5 Ways Exercise Improves Your Emotional Health and Quality of Life

Many people may suffer from mood swings, whether it is from stress, or negative feelings about life and life situations, or possibly sadness from mild depression.

Negative changes in mood can also be a side effect of prescription medication, chronic pain, or even insomnia. If you are someone that needs help with your mood, and wants to feel better, an ideal way to accomplish this is through exercise.

What Exercise Can Do For You

Exercise can help improve your mood because of the changes it causes in your body, self-image, and your mind. How exercise can start to improve your mood will differ depending on what was making you feel not your best.

Here is a list of ways that regular physical activity can work to help you feel more positive about yourself and your life.

  1. If you are depressed: Exercise releases endorphins, which produce feelings of euphoria, well-being, and happiness. Other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, also helps to elevate mood. When you commit to working out on a regular basis, it provides structure to our days and distracts us from negative thoughts. Sometimes all you need is a good 30-minute run or walk in nature to lift your spirits.
  2. If you have poor body image: Regular exercise can offer up results that make you feel like you have accomplished something, instead of being stuck in a sedentary lifestyle. After a while, you may also see changes in your body, which can help your self-esteem and self-worth soar.
  3. If you have too much stress: When you’re fully engaged in a workout, you tend to focus on how your body feels, such as the movement of your muscles, your effort, your pacing, getting air in your lungs, etc. Thus, exercise helps to divert your attention from the stressful thoughts and concerns of the day and is redirected to the present moment. The physical movement gives your stressed out mind a break. Your brain has a chance to clean out all the cluttered thoughts, so you can concentrate on one task. At the end of your workout, you may feel like you’ve been through a meditation session with renewed energy and increased clarity.
  4. If you have trouble sleeping: If you work hard during your exercise session, then it should wear you out enough to allow your body a good night’s rest. You will often find that working up a good sweat can also reduce insomnia by decreasing anxiety, arousal, and stressful thought patterns. Examples of aerobic exercises that are good for sleep include walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, and cycling.
  5. If you have chronic pain: The right type of exercise can help with some of the agony you experience day to day and could alleviate symptoms in some situations. For instance, low-impact exercises, such as yoga, and weight training can be great for people that have joint pain.

How Much Exercise to Do

There is no dispute that exercising is a great thing to do for too many reasons to count, but it isn’t completely obvious how much should be done for best results.

Experts recommend that the average person complete 30 minutes of exercise, 5 times a week. This means you should be doing a 30 minute workout of medium intensity to maximum intensity. Of course, you don’t have to start with 30 minutes.

If you are new to the game, start with 10 minutes of exercising at a time, and keep pushing yourself until you can do the full half hour.

What Types of Exercises Work?

Studies show that lifting weights and aerobic activities help the most when trying to get the full benefits of working out.

Here are some examples:

  • Running or jogging
  • Sports
  • Dancing
  • Elliptical machines
  • Cycling
  • Fitness classes
  • Step aerobics
  • HIIT
  • Tabata
  • Circuit Training
  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Swimming
  • Martial arts
  • Hiking or walking
  • Household chores
  • Any rigorous activity that elevates your heart rate

Once you know the benefits and what to do, exercising doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Even the busiest people should be able to find half an hour a day to devote to their mental health, and as a bonus incentive, regular exercise can help you live a longer and happier life.

How Intensely Should You Work Out?

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You probably know that you need to exercise on a regular basis, but maybe you aren’t really sure how hard you need to push yourself to achieve optimal results. Your workout intensity mainly depends on your current fitness level; what’s good for one person may be too difficult for someone else. You need to monitor your heart and your body to decide which level works best for you.

Exercise intensity is different for each person, so what seems like a really hard exercise routine to one person may feel fairly easy to someone in better physical condition. It’s important to pay close attention to how you feel while working out to determine the most appropriate intensity level. When you exercise at a moderate intensity, it should quicken your breathing but not leave you gasping for air. Even at a moderately intense level, you should still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can sing, you are not working hard enough. You should also expect a light sweat after exercising for about 10 to 15 minutes. Exercising at a vigorous intensity, however, should produce sweat within 5 minutes and expect your breathing to feel deep and rapid. You won’t be able to say more than a few words at a time at this level.

To get the best health benefits from exercise, it is generally recommended that adults engage in moderately intense exercise for roughly 150 minutes per week or a minimum of 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. You may want to break up your exercise routine into 30 minute sessions, 5 days a week to make it easier to stick with your routine, especially if you’re short on time. Alternating between hard-easy workout days is also a good idea to allow your muscles to recover and rebuild. You may increase the amount of exercise when you feel ready to do so. The suggestions above signify the least amount of exercise needed to experience positive health benefits.

