Back to the Basics

Complex fitness equipment and complicated diets can be too much trouble. Go back to the basics to avoid winding up in Disappointment City.

We’re almost half-way through the year, and it’s about this time or even sooner that the fitness resolutions people made back in January fall by the wayside–assuming they ever got started at all. There are a handful of reasons people give up exercise in the spring including:

  • boredom
  • lack of results
  • hitting a plateau
  • destined-to-doom plans to exercise outdoors

Some people think that the reason their fitness and weight loss goals failed is that they didn’t have access to the right home equipment or a revolutionary new workout plan. However, complex contraptions and rigorous regimens aren’t necessarily the answer for reaching your weightloss and fitness goals. If that new diet, routine, or home gym in a box motivates you, then you should absolutely sign on. Remember, though, that you actually need to do something with the diets or fitness products you buy. If you don’t make use of them, they’re a waste of money. Before you make that purchase, try doing something simple and basic and making it a permanent part of your lifestyle. If you can do that, then maybe that fun, new piece of equipment can be your reward for hitting a small goal and you can use it as a stepping stone to help you reach the next one.

Benefits of Keeping it Simple

When things get too complicated, that’s when they get dumped by the wayside, and you start looking for the next sure-fire plan. That’s true throughout all areas of life. A study published in the International Journal of Project Management found, among other things, that a complex plan makes managing it difficult enough to derail any undertaking and, the bigger the project, the more problems that are likely to crop up. Sure, the researchers were looking at project management, but the findings apply to fitness goals, too.

Whether you want to lose 10 pounds or 100, whether you aspire to grow your “guns” by 5 inches and sculpt washboard abs to match, creating a complicated plan to do it or telling yourself you need specialized, complex equipment is like pre-programming failure because you’re building in problems. Practically everything in nature gravitates toward the path of least resistance–water, animals, humans …. So, when you’re faced with a piece of equipment that is difficult or inconvenient to use or a convoluted diet that is hard to follow, you’ll choose not to do any of it, and your goals will have to wait until you once again decide it’s time to do something about them.

Basic Workouts That Work

All types of lunges–including walking, stationary, and reverse–are simple, effective, and don’t require complicated equipment.

The most basic of workouts are ones that use nothing more than bodyweight for resistance. They’re effective exercises for beginners as well as people who have reached their weightloss and fitness goals and are simply trying to maintain. The great thing about basic exercises is that incorporating basic weight equipment with them takes the intensity up a notch to help those who are more advanced build muscle, lose more weight, or get off a plateau.

Different experts have slightly different ideas about which exercises should be included in everyone’s workout, but there are a few go-to moves that show up on most lists:

  • reverse lunge (or split squats)
  • pushups
  • squats
  • pull ups
  • bridges
  • kettlebell deadlifts

Shape suggests using kettlebells to add resistance, and those are nice, basic pieces of equipment that don’t have a lot of removable and moving parts. Even using dumbells or a barbell with plates is still simple enough to qualify as “basic.”

If you feel you NEED workout equipment, TargitFit keeps it simple.

For starters, you can do traditional sets and reps of each exercise, and then hop on your bike or go for a run to get some cardio. Alternatively, and in the spirit of keeping it simple, you can perform three of the exercises consecutively for a set amount of time for an intense workout that gives you both cardio and resistance at the same time. For instance, do 4 split squats with your right leg, 4 with your left leg, 4 pushups, and 4 squats (bodyweight or with kettlebells). Go through the sequence as many times as you can for a 3 minute period, then take a 20 to 30-second rest and move on to 4 pull ups, 4 kettlebell deadlifts or 4 burpees, then hold a plank for 30 seconds. Do that sequence as many times as you can for 3 minutes, rest for 20 to 30 seconds and start again. Running through each set of exercises twice will only take about 15 minutes and will provide a vigorous, effective and basic workout.

5 Key Supplements for Resistance Training

This week, Targitfit is pleased to bring you an informative fitness and nutrition article by Linda Moore:

Image via Clean Wal-Mart/Flickr

When you’re embarking on a resistance training regimen, it’s important to remember that to see gains (increased lean mass), you must provide your body with the nutrition that it needs to recover from the strenuous gym sessions involved in weightlifting programs.

Professional bodybuilders will tell you that true strength-training athletes are born in the kitchen, meaning that what they use to supplement their workouts is often even more important for building muscle than exercise itself.

To help you reach your fitness goals, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 supplements for resistance training along with instructions on how to utilize them for maximum effectiveness.

Protein Powder

Protein is the building block of muscle, so getting enough of it is absolutely crucial for athletes hoping to gain lean mass. Most resistance training athletes do not get an adequate supply of protein from their diets. While incorporating plenty of lean meat like fish, eggs, nuts, beans, and dairy into your diet is a positive for building muscle, it is not enough for people engaged in serious weightlifting.

Although individuals’ protein needs vary, most experts recommend at least 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily to meet the normal protein requirements as well as providing the extra amount needed for recovering muscles.

Creatine

Creatine is arguably the most well-researched supplement that is proven effective at spurring muscle development. The human body naturally produces creatine in limited amounts, and it is found in dietary sources like chicken as well. However, the small amounts found in a normal diet are likely not enough to produce the results that a supplement can provide.

The vast majority of creatine is stored in muscles. It promotes the production of a special type of molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which muscle cells use as an energy source.

Creatine is clinically proven to boost both muscle growth and performance in the gym, making it a must-have addition to any post-workout shake.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a category of amino acids that include isoleucine, leucine, and valine. These amino acids are considered “essential” because they cannot be produced by the body – yet they are crucial for muscle growth.

Like creatine, BCAAs can be obtained through diet, although not in optimal amounts – making supplementation necessary for anyone who wants to see results.

BCAAs are proven to reduce recovery time between workouts, mitigate fatigue, and prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is perhaps the most well-known supplement in the world. It contains the specific types of amino acids that provide the biggest performance boost for resistance training are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The primary benefit of fish oil for athletes is its mitigation of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the familiar feeling of soreness in the muscle groups activated after a gym session that can last several days.

Quicker recovery turnaround time means more opportunity for growing muscles as a result of increased training.

