Cuckoo For Coconut Oil

If this post leads you to believe that we’re jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon, that’s only partially true. Sure, you’ve probably seen countless articles, blog posts and emails that all herald coconut oil as a “miracle” or “super” food. We were actually going to write a post on the subject long ago. However, when doing the research, the information at the time seemed to be conflicting. None of the authoritative references we like to cite came down conclusively on coconut oil’s side. At best, most of them cautiously conceded to a few benefits, but overall still recommended avoiding coconut oil or at least including it sparingly in your diet.

Likely at the heart of the hesitation to promote coconut oil is people’s tendency to go overboard with health recommendations. If a study comes out that seems to show that high protein diets are good for you, everyone starts shunning the other food groups and fills their plates with all the meat they can eat. (Keto, anyone?) Then, when a study is published a few months later negates the findings of the first study, all of a sudden everyone is off meat and back on the vegetable and grains train.

Lately, though, we’ve come across credible references that indicate that coconut oil lovers are right. Including coconut oil in your diet can benefit you on many levels.

Naturally Saturated is OK

Virgin organic coconut oil is good for you and can strengthen immunity, brain, liver and lung function and can enhance your metabolism.

Coconut oil gets shoved into a gray area mostly because it’s a saturated fat. When trying to keep the task of sorting through fats simple, we’ve been taught that saturated fats are evil and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good. Sorry, though, it isn’t that simple. It’s when fat is manipulated in the lab to give it a longer shelf life that it becomes unhealthy. The process is called hydrogenation, and it can turn even an innocent unsaturated vegetable oil into an unwholesome, saturated trans fat. It’s the trans fats that you should really watch out for.

In fact, natural saturated fat is not only OK but a necessity for health. Two respected doctors who specialize in the field of obesity outlined for the readers of Four Hour Work Week seven reasons to eat more saturated fat, including stronger bones, improved brain, liver and lung health, stronger immunity, enhanced metabolism and, most surprising, lowered cardiovascular risks. According to Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades, saturated fat lowers lipoprotein (a) levels that are associated with heart disease risk.

It’s the Lauric Acid

Yes, coconut oil has more saturate fat than butter, but it’s a natural unhydrogenated fat that your body needs.

An element that plays a big part in letting coconut oil off the hook is lauric acid. Around half of coconut oil’s saturated fat content — which is almost 50 percent more than the saturated fat content of butter — is from the rare natural fat that gives coconut oil its legendary status. According to Dr.Mercola, when your body uses lauric acid, it becomes monolaurin, a powerful bacteria, virus and even parasite slayer. Monolaurin has been shown to demolish pathogenic bacteria, herpes, HIV, measles and flu viruses and can also rid the body of giardia parasites.

That’s No Typo — We Said “Weight Loss”

Studies have shown that supplementing coconut oil helps take fat off your middle, and does it without increasing cholesterol.

This is one of those cases where “too good to be true” isn’t. If you’ve read that coconut oil can help you lose weight, you read right. A study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that supplementing coconut oil in the diet promotes abdominal weight reduction. That could be because coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid by over half. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center says that “MCFAs” stimulate metabolism to increase fat burning and reduce abdominal fat. They’re easy to digest and take the fast-track to your liver which converts MCFAs to energy for immediate use instead of converting them to fat for storage. That means that coconut oil not only encourages fat burning, but also won’t contribute to fat gain. Another interesting note in the study is that supplementing coconut oil did not cause an increase in lipids, as you might suspect it would. That’s good news on the cholesterol front.

Overall Beauty Treatment

Coconut oil is a terrific skin moisturizer, cuticle softener, and overall beauty treatment.

Including coconut oil in your diet can improve your body from the inside out because it boosts your immune system, encourages cell regeneration, and facilitates fat burning. However, you can also benefit from using it topically. Health Ambition lists a whole slew of beauty uses for coconut oil including using it as a

  • hair conditioner
  • skin moisturizer
  • lip balm
  • cuticle softener
  • eye cream
  • shaving cream
  • makeup remover

You can even make a moisturizing exfoliating scrub by mixing equal parts of coconut oil with sea salt or sugar.

Make Moderation Your Mantra

Adding a moderate amount coconut oil to your diet will do you good.

Just as with anything in life, using coconut oil in moderation is the key. Don’t clear your pantry of other healthy oils such as olive or safflower oil and begin using coconut oil exclusively. Don’t slather it on everything you eat from here on out. As Registered Dietician Kristin Kirkpatrick tells the Huffington Post, focus on portion control just as much as what is in those portions. If you keep “moderation” as your mantra, coconut oil can be a health-improving addition to your diet.

