Friday, June 28, 2013

Travel Tips: 10-Minute Workout

"All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go..."

It’s that time of year again—the 4th of July is nearly here, and if you’re like me, you’re planning a few days to get out of town. While the prospect of travel, seeing friends and family, and getting away from work for a few days is appealing, there’s one part of the whole shebang that I’m not overly excited about: missing out on my regular workouts.

Stretching can help loosen tense muscles.
Stretching can help loosen tense muscles.
Image: Shutterstock
I am the type of person who thrives on routine. If I have a set workout schedule, I’ll stick to it—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. But if I have to, for some reason, break that schedule…. Well, let’s just say it all sort of goes out the window. Sometimes it’s the weather and other times I might get sick. This time, it’s travel. I’ll be out of town for more than a week, and I don’t want to get out of the habit of exercising. It’s so much harder to start up a routine than it is to maintain one.

So here’s the plan: a short daily routine to keep my body active while I’m away. I’m sure I’m not wrong in assuming some of you are also planning a trip around the holiday weekend—so you could probably benefit from this as well.

I know you might be stuck in the car all day, in the airport, and visiting friends and family—but it’s so important to stay active. The last thing on your mind during those out-of-town days might be exercise. But really, what is ten minutes? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Start your mini-workout by stretching. We’ve all had to sit in a car, bus, train, or airplane all day—and it has a surprising affinity for making you sore. Doa few stretches to lengthen those tight muscles, especially those in your back. Stretch out your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, iliotibial band (ITB), lower back, shoulders, and neck. A gentle forward fold (legs together or shoulder-width apart) can also do wonders.

Get your heart going. If you have one, pack a jump rope and spend five or six minutes getting that heart rate up. A resistance band is also great for strength training. If you have one, do a few quick exercises with it, like rowing, wrist extensions, and lower leg extensions. If you don’t have any equipment, don’t worry! Take a short, brisk walk or run, do jumping jacks in place, or see how many burpees you can do in three minutes.

Not in the mood for a run? Try a brisk walk instead.
Not in the mood for a run? Try a brisk walk instead.
Image: Shutterstock
I think it’s easy to get the idea in our heads that to qualify as a “workout,” we have to spend a lot of time doing it. And while getting at least 30 minutes in several days a week is best practice, that doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing. I tend to be of the mindset that every little thing counts. If all you can fit in is ten minutes, that’s okay! Instead of feeling bad about not working out for long enough, feel good about having got a workout in!

Give 100% every day, respectively. Some days, 100% might be more or less than the day before. That’s not important—what is important is that we are always striving to do the best we can. And there’s no reason to ever have to feel bad about that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Brag to Yourself: How Self-Affirmations Benefit You

Self-affirmations can help you lead a healthier, happier life.
Self-affirmations can help you lead a healthier, happier life.
Image: Shutterstock
So often as children, we’re told not to brag. We’re told to be humble. We’re told not to be full of ourselves, not to be selfish, and to always put others first. We’re told the world doesn’t revolve around us and that we are just one tiny speck in the universe.

And while all those bits of advice may be said with the best of intentions, they don’t exactly do wonders for our self-esteem, do they? There’s this strange disconnect in life, where we’re told we’re not “all that,” but at the same time, we are expected to be confident and believe in ourselves. It makes for a difficult balance sometimes.

There’s certainly a difference between being self-absorbed and merely confident in yourself, but it can be hard to toe the line successfully. Some fall into the habit of never believing they are “worth it” or good enough. Others cross over and come off as conceited and vain.

But there is a middle ground—and believe it or not, it can include self-affirmations. Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that practicing the daily mantra of self-affirmation can improve problem-solving skills and reduce stress. It can give you an improved self-image and self-worth, and it’s anything but bragging.

“A brief self-affirmation activity is sufficient to buffer the negative effects of chronic stress on task performance and can improve the ability to solve problems in a flexible manner during high stress periods,” researchers said. “Our study suggests that self-affirmation may increase creativity and insight in stressed individuals.”

Remember "The Little Engine That Could?" Well, you can, too!
Remember "The Little Engine That Could?"
Well, you can, too!
Image: Shutterstock
“I’m good enough.”

“I’ve got this.”

“People like me.”

“I am an intelligent, graceful, and beautiful person.”

“I am important.”

