Written on July 28, 2011 at 11:30 am , by SparkPeople
Follow the seven tips below to make exercise a priority all week long—not just during the work week!
7 Tips for Fitting in Weekend Workouts
- Turn workout time into play time. Think working out on the weekend has to be at the gym? Think again! The weekend is the perfect time to take your workout outdoors for a hike, a bootcamp at the park, or a bike ride at a nearby trail. If the weather in your area is less than ideal, gather some buds for an indoor basketball game, a workout DVD or even a visit to that indoor rock climbing wall.
- Schedule some “me” time. The best part about weekdays is that our schedule is consistent and more or less on autopilot. Make your weekend more like a weekday by setting a schedule for Saturday and Sunday. Not every second has to be laid out (where’s the fun in that?), but schedule an hour or two that’s just for you. Use the time to be active doing something you really enjoy like Zumba, running or Spinning class, followed by some relaxation time.
- Make housework a workout. Most of us have to do at least a few chores over the weekend, so if you’re short on time, transform your housework into a workout! Put on some tunes and see how quickly you can do more physical chores like vacuuming, scrubbing the bathtub, mopping the floors, mowing the grass or washing the windows.
- Try something new. Take advantage of your more flexible two-day schedule by trying something new or going somewhere different for your usual workouts. Whether it’s a new group fitness class , running at a new park or even joining a game of softball with some pals from work, trying something new can work your muscles and brain in new ways.
- Set a goal (or two). The best way to achieve any goal starts with setting one! If you really want to be more active on the weekends, set a goal to do so. It can be as simple as saying you want to walk every Saturday for a month. Don’t forget to reward yourself when you succeed.
- Grab a buddy. We all know how important it is to have support when trying to lose weight and get healthy. So be sure to include your friends and loved ones in your weekend workout plans. Ask a bud to try that new trail with you or turn your usual movie date night into something more active like bowling. Not only will you be burning calories, you’ll be making way more memories than just sitting around watching television.
- Fuel your body right. It’s hard to want to work out if you’re not fueling your body for success. Studies show that people tend to make poorer food choices—and eat more—on the weekends. Sure, the occasional late night out, cocktail or order of chicken wings won’t really hurt you, but if these weekend habits become the norm—or turn into a weekend splurge-fest—they could get in the way of your fitness goals. Who really feels like working out after eating too much, sleeping too little or drinking one too many? Make it a priority to get adequate sleep, drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals and snacks.
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Written on July 25, 2011 at 11:37 am , by SparkPeople
Too hot out to cook? We’re with you! That’s why we got the scoop on five of SparkPeople’s favorite summertime recipes. Just click on the name of each to get the full recipe. Enjoy!
(PICTURED) This salad combines many favorite foods: avocado, almonds, beets, mango, onions, and carrots. Topped with a lime-cilantro dressing, it’s irresistible! This is great for company. Serve it alongside grilled fish or chicken, omitting the tofu.
- Calories: 383.8
- Total Fat: 23.4 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
- Sodium: 112.3 mg
- Total Carbs: 43.6 g
- Dietary Fiber: 11.7 g
- Protein: 20.7 g
Broccoli salad is a summertime party staple. This version is healthier–no bacon, no mayo but plenty of flavor from almonds and raisins!
- Calories: 363.9
- Total Fat: 9.7 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
- Sodium: 281.2 mg
- Total Carbs: 58.9 g
- Dietary Fiber: 16.3 g
- Protein: 18.7 g
This slaw has all the creaminess you crave, with a boost of protein and a tangy flavor from the tahini, which pairs well with the fresh herbs.
- Calories: 136.4
- Total Fat: 8.4 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
- Sodium: 189.9 mg
- Total Carbs: 13.8 g
- Dietary Fiber: 5.1 g
- Protein: 4.8 g
This “pasta” dish is so light and yet rich–you’ll never guess the “cream” is made from sunflower seeds. The white beans add buttery flavor and protein. Make this when the garden overflows with tomatoes, basil and zucchini.
- Calories: 211.4
- Total Fat: 5.1 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
- Sodium: 56.0 mg
- Total Carbs: 34.6 g
- Dietary Fiber: 13.3 g
- Protein: 12.5 g
Cauliflower “rice” is light yet filling–perfect for summer. Think of it as deconstructed sushi and consider topping it with kimchi and pickled ginger and garlic.
- Calories: 412.3
- Total Fat: 22.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
- Sodium: 261.1 mg
- Total Carbs: 46.3 g
- Dietary Fiber: 15.4 g
- Protein: 13.4 g
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What is your favorite no-cook summer meal? Will you try any of these?
