Stop the Exercise Guilt and Start Moving

11/12/2011

from the Healthy Living area

When you hear advice to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes or more, nearly every day, you may think, “In whose life? Get real.”

Many women feel the same way. We’re too busy and too tired—from job, family, home and other demands—to squeeze exercise into our overcrowded days. Those time blocks seem like impossible hurdles to get over. Even if we try, it’s difficult to stay on track for long.

Now, instead of feeling guilty about what you can’t do, you can start feeling good about what’s possible for you. Research shows that even short bursts of physical activity improve your health, especially if you spend your day sitting. Adding a little activity helps lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, cuts your risk of heart attack and diabetes, and improves how you feel emotionally.

You’ll have more energy to carry packages, garden, climb stairs, keep up with the kids at the amusement park, or dance past midnight. Those activities, in turn, will make you even stronger and healthier.

Women who walk for a total of just one hour a week have half the rate of heart disease as women who don’t walk regularly. And it’s never too late to benefit—in a recent study, people over 65 who were physically active once a week had a 40 percent lower death rate than those who were inactive.

It’s easy to start

To get yourself moving, think small. “Take two-minute walks, whether it’s one or 10 a day,” says Andrea Dunn, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Science Research Group at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Denver.

Walk at a moderately vigorous pace, Dunn says, as if you’re trying to get to an appointment on time. Each week, increase how many minutes you walk a bit, or how often.

Gradually work up to three 10-minute brisk walks a day, several times a week. “It doesn’t matter how fast you move up,” says Dunn. In her research, people who succeeded often kept track of their walks on checklists or calendars.

If you have health concerns and are under a health care professional’s care for a medical condition, review your exercise plans with her or him before you start.

Step this way

You’ll gain more benefits from walking by increasing the steps you take at home, at work and for exercise. Middle-aged women who take more steps have less body fat than those taking fewer steps.

Use a pedometer, a step-counting gadget that clips onto your waistband. Record your step count for one week. Then divide by seven to get your daily average.

Increase your daily step count little by little. Sneak extra steps into your everyday life: Walk around the house while talking on a cordless phone, park at the far end of a supermarket lot (be sure it’s well-lighted and secure), pace the sidelines while your child plays sports, or climb the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator.

Aim for 10,000 steps a day, but work to that goal slowly. It’s equal to about five miles.

Target fat in your middle

How does physical activity, even small amounts, improve your health?

Think of your body as a jelly doughnut. (Okay, for some of us that’s easy to do.) The outer part of your doughnut—uh, body—is made up of fat that lies just under the skin. When you go on a diet and lose weight, you usually lose this type of fat, says Osama Hamdy, M.D., director of the Obesity Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Hidden deep in the center of your body is a more dangerous type of fat. This internal fat—often shown by a growing waistline—is directly related to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. According to Hamdy, physical activity reduces this belly fat more effectively than dieting does.

“Any moderately intense exercise that a person can do is very important. Do it five minutes a day, or 10 minutes a day,” he says. “If you look at it as a routine of your day, you will find it easier over time.”

A recent study Hamdy co-authored showed that obese adults who lost just 7 percent of their body weight—16 pounds in a 220-pound woman—through moderately intense exercise and diet lowered their heart disease risk. In another study, people at risk for type 2 diabetes reduced their risk 58 percent with brisk walking and a small weight loss.

Make it fun

Some women exercise with friends or in walking clubs. Mall-walking is fine, says Dunn, so long as you’re moving briskly and not just strolling and window-shopping.

If walking doesn’t appeal to you, choose another moderately vigorous activity, such as bike riding, swimming or dancing. Or mix up your exercise choices.

“Do things that are fun for you,” Dunn advises. “Start small, work at your own pace and don’t give up.”

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

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3 Shortcuts to Exercise Success

10/04/2011

from the Healthy Living area

Are you losing interest in physical activity because you’re not seeing quick results from your efforts?

