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Weekend-Proof Your Workout

Written on July 28, 2011 at 11:30 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

More from SparkPeople:

10 Tips for a Healthier Weekend

Surviving the Weekend

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Alternatives to Peanut Butter (and How to Make Them at Home!)

Written on July 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm , by

Peanuts

Photo courtesy of 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

7 Reasons to Try a Trail Workout

Written on June 23, 2011 at 9:00 am , by

green lush trail to hike on

Flickr photo by Luke Wisley

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!

Read more from Spark People’s Coach Nicole Nichols…

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No More Bland Diet Food! 5 Low-Fat Flavor Boosters

Written on June 9, 2011 at 9:00 am , by

lemon slices stacked

Photo by Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

2. Garlic
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.

3. Pepper
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.

Keep reading for the last two low-fat flavor boosters!

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Best and Worst Cookout Foods

Written on June 2, 2011 at 9:15 am , by

grill and cookout foods

Photo courtesy of 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:

Worst Better Best
Hamburger patty (4 oz)

290 calories

22g fat

Turkey burger patty (4 oz )

160 calories

9g fat

Veggie burger patty (2.5 oz)

110 calories

4 grams of fat

Bratwurst (4 oz)
300 calories

25g fat

Beef hot dog (2 oz)

180 calories

17g fat

Turkey dog (2 oz)

45 calories

5g fat

Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms

150 calories

13g fat

Cheese, lettuce, tomato,
onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo and mustard

131 calories

9g fat

Lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pickles and mustard

25 calories

0g fat

Buttered bun

160 calories

6.5g fat

Whole wheat bun

110 calories

1.5g  fat

A lettuce leaf

5 calories

0g fat

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.

Worst Better Best
Potato salad (1/2 cup)

179 calories

10.3g fat

Cole slaw (1/2 cup

150 calories

8g fat

Vegetarian baked beans (1/2 cup)

100 calories

1g fat

Ranch dressing (2 Tbsp)

180 calories

18g fat

Guacamole (4 Tbsp)

100 calories

8g fat

Salsa (1/2 cup)

60 calories

0g fat

Potato or tortilla chips (1 oz)

150 calories

10g fat

Pretzels (1 oz)

110 calories

2g fat

Raw vegetables (1 oz)

16 calories

0g fat

Read more

5 Facts About Green Tea

Written on May 26, 2011 at 9:56 am , by

green tea cup

Photo courtesy of Spark People

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.

Go deeper: Read the complete article from Spark People about the truth on green tea.


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Give Yourself a Reality Checkup

Written on May 19, 2011 at 9:15 am , by

check list of goals

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Perhaps the biggest reason that permanent weight loss is so difficult is that it is stressful—for your mind and your body. And when you’re stressed out, you just don’t function at your best, mentally, emotionally, or physically.

The best way to minimize the negative effects of these responses to your weight loss efforts is to minimize the degree to which your diet stresses you out.

5-Point Reality Checkup
The following reality checkup can help you determine whether your expectations and your attention-focusing habits are realistic, or if you need to work on them to stop unnecessary stress from hurting your weight loss efforts.

Decide whether you agree (True) or disagree (False) with each of the following five statements. At the end, you’ll find out if you’re guilty of the most common (but unrealistic) expectations associated with weight loss stress.

  1. True or False: Weight loss is all about the numbers. You lose weight when you eat fewer calories than you burn.
  2. True or False: Will power is the foundation of weight loss success. You have to force yourself to do the things you don’t like doing until you do like them or until you lose weight, whichever happens first.
  3. True or False: The best motivation for losing weight is being unhappy about your present weight and appearance.
  4. True or False: Being brutally honest with yourself about your problems, bad habits, and character flaws is the best way to overcome these problems.
  5. True or False: Your own body is your worst weight-loss enemy. To lose weight, you have to constantly fight cravings, urges, and desires that are biologically based.

Keep reading: Find out what’s true and what’s false…


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A Beginner’s Guide to Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

Written on May 12, 2011 at 9:15 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

People take an interest in gardening for a variety of reasons—higher quality produce, exercise in the great outdoors, or saving money. Whether you hope to discover your green thumb or save a little green, growing your own fruits and vegetables can be an advantageous pastime. Here’s the quick process to get started!

Step #1: Gather Your Gear
You should gather several gardening tools before you get your nails dirty. I cannot stress enough the importance of quality tools. Speaking from experience, it is worth the investment to buy high-quality items, as broken or insufficient tools are not only frustrating but cost you more money and time in the long run. Proper tools provide more comfort and efficiency, which means less work for you!

Step #2: Choose Where Your Garden Will Grow
There are three common types of gardens, all of which have their own pros and cons: traditional (in-ground), container, and raised beds. Once you’ve picked out the sunny spot where your garden will reside, it’s time to decide on one (or a combination) of these three garden types, depending on your needs.

Step #3: Prepare Your Soil
Next, check your soil. Poor-quality soil can seriously hurt a gardener’s best efforts. What characterizes good soil? A high-quality soil for gardening will be…

Continue Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

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10 Signs a Fitness Product is Just a Gimmick

Written on May 5, 2011 at 11:15 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Want to avoid a scam? Check out the latest advice from SparkPeople!

