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.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

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.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

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.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

25 Cheap Foods That Are Good for You!

Original Post on Sparkpeople.com

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 Meijer.com, 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 Meijer.com, Cincinnati area, September 2016)

Original Post on Sparkpeople.com

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.

Original Post on SParkPeople.com

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!

5 Things You Must Do If You’ve Given up on Fitness Before

  — By Kirsten Nunez
Riding the fitness “bandwagon” isn’t always a smooth ride. Sometimes, the bumps are so strong that they throw you off. What now? Is it possible to try and catch up? One side of you knows that it’s worth a shot, but the other might not even know where to start.

Don’t let that bump in the road be the end of your journey—know that you’re not alone in the “fell off” club. We all know the fitness bandwagon is the place to be, but like most habits, maintaining a life-long routine takes hard work.

Why Do People Quit?

There are countless reasons why people quit exercise after pushing themselves for weeks, months or even years. According to Karen Katz, trainer and Pilates instructor in New York City, it’s common to feel discouraged if you’re not seeing (fast) results. “[However], a new job, schedule, baby, pet, or even a significant other can change someone’s habits and priorities,” she explains.

Katz mentions that moving, injury and travel can also get in the way. These real-life situations are major and normal, but they can also mess with your flow.

Trainer Brooke Taylor of Taylored Fitness adds that boredom is another roadblock. “Or [maybe you] pushed too much too fast, that you quickly burnt out or got injured.” Sound familiar? It’s a common newbie mistake, but you’re only human.

Before scolding yourself, look at this fall as a teaching moment. You’ve started once (or maybe even twice) before, so who says you can’t do it again? This time around, you’ll have the chance to fuel the routine in a new and different way.

“Missing a few days from the gym is no biggie,” reassures Justin Ochoa, personal trainer and owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Even missing a week can be a good opportunity to recharge. But if you’re physically inactive for months or years, [it] can leave you with an uphill battle when trying to get back into it.”

That’s why it’s vital to start slow, just like the first time. A game plan will save the day—whether you’ve skipped out your workouts for a month or a year.

The Dangers of Starting Where You Left Off

Jumping right back into an exercise routine, expecting to pick up right where you left off, is a recipe for disaster. No matter how enthusiastic you are, restarting a routine will have its downfalls so going in with the same mindset as you had before increases the risk of repeating the same mistakes. Give yourself time to adjust to a new approach or mindset, whatever that might be. Habits need time to change.

Most importantly, going hard is a setup to getting hurt. Katz, Taylor and Ochoa all agreed that potential injury is the number one risk of pushing yourself too fast.

“I see it way too often,” says Taylor. “People push full force. However, coming from a de-conditioned state, your heart rate will elevate a lot quicker. Your body will respond—and reject—the load.”

Ochoa echoed similar concerns: “After stopping a training program for an extended period of time, an individual can become detrained. [It’s] a loss of physical and psychological adaptations from previous training experiences.”

The bottom line? Take it easy. “Go at your own speed and listen to your body,” advises Katz. “It’s great to be eager about jumping back into a fitness routine, but going too hard too fast can result in injury and burnout.”

The Action Plan

The decision and process of terminating a fitness routine look different for everyone. As such, every comeback will be just as different. But with these general steps, you can strategize a triumphant return in a way that works for you.

1. Review and Reflect

Be honest with yourself. Take a step back and look at what really went wrong. In order to jump a hurdle, you need to know where it materialized in the first place.

What did you like about your routine before? Dislike? Write down your thoughts and see if you notice any patterns or red flags that can be avoided in the future. Reflect on the benefits when you were active, and remember how you felt. For some, this can be enough to fire up a new layer of dedication.

Of course, in the situation of a new job or injury, there are other factors. In those cases, focus on the new aspects of your current lifestyle, because they’ll come in handy when it’s time to plan.

2. Find What Can Be Changed

After reflecting, look for pockets of change. Again, this will be extremely different for every situation and person. It may include expectations, distractions or lack of motivational factors.

In the case of an injury, the actual exercise might need to be gentler to accommodate your current physical strength. And you know what? That’s okay.

If you dreaded your Wednesday yoga class every single week, it might be a sign that you didn’t enjoy how it made your body feel or the energy in the studio just wasn’t quite right. If you found yourself feeling pumped up when you exercised with your neighbor but struggled to motivated yourself alone, you might have been pushing yourself into the wrong kinds of workout environments. Look at all aspects of your previous plan and work to determine where things started to unravel.

If time was an issue, tackle time management first. Yes, we’re all busy, but know that physical activity doesn’t have to be a whole day affair. Viewing time as a roadblock really means that you don’t consider fitness a priority, says Ochoa.

3. Plan the Change

Now that you know what needs to be changed, it’s time to figure out how to change it.

This time around, don’t be afraid to try things differently. “Find a form of exercise that you like that inspires you,” says Taylor, even if that means trying out something new. Katz also suggests grabbing a friend you can count on, whether it’s at home or at the gym. Having a workout buddy is a game changer for motivation.

The same goes for making breakfast the night before or setting out your clothes. These little habits will set you up for success.

Working a tight schedule? Remember, two or three 10-minute walks each day totally counts and those little bursts of activity pay off in a major way. So would a two-minute session of yoga, according to a preliminary 2017 study in “Frontiers of Psychology.” Recognize that “fitness routine” doesn’t have a single definition, so you’re in control of how and when exercise fits into your schedule and lifestyle.

4. Set Mini Goals

To execute the plan, it helps to set goals. Whatever you do, though, remember to start small.

According to Taylor, it starts with coming to terms with the fact that your body is in a different place for now. “Set attainable goals that you know you can accomplish,” she recommends. It’s a must for avoiding the feeling of defeat and feeling empowered, instead. Little victories will fuel motivation and momentum.

Taylor mentions that she has clients make a goal sheet. She asks them, “What do you want to accomplish in the next six weeks? Three months? Six months? One year? We then break it down from there.” As you work through the goals, check in with yourself to make sure the right changes are being made. This sort of mindfulness is key.

5. Don’t Overestimate

While you’re reaching for those goals, avoid overestimating. Sure, being an overachiever might work in other parts of life, but not when you’re trying to safely jump on the bandwagon.

Your strength and speed are not the same. While you might have been able to run three miles without stopping before your break, your endurance is likely not the same, so it’s important to start slowly. The same goes for weightlifting, yoga or any other activity. You don’t necessarily have to start from the very beginning, but do set yourself up for a routine that is gentle on your body as it adjusts to sweating again. Take it down a notch and be kind to yourself. “Try to avoid the shortcuts,” advises Ochoa. “Stay focused on progression at an appropriate rate.”

Jumping back on isn’t an easy feat. But as you move through the motions, you’re doing yourself (and your future self) a favor. As Ochoa put it, “Fitness is about longevity and living a happier, healthy lifestyle. Do the work and embrace the journey.”

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

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.

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

Original Post on SparkPeople.com