The Most Beneficial Part of Coconut Oil

If you’re thinking of taking coconut oil as a supplement, you might consider using MCT oil instead. As Cognitune explains, MCT oils are the specific parts of coconut oil that are the most beneficial. You can find out more about this amazing elixir and how it’s level of purity takes coconut oil supplementation up a notch in their video:

Summer Heat is No Excuse to Ditch Your Workout

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Summer’s rising heat is no excuse to ditch your workout — it can actually help improve your fitness level and performance.

There are a lot of reasons workouts and health club memberships suffer in the summertime. The nice weather beckons and the last thing you want to do is go to the gym and push yourself through a workout. The heat can be a deterrent, too. Whether it’s a dry heat or a muggy one, high temperatures tend to drain your energy and your resolve. The excuse of “it’s just too hot to workout” isn’t a legitimate one, though.

A study done at the University of Oregon and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that training in heat improved athletic performance. In fact, heat training proved to be better than high altitude training for reaching superior fitness levels. How hot was it? 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with 30 percent humidity. (!) That’s some pretty encouraging data, but don’t go off half-cocked and throw yourself into a full-blown super-heated workout just yet. Exercising in heat does put extra stress on your body and can cause serious health issues if you don’t do it right. Go into your hot summer workout informed and prepared and you’ll stay healthy and in shape well into the cooler fall weather, and improve your performance and fitness level in the bargain.

Heated Concerns

If you don’t know how to work out in the heat properly, you could wind up with a heat illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, even if your body temperature is normal, the hot environment around you can cause minor effects such as light-headedness and muscle cramping or more serious consequences including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Take the precautions listed in the next section, but whenever you workout, whether in your “normal” environment or the heat, watch out for signs such as

Workout smart in the heat. If you get a headache or experience any other symptoms of heat illness, stop exercising and cool your body temperature immediately.

  • weakness and fatigue
  • headache
  • nausea
  • muscle cramps
  • excessive sweating
  • increased heart rate
  • blurry vision
  • confusion
  • low blood pressure, dizziness
  • irritability

If any of these symptoms occur, stop your workout, drink some water and work on lowering your body temperature. Fan yourself, remove extra layers of clothing, spritz your body with water, even wrap yourself in wet towels or apply ice packs.

The “Do’s” to Hot Workouts

Drink water or a sports drink every 15 minutes when you’re exercising in the heat.

Ease yourself into exercising in the heat, working out for a shorter period of time at first or working out with less intensity until you’re acclimated to exercising in elevated temperatures. Also, it’s not advisable to workout in temperatures that are much higher than 100˚ F. Prepare yourself before you jump into working out in the heat. Health and fitness professionals offer vital tips such as wearing lightweight wicking clothing, taking a cool shower before your workout, and drinking plenty of water. In fact, you should hydrate throughout the day, not just during your workout, and to drink a sports drink while exercising. Whether you opt for the sports drink or water, though, be sure you take in at least 4 and up to 8 ounces every 15 minutes while working out.

Re-Motivate

Summer heat shouldn’t be an excuse to stop working out. Instead, it’s the ideal justification for changing up your workout. Web MD recommends adjusting your workout based on your surroundings, whether you’re on vacation or spending the summer at home. For example, swimming in a lake provides an effective full-body workout including cardio, and you’ll stay cool while doing it. Pole walking in the mountains is another terrific way to work your whole body as well as your cardiovascular system. And does anyone really need to point out that beaches facilitate great workouts like snorkeling or beach volleyball? No matter where you are, though, simple activities such as a bike ride provide beneficial exercise and, even if there’s just a gentle breeze, biking through the moving air will feel cooling.

TargitFit class.2

Whether you take a class, hit the cardio equipment, or lift weights, the climate-controlled environment at the gym is cooler than summer outdoor temperatures.

Those are all excellent ideas for outdoor exercise but don’t give up on the gym just because it’s summer. If staying cool is your main goal instead of trying a hot workout, the gym is the logical place to be because most health clubs have cooling systems or are air conditioned. You’ll still want to dress appropriately and drink ample fluids, but the climate controlled environment will be a bit more comfortable than the triple-digit temperatures outside. Plus you won’t be back at square one with your fitness level and workouts when autumn comes.

Too Much Pain for Gain

You don’t have to give up on your workout to avoid shoulder pain.

