Become your own smoothie king

As the weather gets progressively warmer, my summertime taste buds are starting to sprout. Every year, about this time, I transition away from heavy comfort food and instead crave lighter, healthier fare. Fruits and veggies, in particular. The availability of fresh food items is the reason I eat better during the spring and summer months. (Note: I try to eat well and balanced throughout the year, I just find it easier to do so when more produce is in season.) I like being able to swing by a farmer’s market and pick up something recently picked or prepared and enjoy it that very day versus buying frozen boxed food at the grocery store that isn’t necessarily tied to the time of year. One of my favorite things to both prepare and order when it’s hot out are smoothies. Cool and satisfying, they are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a snack. Whether you want protein, vitamins, antioxidants or just something that hits the spot, there is a smoothie that will deliver. I’m very curious about this avocado smoothie recipe I found this morning:

  • 2 cups lowfat milk
  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
  • Ice, to taste

According to Shape magazine:

Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which stress quickly depletes and which your body needs in order to maintain healthy nerves and brain cells. Guacamole isn’t the only way to get your avocado fix—try this Brazilian-inspired smoothie recipe, courtesy of Dr. Oz, a cardio thoracic surgeon and the host of The Dr. Oz Show.

For more smoothie ideas, check out Shape’s Top 11 Smoothie Recipes.

Additional smoothie recipes can be found at www.wholeliving.com/photogallery/smoothie-recipes.

Check out this recipe too: http://smoothiesrecipe.com/kiwi-strawberry-smoothie-recipe. Mmm it sounds as good as it looks!

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Don’t succumb to the seasonal body

Now that it’s spring, we’re all looking to the warm weather ahead. For many this means getting ready to don a bathing suit. Google “bikini workout” and Fitness magazine, Self and Women’s Health all come up on the first page with exercise plans that promise to get you swimwear ready. I have to be honest and say that I’m not a big fan of all this hype. While I wholly believe that there is always room for improvement (within moderation, of course), I don’t think that the prospect of wearing a bikini or a one-piece should serve as motivation (or at least sole motivation) to eat well and exercise. What about the other seven to nine months of the year? What’s going to keep you motivated then? Plus some of us aren’t built for a string bikini (I’m one of them) and will never look like Miranda Kerr. Not only are you setting incredibly high expectations for yourself mentally and physically, you’re probably setting your sights on something unrealistic.

As I’ve always said, health and fitness has to a way of life not something you buy into spring to fall. If working out in preparation for skimpy summer clothing gets you started down the path to living a healthier life, by all means start there. But, yo-yoing between working hard to look great during the summer and letting yourself go during the winter is not only ineffective, it can be damaging long-term. It’s tough to lose weight no matter how or how fast you do it. Trying to lose weight plus tone up in a short amount of time is pretty tortuous. You have to really cut back your calorie intake and ramp up your workouts. If you take really good care of yourself year round, you’d only have to focus on say intensifying your ab routine or adding in extra sets of squats (depending on what area you want to tighten up). Picking nutritional foods and staying active, will keep you bikini-ready all the time, not just during the summer months. Isn’t round-the-clock confidence better than confidence that comes and goes with the change of seasons?

Below are a few of the moves I like to incorporate this time of year to ensure that I look and feel my best in shorts, tank tops, and yes, a bikini.

Total body

Self’s Hot-Body Bop (or burpee). This exercise is great for your shoulders, abs, back, butt and thighs. You hit quite a few major muscle groups and rev up your heart rate at the same time. Great for torching extra calories and increasing definition!

Shoulders

Superman (and variations of the traditional move).

Check out FitSugar’s shoulder sculpting moves at www.fitsugar.com/Get-Strapless-Dress-Ready-Shoulder-Sculpting-Moves-2989136?page=0,0,0

Abs

Shape’s Plank Jack

A

Get in modified plank position, balancing on your forearms (elbows aligned under shoulders) and toes. Tighten abs so body is straight from head to heels.

