Joli Guenther

  1. Seven Ways Exercise Helps Your Mental Health

    It's pretty obvious that exercise is great for your physical health, helping with weight management, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar management among other benefits, but it turns out that getting your heart pumping can be great for your brain as well. Here are seven ways that exercise can do great things for your mental health.

    Exercise can make you smarter. It turns out that the same hormones that make your body stronger as a result of exercise (growth hormones) also positively affect your brain leading to better function in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is associated with learning and memory. Additionally, exercise is also associated with increases in BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), which also positively impacts memory (more on that in a bit).

    Exercise can improve your pain tolerance. Whether you're managing arthritis or struggling with an achy back, your best prescription may be to get moving. A recent study demonstrated that improvements in aerobic fitness are correlated to increases in tolerating pain. While improvements in strength and circulation could be a factor, it's likely that the psychological perception of pain also changes as a result of exercise, causing pain to be perceived as more tolerable and less limiting.

    Exercise can help you manage your stress. As a simple explanation, exercise is a healthy way of responding to the "fight or flight" scenario that our bodies create in response to stressful situations. By providing an outlet for the elevated cortisol and adrenal response, as well as through the creation of endorphins (commonly referred to as feel good chemicals), exercise can help you keep the negative impacts of stress on your body and brain within healthy levels.

    Exercise can help you sleep better. Moderate physical exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the time that it takes to fall asleep and to improve the quality of sleep. Even single exercise sessions of moderate intensity have been demonstrated to improve sleep for that night, while the benefits increase in the long term. Just remember to avoid exercise for two hours before your bedtime in order to give your body and brain sufficient time to cool down before you turn in.

    Exercise can improve your self-esteem. One of the best things about sticking to a regular exercise routine is when you begin to see improvements. Whether you find yourself able to lift more weight or bike longer and harder, those changes in performance make you feel good about what you're doing. This feeling of competence directly impacts perceptions of self-worth, making you more confident over time.

    Exercise can help depression and anxiety. It just makes sense that something that improves sleep, self-esteem, stress levels, and concentration would also be good for depression and anxiety, doesn't it? Exercise can have the added benefits of increasing social support and involvement and positively impacting the dopaminergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic systems of the body, neurochemicals that are also affected by many anti-depressant medications. If you're struggling with clinical depression or even managing a case of the blues, add in exercise to assist in better managing your symptoms.

    Exercise can improve your concentration. Exercise is not only linked to increased intelligence in the long run, but it can also improve your immediate concentration. In addition to impacting BDNF described above, exercising and moving around uses more brain cells, increases circulation to all parts of your body, and results in better regulation of blood sugar and metabolism. Try scheduling "walking meetings" or lunch break workouts to keep your concentration on point through your afternoon.

    While we tend to emphasize greater intensity and longer training sessions when pushing for performance and physical change in our bodies from exercise, it's important to know that the mental health benefits of exercise are attainable for everyone. Even ten minutes of exercise positively impacts aerobic fitness and blood pressure and can be effective in generating the psychological benefits described here.

    Bring your exercises home and feel great on a daily basis with your very own home cardio machine.
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  2. SUP Yoga: Picking Your Board ,Getting Started, Starter Poses

    Stand-up Paddleboard yoga, or SUP Yoga for short, has gained a passionate following. SUP yoga brings adventure into your yoga practice while teaching concrete lessons about letting go of control and going with the flow. Practicing yoga over moving water might seem intimidating, so surrender to its spirit of playfulness. SUP yoga will keep you coming back for more. So what’s SUP and how do you get started?

    Benefits of SUP Yoga

    Whether you choose a traditional hard shell paddleboard or embrace the adaptability of the new generation of inflatable SUP’s, SUP yoga will get you away from it all. SUP yoga lets you enjoy the beauty of an outdoor setting and the serenity of open water. The unique stability challenges of SUP yoga will help you connect to your practice in a new way. You’ll find a deeper mind body connection while improving core strength and proprioception. Lastly, SUP yoga is a lot of fun. Unpredictable conditions make it likely that you will end up in the water during your practice. Whether you join a group or go it alone, surrendering to the playfulness of SUP yoga will bring new energy to your practice.

