By: Caroline Roberts
By: Caroline Roberts
I’m a creature of habit. I like to drink the same 400-calorie smoothie every morning after my morning workout, wear the same three black pairs of leggings, listen to the same pump-up jams that I’ve listened to since high school (what’s up, early-2000s pop/punk). And as a creature of habit, I tend to make the same handful of recipes over and over.
Sure, that’s mostly because I’m a terrible cook and not that adventurous in the kitchen, but eating the same things over and over again can help you achieve your weight-loss goals. I have lost about 15 pounds since January, and I find that eating the same lunches repeatedly has kept me on track and takes the guesswork out of tracking my meals.
Since I usually order a takeout salad for lunch anyway, I thought it would be easier if I just made my own salad and brought it in. My 450-calorie salad is actually delicious and provides all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) to keep me feeling full and satisfied all afternoon. To make things even easier, I just bring all my ingredients to work and chop the veggies when I get there. I don’t have time to slice up a bell pepper or a cucumber in the morning before work, but I do have time to throw all my ingredients in a plastic salad bowl with a lid and run out the door — I like the 2.5-quart bowl from this Sterilite 8 Piece Covered Bowl Set ($12). Check out my recipe below.
In my opinion, the dressing makes all the difference. That’s why I love Primal Kitchen Greek Vinaigrette dressing ($21 for two bottles). It’s made with avocado oil, so it’s full of satiating, healthy fats. I also get more healthy fat from one-fourth of an avocado. For protein, I opt for a slice of rotisserie chicken; I buy a rotisserie chicken from the store on Sunday night and have it the whole week. I also love a variety of colorful veggies to add some healthy carbs.
If I have had a hard workout that morning and know I’ll be hungrier, or if I want some crunch, I’ll throw in a handful of crushed Parm Crisps ($37 for a 12-pack) or get in extra carbs by crumbling up some Simple Mills Almond Flour Fine Ground Sea Salt Crackers ($25 for six).
Although it’s probably easier to keep a bottle of salad dressing in the work fridge, I don’t trust my coworkers (kidding! sort of . . .) so I use the GladWare Mini Round containers ($7 for an eight-count). I can measure out two tablespoons and store it easily. I love these little reusable containers for not only salad dressings, but also stashing nuts, nut butters, and berries.
I’ve been tracking my calories using the Noom weight-loss app and love how the Noom food database is huge and includes all of my favorite foods, snacks, and salad dressings. It makes tracking so much easier. Using the Noom app, I calculated that my salad is 445 calories.
More and more studies are showing how regular exercise benefits the brain, and in particular, the aging brain. What’s less clear is how exactly exercise counters the cognitive decline that comes with aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s.
To find out, for nearly a decade, Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and his colleagues have studied a unique group of middle-aged people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Through a series of studies, the team has been building knowledge about which biological processes seem to change with exercise.
Okonkwo’s latest findings show that improvements in aerobic fitness mitigated one of the physiological brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s: the slowing down of how neurons breakdown glucose. The research, which has not been published yet, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association on Aug. 9.
Okonkwo works with the 1,500 people on the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP)—all of whom are cognitively normal, but have genes that put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or have one or two parents who have been diagnosed with the disease, or both. In the latest study, Okonkwo recruited 23 people from the WRAP population who were not physically active. Eleven were asked to participate in an exercise regimen to improve their aerobic fitness for six months, and 12 served as the control.
All had their brains scanned to track Alzheimer’s-related brain changes including differences in how neurons metabolized glucose, since in people with Alzheimer’s glucose breakdown slows. At the end of the study period, the group that exercised more showed higher levels of glucose metabolism and performed better on cognitive-function tests compared to the controls.
“We are carrying our research full circle and beginning to demonstrate some causality,” says Okonkwo about the significance of his findings.
In their previous work, he and his team identified a series of Alzheimer’s-related biological changes that seemed to be affected by exercise by comparing, retrospectively, people who were more physically active to those who were not.
