Why napping is good for you

I grew up in a family of nappers. In fact, my dad used to joke that his second job was mattress testing since he spent much of his leisure time resting on one.

Turns out he was onto something. And so are the Spanish and other cultures who believe in the siesta, a little afternoon respite to repower the synapses and get the juices flowing again.

Napping is wasted on the young — half the time they’d rather not be doing it. Many adults, on the other hand, welcome a good nap as often as possible (at least I know I do). Yet in our busy, type-A society, where everyone feels they need to do 12 things at once, napping has gotten a bad rap.

I say it’s time to change that view, especially in a world where so many people are sleep-deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance without leaving you groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep (if it’s not too late in the day). In fact, one study found that a 20 minute nap is actually more effective than either 200 mg of caffeine or a bout of exercise.

Remember, many of the world’s great thinkers and leaders have been regular nappers, including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Napoleon. It apparently worked for them.

Sara Mednick, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” says that without a midday nap many people are unable to perform at optimal levels throughout the day. She’s conducted studies in conjunction with numerous academic institutions and the U.S. Navy to prove that a short power nap every afternoon when you begin to flag is a great way to get you through the rest of the afternoon and evening. It’s especially recommended for tired drivers —who are a real danger on the road. Sleep experts recommend that if you feel drowsy while driving, you should immediately pull over to a rest area, drink a caffeinated beverage and take a 15-30 minute nap.  Soon you’ll be safely back on the road.

If all this wasn’t enough to encourage you to take a nap, Mednick also says that napping boosts creativity, reduces stress, enhances libido, aids in weight loss, keeps you looking younger, reduces the risk of heart attack, strengthens memory, clarifies decision-making, and improves productivity. It also feels great.  I don’t know about you, but sign me up!

So instead of thinking about a napper as a lazy, unambitious soul who’s slacking off, perhaps we should consider him or her a smart worker who knows when he or she needs a break to be their best.

For those who aren’t freelancers like myself working next to their beds — perfect for procrastinating and nap-taking — there may still be ways to slip in some mid-day sleep. You can always do a George Costanza (from a famous Seinfeld episode) and crawl under your desk to nap unnoticed, or shut your door, lean back in your chair or lay your head on your desk. I can sleep anywhere, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try slipping away to your car on your lunch break.

There are even a few very progressive companies (like Google and Huffington Post) that offer “nap rooms,” demonstrating that they truly get the benefits for their employees. But if it’s against office policy, save your napping for the weekends!

If you’re worried you’ll nap the afternoon away, set a timer on your cell phone for just a brief break. You’ll be renewed, refreshed and raring to go after a power nap. So forget the latte or energy drink; grab a few zzzzs and let me know how great you feel afterwards.

How often do you nap, and how does it make you feel?


Take a Nap! Change Your Life, by Sara Mednick (Workman Publishing Company)




Should You Take a Multivitamin?

In 2011, Consumer Reports reported that Americans were spending about $5 billion per year on multivitamins. This means that roughly one third of the country’s population regularly takes multivitamins (which also generally contain minerals), making them the most commonly taken supplement in the U.S.A.

That level of popularity isn’t necessarily proof of a supplement’s safety or effectiveness, however — after all, at one point,many people were purposely ingesting tapeworm eggs. So, should you take a multivitamin? Although multivitamins are usually thought of as harmless, are there any potential side effects?

The Idea Behind Multivitamins

Your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to maintain the complex array of functions that keep you active and healthy. Generally speaking, these nutrients can be separated into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. For the most part, they make up the fuel mixture for your body.

Micronutrients are a broad category, encompassing vitamins and minerals, among other things. These substances are vital to just about everything your body does, including maintaining bone health, nerve function, heart health, muscle contractions and hormone production.

A healthy, balanced diet will give most people all of the vitamins and minerals they need. However, eating a healthy and balanced diet is an increasingly difficult accomplishment, which means you may require supplementation to fill the gaps in your diet. It is important to note that true deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals are very rare in the United States. Certain diseases and conditions can create these deficiencies, though, with symptoms varying from nutrient to nutrient.