    Selecting the Best SUP Yoga Paddleboard

    Renting a board or trying a SUP yoga class is a good way to get started. Sadly, renting a good SUP yoga board can be tough. Traditional hard shell boards and inflatable boards are both great options for SUP yoga. You’ll find that the current generation of inflatables provide stability and durability that match or exceed that of hard shell boards. Inflatable boards are also easier to load and unload if you plan on transporting your board for ISUP Yoga adventures. When choosing your board, make sure you have a wider surface area (not a racing board). You’ll also want your grip to run the length of the board to provide better traction in your practice. Lastly, check the weight rating and construction of your board. Bungee cords and elastic webbing are handy add-ons to keep your water bottle and paddle under control. Your board should look and feel solid, without parts that are likely to catch or become damaged during loading and unloading.

    SUP Yoga Pro-tricks

    There’s no real limit to the type of yoga postures you can try on your ISUP but there are a few tricks that will make your practice easier. Give these a try when you head out for your ISUP adventure.

    • Bring an anchor. Head for calm, deep water. Drop your anchor to avoid too much drifting during your practice.
    • Get creative with your props. Life jackets make excellent bolsters. A paddle, extended crossways on your board, can make balance a little easier (strap it into those handy elastic bands).
    • Start with seated postures. While you might be tempted to jump into a strong warrior or tree pose, given your surroundings, seated poses will provide greater stability as you adapt to your new environment.
    • Take a wider stance. As you progress to standing postures, a wider stance will help you find your balance.
    • Focus on centering. While you center your mind and body, build your practice around the center of your board for better stability.
    • Gaze is important. While not unique to SUP yoga, gaze becomes especially important in this unstable environment. SUP yoga might require you to focus on a still point on the horizon, especially when you transition to standing postures.
    • Transition slowly. SUP yoga gives you the chance to slow down, both literally and figuratively. Moving slowly as you transition into standing postures or when moving between postures will let you respond to changes in the wind and water.
    • Let go and play. SUP yoga is a playful past time. Let go of the idea of a perfect practice so that you can immerse yourself in the experience.

    Beginner Yoga Poses on your Inflatable SUP

    Nearly any yoga posture that can be adapted to an ISUP Yoga move. Here are few to start with.

    • Easy Pose: After paddling to calm waters, start your practice by simply sitting cross-legged on your board. Focus on lengthening your spine and your breath as you center in your practice.
    • Cat Cow Vinyasa: Begin to introduce movement into your practice by coming onto all fours. Remember to stay centered on your board. Once you feel stable, let your belly drop down on your inhalation and arch your spine towards the sky while dropping your head on your exhalation. Continue for five or more slow breaths.
    • Child’s pose: From all fours press your hips back towards your heels, reaching forward with your hands. Stay mindful of the center of the board as you let your head come down to the board or your life jacket bolster. Surrender to the peacefulness of the water and your surroundings.
    • Pigeon Pose: Bring one leg forward, maintaining a strongly flexed foot and keeping a bend in your knee. As you rest your knee on the board and rotate your thigh outward, extend your opposite leg behind your body. Because this position is asymmetrical, you may find your stability is more challenged. Focus on continuing to work with the center of your board as you rotate your front thigh outward and back thigh inward to open your hips. If placing your front hip on the board is challenging, you can use your life jacket as a bolster while holding your paddle across the board for additional balance.
    • Svasana: Soak up the rewards of your practice. Lie face up on your board with your arms at your side, palms up. Let your eyes close. Bask in the beauty of your breath and your surroundings.

    As you progress beyond seated postures, a basic yoga flow offers additional strength and stability challenges. Incorporate plank, down dog, and cobra before moving forward into low lunges and finally standing postures. Lastly, ISUP yoga practice doesn’t need to be limited to open waters. When the weather turns colder, you can bring your board indoors to continue using its unique challenges for additional training.