Multivitamin

 

Although multivitamins are often scorned by athletes, high-quality multivitamin supplements can actually deliver impressive benefits for resistance training.

Although less glamorous than other supplements like creatine, a high-quality multivitamin delivers an abundance of important vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in the diet – especially for athletes who require higher amounts.

Final Thoughts

 

The bottom line is that nutrition and exercise go hand in hand for most health and fitness goals.  If you match the dedication that you put into your workouts with the right supplementation, you’ll be in the best possible position to achieve your fitness objectives.

 

Linda Moore is a lead writer for Suppwise, an evidence-based health and nutrition website. She’s passionate about helping others develop habits that promote a healthy lifestyle.

The Best Time to Work Out

Unfortunately, running in the Rat Race doesn’t contribute to physical fitness and leaves little time for exercise.

Fitness goals often get derailed before they get started when you find it difficult to schedule time to exercise, even if you’re motivated. Some people try setting the alarm clock an hour earlier so they can work out before their day begins. Not everyone is a morning person, though, so those that do push themselves to get up early might not get as good a workout as they would later in the day. That inevitably leads to morning exercise falling by the wayside, either because of fatigue or to avoid the guilt trip over hitting the snooze button instead of going for a run.

That leaves evenings for those who aren’t morning people, but family obligations, overtime at work, and end-of-day exhaustion do a good job of getting in the way of sticking to a workout schedule long enough to make it a permanent part of your lifestyle. If neither morning nor evening exercise is working for you, consider a midday workout. Research has shown that strength-wise, it’s an optimal time to exercise. Plus, you’ll reap benefits other than losing weight and getting in shape.

You’re Stronger in the Middle of the Day

Take advantage of strength peaks by scheduling a midday workout.

Your body has a rhythm, and it goes through a similar cycle each day, according to Professor Don. H. Hockenbury and science writer Sandra E. Hockenbury. Everything from body temperature to pain sensitivity to mental alertness ebbs and flows in a 24 hour period. Some things peak twice in one day, and the first strength peak hits at about 11 a.m., making midday an optimal time to work out. Your muscles will be warmer than in the morning because your body temperature will be on an upward climb at that time. What’s more, you’ll be rested and awake, so you’re less likely to blow off your workout because you don’t feel alert or have enough energy.

You’ll be More Productive

You’ll be more focused, productive, and even happier after exercising in the middle of the day.

Whether or not you’ve noticed it, you think clearer after exercising. Scientific American acknowledges that researchers haven’t quite pinpointed why that is, but their studies have proven that it’s a fact. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, so that factor alone is thought to be key. What’s more, regular exercise reverses age-related shrinking in the part of your brain that learns and stores memories. Whatever the bottom line reason is, study after study has added to the evidence that working out is as good for you mentally as it is physically. For example, it’s been shown that students who exercise score higher on tests afterward so, logically, people who typically experience afternoon sluggishness will be more productive after their midday workout.

Lunchtime Exercise

Eat the carb half of your lunch before a midday workout, then replenish and recover with the protein portion after exercising.

If you work at home, exercising midday isn’t a problem. However, if you have a typical 8 to 5 job, you probably don’t relish the idea of giving up lunch and coming back to work sweaty. That’s only convenient for those of us who work at a gym. The first problem is easily solvable, and it actually helps with your workout. Shape1 suggests splitting your lunch in two. At least 30 minutes but optimally 60 minutes before your workout, eat the carbohydrate portion of your lunch. That will fuel your body for your workout with something that is easily digestible. Then, after your workout, eat the protein part to help with recovery.

As for returning to work after exercising vigorously, the consumer industry has you covered.  Multiple products have popped up on shelves to help you clean up after exercise. Moist towelettes, similar to baby wipes, are the  most effective and less expensive. Just wipe down after your workout and toss the cloths. A neutral-scented dusting of body powder will take care of any remaining moisture on your skin. Then, get dressed, and you’re ready to go!

What If It’s Not For You?

Almost any schedule should be able to accommodate a handful of 10-minute workouts if you can’t fit 30 to 45 minutes in your lunch hour.

OK, it’s true that not everyone’s bodies follow typical circadian rhythms. If your strength peaks at a time of day other than noon-ish, then you’ll want to schedule your workout accordingly. If that isn’t convenient for any reason, the American Heart Association suggests splitting your exercise up throughout the day. For example, you could take a quick 10-minute jog in the morning, do a fast HIIT workout for 10 to 15 minutes at lunch, then finish up with 10 more minutes of cardio in the evening with either another jog or a short spin on the stationary bike. Whatever physical activities you do, they’ll add up to the recommended 150 minutes of cardio after a 5-day work week. And working out that way is still a good Plan B anytime if your regularly scheduled workout gets preempted for any reason.

 

 

1Shape, “Get Fit Performance Tips,” Sara Angle, January/February 2017, 54

 

Planning Your Meals for Weight Loss Success

Pre-planning your meals can make the difference between success and failure.

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight or have hit a plateau in your bodybuilding or figure goals, your diet probably has a lot to do with it. Take stock of how you approach meals. Do you know beforehand what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, or do you grab whatever is convenient? Eating off-the-cuff will work against you because you’re more likely to make poor nutritional choices. More than that, food that is handy tends to be packed with empty calories.

Proven Strategy

Meal planning doesn’t mean being overly ambitious. Include more simple, easy-to-make meals in your plan than ones that take a lot of time or need a lot of ingredients.

Some people need to make a plan to make a plan, while some personality types are averse to planning anything. Others fall in the middle of the road and don’t have a problem with making a plan if they can see the value in it. When it comes to planning meals, scientific studies have proven that it’s an effective strategy. Research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that the more time people spent on pre-planning meals, the higher the quality of the diets tended to be, and a high-quality diet is essential for any weight loss or fitness goal.

Multiple Benefits

Knowing what you’ll be cooking and eating over the next several weeks helps curb impulse buys at the market, keeping your budget on track as well as your weight loss and fitness goals.

