Take your workout outdoors

What could be better than taking in the sunlight, jogging in a brisk breeze and getting some fresh air to get in shape? 

April and all its’ showers are finally here.  That means warm, sunny weather is just around the corner.  This is the time of year when most of us try to get our swimsuit bodies ready for summer.  This is also the perfect time of year to take your workout outdoors. 

Many studies show that exercising outdoors is good for a person’s mental health.  The University of Essex conducted a study that they called “Green Exercise” because working out outdoors saves electricity by skipping the machines at the gym.  The researchers found that participating in any kind of physical activity outdoors increases a person’s mental well-being, even in a city.  The subjects who participated in the study were found to be the most happy when exercising near water.  The study also found that only five minutes of physical activity outside is enough to reduce stress and make a person that much happier. 

On a second thought, gym memberships can be expensive.  If you have a membership and you’re not going to the gym at least 3-4 days a week, you could be wasting your money, especially considering the initiation fees you have to pay just to sign up.  Not to mention the lines you have to wait in for a specific machine, then the time limit you have once you finally get to use it. 

Gyms are also home to many germs.  Gym employees typically do everything they can to keep their gyms sanitary, but germs still exist where hundreds of people are using the same equipment.  The gym could also be a danger zone when the seasons change and colds and flues start to go around.

 Lastly, going to the gym can be time-consuming.  By the time you make your commute, find a parking spot, wait in line for all of the machines you would like to use, then drive back home, you could end up finding that 2 or 3 hours of your day is gone.

Exercising outdoors is free, stress-reducing, and refreshing. 

Take advantage of what West Virginia has to offer.  Consider taking up canoeing or kayaking, which is great for upper body strength.  Our very own Morgantown is full of steep hills that would make for a challenging uphill work out. 

The Rail Trail is a wonderful, scenic trail that takes you past the Mon. River and through South Park.  There are numerous places to hop on this trail so the scenery never gets boring.           

My dad overlooking the scenery on Raven's Rock.

                               

Besides the typical jog, hiking or cycling would also be great physical outdoor activities to get into.  With warm weather just around the corner, Cooper’s Rock would be a good place to take friends and family on a little adventure.

On the other hand, a lot of us are busy, and we spend most of our days indoors at work.  Let me pass along a few ideas to get in a little outdoors exercise while on the commute. 

If you drive yourself to work, park as far away as you can from the building.  Then, briskly walk to the entrance.  Those few extra minutes can make a difference in your day.

 If you take the bus, get off at either the stop before or the stop after your original stop and walk the rest of the way.  These tips can serve for any of your destinations whether it is a trip to the grocery store or the dry cleaners. 

Remember to always be safe.  Don’t take anything for granted, even a well-lit park or a bike trail.  If you can, try to take a friend with you for a jog or bike ride, or at least make sure to always go during day light hours.  If you choose to run along the streets, beware of the traffic and wear reflective gear.  They aren’t always looking out for you!  Last but not least, enjoy your workout! Your summer body will be back in no time!

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What to do with Dumbbells

I personally love going to the gym because it makes me feel more motivated to workout. My roommate on the other hand will do anything to avoid the gym, so I thought that this post could give you ideas of things to do at home if that’s where you prefer to workout. Amber and I decided to combine what we both know about using dumb bells. We ended up coming up with some pretty decent ways to use dumb bells when strength training. Some of these moves we made up, some we already knew from our experience at gyms, taking classes or seeing personal trainers, and some of these moves just use the weights for balance. The goal is to never get bored with your exercises. If you’re doing curls for your biceps try adding a squat or lunge each time you bring your arms up. Get creative and use an aerobic step like Amber and I did below.

Here’s what we came up with!

Using an aerobic step:

Amber demonstrating flies on an Aerobic Step.

 Simply lie flat on your back, pulling your belly button into your core.  Begin with your arms straight out to your sides, having them slightly bent.

Amber demonstrating a full fly on the step.

Bring both arms up in front of you at the same time.  Be sure not to let them touch.

Amber demonstrating a seated shoulder press on the step.

Begin seated in “Indian style.”  Raise your arms half way up.

Amber demonstrating a full should press.

Raise arms above the head, keeping your arms close to your ears and not letting the dumbbells touch.

Amber demonstrating "rowing" for Triceps using the step.

