Tag Archives: fitness tips

Want to Eat More Mindfully? Yoga May Help

The practice of yoga is nothing new; in fact, it’s been around for over 5,000 years, but only recently has it gained popularity in the United States. A 2016 Yoga in America market research study, conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, found that the number of yoga practitioners in the U.S. had increased to 36 million, up from 20.4 million in 2012. The awareness of the practice has grown as well; today, 95% of Americans are aware of yoga, up from 75% in 2012. Why the explosion of an ancient practice in the past four years? There’s a rising interest in health and wellness and consumers are looking for alternative therapies. And let’s face it — stress levels are at an all-time high and yoga has been shown to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. But what if there were other reasons to hop on your yoga mat beyond improving flexibility and reducing stress? What if yoga could help heal your relationship with food? Preliminary research shows that this mind-body practice may support mindful eating and disordered eating treatment.


Yoga and Mindful Eating

Yoga is much more than downward-facing dogs and sun salutations. In fact, the physical (asana) practice is just one tiny piece of what yoga is according to ancient yogic texts. Yoga also includes meditation, concentration, breath work (pranayama) among many other practices (known as the eight limbs of yoga). When we think about yoga in this holistic way as a mindfulness-based practice, it makes sense that yoga practitioners report improved self-attunement, awareness of feelings and a heightened attention to eating patterns.

A 2013 study looked at 87 adults who practiced yoga at a facility at least once per week and found that yoga tenure significantly correlated with mindful eating and fruit and vegetable consumption. The longer the students had practiced yoga, the more likely they were to engage in mindful eating. Students reported eating more slowly, paying attention to food portions, and being more conscious, disciplined and mindful with nutrition.

Anu Kaur, a Registered Dietitian, Wellness Coach and Yoga Teacher, says yoga “brings us to the ‘present’ experience and we learn to cultivate an attitude of openness, acceptance and curiosity. This process allows for the mind to build its capacity to observe thoughts and emotions as they arise, free of judgment. Over time, as we practice this self-acceptance ‘on the mat’ we can learn to do it ‘off the mat’ like with our eating.” One technique Kaur teaches her clients is how to practice deep breathing for three minutes before starting a meal. “If one practices following their breath and then slowing their breath down, there is a calmness that settles into the body. This experience of the relaxation response can be applied to mindful eating.”


Yoga and Eating Disorders

In the U.S., approximately 30 million people suffer from a clinical eating disorder at some point in their life, and many more struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating. Body dysmorphia and body image concerns go hand-in-hand with disordered eating and yoga allows the opportunity to reconnect with one’s body, promoting body appreciation, respect and attunement.

A 2010 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health looked at 50 adolescents in outpatient treatment for eating disorders. They divided the participants into two groups — one receiving standard care and the intervention group, which included standard care in addition to private yoga sessions twice a week for twelve weeks. Both groups saw reductions in depression and anxiety but the yoga intervention group had significantly improved eating disorder behaviors, including lower food preoccupation.

Another study, conducted in 2009, looked at 50 women with binge eating disorder and the women who received a weekly yoga class plus encouraged daily home practice saw significant improvements in binge eating behaviors compared to the control group, which only received mindful eating education.

Diana Dugan Richards, Registered Dietitian and Yoga Therapist, suggests that yoga allows a client with disordered eating to experience being in the discomfort that usually turns them to food to cope. “Yoga encourages being in the chaos and intensity of physical sensation in a mindful and very present way. It involves intentionally slowing of breath, and being with the sensation, emotion, or feeling that is so intense they usually turn to food to numb or silence it. Then understanding, in time, the transient nature of the craving for food or desire to purge a feeling can be met with the steadiness of self-compassion.” Dugan Richards also notes that the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunct therapy really depends on the level of disordered eating and the person’s cognitive function.


Practicing Yoga

Yoga is not just what we see in the magazines. It’s not just for thin women with flat abs who can balance on her fingertips or place her foot behind their head. That’s not even close to what yoga truly is. And yet, the picture of yoga that gets painted in the media can create a sense of trepidation and deter people away from the practice. It’s important for people to know that yoga is for everyone and comes in all different shapes and sizes, just like we as humans do. If you’re not ready for the physical (asana) practice of yoga, try practicing meditation or deep breathing. Or, try a restorative yoga class where you hold poses for long periods of time while being fully supported by props, eliciting the relaxation response.

