Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is There Possibly a Healthy Fast Food Spot?

Today, I thought I'd just leave you guys a quick note. I woke up thinking about you, and what challenges you could be facing today with your diet and workout routine. And one big one has always been fast food. We will talk about fast food in more detail soon, but if you are in the US, and wondering which of the chains provide a variety of healthy low calorie options, I'd recommend Panera Bread or Au Bon Pain. Yea yea, I knew you'd all yell Subway too, but even though they do have low calorie options, I'm not the greatest fan of the bread there. Quizno's isn't bad as well if you know what you want.

The great thing about Panera Bread is that they allow substitutions, they have good bread options, and they would "panini" your bread if you ask. And I'm sure some of you appreciate your sandwiches hot.

Anyway ladies and gents, have a fab day and make healthy diet choices :)

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Carbs

Websites, TV, Commercials, and maybe even your Trainer are constantly telling you to eat healthier, but you do realize that to function and work out effectively, you do need your carbs. However, with the development of the "anti-carb" diets, I think we've all been led to believe that all carbs are bad. Let's debunk that theory a bit.

Why do you need carbs?
You need your carbs for energy, plain and simple. If you work out, you may think that you only need protein to rebuild muscle tear after strenuous strength exercises. But to get enough strength for your muscles to be able to work hard enough, you need to feed on carbs. Some of the carbs you eat are stored as glycogen - your muscles' only source of energy. So if you find that you get lift less and less weights in the gym, you may not be getting enough carbs.

Additionally, for the cardio portion of your workout, you need to constantly replenish your body's energy source to do more and move more.

Did you also know that if you do not eat enough carbs, your body will look for the energy it needs to survive elsewhere, probably in the protein you eat? This means that rather than being used to repair your muscles, you might find that your protein intake is serving another purpose - supplying your body energy. This could affect your muscle tone.

Are certain carbs better than others?
Definitely! Rather than focus on the "all carbs are bad" theory, focus on what carbs are good. Healthy carbs are less processed carbs that digest slower to keep you fuller longer and keep your blood sugar stable. Unhealthy carbs are highly processed carbs that give you immediate blood sugar and energy spikes, but also digest very quickly and cause you to get hungry quicker. So obviously you should be aiming for more healthy carbs, right?

Examples of healthy carbs that you should be eating?
The less processed, the better for you. Reach for the oats, whole grains, brown rice, and vegetables over the white bread, sugary cereals, and cookies. With food that comes packaged, one rule of thumb is to look for how many ingredients are on the pack. Do you see a bunch of things you can't pronounce? Look for an option with fewer unprocessed whole grain ingredients. It is not always easy, but the key is to find options that are healthy and enjoyable, and it gets easier and easier as you get used to making the right decisions.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Abs: Doing the Elbow Plank

Whenever summer comes, I always get questions about exercises to help trim the abs. I think we all know there is no magic formula to get great abs besides controlling your diet, doing cardio to control your weight all over, and then doing strength training to tone the abs. I'll be showing you some basic strength training moves over the summer that you can incorporate into your routine so you're not on the floor doing crunches all day (mostly because that won't get you anywhere). 

The plank is one of these strength training exercises. And I think it is both heavily underestimated and done wrongly at the same time. You can either do the plank on your elbows or your palms. Doing it on your palms gives your upper arms more of a workout than doing it on your elbows. But we'll focus on the elbow plank today.

Here are a few tips to get the elbow plank right:
  • Keep your elbows at about a 90 degree angle under your shoulder.
  • You should be resting only on your elbows and toes.
  • Hold your abs tight tight tight!
  • Try to keep your body in a straight line from the back of your head down to your heels.
  • Do not stick your butt out or sag our pelvis towards the floor.
I know that probably doesn't mean much without the visual. The video below give a good look at what the elbow plank should look like. Plus, it gives the dudes all something to aspire to :) The instructor is pretty excitable which makes it fun to watch as well.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We Need to Start Thinking About Our Kids' Health

Okay, so maybe most of you reading this are not parents yet, but you probably will be someday. And the world is constantly changing causing kids to be less and less active. I love the approach Michelle Obama is taking in trying to get children healthy in America, but we also need to extend this thinking to the rest of the world. The US may currently be struggling with child obesity issues, but the outlook is that this will spread to the rest of the world soon. This is why we should be building a healthy lifestyle now so that we can control this epidemic (Yes, I just called it an epidemic).

So whether you have kids, are thinking about having kids, or see kids somewhere in your future, what are some basic things you can do to help your kids build a healthy mentality?