In this study, they showed that intervening with an exercise regimen could actually affect these processes. Taken together, his body of research is establishing exactly how physical activity contributes to significant changes in the biological processes that drive Alzheimer’s, and may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors such as age and genes linked to higher risk of neurodegenerative disease.
For example, in their earlier work his group confirmed that as people age, the presence of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes increases—including the buildup of amyloid, slower breakdown of glucose by brain cells, shrinking of the volume of the hippocampus (central to memory), and declines in cognitive function measured in standard recall and recognition tests.
But they found that in people who reported exercising at moderate intensity at least 150 minutes a week, as public health experts recommend, brain scans showed that these changes were significantly reduced and in some cases non-existent compared to people who were not active. “The association between age and Alzheimer’s brain changes was blunted,” says Okonkwo, “Even if [Alzheimer’s] got worse, it didn’t get worse at the same speed or rate among those who are physically active as in those who are inactive.”
In another previous study, they found the benefits of exercise in controlling Alzheimer’s processes even among those with genetic predisposition for the disease. When they divided the participants by fitness levels, based on a treadmill test and their ability to efficiently take in oxygen, they found that being fit nearly negated the effect of the deleterious gene ApoE4. “It’s a remarkable finding because it’s not something that was predicted,” says Okonkwo.
In yet another previous study, Okonkwo and his team also found that people with higher aerobic fitness showed lower amounts of white matter hyperintensities, brain changes that are signs of neuron degeneration and show up as brighter spots on MRI images (hence the name). White matter hyperintensities tend to increase in the brain with age, and are more common in people with dementia or cognitive impairment.
They form as neurons degrade and the myelin that surrounds their long-reaching arms—which helps nerves communicate with each other effectively—starts to deteriorate. In people with dementia, that process happens faster than normal, leading to an increase in white matter hyperintensities. Okonwko found that people who were more aerobically fit showed lower amounts of these hyperintensities than people who were less fit.
Given the encouraging results from his latest study of 23 people that showed intervening with exercise can change some of the Alzheimer’s-related brain changes of the disease, he plans to expand his small study to confirm the positive effect that exercise and better fitness can have in slowing the signs of Alzheimer’s. Already, his work has inspired a study launched earlier this year and funded by the National Institutes of Health that includes brain scans to track how physical activity affects biological factors like amyloid and glucose in people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The cumulative results show that “there may be certain things we are born with, and certain things that we can’t change ]when it comes to Alzheimer’s risk], but a behavior like physical exercise might help us to modify that,” says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
By Alice Park
The human body is made to move, and physical activity is a requirement for lifelong health. But exercise-related injuries are a significant concern few people think about until it’s too late. Even a mild sprain can sideline an athlete for weeks, and a sports-related injury can be debilitating for an older adult. “I think a lot of people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, are interested in doing a lot of exercise but they’re not really thinking about injuries,” says Dr. Brian Werner, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the University of Virginia.
Running, for example, is among the most popular forms of exercise in America. But up to half of all runners are injured each year, according to a 2010 study in Current Sports Medicine Reports. “I’m a long-distance runner myself, but it’s a high-impact form of exercise and it’s not optimal for people trying to avoid getting hurt,” Werner says. Also, many runners tend to overdo it. When it comes to running’s longevity benefits, researchers have found that running two or three times per week at a slow or moderate pace is optimal.
Especially for those age 40 and older, exercises that place heavy amounts of stress on the knees, shoulders and other joints are going to come with a high risk of injury, Werner says. Examples he raises are basketball, soccer, tennis, or other sports that involve lots of jumping, twisting, or quick changes of direction.
That’s not to say these activities are unhealthy, or that people who enjoy them should give them up. A recent study in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that, compared to solo exercise pursuits, activities that involve spending time with others are associated with longer life expectancies. Studies have independently linked both exercise and social interaction with longer lifespans, so it makes sense that combining the two would be beneficial. But while healthy, many of these activities nonetheless carry a high risk for injury.