While there are no magic pills for becoming more fit (and staying that way), some exercises are more effective in less time than others. Check out these three ideas for burning more calories and strengthening muscles faster:

  1. Switch back and forth: It’s called interval training, and it boosts your results by stepping up the intensity or duration of your activity, on and off, throughout your workout. Interval training works like this: Instead of walking for 10 minutes at your usual pace, start by walking at your normal exercise pace for the first two minutes, then increase your speed for the next two minutes, followed by two minutes of your usual pace, and so on. Adapt this system for any length walk. The interval time may vary as well. Your body goes into “active recovery” during the lower speed segments, so you can continue exercising with less risk of injury, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Yet you gain quicker benefits from the higher intensity intervals.
  2. Squat: Pear-shape alert!You’ll strengthen more muscles at one time by doing squats. This exercise works the major muscles in your lower body—the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. When asked to list the most effective exercises, the majority of 17,000 ACE-certified fitness professionals put squats at number one. Make sure your form is correct: with feet at shoulder-width and back straight, bend your knees as you lower your bottom. Don’t let your knees move out over your ankles. If you are doing squats with weights on a barbell (which increases intensity), be sure to have a spotter or trainer check your form.
  3. Rev your engine: All activities are not created equal. For a 135-pound woman, 30 minutes of brisk walking burns 130 calories. In that same 30 minutes, you can lose 258 calories with freestyle swimming or 322 calories by running at a 6 mph pace. Include higher calorie-burning exercises in your activities to boost speedy results.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/condition/stress

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Water Wisdom

08/14/2011

from the Healthy Living area

You’ve heard all the advice: Drink eight glasses of water a day. Stay properly hydrated while exercising. Sports drinks aren’t just for professional athletes.

Yet you’re still unsure whether you’re drinking the right amount for good health.
How much fluid should you really be taking in daily? Do you need to add extra when you’re physically active? And is too much water dangerous?

Everyone’s body needs water. We lose it by sweating, excretion, or simply not taking in enough through foods—like fruits and vegetables—and drinks. Mild dehydration (losing less than two percent of your body weight due to inadequate fluids) can cause health problems, including dizziness and headache.

To keep your body supplied with the fluid it needs, especially when exercising, follow these tips:

  • Get the basics. Most women need eight to nine cups of total fluids a day, including all beverages and the water in foods.
  • Increase according to the weather. High temperatures or humidity outside, heated indoor air and high altitudes all cause you to need more fluids.
  • Add when exercising. Drink one cup of fluids every 15 minutes during physical activity, advises Werner W.K. Hoeger, Ed.D., FACSM, professor of kinesiology and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Boise State University. He recommends sports drinks over water when exercising because they contain electrolytes—important to provide the minerals necessary for proper cellular metabolism—which is disrupted during physical exertion. Electrolyte replacement also helps maintain proper muscle contraction and cardiac function.
  • Add more for big events. If you’re going to be in a race or charity walk, make sure you drink enough to be well-hydrated the day before, Hoeger adds. Also, drink a glass of fluids an hour before the event.
  • Drinking for two? Pregnant and nursing women need additional fluids. Talk with your health care professional about what’s best for you.
  • Still thirsty? If drinking fluids doesn’t relieve your thirst, you may have a health condition such as diabetes. See your health care professional right away.
  • Too much of a good thing. In very rare cases—chiefly among marathon runners—drinking too much fluid leads to a life-threatening illness, hyponatremia. This occurs when sodium levels in the blood fall too low. It happens chiefly to athletes who have run for more than four hours and gained a lot of weight during the race from drinking.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/diet-and-nutrition

Diet and FitnessHealthCenter: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2011 HealthyWomen. All rights reserved. Reprinted withpermission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at:http://www.HealthyWomen.org.


Depression Defenses that Can Help

01/10/2011

 Misery doesn’t love company. It also doesn’t love sleeping well, or enjoying activities, or eating healthfully, or making hopeful plans. Misery is, well, miserable. And when sad, empty feelings continue for two weeks or more, you’re not just feeling miserably—you may be depressed. For many women, depression is an all-too-familiar visitor. Women are twice as likely as men to have depressive episodes. While the condition responds to many treatments, it often can recur. Your important first step in dealing with depression is to see your primary healthcare provider. What happens next depends upon the severity of your symptoms (mild, moderate, or major), medical advice, and your choices for treatment. Antidepressants and talk therapy are the most common approaches used to fight depression. Yet recent scientific evidence shows you may be able to use natural approaches when: (a) traditional therapies aren’t working well for you, or side effects and risks pose problems; (b) you choose not to use standard treatments; or, (c) you’d like to lessen or prevent depressive episodes. “Individuals who are suffering from mood disorders really want choices,” says Marlene Freeman, MD, director of the Women’s Mental Health Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a professor of psychiatry and obstetrics-gynecology. “It will serve our patients and the field the best if we really have an integrative approach, where we’re willing to use all possible treatment options and able to use safe and effective combinations.”