      About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.
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  3. HIIT Workout at Home Help to Achieve Your Goals in Limited Time

    If you’re short on time and need an efficient, effective workout, HIIT workout at home is where it’s at. High Intensity Interval Training is getting a lot of attention. Research demonstrates the effectiveness in increasing levels of human growth hormone, blasting fat, and even reversing the aging process! In addition to burning a high number of calories in a short period of time, HIIT exercise programs will keep your body burning a higher number of calories for the next two days while your body recovers from the demands of your workouts. You can do HIIT circuits using bodyweight or HIIT exercises on your favorite home fitness equipment. While these workouts are intense, they are also scalable for every level of exerciser. Here’s how to get started doing HIIT workouts at home.

    Intensity: HIIT exercise programs alternate period of complete exertion with complete recovery in preparation for your next round of work. There’s no way around it. HIIT is not a comfortable form of exercise. To complete HIIT intervals, your heart rate should reach anaerobic levels. This might happen at 85% of your max if you’re new to HIIT exercise. For more seasoned athletes, your work period should exceed 90% of your max heart rate. Because they are intense, work periods are short. In a true HIIT program, you will not be able to maintain your effort for more than 2 minutes. Your recovery periods will be complete rest, providing enough time to repeat your efforts. This can vary from 30 seconds to as much as twice your work period depending on your training goals. A nice rule of thumb is to provide equal rest and recovery in a HIIT workout of 30 minutes or less.

    Approach: HIIT exercise programs can be completed using a variety of approaches. Bodyweight or lightweight equipment is an efficient way to complete cardiovascular conditioning and strength training. While it’s efficient, you need to have sufficient core strength and joint stability to complete this type of training at a HIIT level. If you have concerns about your knees or low back, low impact HIIT training is probably your best option. Treadmill HIIT workout at home provides a lower impact version. You can even focus on improving your running form during the short work periods. If you’re not a runner, an elliptical trainer HIIT workout at home or exercise bike is an effective option.

    Variation: Starting with a low impact, cardiovascular form of HIIT exercise is a good way to build your stamina and improve your body composition. If you want to continue to get good results from your HIIT training, introduce variations over time. By getting your heart rate up with your treadmill or elliptical, you can include rounds bodyweight HIIT circuits that will build muscular strength. You can also alternate between short, intense runs and HIIT circuits on your elliptical or indoor cycle. Since your work periods are short, you can get good results from a few rounds of higher impact exercise while improving your joint and muscular function. Higher intensity HIIT options that tend to be doable include: running sprints, squats, assisted pull-ups, mountain climbers, and stepping or jumping lunges. Combine these higher impact options with rounds of work on your lower impact exercise equipment for a workout approach that lets you build intensity over time. Try these fat blasting exercises for ideas to include in your HIIT circuits!

    Duration/Timing: One of the best things about HIIT exercise is that if you’re doing it right, you won’t be doing it for long. You can get an effective HIIT workout in just 20 minutes. Your upper limit for a HIIT workout is going to be 30-50 minutes, depending on the duration of your recovery intervals. This makes it a time efficient workout for busy days. You can take the guesswork out of your HIIT training by following a pre-programmed workout, such as Sprint 8 provided on many pieces of Vision, Horizon, and Matrix home exercise equipment. You can also get creative with your own HIIT circuits at home.

    Create your own HIIT workouts: Understanding the intensity of HIIT training and the need for compelete rest periods between work sets, create your own HIIT workouts using cardiovascular equipment and bodyweight or lightweight training. This article can give you ideas on types of exercises that work well for HIIT training. When working HIIT into your training plan, stick with 2-3 workouts per week. You’ll get the greatest benefit while minimizing risks of overtraining and injury. Feel free to stick to one piece of cardio equipment or to mix it up, as demonstrated in the workout provided here!

    The Ultimate 30 Minute HIIT Workout at Home

    This low impact, High Intensity circuit will train your entire body while boosting levels of Human Growth Hormone and fat burning for the next 48 hours.