A “higher quality diet” can mean many things, depending on who is doing the meal planning and what the goals are. Someone who is trying to lose weight will plan for low-fat, nutrition-dense meals that will leave them feeling satisfied, so they won’t have the desire to snack. People who are trying to build muscle for a fitness competition will design their meals to provide energy and protein. Meal planning makes it easier for anyone to control their portions, too. Whatever the goal, most people will (or they at least should) aim to include healthy, nutritional foods that will help them meet their objective.

Meal planning has other benefits, though. The Mayo Clinic points out that you’ll save money two ways because you’ll be eating at home more often and when you go to the market, you will have a list of the items you’ll need for the next few weeks. If you stick to the list and avoid impulse buys of pre-packaged snacks, you should be able to reduce your grocery bill along with your waistline.

Write Out a Menu

Write out a menu, then write out your grocery list.

The first step to meal planning is writing out a menu. You can try to build it around things you already have in your freezer and pantry, you can peruse the ads in the newspaper first and write a list based on items that are on sale, or you can create your menu to include dishes you want to eat over the next few weeks to a month. Don’t have the time to make huge, five-course meals every night? Who does? You don’t have to be overly ambitious, and Prevention even advises against it. Only plan one or two larger meals per week, whatever your schedule will allow, and then plan easy-to-make meals using the leftovers.

As you plan, include snacks in the mix, too. That way you can put baby carrots, apples, or whole wheat crackers and mascarpone on the shopping list to keep you from bingeing on chips or cookies when the munchies strike. Also include the ingredients to home-make the easy to grab-and-go breakfast items that cost more when you buy them from the bakery or the grocery store. Not only will making muffins and scones at home on the weekend save money and provide something quick to eat on the way to work (with the coffee you brewed at home, naturally), but you’ll get a healthier product, too.

Pre-made, pre-packaged baked goods are filled with sugar or unhealthy sugar substitutes, and loads of not-so-appetizing ingredients to preserve them. According to the Huffington Post, you shouldn’t even opt for pre-made doughs or mixes because they contain a variety of artificial ingredients and preservatives such as vanillin (which is made from petroleum or wood) and saturated fats like cottonseed or palm kernel oil. You could always spend time reading ingredient lists looking for healthy pre-made mixes, but it would be quicker to make your own baked goods from scratch. You’ll know all the ingredients you use are healthy plus you can control the amount of fats and sugars you use to make them even healthier.

The Necessity of Tweaking

Bodybuilders usually have their meal planning down to a science because they need to be in control of caloric intake at all times as well as controlling the amounts of protein, fats, and carbs they eat. Even so, hitting a plateau during the process of building or cutting could be an indication that you need to tweak your diet. Reassess, looking at the number of calories you’re eating each day and what percentage is going toward protein, fats, carbohydrates, fruits, and veggies, then make adjustments where necessary. Your food diary or the menus from the past month will be useful for reviewing what you have been eating, and it’s likely that the things that need tweaking will be obvious.

Even if you aren’t in the fitness or bodybuilding circuit, periodically adjusting your meal planning is beneficial. We tend to go through phases, eating more meat for a month or so, then gravitating toward breads and pastas. In general, there’s nothing wrong with that provided you don’t get stuck in a rut of pizza for dinner every night. If you make a conscious decision to re-evaluate your meal planning regularly, like once a month, then you can mindfully control those phases and ensure that during your pasta period, for example, you’re including some sort of protein even if it’s not meat.

HIIT the SAQ to Supercharge Fat Burning and Beat Boredom

It’s natural in any circumstance to become bored with your workout routine. No matter what brings boredom on, when it happens, a change is called for. We’ve talked before about the benefits of mixing it up when it comes to exercise. Doing so helps you meet your goals because it encourages your body to continue to burn fat, build muscle, or whatever you’re training for as well as keeping things interesting mentally, so you’ll be less likely to bail on exercising. 

SAQ exercises are a great way to get in cardio exercise without getting bored. Image via Howcast/YouTube

The cardio part of your workout can be difficult to change satisfactorily, however. Sometimes it feels like you’ve done it all: running, biking, rowing, aerobics classes, swimming…. In the quest to keep things interesting, it’s time to HIIT the SAQ. Speed, Agility, and Quickness drills are nothing new. Soccer, basketball, and football players and many other athletes have been doing them forever. While some use special gear for their SAQ workouts, equipment is not required. You can do most of the exercises anywhere with assistance from nothing more than a clock with a second hand. That’s the only thing you’ll need to make it a High Intensity Interval Training session, so you can keep track of the time spent working out and the time spent resting between rounds. Performing SAQ as a HIIT workout delivers a double benefit: you’ll increase your fat burning capabilities plus you’ll improve your agility and speed, too. 

Using SAQ for HIIT

You can turn almost any workout into High Intensity Interval Training by doing a set of exercises quickly and for time (as many reps as possible within a predetermined timeframe) and taking a short rest between exercises. So, it’s logical that you can take a set of SAQ exercises and do them in a HIIT format. The bursts of intense activity combined with short breaks are what kick up your metabolism for efficient fat burning and weight loss. 

SAQ Exercises

You’ll need to familiarize yourself with exercises for speed and agility to put a workout together. Fortunately, loads of football and soccer websites such as Total Soccer Fitness and Training offer sample workouts and exercise suggestions. There are the basic, better-known training moves such as ladder drills, squat jumps, and step jacks (a walking jumping jack, forward two steps, then backward two). Add in skaters, plyo split lunges, and lateral lunges, and you have enough exercises for an effective workout.  

For example, do three 30-second rounds of ladder drills with a 10 to 15-second rest between each one, then do three 30-second rounds of squat jumps, resting 10 to 15 seconds between. Continue on through each exercise, completing as many reps as possible during the 30 seconds of work. With a 45 second warm up and cool down on either side of your workout, that gives you an intense 15-minute regimen that should be easy to fit into any schedule. 

When Should You SAQ?

Your body needs fuel before and after a SAQ workout, so have a light snack of carbs pre-exercise, then eat some protein afterward–eggs and turkey bacon are a great choice for an effective recovery meal.

