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Monday, December 10, 2012

An Introduction to Restorative Yoga, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

Even if you’re a novice to yoga, utilizing simple restorative poses is an easy way relax and stretch your tired muscles after a long day. In restorative yoga, props--such as a folded blanket or your bedroom wall--support your body and allow you to hold a pose for an extended period of time, which opens your body through passive stretching and gives you a chance to unwind and collect your thoughts.

One of my personal favorite restorative poses is viparita karani, also known as “legs up the wall.” All it requires is a wall with enough space to accommodate your legs, and a floor that you don’t mind lying on for a while. A yoga mat or blanket will provide extra padding.

  1. Sit with the side of your body against the wall. In one movement, swing your legs up against the wall and bring your lower back to the floor, using your elbows to support your weight. If there’s too much strain on your hamstrings, move away from the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch.
  2. Gradually lower the rest of your back, as well as your shoulders and head, to the floor.
  3. Rest your legs against the wall in a relatively straight position, but don’t strain yourself. You should be able to comfortably hold this pose for at least several minutes. If you feel like you need back support, you can place folded or rolled-up blankets or towels under the arch of your back as needed.
  4. Hold for 5-15 minutes, breathing deeply. You can try holding different positions with your legs, such as touching the soles of your feet together or bending your knees.
  5. To come out of the pose, bring your knees to your chest and roll to one side.
Breathe and enjoy!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Introducing: The Plank by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

The plank is a popular isometric exercise because it strengthens multiple muscle groups, improves balance and flexibility, stretches and strengthens the spine, and requires no special equipment. It requires maintaining one pose for an extended period of time or for intervals of time, the lengths of which vary depending on fitness level. Here’s a rundown of all the areas that will benefit from the plank exercise:*

Target body part: abs, back
Primary muscles: erector spinae, rectus abdominus (abs), transverse abdominus
Secondary muscles: trapezius (traps), rhomboids, rotator cuff, anterior and medial deltoids (delts), posterior deltoids (delts), pectorals (pecs), serratus anterior, gluteus maximus (glutes), quadriceps (quads), gastrocnemius

There are variations of the plank pose, but for the most basic one, follow these steps:

  1. Get in a pushup position, with your body forming a straight line, or plank, while your hands and toes support your weight. Alternately, you can put your forearms on the ground, beneath your shoulders and parallel to your body.
  2. Tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes.
  3. Maintain a neutral neck and spine. If you feel pressure on your lower back, do a slight pelvic tilt to bring your hips and glutes down.
  4. Hold the position. Don’t forget to breathe!
Click here for a photo of the pose. If this is your first time planking, try holding the pose for 10 seconds or until your hips begin to sag, then rest and repeat if desired.

You should not perform a plank if you have heart problems or high blood pressure, or if you are pregnant. As always, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your ability to do the exercise.

Fun plank fact!
The world abdominal plank record, set by George Hood on 12/3/11, is 1 hour, 20 minutes and 5.01 seconds.

*Source: American Council on Exercise.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Challenge Yourself! by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

Is a pesky lack of motivation keeping you from regular physical activity? It might be time to try a goal-oriented approach. For some people, an important end result to work toward can provide that extra drive needed to throw on those gym shoes and get out the door. If this sounds like you, read on!

Figure out what you would ultimately love to accomplish.
Do you want to aim for a certain running time or distance? Cycle 20 miles? Complete a 5k? Learn a dance? Become a yoga instructor? Be able to do the splits? Pick one thing that you think is achievable, and come up with a reasonable timetable for it.

Commit to a challenge or event.
If it’s an event you’re training for, sign up and tell people about it so that you’re motivated to stick with it. Charity walks/runs are especially good for this, as you’re making a commitment to people who donate money to your cause.

If you’re not training for a specific event, try to come up with other motivational tools, such as working with a friend to meet the same goal or finding an activity-specific local group or online community where you can share your progress and seek encouragement.

Here are just a few fun goal ideas:

Work at it!
Schedule some time each week to train, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Set mini goals along the way. Stay positive, even if you’re struggling or you miss a day; you’re still ultimately working toward something rewarding for both your brain and your body.

Reward yourself.
Regardless of whether you meet your goal or not, you deserve a pat on the back for your effort. Reward yourself along the way with a new outfit, a trip to the movies, a haircut, a chair massage, or whatever will keep you happy and motivated. And if you meet your goal, it’s time to set a new one!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eat Seasonal, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

Even though modern technology makes it easy for us to purchase almost any kind of produce at any time of year, shopping for seasonal fruits and veggies has many advantages: namely, taste! You’ll get the most vibrant flavors from a tomato or watermelon in the summer, or an apple or squash in the fall. And because in-season produce is more likely to come from local farms and orchards, it will spend less time in transit, meaning it will be fresher, more nutritious, and cheaper.

