Fun Family Activities That Get You Fit

Photo by: Sander van der Wel CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Summer is here and it’s time for holiday family gatherings and fun! Family vacations, weekend getaways or a day trip to the beach with the kids are great opportunities to enjoy family and get some exercise at the same time. Park the car and bike to the park. After the barbecue enjoy some fun games in the back yard with the whole family to burn off those extra calories. This Memorial Day weekend, get the whole family involved in fun fitness.

Have a hula-hoop contest! The kids will love the competition and you will love what hula-hooping does for your abdominal muscles and thighs. Hula-hooping engages your entire mid-section and  your legs. On the count of three everyone start hooping! The person who can hoop the longest wins. You can burn more than 100 calories in just 10 minutes of hula-hooping. Adults will find hula-hooping easier if they use a large hoop. A weighted hoop is even easier to use.

Jumping rope is another way the whole family can have fun and get fit. You and your kids can have a contest to see who can jump rope the longest or the fastest. Use two long ropes with one family member at each end throwing the rope and play double-dutch. Select two or three different types of jumping rope, such as jumping on one foot or double jumps. You kids will have fun and you will burn as many calories as running one mile.

Running is one of the best ways to get fit and burn calories. Why not make it a game? The whole family can play a game of tag on the beach, at the park or in the back yard. Freeze tag is a favorite among children. One person is “it” and chases the others trying to tag them. If you get tagged, you have to stop running, or “freeze,” until another player tags  you again. The child who is “it” wins the game when everyone is frozen. Make it a team sport by several “its” chasing and tagging others.

Staying home this holiday weekend? Play some one-on-one basketball or a game of HORSE in the driveway. Each player gets a shot from the free-throw line. Every time a player makes a basket, he or she gets one letter of the word HORSE. Keep score with sidewalk chalk. If you want a more vigorous workout, you can burn as many as 200 calories in a  half hour playing basketball. Basketball is a high-impact exercise that helps build bones and muscle too. Make sure you warm-up before and cool-down after the game to reduce your risk of a sprained ankle or pulled muscle. Cool off with fruit juice and water to re-energize your body after a vigorous game.

Taking long walks, swimming, biking and playing volleyball at the beach are great ways to spend a summer weekend or holiday while keeping fit. You will not only build muscle and strong bones, you’ll strengthen your relationship with your family and kids.

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5 Ways to Build Lean Muscle

Building lean muscle mass is one of the most important things you can do to achieve a lean and toned physique. Having toned arms, chiseled abs and shapely legs not only have aesthetic appeal but the additional strength also has functional benefits, increases your metabolism, protects against injuries and much more. However, when it comes to actually building the muscle, many people limit their progress by making a few simple mistakes. By following these steps, you will improve your stamina, rev up your metabolism and create the lean, robust body you want.

Plan a Balanced Muscle Building Program

When trying to build muscle, many people tend to hit the gym and start lifting weights without any plan in place. Without a proper plan in place, it can lead to uneven muscle development, overtraining injuries, as well as frustration and disappointment over unmet goals. So if you’re currently lifting weights or going to start soon but don’t have a plan in place, now is the time to make one.

To create a structured muscle building plan, start by choosing some exercises that work all your main muscle groups – Chest, back, shoulders, abs, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, arms, and calves. If you’re struggling, a personal trainer will be able to help you with this or you’ll be able to find plenty of suitable exercises online.

Once you have your list of exercises, you then need to decide how many days per week you can commit to strength training workouts and divide the muscle groups across these days. So if you can commit to two days per week, with a day of rest in between (e.g. Tuesday & Thursday), you’ll want to train your whole body on each day. If you choose three days per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday), you can target your upper body on Monday, your abs on Wednesday and then your lower body on Friday. As you get stronger, you can spread it out four days and maybe work your shoulders and triceps on day one, your back on day two, chest and biceps on day three, and then finish off with your legs on day four.

Then, all you need to do is stick with this plan, be consistent and you’ll enjoy maximum muscle growth.

Use Free Weights

Weight machines do have their benefits, and when you’re just getting started with strength training, they’re an ideal way to learn the exercises and target certain muscle groups without having to worry about balancing the weights. However, if you’re relying solely on weight machines to build muscle, then you’re going to limit your muscle growth.