B

Keeping torso tight, hop feet out wide. Hop feet back to starting position and repeat. Do 15 reps.

Also, check out this Pushup into Rotating Side Plank. This is one I will definitely be trying!

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Clear on calories or still ambiguous?

While it’s not new news that the American Beverage Association is going to launch a Clear on Calories commitment in support of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, it’s the first time I’ve heard of it. The reasoning behind it: “to make the number of calories in [certain] products even more clear and consumer-friendly, putting calorie information at consumers’ fingertips at every point of purchase.” The Coca-Cola Company, Cott Beverages, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Honest Tea, Nestlé Waters North America, PepsiCo and Sunny Delight Beverages Co. have signed on to the initiative. Implementation will begin this year and continue in phases through 2012. I commend this effort and think it is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to encouraging people to make healthy choices. I’m concerned though that people don’t understand enough about caloric intake and weight maintenance.

What I find interesting about this “voluntary commitment” is that only containers of 20 fluid ounces or less will show total calorie counts per can or bottle, while containers larger than 20 fluid ounces will show calories per 12 fluid ounce serving. Consumers will have to do the math for containers with more than 20 fluid ounces. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m not very good at math, especially not on the fly. If ABA is going to clearly label 20 ounce or less containers than why not clearly label 20 ounces or larger? Is is because the calorie count of beverages of more than 20 ounces is frighteningly high? Would it scare people out of buying them? I don’t have the answer, but I would certainly be curious to know the thinking behind this decision.

What do you think about this new initiative? Will it help people make better choices or at least think twice about drinking sweet, calorie-laden beverage? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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I <3 Greek yogurt

In the past month or so, I’ve become an even bigger fan of Greek yogurt than I already was. After a few weeks of eating poorly at the beginning of March and making a serious effort to get back on the healthy-eating bandwagon, I realized (yet again) that I needed to incorporate more protein into my diet. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that women ages 19 to 70 need to consume 46 grams of protein per day (!). I so rarely prepare meat at home that I have to turn to other foods to reach (or at least come close) to the recommended daily amount. Beans, nuts and seeds, cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs are all great high protein meat alternatives. I wrote about my daily quest to get enough protein back in January, so I will focus only on my switch from regular yogurt to Greek yogurt here.

Before Harris Teeter stopped carrying it, I was eating Stonyfield’s O’Soy yogurt every day. I like to eat a snack both in the morning and afternoon between meals. Yogurt is my go-to morning snack. O’Soy has seven grams of soy protein. It tastes good, but is a tad sweet. It is a bit on the liquidy side too as it does tend to separate. FAGE 2% Total has 10 grams of dairy protein and is much thicker and richer. Chobani and Stonyfield’s Oikos are good too, but I like FAGE with honey the best. Maybe it’s the honey container on the side that gets me. I do like being able to add the honey when I open the container and mix it in completely (stuff on the bottom is so hard to mix in well). It’s an opportunity to interact with my food and enjoy it just the way I like it. Whether you eat it for breakfast, as a snack or as dessert (my newest favorite way to enjoy it), Greek yogurt is a great healthy option with nearly a quarter of the protein your body needs each day!

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Reading and working out: Not a great mix

While scrolling through an iVillage article about shape-up secrets from top trainers, I came across this tip: Maintain Your Fitness Focus: Ditch the Reading Materials. I often like to flip through magazines, health/beauty/fitness (Shape, Self, Glamour, InStyle) or tabloids (People, Us Weekly, Star), while working out. I don’t have much free time to read magazines, so I like to indulge when I have the opportunity. Exercise is my “me” time. Why not make it a little richer (read entertaining) with fashion, celebrity gossip, and health and fitness tips? Plus, it can take the edge off 60 minutes spent on the elliptical. Despite the enjoyment, I’ve found that when I have a magazine vying for my attention my pace does tend to slow (or become more erratic), not a lot, but enough that I notice a difference in distance and calories burned at the end of my workout. I can usually squeeze out 30-50 more calories when I listen to music or watch TV only. Not substantial when considered alone, but significant over time. Between 150 and 250 calories a week! In the iVillage article, Teddy Bass, a Beverly Hills personal trainer, said:

“I can’t tell you how many women I see at the gym and they’re barely pedaling the bike or elliptical machine because they’re so focused on what they’re reading, be it a magazine, cell phone or newspaper. It’s okay to zone out, but don’t forget why you’re there.”

