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What is Balance Training and Should I Be Doing It?

Today, we continue the series on the benefits of exercise (you can click here to read that post in case you missed it) and specific types of exercises. (Read about Cardio Workouts here and Strength Training here.)

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According to Harvard Health Publications, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a well-rounded plan of “aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises.”

What’s balance training?

It focuses on improving and/or maintaining stability (not falling over). Stable movement improve overall mobility.

Some types of training that emphasize balance are:

Yoga

Pilates

Various core and agility exercises

Some martial arts practices, such as Tai-chi

BenefitsPicture downloaded from Pixabay for strong-woman.com

  • Strengthens core muscles
  • Improves stability and mobility
  • Requires little to no equipment
  • Multiple variations of simple movements
  • Helpful to people at all fitness levels

In-house fitness expert, Mark Montalvo, says this:

“As we age, balance usually decreases resulting in falling or injury…this is why balance training is so important. It develops proprioception, which simply means how we move our bodies through space and time.

He says effective balance training should be performed in multiple directions of movement, in an unstable environment. It can be as simple as walking on a straight line or standing on one leg.Weight loss photo courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

Complicate that by standing on one leg while throwing or catching a ball.

Drawbacks/Risks

  • Must practice good form to reduce risk of injury
  • Progress is hard to measure

So, everyone can benefit from balance training, no matter the level of fitness. Being able to stay upright and stable will go a long way to keeping you healthy and well.

Remember to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program. This is especially important if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

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Exercise and Good Nutrition: Why You Need Both

The first time I trained for a half-marathon, I thought, “Okay, this is good.  I’ll be burning a ton of calories running all these miles and I’ll probably drop a few pounds. Awesome!”

And, yeah, I burned lots of calories, but I didn’t lose weight. Not at all.

The saying goes: You can’t outrun (or out-lift, out-train) a bad diet.

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That means, exercise alone isn’t enough.

If you really want results, you need both: regular exercise and good nutrition.

How can it possible that even when you’re burning a lot more calories you don’t lose weight?

One possibility is a phenomenon called “The Halo Effect”

The Halo Effect

In a nutshell, it’s when you think something or some one is so good it’s hard for you to be objective.photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

When it comes to fitness, the halo effect is:
I work out so I can eat whatever I want.

Sure, I can have dessert and a jumbo margarita! I just ran 10 miles.

 

I’m running a 5k tomorrow. I can have an extra serving.

The Halo Effect results in a person losing objectivity and allowing herself more high calorie indulgences or “rewards” because she worked out.

Thus the saying: You can’t outrun, out-lift, or out-train a bad diet.

In my experience, nutrition is way more critical in losing and maintaining a healthy weight than exercise, but it’s also the more challenging component.

And, it seems that the nutrition piece becomes even more important with age. You may be thinking, “I used to be able to eat whatever I want and never gain a pound.” [I’ve never said that, personally.]

So how do you do it? What’s the easiest way to get the best results from all your hours at the gym?

Here are a few tips on how to incorporate exercise and nutrition for the best results

Eat clean

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Simply put, eating clean means eating whole foods in their most natural form as possible. For example, if you have a choice between an apple, apple sauce, and an apple flavored, gluten-free fruit chew, the apple’s the best choice. Choose minimally processed food with no added sugar whenever possible.

Eat more vegetables

At every meal, have at least one serving of vegetables, and shoot for 2 – 3 servings each meal. Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes don’t count. 

Drink water to stay hydrated

The standard recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces every day and even more than that if you’ve been sweating. Adequate hydration improves all bodily functions. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration which can result in problems such as headaches, constipation, muscle cramps, and more.

Be aware of added sugar in beverages and choose accordingly

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Sports drinks, soda, fruit juice, adult beverages, and sweetened coffee drinks often have a ton of added sugar and a ton of extra calories.

Many restaurants now have calories per serving listed right on the menu and others have nutrition information on their website. It’s worth taking a look.

Read labels for ingredients and serving size

When you look for calories on the label, don’t forget to check the serving size.