Many people report first trying yoga using an app, DVD or at the gym. Kaur recommends working with a yoga teacher one-on-one, especially if it’s your first time or if you have specific medical conditions. If you’re not able to do a private session, Kaur suggests trying a few yoga classes at a yoga studio first. “The environment, the community and often the intention of the teacher can offer support at another level. I always say that if the teacher or studio did not resonate with you, explore other yoga studios in your area. More likely than not they will find a place that could be a positive support system.”


Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is a recipe developer, food photographer, writer and spokeswoman. Her food and healthy living blog, The Foodie Dietitian, features seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

How a Playful Mindset Can Keep You Fit

When you’re a kid, you stay fit without even thinking about it. Turns out a playful mindset could be the key to staying fit. That’s why trainers are channeling their inner child when it comes to developing programs for their clients, incorporating kid-like activities like rebounding (think trampoline), jump roping and rock climbing.

“I remember as a kid, whether you lived in a city and walked to school or grew up in the suburbs and climbed trees, you were active without even realizing it,” explains Fayth Caruso, master rebounder trainer for Bellicon fitness equipment, who says activity was once built into our day and that the same playful mindset can be applied to adult fitness routines. “It’s more motivating to do a workout that’s fun. It also promotes endorphins in the body, which makes us feel happier,” says Caruso, who played on her friend’s trampoline growing up. “That brief moment of flight, defying gravity and weightlessness made me feel almost super human! Who doesn’t want to feel that?”

Bringing play back into a workout like rebounding can benefit adults on both a physical and psychological level. “Rebounding is good for the lymphatic system, which runs north and south in the body, which a bouncing motion stimulates, helping rid our body of toxins and waste,” explains Caruso. “It’s also easy on the joints, builds bone density, stimulates blood flow, improves digestions, increases cardiovascular endurance and improves balance and coordination — all important to keep us living healthier longer.”

Jumping rope —a challenging full-body workout that burns about the same amount of calories as an 8-minute mile run in just 10 minutes — has similar benefits. “My father was a professional boxer,” says Louie Antonio Antuna, an NASM CPT, behavioral change and fitness nutrition specialist. “He taught me how to jump rope at an early age. I remember when I won a jump rope contest in 4th grade. I was hooked.”

The fundamental ingredient to jump roping? Timing. “Being able to move your upper body to whip the rope and repeatedly, successfully jumping over it requires the mind and body to be in sync. If your mind is elsewhere, you’re going to mess up,” explains Antuna. “Jump roping promotes a positive state of being because there’s a huge sense of accomplishment.” As a kid our mobility, flexibility and over all athleticism are all non-issues. As adults we have more limitations due to weight gain, lack of mobility and possibly strength.

Randi Alegre, director of coaching at The Cliffs Climbing and Fitness, believes having a good balance of play in a workout routine keeps things fun. “Play means creating games, which keeps exercise from becoming mundane and prevents burnout.” As a coach in a climbing gym, Alegre sees every level climber from kids and professionals to couples on date night. “Kids tend to be fearless and more focused, and they also have an incredible strength to weight ratio—all of which most adults need to train hard to develop.”

Without a doubt, fitness should be fun. If you dread what’s ahead, you’ll lack not only effort, but consistency. “Physical and mental stimulation promote a positive emotional response,” Antuna reminds us. “And we can all benefit from positive re-enforcement.”

Here are some tips to get started with these fun fitness routines.



Basic Tips for Beginners

  1. Don’t be shy about using a support hand bar.
  2. Start bouncing first with your feet on the mat.
  3. Just bounce! Don’t underestimate the health benefits of just bouncing.
  4. Turn up the beat: Music is very motivating when bouncing, so put on your favorite 
playlist to get you moving.
  5. Don’t set too many expectations. Start bouncing just 5 minutes per day, then set 
attainable goals.

Beginner Rebounding Workout

  1. Step on your rebounder and find your best posture and alignment
  2. See if you can balance with 1 foot off the mat, then try the other side
  3. Begin a light bounce with your feet on the mat
  4. Add some shoulder rolls back to wash away the stress of your day
  5. Reach your arms to the side and begin tiny pumps up and down until your feet lift 
off the mat
  6. Take a twisting bounce (detoxes the spine, good for the core)
  7. Take an open/cross bounce (good for the inner thighs and leaning the legs!)
  8. Finish up with a light jog and then begin to come back to the light bounce with your feet on the mat


Jump Roping

Basic Tips for Beginners

  1. Use a slow rope to start (they’re usually heavier).
    2. Keep your elbows in tight.
    3. Your shoulders will move, but most of the action should be from the wrist.
  2. When you jump, you should be just an inch or two from the floor. Land on your toes and jump back up as soon as they touch the ground.
  3. Start off by trying for 10 turns at a time. Then as you get better, bump up your minutes incrementally.