When you do your SAQ workout is up to you, but if first thing in the morning is the only time you can exercise, don’t do it before breakfast. For the longest time, conventional training advice was that you could maximize fat burn by working out in the morning on an empty stomach. It might sound logical but, science doesn’t back that up. First off, if you’re performing HIIT workouts, you’re already enhancing after-burn–continuing to burn calories even after you’ve stopped working out. According to a study published in Sports Medicine, the type of fuel your body burns post-workout depends on what kind it burns during the workout. Basically, if you burn carbohydrates during your workout, your body will switch to burning fat afterward, and burning fat during a workout will cause your body to use carbs later on.

What’s more, you can only benefit from doing cardio on an empty stomach by going at a low intensity for an extended amount of time. How extended? A different study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that “fasted” workouts produced no difference in amounts of fat calories burned until after an hour and a half. That means you’d have to work out at a lower intensity six times longer than if you just did SAQ exercises as a HIIT workout. Bottom line, grab a light snack of carbs before your workout, then eat some protein and a few more carbs afterward. Your body will be fueled and primed to burn more calories more efficiently, and you won’t be bored with your new, quick and easy workout.

 

The Best Way to Tone Your Butt for Hot Summer Buns

Here comes summer…and shorts and miniskirts and swimsuits. Of course that means hitting the gym hard for the push to present well on the beach or when you make your first poolside appearance of the season. A well-shaped backside is always in style and, while some feel the best way to tone your butt and achieve a booty lift is by having body fat redistributed through a surgical procedure called a Brazilian Butt Lift, others have invested in a specialized workout program bearing the same name.

The fact is that working out is the best way to tone your butt and reduce fat, and it’s the technique that will garner lasting results. Though you can’t spot-reduce or literally move fat from one  area of your body to enhance another when working out, high intensity interval training routines (HIIT) or circuit training workouts that focus on your glutes and hamstrings will build muscle where you want it while reducing body fat overall.

DIY Lifting Butt Workouts

If you want to invest the money in hiring a trainer from Brazil or purchasing a “special, secret” workout to build your booty, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your money. However, if you already know the secret exercises that reshape your butt by targeting your glutes and supporting muscles, you can spend the cash on summer wear that accentuates your newly toned hindquarters. This is no time for men to tune out. Flat, baggy 501 cut-offs or cargo shorts on a guy are just as unappealing as saggy or over-stuffed ones are on a girl. Get busy with these seven exercises to cultivate a sexy gluteus maximus that will have the opposite sex doing double-takes.

Lunges – you’ll feel your glutes engaging when you perform a number of lunge exercises, from walking lunges to weighted lunges or explosive lunges, as “Fitness” magazine suggests. Women’s Health and Fitness recommends a Lower Half Lunge, a variation that also works to tone core muscles while contracting your glutes and getting your heart rate up for a nice fat-burning workout.

Targit Squats (2)

Some find it easier to maintain proper form when squatting with resistance bands instead of free weights.

Squats – squats are another glute-centric exercise that also recruit your hamstrings as stabilizers and get your quads working as synergists, making them a terrific and effective butt lifting exercise. Maintaining proper form while squatting is essential for avoiding injury, and that’s why some people steer clear of this exercise altogether. However, you can safely perform bodyweight squats without equipment or using band-based equipment such as the TargitFit Trainer.

Kickbacks – if you have access to the weight lifting equipment, rear kickbacks are killer for working your glutes. Alternatively, you can forego the equipment and weights and use gravity to your advantage by performing Heel Sky Raises.

Reverse Hyperextensionreverse hyperextensions do require equipment, but it doesn’t have to be specialized. If you belong to a gym, go ahead and take advantage of what they have to offer. Alternatively, any raised flat surface at home such as a countertop, can be used to support your torso while you to lift your legs straight behind you for this glute-targeting, butt lifting  exercise.

Dumbbell Deadliftdeadlifts are considered a booty-lifting exercise because they work your hamstrings, the muscles located right below your glutes. Hand weights, dumbbells or even gallon jugs filled with water can be used to add weight and an element of resistance to this exercise.

Leg curl exercises tone and strengthen your hamstrings to lift and support your glutes.
Photo via ScottHermanFitness/YouTube

Leg Curls – any exercise in which you bend your knee and press back against resistance will build and strengthen your hamstrings to provide a nice foundation to press your glutes upward. Gyms typically have a number of leg curl machines, but resistance bands are effective for leg curls, too.

 

Hip Moves – don’t forget to work your hips as part of a strong foundation that lifts your butt. Lying side hip abductions and side-lying clam exercises are effective and don’t require weight lifting equipment.

The Plan

Skip rope or jog in place between each butt lifting exercise to turn butt workouts into high intensity interval training routines (HIIT workouts) that will reshape your booty.
Photo via POPSUGAR Fitness/YouTube

The best way to tone your butt and engineer your butt lift is by putting these exercises into practice at least once a week, either on their own or by adding them to your leg day. If you do them more than once a week, just allow 72 hours between glute workouts so your muscles can rest and recoup. You can perform them as circuit training workouts, doing 10 to 12 reps of one exercise before immediately moving to the next exercise, and making sure to go through the entire circuit three times. Allow 60 seconds for rest between each circuit. Alternatively, you can do them as HIIT or high intensity interval training routines. Do one exercise as many times as you can in 90 seconds, then jog in place or get on a stationary bike or treadmill to keep moving but at a more moderate pace for 30 seconds. Then move to the next exercise, continuing the 90/30-intense/moderate intervals until you’ve done each exercise three times. You’ll feel the burn, for sure and, by performing your butt workouts as a circuit or HIIT, you’ll have the boogie back in your butt in no time.

Eating Yourself Healthy

Right now, we’re at a point in time when proper nutrition is more vital than ever. Even if you’ve never been told to your face that how you eat affects your health, you already know somewhere deep inside that it’s true. Just consider how you feel physically and emotionally after a junk-food binge. Those feelings are your body trying to tell you what you wouldn’t accept from anyone else. Maybe in the past, you simply didn’t feel like changing. But in a world where you can no longer hug your friends in greeting and have washed your hands raw, maybe you don’t have the luxury anymore to be stubborn. It’s time to start taking a closer look at what you eat and incorporating healthy foods that will reduce stress and boost your immunity.

