Thursday, January 12, 2017

Working Out During and After Illness: A Fitness Guide for Ann Arbor's Cold and Flu Season

Now that cold and flu season has Ann Arbor in its slimy grip, it's time to talk about working out during and after an illness. When will working out help you get rid of a bug faster? And what's the best way to recover your fitness after you've been really sick? 

First, it's important to understand that there hasn't been a whole lot of research done on the effects of exercise on illnesses like colds and the flu.

However, we do know a few things, both about when it's okay to exercise while sick and how to best come back to an exercise routine after a more serious illness.
  • Use the neck test. If you're just experiencing some mild nasal congestion and/or a sore throat, mild exercise won't hurt you. It may even help, at least in terms of temporarily clearing your sinuses. However, if your symptoms are below the neck – chest congestion, nausea, muscle aches – OR you have a fever, stay home!
  • Scale down the intensity of your workout when you're sick. A strenuous workout – the kind that leaves you exhausted – can actually put a temporary dent in your immune system. So if you've got a mild head cold with no fever, take your workout intensity down a notch or three until you've been symptom-free for a few days.

But what if you've been seriously ill -- the kind of sick that had you in bed for a few days, or even a week? In that case, there is one key thing you have to remember when you're ready to work out again:

Take it easy.

  • If you had a fever, wait until at least forty-eight hours after the fever has broken before heading back to the gym.
  • A week in bed sick means you will lose about thirty percent of the fitness you built up before you were ill – especially your cardio fitness. This means you're going to need to work your way back up, and doing it right is going to take some time. The good news is, if you don't overtax yourself, you can be back to your previous level of fitness in as little as two weeks, depending on how long and how seriously you were ill. But if you were sick longer, it's going to take longer to get back to your previous level of fitness.
  • Pitch your first post-illness workouts to an intensity that's only about 50%-70% of what you were doing before you got sick. Remember, exhausting yourself will dent your immune system, which may leave you vulnerable to a relapse. Not only that, but exercising beyond your post-illness ability can lead to injury.
  • Work your way back up gradually. Don’t worry - you will get back your strength and stamina back!
Finally, whether you're just dealing with what seems to be a mild cold or you're looking at working out again after a more serious illness, consult with your health care professional about the effects of exercise on your body during and after an illness.

***Photo courtesy Tina Franklin

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Change Your Mind, Change Your Body: Use These Two Simple Mindfulness Tips to Promote Healthy Eating

Do the holidays make it harder for you to eat healthy? What about during the rest of the year -- are their particular times or situations where you know you have a harder time sticking with good nutrition?

Practicing mindfulness around your food choices just might be the "fix" you've been looking for. We have two simple, easy tips to help you get started.

For the past several years, behavioral researchers have been looking at the benefits of mindfulness – and most recently, they've looked at mindfulness techniques as a tool to promote weight loss and healthy eating. The short answer? Mindfulness seems to work.

To take just two examples, this  CBS News piece does a good job at looking at an October 2016 study published in the journal Obesity. During the study, two groups of obese adults were assigned to either a mindfulness-based form of therapy or to standard weight-loss treatment. The mindfulness-therapy group lost an average of thirteen percent of their body weight – the “standard” group lost the usual five-eight percent.

And this article from Harvard Health Publications talks about the benefits to be had from simply eating mindfully.

Given the evidence behind it, we're optimistic that mindfulness techniques, combined with exercise and a sound nutritional plan, can help you achieve your goals – whether you're looking to lose weight (or gain weight, for that matter!), get more nutrition into your diet, or simply avoid gaining any extra weight this holiday season.

At the same time, this is the busiest time of the year! So we're not going to overwhelm you with a lot of things to remember and do on top of everything else you have going on.

Instead here are two, simple tips you can start using today to incorporate mindfulness to help you reach your weight and healthy-eating goals:

1. Slow Down and enjoy your food. We mentioned this as part of our post at the start of the holiday season, but slowing down and taking time with our food goes well beyond lingering over Thanksgiving dinner!