It’s tough to maintain enthusiasm for working out when you’re in pain–specifically if the workout is weightlifting. Shoulder pain, for example, is a common complaint among weightlifters, bodybuilders, and powerlifters. It usually develops as a repetitive motion injury after years of lifting heavy and, often, using improper technique. That’s not to say that people who have been lifting for years who experience shoulder pain don’t know what they’re doing. It’s just that they may not be aware that there are alternative ways to structure their workouts that will result in less wear and tear on their shoulder joints.

On Bench Pressing


How much ya bench? by Shakey74

“Howmuchyabench?” is a phrase frequently heard everywhere from weight rooms to bar rooms. Bench presses are the most common chest exercise, and one of the most common resistance exercises in general. While the bench press is effective for building chest muscles, it’s also rough on your shoulder joints. Unless you experience shoulder pain while bench pressing, you don’t have to completely give up that essential chest exercise. However, you should know that there are other exercises you can perform that won’t aggravate your shoulders like the bench press does.

Incorporate more pushups and less bench presses on chest day for less shoulder pain.

Muscle and Fitness says that you should start doing more push-ups than bench presses, even advising that you entirely switch out one for the other. If your shoulder pain isn’t chronic, it’s not necessary to give up pressing, but do incorporate more push-ups and cut back on the bench. Also, it’s easy to get in a pushing rut when you’re trying to build chest muscles, but you can avoid shoulder pain by building your back muscles so that they balance your physique. When you ignore your back and focus too much on working the chest, your pecs will pull your shoulders forward. Your arms will also tend to turn in, and the entire posture will set you up for shoulder pain. The solution is to add more heavy pulling exercises, such as weighted rows, to your workout routine. Also, never underestimate the valuable effects of proper form when doing any exercise.

The Lateral Raise Dilemma

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Using bands to do lateral raises offers better resistance that is easy on your joints.

Lateral raises are another exercise that notoriously cause shoulder pain to flare up. In the December 2015 issue of Muscle and Fitness1, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Sean Hyson explains that your posture during this exercise is everything when it comes to avoiding shoulder pain. If you were taught to stand perfectly upright while performing lateral raises, you were set up for impinging your shoulder joints. Hyson recommends hinging your body at the hips so that you’re bending forward slightly. Remember to keep your elbows bent a little, raise the weights no higher than shoulder level, and maintain control as you lower them. Alternatively, using resistance band equipment such as the TargitFit Trainer to do lateral raises won’t put as much pressure on your shoulder joints and will provide linear variable resistance to maximize your workout.

The Core of the Problem

Building strength in your rotator cuffs will stabilize your shoulders and reduce chances of pain and injury. Image by Beth Scupham/Flickr

According to Bodybuilding.com, weak rotator cuffs are the biggest issue with shoulder pain and injuries. You have to admit, you don’t often (if ever) work in a rotator cuff day amid your weekly workout schedule. You don’t have to dedicate an entire day to them, but including a few exercises once a week to work the four small muscles that stabilize your shoulders will pay off in less shoulder pain and increased strength for other upper body exercises. After doing some doorway stretches to stretch and prepare your chest and the backs of your shoulders, perform three sets of 10 reps each of exercises such as

Naturally, you don’t want to do your rotator cuff exercises on the same day or the day before you work chest and shoulders, so schedule at least 48 hours in between to allow your rotator cuffs to recover.

 

1Sean Hyson, CSCS, “Pain-Free Shoulders,” Muscle & Fitness, December, 2015, 58

 

The Stretching Debate

05311801Ever since junior high school PE class, the importance of stretching before exercise has been drilled into our heads. Some instructors say it’s to warm-up your muscles and get blood flowing while others say it’s to improve muscle elasticity and range of motion, and some will tell you stretching does both for the ultimate goal of avoiding injury. If you’ve gone through life adhering to the pre-workout stretching rule, you probably feel that it’s served you well. In general, stretching does increase blood flow and elongate the muscles. However, research has sparked a debate over when you should stretch and what types of stretches you should perform.

The Research

In 2013, a study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which revealed that certain types of stretches performed before or during exercise actually weakened muscles. That works against you when your goal is to increase strength by upping the amount you lift. It needs to be noted that the offending stretches were static stretches—ones in which you hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. It’s thought that elongating and relaxing the muscles hinders their ability to emit force, so you aren’t able to lift as much after static stretching. That’s not to say that you can’t increase strength if you do a few static stretches before you lift. The study simply showed a weakening of muscles that were statically stretched. That means you won’t gain as much strength as you possibly could otherwise.