First Stop: the Produce Section

You can’t go wrong with fruits and veggies, in general, but when you’re aiming to strengthen your immune system, you’ll want to include ones packed with specific antioxidants like vitamins  C, A, and E, beta carotene, and allicin. For those, red bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and citrus fruits are the superstars. Mushrooms are known as a source of Vitamin D, good for keeping your body’s T cells functioning properly and optimally, and the palatable fungi also activate white blood cell production and mobilize them to fight infection. Berries tend to be loaded with antioxidants, too, and blueberries do double-duty, hitting both lists of immune-boosting foods and foods that reduce stress. Garlic, ginger, papaya, and kiwi are other foods you’ll find in the produce section that will help ward off illness.

Meat=Good

Fish tops the list of immune-boosting meats, but shellfish, beef, and poultry are also good for increasing immunity.

It might come as no surprise that fish—specifically the cold-water oily type associated with Omega-3’s—is recommended eating for a strong immune system. Tuna and salmon are the typical types of fish that get good press in this case. Some of your favorite shellfish, however, are loaded with zinc, another antioxidant that fights sickness and increases immunity. When you dine on clams, crab, lobster, mussels, or oysters, you’re also giving your immune system a boost.

If you’re not a big seafood fan, don’t despair. Both poultry and lean beef are vital for a healthy immune system. Chicken and turkey provide Vitamin B6, essential for fighting off viruses and, since it’s a good source of zinc, beef is a delicious alternative to shellfish.

Dairy Foods for Immunity

When you hit the dairy aisle, be sure to snag a dozen eggs and some yogurt. The live cultures in yogurt have been found to stimulate your body’s natural defenses. Plus, both eggs and some brands of yogurt contain Vitamin D. Be sure to read the labels to be sure you’re getting products fortified with Vitamin D, so you know you’ll reap the benefits this vital vitamin provides in strengthening and regulating your immune system.

Snack on This

Granola and trail mix are kitchen-sink-type snacks–you can load them up with all the immune-boosting ingredients you want.

Even what you nosh on between meals can help build immunity. Sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of Vitamin E, an essential antioxidant that protects cells. Almonds also bring other essential immune-boosting nutrients to the table like fiber, manganese, and magnesium. Another tasty nut you should be sure to add to the mix is walnuts. They’ll add polyphenols and Omega-3 fatty acids good for cutting immune-depleting stress. Whole grains, specifically oats and barley, are superfoods when it comes to immune-strengthening capabilities. Studies have found that the specific fiber they contain (beta-glucan) helps increase immunity to serious illnesses including influenza and anthrax. Taking all this into consideration, you’ll probably want to whip up some tasty trail mix or granola. The terrific thing about this type of snack is that you can use whatever nuts you want to and add in some sunflower seeds and even some dark chocolate chunks for good measure to optimize your immune system’s effectiveness.

Washing it All Down

Drinking water and other fluids flush toxins from your body, so it’s vital to stay hydrated when you’re healthy as well as when you’re sick. Water is great for cleansing your system, but drinks such as orange juice or tea contain antioxidants and other nutrients that bolster the immune system. Citrus juice, such as orange, provides Vitamin C, and green and black tea provide antioxidants. What’s more, green tea contains an amino acid (L-theanine) that has been found to decrease inflammation and increase germ-fighting capabilities in your cells. On the other hand, you could also opt for turmeric tea, a spicy beverage that contains curcumin that acts as an anti-inflammatory that also activates and regulates T cells.

Put it All Together

Looking for a way to incorporate a load of these foods into one meal? Whip up this healthy stir-fry for dinner, then finish with dark-chocolate dipped berries or a dark chocolate chunk oatmeal bar. Nobody said boosting your immune system can’t be delicious.

Immune-Boosting Stir Fry

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb chicken or beef, cut into 1-inch cubes or 1 ½ – 2 lbs of crab
  • 2 inches peeled ginger, sliced into 12 pieces
  • 1 large bunch broccoli (1 lb), florets trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
  • 1 chopped scallion
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb maitake, shiitake, or reishi mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp peanut or olive oil for frying

Sauce:

  • 1 c cold water or ½ c cold water + ½ c cooking sherry
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce (optional)

Directions

**If you’re using crab, clean it and cut it into pieces. Pat it dry with paper towels, then place in a large bowl. Toss with 1 to 2 Tbsp corn starch to coat, then proceed with frying step.

  • Whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside.
  • Heat wok or frying pan over medium-high heat, then add oil. Allow oil to heat before adding meat and frying until pieces are cooked. (The beef will brown; the chicken will no longer look pink; the crab will turn red.) Remove meat from pan with slotted spoon to strain out excess oil and set aside.
  • Place vegetables in hot wok, replenishing 1 Tbsp of oil, if necessary, starting with the ginger, scallion, and garlic, and frying for a couple of minutes, until aromatic, then add in the rest of the veggies. Stir as the mixture fries and when the mushrooms start to reduce in size, add the meat back in, continuing to work quickly to keep the mixture stirring as it cooks.
  • When the broccoli is crisp-tender, pour the sauce mixture into the wok. Continually stir until the sauce boils and thickens, coating the meat and vegetables generously.
  • Remove from heat and serve over rice or noodles.

The Dangerous Effects of Stress (and How to Stay Healthy When the World is Freaking Out)

Lucky us—to get hit with two pandemics at once. While everyone is hyper-focused on COVID-19, most are ignoring the rampant stress that’s spreading faster than the coronavirus that spawned it. The thing about the situation that should be concerning health officials and everyone else is that all this trauma and drama affects immune systems, leaving the world’s over-stressed population vulnerable to catching the disease that’s causing all the anxiety and negative energy to begin with. Last week, we shared the secret to immunity against all diseases: exercise. No surprise, working out also battles stress. It’s one way staying fit keeps you from getting ill. Let’s talk about that more, along with a number of other things you can do to fight stress and stay healthy when the world is freaking out.

