Monthly Archives: April 2017

19 Things That Will Make Your Workouts So Much More Effective

Make every workout count with these game-changing tips.
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If your New Year’s resolution has you planning to lift more, run more, sweat more, chances are, you’re looking to do it in the most efficient and effective way possible. Sure, showing up may be half the battle, but the other half of the battle is made up of hard work, consistency, and training smart.

Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or you’re new to fitness, here are 19 workout tips to take your fitness to the next level in 2017. From your weekly workout plan down to the types of exercises you do at the gym, get ready for your best year of working out yet.

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1. Wake up with a cup of coffee before your morning workout.

The caffeine in a pre-workout cup of joe helps stimulate your central nervous system, so you’ll have a little extra oomph in your indoor cycling or boot camp class. Plus, in addition to a performance boost, it can actually make exercise feel more enjoyable, so you’re more likely to push harder, better, faster, stronger.

Drink up a half hour before you start sweating to give it time to kick in, Jessica Cording, R.D., suggested to SELF. And while one cup of coffee can help you feel superhuman during a tough workout, you might want to skip the refill—more than 200 mg of caffeine (about eight ounces) might make you jittery.

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2. Walk into the gym with a plan.

Having a plan of action before you step foot in the gym can help you avoid wandering aimlessly around while you decide what to do next, which adds time to your workout and makes it less efficient, since you’re letting your heart rate drop. “A clear plan is your secret weapon—knowing what you’re doing and why is half the battle,” Jared Kaplan, founder of Studio 26, previously told SELF. Know what exercises you’re going to do, where you’re going to do them, and in what order.

It’s also a good idea to have a plan B, just in case the machine or floor space you were planning on using is taken. Move on to other parts of your workout and come back, or be armed with a backup exercise in mind that utilizes different equipment.

kettlebell sitting at gym on headphones

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3. Get motivated with a solid workout playlist.

Get pumped up on your way to the gym and during your workout with songs that make you feel strong, powerful, and like you can do anything. Getting tired of your go-tos? Here are the most popular workout playlists on Spotify.

armband phone in gym

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4. Put your phone on airplane mode.

Resist the urge to chime in on your group text or respond to that email. Your workout is the time you get to invest in yourself, so turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid unnecessary distraction. Even better? If you don’t need your phone for your music or any workout apps, leave it in the locker room. The workout ‘grams can wait.

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5. Start your workout with a dynamic warm-up.

Dynamic stretching is the name of the game when it comes to warm-ups. This means you’ll be constantly moving through different stretches, rather than holding them in place. This type of stretching gradually raises your body temperature and heart rate and starts to warm up your muscles, which helps prevent injury by easing your body into the real work. A dynamic warm-up also helps improve your range of motion, so you can get deeper into each exercise–this ensures you’re using proper form and recruiting the right muscle fibers, so you’re getting the full strengthening benefits of each move. Here’s a five-minute dynamic warm-up to try.

foam roll

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6. Master foam rolling, and do it on the reg.

Foam rolling is another excellent way to improve your range of motion, so you can get more out of every squat, lunge, and push-up. It helps “smooth out” your fascia, which is the thin sheath of tissue that surrounds your muscles. “Inactivity, repetitive motion, and injuries can cause the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue to bind together. This causes ‘knots’ or ‘trigger points,’ that lead to tightness,” celebrity trainer Ashley Borden told SELF. This tightness gets in the way of your ability to “get deep” into exercises with a full range of motion, which limits the benefits, too. For example, you want to be able to get low in a squat to make sure the right muscle fibers are putting in the work. Foam rolling before a workout (and when you have spare time) is a good habit to get into to make every gym session more effective. Here’s some helpful info to get you, well, rolling.

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7. Embrace strength training.

If you’ve steered clear of the weight room in the past, now’s the time to get familiar with strength training. Having strong muscles can help prevent injury and help you perform better in day-to-day life, whether you’re lifting a moving box or going for a run.

It’s also key if weight loss is a goal of yours. Because muscle mass takes more energy for your body to maintain, the more you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This refers to how many calories your body burns at rest, when you’re doing nada. Since expending more calories than you take in is key for weight loss, having more muscle mass is one of the best ways to get you closer to a calorie deficit. (Important note: Weight loss takes a lot more than lifting at the gym. Healthy eating, quality sleep, stress management, and more all play into the equation.) Here are 10 beginner-friendly tips to get you started with strength training.

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8. Maximize your gym time by minimizing rest between exercises.

Whether you’re trying to build lean muscle, lose weight, or train for a race, avoiding taking too much rest in between strength exercises or intervals is key to meeting your fitness goals. By taking minimal rest, you’re automatically upping the intensity of your workout and keeping your heart rate high, which means a bigger calorie burn. This cardio challenge also trains your body (and mind) to work efficiently and persevere through fatigue, Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S., founder of Bandana Training, explained to SELF. Your body gets better at delivering fresh oxygen to your muscles, so you’ll actually get better at pushing through your workouts even when you’re tired, which is a big measure of physical fitness. (Of course, if you’re experiencing pain, stop and check in with a doctor.)

