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Spring into shape with these simple, useful health and fitness tips

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Here we are, smack dab between spring break and summer vacation. If you didn't manage to get into bathing suit shape by the former, here's help looking toward the latter.

Health and nutrition experts share their latest tips and ideas for getting into shape, eating right and staying healthy.

How to fight cravings

Even the world's healthiest eaters feel pangs for chocolate at 3 p.m., or fixate on a bag of chips in the vending machine like it's the last food on earth. The difference between them and us: They resist, while we're left scrounging for change and tearing into a bag of Cheetos Flamin' Hot. The secret to withstanding a craving isn't a steely reserve. It's identifying the underlying reason you're hankering for a Snickers bar, and responding accordingly.

"Sometimes it's emotional and you reach for those foods that you love for comfort," says Molly Morgan, a registered dietitian and author of The Skinny Rules. "Other times, it may be that you're tired, which lowers blood sugar and triggers the release of hormones linked to hunger."

We asked top nutritionists how they stop themselves from overindulging, and they shared the following strategies for kicking cravings to the curb.

1. Distract yourself. "I make it a rule to wait at least 15 minutes before I indulge any craving, and keep busy with an activity that occupies my hands so I can't reach for a treat," says Marjorie Nolan, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "I psych myself out by washing dishes, brushing my teeth or vacuuming. The craving usually passes by the time 15 minutes are up. Sometimes you just have to wait it out."

2. Decode your cravings. "Hunger, fatigue and dehydration all lower blood sugar levels, which increases appetite," says Nolan. Take a moment to close your eyes, mentally scan your body and ask yourself if you're really hungry -- or if it's tiredness or thirst that's making you want to eat. "If I know I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before, I take a 10-minute nap to help me feel better without reaching for comfort food." Or, if you haven't had enough liquids, try drinking a cup of passion fruit-flavored tea to quench sweet cravings, or tomato juice if you're yearning for something salty.

3. Make a smart swap. Whether you want sweet, salty, crunchy, savory or a combination, there are times when your body simply needs an energy boost. Fiber-rich or nutrient-dense snacks are longer-lasting pick-me-ups than the sugar- and fat-filled treats we tend to yearn for. Try one of these healthier alternatives based on your craving type for a longer-lasting appetite tamer.

Sweet: Warm up half a ripe banana, one square of chocolate, 1/4 cup of oats and a drizzle of honey; mash together.

Salty: 1/2 cup shelled edamame with sea salt

Savory: 2 ounces water-packed tuna with 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Creamy: Laughing Cow Light spread with sliced cucumbers

Crunchy: Dip carrots, sliced peppers and sugar snap peas in 2 tablespoons of hummus or guacamole.

Sweet and salty: Make trail mix popcorn by mixing together 1 cup air-popped popcorn, 1/8 cup pretzels, 1/8 cup dried cranberries and 1/8 cup chocolate chips.

4. Be prepared. "If you're having cravings regularly, such as at 3 p.m., it could be because you're not getting what your body needs earlier on, such as protein. Or, if your cravings start after dinner at 8 p.m., it's probably more emotional, such as stress," says Morgan. Once you know your trigger times, arm yourself with pre-portioned snacks that you package at the start of the day so you don't overdo it when your cravings inevitably strike. Try an apple with a single-serve packet of almond butter. Or, depending on your specific cravings, fill plastic baggies with an ounce of tortilla chips, 48 pistachios or 1/4 cup dried fruit such as mango.

5. Plan a splurge. "Often when we forbid ourselves certain foods, we end up eating everything but that food before giving in and overindulging anyway," says Morgan. Sometimes a low-fat cheese stick won't ease your pizza fix, and dried fruit can't replace peach cobbler. Ditching the diet mentality and allowing yourself small portions of decadent foods can help prevent cravings all together. You can scoop half a cup of ice cream into a plastic container and store it in your freezer if you know that's what you'll reach for at 8 p.m. That way, you can eat what you really want without consuming a lot of extra calories. "I plan my splurges at the beginning of the day. Since I know it's coming, it's so much easier for me to keep portions in check," Morgan says.

-- Holly C. Corbett, Fitbie.com

Nighttime workout tips for women

Few women have the luxury of lacing up whenever they like. Most have to sweat it out before work (between 5 and 8 a.m.) or after (between 5 and 8 p.m.).

Studies show that people who exercise before breakfast burn fat more efficiently throughout the day, while happy-hour exercisers benefit from peak levels of flexibility, endurance and strength. But if you're a night owl who seeks a workout on an irresistibly mild spring night, make sure you take these precautions to get an effective, safe workout.

1. Be reflective. If you want to be visible during the dim hours, wear fluorescent colors. They're effective because they re-emit light at longer wavelengths, making the material brighter than the brain expects, says Franklin Smith, technical service manager and engineer for 3M. And because our brains are designed to identify human movement, having something reflective on various points of motion (such as your head, wrists, ankles and elbows) will help a driver see you from far away. Don't forget your sides: If you cross an intersection with only front and rear reflectivity, you could practically disappear.