How Stress Breaks Down Your Immune System

When you get stressed out, you could experience several immediate physical reactions including anxiety, headache, restlessness, chest pain, or nausea. Those are direct results of your body flooding with adrenaline and cortisol, a hormone that, under normal circumstances, helps you deal with stress in a healthy way by assisting with blood glucose levels, controlling your metabolism, and helping regulate blood pressure. Unfortunately, when stress hormones are released, they also signal your body to shift all its energy onto that “fight or flight” situation, and it ends up shutting down other necessary systems including your immune system. Again, under normal circumstances, that state is supposed to be temporary. That’s why, when you’re subjected to ongoing, long-term stress, cortisol levels remain elevated and begin to affect your health, causing alarming effects including:

  • Depression, mood swings, fatigue
  • high blood pressure
  • weight gain
  • cardiovascular disease
  • respiratory conditions

What’s more, your immune system starts to break down and that’s the reason why stress is linked to stomach ulcers, heart disease, asthma, and infectious illnessspecifically the flu. It’s also interesting to note that a number of conditions resulting from stress are also on the CDC’s list of underlying medical conditions that put people at higher risk for becoming severely ill if they contract the coronavirus. So, it stands to reason that guarding against these conditions or at least keeping them in check through exercise will support your immune system and help protect against contracting any illness.

Staying Healthy During Stressful Times

Understanding how stress can leave you susceptible to infectious disease is only part of the solution. The next step is recognizing that, even though you “get” an enforced open-ended vacation from normal life, the current situation is stressing you out. Maybe you don’t feel it 24/7, and maybe you feel like you’re dealing with it fairly well. Still, no one can completely escape the shock, upset, and strain that the complete chaos and upheaval in our schedules have caused. Once you’ve cleared those two stages, you can move on to managing the stress and maintaining your health.

Working Out

Naturally, we feel that exercise is the number one way you can keep your immune system strong. Just in case you think we’re biased, though, you should know that it’s at the top of the Mayo Clinic’s list of ways to manage stress. That’s because when you work out, your body reduces the amount of stress hormones it releases. Plus, getting your blood flowing clears bacteria out of your airways, and it turns your white blood cells into fierce illness and infection fighters.

Enforced togetherness can add to stress.

When you’re not used to it, being cooped up in close quarters with the family can be a cause of stress in itself. Many people might deal with that stress by going to the gym. But, wait. What if you can’t get to the gym because of a shutdown or quarantine? Stress levels go up. Additionally, a vast number of people who work out do it to ward off depression, fight PTSD, or deal with a number of emotional issues. That’s what makes this plague an issue of mental health as well as one of physical health. Many officials blithely suggest “working out at home” and “going outside for a walk and outdoor activities.” It makes you wonder if those officials have ever worked out a day in their lives. Spring is barely here, and most of the country is still experiencing winter-like weather, so outdoor workouts aren’t likely to happen right now. What’s more, studies have found that resistance training boosts the amount of immune cells circulating through your system. That means even if the weather was good enough to go for a jog or bike ride, the loss of access to your usual workout can have a negative effect on your immune system if you resistance train.

Body weight exercises can be a fairly good short-term solution for weight lifters who can’t get to the gym.

If you don’t have access to the equipment you normally use, don’t let the research bum you out. You can try to get your hands on some home fitness equipment, but be prepared for many companies to be sold out of stock. At the end of last week’s blog, we gave a handful of links to articles that list alternative ways to exercise when you can’t get to the gym, including bodyweight exercises, equipment-less routines, and outdoor workouts. And, if you do have access to a health club and haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 and aren’t sick with any type of illness, be sure to do everyone a favor (yourself included) by wiping down the equipment with disinfectant (all the responsible gyms are well-stocked now) and using hand sanitizer frequently.

Other Stress-Reducing Tricks

If you temporarily have to change up your workouts to something different, consider yoga, tai chi, or kickboxing. All three get your brain involved, helping keep you mentally healthy while you’re staying physically healthy. Definitely do get some outdoor time in, if weather permits. Getting out into nature has been shown to reduce stress—even if it is in a relatively urban setting like at a park or along a greenbelt. Consider starting a meditation practice, too. Meditating for just 15 minutes a day delivers a slew of health benefits including stress reduction.

And while we’re talking about mindful things like meditation, yoga, and getting out into nature, we suggest you seriously consider unplugging. When faced with tons of free time, many people got excited at the prospect of catching up on their binge-watching. While there’s nothing wrong with catching a few back-to-back episodes of Mrs. Maisel, Stranger Things, or Westworld, sitting on the sofa like a slug for weeks on end will eat away at your overall health—mental as well as physical.

#boycottthenews

What’s more, staying tuned into the news all day every day will certainly drive you over the edge. We say #boycottthenews . The media isn’t passing on any good news, anyway. They’re not giving us an accurate picture of the current outbreak compared to past pandemics, and they’re focusing solely on the death toll while leaving out the number of people who have recovered, which happens to be in the hundreds of thousands. Even the World Health Organization says you should limit your news check-ins to once a day—twice max. It’s the media and social networking that have stirred up all this panic and stress, turning way too many people into information junkies glued to their screens like methamphetamine addicts jonesing for their next benny. Break the habit. We promise you’ll be happier and healthier.

Sticking to a schedule can be cathartic during an uncertain time like this, and it’s especially helpful for those who are still working, but who are doing it from home now. Knowing what you’re going to do each day gives you purpose so you don’t feel at loose ends. Even if you worked from home long before corona hit, your schedule may have taken a hit. More people at home with you and/or new, extra duties will do that. Take a deep breath, accept the fact that you’re living Normal 2.0 now, and set up your new schedule–then stick to it.

Don’t look at quarantine as vacation–use it to take care of those to-do’s you haven’t had time for.

 

If you’re not working while at home, instead of being tempted to spend your days staring at the TV or computer screen, do something creative and fun. Work on a jigsaw puzzle, start a journal, build a tree house, paint the living room, learn to play an instrument, clean out your closet or the attic. There are probably a ton of to-do’s you’ve been meaning to get to. Do them now, and if they’re activities the whole, quarantined family can get in on, all the better.

What You Eat Can Strengthen or Weaken Your Immune System

You still have access to healthy food–don’t undermine your immune system with preservative-loaded processed foods.

