What Was Once Bad for You is Now Good

Red wine and chocolateWhat was once bad for you is now good. Let’s celebrate with a glass of wine and some chocolate! Remember the old days when your mom cut back on the number of eggs she served you because it could cause your cholesterol to skyrocket? Or when chocolate was a no no?

Well, no more. New studies have proven that many of the foods we once avoided for their villainous reputations may actually be good for us and it’s OK to keep them in our diet. In fact, there are health benefits to indulging, so let’s celebrate with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate. Now no one is suggesting over-indulging, but in moderation such things as red wine, dark chocolate, eggs and even popcorn can help our heart health, lower breast cancer risk and even reduce body mass.

Of course, doctors and researchers are also quick to point out that no one should make broad-based dietary changes based on just one study. New and varied data comes out every day, so it’s possible that tomorrow we’ll be removing these treats from our diet once again.

For now, here are some things that were once thought to be bad that we can now happily consume:

Red Wine and Heart Health: Red wine in moderation is now thought of as heart healthy. The antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol found in red wine more than other types of alcohol may actually help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and protecting against artery damage. Good news for anyone who likes to imbibe a glass with their evening meal. Though doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to take up drinking since too much can be harmful, they have given the go-ahead to enjoy a nightly glass without feeling guilty.

Chocolate and brain health:  Recent studies have found powerful health benefits to dark chocolate, linking it to many things including helping protect against intestinal diseases like colon cancer, to reducing risk of developing heart disease and boosting brain health in seniors.

A study published in the journal Hypertension looked at data from 90 seniors who already had mild cognitive impairment and found that their attention and other mental skills improved when they drank cocoa with high amounts of flavanols.

Chocolate is not only full of antioxidants that protect against many types of cancer, it also has a positive effect on mood and cognitive health. It contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier — as if we didn’t already know that!

Eggs and Good Cholesterol: Once we thought an omelet that included the yolks was practically a heart attack on a plate, but no more. There’s been a shift due to new research that indicates that eggs – yolks included – aren’t so bad for your heart. But don’t get us started on bacon!

Studies have found that yolks contain some important nutrients that aren’t found in the whites, including the all-important vitamin D and that their high cholesterol content actually boosts the heart protective “good” cholesterol and not the blood level of cholesterol, which is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Popcorn and Antioxidants: Instead of being off-limits because of its fat content (if you drench it in butter), popcorn is now being heralded as a low-calorie snack that may contain more healthy antioxidants – called polyphenols — than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been shown to boost cardiovascular health and protect against chronic diseases and popcorn has a very high concentration of them, especially in the hulls.

It’s also a whole grain food, which makes it a high-quality carbohydrate source that is low in calories and a good source of fiber. So air-pop some fresh kernels (stay away from the pre-packaged microwavable varieties that can be laden with fat, salt, chemicals and calories) and head to the movies.

The bottom line is that so called “bad” foods can actually have some good properties. So don’t go overboard but know that having a little can be good for you. Have you put any foods back in your diet due to current research?  Let us know.


·         http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/07/30/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.193995.abstract?sid=340dd96f-f8f8-4c08-951c-4e9a04da1037

·         http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089

·         http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120325173008.htm

The Perks of Workout Buddies

couple running at duskIt wasn’t until she was 60 that Ginny Hlavenka, of Holmdel, NJ, got in shape. “I never thought exercise was for me. I found it boring and could never stick with it for more than a few weeks at a time.”

Until her friend invited her to tag along at a water aerobics class. “The class was hard, but it was also enjoyable. My friend and I were laughing throughout the hour. I got exercise and had fun at the same time, something I thought was impossible.”

Ginny returned to the class with her friend the next week. And the next one, and the one after that. In fact, Ginny and her group of friends have been attending the same water aerobics class for the past five years.

Friends and benefits

Ginny’s experience is hardly unique. Many studies show that workout buddies are good for health and fitness. Exercising with a friend can:

·         Hold you accountable. Ginny says,“I’m not sure I’d enjoy water aerobics if I took it at another gym. My friends and the instructor are what really make it for me. After a long day at work, I often consider skipping, but I know everyone is counting on me to show up, so I go.” People who work out with friends are more likely to stick with their fitness regimens because someone is counting on them. This can help you lose weight or meet other goals faster.