Feel better with fish oil

Dr. Freeman was part of a team that reviewed studies of patients who were on antidepressant medication but had not responded well. When the subjects were given omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in addition to the antidepressants, “there was a positive effect for mood,” she says. Omega-3s, best known as the components in fish oil, are essential natural substances our bodies need for good health. We get omega-3s only through foods we eat or by taking them as dietary supplements, usually in capsule form. You may know about the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3s, but researchers have also been evaluating their effect on depression and other mood disorders. Those studies are built on previous findings that people with depression often have low levels of omega-3s and that depressive disorders occur less in populations that consume high quantities of omega-3-rich fish. The omega-3 fatty acids believed to improve mood are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Good results in the studies Dr. Freeman looked at occurred at doses of 1 to 3 grams of fish oil per day, with very few risks. Although some studies used much higher doses of omega-3s, those amounts didn’t bring better results. “With a nutritional supplement, there is an optimal dose that the body and brain need for optimal function,” says Dr. Freeman. “Providing in excess of that may not increase benefit.” It is still unclear whether omega-3 fatty acids would be effective on their own, not in combination with medication. But the protective effect of fish oil has been fairly well established, with studies showing it may decrease the risk of depression, including premenstrual and postpartum depression. Taking omega-3s could also avoid increasing antidepressant dosages for some patients, Dr. Freeman says. Omega-3s have other good health effects: they are vital for fetal development and may help prevent certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions. Vegans who do not want to consume fish oil might get some benefit from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the omega-3 found in flaxseed oil. ALA is somewhat different than EPA and DHA, the omega-3s in fish oil, and has not been studied for use in depression. Food sources of EPA and DHA include fish, seafood, and omega-3-enriched eggs. In addition to flax oil, ALA is found in canola oil, walnuts, and enriched eggs. “I think it would be fair to say that individuals with major depressive disorders should be taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, unless there’s a particular medical reason why they shouldn’t—of which there are very few,” says Dr. Freeman.

Moving depression out of your life

You probably know about “runner’s high”—the great feeling people get when they exercise vigorously. But, you’re thinking, you aren’t a gym rat or one of those well-toned runners you see burning up the roads. And putting out such effort may seem impossible, especially when you feel depressed. You can achieve the same positive mood effects from far-less-strenuous physical activities. Adding mild movement to a sedentary life can reduce your depressive symptoms even if your fitness level remains unchanged. What’s more, physical activity lessens depression regardless of your pre-existing health conditions, and may insulate you against future depressive symptoms. “Exercise has been shown to give us a boost of energy that helps us feel motivated and do things we might not want to do if we’re feeling down and depressed,” says Teresa M. Edenfield, PhD, a researcher and clinical associate in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. That effect works for people with various levels of depression, from mild to major. “For people with very severe symptoms, exercise might not be enough. They might need something like medication or therapy,” Dr. Edenfield says, noting that medical care, psychological assessment, and safety monitoring are imperative. “We always caution people to seek professional help…to think about this as a combination approach.” Researchers are currently studying how, why, and for whom exercise works its antidepressant charm. Dr. Edenfield helped review a number of studies that supported using exercise to alleviate depression—either as an alternative to other types of treatment or in addition to them. One notable recent study took 153 women and 49 men, all diagnosed with major depression, and assigned them to either supervised group exercise, home-based exercise, a common antidepressant medication, or a placebo (“sugar”) pill. After four months, patients in the exercise-only groups showed just about the same relief from depression (40% to 45% remission) as did those taking medication.