 

Begin with on knee on the step.  This may work better if your step has risers.  Keep your left hand and left kneee parelle. 

Amber demonstrating the full move to work your triceps.

 Use your right arm and pull the weight back towards the back wall.

Amber demonstrating how to do a tricep "dip."

 

Begin with your elbows slightly bent and your buttocks lifted up off of the floor.

Amber demonstrating a full "dip."

Sink your body down towards the floor, but never touching the floor.

Biceps, Triceps, and Shoulders:

 
 
 

Amber demonstrating lunge with a bicep curl.

 

Begin standing in a lunge position with your arms straight down.  Turn your arms slightly outward.

Amber demonstrating a full wide arm bicep.

As you sink down into your lunge, bring your elbows up into a curl.

Amber getting ready to do a hammer curl squat.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms down with your palms facing each other.

Amber continuing the hammer curl squat.

Proceed into the squat bringing you elbows up into the curl.

Amber beginning a tricep exercise.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Tighten your abs and use both hands to hold the weight above your head. 

Amber demonstrating the full tricep exercise.

Bend your elbows back and bring your arms back up to starting position.

These are a few examples of workouts you can do with dumbbells on your own time or at the gym.  All of these exercises are good for triceps, biceps, and shoulders.  For more of an abdominal challenge, you can always use a weight in place of a medicine ball.

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Eating out and Healthy

Eating healthy can sometimes put restrictions on eating out.  For me at least, eating out is fun and relaxing.  It’s more like a treat to me.  So when I do eat out, I tend to order something really tasty like wings or Philly cheese steaks because those are some things that I don’t usually eat. 

I don’t think that eating healthy should limit eating out, though you do have to be aware that restaurants often serve larger portions.  There are plenty of healthy places to eat as I mentioned a few weeks back in a post about the healthiest places to eat around Morgantown. 

The other day I had dinner with a friend at the Kenyan Café.  It was a different experience so I still felt like I was indulging.  The food here is all either organic or all-natural and offers the customer a true taste of Kenyan cuisine.  The owner has been cooking authentic Kenyan cuisine since he was a boy and has trained his cooks to make these same recipes for customers to enjoy.

The food is a bit spicy, so if you do not like spicy food, I would stick to beans and rice dishes.  For an appetizer, my friend and I tried the beef samosas.  These are beef mixed with traditional African spiced and wrapped in flour.  They were absolutely delicious, but a bit spicy…though I think mild is too spicy so don’t take my word for it!  For the entre I had organic beans and rice with any stew.  I chose the chicken stew, but you could also order beef or lamb.  The stew and especially the vegetables were delicious.  The rice and beans were admittedly my favorite because they weren’t spicy at all, but all in all I ate everything on my plate.  I would also recommend the cocoa mocha, it was to die for, I had to order a second to-go.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean depriving yourself.  Think of it as a way to try new things and gain new experiences.  Try sushi and African cuisine and make a fun dinner night out of it with friends!

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Why you Should Focus on the Weaknesses of Dieting

The key to losing weight = Eat less, exercise more.

True, but this is really not as it simple as it sounds.  Real life comes into play bringing along stress, cravings, sleepiness, and a lack of time to get everything scratched off of your to-do list. 

This is week three for me and my dieting experiments.  To give you a short re-cap on what I have already discussed in the past two weeks, I am basically against “meal-replacement” diet plans and I have found that recording what I eat and when I exercise in a daily journal helps me stay on track.  To read more about these two topics, check out the last two Tuesday posts.

This week I wanted to discuss “cheat days.”  For the past three weeks I have been doing so well with my self-made diet plan.  I have exercised regularly, started to engage in more strength training, ate up to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and have successfully cut back on carbs.  Then at the end of the week, usually on Sunday (which is my homework day) I have a cheat day.  Some people will tell you it is a good idea to allow yourself one cheat day to eat the things you enjoy.  I do not agree because for me, I felt like I just threw my whole diet off.  Eating cookies or ice cream on Sunday just made me feel tired and sluggish instead of the balanced and satisfied feeling I experienced all week.  Besides, giving into cravings could lead to overeating, which then leads to weight GAIN instead of loss. 