Free weights require you to balance the weights as you lift and by doing this, they target additional muscles that weight machines cannot. Therefore, for maximum muscle growth, free weights need to be part of your strength training routine.

Compound & Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises and isolation exercises are both essential for muscle building and have their own unique benefits. Compound exercises work multiple joints and muscle groups and are great for building overall size and strength. Isolation exercises engage single joints and muscle groups and are ideal for focusing on specific muscles and strengthening weaker areas of your body.

Despite this, many people stick to just compound exercises or just isolation exercises and stunt their muscle growth. Therefore, if you want to get the most out of your strength training, make sure your routine includes a mixture of compound exercises (such as dumbbell chest presses and squats) and isolation exercises (such as bicep curls and tricep extensions).

Eat Protein with Every Meal

Protein is an essential nutrient that builds, maintains and repairs your muscles. Therefore, if you’re trying to build more muscle, you should consume protein-rich foods such as fish, beans, eggs and lean meats with every meal so that your body has the necessary fuel to build bigger, stronger muscles. The current recommendation is that 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein. Based on the standard 2,000-calorie diet, you should consume 200 to 700 calories, or 50 to 175 grams, of protein per day.

Get Enough Sleep Every Night

Sleep is very important when it comes to muscle growth. When you sleep, your body releases growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth and allows your muscles to recover and grow between workouts. However, getting less than six hours of quality sleep each night inhibits the release of growth hormone and prevents your muscles from recovering properly between workouts. So, if you’re serious about muscle growth but not currently getting at least six hours of sleep per night, start making some changes today to ensure that you get enough sleep going forward.

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4 Healthy Holiday Fitness Tips

Photo credit: Kham Tran CC-BY-SA-3.0

The holiday season can wreak havoc on your waistline, but the average holiday weight gain isn’t quite as bad as you think. Many believe that 7 pounds is the average holiday weight gain, but according to the National Institutes of Health report, Americans put on roughly one pound over the holidays. However, even a pound a year can add up over time and lead to obesity and other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. Making exercise a priority during the hectic and stressful holiday season can seem virtually impossible, but with a little forethought, you can reap the benefits of a fit, healthy holiday season.

Tip #1 – Plan realistic workouts and healthy meals BEFORE the holidays begin. Cooking make-ahead nutritious meals and designing shorter, daily workouts will help to save time, reduce stress and promote well-being. Even a 10-minute workout is better than not exercising at all.

Tip #2 – Incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your exercise routine. HIIT training can be a godsend over the holidays, because it burns maximum calories in the least amount of time. So, next time you get on the treadmill, bike or step machine, choose the interval program option to burn more fat in less time. If you don’t have access to a gym, then pick up a jump rope and alternate bursts of quick activity with a slower pace, or do some jumping jacks or speed play (e.g. 30 second sprint followed by a 90 second recovery jog).

Tip #3 – Do some multitasking; combine holiday tasks and errands with physical activities. For instance, walk fast while shopping or park farther away from the mall entrance, or try taking a 5-minute break from cooking and do some calisthenics to burn those excess calories and reduce stress. Shoveling your own snow can burn a ton of calories, too. When family or friends come to town, take a tour of the neighborhood on foot to see the Christmas lights, or throw an ice-skating party. During TV commercial breaks, do some lunges, jumping jacks, squats, pushups and sit-ups.

Tip #4 – Avoid overeating at holiday parties by eating normally during the day. In other words, don’t starve yourself all day and then eat like a horse at the party. Eat as you normally would during the day, then go to the holiday party and focus on eating low-calorie foods first, such as celery sticks, carrots, fruits and leans meats. Put your snacks on a small plate and then sit down to enjoy it; don’t snack straight from the buffet. After you consume the healthier, fiber-rich, low-calorie foods, then by all means treat yourself to a small, rich and satisfying treat. Chew slowly and enjoy every morsel of it. Occasionally indulging in a tasty treat, without guilt, will help you to avoid overeating. If you do overeat, don’t let the guilt from one mistake destroy the rest of your healthy holiday plans.