Beneficial Stretches

So here’s the thing: it seems that dynamic stretches don’t affect muscle strength as static stretches do. In fact, a different study also published in the JSCR compared the two types of stretches and found that the dynamic ones actually increase muscle power and enhance performance. That’s better than good news for those who feel the need to stretch before a workout. It means you have options and the best one can help with those strength gains you’ve been chasing.

Just in case you’re not familiar with dynamic stretching, it’s the technique in which you move throughout the stretch rather than holding it. Some examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • high kicks
  • T-pushups
  • twisting lunges and hip stretches
  • high steps (aka: knees to chest)

In fact, there are a many dynamic stretches you could perform to prep your muscles for a strength-building workout. However, you only need about a 5-minute warm-up, so it’s not really necessary to spend the bulk of your time in the gym stretching. If you don’t already have a dynamic stretching routine of your own, borrow this effective dynamic warm-up from Anabolic Aliens:

Timing it Right

Super. You have permission to stretch before exercising, provided you perform dynamic stretches. To maximize strength gains, Muscle and Fitness recommends that, instead of going through a full-body routine, you focus on stretching the muscles you’ll be working out.

05311803What’s more, you don’t have to forego static stretching altogether. Bodybuilding.com advises that you perform them after you’ve worked out. They can act as a cool-down routine that will keep your muscles loose so they won’t cramp, can help decrease muscle soreness, and can increase range of motion according to TrainingPeaks.

It’s NEVER Too Late

Many people spend their younger years riding the awesome wave of an efficient metabolism. They can eat anything, count leisure activities such as golfing and walks in the park as exercise, and still fit into the clothes they wore in high school. For the vast majority, however, nature has a nasty wake up call in store. Once they hit a certain age, typically around 40 or 50, their metabolism slows down and they start experiencing weight gain and health problems. It’s at that point people typically look back with regret and wish that they’d gotten into fitness when they were younger. Ah, but now it’s too late. Right?

If you have been hiding behind your age as a reason to avoid exercise, that excuse is no longer valid. There are a number of “elderly” people who are in amazing shape, and who are living proof that it’s never too late.

Women 60 (and Older!) Are the New 20

Ruby Carter-Pikes is in her 70s and in good enough shape to take top honors in fitness competitions.
Image by Bodybuilding and Beyond/YouTube

Every fitness, bikini, and bodybuilding competition has a Masters class. It’s the division in which people 40, 45, or 50 and older (depending on the competition) compete. The idea is that a 50-year-old shouldn’t be expected to compete against a 25-year-old, but in 2012, Ruby Carter-Pikes held her own in a fitness competition at age 64, beating out all but one person for the overall title, according to NBC Los Angeles. Then, in 2014 Ruby took first place in the Masters at age 67.

 

Older than some grandmas, Ernestine Shepherd is the world’s oldest bodybuilder.
Image by Tangra IYI News/YouTube

 

 

She isn’t the only older lady who is showing up the young ‘uns, either. Ernestine Shepherd is over 80, and she holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest female bodybuilder. Here is one of the most inspiring parts of Ernie’s story: she didn’t start her road to fitness until she was 56. That’s some potent motivation for women of any age who wish they could look and feel better.

Older Men Got it Goin’ On

Now in his 60’s, Lou Ferrigno is in as good a shape as ever–maybe even better! Image by Gabbot/Flickr

Lou Ferrigno stays busy in the entertainment world, but his high profile would be hard to miss under any circumstances. Because the former bodybuilder still looks so dang great, you have to take a second to do the math, but he is over 60 and still as fit as ever. Ferrigno attributes his amazing physique to working out for over an hour six days a week, but that is under ideal circumstances. Lou told Men’s Fitness that he was only able to work out one day a week during the time he spent filming Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he succeeded in maintaining his fitness level during that time by making the most of that one day and eating healthy every day, even taking his own meals to the set.

And it’s not just celebrities who can get and stay fit into their golden years. This past year, Brian Bingham placed first in the Masters over 50 division of the 2017 NPC Holiday Classic—and it was a full class competition against several other older, extremely muscular gentlemen.

So Here’s the Deal…

Agreed. Not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, but that’s kind of the point. The handful of women and men listed here put a lot into maintaining competition-level fitness and physiques. Considering that one of them was able to do it working out just one day a week, think of how easily you could achieve your modest goal of losing a few pounds of fat or gaining some muscle mass. The key is to really, really want to do it. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t succeed, and you’ll be back at square one making the same resolution again in January 2017.