The right amount of rest varies depending on the workout and the person, but as a rule of thumb, you should aim to take just enough that you can go hard during your next sprint or set of squats, but not so much that you’re totally recovered. Here are some guidelines on how much rest to take depending on your workout.

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9. Pair exercises in sets.

One of the best ways to help you minimize rest and work efficiently toward a specific goal is to pair exercises in sets. This means you choose two exercises, do them back to back to complete one set, take a quick rest, then repeat for two more sets (resting in between each set).

In a superset (the term commonly gets tossed around, but there are different types of sets depending on the muscle groups you work), you’ll choose exercises that work opposing muscle groups (like a chest press and a back row), and this type of pairing is ideal for building strength, or how much actual force your muscles can produce. A compound set pairs two exercises that work the same muscle group (like a triceps kickback and an overhead triceps extension), and helps with muscle definition. If you’re working two completely different muscle groups (like push-ups and squats), that’s considered a circuit, which is great for burning fat because your body has to work harder to pump blood to different muscle areas. For more on how to pair exercises in a set that’s right for your goals, head on over here.

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10. Incorporate compound movements to hit more muscles at once.

Not to be confused with compound sets, compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups and two or more joints at once. That’s opposed to isolation exercises, which target one muscle group (like bicep curls). Because they help you get more done in less time, they’re great for increasing overall muscle mass, and they also burn more calories because they require more energy output. Compound exercises can be single moves that put multiple groups to work at the same time (like lunges and squats), or they can be two moves strung together (like bicep curls to shoulder presses).

To make the most of the time you put into the gym, you should aim for compound moves to take up 70 to 80 percent of your workout (and target specific muscles you want to work with isolation exercises the rest of the time), Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder of TS Fitness, told SELF. Check out seven of his favorites here.

selecting weights off a rack at the gym

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11. Amp up exercises by adding weights.

While you can get a heart-pumping workout using only bodyweight exercises, adding in weights gives your muscles an extra challenge. If you feel like you’ve mastered moves like basic squats and lunges, try holding a set of dumbbells or a medicine ball to make these types of bodyweight moves more challenging and effective. Not sure where to start? Here’s how to choose the right weight to use.

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12. Make a mental connection to your workout by thinking about the muscles you’re targeting during each exercise.

One way to make each and every exercise more effective is to think about the muscles you’re trying to engage, rather than mindlessly going through the motion. “Movement in the body originates in the brain,” Adam Rosante, C.S.C.S., told SELF. “Your brain sends a signal to your muscles telling them to contract. A strong mind-muscle connection can help to recruit more muscle fibers during a lift.” For example, if you’re doing a squat, actually think about your glutes powering you through each rep to make sure you’re using good form and the muscles you’re trying to engage are actually doing the work (rather than letting other muscle groups take over).

towel around neck after workout checking phone

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13. Log the details of each workout so you can track your progress.

Tracking your workouts is a great way to make sure you’re always challenging yourself, Rosante told SELF. Using a physical notebook or an app, “when you go to the gym to perform that day’s workout, note how many reps and sets you completed for each move, as well as the weight you used for each,” says Rosante. “The following week, you’ll perform the same workout, but increase the difficulty by tweaking one or more of the elements: reps, sets, weight, or another variable.” Plus, over time, you’ll get to look back at your progress and see how much you’ve improved.

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14. Give high-intensity interval training a try.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, refers to short bursts of very hard work followed by periods of active recovery—they don’t call it high intensity for nothing. The work periods are typically 20 to 90 seconds, during which you should be giving it your all, whether that’s a sprint on a treadmill or nonstop burpees.

It’s an excellent tool for fat loss (if that’s your goal)—because you’re skyrocketing your heart rate and bringing it back down, your body needs to work harder to return to a resting state, burning more calories in the process. This is known as the afterburn effect, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). HIIT is also great for improving your endurance. Here’s exactly how to do a HIIT workout.

checking fitness watch outside

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15. If you’re driven by data, invest in a heart-rate monitor.

Wearing a heart-rate monitor can give you an idea of your intensity level by measuring how fast your heart is beating. This can help you make sure you’re not overdoing it on the intensity every day (since not every day should be insanely tough), and show you where you can push a little harder. Heart-rate monitors can also give you a pretty good estimate of the calories you burn during a workout, if that’s of interest to you. Here’s how to figure out your heart rate zones using data from a monitor, and use this information to train more efficiently.

dumbbell pushup row in gym

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16. Try following a specific fitness program tailored to your goals.

While any type of physical activity has awesome physical and mental benefits, if you’re working toward a specific fitness goal (like getting stronger or losing weight), randomly programmed workouts aren’t always the most efficient way to get there. This is because if you’re always trying a new workout, you’re not giving yourself a chance to get better at one or two, and it’s hard to track your progress and results from a workout or class when you’re not doing it very often. So, while variety is important to keep your body from adapting to one specific workout, you shouldn’t be doing so many different ones that you never have the chance to build on your progress.

