Stress-busting Walking Workout

Walking is a step in the right direction for your health -- and it's the perfect form of exercise for busy moms. You can walk anywhere, anytime: Just put on your sneakers and head out the door."When you walk at a brisk pace, the body produces feel-good hormones called endorphins. This automatically improves your mood and decreases stress," says Toronto-based personal trainer Barb Gormley.

With all the time you spend caring for your whole family, taking less than a half-hour of fresh-air care for yourself will help you clear your mind so you can tackle your day. Read on to find out how every step you take improves your health and then try our easy, four-week walking workout plan to beat stress.

Walking Benefit: A Healthier Heart
According to a recent study of over 39,000 women published by the American Heart Association, those who walked for two or more hours per week had a 30 percent reduced risk of stroke than those who did not walk at all.

Walking Benefit: Better Memory
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that older men who walked less than 1/4 mile each day had almost twice the risk of dementia compared to those who walked more than 2 miles.

Walking Benefit: A Slim Waistline
In one new study of over 18,400 premenopausal women, researchers from Harvard School of Public Heath found that those who made even small increases in the amount of time they spend walking briskly or biking every day decreased their risk of gaining weight.

Walking Benefit: A Better Mood
Anyone who regularly hits the treadmill will report a boost of good feelings post-workout, but a recent study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise uses science to prove it. Researchers monitored participants diagnosed with depression as they either walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes or sat and rested quietly. Those who walked reported more feelings of well-being and more energy than those who rested.

Easy 4-week Walking Plan
Our easy walking plan will improve your health and help you feel less frazzled -- in just a few minutes per day."The key to improving your fitness level, burning calories and zapping stress is to walk regularly and to include one rest day per week," says Gormley.

Walk each day for the length of time suggested below. Keep your chest lifted, and look toward the horizon (not down at your feet). Pump or briskly swing your arms at your sides to boost your calorie burn. "You'll know you've walked at the right intensity if you feel energized, not exhausted, a few minutes after you complete your workout," says Gormley. Grab a friend, your dog or your MP3 player to keep motivated and step to it!

Week 1: Build a habit.
The first week is all about getting used to exercising regularly, so consistency is key.

Monday: 10 minutes
Tuesday: 15 minutes
Wednesday: 10 minutes
Thursday: 15 minutes
Friday: 10 minutes
Saturday: 20 minutes
Sunday: rest day

Weekly total: 80 minutes

Week 2: Walk for longer.
Keep up the good work! This week, you'll increase the length of time you walk by five or 10 minutes per day.

Monday: 15 minutes
Tuesday: 20 minutes
Wednesday: 15 minutes
Thursday: 20 minutes
Friday: 15 minutes
Saturday: 30 minutes
Sunday: rest day

Weekly total: 115 minutes

Week 3: Boost calorie burn.
Now you're a regular walker. Increase your pace slightly to blast more calories.

Monday: 20 minutes
Tuesday: 25 minutes
Wednesday: 20 minutes
Thursday: 25 minutes
Friday: 20 minutes
Saturday: 35 minutes
Sunday: rest day

Weekly total: 145 minutes

Week 4: Hit some hills.
Maintain the slightly faster pace, and include two hill workouts to build muscle and burn even more calories.

Monday: 20 minutes (include a short, gentle hill)
Tuesday: 25 minutes
Wednesday: 20 minutes (include a short, gentle hill)
Thursday: 25 minutes
Friday: 20 minutes
Saturday: 35 minutes
Sunday: rest day

Weekly total: 145 minutes

Congrats! You've nearly doubled your weekly walking time in just four weeks. Do your best to keep it up: You've reached a routine daily activity level that will help you to maintain a healthier heart, slimmer waistline, improved memory and an upbeat mood.

Photo by Dániel Göndör on Unsplash

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7 Yoga Stretches That Improve Your Health

Looking for an easy way to decompress, get more energy and fend off winter colds -- without leaving the house? Just say "Om." A recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine shows that women who regularly practice yoga have lower levels of inflammation and exhibit reduced physical responses to stress. What's more, researchers in India found that the practice of yoga also helps the body resist the damaging impact that stress has on the immune system. Translation: Practicing the exercise regularly may fend off sniffles and sneezes. Meanwhile, another study from Boston University shows that yoga can raise levels of a mood-boosting brain chemical called GABA.