Paying attention to what’s in season is also a great way to keep variety in your diet and even to try new foods, since you know you’ll be eating them at their peak. Look for produce sales at your local grocery store and challenge yourself to try one different fruit or vegetable a week.

Also, bear in mind that some types of produce contain more pesticides than others. The Environmental Working Group has released a list for 2012 of the “dirty dozen” foods that contain the most pesticide residues and should be bought organically. They have also compiled a list of the “clean 15,” or the fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticide.

Produce availability does vary slightly by region, but for the most part, you can count on the following foods to be best during the autumn months:

  • acorn squash
  • arugula
  • belgian endive
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • butter (bibb) lettuce
  • buttercup squash
  • butternut squash
  • cauliflower
  • daikon radish
  • endive
  • hot peppers
  • jerusalem artichoke
  • jicama
  • kale
  • kohlrabi
  • mushrooms
  • pumpkin
  • radicchio
  • sweet potatoes
  • swiss chard
  • winter squash
  • asian pears
  • cape gooseberries
  • cranberries
  • grapes
  • huckleberries
  • kumquats
  • passion fruit
  • pears
  • pomegranate
  • quince
In addition, a handful of foods are generally of good quality year-round:

  • beet greens
  • bell peppers
  • bok choy
  • broccolini
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • celery root
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • parsnips
  • shallots
  • turnips
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • lemons
  • papayas

Movement-Centered Social Outings, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

One common misconception about exercise is that it has to be work"no pain, no gain," as the saying goes. But the truth is, moving your body in any way, shape, or form will provide you with physical and emotional benefits. So, why not turn it into play? In particular, focus on movement as a social outing. This way, you can spend more time with friends and family while still feeling good about your health.

Instead of making dinner and movie plans one weekend, try one of these fun activities:

  • Dancing/clubbing
  • Bowling
  • Rollerskating/rollerblading
  • Swimming (pool or beach)
  • Canoeing/kayaking
  • Indoor rock climbing
  • Water fight!
  • Lawn games: bocce, darts, badminton, volleyball, etc.
  • Frisbee
  • Bike ride
  • Hike
  • Sightseeing around your city
  • Charity walk or run
  • Any kind of sport

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Exercise & Diabetes, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

It’s hard to ignore the prevalence of diabetes in our society. An estimated 25.8 million people in the U.S. had the disorder as of 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there is a silver lining: When it comes to the most common type of diabetes, type 2, physical activity can assist with both prevention and management.

What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar; it’s a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and high blood pressure, among other conditions. With type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the insulin it needs to remove sugar (glucose) from the blood.

How to determine your risk for type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors (BMI, diet, physical activity) and genetic factors. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) website has a risk test that you can take to determine your level of risk for the disease; use it as a platform for discussion with your doctor.

Regular physical activity aids in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be successfully prevented and/or managed with a combination of healthy eating and physical activity (and, in some cases, medication).

According to the ADA, physical activity lowers blood glucose by making your body more sensitive to the insulin you make, and by burning glucose (calories). Other possible benefits of exercise include lower blood pressure, increased good cholesterol (HDL), lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, lower risk of other health problems, increased energy, improved sleep quality, and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression--all of which aid in the prevention or management of type 2 diabetes.

Try to fit in 30 minutes of movement a day.
The ADA recommends that adults aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days, and general recommendations from authoritative sources are for about 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week spread out over three to five days. That doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to the gym; any activity that gets your heart rate up and causes a light sweat will count: walking, gardening, yardwork, cleaning, swimming, dancing, sports, etc. (In fact, recent studies have indicated that people who walk regularly have a lower risk of diabetes.)

The ADA also recommends strength training exercises twice a week in order to build muscle, which will in turn burn more calories/glucose, even when you’re resting.

If these recommendations seem overwhelming, start small at first. Even 10 minutes of activity here and there will provide some benefit.

Make physical activity enjoyable.
Experiment until you figure out which kinds of activities you like best. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you love the outdoors: Try walking, biking, gardening/yardwork, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, or sports.
  • If you prefer staying at home: Purchase consoles/games aimed at physical activity; use a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine in front of the TV; try DVDs or exercise programs on demand.
  • If you need social interaction: Walk with a coworker on a lunch break; meet up with friends for backyard sports or racquetball; join a class or runner’s group.
  • If you like to get down: Have dance parties with your music collection; sign up for dance lessons; try fun dance-fitness fusion classes like Zumba, Nia, or Barre Bee Fit.

If you’re stumped as to what you might like, experiment! Many gyms/rec centers offer trial periods for classes, and you can ask friends and family what types of activities they’d recommend.

Find ways to work around physical limitations.
If you have a medical condition or physical disability that restricts movement, discuss with your doctor the types of movement that would be safe for you to try. Popular low-impact activities include walking, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, and pilates. Many gyms and rec centers also offer classes specifically geared toward low-impact aerobics or strength training.