Written on July 15, 2011 at 11:56 am , by SparkPeople
It’s an excuse many of us have heard or even said ourselves: “I want to get fit, but I can’t afford a gym membership.” And while a health club can be a fantastic place to work out, it’s not the only way to get fit. You can enjoy a variety of different workouts at home or outdoors that are extremely low cost and sometimes even free!
Here are 10 workouts you can do sans gym that will challenge your body and give you great results.
- Try a DIY Bootcamp. An outdoor bootcamp can be a lot of fun—who doesn’t like fresh air and a good challenge? You can create your own bootcamp, but it’s more fun with a group, so gather a few pals and hit a local park with open space, trees, benches and other landmarks. With your group, agree on a duration of time you’ll spend working out, then brainstorm different strength and cardio exercises you can perform using what’s found around you. Get creative! Examples might include triceps dips on a park bench, seated squats up against a tree, pushups with your feet on a curb, sprints to a pond and back, and even hill repeats. No matter which exercises you choose, be sure to warm up with a 5-minute walk and cool down with some gentle stretching.
- Pop in a workout DVD. There really isn’t an excuse not to work out at home with the vast array of workout DVDs available including Pilates, dance, strength, kickboxing—the list goes on and on. While many DVDs require little to no equipment, others allow you to use things you have around the house such as soup cans as dumbbells or a chair for support. No matter what level of exerciser you are, there’s something out there for you! If you’re not sure where to start, why not try Coach Nicole’s convenient and effective DVDs, which are broken into 10-minute segments?
- Go for a walk. Walking is one of the best activities to do because it requires only a pair of supportive shoes, and it’s something that comes very naturally to most of us! If you’re a beginner, hit the pavement at a pace that gets you slightly out of breath but not so much that you can’t carry on a conversation. If you’re a seasoned exerciser, walk in an area with hills or try intervals of speed walking followed by a slower-paced walk.
- Try yoga. One of the best things about yoga is that you only need your body and a mat to do it. From online workouts that explain the poses to a variety of free yoga videos on YouTube, you can try any style of yoga without leaving your living room. You can even download workouts to your iPod and take your yoga practice outdoors! While yoga isn’t known for its calorie burn, it is fantastic for flexibility and can be a muscle builder when doing more strenuous poses like plank. It’s also a wonderful stress reducer.
- Take a hike. If you live in an area with access to hiking trails, you’re in for a real workout! Hiking is a great calorie-burner and aerobic workout—not to mention a fun and beautiful way to spend an afternoon! So grab a friend or loved one, lace up those hiking boots, pack some water and food (depending on how long of a hike you’re going on) and hike yourself fit. I guarantee the scenery and your feeling of accomplishment after hiking will be loads better than doing hills on a treadmill at the gym!
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Written on July 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm , by SparkPeople
Mmm, peanut butter. It has that ideal balance between sweet and salty, making it the perfect companion for everything from whole grain toast to celery sticks. And it’s an inexpensive source of protein and good-for-you monounsaturated fats. Generations of kids have gotten through the school day fueled by peanut-butter sandwiches and a carton of milk—you were probably one of them!
But what about the other nut butters out there? How about spreads made from almonds, cashews, and even seeds like sunflower? As an alternative to the old standby, consider these other products most easily found in gourmet, natural and/or organic grocery stores:
Almond butter: Like peanuts, almonds are a source of monounsaturated fats.
Cashew, pistachio or hazelnut butter: Like the nuts themselves, these butters are rich and slightly sweet. They make good additions to Indian curries or Mediterranean dishes.
Macadamia nut butter: Also rich and sweet, this type of nut butter is typically used with chocolate or fruit spreads, in desserts, or sweet snacks.
Seed butters: Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be ground into a smooth paste and used like nut butter; both contain beneficial nutrients like zinc, iron and potassium. Tahini, made of ground sesame seeds, is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.
Unfortunately, truly natural butters are more expensive than most mainstream brands, which often contain additional ingredients (sweeteners, oils, etc). If you can find fresh-ground or grind-your-own nut butters (natural foods grocers carry them), you’ll find that the price per pound is somewhere in between major brands and natural, minimal-ingredient butters.
If you really want to cut the cost of buying nut or seed butter by the jar–while knowing exactly what’s going into your nut butter–consider making your own at home! Keep reading for a homemade nut butter recipe… Read more
Written on July 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm , by SparkPeople
Summer might be in full-swing, but we know how daunting bathing suit season can still be. Follow these easy ideas so that you can feel more comfortable baring it all on the beach:
- Shop for the bathing suit that fits your body well. Swimsuit technology has dramatically improved, allowing you to accentuate your most likable features and minimize those you are the most self-conscious about. There are loads of two-piece suits available which let you purchase a different size for your top and bottom. If you are lucky enough to have a bathing suit specialty shop in your area, skip the department store and head there. The sales personnel will be well trained in helping you find the best fitting and most pleasing suit.
