, but many triathlons and running races put a lot of wear and tear on the body, and if you do too much too soon (or without proper form or footwear), you can get injured, which really puts a damper on your dreams and is just plain painful!

Realistic Goal: I will complete a shorter distance endurance event like a 5K or sprint triathlon in three to six months. If you want to begin participating in endurance events, it’s important to start building your fitness base slowly and really listen to your body. If you can walk comfortably for at least 20 minutes and can commit to working out four to five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes, then a 5K training program is a great place to start. A run/walk program is flexible and lets you see results over the course of just a few weeks, which is both exciting and motivational. Plus, if you get into it and find that you really despise running or it makes your knees hurt, you can walk and still reach your goal instead of giving up after the first week. Additionally, the time frame of two months is long enough—and the 5K itself is challenging enough—so reaching the goal is big enough to result in one of the best rewards of all: bragging rights!

Unrealistic Goal for a Sedentary Person: I want to go to the gym every day. There are two main issues with this goal. First, it’s not specific—what activities do you want to do and for how long? After all, just showing up at the gym doesn’t accomplish anything unless you get your body moving. Second, it’s not realistic. I love to work out and even I don’t want to go to the gym every day. Plus, taking a day off here and there helps give your muscles time to repair and rest, and it gives you a break mentally.

Realistic Goal: I will be active for at least 10 minutes each day. While this goal isn’t specific when it comes to the activity, it is specific and realistic with the time constraint. While going to an hourlong Spinning class every day would be impossible, not to mention not very healthy for you (cross-training is important so that no specific groups of muscles get overused), doing something active for 10 minutes a day, whether it’s a walk after work, some push-ups or sit-ups over lunch, or a full session at the gym or with a workout DVD, is very doable. Also, note the addition of “at least” in this goal, which helps to emphasize that 10 minutes is just a minimum. Over time, this goal could progress to have a minimum of 15, then 20, then 30 minutes.

Unrealistic Goal for a Novice Exerciser: I want to do the workout I did in high school. If you used to play a sport competitively when you were younger and are itching to get back into it, beware. Most sports require explosive and powerful movement that can give your body a rude awakening—such as extreme soreness or injury—especially when you try to do something that you haven’t done in years. Even if you were the high school team captain, if you haven’t practiced it in many years, start slowly and be cautious.

Realistic Goal: I will meet with a personal trainer once a week for a month and follow his or her strength routine two times a week. Even if you were MVP of your team back in the day, a lot has changed in sports performance and workouts over the last few years. Instead of going out and doing the same old workout that you remember from high school, take the time to meet with a personal trainer who specializes in your sport or regularly works with athletes. He or she can get you back in the sport saddle with a strength routine that prepares your body for competition and will help you prevent injury. A qualified personal trainer will also help you set other realistic goals once you’ve built your foundation to play. (If you’re not sure how to look for a personal trainer or what else you need to ask, read this.)

Don’t Forget to Reward Yourself
Perhaps the most important component of setting an effective and realistic fitness goal is rewarding yourself when you reach your goals, even the small ones! From buying yourself a new magazine to read, enjoying a long bath, or buying a new pair of workout shorts, the reward should be a time where you compliment yourself for your hard work and revel in your success.

Also, don’t be afraid to tweak a goal as time goes by. Life happens! Remember, the key to setting yourself up for success is to be realistic. Now, start setting those goals!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Get Fit Without Leaving the House

Home Gyms are Practical and Affordable
  — By Liz Noelcke, Staff Writer

Imagine a gym you can commute to in seconds. It’s open 24-hours, so you can come and go as you please—on your time. It’s comfortable, and you feel completely at ease when you work out there. Oh, and membership is free. You may be daydreaming, but the perfect gym is a dream that can come true…in your own home.

 

There is no reason that you can’t make a home gym part of your reality. A home gym adds convenience and privacy to your workouts. When you exercise at home, you save time, money, and the rush hour headaches (on the road and in line for the elliptical). Although you might be cautious due to budget and space limitations in your house, building a home gym isn’t as impractical as you might think. After all, gym memberships can occupy a large portion of your budget at several hundred dollars per year.

The Basics

Remember, you want to build a gym based on your own personal needs and fitness level. As you progress, you can add on equipment, so don’t feel that you need to buy everything at one time. Your gym can be as simple or complex as you want.