Some sources contend that athletes and people who live an active lifestyle will have an increased need for these micronutrients. There isn’t enough research yet to definitively state the vitamin and mineral needs of athletes, but it is apparent that vigorous activity causes your body to burn through these nutrients faster than it would otherwise.

Do They Work?

Whether or not you feel a multivitamin works will likely depend largely on your expectations. Unless you have a condition that increases your need for certain nutrients, you won’t see immediate or drastic changes in your physical or mental well-being; multivitamins are more about maintenance than dramatic change.

The role that these micronutrients play can be compared to the various fluids in your car. Oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and coolant all need to be kept at proper levels for your car to run smoothly. If one of these gets low, you’ll probably notice a change in your car’s gas mileage, maybe accompanied by a new smell or noise. If you top off these fluid levels, you most likely won’t notice any major changes — but the benefits are still there, and your car will probably last longer.

In the same way, it seems that multivitamins encourage healthy aging. One Australian study found that taking multivitamins for eight weeks improved memory and slowed cognitive decline in men aged 50 to 69. Another study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women using multivitamins increased the length of their telomeres, which are nucleotide sequences that protect chromosomes from deterioration — essentially increasing the lifespan of cells and potentially slowing the aging process.

Potential Side Effects

It is possible to overdose on some of the nutrients found in multivitamins, such as iron, so they should always be taken in the recommended doses and according to directions. As with all supplements, multivitamins should only be taken after discussion with your doctor, especially if you have a condition and are taking medication. Allergies to multivitamins are also possible.

There are also some concerns that multivitamins may increase the risk of breast cancer in women, but this is highly contested, and many studies contradict each other.

Have you taken multivitamins? Did you feel they worked for you? Please share your experience in the comments.







How to Switch to a Standing Desk

The benefits of stand-up or standing desks have been well-documented, and many offices are slowly making the transition from traditional sitting desks. Standing desks, as their name suggests, allow the user to stand while working, raising the desk surface to a comfortable level. Numerous studies show that this style of workstation can make you more productive, decrease the risk of lower back and leg pain — and even add years to your life.

These desks can be expensive, however, and it takes time to switch out your old desk for the new. If you work in an office, it may be difficult to convince your employer to fund or even allow the transition, although that may change as standing desks continue to gain popularity. Regardless of these obstacles, there are many do-it-yourself solutions that can help you switch to a standing desk.

How to Start

If you’re used to sitting for a full work day, it will probably difficult and uncomfortable for you to completely ditch your chair and stand for hours at a time. Instead, start by taking standing breaks throughout the day to get used to being on your feet. Eventually, you’ll find that you can stand for longer periods of time; you may then want to reverse the pattern, instead standing most of the day and taking short sitting breaks. One of the major discomforts associated with stand up desks is foot and leg pain, so you’ll want to select comfortable shoes, and perhaps consider a padded mat.

Work With What You’ve Got

If buying an adjustable standing desk doesn’t fit your budget, or if you just aren’t ready to commit to the idea yet, there are plenty of other options to try. There are inexpensive monitor and laptop stands on the market that can be used to raise your computer up. (These don’t always offer a workspace, however, so if you need a full desk area, try placing raised shelves on your existing desk.)

You can also place your desk on platforms that will lift it higher. If you opt for this method, though, be careful to make sure that your desk is stable and doesn’t wobble when you’re working.

Existing raised surfaces, like bookshelves or even counter space, can also make good improvised standing desks, especially if you’re working with a laptop. Whatever surface you pick, try to look for something that will bring your computer up to about chest level. Ideally, you want to be able to look straight ahead, so that you don’t have to strain your neck looking up or down for long periods of time.