Affirmations such as those can make all the difference in life. Believing in yourself is key to success, and when done right people will see it as anything but bragging. You are worth it. Stop doubting yourself, and go get ‘em, tiger.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer and the Sunscreen: A Tale of Healthy Skin

Protect your skin with the right kind of sunscreen!
Protect your skin with the right kind of sunscreen!
Image: Shutterstock
Welcome to the first day of summer, lovelies! The summer solstice is today, and if you’re like me, you’re welcoming back that skirt-worthy, posicle-needing, Vitamin-D-rich weather with open arms. One thing I love about living in Seattle is that summers aren’t just two months of scorching-hot 95-105 degree weather. Instead, we sit at a completely bearable 80-90 degrees most of the time, with a few scorchers and a few cooler days in between.

But whether the sun’s out or not, there’s one thing that is necessary for any summer day—sunscreen. Particularly for pale-skinned people like me, protecting your skin from the sun is a must if you don’t want to endup with a nasty sunburn and potential cancer down the road. But sunscreen guidelines have recently been updated by the FDA, after the latest research revealed lots of new information on what’s actually effective against the sun—and what’s not.

I suppose this doesn’t really come as a “shocker” to me, since just a few summers ago I spent two days at a lake, slathering on 30 SPF sunscreen multiple times throughout the day—and still ended up with blisters all over my legs. Understandably, I was more than a little irked. I thought I had gone through all the necessary steps to avoid frying my skin, but it happened anyway. What went wrong?

I don’t remember the exact brand, or the exact ingredients in the sunscreen I used that day, but I have a sinking suspicion that the reason I burned was because the sunscreen wasn’t as up to snuff as the FDA is now saying it ought to be. Check out these suggestions, from an article in Women’s Health:
Summertime: Popsicles, sunglasses, fresh fruit, cocktails, the sea, ice cream, and everything wonderful.
Summertime: Popsicles, sunglasses, fresh fruit, cocktails,
the sea, ice cream, and everything wonderful.
Image: Shutterstock

Put antioxidants on your skin every morning before using sunscreen. Serums with ingredients like Vitamin C, green tea, and resveratrol will help protect your skin from “free radicals,” which are produced by UV rays, among others. These free radicals damage your skin’s DNA and can even be produced by some sunscreens (zinc oxide does, though it’s far less harmful than the free radicals produced by straight UV rays). A few sunscreens even come with antioxidants built in, like Supergoop! SPF 30 Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Mist with Vitamin C.

Use two coats instead of one to ensure that you get full coverage. Most people don’t use enough sunscreen, so applying multiple layers essentially just gets you up to par.

Expired? Don’t use it! Just like medication that’s expired, sunscreen that’s expired isn’t guaranteed to work. Besides, with your new “two layer” rule, you should be going through an entire bottle of sunscreen each year. You should use about an ounce per application, and should reapply every two hours you’re out. Also be sure to keep your sunscreen in a cool, dark place, as allowing it to heat can make it go bad faster.
Wonder what happened to “waterproof” sunscreen? Yeah, it’s gone—because the FDA prohibited the claim. No sunscreen can actually be waterproof or sweatproof; they can only be water resistant for up to an hour and a half. To maximize sunscreen effectiveness while taking a dip, let yourself air-dry instead of using a towel to dry (and in the process wiping all your sunscreen off).

Enjoy your summer in the sun - once you're all protected!
Enjoy your summer in the sun - once you're all protected!
Image: Shutterstock
Less than 15 SPF does next to nothing when it comes to protecting your skin. Even if you’re not burning, you are still damaging your skin with those free radicals and UVA exposure. That means you’re raising your risk of skin cancer and signs of aging, even if you don’t turn a nasty shade of pink. Oh, and the less you protect from UVA, the more damaged your skin’s immune system becomes—making it less able to protect from skin cancer down the road.

As I learned that day by the lake, sometimes sunscreen isn’t enough. I now have a nice wide-brimmed hat that I’m planning on wearing all summer to give extra protection. You can also invest in antioxidant pills, sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection, and other UVA/UVB protection gear. Also, don’t be afraid to stay inside during the hottest part of the day!
Dress for the occasion—and not just with your clothes. 

Use different sunscreens for different occasions. There are multiple types of sunscreen available, from ultra-strong 50 SPF to all-natural to sports sunscreen. You can also use a makeup primer that will help protect your face without having to goop oily sunscreen on.