    Recommended Equipment: Exercise Bike or Elliptical, Moderate Weight Kettlebell, Moderate weight dumbbells, running/walking area, stopwatch

    Warm-up (7 min)
    Min 1 min light to moderate load at moderate pace (about 80 RPM)
    Min 2, increase load to moderately heavy, allow pace to decrease (about 70 RPM)
    Min 3, maintain load, increase pace (about 100 RPM), include 4 jumps (optional) if using exercise bike
    30 seconds, increase load to heavy. Decrease pace (about 65 RPM). Include 2 jumps (optional) if using exercise bike
    Repeat above
    Recover 60 seconds while transitioning to work set 1

    HIIT Workout at Home Set 1: 90 second triple sets (minutes 8-17)
    Goblet squats 30 seconds
    Push-ups 30 seconds
    Goblet Squats 30 seconds
    Recover 60 seconds

    Run: using outdoor space or treadmill; hard run for 90 seconds (option to substitute a farmer’s carry using kettlebell on one side)
    Recover 60 seconds

    Repeat above including recovery (farmers carry on opposite side)

    Bike/Elliptical Round 2 (minutes 18-22)
    Use a moderately heavy load at 70 RPM; increase speed to 100 RPM, maintain 45 seconds; rest 60 seconds, repeat 2 more times

    HIIT Workout at Home Set 2: Supersets (minutes 23-27)
    45 seconds, Kettlebell Thrusters (holding kettlebell at collarbone height, complete a full squat then thrust Kettlebell overhead while returning to standing position, repeat)
    45 seconds stepping lunges with bicep curl on each side
    Rest 90 seconds;
    45 seconds mountain climbers
    45 seconds plank hold

    Cool Down
    3 minutes of cycling, lower intensity each minute

    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.

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  4. Outdoor BBQ Games for Family Fitness

    Need an excuse to head outside? Whether you’re hanging with kids, the whole family, or just adults, outdoor games will do the trick. With options for every budget, fitness level, and age, outdoor games are a great way to socialize and stay active at your next gathering. Here are some outdoor family fitness games to get you started!

    Traditional Outdoor Family Fitness Games

    From corn hole to bocce ball, it’s easy to find these favorites at yard and craft sales. They tend to appeal to a wide audience and you can usually participate with a cold beverage in hand. Set up teams to increase the interaction and to level the playing field between young and old.

    Craft your Own Outdoor Family Games

    Ready to get creative? Or maybe you’re just feeling thrifty. You can make your own outdoor games with a minimal investment of time and money or create a masterpiece that you can enjoy for years to come. I love the Outdoor Twister (paint your circles right onto the grass!) and the Giant Ring Toss using pool noodles. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can make a giant yard Jenga from 2 x 4’s. Throw in an afternoon session of painting pieces for the kids and you’ve got a double round of fun!

    Leveled Up Outdoor Games

    Got an old step ladder around? Some plastic for a slip and slide? Level up your outdoor recreation with a combination game requiring multiple steps. Combine favorites like a ladder bean bag toss (see that link above) with a run through a sprinkler or down a slip and slide. This is a great combination for kids and adults. Get creative and incorporate some of the features of your backyard, including swing sets, trampolines, rolls down a gentle hill, even animal exercises!

    Creative Outdoor Family Games

    Not all games require a big investment in time, money, or supplies. Popular favorites include water balloon fights (or Dodgeball), egg carries and tosses, bottle battle (or beer frisbee), and capture the flag. You can also put together an outdoor photo booth, create a toilet paper fashion show, or battle with balloons and empty paper towel holders.

    With a little creativity, you can take your outdoor games to a new level this year. If you have something especially wet or messy planned, be sure to let your guests know ahead of time so they can dress for it, (and mentally prepare). Set up teams so that all levels of players feel comfortable joining in on the fun and leave room for spectators to enjoy from the side. Finally, stay flexible. It’s nice to have a variety of options so guests can join in throughout the day (or evening).

    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.
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  5. How-To Create Healthy Ice Cream Recipes

    Nothing beats ice cream on a hot day. Of course, the high fat and sugar content of most frozen desserts makes them hard to fit into a healthy diet. Sadly, lower calorie and higher protein alternatives are generally expensive and loaded with artificial ingredients. Creating your own healthy ice cream, ice cream alternatives, and other frozen treats is actually a lot easier than you’d think. Beyond banana ice cream and Nice Cream, here’s what you need to get started on this family friendly, easy summer treat.