Beginner Jump Roping Workout

  1. Make 20 turns with the jump rope.
    2. Do 10 squats.
  2. Do 10 push-ups.
  3. Repeat this sequence 5 times.



Basic Tips for Beginners

  1. Breath when you climb. Everyone forgets.
  2. Develop good technique. Your body will thank you later.
  3. Don’t give up willingly. There’s more in you than you know.
  4. Stay patient. Muscles get strong fast, tendons and ligaments not as much.
  5. Try not to chase climbing route grades. Rather, focus on the quality of effort.
  6. Stay cool and supportive. It’s the vibe.


Silvana Nardone is the author of Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed.

6 Tips for Integrating Exercise Into Your Workday

So many of us worker bees spend our weekdays glued to our desk chairs, wondering, perhaps, if tapping at our keyboards counts as exercise. (Sadly, it doesn’t.)

But the prospect of spending a huge chunk of our day working out may seem daunting and frankly, unworkable. A new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity indicates that, in fact, spending just five minutes getting up and engaging in moderately intense exercise (like a walk) every hour may actually be better for us, in many respects, than a solid 30-minute daily workout before we slide into our cubicles in the morning and start our long sit.

The study, conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, among others, concluded that introducing short periods of activity spread throughout the day would help not only boost workers’ energy levels, but also elevate their moods and lower their sense of fatigue and appetite, calling it “a promising approach to improve overall well-being at work.”

Moving throughout the day can burn calories and elevate levels of an enzyme — lipoprotein lipase – that aids in the conversion of fat to fuel, explains Pete McCall, senior personal training expert at the fitness certification and education non-profit American Council on Exercise. “Sitting for long periods reduces levels of the enzyme and it is easier for fat to be stored rather than used,” he notes.

Exercise can also boost blood flow, including blood to our brains, and the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can elevate our moods.

While longer periods of exercise are beneficial, McCall says, even those who exercise regularly may suffer health consequences from long periods of inactivity, like sitting behind a desk for hours on end.

“It is still important for individuals to exercise regularly but adding more activity, even five minutes an hour of moving around an office, can help improve health-related markers,” he says, adding that this approach is not only a good supplement for those who already exercise, but also a “great starting point” for those who are not getting enough exercise in general.

“It’s a lot easier for someone to add five minutes of activity to an hour than it might be to set aside 30 to 45 minutes for specific exercise,” McCall observes.

But how can you make sure that you get exercise during your workday, even while working diligently to get that report in on time and keep your boss at bay? McCall offered some tips:

1. It’s all in the timing: “Use an activity tracker with a reminder function or a timer on a smart phone. Set it to go off once an hour and then take a ‘stand-up’ break to move around for a few minutes.”

2. Phone it in: “Get a phone headset and stand up when making phone calls.”

3. Stand up for yourself: “If possible, get a standing desk. Working while standing can help you be more alert and think more clearly.”

4. Take the stairs: “Use the stairs instead of the elevators. Some buildings are making stair access easier. If you constantly go between floors for your job, this can add up to significant calories [burned].”

5. Good parking karma: If you drive to work, “park far from the office and walk the entire parking lot.”

6. Hoof it: “If you commute via public transit, when the weather is nice get off a stop early or late and walk the extra distance home.”

Start tomorrow – or even right now. It all adds up!

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

Are You An Exercise ‘Non-Responder’? Don’t Give Up Hope!

Exercise is supposed to be the answer for myriad health concerns – from cardio-respiratory fitness and blood pressure maintenance to weight control – but there are those of us who may feel that, no matter how much we exercise, we don’t see much in the way of results. Turns out, it may not be in our heads.

Fitness experts estimate that anywhere from 20 to 45 percent of those who undertake a form of regular exercise experience no measurable physiological change as a result – and they even have a name for us: non-responders.