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Working Out With a Cold

Photo credit: Cornelius CC-BY-SA-3.0

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.

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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.

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3 Pilates Exercises for Your Abs

Stretch for Flexibility

Photo Credit: José Vílchez

Getting and keeping a firm, toned abdomen can become increasingly difficult as we age. Some increase in belly fat may be due to aging, but a more sedentary lifestyle combined with high calorie diets can also pack on the pounds around your waist. When women reach middle age, hormonal changes mean that excess calories are stored as fat around your belly, on your hips and on your thighs. Weight gain and an increased waist line is not inevitable. Staying active, exercising and cutting calories can help get you trim and keep you fit. Pilates is a good way to work your abs while strengthening your arms and legs.

The toe dip Pilates move will work all of your abs, especially your obliques and lower abs. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Lift your legs, with your knees bent, until your thighs are straight and your calves are parallel to the floor. Place your hands on the floor on each side of your thighs with your palms down. Squeeze your belly and breathe in. Point your toes and lower one foot toward the floor. Keep your knees bent. Stop just an inch or two inches above the floor. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds and then exhale as you bring your leg back to the start position. Repeat 10 times on each side. You can do 10 repetitions with one leg and then 10 more with the other leg, or alternate legs until you do 10 repetitions on each side.

Leg circles work all of your ab muscles while strengthening your legs. Lie on the floor with your legs stretched out. Raise one leg toward the ceiling and point your toes. Make sure your hands are placed palms down on either side of your thighs. Make 10 small circles with your toes toward the left and then 10 small circles to the right. Bring your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side.

Finish off your Pilates ab workout by doing a set of leg kicks. Lie on one side of your body with your legs straight out. Place one leg on top of the other and support your upper body on your elbow. Lift your ribs off the floor. Place your other hand (the one that is not supporting your weight) on the floor in front of your tummy to support your body and provide stability. Raise your top leg a few inches and point your toes. Swing your leg forward in front of your body as far as is comfortable for you. Hold the position for 2 seconds and then swing your leg back to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions on each side.

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Exercise Band Workouts for Your Hips and Thighs

The hips and thighs are difficult to slim and trim, second only to trimming belly fat. You can squat, lunge and extend and still have not get the results you want. Adding an elastic exercise band to your workout might be just the thing that helps improve your workout. Adding extra resistance to your exercise routine improves the effectiveness of your workout. To burn fat, you have to reduce your calories and do aerobic exercise, such as running, jogging, swimming or bicycling.  Do strength training exercises to improve your muscle tone and to add lean muscle mass while strengthening your muscles.

You can find exercise bands in most sporting goods stores or even at your local gym.  They are generally inexpensive, compared to other exercise equipment, and come in a variety of strengths. Beginners should start using bands that offer the least resistance and gradually move to more resistant bands as your strength increases. You can find bands that have handles or no handles. You can attach them to a door frame or a permanent wall anchor. Circular bands that wrap around your ankles or thighs are great for working your lower body while leaving your hands free.

Wrap a circular band around your ankles and lie down on the floor to do band leg extensions. Lie on your back with your legs extended. Squeeze your abs and lift one leg straight up toward the ceiling, stretching the band as you lift your leg. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds and then lower your leg back to the floor. Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each side. As your legs grow stronger, hold the lift up to 10 seconds or do more repetitions. Increase the resistance or the number of repetitions when you can do 12 repetitions without experiencing muscle failure.

Increase the effectiveness of your regular set of squats by adding a medium resistance exercise band. You can use two bands, one secured to each leg, or stand on one long band and hold each end in your hands. Move to your squat position and hold the handles of the exercise band with your palms up (or wrap the band around your hands) until there is slight tension on the bands. Push yourself up from the squat but keep your hands about waist level with your elbows bent and your palms upward. This exercise will not only add resistance to your lower body workout, it is also a great way to strengthen your arms and shoulders. Do 10 to 15 repetitions and then rest for one minute before doing another set of 10 to 15 squats.

Have a seat for this next exercise that will work your inner and outer thighs. Sit in a sturdy chair without arms and wrap an exercise band around your legs just above your knees. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Spread your knees apart pushing against the resistance band. Hold the position for 2 seconds and then relax. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions.

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