    Tools to Make Healthy Ice Cream Alternatives:

    You don’t need a lot of equipment to create delicious ice cream alternatives. While a high-end ice cream maker is a powerful addition if you find yourself dedicated to crafting sorbets and gelatos, you probably have what you need in your kitchen right now.
    • Food processor or powerful blender: This is your single-most powerful tool in creating your own healthy ice cream recipes. With a few changes and a little extra time in the freezer, you can modify your favorite smoothies into a sweet summer indulgence. The trick is giving them plenty of time to process and, possibly, returning them to the freezer when you’re done.
    • A bread pan: Once you finish creating your healthy ice cream, throw it in a bread pan and keep it in the freezer for a few hours so that you can easily scoop and serve when it’s dessert time.
    • Freezer Pop Molds: If you’d like to add fruit bars and other transportable treats to your ice cream stash, keep these on hand. Using craft sticks rather than the included bases are nice, since it’s hard to get all those parts back to the kitchen when you’re done. You can also use decorative ice cube trays for fun (and messy) treats for the younger crowd.
    • Freezer Space: You’ll want a level space in your freezer to let your treats set, so take the time before you mix to set that up. It’s way easier than juggling a tray in your hand while shuffling bags of broccoli and prepped meals.

    The Easiest Ingredients for Healthy Ice Cream Recipes:

    Traditional ice cream relies on a heavy amount of butterfat and sugar to create “mouthfeel”. That’s the creamy sensation that makes ice cream taste extra good and leaves you wanting more. A great healthy ice cream recipe replicates this through alternative ingredients that create a similar texture. Here are some of the best options.
    • Frozen Bananas: Bananas get their own recognition when it comes to healthy ice cream. Banana ice cream is easy to make using frozen bananas and your food processor. Better yet, doctor it up with some cocoa powder and peanut butter to create this Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl (I want all of these in my freezer this summer!) The high glycemic index of bananas makes them easily absorbable after a workout. Fuel your recovery and your cravings at the same time!
    • Coconut Milk: Whether you’re vegan, limiting your dairy intake, or just love coconut, you can’t go wrong with this delicious ice cream base. You can freeze your coconut milk before adding it to your mix, or just freeze the mixture afterwards in a bread pan. Pineapple and coconut are a natural pair. Throw in a little ginger to mix up this inspired sorbet.
    • Greek Yogurt: This tangy protein source combines well with fruit or protein powder. You can use it to add creaminess (and probiotics) to your final product. Choose from skim, low fat, or full fat options depending on how healthy you need your healthy ice cream to be.
    • Frozen fruits: This mainstay healthy ice cream base provides a desirable consistency, color, and sweetness. You can blend fruits with other bases or showcase them in sorbets and fruit pops. Try this raspberry mint ice pop for a perfect hot afternoon pick me up.
    • Canned Fruits: Don’t overlook canned fruits and pie fillings as you create your favorite recipes. The trick to using canned fruits is to freeze them first. Thaw them only as much as needed to dice into 1-2 inch cubes before adding to your base. Canned pumpkin or previously baked pumpkin or sweet potato can be frozen in smaller containers. Thaw slightly before slicing and adding to other bases for a creamy pumpkin pie ice cream. Mandarin oranges and sliced pears work well on their own. Put the whole can in the freezer, thaw under running water for a few minutes until you can easily remove from the can and slice into smaller pieces. Blend until you have a sorbet consistency. You can enjoy as is, or add a few drops of your favorite essence (vanilla or rum are nice).
    Get Creative. Your options are limitless. Add your favorite essence. Anything from mint to mocha is easily available at your local grocery. You can up the protein content and thicken your ice cream by throwing in a scoop of protein powder. For inspiration, check out protein packed frozen treats. Finally, don’t overlook healthy ice cream alternatives and frozen desserts at your next picnic or barbecue. From Frozen Pineapple Upside Down Cake to a cooler full of ice pops, you’re guaranteed a summer crowd pleaser!

    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.
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