Thursday, December 23, 2010

Warming Up, Cooling Down: How a Few Extra Minutes Can Change Your Workout

Warming Up, Cooling Down: How a Few Extra Minutes
Can Change Your Workout

By Stephanie S. Saunders

It's a Thursday morning at 6 a.m. You've already hit snooze too many times, and you have a meeting at 7:30. You really want to get your morning workout in, but you don't have 55 minutes to spare. Well, if you just fast-forward through the warm-up and skip the cooldown, you can squeeze it in and still get a decent workout, right? Um, I don't think so. Skipping the warm-up and cooldown can decrease your performance level, open you up to injuries, and possibly make your recovery time longer. How so, you ask? Let's find out.

Warming Up, Cooling Down

Up, up, and away!

The purpose of a warm-up is to gradually increase your heart rate, your blood pressure, your oxygen consumption, and the elasticity and heat of the active muscles. A warm-up will also release adrenaline, increase the dilation of blood vessels, and enable oxygen in the blood to travel at a greater speed. A warm-up increases the production of synovial fluid located in the joints, reducing friction, and allowing for more efficient movement. Other advantages include an increased speed of muscle contraction, an increase in the metabolism of the muscle, and an increase in the induction of nerve impulses. And psychologically, a warm-up prepares us for the task at hand, and gets us involved in the process.

The components of a warm-up can vary depending on the activity you're going to participate in, but most warm-ups will have these important elements:

  1. TemperatureGraduated increase in heart rate and body temperature. If you were to run a 400-meter sprint, it's unlikely you would arrive at the track, pull off your sweatshirt, and suddenly explode onto the track in an attempt to finish in 40 seconds. You'd be wise to begin with a walk and increase to a slow jog, which you would maintain for 5 to 8 minutes. Slowly increasing your heart rate and body temperature in a training activity similar to exercise you're about to undertake allows your heart, muscles, and mind to adapt to the workload you have planned for it.
  2. Dynamic stretching/range of joint motion. There is a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of stretching in a warm-up. A recent study by USA Track & Field involving close to 3,000 runners theorizes that there's no difference in the risk of injury for those who stretched before running and those who didn't. When you read the actual study, however, more than half of the participants didn't follow the protocols, which mainly consisted of doing static stretches of three muscle groups, or doing nothing before running. Furthermore, those who did stretch were less likely to have reported an injury to a healthcare professional. And lastly, all this research was collected via email, so it wasn't as if they all met at the same track and were monitored for stretching and injuries.

    So is stretching helpful? Well, if it is taking your joints through a range of motion, increasing the elasticity in your muscles and connective tissues, and mimicking the biomechanical movements of your chosen activity, then heck, yes. This is considered dynamic stretching, which uses speed of movement, momentum, and active muscular effort to create a stretch. So in the case of your upcoming run, you might perform skips with high knees, walking lunges, and calf raises, focusing on the primary muscles you're about to use.
  3. IntensityGraduation to proper training intensity. After you complete your stretching routine, the final step of your warm-up is slowly increasing your intensity to your training level. The duration of this last portion of the warm-up depends on your planned activity and your current fitness level. In the case of your upcoming run, you might go back to your jog and slowly pick up the pace until you're at a run, then perhaps intersperse some sprinting intervals for a few minutes. Then you'll be ready to go for the 400!

    Goin' down . . .

    The number-one goal of the cooldown is to decrease your heart rate. Cooldown helps prevent blood pooling in the veins, which will help avoid dizziness and fainting. It also guarantees adequate circulation to the heart, brain, and muscles.