Walking, meanwhile, is associated with both long life and a reduced risk for medical-related expenditures, according to a 2011 study in BMJ Open. A recent study found that brisk walking is especially healthy. “Walking is an outdoor activity that can include spending time with other people, and I think any exercise that combines those two things is going to be very healthy,” says Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist and medical director of the Cardio Health & Wellness Center at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.
Yoga also garners some shout-outs as a low-risk, high-reward form of physical activity. “It has to be done correctly and with good supervision, especially when just starting out, but I think yoga offers a great combination of flexibility and strength training,” says Dr. Steven Struhl, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. Flexibility is a “neglected” component of proper health and fitness, he says. “It improves balance and reduces stiffness, which leads to strains or injury.”
For fitness enthusiasts who recoil at the idea of a life filled with long walks and yoga, there are ways to lower the injury risks associated with more intense, high-impact sports.
The first tip may induce some yawns. But experts say a moderate approach to any sport or workout is a good way to avoid getting hurt. “Overtraining leads to a lot of injuries,” says Yost. If you’re playing the same sport or doing the same type of exercise every day—and especially if you’re pushing yourself hard—you’re asking for trouble.
Taking it easy at the start and slowly working your way up to more intense workouts is another safety measure. “A lot of people start off too heavy or with too much volume,” O’Keefe says. If you’re intent on running a half-marathon, for example, sign up for next year’s—not this year’s—and try to mix in some other non-running forms of exercise (swimming, yoga) to build your strength and endurance.
Finally, don’t neglect your core. “You get your power from your core, and if it’s weak, you tend to overuse your arms or legs, which leads to injury,” Struhl says. Pilates classes can improve your core strength. So can gym machines that target your upper and lower back, obliques, and abdominal muscles, he says.
All that said, if you’re looking for safe, healthy activities that will lower your risks for injuries—as well as for disease and mortality—easy-on-your-body activities like walking, yoga and swimming are great options.
By Markham Heid
There are some things you know are going to make your anxiety worse: WebMDing your stomach ache, foregoing sleep to list all the ways your work presentation could go wrong, calling your friend who freaks out about everything…But treating yourself to a scoop of Rocky Road or a cupcake from your favorite bakery, that’s going to make you feel better right?
Sometimes, 100 percent yes. But other times, that sweet treat can backfire, sneakily causing all sorts of changes that can lead to the opposite of feeling good: anxiety. Here, health experts break down the relationship between sugar and anxiety, and what you can do to combat it.
The problem with sugar, says hormone health educator Candace Burch, is that it causes blood sugar spikes and drops, which directly affects mood. “The rush of sugar leads to sugar highs, giving a lot of energy, but then the lows lead to feeling sluggish and down.”
“Sugar can exacerbate your feelings of anxiety because of the way our bodies respond to digesting them,” adds Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition, a New York-based nutrition practice. “[Sugary foods] cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop faster than they would after eating non-high-sugar-foods. This quick spike and drop causes you to feel uneasy and can even at times mimic a panic attack.” Having low blood sugar levels can actually put the body into a stress response, which, as Zeitlin mentions, can increase anxiety.
Our bodies obviously don’t like being stressed or anxious, says Zeitlin. People combat that in various ways, including reaching for sugary foods. “Foods high in sugar trigger the release of serotonin, which is a feel good hormone,” Zeitlin says. “We are trained to eat sugar and feel good, which makes it understandable why people stress eat, because they just want to feel better when they are feeling stressed and anxious.”
However, when your body is stressed or anxious, you also have higher levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the “stress hormone”). Zeitlin says when this happens, your body suppresses the release of insulin, the hormone that takes up glucose to use for energy. You now have a one-two punch of spiked blood sugar levels (since you’re eating more sugar to combat your stress) and storing excess sugar as fat since you’re not turning it into energy. “So, eating more sugar when you are stressed or anxious just amplifies the amount of sugar your body would naturally have already flowing, and contributes to more severe drops in blood sugar and more drastic drops in your mood,” she says. Enter a cycle of turning to something sweet every time they need another energy and mood boost, and a subsequent rollercoaster of ups and downs which can also contribute to feelings of anxiety.