Finally, make sure what you eat supports your health. A recent study showed a link between diet and stress, finding that diets lacking Omega-3’s and fiber were linked to increased stress, anxiety and depression. What’s more, WebMD says that stress and dehydration work in a vicious cycle—stress can dehydrate you and dehydration can stress you. Make use of all that bottled water you hoarded when this all started, and use it to wash down healthy, stress-fighting foods such as citrus fruits, nuts, and even a bar of dark chocolate. And when you make out your online grocery list, be sure to include things like:

  • sweet potatoes
  • whole-grain bread
  • avocados (guacamole, anyone?)
  • herbal tea
  • tuna, halibut, or salmon
  • milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs (especially if they’re supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids)
  • fiber-rich foods such as beans, peas, berries, broccoli, and kale

We saw the empty shelves at the market, so we know your emergency pantry is brimming with canned goods and processed foods. The problem is, a lot of the food you’ve squirreled away is bad for your immune system. The good news is that this isn’t a full-scale emergency situation. Grocery stores are still open and there’s plenty of fresh foods available to be delivered right to your doorstep. Eat fresh and healthy now to shore up your immune system, and save your stash for a time when it’s truly needed.

The Final Word

Most of all—and this can’t be emphasized enough—remember that this is all temporary. Half the world is healed up already. It’s true that things aren’t likely to return to the way they were in 2019 and before, but the fear and anxiety will die down, businesses will open their doors, and people will come outside of their homes once again. And we’ll all get on with our lives.

Exercise Helps Keep You Immune From Illness (Yes, ALL Illness…)

In this day and age, how could a microscopic organism shut down the entire world? It sounds like a bad B movie: The Bizarre Virus That Took Over the Planet. What’s extra surreal is that healthy people really don’t have anything to fear from COVID, yet the crisis has caused health clubs across the country to close. Now, we can’t speak for everyone, but our hometown gym makes it a policy to disinfect the equipment daily plus provide spray bottles of industrial-strength disinfectant throughout the facility so members can clean the equipment before and after they use it on top of the cleaning the gym does. Right now, a well-run fitness club is probably the cleanest, healthiest place you can be. Yet, considering how contagious the coronavirus is and the many unknowns still surrounding it, you can kind of see why health officials want to minimize people’s interactions as much as possible. But! We digress…

Instead of debating the fine line drawn around health clubs designating them as “unessential,” we’re choosing to talk about some hard facts today. Like the fact that, generally, COVID is NOT a death sentence. Yes, it is highly contagious, and people have died from it, but the overwhelming majority who contract it recover. In fact, over 212,000 people worldwide who contracted the virus have already recovered. RECOVERED! That’s extremely good news, but no one is focusing on that because it wouldn’t stir up a frenzy. What’s more, because more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild and not life-threatening, it’s likely that the recovery rate is actually much better than is being reported.

The fact is, a vastly larger number of people die from the good old-fashioned flu every year. In the 2018-2019 flu season, 34,200 people died from basic influenza in the U.S. Plus, with influenza A and B hitting Americans from both sides, we’ve had a double-barreled flu season this year, so incoming mortality numbers from the flu are expected to match or exceed last year’s. At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 death-toll is around 2,860 and it’s true that the numbers are going up every day, so it’s hard to project what a total number will be by the end of it all. Still, the press won’t point out to you that there have been pandemics in the recent past that were at least as bad if not worse. Take H1N1 from 2009, for example. In one year, that insidious disease was responsible for over 12,400 U.S. deaths and killed about 575,400 people worldwide. As serious as the coronavirus is, when you take ALL the available information into consideration, this current outbreak doesn’t warrant the level of freakout it’s getting.

So, here’s the bottom line: most of those who do contract the coronavirus will recover from it and the basic treatment will be the same as the regular flu. You’re not even likely to be hospitalized and will convalesce at home, feeling feverish and achy, drinking lots of fluids and downing gallons of chicken soup but, odds are, you will recover.

That’s not to make light of the situation. Just putting it in perspective. Naturally, if you are sick –with anything!—or feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or any other illness, you should stay away from public places and avoid contact with anyone anyway. You should have already been practicing good hygiene—why did it take a worldwide pandemic to get you to wash your hands? Staying away from others when you’re sick and using soap, water, and hand disinfectant shouldn’t be your new normal. It should have been your normal all along. Helpful and interesting fact: did you know that the World Health Organization says only those infected should be wearing masks? If you’re not infected or caring for someone who is, you’re wasting a mask and that’s a shame, considering there’s currently a shortage of medical masks.

AND (you knew we were going to segue into an exercise lecture) you should be working out to stay healthy and reinforce your immune system. Exercise strengthens your entire body, not just your muscles. It makes all your cells stronger so they can fight off all diseases. In that light, we decided to pull out a previously published post on exercise and illness to provide a refresher for those who’ve forgotten how important working out is for your immune system. If nothing else, it’ll give you something to read during isolation:

Exercise During Cold and Flu Season

Starting in the fall and lasting until spring, the season of sickness typically peaks in late January/early February. It may be surprising, but the solution to staying healthy during this notorious time of year isn’t found in a doctor’s office or pill bottle.

Exercising Strengthens More Than Muscles

Exercise literally transforms your T cells, making them into warriors ready to fight infection and even cancer!

Building strength and losing weight are the typical reasons for working out, but physical activity also strengthens your immune system, which is essential for defending your body against all types of infection. Of course that includes colds and influenza, but EurekAlert! reports that exercise bolsters the immune system enough to fight off cancer. If working out can help defend against the #2 cause of death in America, it can be trusted to help you stay fairly healthy throughout cold and flu season. If you’re the type who needs science to prove that physical activity really does help, consider the study published in the American Journal of Medicine. It found that women who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise–as little as a 30-minute walk every day–had half the number of colds than women who did not exercise at all.

How Working Out Helps

Working out increases blood flow and your temperature, which flushes your system and helps your body fight off infection.