Here’s how to create a weekly plan that you can stay consistent with. And if you need some guidance, here’s what a well-rounded week of working out looks like, and here’s an example week of working out for weight loss.

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17. Do workouts you actually enjoy.

Finding a workout you actually like is key to staying consistent with your fitness routine. Plain and simple, “if you don’t love [your workout] and look forward to it, you won’t do it,” Jenn Seracuse, director of Pilates at FLEX studios, told SELF. Hate running? Try a cardio dance class instead. Not a yoga person? Maybe barre is for you. At the end of the day, the best workout is the one you’ll actually do.

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18. Commit to getting your z’s.

Sleep is hugely important for many reasons, your fitness game included. “Exercise is a physical stress applied to the body, and muscles get stronger in the period after the workout when the body is repairing the damage,” Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness podcast, explained to SELF. Allowing your body to recover properly makes it easier to crush a workout the next day. Plus, when you’re sleep deprived, you won’t have as much energy to work your hardest, and you also increase your risk for injury. Commit to these 10 commandments for better sleep and notice the difference in your gym sessions.

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19. Build in active recovery days—they’re important.

When it comes to building muscle, it’s the time you spend outside the gym when the magic really happens. When you work out, you create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Later, post-sweat session, your body rebuilds those damaged muscle fibers stronger than before. Your body needs days off to repair, recover, and rest—without them, you miss out on the muscle making magic and risk overtraining if you work out frequently). This is where active recovery days, along with good sleep, come in. We’re not talking about lying still on your couch all day, though. On active recovery days, go for a walk, do some gentle stretching, or hit up a restorative yoga class. Getting a move on helps with circulation, which can ease soreness.

How to maximise your health: The best exercise and fitness tips

Manage your time. If you don’t do this well then everything that makes you healthy suffers – you won’t get enough sleep, you won’t have time to prepare healthy foods, and you won’t find the time to exercise. Book appointments for the gym or some time for yourself in your diary just as you would meetings for work or the family.

Build more muscle mass. Once we pass the age of 40 we start to lose muscle mass and it leads to a slower metabolism, middle-aged weight gain and a decline in strength and function. You can build muscle mass by lifting weights, but I prefer functional fitness moves such as those in primal fitness classes like Animal Flow. Moves include crawling or trying to move opposing arms and legs. Not only does this build muscle, it also works a greater number of muscles at once, which gives more effective results.

Strengthen your rotator cuff. The muscles that hold the shoulder joint in place, the rotator cuff, are often ignored when we exercise but if they are weak you’re going to have worse posture and a greater risk of neck and back pain. There’s a simple series of exercises that you can do anywhere that work the area. If you search the terms “rotator cuff exercises” and “NHS” online, you will find the full programme.

When you exercise, focus. I see so many people at the gym who are simply moving their arms and legs up and down – and then they wonder why they aren’t getting results. You need to focus on the muscles. If you actually think about the move youre doing and squeeze the muscle you’re working while you do it you recruit more muscle fibres and get a faster, more effective result.

9 surprising fitness tips

9 surprising fitness tips

1. Go barefoot for whole-body health

If you refuse to wear shoes in the summer, you may enjoy better blood circulation, a happier mood, stronger bones and better posture. According to Barefoot in Toronto, a group that promotes a barefoot lifestyle, barefoot walking increases skin health, reduces foot calluses, builds arch strength and enhances sensory stimulation. Going barefoot also creates healthier toenails and reduces foot odour.

2. To burn fat, don’t sweat it

Sweat signals a rising body temperature, not necessarily an increased calorie burn (although most of us will sweat as we work harder). ‘In the sauna you’ll sweat buckets but you aren’t burning fat,’ says Brad Schoenfeld, author of 28 Day Body Shapeover. ‘The best indicator of calorie burn is either heart rate or a rating of perceived exertion (RPE).’ RPE is a self-report scale that ranges from 1 (complete rest) to 10 (maximum effort). High intensity equals increased heart rate, which equals more fat burn.

3. Yell to increase fitness levels and self-confidence

IntenSati is ‘active meditation”a fitness program that uses the voice and mind to intensify physical workouts. Participants say or shout empowering affirmations while kicking, jumping or lunging. For example, while punching, they yell, ‘I. Am. Strong. Now!’ These motivational phrases boost confidence and distract participants from feeling fatigued, which increases the workout benefits. If you can’t join the program, you may want to try this one in the privacy of your home gym.

4. Choose interval training for best results

‘You can do too much cardio,’ says fitness lifestylist Susie Shina, author of 60 Second Circuits: 1000 Ways to Get Your Body Back. ‘To burn fat effectively, one-minute sprint/recover repeats (interval training) on any cardio machine for a total of 20 minutes can be more beneficial than exercising at a steady rate.” Or tackle your intervals outside by walking, running, biking or skipping.

