Health and Fitness Tips and Inspiration

  1. Are You Foam Rolling the Right Way?



    It seems like every week, we can find a new mobility tool on the market…one that's guaranteed to cure our aches, improve our performance, and leave us feeling years younger. While you can spend a small fortune staying up on the latest gadgets, the foam roller is one of the most reliable tools out there for increasing mobility, range of motion, and muscle recovery. Widely available and inexpensive, this is one addition you should include in your home gym. Once you've got it, getting the most from it requires using it, frequently and correctly.

    Self-Myofascial Release Technique: Myofascial tissue (fascia for short) is a connective tissue that covers your muscles and runs throughout your body. Over time, fascia responds to injuries or muscular tension by developing adhesions or scars. These adhesions create tension within the fascia that prevents it from fully expanding and contracting, limiting the mobility of the muscle that is contained within this connective tissue. In addition to reducing the mobility of the muscle directly contained within that fascia, mobility and nerve patterns of other muscles can be impacted because of the interconnectedness of fascia tissue throughout the body. Healthy fascia provides better circulation to muscular tissues and reduces neuromuscular imbalances. While it's tempting to simply roll across your aching muscles as a form of self-massage, foam rolling should target trigger points, areas of greater tension within the fascia. So how do you target myofascial tissue in your foam rolling?

    Slow Down: Targeting adhesions within your myofascial tissue requires using your foam rolling sessions to focus on trigger points, areas of increased sensitivity. The technique is simple. Start by rolling slowly along the targeted muscle, avoiding joint areas. When you find a sensitive or painful area, stay in that place, applying as much pressure as you can tolerate with the foam roller. Continue to apply pressure there for at least 20 or 30 seconds (remember to breathe). Ideally you should feel the tension in that area begin to release. Continue rolling and finding other areas of tension and focusing on those areas.

    Timing: The most effective time to foam roll is after your warm up and before your workout. After you have warmed up, the circulation throughout your body has increased, making your foam rolling sessions more effective. Additionally, by releasing areas of tension and dysfunction, your mobility will improve during your workout, reducing your risk of injury and increasing your efficiency. Don't worry, however. If you struggle to fit in a foam rolling session during the middle of your workout out, the second best time to foam roll is whenever you can do it. Try keeping a foam roller in your office or living room and take foam rolling breaks while you watch television, read, or work at your computer.

    Self-Myofascial Release Technique (SMRT) can be used on almost any muscle, taking care to avoid joint areas. If you wish to target areas of the low back or neck it is best to use a ball rather than a foam roller, in order to avoid the spinal vertebrae. Additionally, pregnant women should avoid foam rolling the inner calf, as that can be associated with premature labor. With these precautions in mind, foam rolling works well for nearly everyone. You can control the amount of bodyweight you place into the tool, allowing it to be adapted to your comfort level and pain tolerance. The slightly forgiving nature of the foam roller, make it better suited to SMRT than other, harder devices, which target deeper muscle tissues. Most importantly, remember to make a habit out of your foam rolling. While a session or two might improve your recovery, the biggest benefits will occur over time as circulation and muscle efficiency improve throughout your body.
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  2. 5 Ways to Speed-Up Your Weight Loss During the Workday



    If you’re a busy working professional you know it can be hard to fit in daily exercise, which also makes it even harder to achieve weight loss goals. With so many busy professionals strapped for time, we wanted to figure out how they can still lead a healthy lifestyle and, more importantly, lose a little weight while working. So, we turned to a few personal trainers, who are also 2nd Wind store personnel, for some tips on how to squeeze in a little extra calorie burning activities throughout the day. Here’s what they suggest:

    1. Take Time for Walk Breaks: Movement is crucial when trying to lose weight. Every time your body moves, calories are being burned. If you’re at a desk all day, be aware of the dangers that come along with sitting too much. In fact, check out this infographic we put together awhile back. It’s a quick insight into some of the issues that come along with sitting too much, as well as some of the benefits regular moving can bring. OK, let’s get to it. Here’s what we suggest you do every work day. Go for walks. Whether it’s down the hall, around the building, outside in nature… wherever you decide, grab a buddy and go! Set a schedule and hold yourself accountable for completing your walking goals each day. If you have a whiteboard in your office, write down your schedule so colleagues see it and ask about your progress. Set calendar alerts reminding you to head out for a quick stroll for 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes, depending on what your schedule allows. Schedule at least two, 30 to 40 minute lunchtime walks per week.

    2. Move While You Work: Be cognizant of how much you can actually move while you’re completing daily work tasks. Do you talk on the phone a lot, read documents or watch webinars from time-to-time? Those are perfect opportunities to move while you’re being productive. Having a desk that gets you moving is one of the best investments you can make for your health. Treadmill desks (see the LifeSpan Treadmill Desk pictured below) or bike desks will allow you to move with your work right in front of you. Walk or bike at a pace that suits you and you’ll be surprised at how many calories, steps or mileage you can cover while getting caught up in workloads.