- Buy a suit you love, not just one you think makes you “look thinner.” Rather than black, pick a color or pattern that makes you happy, and shows off your eyes and skin color.
- Choose a cover-up that fits beautifully. Hiding behind a big tank will make you feel frumpy and actually make you look larger. There are wonderful wraps, swim skirts and dresses that you will enjoy wearing.
- Have fun with accessories. Purchase fabulous sunglasses and a colorful floppy hat to shield you from the sun’s rays. These will draw attention to your face, not your body. If you love fun jewelry, don’t be afraid to wear it to the beach or pool. Inexpensive colorful, waterproof watches are all over the stores these days.
- Pay attention to your grooming. A great summer haircut, manicures, pedicures, leg waxing, faux tans, and waterproof make-up will make you feel better and put together.
Don’t let worries of how you look in a swimsuit spoil your summer fun. We are at our best when we are engaged in experiences that make us happy. Feel the warmth of the sun (but don’t forget your sunscreen!), bask in the coolness of the ocean or pool, relax in the comfort of family and friends around you, and be grateful that the lazy days of summer have finally come around again!
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Written on June 23, 2011 at 9:00 am , by SparkPeople
In a post a few weeks ago about The #1 Predictor of a Happy Marriage, you saw how one FITNESS editor got a fabulous new point of view from demanding hike. But you can still get the health benefits of hiking–or trail running!–on tamer paths, too. Spark People gives offers seven good reasons to put on your trail shoes and get closer to nature this weekend…
1. Burn More Calories
Whenever you change up your workout routine, you will challenge your muscles in new ways and burn more calories. The changes in terrain of a trail will cause you to recruit more muscle fibers to balance and find your footing. And many trails are embedded with inclines, steps, bridges, stones, downed tree trunks, puddles, creeks—all sorts of obstacles you need to navigate, which means you’ll burn 10% more calories than walking or running on a flat surface.
2. Protect Your Joints
One good thing about walking or running on a hard surface is that it can help encourage the development of strong bones. But for anyone with existing joint problems or previous joint injuries, all that pounding on a hard surface can really give your body a beating. That’s why trails are a great alternative. Grass and dirt are far softer than cement and blacktop, making walking or running on a trail much easier on your joints.
3. Stay Cool
As the mercury rises, sometimes it is just too hot and sunny to work out comfortably when you’re outside. Instead of letting the heat stop you, hit the trail. It’s noticeably cooler in the shady environment surrounded by towering trees that provide cover from the intense sun.
4. Breathe Easier
Even if you can’t always see it, there is pollution all around us, and you breathe it in when you walk or run next to a road traveled by vehicles. Not cool. One study found that exercising too close to traffic can actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because of the inhalation of pollution. So whenever you can, get away from high-trafficked roads. The trail is perfect for that!
5. Beat Boredom
Tired of the same old routine? There is so much beauty and interest in the natural world that you may find the minutes fly by as you look at the trees, animals, birds, and other plants along your trail.
6. Lift Your Spirits
More and more research shows that spending time in nature isn’t just fun—it’s essential for our well-being. Getting away from the hustle and bustle, basking in the sun, slowing down and smelling the roses: It can help us reduce stress, ward off depression, get our daily dose of vitamin D, and generally feel healthier.
7. Bond with Your Buds (or Your Kids)
Going for a hike is a great way to hang out with your friends and do something active. Trail hiking is great for pets and kids, too. They’ll have a blast exploring the plants, insects and animals they see. It’s a family-friendly activity you can add to your “fun” list that gets everyone active!
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- 10 Things to Take on a Hike
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Written on June 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm , by SparkPeople
Running can be great for you, but it can also put stress on your body—especially the lower limbs and joints. The following stretches target the muscles runners use most…and not only will they help improve your running performance, but they’ll prevent the aches and pains runners commonly experience.
P.S. – One of the most important things to remember is to stretch warm muscles and SparkPeople’s fitness experts recommend stretching after you workout; this is when your muscles are warmest and your joints are lubricated, so they’re primed to stretch.
Runners are notorious for tight hamstrings that can cause lower back problems and lead to pulled muscles. Tight hamstrings also limit your range of motion, which can affect running stride, form and speed. To improve hamstring flexibility, try this lying hamstring stretch, which keeps the spine neutral whereas basic toe touches (forward bends) do not, thereby reducing risk of low back pain.