This sugar-and-anxiety cycle isn’t just relegated to the daytime hours. “High-sugar foods can keep you up because of their energy that prevents your natural stress-booster of sleep from kicking in,” Zeitlin says. “When we don’t get enough sleep we feel even more anxious and stressed because our body missed an opportunity to process it properly.” You’re now going into the next day with less sleep, and thus lower energy levels and higher stress levels. And what do many people reach for to combat stress and anxiety? You guessed it: sugar.
And “high-sugar foods” doesn’t just mean candy, cookies, and cake. “Studies have found that women who eat more refined carbohydrates (baked goods, candy, white breads/rice/cereals, bagels, etc) were more likely to suffer from depression and mood swings because of the drastic peaks and deeps in blood sugar levels,” Zeitlin says.
Of course, this isn’t just to freak you out and make you throw out all of the dairy-free ice cream in the fridge. Lots of other things can contribute to anxiety, including stress, coffee, work, and even family relationships—so cutting out Oreos isn’t the magic bullet for reducing anxiety. But the impact of sugar on anxiety levels can affect anyone, says Zeitlin—and if you have an existing anxiety disorder, sugary foods will likely exacerbate your condition, she adds.
One way to combat this is certainly to reduce your sugar intake, including processed foods and breads. It’s also a good idea to load up on foods low in sugar and high in fiber (think veggies, fruit like berries, and whole grains)—Zeitlin says they have a much more even effect on your blood sugar, which can help cut back on feelings of “increased anxiety.” She also recommends stopping eating about two hours before you go to sleep. “This gives your body time to properly digest and process the food—sugary or not—and let that energy subside in time for you to actually fall asleep and stay asleep.”
When you are eating foods higher in sugar, Burch suggests pairing it with foods higher in fiber and healthy fats. “This slows the absorption of sugar, preventing it from spiking blood sugar as much,” she says, and thus making it less likely to put you in an anxiety spiral.
But all this comes with a big caveat: Changing one’s diet shouldn’t be the only thing a person does to fight back against anxiety. “Changing your diet to limit high-sugar foods will not treat or cure your anxiety disorder, but it will help manage it better and optimize the times you are feeling good and less anxious,” says Zeitlin. Psychologist Gail Saltz, PhD, says some ways to reduce anxiety not related to food include deep breathing, working out, and (to bring it all full circle) getting enough sleep. If none of these lifestyle changes are helping, it’s essential to see a professional to help you come up with a treatment plan.
“Sugary foods contribute to mood swings and anxiety. Period,” Zeitlin says. And now that you understand the connection, it’ll be easier to be more mindful when you are consuming foods with sugar in them.
Additional reporting by Jessie Van Amburg.
By: Emily Laurence
I’m a fitness editor, and I live a pretty healthy lifestyle — I exercise five to six days a week, eat a whole-foods-based diet, and get at least seven hours of sleep a night — but in January of this year, I found my weight creeping up on the higher end of what I find comfortable. I’ve struggled to keep weight off my whole life, and thanks to my bipolar II medication, general stress, and love of happy hour, this has only gotten harder as I’ve gotten older.
I also have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which means I need to be careful with my weight: women with PCOS are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance (and women with PCOS have a harder time losing weight, which makes this all a fun cycle).
All of that being said: I wanted to check out the Noom weight-loss app to see if it could help me shed some pounds and get back on track with a healthy lifestyle. Created with the help of registered dietitians and other experts, the Noom app aims to not only help you lose weight, but also change your behaviors and reevaluate the thought processes behind the decisions you make. Each day includes new articles on topics such as portion control, staying motivated, identifying your social triggers, and how to decode a restaurant menu.