    3. Increase walking speed: If you have a treadmill desk, bike desk or take walks outside throughout the day; add a little HIIT or high intensity interval training to the walk. Just like any other workout effort, moments of increased speed equals an increase in calories burned. Try taking your speed from 2.0 to 4.0+ for one minute on your treadmill desk, then bring it back down. Continue that cycle as much as you can. Maybe your 30 minute lunch time stroll incorporates this HIIT effort; one minute up, two minutes back down, and repeat.

    4. Be sure to hydrate: Do you drink enough water throughout the day? Take a look at your daily water drinking habits. How much should you drink? That depends on size and weight, and also on your activity level. You should drink between 1/2 an ounce to 1 ounce water for each pound you weigh, every day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that would be 75 to 150 ounces of water a day. What are some benefits to drinking more water? Water boosts metabolism, helps break down food, flushes out toxins, helps you feel fuller and acts as a natural energy booster (just to name a few). Keep it cold! An added bonus of drinking icy cold water? It burns calories! Drink one 16 oz. glass of cold water and burn up to 17.5 calories. As your body brings down the temperature of the water, it will burn calories.

    5. Incorporate fat burning foods: Foods like green tea, whole grains, hot peppers, lean meats or lentils can actually boost your calorie burning engine, even while you’re not moving or exercising at all. Spicy foods like hot peppers contain a high thermogenic which increase the heat in your body causing it to burn more cals. Enjoy foods with whole grains? Great! You’ll burn a little extra there, too. In fact, your body burns twice as many calories breaking down whole grains so that’s a win-win!

    6. Eat smaller food portions more often: Shrink your tummy by consuming those foods above in smaller portions more often throughout the day (aside from breakfast, lunch and dinner). Consider having 5 to 6 small meals a day. Start with a breakfast that includes hearty whole grains, berries and nuts, then mid-morning, have a snack. For lunch, keep the portion small because early afternoon, you’ve got another snack waiting for you. Then, have a portion controlled dinner when you get home. Breaking down your meals into smaller portions throughout the day might take your stomach some time in getting used to, but once you do, you’ll notice your hunger is satisfied much earlier than it used to be. Smaller amounts will start to be plenty of food for you (pay attention to those changes).

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  3. The Best Stretching Exercises to Improve your Cardio Workouts (Part 2: Post-Workout)

    While stretching before your workout provides you with a greater range of motion and makes your workouts more comfortable, stretching following your workout is a great opportunity to improve flexibility and to reduce tension in the muscles while they are still warm and benefiting from the increased blood flow of your cardio workout. After your next workout, give these stretches a try to reduce your soreness and improve range of motion the next day. Stretches following your workout can address areas that you typically hold tension or feel unbalanced and can be held for a much longer period of time (up to five minutes!).

    Supine Hand to Foot Stretch (Hamstrings): Lying on your back, using a strap or exercise band, loop the band around your right foot. Gently lead the right leg towards your right shoulder, lengthening the hamstring. Hold for up to 2 minutes, bending the leg slightly if you feel a pull behind the knee or on the sit bone. After holding for up to 2 minutes, keeping both hips on the ground, lead the leg across the body and towards the left shoulder. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your right leg and hip. Hold again for up to two minutes. Finally, bring the leg as far out to the right side as you can comfortably hold, feeling the stretch on the inside of your right leg. This stretches all three segments of the hamstrings and can be helpful for low back pain.



    Half Bow (Quadriceps and hip flexors): Lying on your stomach, bring your hand or a yoga strap around your right foot. Keeping the right knee in line with the right hip, draw the right foot close to the body until you feel a stretch through the front of your thigh. You may also kick back into your arm or strap, elevating the knee. Hold for up to three minutes. Repeat on the left.



    Figure 4 (Hips): Lying on your back, bend your right leg, bringing the foot to the floor and the knee to the ceiling. Bring your left foot on top of your right thigh, flexing the foot and pressing the knee away from your body. For a greater stretch, pull the right leg closer using your hands or a yoga strap. Repeat on the left.



    Supported Bridge (Low Back/Psoas): Bringing both heels to the floor, lift up into bridge pose. Now place a yoga block or bolster under your low back supporting you in bridge pose. Lower your back onto the block. Over time, straighten both legs. Over time, come into a higher bridge and bring the block into a higher position.



    Seated Spinal Twist (Shoulders, hips, and back): Seated on the ground, cross your right leg over your left bringing your right ankle to the outside of your left knee. Place your right hand on the ground and bring your left arm over your right ankle as you rotate your shoulders and torso to the right. Hold for up to two minutes while focusing on opening the left shoulder and releasing the middle back. Repeat on the left side.



    Adding these flexibility exercises to your home fitness program will prepare your muscles for the demands of your cardio and strength training, allowing you to perform better and more effectively. They will also improve your range of motion and reduce muscle tension, allowing you to recover quicker and making your daily activities more enjoyable. For the best pre-workout stretches, read this blog post.

    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin.
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  4. [Recipe] Hearty and Healthy Vegetable Lasagna


    Save weeknight time by prepping your meals on the weekends (so you have more time for the gym or summer evening walks!). This lasagna recipe is easy to prepare and easy on the waistline with healthier additions that'll still fill you up. Leftovers make a great weekday lunch or dinner!