You don’t have to becomde a bodybuilder. Run, lift weights, bike–doing the type of physical activity you enjoy will help you meet your weight loss and fitness goals.

If it’s not just talk and you truly do want to get fit, make one final resolution to do it…and then DO IT! You will see results with just a few minor adjustments to your schedule and your habits. Decide you will work out 3 – 4 days a week and then DO IT. Commit to making healthier food choices most of the time and then DO IT. Get more sleep. Drink more water and fewer sodas and, yes, even cut back on the alcohol. You don’t have to give up your favorite things if you can maintain enough control to enjoy them in moderation. Above all, be realistic and give yourself time to start seeing progress before you become frustrated and fall back into the old patterns that got you to where you are now. There really is no finish line. You will just keep getting better and better and next year you will be able to make a different kind of resolution because you will look and feel 250 percent better than you do now.

Is a Dr’s OK Necessary to Start Working Out?

It’s better to be safe than sorry, but not all people need to see a doctor before starting an exercise program.
Image by Vic/Flickr

Typically, weight loss and fitness advice is accompanied by the recommendation that you see a physician before starting a diet or exercise program, but that is mostly to cover the bases of the one doling out the advice. Though most people should be able to handle common exercises with no problem, no one wants to be responsible when the exception to the rule injures themselves. Still, because you may be an exception to the rule, it might be a good idea for you to see your GP before diving headlong into a diet or exercise program.

Sometimes It’s Not An Issue

TargitFit class.2

Most people should be able to participate in a good workout without worrying about health issues.

If you are in the habit of seeing your doctor annually, you probably don’t need to schedule an extra appointment before you start a fitness and weight loss program. This is especially true if your physicals over the past few years have been essentially normal with no indications that any serious health conditions had developed or might develop. If your blood pressure and blood tests are normal and, other than being a bit overweight or out of shape, you feel fine, you should be OK to start working out. You can always mention your new fitness regimen and discuss any questions with your doctor at your next visit.

Pay Attention to Red Flags

Dizzy spells or problems with balance are red flags that a doctor should weigh in on before you begin an exercise regimen.

Of course, if you know that you have a serious health condition, it’s best to consult a physician before participating in an activity that could aggravate it. Even though moderate physical activity can improve many health issues, your doctor will advise you on the best ways to get the most out of exercising without making your condition worse. The Mayo Clinic says that people with arthritis, asthma or other respiratory disease, diabetes, or heart or kidney disease should talk to their doctors before starting a weight loss or exercise program.

Sometimes, people experience symptoms of a serious disease but haven’t been diagnosed. Harvard Health advises that people who have problems with balance or who experience dizzy spells should see a doctor before starting an exercise program. Other symptoms that should not be ignored include pain in the neck, jaw, or chest during exercise, shortness of breath while exercising or even when at rest, rapid heartbeat, ankle swelling, or joint or lower leg pain. Also, if you take medications that make you dizzy or drowsy, talk to your physician about how your prescriptions may affect you physically if you start working out.

Still Not Sure?

If you’re still unsure about seeing a doctor before working out, spend a few minutes on the PAR-Q to see if it’s necessary for you.

If you aren’t sure whether or not to see your doctor before beginning a weight loss and exercise program, don’t feel bad. Many people have been conditioned to play it safe instead of taking a risk and being sorry later. Seeing the difficulty some people have when trying to decide between jumping into an exercise regimen or waiting until a doctor has given them the OK, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology developed the PAR-Q–the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire. It’s a handy little tool that can save some time and anxiety by helping you to conclusively determine whether a visit the doctor before starting a workout program is necessary.

Recommit to Your New Year’s Resolution

Celebrate New Years all over again by recommitting to your fitness and weight loss resolution now.

Statistics show that as we get further away from the new year, more people bail on the good intentions they had starting out. If you’re among the 54 percent who resolved to get in shape but have jumped off the wagon, don’t wait another eight months to make a new New Year’s Resolution. Recommit to the one you made this year. It’s not too late to begin a get-fit-for-summer-workout plan and start eating healthy. If you can maintain for the second half of 2018, you can consider your resolution kept.

Focus Your Focus

Refining your resolution to focus on one important goal — and get specific about it–will help you hit your target.

A lot of times the trouble with making resolutions to exercise and eat healthy to lose weight and get into shape is that you set goals that are too broad and vague.

  • I’ll exercise more.
  • I’ll eat better.
  • I’m going to lose 50 pounds in XX months.