    Again, the components of the cooldown are dependent on the chosen activity. But all cooldowns should include:
  1. Heart RateDecreasing your heart rate. We've all heard the story of the college student who suddenly stopped at the conclusion of a race, and then dropped to the ground. The lesson to be learned is that your heart needs a gradual return to normal. The length of the first portion of the cooldown depends on the intensity and length of the workout. If you went for a run at 70 percent of your max for 30 minutes, you'd complete a jog for at least 5 minutes, followed by perhaps 2 more minutes of walking. If the workout was longer or more intense, a longer time is needed for your heart rate to slow down.
  2. Static stretching. Your body is at its warmest point at the conclusion of a workout, which is the ultimate opportunity to increase your overall flexibility. This is the time to hit all the major muscle groups. Static stretching is slow and constant and held at an end position for up to 30 seconds. This form of flexibility training is the most effective way to increase range of motion in a joint, and might in fact improve speed and jumping ability. In our running example, you'd stretch your calves, shins, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, external hip muscles, and back—even your neck.
  3. Body TemperatureDecreasing your body temperature. So you've finished your stretch and you immediately jump into a cold shower, or take a walk outside in your sweaty workout clothes in January. Um, no. This is a shock your muscles don't deserve. And yet this happens more often than you can imagine. I can't count the times I've watched ballet dancers finish class in New York City, then walk outside in their tights to smoke a cigarette in the snow. Slowly lowering your body temperature means just that . . . slowly. If you have to walk out of the gym, put on something warm. If you just finished P90X in your living room, spend a few minutes moving around your house before jumping into a warm shower. Slowly lowering your body temperature will allow your muscles to continue to relax, including one very important muscle: your heart.

    The warm-up and cooldown parts of your workout don't hold the glamour of a heavy bench press, a brilliant sprint, or a standing split. And yet they're vital to your overall fitness level and the health of your muscles, heart, and mind. Just a few extra minutes can do a world of good. And consider this: It's a lot easier to warm up and cool down than it is to take time off work for a trip to the doctor. So the lesson to be learned is to get your tail out of bed and do your entire workout. Don't skip the "appetizer" and "dessert" when they actually make the main course taste better—and they're calorie free!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eat More, Lose More!!

When I buy cookies, I eat just four and throw the rest away. But first I spray them with Raid so I won't dig them out of the garbage later. Be careful, though, because that Raid really doesn't taste that bad.

Janette Barber

Eat More, Lose More. (Really?)

By Justine Holberg

You work out practically every day and you're feeling good because you've lost some weight. Until a week or so passes and you can't get the scale to budge. It's like an invisible wrench has been thrown into the works. Now what?

You start second-guessing everything you're doing:

  • Maybe I'm eating too much?
  • Should I work out harder?
  • Do I have to live on parsley and hot water?

Utensils next to a Scale

So you restrategize. You slash calories and step up the intensity of your workouts. Unfortunately, after another week, you're still not losing. Now you want to give up altogether. But before you throw in the towel, ask yourself this:

Am I eating enough?

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes you have to eat more to lose weight. While that may sound counterintuitive, it often does the trick. Here's why:

  1. Couple EatingMetabolism is the key to weight loss. If you don't eat enough, or often enough, your metabolism slows to a crawl and weight loss becomes more difficult, especially when you're exercising. That's why skipping meals isn't a good idea if the goal is to shed pounds.

    Tip: Always eat breakfast to kick-start metabolism and try eating mini-meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism fired up.
  2. To keep your metabolism up, you MUST eat. Conventional wisdom dictates that when you first start dieting, the less you eat, the better. While it's true that you often should eat less, eating too little can backfire over time. As your body composition changes, your body will think it's starving, which can make it hold on to fat. (The process actually has to do with excessive release of a hormone called cortisol, but you don't need to know the details, so we'll just call it fat.) To avoid this, most experts agree that over time, you shouldn't eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day for women, 1,500 for men. If your daily diet consists of fewer calories than that, consider eating more.

    Tip: Keep a food diary to track calories.
  3. You need more calories when you work out. If you're exercising while following a low-calorie eating plan, you'll need to take into account the calories you're burning. That's because it's now easier to enter starvation mode. Let's say you're burning 400 calories and only eating 1,200 to 1,300 calories per day. This means you're really only taking in 800 to 900 calories per day before you begin to calculate how your body composition is changing. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, so as your body changes, you need to eat more to keep the weight loss coming.