For more information, read How to Read a Food Label

The most important thing is to find what works for you and then stick with it. For more recommendations and nutrition tips at How to Start Eating Healthy and Stick to It

Over the past few years of working out and finding what works best for me, I discovered that exercise has many benefits but losing weight isn’t one of them. Maybe that’s because of the Halo Effect. I don’t know for sure.

What I know for sure is that making good nutrition choices improves my overall feeling of health, wellness, and fitness. I make my share of bad choices and I’m not anywhere near perfect, but when I do these things most of the time:

  • Eat clean
  • Eat my veggies
  • Drink water
  • Avoid added sugar
  • Pay attention to food labels

I get better results. It’s most likely, you will too.

How about you? Do you agree with the statement: “You can’t outrun a bad diet”? What works best for you?

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News Flash: Exercise is good for you!

Oh, have you already heard that? Not news? Well, “exercise” can be many things to many people, from jumping jacks to kayaking to running ultra-marathons and everything in between.

Seeing a super-fit athlete doing a high intensity workout may be a little intimidating. You may think, “I could never do that.” And maybe you’re right.

But even if you can’t do that, you can do something.

And something is better than nothing. The key is to find what works for you and start small if you need to.

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Showing up is the hardest part.

I’ve blogged about exercise in different contexts like Group Exercise: Why it’s better than going solo, Exercise: The First Step is the Hardest, and The Hardest Part of a Workout is Showing Up, and more.

But I think I jumped ahead a little, so today, I’m going to list some of

The benefits of exercise

These are well-documented, research-based benefits … and I can attest to these myself.

Exercise:

Improves mood

Exercise increases endorphins – the “feel good” hormones.

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Looking at the workout board.

 

Reduces stress

Again, balances hormones and lowers cortisol levels – the “stress” hormones.

Improves brain clarity

In the book Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradly Hagerty spoke with Kirk Erickson, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who found “nothing will keep you as mentally acute as raising your heart rate a few times a week. Nothing.”  Exercise is good for the body and mind.

Physical strength and muscle tone

Movement calls for muscles to flex. Focused movement beyond daily activities stresses muscles and keeps them strong. It’s like most things, use it or lose it.

Helps strengthen bones

Exercise strengthens bones by stressing them. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation “Exercise plays an important role in building and maintaining bone strength.”

Improved balance and stability

As we age, we’re more at risk for falling. Regular exercise helps strengthen muscles and bones and improves our ability to balance and recover from near-falls.

Graphic courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

 

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be going through different types of exercise and refer to my on-staff Subject Matter Expert (SME) about the benefits of several types of exercise – what they are and their benefits.

Have you experienced some of these benefits? I’d love to hear what you find to be the greatest benefit. Please share in the comments below.

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4 Ways In Person Shopping is Good for Your Health

Recently, my daughter and I needed something to wear to two separate family occasions, so we went shopping the old fashioned way – at a store, in person. We went through the racks of dresses, thinking about both occasions and venues and what would be appropriate for each. We picked out armfuls of dresses and then tried each one on and decided Yay or Nay. Even though neither of us like to shop, it was fun.

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The excursion got me thinking about the shopping experience and how it’s changed so much over the years. We’ve seen huge retail stores shut their doors and there’s always discussion about how brick and mortar retailers can compete with online shopping.

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There are definitely benefits for shopping online, but when it comes to your health, there are real benefits of shopping in person – the old-fashioned way. Here are a few

Health benefits of shopping in person:

1. Gets you moving

The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day as an activity goal for heart health. In person shopping will get you way more steps than online shopping. If you struggle to find time to work out or get moving throughout the day, think of your trip to the store as an opportunity to get moving.

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2. Gets you out of the house

Getting out of the house can be good for your mental health. A change in routine helps stimulate the brain even if it takes more energy. Instead of relying on things being delivered to your door because you just don’t want to get out, when you need something, do it the old-fashioned way.

3. Interaction with people

This might not always seem like a benefit because people are not perfect. I know. People don’t know how to drive, how to scan their credit card, walk too slow, are always in your way, etc especially when you’re in a hurry. If you’ve had a rough day at the office and you’ve had plenty of human interaction, a shopping trip to anywhere for anything is just not what you want. In that case, leave it for another day if you can. Otherwise, go be with people.