The Next Step

Some people have decided to take the idea of a standing desk even further, and have created the “treadmill desk.” This variation of the standing desk not only places your workstation at a standing level, it also puts you on a treadmill, so that you walk at a slow pace to keep you active throughout your workday. There are commercially available treadmill desks with some added features — like easily accessible controls — that make this potentially risky workspace safer and easier to use.

The Internet is full of DIY solutions for both standing desks and treadmill desks, so if you can’t justify spending the money, get creative and look for inspiration. A standing desk will help you fight off back pain and burn extra calories while working.

Have you made the transition to a standing desk? Please share your experience and suggestions in the comments!





How to Train for Your First 5K

Ask Coach Jenny.

Q: My friend started running last year and has really inspired me to start. I want to train for a 5K race but I have no idea where to get started. Running has always been such an impossible challenge that I typically throw in the towel after a few painful sessions. Do you have any tips for training for a 5K and actually sticking with it?  ~Julie

A: Hi Julie. There is no better way than to create a realistic carrot (goal 5K race) to keep you motivated, accountable and, most importantly, feeling rewarded. Here are a few tips for your journey to your first 5K finish line.

Start from where you are rather than where you want to be.

Step number one begins with getting real with yourself. In order to get where you want to go efficiently, you’ve got to start where you’re at now.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a runner. We all progress at different rates and the secret is being honest with yourself and taking that first step forward rather than fast-forwarding to step 10 or 20. When you do, you begin to build a foundation of fitness and running happiness that will last a lifetime.

Pick a plan and progress slowly.

Where you begin may not match where your buddy starts. For instance, if you’re overweight, coming off the couch and starting from scratch (good for you), then you could start with a walking plan. If you’re active and new to running, you could start with a run-walk program, which alternates running and walking intervals (Run 3 minutes, Walk 2 minutes) repeatedly throughout the program. This allows your body and mind time to adapt to the demands of the impact forces and the cardiovascular and respiratory challenges. If you’ve been running here and there, you might do best with a beginning running plan. You can find a variety of free 5K training plans here.


The two most vital pieces of gear needed for running are properly fitted shoes and a supportive sports bra. Buying shoes is almost as overwhelming as a visit to the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are a ton of options and it can be hard to choose the right pair for you.

A great way to make this easy on yourself is to find a specialty running store in your neighborhood and get professionally fitted for running shoes. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen, bring your running socks and make sure the sales people watch you run and walk in a variety of shoes. A good fitting running shoe should feel comfortable on your feet and support your type of foot (high arch, low arch, neutral).

When shopping for sports bras, select your style – compression (geared for A/B cup sizes) or encapsulated styles (good for C+ cup sizes) – and stick with high impact-rated bras.

Mix it up.

All running and no play makes Jack a dull athlete. Run every other day to give your body time to recover and adapt to the demands of running. Mix in lower impact activities that move you in a variety of patterns. Cycling, skating, Zumba, yoga and Pilates are just a few complementary cross-training activities you can incorporate into your new running recipe. Doing so will keep the program fresh, keep you running injury-free and keep you moving forward.

Listen to your body along the way.

Our body has a quicker communication system than Twitter! It will tell you when you’ve pushed too much, need to take it easy or adjust with a few days of cross-training to recover. Listening to your body and making training adjustments along the way will fend off the fatigue, aches and pains that lead to injuries.

Pace Yourself.

Pacing yourself is perhaps the hardest part of running, but there is an easy way to find the right pace every time and it involves three little steps. Tune into your body, listen to your breath and adjust your pace based on how your body is responding on the day.

Not every run will be the same. Some are hot, some cold, others will be so windy you’ll feel like you’re not moving forward at all! The secret to completing your run is in following those three steps. Also, keep the effort level and breathing easy – ideally at a level where you can talk. If you can’t recite the words to your favorite poem or the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re running too hard. A runner is built from a continuous series of “easy effort” running workouts over time. Let your performance simmer and evolve from there.

Keep track.