5. Bond to increase motivation and focus

‘It’s not necessarily resistance training, cardio or core work that keeps you fit,’ says Florida-based John Kent, owner of Adventure Boot Camp for Women. ‘It’s meeting with others.’ Healthy bonding moments’such as running hills or attending Pilates classes in a group setting’keep you motivated and focused on your fitness goals.

6. Take celebrity fitness advice with a grain of salt

‘Don’t believe everything you read about how the stars stay fit,” says Los Angeles-based fitness instructor Torri Shack. “Many celebrities work out four to six days a week for up to 90 minutes each time, have professional trainers and eat a clean, very calorie-restrictive diet. They don’t ‘just’ do Pilates or yoga twice a week.’ When you compare yourself to a svelte movie star, remember that it’s her job to stay beautiful.

7. In a time crunch? Get a better workout!

‘People are surprised at how little exercise they need to get and stay fit,’ says personal trainer Keith Morton, founder of CityWide SuperSlow in Chicago. ‘It’s the quality, not quantity, of exercise that counts.’ Mississauga-based fitness trainer Marc Lebert adds that his best workouts occur when he’s pushed for time. ‘If I give myself 20 minutes to work my legs, I know I have to increase my intensity,’ he says. ‘A time limit makes every set count.’

8. Food packs more punch than exercise

‘When it comes to changing the size and shape of your body, exercise is only 30 percent of it,’ says Ariane Hundt, a New York City-based certified personal trainer and instructor at Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp. ‘The rest needs to come from proper nutrition and a positive sense of self.’ It only takes a few minutes to consume about 1,000 calories (one Quiznos Classic Italian sub, for instance)’but it can take hours to burn that sandwich off.

9. Tackle the best time to burn fat

Hundt advises doing cardio in the morning, on an empty stomach, if you’re looking to shed some weight. ‘Since you haven’t eaten since dinner, the carbohydrate stores in your muscles and liver will be nearly depleted,’ she says, ‘so your body has to reach into your fat stores for energy.” She encourages lean people to eat easily digested carbs before morning workouts, such as oatmeal and fruit’or risk losing lean muscle mass.

Can ‘an apple a day keep the doctor away’?

This phrase was first used in 1922, which went on to become ‘An Apple a day keeps the doctor away’ in the 20th century. It gives us the impression that apple is the most nutritious fruit around. While it may be true to some extent, there are fruits like banana, cherries, papaya, oranges and blueberries that are also heavily loaded with nutrients. Then why was apple the only fruit that was made part of the folklore?

The reason that this phrase lasted so long is because there is indeed some truth to it. Apples can prevent the buildup of cholesterol and can also manage blood pressure. Some studies even suggest that it can even protect you against some cancers.

According to Boyer and Liu, when the adage was created, ‘apples were easy to grow. In fact, they still are easy to grow. And they can be in storage for almost a year after being harvested. Some studies also establish that apple’s nutritional value remains relatively intact for as long as 200 days after harvest.’ Moreover, you cannot deny the convenience of the fruit. It is easy-to-eat and since it consists of 85 per cent water and lots of fibre, it makes you full without burdening you with calories.

Apple is among the most nutritious fruits, but it definitely doesn’t keep the doctor away. The key is to have a varied diet. Nutritionists across the globe are recommending 3:4 ratio diet – which means three different colours of fruits and four different colours of vegetables every day. So next time you go shopping, do not forget to pick citrus fruits, seasonal fruits and berries besides apples.

Top 10 Health and Fitness Tips from Buddha

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Close your eyes and picture Buddha. Are you thinking of a fat bald guy with droopy earlobes and a goofy smile? This is the image that has been popularized by little statues and restaurant murals around the world, but it is far from the reality. Born to the prosperous rulers of the Shakya Clan in the 6th Century BC, the man who would become Buddha was a prince named Siddhartha who stayed in top physical shape in the luxurious confines of his family’s palace. Outside of the palace walls, he fasted and ate only when it was necessary for his survival. We’ve assembled the top 10 health and fitness tips from Buddha, and none of them justify an endlessly expanding waistline, sorry!

  • Clean Diet

In following the First Precept of the Five Moral Precepts, many Buddhists choose Vegetarian or Vegan diets because they do not believe in killing animals for food.  Buddha recommended following a diet consisting of fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It is also important to consume lean protein, healthy carbs, vitamins, minerals and fats.

A study published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society; (Apr 1999, Vol. 58 Issue 2, p459-468, 10p) shows that Vitamin E plays an extremely important role in platelet, vascular, and immune health due to its antioxidant properties. Incorporating an adequate amount of Vitamin E in your diet will leave you feeling more energetic, clear-minded and will also improve the immune system.


  • Always Begin Your Day With Breakfast

Many Buddhist monks have been observed consuming breakfasts commonly consisting of steamed vegetables, fish broth, and poached eggs.  The purpose of a diet consisting of these items is to prime your digestive system for an energetic and highly productive day while feeding beneficial digestive flora and starving pathogenic bacteria and yeasts in the digestive tract.