Get them involved in sports: It's not that you're trying to make them the next Ronaldo or Serena Williams (although that wouldn't hurt), but it helps them build the active mentality, as well as body coordination and teaming. It could be at school or it could be simply organizing play dates that involve a ball and your backyard.
Change how you reward them: If you give your child a twinkie every time he/she does well in school, that would be what your child will work for. Rather, reward your child with a trip, a hangout with friends, a theme park visit, or anything that involves physical activity.
Keep healthy snacks at home: This is just as much for you as it is for your child. If you see a ton of carrots at home, you'd eat carrots when you need a snack. In fact, you'd become creative with your snacking. However, on the other hand, if all you have is ice-cream and cookies, when your body is craving energy, that is what you'd reach for. With your kids, when you're tired, and they are bugging you (kids do do that), you'd probably reach for what's closest to quiet them. If what's closest is a cookie, then... you get my point. Make them familiar with healthy options.
Take a walk with your kids: Some of the best times I spent with my dad in my teenage years was when we would just take a walk somewhere and talk. Who knew we were also keeping our bodies moving in the process? Well, my dad probably knew. Create an excuse for you to move with your child. It could be walks, it could be sports you play together, or it could even be gardening.
Make food time table time: A lot of families nowadays find that dinner time is TV time. However, this has been shown to make people unconsciously eat more because your eating would be based on your emotions triggered by what it is you are watching. Set the table instead. Let dinner time be family time. I know this is difficult with our crazy work schedules, but try to make it a habit to sit down at the table to eat. We already rush through lunch most of the time.
Set a good example: Lastly, however you choose to help your kids become healthier, nothing affects your kids mentality more than watching you. Make healthy decisions yourself and your kids will probably learn to make healthy decisions. Do some of your workouts at home so they understand what it means to move and sweat, or set a schedule where your kids see you dress up and go to the gym so they understand that it is important to you.

Are there any other strategies you have for keeping kids healthy? Are there any you now realize your parents used on you?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How Many Days a Week Should You Train?

 Exercise means different things to different people because everyone's goals may vary. If you are trying to lose weight, you tend to focus more on cardio, and if you are trying to tone up, you tend to focus more on strength training. But whatever your goal is, it is important to recover both short and long term.

The age old question has always been how often should you work out to meet your individual goals? It s not an easy question to answer because it completely depends on what you are trying to achieve. However, the best way to look at it may be to ask yourself how often you should rest. 

There are two different types of recovery: short and long term. Short term recovery is right after you exercise; those hours where you're refueling and getting your muscles to start repairing the wear and tear you out them through. Long term recovery is a periodic rest plan that should be built into your workout plan so you don't overwork your body. I'm pretty sure you mostly get our short term rest, but do you get long term rest? How often do you take a rest day? In fact, what does a rest day mean to you?

To be honest, if you train fairly intensely every day, you should have about one day a week where you do not do intense exercise. This is pretty difficult for some people as taking a day off sometimes messes with your caloric plan for that day. But if you continue to tear down your muscles and joints without giving them a chance to recover, you may not actually be building strength and tone the way you want to. Basically, exercise tears down muscles and rest repairs them. That's why it is important to have both.

If your exercise schedule consists of a mixture of moderate and low-intensity exercises, taking a day of might not be as important. Think about it. If you walk, cycle lightly, or do lower intensity cardio most days a week, and do strength training maybe once or twice, your body is already resting and so complete days off may not be as important as someone doing high-intensity exercises.

All in all, I believe it is important to keep the body constantly moving about 5 days a week. If that means going at high-intensity for those 5 and then taking 2 complete days off, or going at moderate-intensity for 5 days and then low intensity for 2, or mixing up your cardio and strength days so you only do strength 3 days a week and then cardio for 3, it should allow your muscles enough time to be active and enough time to relax. The most important thing is that you are meeting your caloric goals when you combine with your diet, keeping yourself active, and also giving your body time off.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Avid Exerciser vs. The Over-Exerciser

You've watched fashion shows where models are pressured to lose more and more weight. You've seen these body pressures lead to eating disorders and other negative body issues. You've even judged people with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. But have you ever thought of over-exercising as an issue? Frankly, I think we talk about overweight people a lot, but not underweight folks. We don't help our kids grow up with a healthy image of their bodies in an environment where stick thin is seen as beautiful.

With the pressures we face with society everyday, it is very easy to swing the "body issue" pendulum from healthy to obsessive. But on the other hand, when it comes to exercise, it is sometimes difficult to determine what excessive is. 