    Change-it-up Tip: This recipe doesn’t include meat, but if you’d like to add that flavor, try adding ground turkey or chicken instead of beef. Want to make this recipe even lighter? Swap out pasta with thinly sliced zucchini as the layering.

    INGREDIENTS:
    - 1 large zucchini
    - 1 large squash
    - 1 head broccoli
    - 1 cup pre-sliced mushrooms
    - 1 package (20 oz) frozen spinach, defrosted
    - 1 jar tomato sauce
    - 1 package pre-cooked lasagna noodles (swap out for zucchini noodles for an even lighter option)
    - 32 oz low-fat ricotta cheese
    - ½ cup grated low-fat parmesan cheese

    INSTRUCTIONS:
    1. Preheat oven to 350
    2. Cut zucchini and squash into thin slices, and chop broccoli into small pieces.
    3. On medium heat, toss all veggies into pan and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
    4. Spoon tomato sauce to cover bottom of large lasagna pan. Then place noodles to cover the sauce. Again, spoon sauce to cover noodle. Layer veggies, ricotta, cheese, sauce, noodles, repeatedly until you reach the top of the pan. *If you’re using pre-cooked noodles, be sure to always cover with sauce, otherwise the noodles will be too crunchy. Sprinkle the top of the dish with parmesan cheese.
    5. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until noodles are soft. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes, and serve or freeze (for later in the week).

    NUTRIENTS:
    352 Calories per serving Total Fat: 15 g , Saturated Fat: 9 g, Cholesterol: 54 mg, Sodium: 661 mg, Total Carbohydrates: 30 g, Dietary Fiber: 4 g, Sugars: 14 g, Protein: 26 g.

    Recipe is a favorite of ours, originally from Nutrition Magazine.

    Find a list of more healthy recipes here.
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  5. The Best Stretching Exercises to Improve your Cardio Workouts (Part 1: Pre-Workout)



    The best home fitness programs include three components, cardiovascular workouts, strength training, and flexibility. While it's easy to overlook the importance of flexibility training, spending a little time improving your mobility and range of motion can go a long way in preventing injury and improving your performance in your other workouts. Flexibility work is no longer limited to long periods of stretching (though those can be beneficial at times). It now includes dynamic movements and range of motion work directly targeted at improving your workouts and assisting in injury prevention. The best part about bringing stretching and flexibility work into your home workouts is the way it improves your functioning and reduces soreness from day to day, while requiring only a modest investment of time. Ready to get started?

    Before and after your cardio workout are the ideal times to include mobility work and stretching exercises, but you should treat these times very differently. Early in the workout, your muscles are not yet warmed up and will have a reduced range of motion. Stretching and mobility work at this time, should target areas that you are experiencing tightness, stiffness, or injury, as well as introduce the range of motion that you will need during your planned workout. For most athletes, this work should target your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hips, and shoulders. Rather than holding one position, you'll want to repeat moving in and out of a position fluidly and slowly. Before the workout avoid deep held stretches, especially in the hamstrings and low back as these can reduce the elasticity of your muscles that you need to perform your cardiovascular activity. Keep reading for the best pre and post workout stretching routines! Pre Workout: Next time you work out, start with a light five minute warm up, and then add in these pre-workout stretches.

    Quad Stretch/Dancer Pose: Standing with your feet at hip distance, take hold of the top of your right foot in your right hand (you can also use a yoga strap to assist with this). Bring your knees together to evenly stretch the front of your thigh (position 1). Now kick back into your hand to bring your knee behind your hip and to level your hips toward the ground (position 2). Return to the starting position. Slowly repeat five times. Repeat on the left leg.



    Knee Ups: Standing on your right leg, bring your left knee up to your chest, clasp with both hands to hug it in closer. Now step forward onto the left leg and repeat on the right. Repeat five times on each side. This warms up the hamstrings and prepares the hip flexors for the work of running or cycling.



    Calf/Achilles stretch: Step your right leg directly back behind you at a distance that allows your heel to reach the ground and your toes to point straight ahead. Keeping the toes in the same position, slowly raise and lower your heel five times. Repeat on the other side. This prepares your calves for the work of running or the elliptical.



    Shoulder mobility: Holding a resistance band in each hand and applying little resistance to it, raise your hands from in front of your hips to overhead and then behind. You can also make a figure 8 pattern with the band. Repeat five times in each direction. This warms the shoulders to prepare for strength training and improves range of motion for daily activity.



    Cat/Cow: Kneeling on all fours, inhale and allow your stomach to drop towards the floor, extending the spine downwards (Cow pose) then exhale and press your stomach upwards, flexing the spine towards the ceiling (Cat pose). Repeat five times. This activates the core, reduces low back pain, and prepares the spine for exercise or daily activity. Read on for Part II on the Best Stretching Exercises to do After You Work Out!



    What about stretching after a workout? Stretching afterwards is also very important to help restore muscles so you can keep up with your routine. Click here to read another blog that includes the best post-workout stretches suggested by certified fitness trainer, Joli.

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