Fitness infomercials promise a lot: dramatic weight-loss, big results, a six pack in 30 days! But unfortunately, most of them do not deliver on those promises. When those ads are so intriguing and believable, how do you know which new products deliver and which ones leave much to be desired?

To separate the real fitness tools from the get-fit-quick scams, just ask yourself the 10 questions below. If you answer, “yes” even one of them, save your money: It probably won’t give you the results it promises.

10 Must-Ask Questions before You Buy Another Exercise Product

1. Does it sound too good to be true?
If it does, it probably is. The people behind these products and ads really are marketing geniuses. In a matter of seconds, they harness your attention. Within minutes, you believe that you can have the body of a fitness model in just minutes a day, too. Here’s another trick: When calculating how many calories a new product burns, many companies will test their product on a very large, muscular man to get an inflated number, which skews the calorie burn for most people.

2. Does it target just one body part?
The truth is that “spot reduction” doesn’t work.  If the Booty Blaster on TV promises that you’ll lose inches off your rear, it’s lying! There is no way to slim down, lose water weight or trim inches from a specific area of the body just by working that body part. If you have body fat that is hiding your muscles, only a calorie-controlled diet combined with a sound exercise program (that also burns calories via cardio) will solve the problem. The same goes for abs machines that promise to give you a six-pack or whittle away your love handles . Sure, you can make your abs stronger with strengthening and toning exercises (which is awesome!), but you won’t go from a size 12 to a size 2 overnight.

3. Does it fail to mention diet or nutrition?
Nutrition is such an integral part of losing inches, building muscle and dropping weight. If a product or fitness program doesn’t address the nutrition side of the weight-loss equation (i.e. a reduced-calorie diet), then you can pretty much guarantee that it’s a gimmick exaggerating its results. All the exercise in the world will not change your body if your diet isn’t also in line with your goals.

4. Is it really that different?
What is most interesting about infomercials is that the products and programs for sale seem so new and revolutionary! The marketing on them really gets you pumped up! But step back and ask yourself if the gizmo, DVD or training plan really is special or if it’s just being marketed as something exciting.

5. Are the dramatic results what interest me?
If you answer yes to this question, run away from the phone. Do not “act now” and order the product. If you’re desperate to lose weight and the claims of rapid weight loss or dramatic results are persuading you to pick up that phone to order, take a deep breath and remind yourself that buying the product itself won’t help you lose weight. Using it regularly, along with a healthy diet and sound fitness program will. And if the product or program doesn’t interest you at all, then it’s probably not a smart buy, no matter how effective it appears to be. For example, if you have two left feet and would never be caught dead on a dance floor, ordering a set of hip-hop dance DVDs probably won’t work for you—even if it has worked for others.

Continued: The Other 5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Buying


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10 Ways to Lighten Up Any Recipe

Written on April 14, 2011 at 10:17 am , by

lighten up recipes and food

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Choosing healthy foods is an important part of eating right, but cooking them in a healthful way is another huge part. For example, zucchini can take on two completely different forms when it’s quickly sautéed in olive oil versus battered and deep fried. What we add to foods makes all the difference when it comes to home cooking.

The first step to healthier cooking is to take recipes as suggestions. Before you start chopping and mixing, scan the recipe to see if there are any unnecessary calories. Look for excess cheese, butter and oils, as well as sugars.

Here are some tasty, healthy ideas to help you become a professional recipe overhauler!

  1. Sauté—the skinny way! A couple of tablespoons of  low-sodium vegetable broth can be used instead of oil or butter in your stir fry or as the basis for a sauce. This method will add a nice flavor to your dish as well as a little moisture—and you’ll save calories to use elsewhere. To get a dose of unsaturated fats, serve your broth-sautéed veggies with a side salad, and pour an olive oil-based dressing over the top.
  2. Say no to skin. Three ounces of chicken breast meat with skin has almost 150 calories; three ounces of chicken without the skin has 50 fewer calories. Tasty as it might be, the skin contains mostly heart-unhealthy saturated fat. You can cook with the skin on to retain moisture  (add fresh herbs or citrus zest underneath it to really bake in some flavor), but be sure to remove the skin before you enjoy your meal to save on calories and saturated fat.
  3. Squeeze on the citrus. To add a powerful flavor punch with minimal added calories, use citrus on steamed veggies instead of butter or over a salad instead of a dressing. It’s even great on fruit salad in place of sugar and adds some zip when squeezed onto a pasta salad. Don’t forget to use the flavorful zest of citrus fruits as well! Wash a lemon, orange or lime, then use a zester or grater to add the zest to dishes such as baked seafood.
  4. Be choosy about cheese. When using a mildly flavored cheese, such as Monterey Jack, you need more cheese to taste it. But when you choose a cheese with intense flavor, you can use less and still get the desired effect. Try a reduced-sodium feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan next time. Light cheese wedges such as The Laughing Cow brand are useful when you’re watching fat and calories, too. Try mixing one of these soft cheeses into your scrambled eggs or noodle dishes instead of loading on the shredded mozzarella.
  5. Go Greek. Tangy, fat-free Greek yogurt is a healthful replacement for sour cream. Try this switch in herbed and spiced dips, tacos, nachos, enchiladas, or throw it in a cooked dish as a thickening agent. You’ll save 45 calories for each 2-tablespoon serving.

Keep Reading for 5 More Helpful Tips to Lighten Up Any Recipe!


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