·         Add years to your life. Exercise, in general, is good for your health, but getting fit with others may be even better. Two recent studies looked at the health effects of social interaction. Results from one study showed that people who are physically active with others were more likely to report that they were in good to excellent health. The other study found that socially isolated individuals were more likely to die at younger ages.

·         Boost athletic performance. For over 100 years, research has shown thatathletes perform better with a group or in front of a group. Sports psychologists say that you’re more focused and less distracted by pain when you train with others. Getting fit with a training buddy and having some friendly competition can push you to be your best.

Find a fitness partner

These tips can help you find a fitness mate:

·         Chat up people in group fitness classes. If you attend the same exercise classes regularly, chances are you’ll make a few friends like Ginny did. Invite them to take other classes with you, too.

·         Join an intramural or athletic club. Most cities have club soccer, kickball, or softball teams. If you join a team, you’ll have organized practices and games. Or search for local running or triathlon clubs or ask a running specialty store. These groups often host regular training runs.

·         Encourage your loved ones to get active with you. Catch up with your girlfriends on the elliptical trainer instead of over a glass of wine. Ask your coworkers to join you on walk instead of going out to lunch.

Do you exercise with friends? I love running with others – they really help the miles fly by!





How to Sneak Exercise into your Everyday Routine

Instead of hitting the snooze button, many disciplined people wake up early every morning to hit the gym before work. Some manage to carve out time during the day or get in their reps or a run before bed. But for others, it’s hard to find the time to squeeze exercise into their busy days.

Maybe that’s because they think they need a solid hour to exercise, never mind the time to get to the gym and back again, shower, dress, etc. But what if you just did a little bit here and there? Everyone is out and about doing other things all day long so let’s look at some ways to keep moving even when you don’t have time for your regular routine.

After all, something is much better than nothing. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that “one continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.” So there you have it!

“Some people are scared of the gym or not in the mood to do formal exercise, and that’s fine,” says Ivy Larson, an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health Fitness Specialist from Jupiter, FL.  “There are ways to be active that seem more like play than work.”

And the benefits are the same, says Larson, co-author of “The Gold Coast Cure: The 5-Week Health and Body Makeover” (Health Communications Inc., 2005).  Being physically active for at least 30 minutes, five or more days each week not only helps you look and feel better, it can reduce your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes.

Remember, she says, you’re not only doing it for yourself.  “Being an active role model for your children will teach them the joys and importance of exercise for a lifetime lesson.”  So make exercise a daily habit.  It’s never too late to start.

Here are some ways to fit fitness in beyond the gym:

1. Be a kid again:  Let loose and join your kids by kicking a soccer ball, tossing a Frisbee, or swinging a hula-hoop.  They’ll love your involvement and you’ll not only have fun, but get fit, at the same time. Remember: play can be exercise just as much as a treadmill and weights.

2. Get in the groove:  Dance to wake up each morning, before bed, or during commercials.  Put on some oldies and teach your kids the swim, the twist, or even the hustle.  Then let them show you today’s moves.  Rock out to the latest Katy Perry hit while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Vigorous dancing gets your heart rate up and can burn 150 calories in a half-hour – the equivalent of an ice cream cone.  And if you boogie with baby in your arms, you’ll tone your muscles just like lifting weights.

3. Move more:  Help your digestion, catch up with your kids’ lives and end your day on an up note by taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood with the family after dinner. It will enable you to bond and burn all at once.

4. Don’t just sit there:  Instead of just parking your body on a bench while your kids have all the fun, get moving yourself.  Larson does a 30-minute circuit of laps, crunches, lunges, push-ups, and curls with small weights while her son builds sandcastles at the beach or climbs the jungle gym at the playground.  When your older kids are playing in the tub and you are just there to supervise, put down that magazine and do some crunches. (But always monitor young children at all times.) I even do some leg lifts when I’m waiting for an elevator or a bus, not wanting to waste a minute when I could be slipping exercise in.

5. Make yourself walk: Park at the furthest parking spot at the mall so you’ll get a good walk in. Take the stairs when you can instead of an escalator. Get off a stop early when you ride the subway to work. Do a few laps around the office when you’re feeling the mid-afternoon slump instead of reaching for a snack.

Have you found some great ways to sneak in your exercise?  Let us know.