I was skimming through some dieting tips on the internet and I came across one that literally said: “Have one cheat day a week that will prevent your body from adjusting to your new eating habits.”  This is precisely why I don’t agree with cheat days.  Shouldn’t you be adjusted and comfortable to your new eating habits?  Won’t that new adjustment minimize the stress from dieting?  Giving into one little craving only leads to more cravings to come.  Your body will never be adjusted to the right eating habits unless you fight through the cravings.

For this reason, I think an important part of dieting is to come up with a separate plan for “things to do to avoid cravings.”  I think it would help to be conscious of the weaknesses in dieting to be able to overcome them. 

Going for a run or workout will definitely eliminate cravings.  Exercise make you feel good and so it would be less likely for you to want to go chow down on a pizza after all that hard work you put into a good workout.  This will only work if you enjoy exercise though, not if you think of it as a chore that you can’t wait to get over with.

Get lost in a novel.  Just read a few chapters at a time, but steer clear from studying as your textbooks may only make you even more stressed and want to crave food even more.

Be open to trying new things!  Dieting is a lifestyle change, literally.  That’s why it can be so difficult.  You have to change your habits and that’s not easy.  Try out new things like meditation, craft projects, book clubs, etc.  All of these things exclude diet and exercise, but at the same time keep your mind off of cravings.  I just recently became a volunteer at a local venue downtown to help promote social justice.  Volunteering is another idea!

Me volunteering in Kentucky two years ago cleaning up after the ice storms.

Be alert of mindless eating.  This could be when you’re cooking and you taste test all of your specialties before serving them.  Also, I was thinking, when you are dieting it can be difficult to eat out.  To maintain portion sizes try ordering from the children’s menu if the restaurant allows.  I know for a fact that Cracker Barrel allows adults to order from the children’s menu as well as creating your own meal including combining vegetable sides.

To sum it up, no cheat days and try to come up with ways to overcome certain weaknesses of dieting such as controlling cravings and stress.  Keep a diet and exercise journal, try new hobbies that will reduce stress and keep your mind away from cravings, drink plenty of water, eat lots veggies, and exercise regularly. 

Keep your eye on the prize!

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Eat Breakfast, Lose Weight

A few weeks ago I wrote a post based off an idea I got from reading an article in the NYTimes.   The article was about how skipping breakfast may actually be beneficial to you as you are cutting calories from your daily intake.  The article I wrote suggested that we shouldn’t forget the importance of eating a healthy, balanced morning meal.  I pointed out that studies show how breakfast helps our brains to function, and thus should be eaten to improve performance at work and school.

I wanted to add a little more to my theory with this post.  I am still not going to argue that skipping breakfast won’t help you to lose weight.  It probably will considering you cut your calories.  Many people also say they don’t feel a difference in hunger in the morning whether they skip breakfast or not.  I, however, think that those extra morning calories can actually help you lose weight by keeping your body balanced.

Let me explain.  I’m on my second week of dieting.  I noticed that I’m constantly hungry throughout the day even when I know I ate enough food.  I eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day along with dinner and breakfast (I usually eat a salad for lunch).  I did a bit of research and found that even though you are giving your body enough nourishment during a diet, it can still sense that something has changed.  Essentially, your body realizes that it isn’t getting as much food as it is used to and so it compensates by sending you hunger pangs. 

I feel that by eating a healthy (fruit, yogurt or granola) breakfast you would be satisfying some of those feelings of hunger.  Additionally you increase your metabolism and brain power throughout the day! Like a lot of diets suggest, I eat about six small meals a day.  This consists of breakfast, lunch, dinner and three snacks.   Doing this allows me to feel like I’m constantly eating.  I use my lunch and snack times to pack in my fruit and veggie servings. 

Oh and just a tip, you body is going to naturally crave sweets while you’re on a diet, mostly because it can tell that they have been absent lately.  Once you give in to even the smallest temptation (just one cookie won’t hurt,) your body is going to crave more and it’s going to drive you crazy.  This is why from now on when Amber (my roommate) bakes, I will no longer be the taste tester!  To get my sweet tooth fix I drink either chocolate or vanilla Silk soymilk.

Try to come up with some others ways to avoid cravings such as exercising, talking on the phone, watching TV, etc.

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What I have against “Meal Replacement” Diet Plans

                Week 1 of my diet plan is officially complete!  I did pretty well, though I caved a little this weekend.  I had two cumulative mid-terms this past Monday so while I was studying, I found myself eating more snacks and even eating some cookies my roommate baked (I wish she would stop doing that) because I would need a “study break.”   For the future, I need to find an alternative way to handle my stress when I’m studying.