“Although it would appear to be intuitive that all previously untrained and sedentary individuals undertaking exercise can expect positive changes to their physiological function and overall health, the scientific literature is quite clear that for a segment of the population this is indeed not the case,” says Lance Dalleck, associate professor of exercise and sport science and director of the Center for Wellness and Human Performance at Western State Colorado University, who has done research on non-responders.

One unfortunate effect of the phenomenon is that non-responders can become frustrated with their lack of progress and decide it’s not worth it to stick with their exercise program – or, really, any exercise program.

But recent research has indicated non-responders to one form of exercise may yet respond to another, and so it may be just a matter of finding the right exercise program for you. That study, which was conducted Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Ottawa, determined that non-responders could benefit by swapping out one form of exercise for another.

Dalleck (who was not involved with the Canadian study) suggests that an individualized exercise program based on research-based guidelines and tailored to the person’s age, weight and fitness level is more likely to yield a positive outcome. “If a one-size-fits-all approach is used that doesn’t taken into consideration the individual, then it is more likely that an individual will be a non-responder,” he says.

It may also be a matter of persistence. Non-responders may just “take longer to respond to exercise,” Dalleck says. “They may need to stick with it for 6 months before positive training adaptations are observed.”

Sabrena Jo, senior exercise scientist at the American Council on Exercise, agrees, noting that one issue with research about non-responders is that the exercise interventions are generally short-term, sometimes only three to four weeks. “It is unknown whether the non-responders in those studies would have eventually responded had the exercise program lasted several months or even a year,” she says. “In general, all people respond to some form of exercise. The trick is to figure out which type of exercise works well for the individual.”

Jo maintains that the first step toward success is finding an exercise you enjoy. “If you force yourself to do an exercise that you dislike, you’re not likely to stick with it long enough to see results,” she points out.

The next step is tracking improvement with a “pre- and post-test.” For instance, if you’re planning to exercise by walking, walk around your block when you start your regime and track how long it takes you. Then, after a few weeks of walking, again measure how long it takes you to walk the same block. “If you are faster — that is, it takes less time to cover the same distance, you’ve improved!” she says.

Jo also advises that you keep your eye on the mood and emotional benefits of exercise, which may be apparent even when other markers – like weight loss and endurance – prove more elusive.

The bottom line: Don’t give up!

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

Fitness Fundamentals: Building a Better Plank

I’ve never been one to make (and then feel bad about breaking) a bunch of New Year’s resolutions. But I am determined to make 2017 The Year of the Ab. My abs, specifically. Because even though I’m fit—I run several times a week, hike, ski, rock climb and do the occasional yoga class—my middle is still kind of mushy.

If you’re in a similar situation, feel free to join me in a year long plank-a-thon. Rumor has it not only will our abs be rock hard, but our posture will improve and our backs will be stronger too. “Done correctly, a plank is an isometric contraction of all the muscles that stabilize the spine, hips and shoulder girdle,” explains Christa Bache, MA, a personal trainer in New York City. “It is truly a whole body exercise.” The key words there are “done correctly.” The plank is all about form, so here, Bache shares some tips for getting the most out of every plank:

  • Start elevated and master that before progressing to the floor. Bache recommends putting elbows on a bench so that the body is on a slant. “If you can hold that posture and stabilize the body, then you can move to a lower incline (like elbows on a Reebok step) then to the floor,” she says.
  • Try your planks both supported on your elbows and with straight arms. “You’re working the same muscles in both positions, but they are recruited in different ways, so it’s good to challenge yourself to do both,” says Bache.
  • Assess your form starting at the top. Check to see if your head is dropping—if it is, that affects the alignment of your whole spine. Head should be in a straight line with your body, eyes looking straight down between your hands.
  • Make sure your butt isn’t sticking up in the air. If it is, pull it back down (but down let your hips sag toward the ground either). You want your body in a straight line from shoulders to hips.
  • While holding your plank, think about activating all of the muscles that are working to maintain that position. Keep your legs straight with your quads contracting, tighten your buttocks and brace your abdominal muscles by trying to pull your belly button up into your spine.
  • Now the really tricky part: maintain normal breathing while holding this posture. Bache says to start by holding the plank for whatever length of time you can, gradually working your way up to a full minute. Another approach is to do sets of repeating planks, holding the posture for just 10 to 15 seconds but doing three to eight repetitions. “Think quality over quantity,” urges Bache. “Success is all about doing it well.”


Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.