 

  1. Dumbbells (Free weights): A good set of dumbbells will help you start a strength training routine. There are two basic options when it comes to dumbbells. You can buy single sets based on the weight you want to lift. These are often metal, but can also be covered with a rubber material to keep them from slipping out of your hands. Expect to pay $15-$20 for a pair of 5-pound weights. Prices will increase as the weight goes up. A second option is to buy an adjustable dumbbell set. This includes two handles (or bars) for you to grip, as well as plates of varying weights that can be attached. Depending how many plates you get, expect to pay at least $60 for a set like this. Fancier versions can run up to $350 or more.
  2. Resistance Bands: Bands are great because they are compact, portable, and allow for a wide range of motion. Resistance bands come in three or four different levels of resistance and usually run around $15 for one band. These can be used pretty much any way that a dumbbell can be used, so if you are in a budget crunch, these might be the better option. To learn more, read No Need to Stretch the Truth About Resistance Bands.
  3. Stability (Swiss, Balance, Physio) Ball: An exercise ball, no matter which name it goes by, is simply an oversized inflatable ball. These are extremely versatile, and not just for core workouts anymore. You can sit, lie, and balance on them during almost any exercise, rather than investing in an exercise bench. Plus, this unstable surface targets your core muscles and improves your balance and coordination. The balls come in different sizes (based on your height and weight), and a rainbow of colors, and cost around $25 apiece. Read Exercising with a Stability Ball to learn more.
  4. Exercise Mat: Place a good exercise mat on the floor to stretch comfortably, cushion your body during floor exercises (from crunches to modified pushups), and prevent slipping while lifting weights. Consider this a must if you do a lot of Pilates or yoga. Plus, they can roll up out of the way for storage if your space is limited. For about $20 you can get a sticky mat (for Pilates and yoga), which is thin—but better than a hard floor. The price goes up for larger and thicker mats.

Once you’ve purchased some or all of the basics, you’re well on your way! <pagebreak>

 

The Extras

  1. Cardio Machines: Next, consider a piece of aerobic workout equipment. Whichever you choose, make sure your machine has different resistance levels to allow for workout variety and challenge as you progress. Also available, for a price of course, are computer systems with timers, calorie counters, RPMs (for bikes, ellipticals) and even heart rate monitors. Before you make a major purchase, try one for several minutes in a store. While it might be tempting to buy the cheapest available, you’ll want to make sure you are investing in a solid piece of equipment that you are comfortable on.
    • If you like running and walking, a treadmill is a good option. Keep in mind, however, that running outside is free, while these machines are costly—at least $600 for the most basic model.
    • Stationary bikes or elliptical machines are more affordable alternatives.   Elliptical machines, which cost at least $400, are low-impact (and fun!). Bikes come in two different varieties, recumbent (like sitting in a chair with a backrest) and upright (standard seat) and also cost at least $400 for a decent model.
    • Of course, a jump rope is a cheap piece of equipment that can also get your heart pumping!
  2. Workout Bench: Space and budget allowing, a good workout bench is a solid investment. Look for one that adjusts at varying angles (incline, flat, and decline). Many benches start at around $90. Make sure to purchase a sturdy bench (test it out for length, width, weight limit) to support you effectively while you work out.
  3. Universal Gym Machine: Finally, the king of home workout equipment is an all-in-one weight machine. You’ve probably seen them on infomercials, but are also available for purchases in many stores. They will run at least $800, but are often well over $1,000. These machines include a bench and various pulleys and weights, which combine all the machines in a commercial gym into one compact unit, allowing you to do squats, presses, curls, and pull downs.

All of these pieces of gym equipment are available in a variety of places—sporting goods stores, department stores, websites, and by catalog. For a great deal, consider purchasing gently used equipment. Look through the classified ads, auction websites, and even garage sales. If possible, test it out before you buy.

<pagebreak>

Set Up

Start small. A few basic pieces of equipment are all you need. You don’t need 5 different weight machines to have a great gym, although if your budget and house allows it, consider yourself blessed. Keeping just the basics on hand will help make healthy lifestyle goals much more attainable.

 

Make sure you have enough space for your gym. Choose a room with a high ceiling (so you won’t hit your hands while working out), and a sturdy, clean floor (to prevent slipping). Finally, add some good lighting, ventilation (possibly with a fan), and a stereo to crank your favorite tunes, and you’ve created a gym that you can really enjoy!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

10 Smart Ways to Burn More Calories

Crank Up Your Cardio!
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
We all like to get more done in less time, right? We shop from our computers to forgo waiting in lines at department stores and microwave our foods to cut down on cooking time. Some of us even take multitasking to new levels by checking our email while watching television and sipping our morning coffee. And it makes sense. After all, what do we all want more of when it comes down to it? Time. Although spending time working out is a great way to beat stress and get healthy, most of us are usually trying to squeeze in workouts during our already hectic schedules. And when you are able to get to the gym or find that 30 minutes for cardio, don’t you want to make the most of every minute?