So let's try to analyze, shall we? How do you know if you are simply an athlete (or an avid exerciser) that pushes your body, or if you are addicted to exercise? The first thing to look out for is how your mental state relates to your physical state. Athletes would generally work towards a target, like a marathon or being able to do 50 pushups. Overexercisers just work out because they cannot function without it. This means one day of exercise takes precedence over everything else.

Another sign is when a person cannot eat a meal without the need to burn every single calorie. Athletes understand the body's need for fuel to perform at their peak. But an overexerciser sees food as the enemy where every calorie must be eliminated. In fact, this is the same mental state a bulimic person has, where what goes in must come out.

Lastly, if exercise trumps a hurt body, if you find yourself going for a run even after you have hurt your knee, that is a clear sign. What use is it if you totally destroy your body and then can't exercise even if you wanted to? Like any other addiction, it is about the now, and so overexercisers don't really think about the future.

It is very important to have a healthy perspective when it comes to our bodies, exercise, and food. That perspective has to all go together for our bodies to function properly and work like a well oiled machine to maintain weight. If you are constantly stressing about your body and exercise, you may not be getting the most out of your work out. Trust me, I struggle with this balance sometimes. I want to push my body to its limit to see what I can achieve (so I'm an athlete, yay!), but sometimes, I think like an overexerciser. Sometimes, I feel like I need exercise to function like a human being. When you find yourself getting to that place, make sure you reel it in.

So what side are you on? Or are you simply struggling to like exercise at all?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Roundhouse Kicks

So I'm always talking about squats (which by now I'm certain you must hate) because they work out your booty and inner thighs. And who doesn't want thighs firm enough to crush a watermelon? Well, there are other great exercises that can give you great thighs and shapely legs as well. One of those exercises is the roundhouse kick.

Okay, so I stole this from kickboxing. But I love boxing and kickboxing moves because they work out so many more muscles than we initially imagine. Though it is a kick, because you have to take a certain stance and control the position of your upper body, you are also working your abs. This move is actually originally from martial arts. You see this in every combat video game, and we've associated Chinese action stars with how high they can kick.

So enough chat. How do you do the roundhouse kick? Keep your feet about hip width apart and your arms in a boxing stance. Stay strong on your left foot, and lift your right foot as high as your hips facing the right side. Kick with that foot while still keeping your upper body in a boxing stance. One full rep is a kick and then pull your knee back in.

A picture is worth a thousand words :)

This is a fun piece to incorporate into your workout routine. Do as many reps as you possibly can without breaking your posture or getting shaky. Switch legs. You should be feeling this big time in your butt and legs.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What are the Best Options from the Vending Machine?

We work most of our lives, and most folks don’t always find themselves with a farm nearby to just go and pick an apple at our leisure. And so when those 3 or 4pm hunger pangs hit, we head straight for our most convenient option: the vending machine.

Let’s be honest, most items in the vending machine are full of salt, sugar, and calories. And you don’t get to see the nutritional value before you choose which sucks! But you might be surprised to know that there are some reasonably healthy options you can get. Here are a few:

Granola bars: Depending on what country you are in, there are usually some low calorie granola bars in vending machines. Be very careful here though because some granola bars pack tons of sugar, and no natural ingredients. So look for items with nuts, oats, and fruits. Some good examples? The Nature Valley Oats and Honey Crunchy granola bar (180 calories), Quaker Chewy Low Fat granola bars (usually about 110 calories), and the Kashi TLC Chewy granola bars (about 140 calories).

Chips: Chips do contain a lot of empty calories, and so the key is to go for the baked or multigrain kind, and stick to the original flavor where possible. A lot of the junk is in the added flavors. One great is example is Popchips Original flavor (120 calories). It has few ingredients, low fat, and it isn’t fried. Other options are the Baked Lays Original (210 calories), or the Sun Chips Original (140 calories). Wheat Thins are another really good option with about 190 calories. Again, try to stick to the original flavor. If you have reduced salt options, even better.

Nuts: If you’re looking for a good protein option, nuts are the way to go. Just make sure you buy sizes that you can finish and still stay under your calorie limits. Because we all know it’s difficult to stop with nuts. Planters’ Honey Roasted Peanuts is a good option with only 160 calories. If you do find an unsalted option, I’d suggest sticking to that instead as packaged nuts can sometimes be packed with tons of salt.