4. Tactile stimulation

Shopping the old-fashioned way gets your senses going and stimulates the brain. Why do you decide to buy a particular product? Is it mostly what you see? When I was trying on dresses, I wanted the dress to look nice on me, but I also wanted to feel good wearing it. That experience is impossible to duplicate online. For now, at least.

Consumers have lots of shopping options. When it comes to your physical and mental health, there are some benefits to doing it the old-fashioned way.

Picture by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

How Functional Fitness Can Help You Get Stuff Done

The next time you’re getting ready to work out, instead of putting on your workout clothes, grabbing your running shoes, or driving to the gym, get a functional fitness workout by doing that household project you’ve been putting off.

Functional fitness and household projects?

Some household project possibilities: repair a fence, wash windows, mop the floors, clean baseboards, dust ceiling fans, clean a closet, organize the pantry, rearrange your furniture, re-tile the floor, and many more.

Tackling these types of projects not only gives you the satisfaction of checking them off your to-do list, but it’s a great way to get your body moving, to practice one of the main benefits of full-body workouts – functional movement.

Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re getting into.

photo courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com
Functional movement – get stuff done.

The little project that grew

Now, let me first say, I’m not big into house cleaning. I figure when I’m dead and gone, no one’s going to be talking about how clean I kept my house. Let’s just say that getting my workouts in is way higher on my priority list than deep cleaning. I strive for tidy, not spotless.

But my husband and I were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the family and we wanted to get our house guest-ready. One of the things I really wanted to do was wash the windows, which were long overdue for a serious washing.

I knew it would be a tricky project. Some of the windows are so high they’re hard to reach even with a 20-foot ladder, so I had no intention of even attempting to do those hard to reach windows.

Picture by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com
The problem window

I decided to do one easy-to-reach window, but once we got started, the small one-window project turned into a we-might-as-well-do-them-all kind of project. Our projected 20-minute project turned into more than 2 hours of going up and down the ladder, scrubbing, stretching, and lifting. It was a full-body workout using core strength and balance.

Through my window washing experience, I experienced firsthand how functional fitness workouts offer major benefits when you need to get stuff done. DIY, of course.

What’s Functional Fitness?

Endurance

When we started the window-washing project, we hadn’t planned on it taking hours. But when we saw what a difference it was making, we were determined to do as much as we could. Sure, we were tired, but our windows looked amazing. We still had lots of cooking, setting up, and prepping to do for our holiday meal and would be working for hours. Endurance training helps condition for those days when you have a long, physically demanding to-do list.

Picture by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com
See how the sparkle.
Balance

Working out regularly helps improve balance and improve functional fitness in every day movement. Especially as we age, balance becomes more critical. Older people have a higher tendency to lose balance, putting us at higher risk for injury by falling down. Working out regularly helps improve balance and is great for every day movement, like walking, and when tackling home improvement projects.

Core strength

An easy way to increase core strength is to keep proper body alignment. Stand up straight, instead of hunched over, and keep shoulders up back and down. Engaging abdominals and maintaining good posture is a simple way to build core strength so that you’re better able to move well, protect your back, and improve balance.

Strength

Lifting and moving things like furniture or boxes, carrying grocery bags, carrying a child, or any number of things we do every day require strength. Strength training can mean lifting weights or using your body weight, such as doing push ups, sit up, and squats.

Pic of strength training published on strong-woman.com
Strength training helps reduce loss of muscle.
Flexibility

An often overlooked component of a workout is regular stretching. Stretching every day helps keep your muscles engaged and your joints limber. It’s an important aspect of functional movement of all kinds.

Functional fitness is exactly what it sounds like – moving your body efficiently for whatever purpose you desire, for whatever you want to do.

Take care of your body so that you’re able to continue to enjoy independence, strength, and mobility for life. And you’re better able to get stuff done!

I’d love to hear your experiences with functional fitness and household projects. Feel free to share in the comments. 

Stretching in Autumn photo courtesy of Pixabay published on strong-woman.com

It’s November! A Great Time to Commit to a Healthy Lifestyle

November is here! Leaves are changing, mornings are brisk (for some), and Thanksgiving is only weeks away. It’s a great time to commit (or re-commit) to a healthy lifestyle, to choose nutritious food and be active every day.