    Tip: Drink an after-workout recovery drink like a (Protein Shake or even a 50/50 carbohydrate to protein drink) After a hard workout. Those clean calories are utilized quickly by your body, some people refer to them as "free calories." They aren't, but they will ensure your muscles, hence, your metabolism will recover quickly.

And remember this:

Team Beachbody®—My Meal PlannerFiguring out to what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat isn't easy. That's why people often refer to losing weight as a journey. It takes a few different paths to get there. Sometimes you have to adjust your ratio of protein, fat, and carbs to start losing again. Or adjust your calorie level, which can include eating more to lose weight.

Tip: Use one of many Nutritional apps your can load right on your phone. It can make figuring out your calories much, much easier. You can also often personalize an eating plan that will take your workouts and daily activities into consideration as well.

Finally, if you're still on the fence about needing to eat more to lose weight. You might be thinking, "How come I know some really skinny people who barely eat?"

The answer is this: You can eventually lose weight by not eating. It's called starving. Reduce calories enough and your body will start breaking down its muscle tissue, and this will result in weight loss. However, it makes your body increase its emergency hormonal responses, which also causes your body to be stressed and hang onto fat, making it.very easy to gain the weight back again.

So I hope you take this thought away with you today: The idea is to keep your metabolism revving and running. This will help you get healthy and stay strong. Eat the right amount of food to help your body continuously burn calories, and you're more likely to shed those unwanted pounds.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

10 Foods to Boost Your Health

By Amy Ludwig

You hear all too often these days about foods that are bad for you. You're not supposed to eat this. You're not supposed to eat that. And the taboos go on. Well, here's a list of 10 foods you can happily enjoy, knowing that they're more than just a pretty taste.Spoons of Spices

These healthy edibles have long been considered to support specific systems in the body, and even to help it heal. While some of these associations originated in traditional medicine, contemporary scientific studies continue to prove what your great-grandma "just knew."

  1. Blueberries. They're good even without muffins. These tiny spheres are a powerhouse of antioxidants, with among the highest levels of any fruit. Anthocynanin, the compound that makes blueberries blue, may also be the main source of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries have been associated with lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes, slowing the aging process, improving motor skills, and supporting urinary and vision health.

    Serving suggestions: Sprinkle on your morning oatmeal, or blend with lemon juice, honey, and olive oil for a fresh vinaigrette dressing.
  2. BroccoliBroccoli. Though it wasn't President Bush, Sr.'s favorite veggie, broccoli deserves a nutritional medal of honor. It's rich in vitamins A, B6, K, folic acid, and minerals such as calcium and potassium. Moreover, it packs potent cancer-fighting compounds that help detoxify carcinogens in the body, and may help prevent healthy cells from morphing into cancerous ones. If you like broccoli, meet its cruciferous cousins—cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens—which provide similar benefits.

    Serving suggestions: Cut into bite-size pieces, steam, and enjoy with a splash of soy sauce or sesame oil. Stir-fry with lean protein for a healthy dinner, or by itself for use in a salad.
  3. Salmon. High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, yet low in calories and saturated fat, salmon is worth swimming upstream for. In addition to the great cardiovascular support salmon offers, research has shown it may have a role in diabetes and Alzheimer's prevention, as well as impressive anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties. Choose wild salmon instead of farmed, to avoid contaminants such as PCBs. Soon you may also have the option of GMO. OMG!

    Serving suggestions: Brush filets with a marinade of soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and ginger, then grill or broil.
  4. BeetsBeets. Bring on the borscht! Beets are a good source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C; minerals; fiber; and the amino acid betaine, which has significant anti-cancer properties. Their rich red color comes from the phytochemical betacyanin, which significantly reduces blood homocysteine levels, thus lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Beet greens are an excellent source of chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus, and they contain more iron than spinach does. Their high nutritional value should encourage you to acquire the slightly bitter taste. Both beets and beet greens are excellent sources of iron, which helps regenerate red blood cells, thus supplying the body with fresh oxygen.