  • Fasting

Buddhism encourages ascetic practices–practices meant to teach self-discipline or self-denial in the pursuit of a spiritual goal.

Fasting helps you achieve self-discipline and acquire more self-control while detoxifying the body. Based on the Second Precept of the Five Moral Precepts, Buddha recommended eating once a day, in one sitting, taking care to reducing the amount eaten to avoid overconsumption. It was also recommended for monks not to consume solid food after noon.
The potential health benefits of intermittent fasting include weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, improved cardiovascular and brain function, improved risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke, and increased resistance to age-related diseases and insulin sensitivity.

  • Wake up Early

It is important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule in which you go to sleep at and wake up at the same time every day.  One of the main benefits of waking up early include increased energy, clarity of mind and productivity.  Waking up early will also give you an early start and more time to work on your goals for the day.

  •  Maintain Physical Fitness

Siddhartha Gautama was born into the caste of warriors, rulers, and aristocrats of ancient India.  As a result, Siddhartha Gautama underwent rigorous physical training to master archery, swordsmanship, and horsemanship.  A healthy, flexible, and fit body will undoubtedly complement and support the pursuit of a healthy, flexible, and fit mind.  Unsurprisingly, yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions that evolved in the same spiritual culture of ancient India.  The beginnings of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years ago to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization of Northern India and ancient monks used yoga along with pranayama (breathing the life force) to prepare their bodies for long periods of seated meditation.

  • Meditate Every Day

Meditation occupies a central place in all forms of Buddhism.  The Buddha was one of history’s major proponents of meditation, and Indian tantras (scriptures) mentioned meditation techniques around 5000 years ago.

According to the Buddha Dharma Education Association, the basic purpose of meditation is to calm the mind and train it to concentrate.  The benefits of meditating each day include lowered blood pressure and allow for fewer distractions throughout daily life.

  • Avoid Intoxicating Substances

Buddha emphasized the importance of avoiding intoxicating substances.  Intoxicating substances are to be avoided because they cloud the mind, can be physically and psychologically addictive, and may increase the likelihood of breaking the other rules of Buddhism, according to the Five Moral Precepts.

  • Practice Proper Breathing

Proper breathing techniques go hand in hand with yoga and meditation.  There are many ways to practice proper breathing — one of the health benefits of mindful breathing and meditation include decreased Beta brain waves, which are associated with thinking, problem solving, and stress.  With daily practice of proper breathing, you will increase Alpha, Theta, and Gamma brain waves, which are the brain waves associated with relaxed creativity and high mental state.  Mindful breathing throughout the day has been shown to have positive effects on stress of the body and mind.  In a study published in NeuroImage suggests that mindful attention to breath contributes to increased emotional regulation because of increased amygdala and prefrontal-cortex connectivity.

  •  Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness according to Merriam-Webster  is defined as “the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” and pertains to both bodily actions and the mind’s thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness is a conscious direction of our awareness and is often synonymous with meditation.  In Buddhism, mindfulness is a prerequisite for developing insight and wisdom.  Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time and does not necessarily require sitting in one place.

  • Practice Altruism

“O monks, wander! We will go forward for the benefit of many people…out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.” — Catusparishad Sutra (Buddhist scripture)

“Someone may build a precious reliquary, as high as the world; It is said that training others to generate The altruistic intention is more excellent.” — Aryadeva (monk, 170-260 CE).

Are Crunches Hurting Your Sex Life?

Bad news if you’ve still got crunches in your workout routine: not only could the de facto ab workout be the reason you’re not seeing the toning you want, but crunches can also strain your pelvic floor, causing women to experience pain during sex.

Dr. Karla Wente, a pelvic floor physical therapist at DPT Sport in Illinois, says she never prescribes crunches because they’re just not that good of an exercise due to the pressure they put on the pelvic floor.

Doing crunches without proper engagement of your pelvic floor might actually cause leakage, says Wente. On the flipside, women who already have strong pelvic floors and are doing crunches risk over-building and over-tightening their abdominal muscles and pelvic floors. Too much strength in these muscles can make penetration more difficult and, in some cases, painful.


If you’re reading this and thinking “say no more, fam,” don’t abandon ab exercises just yet. Wente says women need a balance of strength and flexibility in the abs and pelvic floor to avoid painful sex. “Of course I want to promote physical activity and movement,” Wente says, “but as a physical therapist we are in the business of optimizing movement.”

Here’s what you need to know.

You’re probably not giving your pelvic floor the attention it deserves.

When you think about strengthening your core, your pelvic floor probably doesn’t come to mind, but it’s actually connected directly to the abs. We have four major muscles that make up our abdominals: two obliques, the rectus abdominis (AKA the six pack) and the transverse abdominis, our deepest layer. The rectus abdominis connects directly to the pelvic bone and the transverse abdominis (what you work out in pilates and barre) connects directly to the pelvic floor via connective tissue or fascia.