Next, you need to figure out your target heart rate to more accurately measure your exercise intensity. Start by subtracting your current age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. This number basically tells you what your heart can safely handle during exercise. Your target heart rate should stay between about 50 to 70 percent of your heart’s maximum rate for moderately- intense exercise. For more vigorous activity, however, you should aim for a heart rate of 70 to 85 percent of the maximum. Once you have determined your target heart rate, you should measure your pulse during your workout to keep track of your heart rate.

If you’re just starting an exercise routine, remember to begin slowly and gradually work your way up to more intense exercise as your fitness level improves. You can start with swimming or brisk walking, then slowly build up to more vigorous exercise routines, such as aerobics or running. Also, don’t go beyond what your body can handle by pushing yourself too hard, too soon, which can lead to injury, burnout and other health issues. Listen to your body and stop exercising immediately if you’re in pain.

5 Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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The Holidays are a wonderful time of year, and there is so much to appreciate, to enjoy, and to be thankful for. This is also the time of year when many of us gain a lot more than just quality time with friends and family. Putting on an extra 5 to 10 pounds isn’t difficult to do and for most, they will spend the next 6 months or more working to get it off.  To help you stay focused on your health and fitness goals, here are 5 simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain.

Get some sleep.

The Holidays are a busy time for most of us whether it be holiday shopping, family and friends coming into town, traveling, cooking, cleaning, kids programs at school, projects, volunteering, and the list goes on. This is why it’s especially important to get plenty of rest, take care of yourself and take time to relax. Sleep is critical for a healthy immune system and maintaining a healthy weight. Adults normally need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep to help reduce stress, fatigue, exhaustion and fight off sickness…all of these factors can also lead to overeating during stressful times. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugars, especially if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep. Doing some light exercise, such as yoga or Pilates, a couple of hours before you go to bed will also help to reduce holiday anxiety and stress. Or, try to unwind before bed by taking a hot shower or bath.

Drink water before every meal.

The best rule of thumb is to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day to stay properly hydrated. Ideally, you should be drinking your weight in ounces per day to help your body function at its best, as well as remove toxins and process foods. By drinking water before every meal, you will decrease the amount of food you consume at each sitting and thus prevent you from overeating and gaining unwanted weight. Many times when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty, so drink a tall glass of water to see if that curbs your appetite. Above all, listen to your body and give it the proper nutrition it requires, especially water!

Maintain an exercise routine.

The shorter days, cooler weather, and overwhelming to-do list can leave you feeling exhausted with no time to spare. And, more than likely, exercise is the last thing on your mind. However, incorporating a regular exercise routine will help you to stay healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. So, weather permitting, get outside in the fresh air and take a 30-minute walk. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try dancing away the calories at your holiday party, or burning off those extra calories by shoveling your snow by yourself.  The important thing is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise, 4 to 5 times per week, to keep holiday weight gain at bay.

Watch your portion sizes!

Use a smaller plate size to control your portions and to trick your mind into thinking you have a full plate. Often times our hunger pangs are psychological, so if your mind thinks you have a full plate, then you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to reach for more food.  Also, you need to focus on what you’re eating, so don’t eat in front of the television. It’s amazing how much you can eat when you’re not paying attention! And lastly, control your portions and caloric intake by eating lots of veggies and protein at every meal to keep yourself fuller for longer, and avoid drinking high-calorie beverages. Liquid calories can add up fast.

Eat a meal, don’t graze.

When the average person sits down to their holiday meal, they’ve already consumed 90 percent of their daily calorie needs, according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating. How can this be? Well, you can blame it on grazing, which is a bad habit of snacking throughout the day without sitting down to an actual meal. To avoid grazing, pick out your favorite appetizers and put them on a small plate, sit down, chew slowly and savor every bite. Don’t spoil your appetite, though; eat just enough to hold you over until the main meal is served.

 

Working Out With a Cold

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Winter months bring colds. As much as we all despise the incurable pest and as much as we may try to avoid its grasp, it’s inevitable that at one point or another, we will fall victim to the sneezing, coughing, sore throat and sinus torture brought on by the virus. For any fitness fanatic, this can mean an extra dose of torture. To someone who has become accustomed to regular exercise, the thought of being semi-sedentary for a week or two can be hard to swallow. And guess what. You don’t have to. Mild to moderate exercise can have a positive effect on the immune system, and if you keep your blood flowing, you can help your body keep strong and fight off the virus.