As often as possible, take your time when you're eating. Experience the flavors and textures of your food. Perhaps take a moment to think about the work that went into bringing this meal to your table, or to experience the setting where you're eating.

Eating slowly accomplishes a few things. For one, it takes our stomachs about twenty minutes to get around to telling our brains that we're full and should stop eating. In addition, taking the time to fully appreciate the food in front of us now helps fill us up emotionally as well, which may decrease the urge to snack later. Finally, our digestive tracts consider it a personal favor when we chew our food slowly and thoroughly.

2. Think ahead. This season is filled with food, food, and more food – so try to plan ahead whenever you can to eat as healthfully as possible. For example: if tomorrow is the big Christmas lunch at work, substitute a lighter, protein-centered breakfast and perhaps a salad with protein at dinner tonight for your usual morning and evening meals. Is your family's traditional holiday dinner heavy on the carbs and fats? Offer to bring a vegetable dish – and, during dinner, eat your veggies first.

Finally, relax. You don't have to try to remember these two mindfulness eating tips at every meal, and you don't have to be perfect at them! Instead, tuck them away in the back of your mind and try one or both tips just once a day.

Also, keep in mind that we're offering free Yoga to Better Living Fitness Center members throughout December – and Yoga is an excellent introduction to mindfulness!

Photos courtesy: Tarcio Saraiva and Barb Hoyer via Flickr.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Give the Gift of Better Fitness: Healthy Holiday Gifts for Every Budget

Looking for the perfect Christmas present for the fitness lover (or would-be fitness lover) on your list? We've got you covered! 

Whether you're shopping for fitness enthusiast or for someone who's new to exercise, Better Living Fitness' personal trainers have some great recommendations for you:

Better living for your back: foam rollers. Better Living Fitness Founder Mark Thiesmeyer says that foam rollers make great Christmas presents because they're such a versatile fitness tool: you can use them to relieve stress, relax tight muscles, and work on your posture at the same time.

Another great thing about giving a foam roller is that you can find one to fit just about any budget. Just check this page on Amazon to see rollers that start at just $8.

Pulling, pushing, and lifting: Therabands or dumbbell sets. Trainer Jesse Richards says, “you can do a ton of exercises with Therabands, and a small set of dumbbells are both inexpensive and a great way to get someone started with strength training.”

We found Therabands for under $11 here, and a full set of starter dumbbells for just $24.99 here.

Rockin' and Rollin' with your workout: Wireless headphones. Trainer  Allison Maupin's husband has been complaining that the wires to his headphones are getting in the way when he's working out. Don't tell Allison's husband, but  she's gotten him a solution: wireless headphones are under the Maupin's Christmas tree this year! Allison chose Beats by Dr. Dre, but there are lots of options available. Here's an Amazon link with several options, all under $200.

Keeping Track: Garmin GPS Watch vs. Fitbit Blaze. Monitoring everything from how many steps we take to how long we sleep has been a fitness trend for awhile now, and there are a lot of options to choose from depending on the goals of the person you're shopping for.

Here at Better Living, two of our trainers in particular – Mallory Ghrist and Joey Smith – have different opinions about which workout monitor works best. Joey likes the Garmin GPS Watch, while Mallory Ghrist says she's “pretty obsessed” with her Fitbit Blaze.   

“My Fitbit Blaze tracks my steps, calories burned, miles traveled, and helps you stay active by reminding you to take at least 250 steps an hour,” Mallory says.

Joey, on the other hand, likes the GPS feature on the Garmin, and says that the Garmin tracks everything from your mileage and stride to how many steps you take per minute.

You can learn more about the Fitbit Blaze here – when we checked, Amazon had them for just a hair under $200, and there's more information about the options Garmin has available (from just under $40 to over $200, depending on the feature you choose) here.

Giving the Gift of Better Living Fitness:
Love working out with your Better Living Fitness trainer or at your favorite Better Living Fitness Center class? Share the love with our discounted gift cards, now through December! You can spend as little as $50.00 to give a full month of Full Body Fit classes, or just $99 to give someone special a full month of unlimited classes at Better Living Fitness Center.