Noom also includes a daily calorie target, which adjusts based on how much activity you got that day (you manually log your exercise or sync up to your Fitbit or Apple Watch). One of my favorite features of Noom is the comprehensive food log where you type in what you ate and track your daily calories. If your food isn’t in Noom’s database, you can manually add the nutrition information. It also provides a color-coded breakdown of your food based on how calorie-dense they are: green (fruits, veggies, most whole grains, complex carbs), yellow (lean meats, starches, eggs), and red (typically processed junk food but also healthy calorie-dense foods like oils and nuts). You are supposed to aim to eat as many green and yellow foods as possible and limit your red foods to 25 percent or less of your diet.
The biggest adjustment for me was keeping track of everything I ate. Sure, I eat a pretty well-balanced diet, but I’m often tempted by treats in the work kitchen or all of the tasty snacks sent to my office. After hours, it’s easy for me to let one glass of wine turn to three and get carried away with the free chips and salsa. Signing up for Noom really helped me figure out where I tend to overeat and track the true size of a healthy portion: 1/4 cup of almonds is a good-sized snack. Half a bag is not.
After four months on Noom, I’m down 15 pounds! Not as fast as I would have liked, but I do realize that slow and steady wins the race. I didn’t do anything radical aside from read the Noom articles, log my food, work out, and pay attention to my daily calorie budget. Although every day is different for me food-wise, here is an example of what a typical day of eating looks like.
My daily calorie target depends on how much activity I’ve done that day. If I’ve worked out and walked 10,000 steps, my calories will be closer to 1,500-1,600 a day. If I skipped a workout and laid on the couch all day (hello, hungover Sundays), my calorie target is closer to 1,200-1,300 a day. Here is an example of a day where I had a moderate workout:
Breakfast: protein smoothie (430 calories)
Lunch: breaded chicken breast with quinoa and broccoli (405 calories)
Afternoon snack: almonds and collagen water (180 calories)
Dinner: baked salmon with quinoa and broccoli (397 calories)
Daily total calories: 1,412
Image source: Noom app
On this day, I did a pretty good job of loading up on mostly green foods, a nice amount of yellow foods, and limiting my red foods. I know some of my diet staples are red (like MCT oil and almonds), but I’m going to keep eating them — I just pay attention to the portion sizes.
I tend to eat the same things over and over, which is one way people find weight-loss success: it takes the guesswork out of having to plan so many meals each week. I also try and meal prep on Sundays, and on this particular day, I made big batches of quinoa in the rice cooker and broccoli (both steamed and oven-roasted) to last for lunches and dinners. I also baked breaded chicken breasts for lunch and salmon fillets for dinner to get my protein in.
My protein smoothie can sometimes be my biggest meal of the day. I make a calorie-dense smoothie like this after my big morning workout to refuel my body and keep me full well until my late lunch. Sometimes I need to supplement with a mid-morning snack, but most days I’m satisfied until 2 p.m. or so.
If I have a day where I know I’m going to be getting drinks after work or want to make room for a delicious chocolate chip cookie from the break room, I make adjustments in my diet the rest of the day. Maybe I’ll skip the MCT oil in my smoothie or forgo an afternoon snack. Sometimes I’ll trade in my quinoa at lunch for double the veggies or leave out the butter on top. Every little tweak or adjustment counts toward my daily calorie target. And while I didn’t reach for something sweet after dinner on this day, I usually have some type of dessert each day that’s less than 100 calories: a square of dark chocolate or a dark chocolate peanut butter cup from Trader Joe’s.
I have never felt deprived doing Noom and I always listen to my hunger cues. Noom has really opened my eyes to what an accurate portion size is and how to plan your meals around your daily calorie target. I still have a little ways to go to hit my goals, but tracking everything in Noom makes it a little easier.
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Getting a high testosterone reading offers bragging rights for some men of a certain age and may explain in part the lure of testosterone supplements. But once you are within a normal range, does your level of testosterone, the male hormone touted to build energy, libido and confidence, really tell you that much? Probably not, experts say. Normal testosterone levels in men range from about 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter of blood. Going from one number within the normal zone to another one may not pack much of a punch.