Exercising while sick relies heavily on one thing: listening to your body. As long as nothing below the neck is bothering you (coughing, body aches, nausea) it’s really up to you to determine what intensity is appropriate for you. In addition, keep in mind that if you are on any sort of medication, this may affect your ability to work out as well. Taking a nighttime cold medicine might result in a slight medicine hangover the next day and therefore, even less energy than you might have with a cold all on its own. Also take into consideration that decongestants raise your heart rate, as does exercise. This combination might not make for the most ideal workout, as your breathing could become short and oxygenation to the blood could become difficult. This could have an adverse effect on your recovery time, so make sure to consult with a doctor if you plan on taking these while working out.

If you are up to it, you have a lot of great and safe options for working out while sick. If nothing else, talking a walk outdoors is a great way to gently get your blood pumping and oxygen circulating. Even a 10-minute walk can help boost your immune system during the most debilitating of colds.  If you’re up to a slow jog or even a run, as long as you listen to your body, you are good to go. Keep in mind that you may not be able to run as fast or as long as you are used to, and this is completely okay.

Yoga is another good choice when sick, especially if more intense cardio-based exercise aggravates a cough. Whether it be a class or poses on your own, there are a variety of poses that are gentle and beneficial to an under-the-weather feeling.  Studies have even suggested that vibrations from humming (chanting Om) can help ease sinus pressure and pain. Poses like Uttanasana (standing forward bend), Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) and Supta Buddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose) are all beneficial for restoration. Balasana (child’s pose) and Upavustha Konasana (wide-angle seated forward bend) are beneficial to congestion and respiratory sensitivity and discomfort.

Higher intensity workouts can also remain an option when you have a head cold, keeping in mind that you may have to slightly scale back while your body is in a more delicate state. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or any sort of pain, it’s important that you ease up and do not push yourself to become even more ill. Also, never feel bad if you need to give your body a rest. Resting helps just as much with recovery as exercise and can help you come back to your workouts feeling refreshed and re-energized.

Prevent & Treat Common Workout Injuries

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Whether you are in top shape or a beginner, a workout injury can happen to anyone. You can experience an injury even when you are walking. A sprained joint or injured muscle can side-line you for days or even weeks. You can and should take steps to help reduce your risk of injury before and after every workout. The most common types of workout injuries include:

  • strained muscles
  • sprained ankles or other joints
  • knee injuries
  • wrist and shoulder injuries
  • tendinitis

Warm-up your muscles and joints before exercise and a cool-down after your workout can greatly reduce your risk of muscle and joint injury. Cool-down by doing light exercise until your heart rate and respiration return to normal. Stretch your muscles and joints again. Stretching after a workout helps to reduce the levels of lactic acid and other metabolic waste in your muscle cells, which is thought to contribute to post-exercise muscle soreness.

Don’t push yourself too hard during a workout. Know your body and  your limits. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your workout by working harder, longer or increasing repetitions. Soon your strength and endurance will increase which can also help reduce your risk of injury.

Cross training is another good way to increase muscle strength, improve endurance and reduce your risk of injury. Shin splints and tendinitis are injuries that usually result from repetitive motions and over-use of one muscle or muscle group. Always rest at least 24 hours between workouts to give your muscles time to heal. For example, if you run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, try some light weight lifting on Tuesday and Thursday. Vary your workout so that all of your major muscle groups get a workout, but no single muscle or muscle group is over-worked.

If you do suffer an injury, remember R.I.C.E.: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. Rest your injured muscle. Don’t work it until the injury is completely healed. You can still work your other muscles or engage in exercise that does not stress your injury. For example, if you injure your shoulder lifting weights, switch your workout to leg presses or walk and jog until your shoulder is fully healed. Apply ice to the injured area to reduce swelling. Applying a compression bandage to the affected joint or muscle also helps reduce swelling. Elevate injured limbs to further help reduce swelling. Use a mild over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medication if necessary. Most exercise injuries will heal in a few weeks or even in a few days. See your doctor if your injury does not heal, pain increases or does not subside, or if there is swelling and bruising around the injured area.

 

Fun Runs for Fitness

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Theme races have exploded onto the fitness scene, and people of all ages have gravitated and embraced this craze. In previous years, the most popular fun run has most likely been the annual Thanksgiving 5k Turkey Trot in your neighborhood. While Turkey Trots everywhere will no doubt remain an integral part of Thanksgiving Day for fitness inspired families, here are some races that will not only keep you active, but also allow you to have a blast doing it!

Color Run

Also known as the Happiest 5k on the planet, the color run is an untimed race where participants are covered with different colored cornstarch-based and toxic-free powder at each kilometer. A rainbow of colors then explodes onto everyone in celebration of the finish line. This race is extremely family- friendly in that it is walk and stroller friendly, but can easily accommodate any running enthusiast.

Electric Run

The electric run boasts a similar foundation of color and enthusiasm as the Color Run, but with an added nighttime twist. Contestants walk, run and even dance through various light displays that are coordinated with music along the course. Colorful and eccentric costumes are highly encouraged, and due to time-of-day, this race caters to spunky adults.