Though the intentions behind them are admirable, every one of those resolutions is destined to fail. Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS, FT, CWS of Columbia College advises focusing on one thing you want to change. When the original resolution was, for example, to work out “more” and to lose 50 pounds by March, drop the weight loss part altogether and commit to working out 4 to 5 days a week. The logic behind that strategy is that

#1: it’s unlikely that you’ll lose a large amount of weight in a short amount of time, so you’re cutting out the part that is practically guaranteed to be unsuccessful

–and–

#2: getting specific about the amount of time you’ll spend on workouts each week gives you a goal you can reach

The added bonus is that, if you stick to the workout plan, the weight loss will come anyway.

Make a Plan — and Write it Down!

Writing down your resolution plans weekly will help you define them in specific terms and will also help you track your progress.

Remember, you are far more likely to reach a goal if you write it down…like, nearly 97 percent more likely. Once you’ve settled on what your new, more focused resolution is, make a plan for implementing it into your life and write that plan down. Maybe that means scheduling out your week to see where you can fit exercise into your calendar. Maybe it means planning meals every week to ensure you’re eating healthy. Whatever it means to you, writing it down will give you better odds of staying with your resolution for the rest of the year. In an article for the Huffington Post, Rachel Verlik recommends having a weekly planning session to map out your week. It’s an effective way of keeping your goals real and staying in touch with where you are with them. Your weekly planning is a great time, too, to tweak your Big Picture Plan based on the results you’ve seen so far compared to where you want to be by December 31, 2018.

Be Patient and Forgiving

Among the tips Woman’s Day gives for recommitting and sticking to your resolutions is the advice to be patient. Not seeing big results fast–like losing weight quickly–is likely why you gave up on your New Year’s Resolution. Recognize that it’s going to take time to get back into shape. Understand that you didn’t pack on the pounds in one month, so they’re not gonna come off in 30 days or less, either. Have some sympathy for the fact that going cold-turkey on the junk food in favor of eating healthy will be a difficult transition if you don’t do it slowly and in small steps. Don’t look for the total payoff to come right away. Be happy with and celebrate the small victories and keep plugging away.

Don’t beat yourself up over slipups. Instead, schedule a cheat day to accommodate planned lapses in exercise and healthy eating that you don’t have to feel bad about.

As for being forgiving, sorry to bust your bubble, but you are human, gloriously imperfect in countless ways. You’re practically guaranteed to mess up now and then. That’s why you should set an exercise goal for 4 or 5 days a week. Then it’s no big deal if you miss a day, but you can be proud of the extra accomplishment if you get all 5 days in. It’s also why you should factor in a cheat day if your resolution involves eating healthy to lose weight. Cravings are tough to fight but, when you know you can have that jelly-glazed donut later in the week on your official cheat day, it’s easier to pass up. The forgiveness factor gives you the leeway to screw up now and then without derailing your goals entirely.

Just keep in mind that, even though the original resolution may have been made to get fit for summer and swimsuit season, looking and feeling great is beneficial all year round. If you start now, you’ll begin seeing small results soon. Yes, even in time to look great in summer wear. Plus, you’ll really notice some bigger changes right about the time the fall and winter clothing is hitting the stores. It’s still a score if you’re able to fit into a size or two smaller over the winter season, and you’ll have a head start on the 2019 resolution.

Strength Training to Nip Back Pain in the Bud

From the True Story Files: Mrs. S has had a rough winter. She’s suffered from neck pain and back pain off and on for years due to degenerative disk disease, and has even had a few disks surgically fused. After taking a therapeutic soak in her whirlpool tub recently to get some relief for back pain, Mrs. S fell while stepping out of the bath and was surprised to find that she couldn’t get up off the floor. At only 64 years, she had never considered herself in the same league as the geriatrics on the much lampooned commercials. (“Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”) After spending almost an hour shivering under a towel on the floor, Mrs. S finally mustered the strength to drag herself out of the bathroom door, across the hall and somehow pulled herself onto her bed. That unfortunate fall required multiple visits to the chiropractor — several times a week at first — and much time spent immobile in her recliner or in bed.

When her back pain finally subsided, and she’d been able to cut visits to the doctor down to one a week, her chiropractor had some grave news for her.

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Resistance training won’t seem like such an inconvenience when you’ve fallen in the bathroom and can’t get up.

“I can keep putting your back and neck back into alignment, but your muscles aren’t strong enough to keep your bones in place,” he said. “Unless you start working on building muscle, your problem is only going to get worse.”