Even the elliptical takes focus!

Even the elliptical takes focus!

I definitely agree with the quote above. I’ve seen many women completely engrossed in a book or magazine and hardly working out at all. In the end, I think what you’re trying to achieve should drive your level of focus. If you’re trying to lose weight or train for a competitive run, it’s probably best to leaving the reading material at home and make the most of your iPhone/iPod or the TV attached to the machine. The occasional magazine read certainly won’t hurt your overall fitness level. And, on days where you don’t feel like working out, if a magazine will help to entice you then go for it. Intensity is definitely an important component of maximizing your workouts, so just be mindful if you do decide to include some light reading. You’ll often see me at the gym on Sundays with a couple of magazines tucked under my arm as I make my way to the cardio machines, but you’ll never see me with a book in hand. I don’t recommend trying to read a book, or e-book via iPad/Kindle, as it requires too much concentration and is there for distracting beyond its value. Also, the bulkiness of the book makes it hard to keep open and turn pages. You don’t want to get so lost in what you’re reading or caught up in propping the book open that you don’t keep tabs on your workout. You’re at the gym for a reason, don’t forget that. Make the most of your workout and you’ll want to keep coming back!

Do you read while you workout? Leave your answer in the comments section.

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Cardio vs. strength training

We all know that cardio is an important part of any exercise regimen. But sometimes I just don’t have an hour to spend on the treadmill or elliptical. When you have limited time, yet want to maximize your workout, what’s the best cardio to strength training ratio? This is a question I often ask myself on those days that I feel pressed for time. One burns calories short-term at a higher rate and the other long-term at a slower rate. A Women’s Health magazine article, “A WH Fitness Face Off” by Liz Plosser had the following to say about the cardio vs. strength debate:

Treadmill (Photo by Anna Miars)

Treadmill (Photo by Anna Miars)

Cardio’s edge Calorie for calorie, cardio has a slight advantage. You’ll burn 8 to 10 calories a minute hoisting weights, compared with 10 to 12 calories a minute running or cycling, says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Weights (Photo by Anna Miars)

Weights (Photo by Anna Miars)

Strength’s edge Lifting weights gives you a metabolic spike for an hour after a workout because your body is trying hard to help your muscles recover. That means you’ll fry an additional 25 percent of the calories you just scorched during your strength session, Westcott says. “So if you burned 200 calories lifting weights, it’s really closer to 250 overall.” And if you lift heavier weights or rest no more than 30 seconds between sets, you can annihilate even more.

Both offer benefits, one geared more toward endurance the other toward, surprise, surprise, toward strength. Each activity enhances optimal performance (in and out of the gym), so there is no doubt that both are essential. Yet the question remains…Are they actually equal in terms of calorie burn or is one more effective in short bursts when you’re forced to choose? Ultimately, it depends on who you ask. Furthermore, it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Weight loss? Stress relief? Maintenance of physical health? Training for competition? An article written by Laura S. Jones for The Washington Post, “Cardio vs. Weights: The Battle Is Over” includes a good point:

Time factors into the contest another way, too: “You are limited in the amount of strength training you can do,” says Nelson, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM advises you weight-train no more than two to three times per week, to give the body time to repair microscopic muscle tears produced by training that are key to gaining strength. “But you can do cardiovascular exercise every day,” Nelson says.