Whether you do this online or in a pretty journal – keeping track of your running sessions is an effective way to track your progress and develop your personal running recipe. Useful bits of information to track include: running time, run-walk ratio, terrain/course/treadmill, shoe model, mood, energy level, effort level and calories consumed versus expended.

Make it fun.

The secret to learning to run is to create forward momentum. In order to do this, aim to finish the workout feeling strong and accomplished – even on the tough days – rather than exhausted, crabby and hating life. If you enjoyed yesterday’s workout, guess what?  You’re going to want to repeat it again right? The more you repeat in happiness, the sooner you’ll become that running rock star.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Vitamin D & Weight Loss

Vitamin D has developed a sterling reputation amongst advocates of alternative medicine recently, and is being credited with countless health benefits. Although many of these claims can’t be substantiated, and in some cases have been discredited, emerging research shows a definite link between obesity and low levels of vitamin D.

The Research

A key study in understanding the relationship between Vitamin D and weight loss was conducted almost accidentally by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The study recruited 38 obese people, and found that their baseline levels of vitamin D predicted their potential to lose weight. Similar studies have shown that obese individuals have low levels of vitamin D.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2007 finding that women who took a supplement containing both calcium and vitamin D while following a weight loss program had better results than those who didn’t take the supplement. The group that was given the supplement also had a better lipid and cholesterol profile at the end of the study than the others.

A later study in the same journal had similar results. The study followed 126 overweight women for six months, and found that those who took vitamin D and calcium from dairy had a greater likelihood of losing weight.

It’s also possible that because vitamin D promotes healthy bones and a strong immune system, it makes exercise easier and therefore encourages weight loss.

It’s important to note, however, that the exact mechanism by which vitamin D affects weight loss is unknown — and no studies have yet shown that vitamin D by itself is beneficial. Current research indicates that the vitamin has to be taken with calcium and used in conjunction with a weight loss program to be of any use.

How Much is Enough?

Experts can’t seem to agree on how much vitamin D you should be getting on a daily basis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, people between the ages of 1 and 50 should intake about 600 International Units of vitamin D every day. However, it is possible to take too much vitamin D — although it’s similarly difficult know exactly how much is too much. The National Institutes of Health set the maximum daily allowance for adults at 4,000 IU, but you should talk to your doctor to determine what the right dose is for you.

How to Get it

Vitamin D is unique in that your body produces it when you expose your skin to sunlight. Fair-skinned people can synthesis enough vitamin D with only about 45 minutes of sunlight a week, while people with darker skin will need more time, up to three hours. People who live in northern areas may find it difficult to get enough sunlight during the winter, and may need to get vitamin D through dietary sources and supplements. Clouds and smog that block the sun will also limit how much vitamin D you can produce.

Fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) and eggs are good dietary sources of vitamin D, and many foods, like milk and cereals, are usually fortified with it as well.

As always, you should consult with your doctor or other qualified health professional beginning any supplementation program.

Do you feel that vitamin D has helped you lose weight and stay healthy? Share your experience in the comments!





Family Friendly Exercise

It’s no big secret that parents are kept extraordinarily busy, and often find little to no time for exercise. Similarly, time constraints can make prepackaged food a much more appealing option than preparing something fresh. A 2011 study published in the Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics found that mothers of young children typically eat more sugar, saturated fat and total calories than women without children. Additionally, both mothers and fathers were less physically active than nonparents.

This trend of inactivity and unhealthy nutrition has far reaching effects, though, and can set a poor example for children, contributing to the increase in childhood obesity. Another study in the same journal even found that modifying a parent’s diet has a larger effect on the weight of the child than an exercise program that focused exclusively on the child.

You probably don’t need any convincing about how important exercise is. You just need practical advice on how to balance the demands of parenthood with exercise that will benefit not just you, but also your children.