Cripes, there it was again. Someone else pushing the benefits of strength training on her. Like most people, Mrs. S had gone through phases of consistent exercise but hadn’t ever stuck with it. She didn’t really enjoy working out. Not with a partner, not in a class, and even when she endeavored to work out at home, it didn’t last long. Whenever she became concerned about her weight, she preferred trying to control it through diet rather than exercise. Now, however, Mrs. S was faced with making a decision, and there really wasn’t much of a choice. If she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in pain and a constant state of declining mobility, she would finally have to start exercising.

A Common Problem

Sedentary lifestyles are creating adults who don’t have the muscle tone to walk around the block, let alone get up off the floor after a fall. Image by Steve Baker/Flickr

It’s not surprising if Mrs. S’s story sounds familiar to you. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition reports that less than five percent of adults get 30 minutes or more of physical activity each day, and over 80 percent don’t get the recommended 2 days of strength training and 75 to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Considering that Mrs. S’s chiropractor was spot-on about spines needing strong back muscles to stabilize them, it’s also no surprise that she’s battled back pain and neck pain for decades, or that her condition has worsened as she’s gotten older. According to Medline Plus, muscles atrophy as people age, losing their tone. That means they’re no longer effective for supporting your spine and other bones that make up your frame, unless you work to keep them strong.

Recommended Resistance Training

Professionals recommend resistance training with bands to build muscle without aggravating back and neck conditions.

While there’s not much she could have done to prevent degenerative disc disease, Mrs. S could have been strength training all along, building muscle to support her spine and neck to provide some back and neck pain relief. Interestingly, the back pain exercises Mrs. S’s chiropractor recommended are rubber band resistance training exercises. Using bands for resistance builds strength without putting load or pressure on her spine, so her back and neck pain won’t be aggravated. Plus, since Mrs. S has a TargitFit Trainer, she can do her resistance training exercises at home. After just a couple of weeks, she is feeling better, getting neck and back pain relief after months of agony on top of years of frequent issues. Additionally, her strength training program has already increased Mrs. S’s strength enough that she’s adding more resistance bands to her workouts.

Benefits of Yoga for Back Pain

Yoga not only alleviates back and neck pain by stretching and strengthening muscles, but it also reduces stress.

This blog may regularly tout the benefits of strength training, specifically with use of a certain piece of ultra-effective equipment for building muscle, but the advice in this particular post would be incomplete if it didn’t mention the benefits of yoga exercises for back pain. Yoga is low-impact and builds strength, too, so it’s a valuable addition to resistance training at home or the gym for people of all ages and abilities. The element that enhances its value when you’re trying to control back and neck pain is that it lengthens and stretches your muscles, alleviating tension and pain as well as pressure on your spine, spinal cord, and nerves. According to Yoga Journal, performing yoga poses correctly aligns your skeletal structure, specifically your spine. Certain yoga poses also open your hips and chest, areas that can cause back pain if they become too tight and closed off. If you need the research to back it up, a study published in the health journal “Spine” showed that yoga improves mobility, decreases back pain and even has the added bonus of reducing depression.

Exercise Can Help You Quit Smoking

04261804As far as nasty habits go, smoking is diabolical. It not only shortens your life, but it affects how food tastes, dictates your daily schedule, and interferes with your ability to breathe. Yet, even with all the negative aspects, it’s a hard habit to break. Healthline reports that it takes an average of 2.7 tries for a person to quit smoking for good.

One of the things that makes it so difficult to quit is that there is no one perfect method to stop smoking. Some people can go cold-turkey. Others have successfully quit using  nicotine patches or gum. It gets discouraging to go through trial and error looking for the approach that will work for you. If you’ve already taken 2.7 stabs (or more) at quitting and haven’t been successful, there’s one more thing you can try.

Exercise Makes Quitting Easier

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Exercise has been shown to reduce the severity of headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and other nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms smokers experience and the craving for nicotine are usually the smoker’s downfall. The craving will start nagging at you within hours. Then, in about a day or two, you’ll start to experience physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Smokers trying to quit also report feeling depressed, anxious, and irritable.

That’s when you could use a good workout. You might not feel like putting on your sweats and getting physical, but a study conducted at the University of St. George’s London found that exercise provides a sort of protective effect against nicotine withdrawal horrors. One notable effect was that physical activity activated a receptor in the brain that nicotine typically targets. In general, workouts reduced withdrawal severity, making it easier for quitters to stay off the cancer sticks.