Yoga's deep breathing and deliberate postures calm the nervous system and stimulate immunity, explain researchers. But you don't have to twist into a pretzel to reap these benefits. Just 15 minutes a day of light stretching and focused breathing can do your body good, says Terra Gold, co-director of the Yoga and the Healing Sciences yoga teacher training program at Loyola Marymount University and co-founder of the wellness group Yoga Doctors in Los Angeles.

We asked Gold to put together an immunity-boosting daily routine for yogis and non-yogis of all levels."These postures are designed to stimulate key points for the lungs, kidneys and digestive tract," she says."They'll assist in lowering stress hormones that compromise the immune system, stimulate the lymphatic system to help rid toxins from the body and help bring oxygenated blood to various organs to ensure optimal function." What's more, certain poses can relieve an accumulation of mucus in the sinuses or respiratory system, says Gold, which eases sniffles and helps you breathe better. All you need to do the workout is a few blankets and a belt.

Extended Side Easy Pose
Sit with your spine in a neutral position and both sit bones on the floor. Extend your right hand to the right as you raise the left arm toward the sky. Stretch the spine, reaching through the fingertips. Keep your torso facing forward -- without twisting the spine -- and maintain a natural, steady breath. Repeat on the other side. Gold says this activates immunity points in the arm, hand and torso.


Bridge
Lying with your face up, knees bent and arms at your sides, keep the legs hip-distance apart and the ankles under the knees. On an inhale, lift arms overhead and press firmly into the floor with your feet, raising your hips. On an exhale, lower arms and hips back down. Repeat 8 to 10 times, slowly. On the last repetition, hold in the upward position and breathe deeply for one minute (or as long as you can).


Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Sit in front of a folded blanket, knees bent and feet together. Loop a belt around your lower back, over the legs, and under your feet. Exhale and recline, lengthening the buttocks, sacrum and tailbone toward the heels. Rest arms at your sides. Hold for up to 10 minutes. Gold says this expands the chest, assists lymphatic drainage and stimulates immune points for the lungs, spine and low back.


Plow Pose
Lie with two blankets folded evenly under your upper back. Press down firmly, using leverage to slowly kick your legs overhead. Lower your legs one at a time, ensuring that your neck is comfortable. Roll onto your shoulder blades and interlock your fingers. Touch the floor with your feet and press to lift your hips higher. (If you can't touch your feet down, bend your knees by your ears to distribute weight away from your neck.)


Warrior 2 Pose
Step your feet about 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and turn your left foot in slightly and your right foot out to the right. Align the right heel with the center arch of the left foot. Exhale and bend your right knee over the right ankle, so the shin is perpendicular to the floor. Inhale and straighten. Repeat six to eight times, holding the last bend for up to a minute. Reverse feet and repeat.


Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Sitting on a blanket, slide your right foot under your left leg. Cross your left knee over your right. Press your left hand on the floor behind you, and your right arm on the outside of your left thigh. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and twist to the left, hooking the right elbow against the outer left thigh. Twist and lengthen for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat to the right.


Skull Brightener Breath
This practice alternates short, explosive exhalations with longer, passive inhalations. Start by focusing on your lower belly, between the pelvis and the belly button. Quickly contract the belly, pushing a burst of air out of the lungs. Then release the contraction so the belly "rebounds" to suck air in. Do eight to 10 times, slowly at first. Begin with 25 cycles per practice and work up to 100 or more.

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Outsmart 5 Hidden Gym Dangers

You go to the gym to get healthier. But what you may not know is that there’s also a chance of getting sick or injured. The reality is that many hidden dangers exist in health clubs, from cold- and flu-causing viruses to risky equipment.

Fortunately, if you know the warning signs -- and how to respond -- you’ll significantly decrease your chances of health woes. Here, then, are the five worries to watch. Use these tips, and the only thing you’ll bring home from the gym is a better physique.