Now that you’re all primed and ready, go get ‘em! Enjoy those summer rays, soak up the Vitamin-D, and stay protected while you do it!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

For A Good Workout, Great Music is Necessary

Great Music = Good Workout!
Great Music = Good Workout!
Image: Shutterstock

I don’t know about you, but for me great music can be the difference between a good and a bad workout. Going for a run is nice and all that, but with music it feels inspiring. Lifting weights (for me) is incredibly boring, but add in some intense music and I feel way more powerful.

I recently joined a yoga studio, and one of the deciding factors was that this yoga studio in particular plays great music at a healthy volume.  I’m not talking about your normal flowy yoga music. I’m talking about Radiohead, Daft Punk, and a multitude of other music. It makes me feel strong, inspired, and ready to push myself. Sit me in a hot yoga studio without music, and I’m far less excited.

Running to a great song makes me feel inspired.
Running to a great song makes me feel inspired.
Image: Shutterstock
For me, the best music to work out to falls in one of two categories: current musical obsessions (Ellie Goulding, Robyn, Lindsey Stirling) and music from my teenage years (Blink-182, Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind). Sometimes the two categories cross over, if I still listen to the same band from back then (Radiohead, Daft Punk, Muse). And sometimes I just like some random song—this often happens with electronic music, since I don’t generally listen to that genre as a whole (I’m very picky when it comes to liking techno).

What kind of music gets you up and moving? Is it heavy metal? Hard rock? Pop? Techno? Dubstep? 90s? We all have our different musical tastes and preferences, but I’m always looking to add new tunes to my repertoire. Share your favorite tunes and artists in the comments!

Monday, June 17, 2013

5 “Healthy” Snack Foods to Avoid

Don’t you just hate it when you’re trying to be healthy and then someone tells you what you’re eating isn’t as good for you as you thought it was? Well, I’m sorry to be that person today—but it’s a job someone has to do. The problem with the food industry is that it wants you to want their food—and today that means marketing anything that can be as “healthy,” even when it might be just the opposite.

Instead of flavored yogurt, buy plain Greek yogurt and add honey or fresh fruit.
Instead of flavored yogurt, buy plain Greek yogurt and add
honey or fresh fruit.
Image: Shutterstock
Sure, there are foods that fall on one side or the other—wonderfully healthy or terribly unhealthy. For those black-and-white cases, it’s easy to follow the rules. Unfortunately, most foods fall somewhere in between, in a gray area that makes it easy for food companies to twist healthfulness to their whimsy.

Flavored yogurt, such as Yoplait and other brands, might seem like a good choice at the store, but let’s take a second look. Looking at the back label might reveal a relatively low calorie and fat count, but check out the sugars, too. Flavored yogurt often contains up to 30 grams of sugar in one cup, which (by the way) is the entire recommended daily allowance for most women.

As an alternative, buy plain Greek yogurt (lots more protein, anyway) and flavor it with fresh fruit like bananas or strawberries, honey, or cinnamon.

Instant oatmeal is something I ate for years thinking it was super healthy. While it isn’t unhealthy, it’s super processed (for faster cooking), has a high glycemic index and your body digests it very quickly—meaning you won’t be held over until lunchtime. Try steel-cut oats instead. Not only do they taste better (in my humble opinion), but they’re also way better for you. They take a while to cook, but they also keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Instead of instant oats, try steel-cut oats.
Instead of instant oats, try steel-cut oats.
Image: Shutterstock
My favorite is slow-cooking steel-cut oats with chopped apples and a little cinnamon. Naturally sweet, it’s a delicious start to the morning (and I won’t get hungry an hour later!).

Packaged egg whites generally have less than half of the amount of protein of a whole egg. They also often contain artificial ingredients like maltodextrin, which is a sweetener, and are missing crucial healthy ingredients like choline and lutein. Stick with a whole protein-rich egg—just don’t overdo it!

Bottled salad dressing can really ruin a wonderfully healthy salad. Bottled dressings and sauces often contain high amounts of sugar, especially in the “low-fat” versions. If you’re cooking meat, try a dry-rub powder instead or make your own dressing at home—sans sugar.

Sugar-free protein / granola bars may be getting their flavors from other places. It’s better to have a bar that’s naturally low in sugar with a few ingredients than one that contains a whole laundry list of unpronounceable names but no sugar. Sorbitol is a common ingredient in sugar-free bars, and it’s hard for your body to break down and can cause bloating.