“What?!” You may be thinking to yourself. “The holidays are coming up and that means lots of food, parties and crazy schedules! Commit to a healthy lifestyle? No way! It’s a terrible time to start. I’ll start right after the holidays!”

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Apple Orchard in Fall

Nope. Do it now. Carpe diem. Every day’s a great day to do something good for your health.

A healthy lifestyle is something you strive for every day. It isn’t temporary. Even if you have a long way to go, start small and build up to where you want to be. Small steps make a big difference in your mental and physical well-being. And remember, no one’s perfect and you don’t need to be perfect either.

Not sure what to do? Need directions to the Starting Line?

Here are some suggestions in the area of nutrition and exercise you can do to start your healthy lifestyle now.

Make good nutrition choices

  1. Cook at home. If holiday schedules mean meals on the run, plan ahead and be prepared with frozen vegetables, jar sauces, quick cook grains, etc. Choose minimum ingredient foods when possible. (Read “How to Read a Food Label” for more information.) Even a little bit of meal prep will go a long way to get dinner on the table faster, healthier, and less expensive than going through the drive through.
  2. Eat healthy snacks. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are excellent choices. This can help prevent you from getting over-hungry which can keep you from making good food choices.

    Salad phot courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
    Choose healthy snacks.

  3. Practice portion control. Rather than completely cutting out your favorite not-so-healthy foods, serve yourself a small amount and enjoy it. This will keep you from feeling deprived of the foods you love.
  4. Avoid “saving yourself” for the big meal. You may think it’s a good idea to “save yourself” for the big office potluck or holiday buffet. You’d be better off eating nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day so that you’re in a better frame of mind to continue to make good choices.
  5. Be mindful of your beverage choices. Sugary drinks, juices, and ciders are high in calories. Drink water throughout the day. Try flavoring water with lemon, mint, lime, or other fruit.

    Mineral water photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
    Flavor water with lemon, lime, or other fruit.

Stay Active

Make it a lifestyle. Do it for you and those you love.

Recent research confirms that lack of physical activity increases risk of chronic illness like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control:

“Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases.”

Here are some suggestions to get you started:
  1. Take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator.

    Stairway photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
    Take the stairs.

  2. Track your steps and set a goal of 10,000 steps a day. Most smart phones have a built in step tracker. There are many wearable fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Garmin, Apple, or pedometer. Work up to your goal by starting small and gradually increasing your steps. Do what you can, even if it’s walking for 10 minutes a day. Remember, something is better than nothing
  3. If you sit a lot during the day, stand up and stretch and/or walk for a few minutes every hour. Set a reminder on your phone or watch. There are exercise and stretch reminder apps for mobile devices for free or for a minimal fee.

    Stretching in Autumn photo courtesy of Pixabay published on strong-woman.com
    Take a minute and stretch.

  4. Park in the farthest parking space and walk to your destination.
  5. Get a work buddy and walk before or after work. During the fall and winter months, daylight hours are short so be safe and walk in a well-lit and busy area. If you work in a building, try walking the halls and staircases.
  6. Join an exercise group. When you find an activity you enjoy and join others who like it as much as you do, you’re more likely to stay committed to it. Read here for benefits of joining a group.
  7. Get an accountability partner. Share your goals with a trusted friend who’ll hold you accountable and encourage you to keep at it. Select some one who understands your challenges, but won’t let you off the hook.

Get started now.

There’s no time like the present to take that first step. Commit to doing one thing at a time and then build from there.

If you already exercise, keep it up. Be flexible and stay as consistent as you can. Remember, something is better than nothing.

Yes, it will soon be the holiday season and it’s as good a time as any to taking steps toward a healthier you. It’s always a great time to take care of yourself so you can do the work you need to do – so you can take care of who and what you need to take care of.

Do you have any strategies to help you stay on track through the holiday season? Please share in the comments below. 

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Group Exercise – Why it’s better than going solo

You’ve probably heard that exercise is good for you. Good for the body; good for the mind. Piles of research indicates that exercise improves mobility, mood, mental health, alertness, memory, sleep, sex, and overall well-being.

Right. You get it. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. You may even believe it, but it’s still so hard to stick with it. Life gets in the way!