·         ACSM Recommendations: http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/acsm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise

·         The Gold Coast Cure: The 5-Week Health and Body Makeover (Health Communications Inc.)

Are You Functionally Fit?

In your everyday life, how often are you required to do something that even remotely resembles a bench press? And even though they are all the rage in the fitness world right now, how useful is a muscle-up to the average person?

This line of thinking has lead to the growth of functional fitness. This style of workout focuses on exercises that mimic, and therefore strengthen, movements that you would encounter in your daily activities. What sort of benefits come with this sort of training? Who can benefit from functional training? What sort of exercises make up a functional fitness routine?

The Benefits

There’s a good reason that functional fitness has gained footing so quickly: It has a plenty to offer.

Think about the classic bicep curl, for example. While some muscles such as those in your back, shoulders and abs may work to stabilize you, the vast majority of the emphasis is placed on movement across your elbow. A functional exercise, though, is a compound movement that crosses several joints. This type of activity more closely resembles what your body might go through when you’re cleaning the house or doing yard work.

A properly designed functional fitness routine can be tailored to fit specific activities in your life, as well. The idea is to pick exercises that target, not just muscles that are important to your activity, but entire motions. This means that if you’re training for basketball, for example, you may build up your jumps while holding a medicine ball or even do passing drills.

The Target Audience

While functional training has been adapted to appeal to athletes in a variety of sports, it has a particularly interesting application for more casual exercisers. Research regarding the efficacy of functional training has also focused specifically on older adults.

One study conducted by exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin, assigned 24 volunteers aged between 58 and 78 to one of two groups. The first group would participate in a functional fitness training routine, the other would follow a more traditional exercise program. All of the subjects had some medical condition and were asked to complete a test that evaluated their strength, endurance, balance and agility in performing daily tasks.

At the end of the four week program, the groups were given the same test again. The researchers found that the group who followed the functional training routine had greater gains in all categories.

Designing Your Workout

The beauty of functional training is that it’s completely adaptable to you and your needs. As mentioned before, seek out exercises that mimic the movements of your particular sport. Even runners could benefit from incorporating balance exercises into their workout.

For a more personalized routine, do your research and consult with a fitness professional. Be sure to consider, not just the requirements of your sport, but those of your day-to-day life.

Some of the most common exercises featured in functional training include the multidirectional lunges. Practice performing the traditional lunge but also use reverse and side lunges to strengthen various parts of your legs. Although you may not realize it, you depend on similar motions when your vacuuming or even doing yard work.

A squat, immediately followed by a bicep curl is another exercise with many practical applications. The movement very closely resembles picking up a laundry basket or heavy bag from the floor.

Logically, after you pick up the weight, you’re going to need to carry it somewhere. Practice doing step-ups while holding dumbbells to simulate this final action.

Functional fitness is a highly customizable approach to fitness that could help to improve both your exercise performance and your daily life. However, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Have you used functional training? Please share your experience with us in the comments.




Returning to Running After an Injury

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am very out of shape having broken my ankle last July.  I’m healed and released to exercise (low impact) and we just bought a Livestrong Elliptical.  I looked at the fitness fusion programs and there is no way that I can start at 20 minutes.  I’m more like 3 minutes.  I couldn’t even make it through the fitness test.  How can I get a plan or program that will help me start from below ground zero where I am?  Thanks very much.  ~Sarah

A: Hi Sarah. I’m glad to read you’re healed and ready for a comeback. You’re very wise to ask this question and avoid pushing through something that is beyond your fitness level right now. Doing so will only frustrate you and delay your progress.

The elliptical is a fantastic way to return to regular exercise as it is low impact, but weight bearing, which aids in improving balance, muscular strength and bone density without the risk of impact.

The key is to develop a plan that is tailored to what your body is able to accomplish now. Seeing that you’re coming back from an injury, it is even more important to take it easy early on. Here are a few strategies that will help make the process more fun and highly effective.