Gym Danger No. 1: Germs
Reality check: 73 percent of weightlifting equipment at the gym is contaminated with a cold virus, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. As if that wasn’t enough, a Journal of Athletic Training study reported that one in three people has a spreadable skin condition, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

  • Wipe down equipment with disinfectant spray and tissues before and after use.
  • Opt for vinyl or plastic gym bags, since bacteria are less apt to attach to these materials.
  • Wash your hands often and/or carry antibacterial gel
  • Keep your feet covered in the locker room (think: flip-flops) and use a towel as a barrier to avoid exposing your skin to any shared surfaces.
  • Bring your own mat and towel (clubs often transport clean and dirty towels in the same bins).
  • Cover your face with a tissue should you need to sneeze or cough.
  • Cover cuts or abrasions with a bandage.
  • Shower as soon as possible and wash sweaty clothes in hot water.

Gym Danger No. 2: Bad form
If your body is misaligned, you risk placing your joints in unhealthy positions. To steer clear of complications like stress fractures, torn cartilage and tendinitis, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider hiring a qualified trainer to teach you proper form, or flag down the group instructor to give you pointers.

Also remember to warm up before exercising and stretch often. You should also pay attention to your range of motion, keeping your movements controlled and weight low, until you’ve got that exercise down pat.

Gym Danger No. 3: Too-heavy weights
More isn’t always better. At the gym, overdoing it can lead to physical injuries and mental burnout. In very rare cases, extreme overwork can lead to a dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis, where the muscles break down and release toxins in the bloodstream. (Post-workout, if you’re feeling extremely sore, weak and fatigued; running a fever; and/or have dark-colored or blood-tinted urine, call your doctor.)

To stay safe, listen to your body and be aware of your limits. Also increase your effort gradually; don’t suddenly increase the amount of weight you’re lifting or distance you’re running.

Gym Danger No. 4: Unqualified trainer
Working with a personal trainer can help you learn how to exercise safely -- and reach your goals. Most trainers are professionals with outstanding credentials. But since there aren’t licensing requirements in the industry, virtually anyone -- including those with little experience or education -- can use the title “trainer.”

Before working with an instructor, ask about their certifications and education. Some reputable certifications: those from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Specialty disciplines, such as yoga and Pilates, have their own niche certifications, including ones offered by outlets like the Pilates Method Alliance and YogaFit. And all staff, regardless of what they teach, should be certified in CPR/fitness first aid and automated external defibrillator (AED).

Gym danger No. 5: Faulty equipment
Chances are hundreds of other exercisers use the same equipment at the gym -- that’s a lot of wear and tear. If you notice that a machine isn’t working as it should, or something seems amiss, stop and alert the staff immediately. You may also want to check with your health club’s management to see how often those weight machines and treadmills are maintained and assessed.

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5 Fitness Dilemmas -- Solved!

Most people’s schedules don’t allow them to spend hours in the gym. So when you only have time to squeeze in a quick sweat session, don’t spend even a second debating whether you should hit the free weights or take a cycling or toning class. To help you clock in an effective workout, we asked the experts to help us take the guesswork out of getting fit. Read on to learn the five gym moves to make when you’re in a rush but still want to see results.

Dilemma No. 1: Free weights versus machine
Winner: Free weights

While machines are a good option for fitness novices, they only allow you to focus on one muscle group at a time. Free weights, on the other hand, liberate you to incorporate full-body moves into your workout routine. “Try grabbing a pair of dumbbells and alternating overhead presses with squats,” says Geralyn Coopersmith, the national director of The Equinox Training Institute. “You’ll strengthen your core and glutes in addition to your arms and shoulders.”

By turning your lifting session into a total-body workout, you’re also targeting the muscle combos that you use in everyday life. This will come in handy, say, the next time you’re carrying a heavy bag of groceries to your car or your three-year-old up a flight of stairs.

Dilemma No. 2: Cycling versus weight lifting class
Winner: Weight lifting class (with cardio)

“You can get a lot of bang for your buck by finding a weight lifting class that incorporates cardio,” says Kristi Molinaro, a fitness expert and founder of 30/60/90, a high-intensity interval training program in New York City. “You’ll burn fat while building muscle.”

To reap the most benefits, don’t scrimp on the weights. “A few biceps curls with a set of five-pound dumbbells won’t do you much good,” says Molinaro. “You’ve got to push yourself past what is easy and comfortable to make the most of every workout.” One rule of thumb: You should need to wipe your brow with facial tissues by the end of your sweat session.

