Warming Up vs. Stretching- Is There A Difference?

For first time readers, I have been publishing posts twice a week, usually on Thursdays and Sundays. One post usually relates to a healthy body (generally fitness related) and/or a healthy mind. The other post discusses healthy eating and I try to find easy, healthy recipes that real people, with real jobs, real families and real lives, will want to make. I hope that my posts are interesting and informative, such that you will come away with a new idea, a new fact learned or perhaps a question. Comments are always welcome. Please join the email list to ensure that all new posts will be automatically sent to you.

Warm up exercises and stretching are often lumped together when discussing pre-workout routines, however they are two distinct principles. For an optimal workout, both are important. When performing warm up exercises, you are increasing your body temperature and slowly preparing your body for the workout. According to the Boston Herald, “If one stretches the muscles without proper warm-up, the muscles are cold and are more prone to injury, such as a muscle tear or strain.” Warming up can be achieved through a period of running in place, jumping rope or easy pedaling on a bike. Skipping the warmup and going straight to stretching can lead to injury as your muscles need warmth to achieve optimal stretch.

When stretching, you are specifically focusing on stretching your muscles. Research has shown that range of motion can be increased by a thirty second stretch for each muscle group per day. However, this may vary for each individual and some people may need to stretch each muscle group for a longer period of time. The Mayo Clinic advises that when you are stretching, “focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. And make sure that you stretch both sides.”

An optimal workout consists of a solid warmup, a period of stretching, a strenuous workout which increases the heart rate and a cool down period which may include stretching. If you make time for each of these workout portions, you will experience fewer injuries and increase your workout potential. We are all pressed for time, trying to squeeze a workout into a busy schedule.  However, keep in mind that the warmup and stretching is as important as the main part of your workout.

Inevitably, we all are faced with an injury at some point in our lives. Hopefully, it is not too severe and with proper rest and possibly rehab we slowly work ourselves back to where we were in our pre-injury workout routine. It is the slow period of trying to get back to where were were that is the most frustrating. My husband is still dealing with his lower back injury and working with a physical therapist.  It may be another month before he will be able to slowly work his way back to his pre-injury workouts. So this weekend we went on a hike!

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We drove to Montauk Point State Park and went on a 3-mile, 2- hour guided Seal Hike. Our guide, biologist Tish, peppered the hike with interesting information about the seal population on Long Island and fun facts about the local marine life.  We hiked one and a half miles to the seal observation area and one and a half miles back, wearing hiking boots, heavy coats and backpacks. It was terrific exercise briskly hiking through the woods and on the beach in the dry sand. We were rewarded by the sight of five Harbor Seals sunning themselves on a giant rock close to the shore.  On a bluff above the beach, through binoculars, we watched the seals wiggle, arch their backs and playfully slide into the water. The cost is $4.00 per person, reservations are required and you can find out more information at 631-668-5000.

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Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail

Planning ahead is the key to success. It would be fantastic if I had a personal chef who made healthy meals and snacks for me everyday. Imagine waking up to a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, crispy bacon (or turkey bacon) with fresh fruit and a fiber muffin, prepared in the most delicious and healthy way possible. Imagine having all of your snacks, meals and desserts (low calorie, low sugar) prepared every day just for you. Unbelievable, I know. And imagine beets that taste like bacon and whipped kale that tastes like chocolate mousse. Then I wake up and realize that if I want to prepare healthy meals ahead of time, then it is up to me to make it happen.
The weeks I am most successful at eating healthy and working out is when I am committed to a thought out plan. Planning a week ahead and anticipating difficult spots will prevent those bad impulse decisions. People who think and plan ahead are on the right track to successfully meet their goals. Planning meals ahead of time takes thought and preparation. My husband and I make chicken, hamburgers, steaks and low fat chicken meatballs on a Sunday night to last until Thursday. I buy an assortment of fruit, including berries, bananas, kiwis, apples and grapefruit to wash, cut and put into containers to be ready to eat when we want. Sometimes I freeze sliced bananas, grapes and strawberries as a go-to snack.
Last week, my daughter asked me to help her plan her meals and snacks for the following week. We wrote down what she would be doing each day: work and/or school and when she would have time to eat her meals and snacks. She prepared small bags of fiber cereal and almonds and a freezer pack filled with grilled chicken, a salad, yogurt and cut fresh fruit. It is also good practice to keep a protein bar and water in your car or bag.
My family loves this easy, delicious healthy make ahead recipe:
Individual Egg and Spinach Cups
Ingredients:
2 large egg whites
4 whole eggs
1 cup of baby spinach torn or chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup feta cheese (fat-free)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Kosher or sea salt to taste
*You can omit the tomatoes or change the cheese to mozzarella and add onions, mushrooms and/or peppers if desired.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients.
You can use either 4 (1/2 cup) ramekins or a cupcake tin.
Lightly spray the 4 ramekins or 4 cupcake tins with nonstick cooking spray.
Evenly divide the egg mixture into the ramekins or the cupcake tins.
Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet or place the cupcake tin in the oven- bake 20 minutes or until eggs puff and are almost set in the center.
Serve hot or when cool, store in an air tight container, refrigerate and then reheat in a microwave, oven or toaster oven before eating.
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This blender smoothie can also be made ahead of time. I have made it at night to eat for breakfast the next day.
Spinach and Fruit Smoothie
Ingredients:
3 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 pear, sliced
1 banana, sliced
3 handfuls of fresh spinach
1-2 cups of water, depending on how thick or thin you want the consistency
Blend all ingredients until smooth. 
get-attachment.aspx-6 Ask yourself- “What can I do today to make sure my health and fitness goals are met tomorrow?”

Why Is Strength Training Important?

I have been a cardio girl for over 20 years- biking, running, swimming, playing tennis, using the stair master and elliptical machine. Why should I incorporate strength training into my fitness routine at this point in my life?  Why should anyone add strength training to their workouts? Well, I did some research and I found that for men and women, strength training is an important component to overall fitness. It helps to reduce body fat while increasing lean muscle mass and helps to burn calories more efficiently.

Studies have shown that muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. According to Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn. and co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, “[i]f you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose, you’ll increase the percentage of fat in your body.” He further adds, “[b]ut strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass- at any age.” Strength training also helps to develop strong bones, boost stamina, control weight, improve attention and sharpen your focus.

The good news is that you do not need to belong to a gym to enjoy the benefits of strength training. Exercises that you can do without any equipment include: pushups, sit-ups, abdominal crunches, air squats and lunges. Exercises with free weights that can be used at the gym or purchased for home use include: dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. At the gym (or you can invest in weight machines for home use), various resistance machines are effective for strength training.

According to Dr.Laskowski, “[t]wo to three training sessions a week lasting just 20 to 30 minutes are sufficient for most people.”

It is important to consult with your doctor before beginning any strength training program. The following is an example of an at home strength training workout:

Complete as many rounds in 20 minutes as you can:

5 push-ups
10 sit-ups
15 air squats

If you have access to a kettlebell or a dumbbell, below is a tough strength training workout:

Perform 7 burpees before and after each set:
Do reps of 50-40-30-20-10 of: kettlebell swings and sit ups. So your workout should look like this:

7 burpees, 50 kettlebell swings, 50 sit-ups, 7 burpees, 40 kettlebell swings, 40 sit-ups, 7 burpees, 30 kettlebell swings, 30 sit-ups, 7 burpees, 20 kettlebell swings, 20 sit-ups, 7 burpees, 10 kettlebell swings, 10 sit-ups, 7 burpees.

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A Boston University School of Medicine study concluded that weightlifting helps to”regress obesity and resolve metabolic disorders.  “Weightlifting also increases an athlete’s power by improving the coordination of muscles working together. Working out has been scientifically proven to decrease stress. Researchers found that for a period of six months, people who performed three weight workouts a week, significantly increased their anger level and overall mood.

Discipline- How to Stay In Control When Your Motivation Wears Off

How do you stay disciplined when working out or in a fitness routine? How do you get your self-control back when you are on a diet?