Oh, and the really, really good news? It doesn’t take a super-vigorous workout to affect symptom severity. The study found that even moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk or short bike ride, was enough to keep withdrawal manageable.

When Should You Start?

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Quit right now!

There’s no better time than now to get moving and give up smoking. No matter how long you’ve smoked, you likely feel the effects in the form of reduced lung capacity and stamina. The good news is that once you no longer smoke, your body starts healing immediately. WebMD reports that after only 20 minutes, your blood pressure, pulse, and circulation begin returning to normal. After 8 hours, the carbon monoxide and nicotine levels in your blood will be down to half. That also means your oxygen levels will be up and your heart won’t have to work as hard. Within 3 days, your lungs will begin recovering, so it will be easier to breathe—and it will just keep getting easier.

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The sooner you quit, the sooner you’ll start getting healthy. Your body and your loved ones will thank you for it.

The point is, you should start working out the same day you give up smoking. Your body will be on board right away. It will continue to improve the longer you stay smoke-free, and the exercise will help. Naturally, you should always consult your doctor before starting any workout program, even if you aren’t a smoker. If you do smoke and want to exercise as part of your quitting strategy, your doctor will help you formulate a plan that will give your body the breathing space it needs, so to speak, so that you don’t overdo it too soon and undermine your health along with your goal.

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Your bank account will also get healthier after you quit smoking.

One last thing: if your argument against using exercise to quit smoking is that you can’t afford to join a gym, that’s a lame cop-out. First, there are a million ways you can workout for free, from jogging in the park to performing bodyweight exercises in your living room. However, there are a gajillion things you’ll be able to afford once you give up smoking. According to smokefree.org, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day costs about $9,200/year. That will more than pay for a gym membership complete with a personal trainer, and you’ll even have an impressive chunk of change left over.

The Common Snack That’s a Better Source of Workout Fuel Than an Energy Drink

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Sports drinks are an expensive habit that aren’t all that healthy.

If you down energy drinks like they’re water, you’ve probably developed a spendy little habit. At nearly $3 per 250 ml can and almost $5 for a 500 ml can, it’s estimated that your sports drink habit could easily cost you close to $3,000 a year, depending on how many you down in a day.

You may be willing to overlook the cost if those drinks truly give you the boost you need to get through the day and get through your workout, but what if there’s an alternative that’s not only better at providing energy but is also better for your health? As it turns out, there is just such a wonder-snack, and you might even have it sitting in your kitchen right now.

Nanas Have Superior Nutrients

04191802Researchers in North Carolina came up with the idea of comparing bananas to sports drinks as an energy source and found some surprising results. Their study not only showed that bananas gave energy drinks a run for their money when it came to delivering energy and nutrients during a workout, but bananas also offered better anti-inflammatory benefits. That element alone is worth its weight in Ibuprofen, as it means less fatigue during the workout and quicker muscle recovery afterward.

Bananas During Your Workout

04191803You may have an open mind and be willing to ditch the energy drinks, but maybe you’ve been told you shouldn’t eat during a workout. Muscle and Fitness points out that, for workouts 60 minutes or longer, it’s actually a good idea to eat during the first part of your workout to ensure you have what it takes to get to the end of it. However, it all depends on how empty or full your stomach is before you hit the gym. If you just ate—let’s say 30 minutes or less—before your workout, then, yeah, it’s probably best to save the snacking for after exercising. On the other hand, if your stomach is relatively empty, you’re gonna need that nana, and it will be a better choice than an energy drink.

Yes, both bananas and energy drinks contain sugars, vitamins, and other nutrients. Even the protein in both are comparable, but energy drinks have long been a concern for health professionals. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, excessive energy drink consumption was found to be related to high blood pressure and altering the electrical activity of the heart. On the other hand, Medical News Today pronounced bananas to be a heart-healthy food filled with safe, natural amounts of vitamins and minerals.

The Best Way to Incorporate Bananas for Energy

Bananas, chocolate, and a few other energy-boosting foods mix together well to create a satisfying and healthy energy drink you can down during a workout.

Consider this: if you sip on an energy drink while exercising for the energy boost, there is a way to incorporate bananas into a healthy drink that will serve the same purpose. Concoct a shake from a banana, skim milk and/or Greek yogurt, a dollop of almond or sunflower butter, and a dash of dark chocolate. Heck, even add a splash of cold coffee left over from breakfast if you need a little extra caffeine kick. They’re all energy-boosting foods that are healthy and, served in liquid form, will be as satisfying for your thirst as for your energy levels.