  •  Include a variety of activities in your comeback fitness routine. For instance, performing the elliptical three times per week (M-W-Sa) and walking or a strengthening workout 20-30 minutes on the days in between. This allows for a variety of body movements and keeps your program fresh. Including a total body strengthening routine will also help develop your core strength and improve all aspects of your health and well being. Plus, it’s a great complement to your cardiovascular exercise on the elliptical.
  •  Circle a date on your calendar three weeks from your start date. Commit to staying with the same routine for three weeks before you increase time or intensity. This is the secret to success as we all try to improve too quickly. Gradually increasing as your body adapts will keep you happy, loving your exercise routine and coming back for more!
  • Set the Livestrong Elliptical to Manual mode and to the lowest level.  This affects the resistance and incline settings on the machine and will allow you to adapt to the movement at its lowest setting first. Don’t worry about the fitness test or doing programs just yet. That will come in time. For now, focus on getting to know the movement of the machine in its natural state in the manual mode. This mode allows you to control the intensity, which is what you need right now.
  •  Start with moving only your legs in the first few weeks and hold onto the non-moving hand grips. Not moving your arms with your legs will keep your heart rate lower and allow you to perform the exercise longer with less energy expenditure to avoid fatigue.
  •  As you become more fit, add in the arm movement gradually. At first, warm up and cool down without the arms for several minutes. Then, weave in 30 seconds to one minute with the arm movement – followed by several minutes with just your legs. This is an example of how a workout might look at this level;
  1. Warm up 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  2. 10-15 minutes – alternate 30 seconds on arms+legs, followed by 2-3 minutes of legs only to recover and catch your breath.
  3. Cool down 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  •  Making these changes should allow you to perform the elliptical for a longer period of time. If you find that it is still a challenge, combine it with a walking routine. For instance, you could walk 10 minutes, perform the elliptical for 3-5 minutes and then walk another 10 minutes. As you gain fitness, you will be able to increase the time on the elliptical machine and you can reduce the walking minutes. You can also walk in place and perform intervals right there in your house.  Here’s an example of an interval workout;
    1. Warm up walking in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    2. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    3. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    4. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    5. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    6. Repeat this until fatigued and cool down walking in place for 3 minutes.

You are standing at the most challenging point in your return to fitness. The first step you take is healthy movement towards improvement. The secret is to listen to your body, practice patience and finish feeling fatigued but not exhausted so you’ll want to do it again soon.

You can do this…one step (or stride) at a time.

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

Get Up to Ward Off Diabetes

Do you sit down for more than four hours each day? If so, it’s time to get up!

Recent research suggests that the more time you spend sitting, the higher your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a dangerous condition marked by high blood sugar levels. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s on the rise. Once you have diabetes, you have it for life; there’s no cure for this debilitating disease. Having diabetes also increases your risk of other health problems too, like heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage.

The research

Results from two diabetes prevention programs were published in February 2013 in the scientific journal Diabetologia. The research showed that people who sat more than eight hours per day had the highest risk of diabetes, while people who spent less than four hours each day sitting had the lowest risk.

What’s also significant about these studies is that people’s odds for diabetes increased with sitting time regardless of how much they exercised. This means that even when physical activity recommendations are met, a person’s health can still be compromised if they sit for a large portion of the day. If you hit the gym for an hour each morning, for example, but you sit for long periods after that – whether at your desk for your job or on the couch in front of the TV – you’re putting yourself at risk for diabetes.

Move more throughout the day

In light of these findings, one step towards diabetes prevention would literally be taking more steps and sitting less. Experts say that reducing sitting time by 90 minutes each day may be enough to reduce health risks. Here’s how:

·         Stand up for breaks. At the bottom of every hour, get up from your chair, stand up and walk around for a few minutes. Those minutes can add up over the course of a day.

·         Make your job more active. Walk to a coworker’s desk and speak in person rather than using email, walk briskly around the office building during part of your lunch break and take the stairs instead of the elevator. A few times per week, consider active commuting. Walk, bike or run to and from work. If you use public transportation, get off the bus or train a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way to work.

·         Break up couch time. Don’t lounge idly on the couch in the evening watching TV. Instead, stand up often and move. Do squats and lunges during commercial breaks and spend a few minutes doing housework every half hour.

Other ways to prevent diabetes

The key to warding off type 2 diabetes is reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. The best approach to lasting weight loss is to combine healthy eating with regular physical activity. Know that weight loss does not have to be drastic to cut diabetes risk. Lowering your body weight by 5 to 10 percent- just 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds- can significantly lower your risk of health threats.

Tell us: How will you stand up more today?