When something works well, it’s always interesting to know why it does. In the case of working out and exercise as cold remedies, however, doctors admit that they don’t know exactly why they are effective. According to MedlinePlus, some theorize that increased blood flow during exercise causes white blood cells and antibodies to circulate throughout your system more quickly. Also, when you exercise, your body temperature goes up kind of like when you have a fever, inhibiting bacteria growth and helping your body fight infection. The increased blood flow and quicker, elevated breathing during exercise flushes your system, helping eliminate bacteria from your airways and lungs, too. Plus, working out reduces stress hormones in your body which chip away at your immune system. Fewer stress hormones equal stronger immune defenses.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

Packed with healthy, healing foods, chicken soup comes by its illness-fighting reputation naturally.

Nutrition plays a big part in staying healthy any time of the year. Healthy Eating recommends padding your diet during cold and flu season with immune-boosting foods such as garlic, beef and chicken, peanuts, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products that contain probiotic cultures. Chicken soup has a legitimate reputation for being a flu and cold remedy because it contains zinc from the chicken, antioxidants and vitamins from the veggies, and antibiotic and healing properties from garlic. Don’t wait until you get sick to stay hydrated, either. Drink plenty of water and fruit juices, specifically citrus juice which contains Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.

When You’re Sick

If increased heart rate is a side effect of your cold meds, skip exercise until you’re off medication.

When you do catch a cold, working out might be the last thing you feel like doing. However, working out is OK if you don’t have a fever, and exercise can even help you feel better. It will get your temperature up in a healthy way and increase blood flow. Plus, exercise often helps decongest your sinuses and lungs.

WebMD points out the importance of listening to your body to determine if an illness is serious enough to keep you from exercising. For example, if you have a fever, skip the workout. Also, taking prescription or over the counter cold and flu medications that affect heart rate is another reason to forego exercise. If you do decide to workout, don’t share your germs. Minimize the chances of passing on your cold by wiping down all the equipment you use when you’re finished and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.

If you aren’t able to make it into your health club because of enforced closures, do what you can at home and outside. It might even be a good chance to overcome a plateau you’ve been struggling with. We have some great resources here on our blog about working out at home and alternative workouts–the links are listed below. With a little extra time on your hands, make it a priority to stay active and stay healthy.

Outdoor Workouts

5 HIIT Workouts Including a No-Equipment Required Routine

25 Ways Your Health Benefits From Cycling

Stay Healthy With Tennis

Staying in Shape Away From the Gym

What’s the Rage Over ‘Roids?

You’ve seen the monsters that compete in professional bodybuilding and hopefully you know better than to believe any of them who claim to be all-natural. Even amidst warnings of health issues and even death, the pros have increasingly developed a collective attitude that they can’t compete–and win–unless they use steroids. The fact that admitted juicers keep winning the big titles essentially proves that theory to be true.

It’s kinda sad that a sport that started out as a way to distinguish those who have the discipline to naturally manipulate their bodies into artistic physiques has become a showcase to reward the guy who has access to the best drugs. Let’s step down off the soapbox, though. Last we checked, it’s a free country, and everyone should be able to do what they want to, provided it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s lives. So, for argument sake, let’s overlook the fact that possession of and selling anabolic steroids is illegal, and let’s say that it’s OK that pro bodybuilders believe in better physiques through chemistry. Should the average Joe (or Jane) resort to steroid use instead of hard work, commitment, and perseverance to lose weight and build muscle? Um, the answer is still “no”.

First, a Little Myth-Busting

Why bother taking steroids if you’re not going to get the most out of them by working out?

Some people resort to ‘roids because they think it’s a quick and easy way to get the physique they want without putting in any of the work. While it’s true that you can gain muscle without working out by using anabolic steroids, you’ll see the biggest gains and get the best results if you do lift weights. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, subjects who received doses of testosterone and worked out gained two to three times more muscle mass than their counterparts who only did one or the other. So, if you’re going to juice, you might as well work out, too, to get the best results.

The Draw

Steroid use adjusts your body so it uses all types of fuel more efficiently.

OK, so you’re willing to work out, but you still want to juice because it will help build more muscle faster. It’s understandable to be tempted to use something that has been proven to increase muscle mass quickly. And isn’t it a bonus that steroid use turns your body into a machine that ultra-efficiently uses protein, but can also make good use of almost any type of fuel? Who wouldn’t love building muscle while not having to compulsively follow a strict diet? One of the biggest draws to steroids, though, is that using them slows the body’s process of making fat cells, according to a study published in Endocrinology. When you can eat whatever you want–typically the more, the better–and only gain muscle mass and no fat, it might seem like a no-brainer.

Payin’ the Piper

Most steroid-users who die succumb to death from natural causes, but at very early ages like Mike Matarazzo who died of a heart attack at age 47. Image via Chronic Hunter/YouTube

Ah, but there’s a dark cloud behind the steroid silver lining. You might enjoy a few years of looking hot and being as strong as Hercules, but you gotta know that you can never get something for nothing. The bill will come due at some point; consistent steroid use will take a toll on your body and your health, and you don’t have to juice long-term to see the effects. Research has shown that even brief steroid use has permanent effects. Yes, those effects can be both good and bad, but when the bad includes:

  • stopping the body’s testosterone production
  • mood swings
  • decreased sperm count in men
  • hair loss (for men)
  • excessive facial and body hair (for women)
  • risk of enlarged heart
  • heart disease
  • liver disease and liver cancer
  • tendon ruptures c
  • complexion problems like acne and jaundice

is it really worth it? All of these are results of steroid use, according to WebMD, and if you’re already genetically prone to any of them, using steroids will increase the likelihood that you’ll experience them. In fact, it can also speed up the rate at which you develop a condition you’re prone to.

Even if you have a natural skin-tone, there’s a line you cross from looking fine to looking freakish.

Yes, there are a few cases of long-term steroid users who haven’t yet suffered severe effects from having juiced, but they tend to be people who can afford to pay a doctor to provide quality meds and monitor their health closely for the rest of their lives. Plus, there’s always a chance that their use will catch up with them at some point in the future.

Anyone who is serious enough to look into the facts and fiction of it all are likely to come to the same conclusion we did. In the face of overwhelming negatives and just a handful of conflicting, positive reports, the potential risks of steroid use outweigh any benefits. Besides, it’s more of an accomplishment to look amazing and have done it naturally and entirely on your own than to look like a Marvel mutant courtesy of medicinal enhancement.