A United Front

One of the most important aspects of a family-oriented activity program is that it needs to be a team effort. The American Council on Exercise (A.C.E) recommends talking to your spouse or partner about your desire to be more active as a family, and agreeing on changes and activities that everyone can enjoy. If members of your family aren’t interested at first, try not to push them too much, since this can do more harm than good. Instead, look for things they already enjoy.

Don’t assume that this change to a healthy lifestyle has to conform to traditional forms of exercise. There are many different ways to be active.

Endless Options

Any activity that gets you and your children moving will be beneficial, so look for chances to do things like taking walks or playing catch together. But don’t be afraid to get more creative, and remember that you don’t have to be left exhausted or dripping with sweat for the activity to count. Recent studies have even found that short bouts of exercise spread throughout the day have the same health benefits as one long workout, so try to incorporate short activities in your routine.

Many regular activities like yard work or cleaning the house can be made into active games. (Plus it’s a great way to get your kids to help you around the house!). A.C.E, working with Moderation Nation, has made several suggestions on how to making mundane things like setting the table and weeding into games, a project they call Activity Snacks.

Apart from disguising chores as games, you can also modify classic games to make them more challenging and help build strength, balance and endurance in both you and your children. Try playing catch with a large kickball, but bouncing it on the ground slightly off-target, so that the catcher has to reach to get the ball. Sidewalk chalk can even be used to create imaginary obstacle courses.

Reduce Time At A Screen

A frightening trend appears when you look at the amount of time kids spend in front of a screen, be it the TV or a computer. According to A.C.E., kids between eight and 18 spend an average of seven hours a day sitting at a screen, and two out of three obese children have televisions in their bedrooms. A common solution for this is the active video game, or “exergame,” but these don’t seem to be a substitute for real exercise. Several studies have shown that kids who play these games aren’t much more active than those who play traditional video games. A.C.E recommends that everyone, including adults, limit their screen time to about two hours a day outside of work and homework.

Although embarking on a healthier, more active lifestyle can sound daunting at first, it only takes a few tweaks to your routine, and these suggestions just scratch the surface. By resolving to exercise more you can not only improve your own health, but also give your children a great model to follow.

Have you found ways to be active as a family? Please share them in comments!






10 Quick, Healthy Meal Ideas

These days, it’s normal to work long hours and feel constantly strapped for time. So it’s no wonder so many of us hit the drive-thru for dinner. However, most fast food meals are lacking in the nutrition department.

With proper planning, it is possible serve healthy, satisfying meals at home in a matter of minutes.

Healthy Meal Basics

For a well-balanced dinner, fill half of your plate with fruits and/or veggies, a quarter of your plate with whole grains(like 100% whole grain bread or pasta) and the other quarter with a lean source of protein, like fish or chicken. A nonfat or low-fat source of dairy, like a glass of skim milk, should also be part of your meal.

Planning is Key

The secret to serving a healthy, homemade meal each night is preparation. On the weekends, take the time to plan out that week’s meals. Head to the grocery store armed with a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Once you get home, start prepping parts of the week’s dinners. Dice up the veggies, shred the cheese, and cook the rice,storing it in the fridge until you need it. Thorough meal preparation is a major time-saver. It’s also helpful to have some ready-to-eat foods on hand; try pre-washed salad greens or a rotisserie chicken.

Dinner is Ready

Here are some healthy meal ideas that require minimal prep time:

1. Bean burritos: Heat canned, low-fat refried beans, a can of chopped green chilies, and a packet of chili seasoning on the stovetop. Place the bean mixture into whole wheat or corn tortillas, and top with light sour cream and reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa or cilantro for an extra punch of flavor and nutrition.

2. Stir-fry: Fry frozen carrots, broccoli, snap peas, peanuts and kidney beans in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add soy sauce and serve over instant brown rice.

3. Omelet: Omelets aren’t just for breakfast! Scramble a couple of eggs, cook over medium heat and add your favorite omelet toppings, like bell pepper strips, mushrooms, tomatoes, and reduced-fat cheddar cheese.