Warrior Dash

This is a traditional mud-run where participants race through mud pits, tunnels, slippery hills, cargo climbs and more! The obstacles provide for an added challenge that appeals to runners, fitness enthusiasts and 5k novices alike. While there is certainly a competitive edge to the nature of this race, the ability to modify and adjust to each obstacle is there for those who desire the adventure with slightly less intensity.  Participants must be at least 14 years old to compete due to the slightly chaotic nature of the course and obstacles.

Run for your Lives

This run puts an eccentric twist on your traditional mud run! Here, the motivation behind your run is that you are literally “running for your life”, and this is fueled by the extremely popular Zombie trend. Zombies are chasing you as you are running through mud and working around various obstacles. Flag-football comes into play as participants have 3 flags around their waists, throughout the race. The object is to make it through the race without the zombies getting all 3 flags.

5k Foam Fest

Think mud run meets car wash, and add various costumes and limbs to the mix for an extremely fun finish line. Obstacles on this course are a mix of traditional mud pits, climbing walls, tunnels and rope courses that are followed by inflatable bouncy slides and contraptions covered in fluffy white, soapy foam. This race focuses more on the silliness of the obstacles, and running only adds to the mix, so if you’re looking for a more traditional running-oriented 5k, a different race might be worth looking into.

Hot Chocolate 5k and 15k

Geared toward a wide variety of varied-level runners, this race is referred to as America’s Sweetest Race. The actual race itself is a traditional road race, but what lies at the finish line is what creates the stand out—upon completing the race, each participant receives a hot chocolate, chocolate fondue and various dipping treats. Talk about a reward!

6 Ways to Lose Weight Quickly

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There are healthy and unhealthy ways to losing weight quickly. Relying on quick fixes like appetite suppressants, liquid diets, herbal formulas and weight loss supplements will not produce long-term healthy weight loss. Although these methods might help a little, the best approach is make some big changes to your exercise and eating habits. As you begin your healthy weight loss journey, it’s imperative that you stay focused, consistent, motivated and disciplined to reap the best weight loss results.

Lose weight quickly by first eliminating foods that are high in sodium, fat and sugar, such as white flour products, deep fried foods, processed meats, fast foods, candy, chips, commercial baked goods and high-fat dairy products. Instead, select foods that are abundant in nutrients like lean meats, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, fruits, seeds and beans.

Reduce your total caloric intake and increase your activity level to lose weight fast. To lose one pound of body fat, you need to cut 3,500 calories per week through diet and exercise. For example, you could burn 250 calories through exercise and then cut 250 calories from your diet per day. The key is to reduce your daily intake by 500 calories to lose one pound per week. Safe weight loss is one to two pounds per week. Losing more than that is not healthy because more than likely you’re losing muscle and/or water weight. And if you lose weight too quickly by not consuming enough calories, it can cause your body to go into starvation mode, causing your metabolism to slow down and store more fat.

Avoid high calorie, sugar-laden beverages, such as sweetened tea, sodas, flavored coffee drinks, milk shakes, and fruit juices. Liquid calories can add up fast and can easily sabotage your weight loss efforts. Instead, drink water and other healthy beverages like green tea or vegetable juice.

Eat more often to burn extra calories throughout the day. Every two to three hours during the day, eat a small, well-balanced meal. Combine a healthy balance of complex carbs and protein, and make sure you eat breakfast every morning. For example, a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries is an ideal way to start your day. Add soy milk, walnuts and yogurt for an extra dose of balanced nutrition.

Boost your metabolism and burn more calories all day long by building lean muscle. You will burn calories even while you’re at rest because muscle is metabolically active tissue. Weightlifting workout routines that target all of your major muscle groups will help you to build muscle. For example, you can do chest presses, back rows, shoulder presses, bicep curls, triceps dips, squats, hamstring curls and calf raises. Start with one set of 12 to 15 repetitions, two to three non-consecutive days a week.

Lastly, do some calorie-blasting cardio interval training to really ramp up your weight loss efforts. The harder you push yourself, the more calories you will burn. First, do a 5-10 minute warm up and then begin your workout. Here’s an example of a 20 minute cardio interval routine on a bike: 1 minute of pedaling as fast as possible, and then 2 minutes of slow, recovery pedaling. Continue this pattern for a complete 20-minute workout routine. Finish by cooling down for 5-10 minutes. Do your cardio routine 3 non-consecutive days a week. For example, you can do your cardio on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and your weight training on Tuesday and Thursday. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy such as cycling, walking, running, swimming, stair stepping, jumping rope or elliptical training.