I guess in the end you have to be mindful about what kind of exercise you’ve done over the previous days as well as the goals you’ve established. I find that it takes greater focus and therefore motivation to go through a strength training routine. I have to think about form and reps when doing bicep curls, lateral raises, etc., when I use free weights and machines. Proper technique is very important, not only to prevent injury but also to maximize effectiveness. I like to hop on the elliptical and watch TV or a movie and tune out the world while I sweat. Not to say that I don’t like strength training, I just find that it requires a little bit more brain power. For this one rather personal reason, I tend to choose cardio when I don’t have much time to spend at the gym. Some people prefer the variety and challenge of strength training. Really it’s up to you what you want to do in a pinch. Despite the great debate, be sure to include both cardio and strength training in your regular workouts. Both serve a purpose and will result in a fitter, healthier you!

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But, I’m nuts for nuts

Peanuts and liver cancer? Oh no! I really like peanuts and eat them almost every day. I will have to dig a little deeper and write a more comprehensive post once I’ve done some research. In the meantime, here’s a little bit of info about the link between a seemingly harmless nut (it’s not the peanut, but a form of fungus that grows on the nut) and a very harmful form of cancer.

According to International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), aflatoxins are

naturally developed mycotoxins (toxic substances) produced by various species of Aspergillus, a fungus. They are among the most carcinogenic substances known to exist. Unfortunately, the presence of aflatoxin in food products cannot be completely eliminated; it can, however, be controlled in order to avoid causing harm to humans.

The European Food Safety Administration says that two types of aflatoxins can “occur in groundnuts, treenuts, maize, rice, figs and other dried foods, spices and crude vegetable oils, and cocoa beans, as a result of fungal contamination before and after harvest.”

Additional reading until my next post:

www.niehs.nih.gov/health/impacts/aflatoxin.cfm

www.marksdailyapple.com/aflatoxins-or-another-reason-to-shun-peanuts/

www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/toxicagents/aflatoxin/aflatoxin.html

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How do you pronate?

In a previous post, I wrote about the role genetics plays in the physical characteristics we each possess. Every person, every body is different and as a result predisposed to certain abilities over others. Some people are built in ways that allow them to excel at dance, basketball or running. I certainly don’t have the ideal body type for running and have certain issues (I talked about my bad knees in another post) that make it that much more difficult to become an advanced runner. Meaning someone who runs competitively and trains to increase speed and stamina. From Sweat 365:

You’ve been running year-round for several years. You have run a lot of races and regularly run intervals. You want to see what you are capable of as a runner. You are willing to train hard.

Pronation Types

Pronation Types

Even though, I don’t run more than a few times per week (I’m a beginner or recreational runner), there is a good deal of science behind how to run “correctly” as well as how to improve performance and prevent injury. The study of human movement is called biomechanics. Since I’m in the market for a new pair of running/workout shoes and I went for a run this morning, I got to thinking about pronation and how it impacts my ability to run. Pronation, according to The Stretching Institute, “refers to the inward roll of the foot during normal motion and occurs as the outer edge of the heel strikes the ground and the foot rolls inward and flattens out.” Overpronation, underpronation and normal pronation all describe the motion of your foot as it flexes and rolls with each step. A 15 percent inward roll is considered normal or neutral. I’ve been told I’m pronation neutral, but from the wear on the bottom of my shoes, I think I might underpronate. Whatever the outcome, it’s definitely worth looking into again.

Both over and under pronation can lead to an assortment of injuries including shin splints, bunions, patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), Achilles Tendinitis, etc. Additionally, any more or any less inward roll and the resultant misalignment can put strain on the feet, knees, hips and lower back. Rolling inward too much (more than 15 percent) or not enough (less than 15 percent) can be corrected, but not cured. First and foremost, you need to figure out how you pronate. Specialty running shoe stores often are staffed by people who are trained in gait analysis. A physical therapist, orthopedist or podiatrist can perform the analysis too. Once you know your stride, you can look for orthotics and/or shoes that offer specific support to help stave off injury. Certain exercises can help to reduce overpronation. Standing or walking for long periods in high heels can lead to overpronation (!). Yet, another reason to pack your heels until you get to the office. Some advice for those that face underpronation, a less common problem.