Crunches also won’t cinch your waistline.

Wente says there is really no literature that supports spot training—the idea where you can lose weight in one area by working it over and over. People seem to understand doing bicep curls every day with increasing weight will make biceps get bigger, not smaller, but for some reason they seem to think doing crunches every day will make the stomach smaller.

“Your crunches might be worsening [your waistline],” says Wente, “because you’re getting a larger muscle group and you’re not working the deeper muscles. The transverse abdominis actually cinches your waist.”

Finally convinced to be done with crunches? Here’s Wente’s pelvic floor-approved ab workouts.

1.Instead of crunches, try an isometric core contraction.

Laying on your back, bend your knees and put your feet on the floor and inhale, filling your low belly. This breath will lengthen the pelvic floor and abdominals. On your exhale pull in the pelvic floor and pull your bellybutton to your spine. That’s one rep. “You aren’t moving like you would in a crunch, but you are turning on and turning off [the entire pelvic floor area],” says Wente, “and that’s a much more functional way to use your muscles.”

Try two sets of 30 reps, spacing your sets throughout the day.

2.The plank position is your new best friend.

It’s a neutral position and can work your deep transverse abdominis and your pelvic floor, says Wente. Assume a standard plank position paying special attention to spinal alignment. Tighten your abs to provide stability and make sure you don’t hold your breath.

Start with 10 second planks for 10-15 reps. Progress from there but make sure you can do this basic form before moving on to modifications.

3.All about the V-Ups? Try modified planks.

Starting in a plank position, pick up your right hand and tap your left should. Put your right hand down and repeat this with your left hand to your right shoulder. Now, bring your left foot towards your center and tap with your right hand. Repeat with left hand to right foot. This takes balance, breathing and core engagement.

4.Love bicycle crunches? Try proper form bicycle crunches.

“The bicycle in premise is not bad,” says Wente, “but I don’t have people lift their head.” Keeping your head down puts your spine in neutral. The other common mistake people make in this pose? Holding their breath. “One of the easiest ways to throw off the balance of the system of your abs and pelvic floor is to hold your breath or not breath appropriately,” says Wente.

No matter which exercise you try, Wente requires patients to take a deep, “belly breath” after each ab set. “If you’re holding your breath your pelvic floor can’t move in the way that it’s supposed to, and your abs really can’t either,” she says.

Benefits of exercise

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Step right up! It’s the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for.

It can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had, but for too long we’ve neglected to take our recommended dose. Our health is now suffering as a consequence.

This is no snake oil. Whatever your age, there’s strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and even happier life.

People who do regular activity have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.

Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant.

Health benefits

Given the overwhelming evidence, it seems obvious that we should all be physically active. It’s essential if you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life into old age.

It’s medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

What counts?

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

For most people, the easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, like walking or cycling instead of using the car to get around. However, the more you do, the better, and taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort is called moderate intensity activity. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can’t sing the words to a song.

If your activity requires you to work even harder, it is called vigorous intensity activity. There is substantial evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. You can tell when it’s vigorous activity because you’re breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

A modern problem

People are less active nowadays, partly because technology has made our lives easier. We drive cars or take public transport. Machines wash our clothes. We entertain ourselves in front of a TV or computer screen. Fewer people are doing manual work, and most of us have jobs that involve little physical effort. Work, house chores, shopping and other necessary activities are far less demanding than for previous generations.

We move around less and burn off less energy than people used to. Research suggests that many adults spend more than seven hours a day sitting down, at work, on transport or in their leisure time. People aged over 65 spend 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.

Sedentary lifestyles

Inactivity is described by the Department of Health as a “silent killer”. Evidence is emerging that sedentary behaviour, such as sitting or lying down for long periods, is bad for your health.

Not only should you try to raise your activity levels, but you should also reduce the amount of time you and your family spend sitting down.

Common examples of sedentary behaviour include watching TV, using a computer, using the car for short journeys and sitting down to read, talk or listen to music – and such behaviour is thought to increase your risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity.

“Previous generations were active more naturally through work and manual labour, but today we have to find ways of integrating activity into our daily lives,” says Dr Cavill.

Whether it’s limiting the time babies spend strapped in their buggies, or encouraging adults to stand up and move frequently, people of all ages need to reduce their sedentary behaviour.

“This means that each of us needs to think about increasing the types of activities that suit our lifestyle and can easily be included in our day,” says Dr Cavill.

Crucially, you can hit your weekly activity target but still be at risk of ill health if you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down.

6 Tips For Better Work-Life Balance

These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey. Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.

Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance that’s right for you.

1. Let go of perfectionism

A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive, says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide.

The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism, says Puder-York. “As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going,” she says, adding that the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.

2. Unplug

From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family, Brooks advises. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will developing a stronger habit of resilience. “Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives,” says Brooks, while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

3. Exercise and meditate

Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs – exercise – is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Puder-York recommends dedicating a few chunks of time each week to self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga or meditation. And if you’re really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises during your commute, a quick five minute meditation session morning and night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.