Folate makes a difference

Depressed people often have low levels of folate, a B vitamin important for cell growth. Adult women should take in 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily, with pregnant women needing 600 mcg and nursing mothers, 500 mcg. Yet even if these amounts are consumed, some of our bodies don’t absorb or use folate well, resulting in deficiencies. Adding more folate to your diet—through foods or supplements—can reduce symptoms of depression, improve response to antidepressants, and may also help in recovery from depressive episodes. The U.S. government requires folate (as folic acid) to be added to some foods, such as fortified cereals and breads. Natural sources include liver, spinach, and black-eyed peas. “It’s pretty sound advice for women who are experiencing mood problems to take a multivitamin with folate,” says Dr. Freeman. “Most of us should be doing it anyway.” Other possibilities to consider There’s evidence that vitamin D influences depression. Vitamin D deficiency, which often occurs in older adults, has been shown to be related to low mood and cognitive difficulties. Many experts believe the current recommended daily dose of 400 IU of vitamin D is too low and have been pushing for that level to be raised to 800 IU or 1,000 IU daily. The herb St. John’s wort “has been demonstrated effective compared with placebo for more mild to moderate depression,” says Dr. Freeman, who chairs the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She cautions that you not use St. John’s wort without a doctor’s supervision, due to various interactions the herb has with other drugs. St. John’s wort acts like an antidepressant, so should not be taken with other antidepressants. It also interferes with the proper functioning of oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, HIV medications, and oral anticoagulants, among others. Light therapy—originally used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to the dark days of winter—is now showing year-round benefits for general depression. “It looks effective for major depressive disorder, even if it’s not seasonally related,” Dr. Freeman says. The light boxes studied in research provide 10,000 lux of bright light. You sit in front of the light (it’s angled above eye level) for about 20 to 30 minutes each day, in the morning. For more information on the health topics me ntioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 Depression: www.healthywomen.org/condition/depression

Anxiety and Depression Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/anxiety-and-depression

Mental Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/mental-health

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Make the Most of Indoor Exercise

12/26/2010

Many of us love being outdoors for physical activities. But when the weather gets crummy—too cold, too hot, or too much precipitation of any sort—we stay on the sofa, maybe for months, until things get better.

There’s no reason to give up exercising just because the weather stinks. You can stay physically fit, or get there, without leaving the comfort of indoors.

These tips can help make your indoor workouts work wonders for you:

  1. Put down the dark chocolate hearts and pick up your TV’s remote control. Get up off the couch. Turn on your set. If you have cable, it may offer free “when-you-want-them” video selections, including fitness or exercise programs. You’ll find choices from abdominal exercises to gentle yoga to walking or weight training. Some are as short as six minutes.

    Pick a different program every day or set up your own routine: walking videos three days a week; strength training two days a week. Vary your selection and you won’t get bored. You can also use a video recorder to capture regularly broadcast fitness shows.

  2. Use a free 5 or 10 minutes to do ab crunches on your bedroom rug or leg lifts while talking on the phone. Research shows that three 10-minute sessions of exercise in one day are as beneficial as one 30-minute session.
  3. Dance—with or without a partner. Just push back the coffee table and put on the music that gets you moving.
  4. Ride your bike indoors. Sounds crazy, but you can get a special bicycle stand that turns your street bike into a stationary exerciser. Check sporting goods and bike stores.
  5. Forget that you’re a grown-up and head to the roller rink. Family sessions are usually the most sedate and best for those who haven’t been on wheels for awhile. Once you get your rhythm going, you can burn more than 400 calories an hour. 

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


A Little Exercise Can Go a Long Way

11/08/2010
from the Healthy Living area

When you hear advice to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes or more, nearly every day, you may think, “In whose life? Get real.”

Many women feel the same way. We’re too busy and too tired—from job, family, home and other demands—to squeeze exercise into our overcrowded days. Those time blocks seem like impossible hurdles to get over. Even if we try, it’s difficult to stay on track for long.

Now, instead of feeling guilty about what you can’t do, you can start feeling good about what’s possible for you. Research shows that even short bursts of physical activity improve your health, especially if you spend your day sitting. Adding a little activity helps lower your blood pressure and weight, cuts your risk of heart attack and diabetes, and improves how you feel emotionally.

You’ll have more energy to carry packages, garden, climb stairs, keep up with the grandkids at the amusement park, or dance past midnight. Those activities, in turn, will make you even stronger and healthier.

Women who walk for a total of just one hour a week have half the rate of heart disease as women who don’t walk regularly. And it’s never too late to benefit—in a recent study, people over 65 who were physically active once a week had a 40 percent lower death rate than those who were inactive.