The Full Effects of Appetite Suppression Pills

Weight control, in its simplest form,seems pretty straightforward: We gain weight because we eat and we eat because we’re hungry. It’s completely logical, then, to assume that appetite suppressants hold the key to weight loss. But do these supplements really offer a useful solution? Are there any potential side effects associated with common,  over-the-counter products?

How They Work

Appetite suppressants, as the name suggests, limit your cravings for food. The hope is that this will stop you from taking in the excess calories that get stored as fat. Different products try to . Generally, a stimulant such as caffeine, is also included to increase the effects. In fact, caffeine itself has appetite suppressing effects.

Because of all this variety, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact mechanism by which these products actually suppress your appetite.

The question of whether or not appetite suppressants actually work is as difficult to answer as how they work, and for the same reasons. With all this uncertainty, you may not be comfortable investing money in some of these pills. Is there anything else you should know if you’re considering using appetite suppressants?

Potential Concerns

A major source of concern when it comes to the efficacy of appetite suppressants is this very lack uniformity.

When combined with a lack of evidence regarding the usefulness of some compounds, the situation becomes even more difficult. Substances such as hoodia and green coffee extract are commonly promoted and featured in appetite suppressants. Both of these substances, despite their popularity, have little backing from the science.

There’s also the issue of your nutritional needs that comes into play. While you do need to achieve a caloric deficit to lose weight, you need to do so in a way that will still provide the necessary nutrients. This is especially critical when you’re following an exercise program and need proper amounts of carbs, protein and fat to perform and recover.

Of course, safety should be the deciding factor when it comes to any supplement. Many of the substances used in over-the-counter products have not been fully tested and may have severe side effects. You should always consult your doctor when considering a supplement.

Do have experience with appetite suppressants? Please share your thoughts in the comments.




8 Reasons You’re Tired

Do you find yourself yawning, rubbing your eyes and dozing off around 2:00 p.m. every day? If so, you’re not alone. Excessive daytime sleepiness is a common complaint among Americans.

Fatigue is sometimes caused by a medical problem. But if a trip to the doctor reveals that you’re OK, certain behaviors may be to blame for your sleepiness. Making simple tweaks to your lifestyle may be all that you need to rev up energy levels.

Here are the top 8 sleep offenders:splashing coffee

1. Caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle: you need that cup of coffee to wake up, but the effects of caffeine make falling asleep difficult. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to eight hours, so only drink a cup or two of coffee during the a.m. hours.

2. Alcohol. That glass of wine or beer with dinner may seem like it helps you unwind. In reality, alcohol causes disrupted sleep. Alcohol increases the number of times you wake up during the night, making you feel unrested come morning. Finish up happy hour at least three hours before bed to get a better night’s sleep.

3. Dehydration. One of the symptoms of dehydration is fatigue. Not getting enough water can sap your energy levels and cause headaches, lightheadedness and nausea. Institute of Medicine recommends men drink about 13 cups of water each day, and women aim for 9 glasses of water per day.

But be careful not to drink too much too close to bedtime or else you’ll be making a midnight trip to the bathroom.

4. Poor nutrition. Eating unhealthy, processed foods – like chips, candy and soda – can cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket and then plummet, which can leave you feeling drained. Taking in nutritious foods – like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy — every few hours can keep blood sugar levels stable.

Avoid eating a lot of food right before bed. Lying down may slow the digestion process and make falling asleep more difficult.

5. Lack of exercise. The National Sleep Foundation says that people who exercise report better sleep at night. Plus, one of the easiest ways to get an energy boost is to exert energy. Physical activity improves blood flow and brings more oxygen to the cells. Getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week – that breaks up to 5, 30 minute workouts – can help you feel more alert during the day.

6. Exercising too close to bedtime. Working out late at night makes falling asleep challenging for some people. Wrap up your exercise session three hours before bed time and you’ll fall asleep more easily.

7. Your weight. People who are overweight are more likely to have sleep apnea – a condition marked by snoring and interrupted sleep. Losing weight and working with your doctor to get help for sleep apnea can help you feel better rested.

8. Sleep deprivation. The most common reason for daytime fatigue comes from not logging enough shut-eye during the night. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep overnight to function well during the day. Sleeping in a cool, dark room, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and removing distractions from the bedroom – like computers and TVs – can help you get a better night’s sleep.

What’s your bedtime routine? I wind down by reading a book for a few minutes.