“When I talk about balance, not everything has to be the completion and achievement of a task, it also has to include self-care so that your body, mind and soul are being refreshed,” says Puder-York.

These exercises require minor effort but offer major payoffs. Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk, explains that our autonomic nervous system includes two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (our body’s stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s rest and digest response). “The key is to find something that you can build into your life that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system,” says Robinson. Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding your senses in your present surroundings, are great places to start. The more you do these, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which “calms everything down, (and) not just in the moment,” says Robinson. “Over time you start to notice that in your life, your parasympathetic nervous system will start to trump your sympathetic nervous system.”

Tips and Techniques to Stay Motivated

Achieving truly good health, fitness, and mental well-being typically requires a change in one’s overall lifestyle. Hence, each individual should understand that their path to good health and fitness will not only be unique to themselves, but that their lifestyle change will take time, discipline and effort as well.

This being said, it is important that each individual create the appropriate physical and mental environment prior to embarking on a health and fitness routine to increase their probability of successfully obtaining their personal fitness goals. While it may be true that the path to good health and fitness requires time, effort and discipline, the health benefits – both physically and mentally – will always outweigh the effort.

While many individuals think that the changes required to live a healthy lifestyle are difficult and unsustainable; the truth is that they are actually closer than they think.

In fact, most individuals only need to make a few minor changes to their daily lives to begin living a lifestyle that is focused on good health and fitness. Once an individual has made the decision to take a more active approach to their physical and mental well-being, maintaining their focus and motivation may sometimes be difficult to sustain. The intent of this article is to provide several tips and techniques designed to improve an individual’s motivation, focus and discipline towards obtaining their personal fitness goals.

In summary, virtually any individual can implement the following tips and techniques into their personal fitness routine to improve their chances at achieving a lifestyle that is filled with good health and mental well-being.

  • Define and write down a realistic set of personal health and fitness goals.
  • Maintain a high level of variety in your fitness routine.
  • Start slowly and monitor your fitness progress.
  • Choose fitness activities that are enjoyable.
  • Take periodic breaks as you continue down the path to a healthy and fit lifestyle.
  • Include a workout partner in your fitness and nutritional routines.
  • Have fun and reward yourself when you achieve a short-term or long-term goal.

Define and Write Down Goals

Defining and setting goals associated with your personal fitness is an important first step. By taking the time to determine your actual health and fitness goals prior to embarking on a fitness and nutritional routine, you will create a routine that is specific and designed to meet your exact set of goals.

It is highly recommended that you set not only short-term goals, but long-term goals as well. Both short-term and long-term goals should be clearly written and have an associated obtainment date.

In addition, you should record the actual date when each goal is accomplished. By doing so, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, encouragement that you can obtain the longer-term goals, and a renewed vigor to continue working towards your longer-term goals.

Finally, it is important to reward yourself along the way as you accomplish the shorter-term goals, This will enhance your sense of accomplishment and provide reassurance that you can achieve all of your personal fitness goals.

Add Variety to Your Fitness Routine

fitness exercises varietyIt is important to periodically vary your fitness activities. First, by varying your fitness routine you will create an environment where your body is constantly trying to evolve to a state where it can more easily accomplish the fitness routines that you are forcing it to perform.

If you enjoy running, then be sure to vary the locations where you run. For example, if you currently perform a running routine four times per week you may want to run at a park with a set course twice a week, and around your neighborhood on two other days of the week.

By varying the locations where you run, you will prevent your body from getting used to the demands that each course imposes (i.e. one course has more hills, while the other offers more technical terrain). Second, by varying your fitness routine you will be consistently introducing new movements that require coordination and balance, new strength requirements, and new endurance requirements that will force your body to improve its condition and capability.

This approach is commonly referred to as cross training, and has been scientifically proven to be more effective than repeating the same fitness routine over and over.

For example, an individual may begin a fitness routine where they perform aerobics three times a week and weight training twice a week. After four weeks they may change their fitness routine to biking twice a week, running once a week and weight training twice a week with a new set of exercises.

Third, by regularly varying your fitness routine you will be constantly performing new physical activities that will minimize the boredom associated with performing the same tasks over and over. You’ll be constantly challenging yourself to learn new exercise routines and new types of physical movements.

In addition, the variety in exercise types will exercise the muscle groups from different angles and combine different combinations of muscle groups. This technique is called muscle confusion and is ideal for keeping the muscles off balance and in a continual state of development. For instance, the muscles exercised by obtaining a cardiovascular workout through biking are different than the muscles that are used when obtaining a cardiovascular workout through swimming.

Every individual’s workout routine should periodically change over time. By doing so, you will increase your level of motivation, decrease your level of boredom, and add to the diversity of your fitness lifestyle.