Willpower is defined as, “control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control. “ We have all struggled (and continue to struggle) with self-control at some point in our lives. Why do we fall off the discipline wagon and lose all self-control?

I know that sometimes I lose control because I forget the big picture. I become so focused on instant gratification. What will make me happy right now? Maybe it is the pizza place that I happen to be passing and I’m starving because it’s way past my lunch time or it is the fast food place that I happen to be right near on my way back to the office. It becomes easy to just have that slice of pizza or that fast food snack because I’m starving and I have failed to plan. “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” This is why so much emphasis is placed on planning meals ahead of time and figuring in snacks to have on hand at all times. We are human and when we get hungry or tired, our defenses start to break down and at that moment, looking fab at the beach doesn’t seem as important.

Those of us who do not work all day in an office environment or work somewhere where it is difficult to eat regular meals at regular times, have an extra burden. During the day, not all of of us have access to a refrigerator and microwave to heat up healthy foods. Some days I leave the house at 7 a.m. and I am on the run until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., whereby the only thing I can eat during that time is a protein bar or nuts. I recognize this and I have to plan accordingly on those days. When I do not have healthy snacks with me, it takes all of my will power not to grab the readily available candy bar or hot dog and fries. It all comes down to- how bad do you want it? Are you willing to forgo instant gratification today for results that you want tomorrow?

Staying disciplined builds consistency. Try reiterating a phrase that keeps you going- “No pain, no gain”- “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”- “Bathing suit- soon!” Make the time to stick with your plan- free time does not materialize. Make an effort to do one thing a day that moves you closer to your goal- no matter how big or small. Cook a healthy dish, change-up your work out routine or research your dream job or dream vacation. Take baby steps- taking action in the direction of your goal will lead you to it one step at a time.

Years ago I was desperate to stay on the healthy eating track. I wore a rubber band on my wrist and whenever I was faced with eating something that was very unhealthy, I would snap the rubber band to snap me back to reality.

Remember these four tips for helping you to achieve your goal: responsibility: do what you say that you are going to do; accountability: do it when you say that you are going to do it; effort: do it to the best of your ability and consistency: do it all the time. Stay focused and always keep your eye on the ultimate goal. “”Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off of the goal”- Vince Lombardi

This easy, healthy deviled egg recipe will keep you on track. Deviled eggs last for days in the refrigerator and can be an anytime snack or a supplement to any meal.

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Deviled Eggs

6 hard boiled eggs (can be bought in the supermarket)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (regular or Paleo mayonnaise can be bought at Whole Foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of paprika (optional)

1) If home boiled, first take the shells off the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a small bowl.
2) Finely mash the yolks with a fork. Add mayonnaise, salt and pepper to the mashed yolks. Mix together until smooth.
3) Spoon yolk mixture into egg white centers. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Cover eggs and refrigerate until ready to eat.

For an easy to make, delicious, festive, semi-healthy treat:

Dark Chocolate and Pomegranate Bark

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5 ounces (140 grams) of dark chocolate
2 tablespoons (20 grams) of minced crystallized ginger (can be found at Trader Joes or Whole Foods)
1 cup (140 grams) fresh pomegranate seeds (can be found at Trader Joes)
1 teaspoon (6 grams) sea salt (can use less salt if desired)

1) Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
2) Melt chocolate in a double boiler or microwave but be careful not to burn the chocolate- keep stirring until it fully melts.
3) Stir in the crystallized ginger and half of the pomegranate seeds into the melted chocolate.
4) Pour the melted chocolate mixture onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the chocolate into one even layer about 1/4 inch thick. It does not need to fill the entire sheet.
5) Sprinkle the chocolate with the remaining pomegranate seeds and sea salt. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm. Break or cut into pieces and store in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper. It is best served the day it’s made or else condensation may form on the surface of the chocolate.

What Do Guys Think?