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your right knee towards your chest, keeping your left leg extended on the floor.Slowly straighten your right knee, grabbing the back of your leg with both hands. Pull your leg towards your gently while keeping both hips on the floor. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, bend the knee of the stretching leg.|
Stretching the quads forces your hamstrings to contract, helping them get stronger. It’s important to have strong and flexible quads since these muscles help lift your knees and increase your speed. This standing quad stretch is into to incorporate after a run, and once you master this, you can carefully pull your thigh and knee slightly behind your body (not pictured) for a greater hip flexor stretch at the same time.
|Stand tall, holding onto a chair or wall for balance if necessary (not pictured). Keep your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your feet parallel. Reach back and grab your left foot in your left hand, keeping your thighs lined up next to each other and left leg in line with the hip (not pulled back behind you).Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.|
Your piriformis muscle is responsible for the rotation of the hip. Although it’s very important in activities that frequently change direction, it tends to tighten up in runners. If the piriformis becomes too tight or spasms, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, which causes pain in the glutes, lower back and thighs. To prevent these issues, try these two stretches:
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your left knee, placing left foot flat on the floor (not pictured). Cross your right ankle at your left knee. Grab the back of your left thigh and hug your legs towards your chest. Place your right elbow on the inner portion of your right knee and push it slightly to the side. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, don’t bring your legs towards your chest as much.|
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your right knee towards your chest, grabbing it with your left hand. Place your right hand out to the side. Keeping your shoulder blades square (on the mat) use your left hand to guide your right knee across your body and towards the floor on your left side. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. Don’t force your knee to the floor if your flexibility does not allow it.|
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- QUIZ: Running Myths and Truths
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Written on June 9, 2011 at 9:00 am , by SparkPeople
The remedy for the healthy-but-boring dilemma is easy: Stock your pantry with a few strategic items that consistently bring a little “spark” to your cooking without adding significant cost or calories. Start with great basic ingredients, prepare them simply, and then add a punch of flavor to the dish.
Add flavor without all the fat by trying these five ingredients:
1. Lemon Juice
Squeeze half a lemon (just 6 calories per serving) over just about anything, and you’ll get a burst of flavor that’s bright and expressive. Here are some ideas:
- Toss a bowlful of Bibb or butter head lettuce with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper, and you have a fantastic alternative to bottled salad dressing.
- Spritz lemon juice over steamed, grilled or sautéed green vegetables of any kind: broccoli, snap peas, fresh spinach, asparagus, green beans, zucchini. For even brighter flavor, grate the rind of half a lemon using a microplane or zester, and add that to the dish. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add lemon juice to marinade for chicken; when cooked, it will create a more tender and juicy dish. Squeeze lemon juice over a grilled steak.
- Make a compound butter: Combine 1 stick of salted butter (softened at room temperature) with the zest of 1 lemon and 2 Tbsp. of finely minced parsley. Wrap in waxed paper; place in a zip-top bag and store in the freezer. Use this to sauté vegetables or to top grilled steak or fish; a little bit (35 calories per tablespoon) goes a long way—and adds a ton of flavor.
Sure, you know about garlic. But here’s an insider technique that really brings out garlic’s flavor: Place a large unpeeled clove on a cutting board; place the blade of a chef’s knife flat to cover the garlic, and hit it sharply with your palm. This makes it easy to remove the papery skin. Trim off the root end and remove any green sprout inside. Hold the knife at about a 45-degree angle to the cutting board, and firmly draw the blade across the smashed garlic repeatedly, creating a paste. If your recipe calls for salt, then sprinkle some on the garlic as you work; the salt is abrasive and helps mash the garlic. Add this paste to salad dressing, marinade or a sauté pan instead of using chopped garlic.
Think beyond basic black pepper and try pimenton, cayenne and red pepper flakes for a new range of flavors. Pepper is essentially calorie-free and doesn’t carry the health risks that salt (sodium) does. Try these varieties:
- Pimenton is a smoked Spanish paprika that adds a spicy, smoky taste that’s hot (but still modest) and deeply flavored. Pimenton is fantastic on vegetables and wonderful on grilled meats.
- Cayenne can pack a lot of heat, and the fresher it is, the hotter. Add a pinch, then taste and see if the dish can take more heat.
- Red pepper flakes aren’t just pizza toppers; they’re great in spaghetti sauce, as well. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes along with garlic when you sauté any vegetable, particularly if you’re going for an Italian flavor. You can also add a pinch to any marinade for some extra spice.