4. Taco soup: On the stovetop, heat up a can of pinto beans, 1-2 cans of water, frozen corn, canned tomatoes, canned chopped green chilies, and chili seasoning. Top the soup with low-fat cheddar cheese and plain yogurt.

5. Salad bar: Let everyone in your family throw together their favorite salads. Build individual, entrée-size salads out of leafy greens (arugula, spinach, napa cabbage), chopped vegetables (carrots, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, peppers, peas), fruits (berries, raisins), a source of protein (shredded rotisserie chicken, black beans, hard-boiled egg), and small portions of extra toppings (sunflower seeds, cashews, reduced-fat cheese, avocado, croutons).

6. Pizza: Buy a plain or veggie frozen pizza, and top it with extra vegetables.

7. Veggie spaghetti: Broil some veggies and then throw them on prepared whole wheat, thin spaghetti. Top with heated marinara sauce.

8. Baked chicken or fish: Bake a piece of chicken or fish in the oven, and top it with a healthy pre-made sauce. Serve with a side of instant brown rice and heated frozen vegetables.

9. Pasta salad: Take cooked whole grain pasta and mix it with a can of rinsed black beans and your favorite raw veggies. Top with a small amount of low-fat salad dressing and parmesan cheese.

10. Rice and beans: Heat and mix together rinsed canned black beans, tomatoes, and canned corn. Serve over instant brown rice and top with shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese.

What’s your go-to quick and healthy quick meal? I’m a child at heart and cannot resist a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich!






Warding Off the Dangers of a Desk Job

There are certain things that we accept as being unhealthy, like smoking and drinking too much. We rarely put sitting in that same category. It’s surprising, then, that a quickly growing body of research suggests that sitting for long periods of time is not just unhealthy,but could even cause irreversible damage — damage that can’t be undone by any amount of exercise.

Studies have shown that a sedentary job can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and even certain types of colon cancer. One study conducted by the American Cancer Society followed 123,216 people for 14 years, and found that sitting for more than six hours a day can take years off of your life.

Many modern jobs require you to sit for long periods of time; we can’t all have active, physically demanding employment. So how can you stay active and healthy without neglecting the responsibilities waiting for you at your desk? Some small changes to your daily routine can help you to find the balance.office cubicle

Choosing Chairs

Although it may not sound very comfortable or inviting, many experts recommend opting for a backless chair as a healthier choice than the traditional desk chair. The lack of back support will force you to sit upright and improve your posture, strengthening the muscles of your back and stomach. Stability balls, sometimes called Swiss balls, have also started gaining popularity as alternatives to desk chairs, but the research about their benefits is inconclusive and contradictory. One study published in the journal Human Factors found that sitting on a stability ball did increase the function of core muscles and improve posture, but these improvements were very small — and people sitting on the ball were so uncomfortable after only an hour that the researchers could not recommend stability balls for prolonged sitting.

Select a chair that’s comfortable for you, but does not allow you to slouch, so that you can maintain a healthy posture. If you don’t have a choice in your desk chair, try purchasing a lumbar support cushion that encourages you to sit up straight. Remember to adjust the height of your chair so that your feet touch the ground and your knees rest at a 90-degree angle.

Stand Up and Move

If sitting is the problem, then standing seems like a logical solution. Unfortunately, this is frequently easier said than done. At most desks, standing will require you to bend over, which will probably do more harm than good.

Some employers are purchasing adjustable desks that allow employees to raise their work stations, putting their computers at a comfortable standing level. These desks are often large and expensive, but as more people become aware of the benefits of these standing desk, they are gradually becoming more accessible. There are also many DIY solutions available that can convert a standard desk to a standing one.

Most people who have made the switch say that it’s difficult at first, and often leaves their feet aching, but by taking seated breaks, they can gradually increase the amount of time that they are able to stand throughout the workday. Not only does standing improve your posture and build muscular endurance, but supporters of the standing desk claim they have more energy and feel more creative.