What do guys think of when they are at the gym? Recently, a 20-something year old guy started working out at my gym. This dude has a well built physique that makes almost everyone at the gym gawk when working out in his presence. Are guys at the gym secretly measuring themselves up against him? Covertly figuring out how much weight he back squats? Do guys silently discount his well-defined chest by thinking that they would have a spectacular body too, if they were that young? Eventually the guys did approach him and  some have even started a bromance with the hunky athlete. Obviously, it is always wrong to make snap judgments based on someone’s appearance.

This is something that I was guilty of when I first joined Crossfit. I would look at some of the other girls and think- “she has such huge biceps- that’s probably all she does- bench press 200 pounds morning and night.” Or I would look at a woman’s face as she was doing her front squats- thinking- “she looks so mean and tough” Never mind that she is so focused on what she is doing that smiling is not on her mind. I remember when I saw the girl with a fantastic body- muscular, well-toned, tight abs. I thought that she must never eat and she probably spends all of her time at the gym.Turns out that she loves pizza and chocolate, has a busy, full-time job and she takes days off from the gym. She has become a friend. Or the beauty queen who shows up in full make up with her hair blown out. Well, she ran a 6 minute mile. Mea culpa. The toughest looking women at the gym have turned out to be very kind, helpful and friendly. And I have seen some of the less built women lift very heavy weights- sometimes surpassing what I can lift.

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Comparing ourselves to others can be a good thing if we use someone else’s achievements as a goal or a benchmark for ourselves. When you set a goal for yourself, you get long-term vision and short term motivation. Setting clearly defined goals lets you measure and take pride in your achievements of those goals. As you recognize your ability and competence in achieving goals that you’ve set, you will raise your self-confidence. Keep your goals simple, clear and focused. An interesting article in Forbes magazine defines 6 ways to achieve any goal. http://www.forbes.com/sites/glassheel/2013/03/14/6-ways-to-achieve-any-goal/

If you think you may want to compete in a 5k race- start by setting a goal to run a half mile three times a week. Slowly work up to adding more mileage to your run, until you achieve your goal. What is important is that we recognize our own limitations and do not strive to achieve something that is beyond our reach. I dislike the word impossible because in my mind, I want to believe that anything is possible at any time. Miracles do happen and I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I never want to think that I am too old or too weak or too inexperienced to do anything. Watch out Jay- lately I have been talking about the possibility of both of us competing in an Ironman to celebrate our 50th birthdays. A pipe dream? Maybe. We’ll see. Keep reading my posts to find out.

In the meantime, I look to other people at the gym and in my life for inspiration, not to judge them. Because regardless of how we perceive someone, to partially quote the last line in one of my favorite movies, “The Breakfast Club” – “…each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.”

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Happiness Comes From Within

get-attachment.aspxLose weight and get fit for yourself- no one else. You can’t depend on someone else to make you happy. It is up to you to find your own happiness. Losing weight or getting your body into shape will not make everything in your life perfect. Outside forces can bring us elements of happiness. But true fulfillment and being comfortable with yourself comes from within.

The first time I lost a significant amount of weight ( 3 sizes on an almost 5′ person is significant), I was prompted by the skinny mothers who showed up at the PTA meetings. I wanted to be thin and fit in with the other mothers. I thought my life would be perfect. I had seen a nutritionist for the first time and I was on the strictest diet. I followed the restrictive diet religiously and lost almost 20 pounds in 7 weeks. I had deprived myself of everything and I really believed that I was on the right track the entire time. When I reached my goal weight, I thought that everything would be amazing in my life. After all, isn’t everyone who is a size zero deliriously happy? I looked around at my life and realized that I was still unhappy with the same things that bothered me two months ago; my job, certain friends, lack of free time. The issues that plagued me before I started the crash diet did not disappear with my weight.

Shedding those extra pounds did not make my life miraculously change for the better.  I did a lot of soul searching to figure out what reshaping my body and eating habits should mean. The problem with crash dieting was that I was not making a lifestyle change. Within a relatively short time, I regained all the weight I lost and reverted back to my old eating habits.