It’s easy to start
To get yourself moving, think small. “Take two-minute walks, whether it’s one or 10 a day,” says Andrea Dunn, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Science Research Group at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Denver.

Walk at a moderately vigorous pace, Dunn says, as if you’re trying to get to an appointment on time. Each week, increase how many minutes you walk a bit, or how often.

Gradually work up to three 10-minute brisk walks a day, several times a week. “It doesn’t matter how fast you move up,” says Dunn. In her research, people who succeeded often kept track of their walks on checklists or calendars.

If you have health concerns and are under a health care professional’s care for a medical condition, review your exercise plans with her or him before you start.

Step this way
You’ll gain more benefits from walking by increasing the steps you take at home, at work and for exercise. Middle-aged women who take more steps have less body fat than those taking fewer steps.

Use a pedometer, a step-counting gadget that clips onto your waistband. Record your step count for one week. Then divide by seven to get your daily average.

Increase your daily step count little by little. Sneak extra steps into your everyday life: Walk around the house while talking on a cordless phone, park at the far end of a supermarket lot (be sure it’s well-lighted and secure), pace the sidelines while your child plays sports, or climb the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator.

Aim for 10,000 steps a day, but work to that goal slowly. It’s equal to about five miles.

Target fat in your middle
How does physical activity, even small amounts, improve your health?

Think of your body as a jelly doughnut. (Okay, for some of us that’s easy to do.) The outer part of your doughnut—uh, body—is made up of fat that lies just under the skin. When you go on a diet and lose weight, you usually lose this type of fat, says Osama Hamdy, M.D., director of the Obesity Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Hidden deep in the center of your body is a more dangerous type of fat. This internal fat—often shown by a growing waistline—is directly related to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. According to Hamdy, physical activity reduces this belly fat more effectively than dieting does.

“Any moderately intense exercise that a person can do is very important. Do it five minutes a day, or 10 minutes a day,” he says. “If you look at it as a routine of your day, you will find it easier over time.”

A recent study Hamdy co-authored showed that obese adults who lost just 7 percent of their body weight—16 pounds in a 220-pound woman—through moderately intense exercise and diet lowered their heart disease risk. In another study, people at risk for type 2 diabetes reduced their risk 58 percent with brisk walking and a small weight loss.

Make it fun
Some women exercise with friends or in walking clubs. Mall-walking is fine, says Dunn, so long as you’re moving briskly and not just strolling and window-shopping.

If walking doesn’t appeal to you, choose another moderately vigorous activity, such as bike riding, swimming or dancing. Or mix up your exercise choices.

“Do things that are fun for you,” Dunn advises. “Start small, work at your own pace and don’t give up.”

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Healthy Living: http://www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Center : http://www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

http://www.healthywomen.org/© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Keeping the pounds off (after weight loss)

10/24/2010

 

Once a person loses excess weight, the next great battle is keeping those pounds off!

A recent study from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research found that people who consistently logged in to an interactive Internet version of a personal coach were able to keep the weight off.  The key word is “consistently.”

For 6 months before the trial, men and women reduced their caloric intake and exercised in an effort to shed pounds. Those who lost at least 19 pounds were randomly assigned to 3 groups for weight maintenance. One group was self-directed, another contacted a health counselor once a month, and a third group relied on an interactive website.  All of the participants were obese or overweight, and were taking medications for hypertension or high cholesterol.

Those men and women assigned to a personal coach regained the least amount of weight overall, but the ongoing expense sometimes does not make this an option.

At the end of 30 months, the people assigned to a personal coach regained on average 10 pounds, while the web site group regained 12.5 pounds and the self-directed group regained 14 pounds.

The men and women assigned to the weight-management website who visited the site once a month maintained more of their weight loss than patients who checked in sporadically.  On the Web site, participants could record their weight, caloric intake, and minutes of exercise and compare that information with the goals they had set for themselves. A bulletin board allowed them to read other peoples’ success stories and share their own, as well as get advice from experts on exercise and behavior change.

A weight-management web site appears to be a good alternative to a personal coach for those who may not be able to afford personal coaching fees.  You should look for a site where you can enter data on weight, caloric consumption, and exercise, and receive reminders if you forget to supply this information.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in J Med Internet Res. online July 27, 2010.