If a standing desk won’t fly in your office, get creative. Find opportunities to stand instead of sit, and make good use of any chance you have to walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and in larger offices, skip interoffice mail and hand-deliver things when you can. Taking brief walks and stretching during breaks can keep your energy level up and stop you from sinking into unhealthy, sedentary habits.

Workplace Workouts

Don’t be afraid to do some body-weight exercises at work, especially if you have a private office. Chair-dips, push-ups while leaning on your desk, and chair yoga can give you a short and discreet workout that will keep you active without you getting too sweaty. The exercises you pick, though, will depend a lot on your individual situation.

Although sitting for a long period of time may be a necessary occupational hazard, injecting some bouts of activity and planning out your day with care can help ward off some of the harmful side-effects.

Have you managed to stay active in your office? Share your tips in the comments!






Your Shape: Understanding Body Types

You’ve probably heard countless times about the importance of setting proper goals when it comes to fitness and weight loss. But what is a proper goal?

Essentially, you want to set your sights on something that is both challenging and attainable. Trying to do something extremely difficult like losing eight pounds of fat in a week will probably only discourage you and, therefore, be counterproductive. It’s vital to understand what is attainable for you — and knowing your body type, the shape that you’re naturally inclined towards, can be an invaluable help.


The modern theory of “somatotypes” was first introduced in the 1940s by psychologist Dr. William H. Sheldon, whose model was based on the dosha principle found in ancient Hindu ayurvedic medicine. These systems classify people into one of three mind-body types, with variant mixes of those basic categories. Although the psychological component of Sheldon’s model has been largely discredited, his description of the three basic body types effectively defines why certain people can easily gain muscle or lose weight while others struggle with the same goals. This system can also help you to design an exercise and diet routine that is best suited for your body type.

Sheldon’s system was originally designed for the male body. The basic principles can still apply to a woman’s body, but more detailed systems specifically for the female form have also been developed. (For example, a woman may be mesomorphic in the way that she gains weight, but have an “A-frame shape” based on where the weight naturally collects). A combination of both Sheldon’s system and these female body shapes can help women acheive a more thorough understanding of their fitness needs.


The ectomorph is a naturally slender and lean body type. A faster metabolism will make it difficult for the ectomorph to gain weight, even in the form of muscle, prompting the nickname “hardgainers.” If you are an ectomorph, don’t be afraid to eat a fairly high-calorie diet to help you gain weight, but focus on healthy food instead of junk. At least until you reach your goal weight, keep cardio to a minimum, and concentrate on strength training with heavy weights and lots of rest between sets.


Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic build and find it easy to gain muscle. Unfortunately, they also gain fat more easily than ectomorphs. Balance is the key for this body type. Strength training can be more intense, lifting heavier weights with less rest. Moderate cardio should also be worked into your routine to help maintain your weight. Your diet should be balanced, but you can adjust your total caloric intake to help you gain or lose weight based on your needs.


Endomorphshave naturally stocky bodies, and although it’s easy for them to gain weight, most of it is generally from fat. Concentrate on losing weight with fast-paced strength training, such as circuit workouts, that will help you build muscle and speed up your metabolism. Start out slow with frequent(preferably daily) cardio and try to increase the amount of time you can keep it up gradually each week. Maintain a low caloric intake, with six small meals spread throughout the day. Totally eliminate simple sugars and junk food from your diet to improve weight loss, and eat lots of protein to encourage muscle growth. You can have complex carbs, like whole wheat, but keep it to a moderate level and limit your fat intake.

Remember, these are just the three basic body types— combinations are not only possible, they are extremely likely. Get a feel for your body type and adjust your fitness and nutrition routine accordingly. Online quizzes like this one can help you figure out where you fit on the spectrum. Even better, a personal trainer can usually help you understand your body type and design a program tailored to your needs. This personalized approach will help you to set attainable goals and get better results from all that time at the gym.

Have you been able to adapt your routine around your body type? Please tell us about it in the comments!