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Written on June 2, 2011 at 9:15 am , by SparkPeople
Summer is here, and that means outdoor parties and cookouts with friends and family! But if you’re trying to eat healthier, it can seem hard to find good choices at the picnic table. You don’t have to hide out until September just to resist temptation, though. Use this guide to choose food that’s light, healthy and refreshing at any backyard blowout.
Burgers ‘n Dogs
Hamburgers and hot dogs don’t have to be a diet disaster. Start with a 100% whole wheat bun instead of white for a healthy dose of fiber, and watch the fat content of the meat. The average beef and pork hot dog contains about 180 calories and 17 grams of fat before you add a bun and toppings. Turkey dogs are tasty and won’t sabotage your diet—you can have two of them for less than 100 calories. If you’re going for a burger, stay away from the high-fat toppings like cheese, mayo and bacon. Choose cheese slices made with skim milk to reduce the fat content and load your burger with mustard and fresh veggies instead. Here’s the burger ‘n dog breakdown:
|Hamburger patty (4 oz)
|Turkey burger patty (4 oz )
|Veggie burger patty (2.5 oz)
4 grams of fat
|Bratwurst (4 oz)
|Beef hot dog (2 oz)
|Turkey dog (2 oz)
|Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms
|Cheese, lettuce, tomato,
onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo and mustard
|Lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pickles and mustard
|Whole wheat bun
|A lettuce leaf
Chips, Salads & Sides
If potato salad is your downfall, make your recipe healthier by leaving the skins on the potatoes (for more fiber and nutrients) and choose nonfat Greek-style yogurt instead of mayo. Make creamy cole slaw more waist-friendly by reducing the fat in the dressing by swapping plain low-fat yogurt for half the mayo. Baked beans are usually a good choice, but opt for vegetarian varieties that aren’t made with bacon, if possible. If you want to avoid the creamy salad temptations completely, fill your plate with fresh grilled vegetables. Spray chunks of red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant with canola oil spray and grill them on the barbecue. Add freshly ground pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar for extra punch.
When it comes to dips, look for vegetable and fruit-based choices like guacamole (made from avocado fruit) and salsa (made from tomatoes and veggies). These pack healthy nutrients that creamy dips often don’t.
|Potato salad (1/2 cup)
|Cole slaw (1/2 cup
|Vegetarian baked beans (1/2 cup)
|Ranch dressing (2 Tbsp)
|Guacamole (4 Tbsp)
|Salsa (1/2 cup)
|Potato or tortilla chips (1 oz)
|Pretzels (1 oz)
|Raw vegetables (1 oz)
Written on May 26, 2011 at 9:56 am , by SparkPeople
If you drink tea because you enjoy the taste, great. But with all the news, studies–and, sometimes lack of research–we wanted to break down the truth about green tea.
1. While green tea is rich in antioxidants, studies have shown that the bottled varieties of tea don’t even come close to the antioxidant levels you’ll find in home-brewed green tea. Researchers found as few as 3 milligrams of flavonoids in premade (bottled) teas, compared with up to 150 milligrams in the kind that is brewed at home. To get the most of your tea, steep it at home for 6-10 minutes, then enjoy it either hot or iced. (This will save you money, too!)
2. It should be noted that green tea extracts and green tea supplements have not been as widely studied as the fresh-brewed beverage itself has been. Most research on the health benefits of tea applies to tea drinking alone. Whether any of these benefits can be achieved by taking a pill or extract, drinking an energy drink with EGCG added, or eating a packaged food product that contains extracts of green tea is questionable. Many of these products contain so little green tea that they’d offer no benefit at all. Others may contain high levels that can be unhealthy (see warnings below). Your best bet is to stick with a fresh-brewed cup of tea and not spend extra on costly functional foods or supplements.
3. Green tea may decrease the absorption of iron and folic acid. Therefore it is best to be drink tea between meals rather than using it as your mealtime beverage. Wait 1-2 hours between eating foods rich in iron and folic acid and drinking tea to maximize your absorption of these nutrients.
4. Research indicates green tea MIGHT be effective for: Improving cholesterol levels, preventing low blood pressure, reducing the risk or preventing the onset of Parkinson’s disease, and preventing cancers of the bladder, esophagus, ovaries and pancreas. However, more research is needed before anyone can say it’s likely to help.
5. Currently, there is not enough evidence or research to say that green tea for sure aids in: Weight loss, Type 2 diabetes prevention, prostate cancer prevention, breast cancer prevention, lung cancer prevention, or gingivitis. Many times, when you read or hear about the potential benefits of something, it’s because a study’s research is news.
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