The second time I lost a noticeable amount of weight, I did it slower, more methodically. This time, I was ready to make a lifestyle change. I lost the weight for me. I wanted to eat healthier, to be healthier. Being more conscious of what I was eating became second nature to me- is this food all natural? Low in carbs? Low in sugar? High in protein and fiber? When I lost the weight this time, it was a real awakening. I had been eating healthy for months with long periods of disciplined eating and “cheat” days mixed in. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, although I recently gained some of the weight back, I learned a tremendous amount about healthy eating. I am on a slow quest to drop the weight again by eating healthy and trying to stick to a semi-Paleo diet (meat, chicken based diet with vegetables and little carbs and sugar).

Happiness should not be dependent upon what size jeans we wear, how much we bench press or how much body fat we have. When you are finally able to bench press 250lbs- will your life entire suddenly become better? Of course not. We must remember to put physical gains, losses and accomplishments in their proper perspective. We must make our own happiness and it has to come from within ourselves. I am not going to lie and say that I don’t feel better about myself those days when I wake up and my stomach feels super flat. But I can honestly say that my physical appearance does not dictate whether I feel satisfied with my life. These days, I have incorporated new foods into my diet that are healthy and satisfying: Chocolate Almond Milk, lightly salted almonds for days when the dry almonds are just too dry and Kashi Go Lean Cereal with 13 grams of protein in 1 cup and only 160 calories. I have included one of my favorite smoothie recipes:

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Sweet Potato Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 sweet potato (peeled, cut up and boiled)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 scoop chocolate whey protein powder
1 handful of ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Ii makes enough for 2 servings.
Enjoy!

Change Is Good

photo-8I am not one of those people who loathes change. I embrace it. To me, change can be a new beginning, a new adventure. Except when it comes to an unwelcome change in my workout routine. In the past, I stretched 5- 10 minutes before a workout and I was good to go. Due to a recent calf injury, I now have to warm up my calves for about 20 minutes before each work out. I use a roller on my calves and a rubber band to maximize my stretching exercises. Since I joined my current  gym, I have watched people stretching anywhere from 20-40 minutes, pre-workout. Now, I also incorporate yoga moves into my pre-workout stretches. It’s depressing because this extra warm-up time makes me feel like I’m getting old.

A few months ago, I would have spent 10 minutes stretching before a 5-mile run. I know, I know- it was a terrible practice. That is not the proper way to warm-up. Luckily, I have always gotten by with doing my workouts without much of a warm-up. At Crossfit, the trainers emphasize a 10-15 minute full body warm-up before every workout. The joke at the gym is, “My Crossfit warm-up is more rigorous than your entire workout.” It’s true- some of the warm-ups are that intense. It’s all part of the master plan to ensure that those body parts that are being used for the workout are properly warmed up to avoid injury.

I am generally a proponent of change in any aspect of my life. I changed up my entire workout regime almost a year ago. My workouts became stagnant and uninspired until I made some major changes to kick start my body and my brain. Change is good for your brain. According to a recent study discussed in the Harvard Gazette of Science and Health, with regard to Alzheimer’s disease prevention, prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment beginning even in middle age might help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Simply by changing up your routine, you can build new pathways to the brain to ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s. When I was 40 years old, I started a new job that required me to travel by train to downtown Brooklyn several times a week. I had to travel to a train station that I had never been to before. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about taking the new train and then finding the connecting subway train. I was worried about deviating from the path that I knew and was familiar with. But I did what I had to do ( latching on to friendly commuters the first few times) and I still take that route several times a week. I felt a sense of pride in my small accomplishment which reinforced the notion that you are never too old to learn something new.

Studies have shown that people who continue learning new things throughout life and challenging their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Activities requiring multiple tasks, requiring communication or organization are all forms of mental stimulation that can be key in warding off Alzheimer’s.  There are many things you can do to stimulate your brain. Learn something new: study a foreign language or a musical instrument, read a newspaper, a book or take up a new hobby. Brain teasers and strategy games provide a great mental workout: crossword puzzles, word games, Scrabble or Sudoku. To create new brain pathways, vary your habits regularly: take a new route home, to the office, from the market, eat with your non-dominant hand. Change is good.