2. Buddy up. More than half of exercisers go it alone, according to the American Time Use Survey. But being in a group makes you more visible to approaching cars and less tempting to a mugger or attacker. Plus, extra eyes can help spot potholes, roots or other obstacles. Make a date with a friend or find a nighttime running group through the Road Runners Club of America (www.rrca.org). If you do head out alone, stick close to home, follow familiar and well-lit routes, and avoid unpopulated streets and paths.

3. Skip the earbuds. Music has been shown to improve workout efficiency, effort and endurance, but it also distracts you. In fact, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that music was the most dangerous distraction for pedestrians. In the study, iPod users had a greater chance of being hit by a car at a crosswalk than texters and cellphone talkers.

4. Pack wisely. Bringing a charged cellphone seems like a no-brainer, but you should also always carry your identification and an emergency contact number. Add an "in case of emergency" number to your phone contacts; label it ICE and first responders will know who to call. You can also get a Nathan VITAband ID band ($20, plus a $20 annual subscription; find it at running supply and sporting goods stores), which connects paramedics and hospitals to a secure online profile where they can access all of your must-know info. It can also link to an optional prepaid debit account -- handy if you find yourself in need of cash.

5. Practice precaution. Low light, rush hour and a roadside workout can be a recipe for trouble. Case in point: Nearly two-thirds of pedestrian accidents happen at night, and nearly a third of fatal cycling accidents occur between 5 and 9 p.m. We all know that drivers are often distracted, so you have to act defensively, since you're not always on a driver's radar. When you can, stay on sidewalks and streets with bike lanes or wide shoulders. Be most careful at crosswalks and intersections, and pay extra attention to cars as they turn. Drivers tend to look toward oncoming traffic and can forget to check the other direction.

-- "Women's Health" magazine

Feel the burn when you spring-clean

Whether you're doing yard work, taking an extra walk around the block or cooking and cleaning indoors this spring, give yourself the calorie-burning credit you deserve for these activities.

Outdoor cleanup: Yardwork is hard work. One half hour of mowing the yard burns 187 calories. That on top of 30 minutes of gardening can help you burn a whopping 320 calories in just an hour.

Indoor cleanup: Thirty minutes of light cleaning plus 30 minutes of cooking burns about 125 calories combined. If you're planning a deeper clean -- baseboards, windows, scrubbing down the kitchen and bathroom -- you can up that burn to 200 calories an hour.

Closets: Pack away those winter clothes. Not only will you free up closet space, but you may just slim your waistline in time to get back into last season's shorts. Boxing up and moving all those heavy sweaters and coats will help you burn about 85 calories in just half an hour. If you're carrying those boxes upstairs, in 30 minutes you will have burned 305 calories.

Rearranging furniture: Now that you've freed up enough space, it's time to spruce up your furniture arrangement. That can include heavy lifting, so it's no wonder this activity burns about 204 calories every 30 minutes.

Playing with kiddos: If you're ready to enjoy some fresh air, so are the kids. Take a walk around the block pushing your child in a stroller for 30 minutes and you'll burn 85 calories. If you ditch the stroller, you can burn 125 calories by walking while carrying the child during that same 30-minute interval.

-- Mike Lee, MyFitnessPal.com

Treadmill workouts: Four fun, boredom-busting indoor routines

Just think: If global warming were a good thing, you'd never have to run indoors on a treadmill ever again. The next time you're running bored on the belt, change your routine with one of these programs. They'll help you burn calories without burning you out.

Play by numbers: First, calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) by subtracting your age from 220. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends hitting at least 70 percent of your MHR while you exercise to maximize your calorie burn and fat loss. If you don't have a heart rate monitor, count your pulse for 10 seconds, and multiply that number by 6. Keep working at 70 percent of your MHR for as long as you can. When you get tired, slow the treadmill to an easy jogging pace, and rest for a few minutes. Next, see how long you can go at 85 percent of your MHR.

Random pickup: Tom Holland, a triathlete and physiologist in Darien, Conn., suggests watching a 30-minute TV program, like the nightly news. Increase your speed so that you're running hard (about 80 percent of your maximum) during the commercials. When Katie Couric returns, slow your pace to an easy jog.

Take a hike: Rebecca Rusch, top adventure racer and 2003 winner of the Raid Gauloises, likes to walk or run on an incline to mimic hiking outside. Some treadmills have preprogrammed hiking trails, but if yours doesn't, Rusch recommends this: Walk at 3.5 miles per hour on a flat belt. Increase the incline every minute until it reaches 5 percent, and stay for 3 minutes. Next, lower and raise the belt every 2 minutes until you've been exercising for 25 minutes. Gradually lower the belt and decrease your speed over 5 minutes to cool down.

Weight it out: If you're short on time, do double duty with your cardio and grab a pair of 2- to 5-pound dumbbells. Perform biceps curls as you walk, raising and lowering your arms with each step. Next, perform military shoulder presses. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height, with your palms facing forward. Press them up overhead, and return them to start. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you need your hands for balance, try this on a stationary bike.

-- The editors of "Women's Health" magazine

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