    Serving suggestions: Tear beet greens into bite-size pieces, then sauté with garlic, onion, and olive oil until wilted and tender. Roast fresh beets at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until easily sliced. Rub cooled beets with a towel to remove skins. Slice into salads, or dice and toss with vinegar, horseradish, and mustard for a sweet and tangy side dish. These days, some markets sell cooked beets.
  5. Green tea. First poured in China more than 4,000 years ago, green tea has since been consumed as both a beverage and as part of traditional medicine in most of Asia. It's now popular around the world. Recent scientific studies suggest that, among other benefits, it can help reduce the risk of cancer and potentially decrease the incidence of stroke and heart disease. Green tea may even help prevent type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

    Serving suggestions: Green tea tastes better brewed with water cooled for 2 to 5 minutes after boiling. Add it to tea in your teapot and steep for no longer than 1 to 3 minutes. Try it chilled, for refreshing and delicious iced tea.
  6. WalnutsWalnuts. They don't just resemble your brain—they feed it, too. Walnuts are remarkably rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help fight cancer, aid immune function, and support heart health by reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Including walnuts and walnut oil in your diet can also help decrease blood pressure responses to stress.

    Serving suggestions: Sprinkle walnuts on a salad to add protein and crunch, or sauté with vegetables and toss with whole-grain pasta.
  7. Spices. Studies have shown that numerous spices offer health benefits as well as increased flavor, without adding calories.

    • Ginger supports digestive health, reduces nausea, decreases inflammation, and may help prevent cancer. It also contains compounds called phenols and gingerols, which may relieve muscle pain.
    • Cinnamon has been shown in studies to help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
    • Turmeric has long been used as an antiseptic and antibacterial agent in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Currently, numerous U.S. studies are exploring its possible beneficial effects on Alzheimer's disease, cancer, arthritis, and other clinical disorders.
    • Garlic is a staple of many traditional medicines, used to cure hoarseness, coughs, infections, and digestive disorders. Lab studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, as well as possible cardiovascular benefits.
    • Oregano's high thymol content makes it an excellent topical antiseptic, while its abundance of phenols makes it a powerful antioxidant. It's a popular herbal infection-fighter, taken to treat colds, flu, and indigestion.

    Serving suggestions: Seek out Indian, Italian, or Mexican dishes that call for them, or experiment with your favorite recipes.
  8. HoneyHoney has been used since ancient times to treat rashes, wounds, coughs, and sore throats. Recent chemical analysis has proven its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, leading to the approval of wound gels containing raw honey for treating drug-resistant MRSA strains.

    Serving suggestions: Mix into marinades to flavor meat, or stir into salad dressings to add extra body.
  9. Yogurt. In addition to protein, calcium, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12, the fermentation process that transforms milk into yogurt adds probiotics, "good bacteria" that provide digestive and immune support. Eating low-fat yogurt has been found to help promote weight loss. Strained, or Greek, yogurt contains twice the protein of regular yogurt but is lower in sodium, carbohydrate, and sugar. Its thicker texture even makes it a convincing substitute for ice cream.

    Serving suggestions: Try your tuna salad with plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise, or use thick Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
  10. Dark ChocolateDark Chocolate. If you really need a reason to eat chocolate, health research offers several great ones. Chocolate has high levels of flavonoids, an antioxidant which can help prevent cell damage and perhaps prevent degenerative diseases. A study found that a diet high in flavonoid-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate reduced the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Other research shows that cocoa can help improve blood flow in a way similar to aspirin. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which elevates mood, and phenylethylamine, which can raise levels of pleasure-giving endorphins in the brain. And a 2007 UK study found that chocolate melting on the tongue caused a longer and more intense "buzz" than a passionate kiss.

    Serving suggestions: Even dark chocolate still contains calories and fat, so please watch your portion size.

Expand your menus to include these healthy foods, and find more that you enjoy. Eating wisely, and taking pleasure from your plate, is some of the best medicine there is.