No matter what type of cardio you do, you can burn more calories in the same amount of time with just a few modifications to your current workout.

10 Ways to Crank Up Your Cardio
1. Do cardio first. Over the years, many clients have asked me, “Should I do weights or cardio first?” If you want to up your calorie burn (and who doesn’t?), research shows that you should do cardio first. Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, one study examined how many calories exercisers burned doing one of four workout combinations: running only, strength training only, running followed by strength training, and strength training followed by running. Researchers found that while all exercisers experienced a strong “after burn” (a higher rate of calories burned when at rest after exercise) for the two hours after working out, the strength training and run/strength training groups had the highest exercise after burn of all. So what does this mean? Although it’s just one study, the takeaway is that we might burn more calories after working out if we do our cardio first.

2. Try plyometrics. If you consider yourself an intermediate or advanced exerciser and are looking for ways to burn more calories, plyometrics are the way to go. These high-intensity, explosive exercises such as jumping and hopping, get your heart rate up quickly, which equals a higher rate of calories burned. Additionally, these athletic movements really target your fast-twitch muscles, coordination and agility, so you’re training your body in an entirely new and challenging way. And challenging workouts almost always equal results—and more calories burned. Because using proper form is essential when doing these advanced high-impact moves, consider learning the ropes first!

3. Use your whole body. Most cardio exercises focus on the lower body (biking, walking, elliptical, stair climbing, etc.), but if you want to burn more calories, one easy tip is to incorporate your upper body. Pump those arms hard and high when running and walking, make sure to grab the elliptical with moving handles, and even consider adding a more full-body exercise to your cardio mix such as the rowing machine. The more muscles you move, the more calories you will burn!

4. Get intense. If you’re serious about wanting to burn more calories, then it’s time to up the intensity. Bump up your incline and resistance if you’re on a piece of gym equipment, or walk a hillier route than usual if you exercise outdoors. To increase the burn, you need to get out of your cardio comfort zone. And when you do, the benefits can be big. In a study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports Medicine in 2002, researchers found that intense exercise resulted in the greatest fat burn (compared to light intensity exercise and no exercise at all) during the hours following a workout—and that fat burn continued for 11 hours.

5. Listen to fast music. If you seem to have trouble pumping yourself up for a workout, try popping in those earbuds! In a small study by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, scientists found that when male college students pedaled stationary bicycles while listening to fast popular music, the subjects pedaled faster and elevated their heart rates more. The students even perceived their workouts to be less intense than they actually were. And when the music slowed down? The opposite happened. So listen to music you love and get your cardio on!

6. Use proper form. Do you hold on to the handles when you run on the treadmill? Maybe you lean on the handlebars during spinning class or hunch over while walking on the Stairmaster. If you use these machines, you need to use proper form in order to burn more calories. As a general rule, keep your arms moving freely and naturally, keep your abs in, your weight centered over your hips, and your shoulders down and back. Not only does proper form keep you from getting injured, it also ups your calorie burn since your core is engaged. Bonus!

7. Speed up. The simplest advice of all for upping your calorie burn? Increase your pace even if it’s just a little bit. The tortoise may have won the race, but the hare burned more calories!

8. Add some intervals. By varying your intensity through different intervals (think one minute running then two minutes walking), you can actually improve your fitness more quickly than by steady state cardio, and you can burn more calories. The bonus? Time seems to fly when you add interval training!

9. Focus. We talk a lot about the importance of the mind-body connection and fitness. Although cardio isn’t as Zen-like as yoga, cardio can still benefit from a strong sense of awareness. The next time you do cardio, focus on the movements and breathing while squeezing those muscles. By engaging your mind, you can actually better engage your muscles, which allows you to complete the exercise more easily and still burn more calories!

10. Don’t work too hard. This might sound counter-intuitive but hear me out. We all know how important intensity is to any workout plan, but also think about how your workout affects the rest of your day. If you spend an hour at the gym sprinting and doing lunges, you might burn 600 calories in a short amount of time, but if that intense workout completely wipes you out for the rest of the day, the extra calorie burn might not be worth it. Be honest with yourself and definitely push yourself, but not so hard that it gets in the way of other daily activities. After all, the goal is to improve your quality of life.

Follow these tips and you will burn more fat and increase your fitness level in no time!

Source List:
Burning Calories!, from HealthNewsDigest.com
Study: Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance, from Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 25 – Issue 2

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

30 Days of Healthy Snacks

Make Better Choices, One Day at a Time
  — By Melinda Hershey, Health Educator
Do you have trouble coming up with unique and tasty snacks that are also good for you? We’ve got you covered with a new healthy snack for every day of the month! Click here for a printable PDF version to hang on your fridge for instant inspiration.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com