Over, under or normal, it’s important to take care of yourself and be proactive about preventing injury. It all comes back to being in tune with your body. Pay attention to how you move, how your body responds to certain activities and patterns of pain and injury. Taking note will teach you as much about what you can do as what you can’t do. We all have limits and it’s better to know what they are sooner rather than later. While I may never run a marathon, I’m happy to know that I can enjoy running twice a week. Make the most of what you can do and don’t focus on what you can’t!

Websites to aid in your search for the proper inserts and running shoes:

www.asicsamerica.com/sports/running/shoeFitGuide.aspx

www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319–4615-0,00.html

www.therunningadvisor.com/running_shoes.html

www.shopnewbalance.com/search_results.asp?qry=women%27s+runcushion

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Bobo’s Oat Bars, delish!

My new favorite snack, Bobo’s Oat Bars.

Bobo's Oat Bars (Photo by Anna Miars)

Bobo's Oat Bars (Photo by Anna Miars)

I’m a huge fan of moist, chewy baked goods. I have a total weakness for squishy cookies and brownies. In fact, that’s often my measure of a good a cookie or brownie, if my finger tip leaves an imprint. So, when I found these oat bars at Yes! Organic Market on Penn. Ave. (made in Boulder, Colo.), I couldn’t resist. They are incredibly good for an all natural, vegan, wheat-free snack.

Forget artificial ingredients, additives, sweeteners and other harsh chemicals — Bobo’s Oat Bars are something different, something better. The bars fill a need among consumers who want to embrace good health without confusion or costly expense; in short, Bobo’s Oat Bars give people what they need, when they want it.

The peanut butter and chocolate versions (original and coconut are available at Yes! too; there are nine flavors total, including banana, strawberry and almond) are rich and flavorful, yet healthy and nutritious. Essentially, they are like a way better version of the traditional granola bar, and better for you. At 190 calories, I like to have one before I workout or sometimes as a post-workout snack. Whenever you choose to eat a Bobo’s Oat Bar, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy it. Baked from the heart and eaten with love!

Try one and let me know what you think in the comments section!

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Here a squat, there a squat, everywhere a squat

I saw a segment on E! News last night about J Lo’s legs. I have to say they are looking pretty good in her Venus razor campaign (not that she didn’t always have rockin’ legs). Strong, toned legs not only make you feel sexy, but help make your day-to-day life a little less taxing. We take nearly 2,000 steps per day, equal to about one mile. From taking the stairs, to wearing high heels, to running around town to take care of errands, a fit lower body will help you power through. One of my favorite ways to work my quads and hamstrings is squats. This simple, but effective exercise helps to keep your knees strong, improve your posture/balance, increase joint flexibility and boost physical performance in sports and other activities. A Golf Digest article summarizes the squat well:

All you have to do is watch small children attempt to pick up a heavy object. They literally go to the floor in a squat position and lift in near-perfect form. In other words, it’s a primal, instinctive movement.

Squats are also easy (in the sense that the movement is fairly simple and doesn’t necessitate equipment) and can be done pretty much anywhere. Check out this Mayo Clinic video for an overview of the basic squat and how to perform it correctly. Here is another great step-by-step video from Real Simple to get you going. Once you’ve mastered the more traditional version…

Traditional squat:

www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/squats

…try some of these other types of squats. Each will challenge you in a new and different way.

Chair Squat, Wide Stance Squat and Assisted Squat:

www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/exercises/squat-exercises-for-women.html

Ball Squat:

www.theledger.com/article/20110301/COLUMNISTS/103015000/1001/business?Title=This-Squat-Won-t-Bore-You

Single-Leg Step Squat:

www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/routines/individual-exercises/single-leg-step-squat

As you get stronger, add these to your routine. Your legs will never look better!

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