                During the regular working week I did really well though.  I didn’t miss a single day of eating all five servings of fruits and vegetables.  I found that recording my diet and exercise on a daily basis helped me stay on track.  Reading my little entries helped me remember what my goals are, and thus stay determined.  For the weeks to follow, I will definitely continue recording what I eat and the amount of exercise I do every day.

                One new thing I have tried this week was Slim Fast meal replacement Shakes.  Now, keep in mind that I don’t agree with meal replacement plans one bit.  I think they are merely marketing schemes.  If people want to lose weight bad enough, they are going to do whatever companies tell them to do as long as they can convince people their product will work. 

I am not disputing that people will not see weight loss results while following the Slim Fast Diet plan.  In fact, they most likely will lose weight, but here is what I have against Slim Fast, and all other “meal replacement” diet plans:

                First and probably foremost, some of these products are not as healthy as they make you think.  I am looking at the ingredients in my Slim Fast shake now, and I’m seeing fructose, sugars and trans fats.  These are not good at all.  I’ve read a few reviews about Slim Fast as well, and though I have not personally tried their meal or snack bars, some reviews say they also contain fructose, trans fat, and even sugar as the second highest ingredient listed.

                Secondly I do not like meal replacement diets because they do not offer any nutritional advice.  By this I mean, they do not teach you how to eat healthy in the long-run.  What they do teach you (and yes it is true) is that by cutting calories, you will see those pounds dropped.  I can’t argue with that part, but really people, what are you getting from these kinds of diets?  You’re getting cut calories, fructose, and sugar.  I believe that it is important for dieters to learn how to eat healthy in order to keep the weight off, and just to stay healthy in general!  After all, you are what you eat!

                The reason I chose to incorporate Slim Fast shakes into my diet was not as a meal replacement plan.  I don’t eat their snacks or meal bars, but instead I eat fruit for my snacks, and two healthy meals.  For my meals, I have been sticking to the “half a plate of veggies” rule along with some fish, a garden burger or a small chicken breast.  For lunch I have been eating salads.  I have only used the Slim Fast shakes as my on-the-go breakfast option a few times this past week.  Aside from the fact the product has some bad ingredients in it, there are also plenty of vitamins, protein and dietary fiber on the list. 

                I don’t see much of a problem with using the shakes (or bars) as an on-the-go breakfast option.  However, I will warn that these drinks are very sweet and drinking or eating something sweet while you’re on a diet is a terrible idea as it will only make you crave more sweets.

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There is no such thing as a “toned body.”

Over the past few months I have come into contact with some personal trainers (mostly through where I work or the Student Rec Center) who have all told me the same thing about “toning.”  There is no such thing.  Yep, that’s right, there is no such thing as a “toned body” contrary to what you have read in fitness magazines or have been told in the gyms.

According to this great new health blog I found, Answerfitness, the word toning probably just originated because a lot of people (mainly women) fear the phrases “muscle building,” or “bulking up.”

The true definition of having a “toned” body is to have low body fat and more muscle mass.  This means that a proper and nutritious diet along with strength training will give you that “toned” body you’ve been looking for.

Let’s start with the nutritious part of the definition.  Dieting is crucial to achieving any fitness goals.  All diets can and should be personalized.  Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables a day (at least 5 servings), and less carbs, sugar, salt, and red meat should get you off to a good start.  Again, diets are personalized. You have to find the right one for you based on your goals.

The second part is more muscle mass.  Yes, this does mean pumping iron.  You have to build the muscle to get that so-called “toned” look.  This means hitting the gym at least three times a week for about 45-60 minute strength-training sessions.  Remember, you have to add more and more weight to your routines, not more and more reps.  If you only continually add reps, you are only increasing your muscle endurance, not the actual size of your muscle.  If you’re going to spend all the time at the gym, you want to see it right?!

Lastly, don’t forget about your cardio!  Remember the first part of that definition…to get a “toned” body you have to have low body fat.  Cardio is probably the quickest way to burn fat calories and help you lose weight, along with a proper diet of course.

With that said, enough time and good ole’ hard work will help you achieve you dream body….just in time for summer!

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