Start Slowly and Monitor Your Progress

Many individuals try to implement a fitness routine that is simply too demanding for the current condition of their body. This approach typically leads to frustration and quitting the workout routine altogether. This approach also increases an individual’s mental belief that they cannot accomplish their personal fitness goals and leads to lower self-esteem. Hence, it is important to begin a fitness routine slowly when you have been inactive for a relatively long period of time. By starting your exercise routine at a slower pace, you will allow your body to adjust to the new physical requirements you are placing on it. More specifically, you will allow your cardiovascular system, muscles, ligaments and tendons to develop at a rate that is less conducive to injury.

As you are able to increase the duration of your cardiovascular exercises (e.g. biking, running, swimming, etc.) or strength if weight training, you will gain confidence and naturally increase the intensity and duration of your fitness workouts.

Pushing yourself too hard when first starting a fitness routine can be very discouraging. You will be asking your body to perform tasks that it hasn’t performed in a long time, and this can result in your body being very sore. It is at this point that many individuals get discouraged and quit their exercise routine, or injure themselves. It is important to remember that just because you are starting out slowly, allowing your body to adjust to your exercise routine, it does not mean that you will be unable to achieve your personal fitness goals within the timeline you have specified. In fact, the human body is incredibly resilient, and you will be amazed at how quickly your body responds to the physical demands you place on it through your exercise routine.

Choose Fitness Activities that are Enjoyable

It is important to remember that good health and fitness is a lifelong endeavor, and that exercising for the long-run is what is truly important. In other words, it would not make sense to improve your physical condition over a six-month period and then quit. While the human body is able to adapt quickly to the demands of a new fitness routine, it is equally quick to revert back to a condition of poor health and fitness in the absence of any exercise.

This being said, it is beneficial to choose physical activities that you enjoy. For instance, if you enjoyed swimming when you were younger, then you may want to consider adding swimming to your fitness routine. It’s important to keep an open mind and try several different types of exercise routines. Don’t be afraid to try a large array of exercise types, and thereafter determine which types you enjoy the most.

Take Periodic Breaks

It is important to remember to take breaks, both during your specific workout and over time. The highest frequency of injury occurs when the individual is physically exhausted, mentally exhausted or both. When interval training, be sure to take the appropriate amount of time to allow your body to recover before proceeding with the remainder of your workout.

It is also important to allow your body to recover from the stress that the workout has placed on it. For example, if weight training, you will not want to work the same muscle group any more often than every 48 hours. The components of the human body need time to recover, and you are the best judge of how long this process takes based on your level of fatigue and soreness in a given muscle group. If you are feeling particularly tired on a given day, it may be best to skip your workout and resume as scheduled on the following day. Don’t get in the habit of skipping workouts unless you’re especially fatigued, such as the day after an endurance competition.

Enlist a Workout Partner

Another tip for maintaining a high level of fitness motivation is to perform your exercise routines with a workout partner. There are several benefits associated with exercising with a workout partner. First, a workout partner will challenge you to perform at a higher level, especially if you both begin at approximately the same fitness level, or if your partner is in a slightly more advanced state of physical conditioning.

Second, a workout partner will assist in creating a greater level of consistency. If you incorporate a workout partner into your exercise routine, then you will have to schedule the times when you are both going to work out together. By doing so, you have made a commitment to one another. Studies have shown that individuals are more apt to complete a task if they have made a commitment to doing so. Hence, it’s human nature: if you have made a commitment to exercise with your workout partner after work at 6:00pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you’ll be more likely to stick to your commitment than if you did it alone.

Third, most individuals that exercise with a partner enjoy a greater diversity in the types of exercise routines they perform. This is often due to the fact that your workout partner may enjoy a different set of exercise types and be more willing to try an exercise type that neither of you have ever tried. In addition, by exercising with a workout partner, you may be more apt to try new forms of exercise simply because you have a partner that will try them with you. Either way, including a workout partner in your exercise routine is a great way to stay motivated, try new forms of exercises, and create an environment where both of you are consistent in your exercise routines.

Have Fun

Above all, the most important ingredient to successfully embarking on a lifelong path to good health and mental well-being is that the fitness lifestyle that you choose be enjoyable. Most individuals, unless forced, will discontinue the majority of tasks that they dislike. By taking the time to determine the specific types of exercise that you enjoy, you will create an exercise routine that you find yourself looking forward to. This fact alone will dramatically improve the probability of you achieving all of your personal fitness goals.

workout partnersBy choosing physical activities that you enjoy, you will find that you actually look forward to exercising, and that good health and fitness can really become a part of your lifestyle – not only for today, but for tomorrow as well.

Maintaining a high level of motivation towards physical exercise can be one of the most difficult aspects of staying on a fitness routine. The intent of this article is to provide a few tips and techniques that can be readily implemented into anyone’s fitness lifestyle.

It is important to remember that good health, fitness and mental well-being is a lifelong journey and that there are very few shortcuts.

In summary, the keys to good health and fitness are consistency, an open-mindedness towards new forms of exercise, a nutritious dietary regime, a positive attitude, mental stability, and a passion for life.