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Should I go workout?

Want help overcoming excuses? Want to make sure you get moving even when you really don’t want to?

Join an exercise group.

Fitness/Exercise/Running/Dancing/Martial Arts Groups can make a big difference in making exercise part of your healthy lifestyle for a lot of reasons. Here are a just a few:

Fun – Whether you absolutely love your workouts or dread them, it’s more fun when you’re surrounded by people who can relate to your struggles and celebrate your victories. Try different groups until you find one that’s a good fit for you. Keep at it. You’ll know it when you find it.

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Cycling Group

Encouraging – Find the group culture that keeps you going. You may be struggling through a workout or really challenging yourself and then some one tells you, “Great job!” or “You got this!” Simple words of encouragement can really keep you going. You may be surprised to see yourself doing what you thought you would never be able to do.

Perspective – Groups generally have participants of all different fitness levels and you may be tempted to stay home because you “can’t do all that stuff”, but when you see some one who’s older, sicker, less-fit than you are and they’re out there doing their best, you’re more likely to think, “If they can do it, I can do it.” No matter what your level of fitness is right now, go out and do your best.

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Sunrise group

Consistency – Nothing and no one can make you exercise, but finding a group and an activity you like will help you be more consistent. Stay committed and be consistent with your workouts and you’re more likely to realize benefits.

There are lots of options: boot camp, Zumba, Jazzercise, Barre workouts, Tai Chi, yoga, and so many more. Find one you like, show up, and enjoy the company. Make your workouts fun and they won’t seem like work.

Have you had a great experience with group exercise? I’d love to hear it. Share in the comments below.

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Exercise – The First Step is the Hardest


I’ve always heard that exercise is good for your health (emotional, mental, and physical) and I know that when I skip several workouts I can really tell the difference.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a workout program or exercising but can’t seem to make it happen, follow my five simple tips for getting starting now.

The way I see it, you have to keep it simple. If you’re truly interested in getting/staying healthy and strong for years and well into your “old age”, you can do it. If you want to be able to run around with your kids and grandkids instead of being “too old for that” then listen up.

1. Make exercise a priority. If regular exercise is not currently part check-list-hiof your routine, plan ahead and change it up. Make your exercise time an appointment, like you would a work appointment, an important meeting or a date. I know it can be very challenging. You’re busy. You’ve got a lot of stuff going on. Make one of those things a brisk walk or jumping rope or dancing or even calisthenics, like jumping jacks.

2. Move more throughout the day. Increase your level of activity however you can. For examplTakeStairse, walk more during your regular daily tasks by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Park further away and walk a few more steps. If you work at a desk, take a break and walk for a few minutes.

3. Be a problem solver. We all find reasons (excuses) why we can’t do something that we may not really want to do or are afraid to do. Some examples: I don’t have a safe place to walk, I don’t have walking shoes, I have to cook dinner, I have to take my kids to ProblemSolvesoccer/football/piano/gymnastics/etc. and so many more. Each of those commitments requires thoughtful problem solving so they don’t become your reason for missing your exercise commitment. In all possible scenarios, be a problem solver. For example, go for a walk while the kids are practicing. Maybe another mom would like to join you. When you get your mind set on doing something, you’ll do it.

4. Get clear on your why. This whole exercise venture can sometimes be a real mental Why?exercise as well. Change can be difficult. If you’re not exercising now and you want to change that and be a person who exercises regularly, you have to get your head and heart involved. A good place to start is to think about your health goals. Then you have to go a little deeper and think about why you want whatever it is you say you want. Keep asking “why?” until you get to the point where you know at your very core why you want what you say you want. This is your why. Know it. Remember it. Live it.

5. Go do it. Yoda said it best when he said, “Do. Or do not. There is
Yodano try.”  Forget all the “reasons” you can’t do something and re-program your brain to know and believe that you can do whatever you commit to doing. Making exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle may be challenging and may require some sacrifice, but if you really want it, commit to it. And then do it.

 

 

The word “exercise” may conjure up images of weights, running, sweating, gasping for air, training, treadmills, fitness equipment, or other stuff. That’s how some people do it. But if you’re just getting started, keep it simple and think of exercise as exerting energy to move your body. That’s it.