Dilemma No. 3: Steady cardio versus interval training
Winner: Interval training

If you’re crunched for time, interval training is the way to go. “A combo of fast-paced, high-intensity moves mixed with longer, lighter recovery phases pushes you into an anaerobic zone,” says Molinari. That’s when you burn serious fat while increasing your fitness level.

Examples of intervals include running or biking sprints, lifting weights or jumping rope -- any exercise where you amp up to the pace. You shouldn’t be able to maintain the intensity for longer than 30 seconds.

Dilemma No. 4: Treadmill versus elliptical trainer
Winner: Draw

Running on a treadmill is a high-impact activity, while using an elliptical machine is low-impact. “To reduce the risk of injury workout boredom and plateaus, alternate between the two,” says Coopersmith.

That being said, if you’re running short on time, the treadmill will put you on the fast track to fit. Increase your speed, do intervals or add an incline to get your heart rate up and burn mega-calories.

Then, at your next gym visit, switch gears by hopping on the elliptical. It’s easier on your knees, and the built-in programs are aimed to burn fat. Plus, the swinging upper-body grips can strengthen your arms with every stride. (Just remember to wipe down the grips with an antibacterial wipe or a facial tissue sprayed with cleaner before you hop on.)

Dilemma No. 5. Taking a class versus going it alone
Winner: Taking a class

“Group classes are great because you have a fitness professional cramming in as much as he or she can into a limited amount of time,” says Molinaro. “A good instructor will also help you with your form and push you to work harder than if you were on your own.” When checking out the options on your gym’s schedule, Molinaro advises pushing yourself with a high-intensity interval training class.

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The Best Type of Exercise for Your Personality

Have trouble sticking to a regular workout routine? Chances are you haven’t found your calling yet. Turns out, exercise isn’t so difference from food or fashion: What works for someone else may not be the right fit for you.

Finding the right type of exercise that best suits you, your personality, interests, needs and goals can be the key to getting the habit to stick. In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that people were more likely to workout if they considered it fun.

To discover the right type of exercise for you, consider the following guide. Find the statement that reflects your personality, and you’ll get a potentially perfect new workout.

1. You say: “Exercise is boring.”
Try: Zumba. It’s impossible to zone out during this aerobic dance class: You have to pay close attention to the steps to follow along. The combined high energy of the music and group will get you moving and grooving -- not to mention wiping your brow! (So bring a few tissues with you.) You’ll be done with your workout before you know it. Boredom fixed!

2. You say: “I love a good competition.”
Try: CrossFit.
These classes involve a variety of high-intensity exercises like running, sprinting, throwing, jumping, squatting and pushing-and-pulling type of movements. The goal is to complete a certain number of reps of each exercise within a given amount of time and in many classes, participants compete against one another.

Got a certain sport you love? Then consider joining an adult sports league. If you like running or biking, consider training for a race.

3. You say: “Workouts are my time to decompress.”
Try: Yoga.
Science backs up what yogis have known for centuries: This mind-body practice promotes relaxation. According to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, doing less than 15 minutes of yoga a day can significantly lower stress markers in the body.

But does chanting om make you feel more antsy than calm? If you like to blow off steam in a more aggressive way, kickboxing will give you that outlet, as well as a great cardio and sculpting workout.

4. You say: “I want to get my blood -- and adrenaline -- pumping!”
Try: A challenging class, like Spinning, boot camp or CrossFit. These high-intensity classes encourage you to press your limits. Their fast pace will also appeal to your adventure-seeking side.

5. You say: “Socializing while exercising? That’s a win-win!”
Try: An adult sports league or training team. You can make new friends while getting in great shape by playing a sport or preparing for a race or other athletic event. Or simply recruit some friends to form a running club or head to the gym together. You’ll not only make the workout more enjoyable, but you’ll also hold each other accountable.

6. You say: “I don’t have time for exercise -- what I need is some ‘me time.’”
Try: Swimming.
Plan to get your “me time” at the gym. Underwater is probably the most peaceful place to exercise -- and talk about a total body workout too! If you haven’t been swimming in a while you may be surprised by how wiped you feel after your first (or seventh!) time back in the pool. But it gets easier -- and it’s a sure way to score a total body cardio workout and some much needed peace of mind.

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