Just click here to see all your options.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to Design the Best Fitness Plan for You Part 1: the Eight Basics for Optimum Fitness

There's a lot of diverse information out there about fitness plans – and that's putting it mildly!

For one thing, exercise science is a rapidly evolving field that's learning new things about our bodies all the time. For another, fitness is a huge business, and it can seem like everyone and their uncle has a different routine that you just have to try.

Given all the competing voices talking about health and fitness, looking to the Internet for information about fitness plans can feel kind of like trying to get a sip of water from Niagara Falls.

With that in mind, I'm creating a series of posts with lots of health and fitness basics to make your life easier. We started a few weeks ago with How to Choose the Right Personal Trainer for You.

Next up, it's time to start talking about how to create a fitness plan that will really work for you. With that in mind, here are the eight basic components to create your optimum health and fitness:

  1. Strength training: Whether you choose to work with resistance machines, free weights, or body weight exercises, strength training is literally an essential building block of optimum health and fitness. The lean muscle mass we build through strength training helps promote a healthy weight because muscle burns more calories than fat. Not only that, but strength training also promotes bone density, and there's even evidence that it helps prevent disease.
  2. Cardio training: Exercise that raises our heart rate for an extended block of time – vigorous walking, running, dancing, and more – strengthens our hearts and lungs. Additionally, cardio exercise can reduce stress, provides temporary relief when we're depressed, promotes brain health, and helps us sleep better.
  3. Nutrition: Just like you wouldn't put Regular gas into a high-performance engine, it's a bad idea to put junk into your body if you want to achieve optimum fitness. On the other hand, you can do wonders for your body just by eating the right foods!
  4. Flexibility: Stretching to increase our flexibility increases blood flow to our muscles – which, in turn, makes our muscles perform better. In addition, increased flexibility through stretching helps prevent injuries – which makes everything from cardio and strength training to everyday activities easier and more enjoyable.
  5. Balance: Good balance isn't something that just happens – just like all the other essentials of a solid fitness plan, our sense of balance needs to be trained and reinforced. In return, balance training prevents falls and other injuries that can have a hugely negative impact on our overall health and fitness.
  6. Stress management: Both positive and negative stress have so many impacts on our overall health and fitness that I could (and probably will) devote an entire article to the importance of stress management alone! For the moment, it's enough to say that stress management techniques are good for our heart rates, blood pressure, and immune systems.
  7. Posture: Proper posture does everything from preventing spinal injuries to supporting our internal organs. At the same time, most people spend the majority of our waking hours engaged in activities that are absolutely horrible for our posture – and that's why exercises to counteract the effects of these activities and improve our posture are a hugely important part of any fitness plan.
  8. Sleep: When we don't get enough sleep, or enough good sleep, we pay for it. Sleep is vitally important for everything from our immune systems to preventing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Looking over the eight basics that are essential to a solid fitness plan, you've probably noticed that they all work together. Proper posture, for example, makes cardio and strength training much easier. Good nutrition, other things, lets our bodies get the most possible benefit from the exercise we do. Meanwhile, exercise is a great part of any plan for stress management – while managing stress well frees up energy that, in return, allows us to enjoy our workouts.

All eight basics, put together correctly, create a fitness plan that will go a long way to keeping you healthy and fit for life. But how do you put them together? That's the topic for our next post in this series.

Looking for help to start creating and working your fitness plan right now? Here are some options:

Check out Better Living Fitness' personal trainers and consider signing up for a FREE initial consultation. Every Better Living Fitness trainer has the training and experience to help you create the right plan to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

Look into the list of classes at Better Living Fitness Center and consider becoming a member. Some of our fitness classes will help you focus on just one or two of the eight basics outlined in this post, while others – notably, Full Body Fit – combines exercises to improve your strength, cardio fitness, posture, AND flexibility.

***Image courtesy Jurgen Appelo via Flickr.