Popcorn: There are currently so many low calorie popcorn options out there, but they are sometimes hidden at the bottom of the machine, and so you may not see them. Plus, if you want something fast or don’t have a microwave around, this may not appeal to you. But popcorn is a good low calorie food because it is natural (Well, when you don’t add in tons of butter, sugar, and salt). Orville Redenbacher Natural mini popcorn bags usually contain about 200 calories or less, and Smart Food Reduced Fat popcorn contains only about 120 calories.

There are many other options including breakfast cereal bars and trail mixes that are low calorie vending machine options you can stick to. We have the tendency to go overboard with the vending machine because we think we don’t have choices, but we do!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Anal Side of Exercise

Okay, sometimes, we need to talk about some serious issues around exercise. It's not all "Work out and your life would be great". What am I talking about? If you have been doing intense or extreme workouts for a while, especially running, you may have had a couple of worrisome experiences by now involving you and your poo. Yes, I'm talking about blood down there.

This may cause concern and even shame, but apparently, if you have been experiencing any sort of rectal bleeding post-workout, you are not alone. Per the Running Times Magazine, approximately 17 percent of runners experience rectal bleeding in different forms after training. It may be in the form of diarrhea, or just swelling and sensitivity (and of course a dash of blood).

This form of bleeding, when it happens infrequently and goes away when you are not training, is usually not serious. However, just as with any physical condition, please consult with your doctor if you are concerned.

So what is the reason for this anyway? What does physical motion have to do with our butt? Usually, when you work out, your blood flows to the areas where it is most needed, like your muscles. This just means that other areas, like the colon, don't get as much blood flow as they normally would. This can cause the superficial lining of the colon to start to shed, causing bleeding.

If you lift weights a lot, this activity can also increase pressure in your rectal muscles. This pressure can cause swelling and sensitivity. Continuous pressure in the rectal area can lead to hemorrhoids, which as you know, can cause bleeding in the anal area. 

These are usually the most common causes of rectal bleeding, and should not cause major concern because they are not persistent, and pass by after a day or so without medical intervention. However, there are more severe causes as well, including intestinal issues, issues with your digestive tract, and even cancer. And so, please please please, if any bleeding or discomfort persists, please consult your doctor immediately. Even if you find it isn't serious in the end, it is best to know.

Of course, just as with any bad physical issue in this life, it occurs more frequently in women than in men. So if you are a woman, pay particular attention to your body, and take note of any unusual issues noted during or after exercise.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

11 Not-So-Healthy 'Health' Foods

Just because something is labeled "smart" doesn't mean it's an intelligent choice. Arm yourself with knowledge to avoid these sneaky saboteurs.
- By Madeline Vann, MPH; Excerpt from

Fruit juice and a bran muffin for breakfast; a Caesar salad for lunch; a protein bar snack; and a turkey burger with all the fixings for dinner. Sounds like a reasonably healthy day, right? Not so fast. All of these foods have a healthy reputation, but they all have something else in common, too: They’re hiding the types of sugar, fat, and calories that can bust your diet or even lead to weight gain.

Protein Bars and Shakes: Unsatisfying Snacks
If you’re short on time or you work out a lot, meal replacements loaded with protein may sound like a great idea, but these so-called health food options can quickly turn into diet traps. “They are marketed with trendy nutrition names like ‘gluten free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘dairy free,’ ‘low fat,’ and ‘natural,’ but they are a scapegoat for healthy eating,” says Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep the Weight Off for Good. Besides their often-high sugar and fat content, you might end up eating far more protein and calories than you need. “Some can have up to 300 to 400 calories, and people eat two at a time," he notes. And, because "they are also not so satisfying," he says, he recommends whole foods instead. For great snacks that are better than a bar and clock in at less than 200 calories, he suggests 5 ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt with a cup of berries, apple slices with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, or a hard-boiled egg and whole-wheat crackers.

Granola: Sugar Overload
More than any other food, granola has tricked the diet industry into thinking it’s healthy, when really those organic, all-natural whole grain and nut mixes are packed with calories, fat, and sugar. Just a quarter-cup serving of granola can easily have upwards of 130 calories, not to mention at least 4 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat. To get the crunch you crave, make your own healthy mix to skip out on added sugars. Measure your portions carefully, and sprinkle granola on top of yogurt instead of eating it alone.

Dried Fruit: Sugary Saboteur
Dried fruits are great sources of concentrated vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but — and it’s a big but to avoid — you have to limit your intake because you’re also getting very concentrated calories and sugar. Consider prunes, which are dried plums: Just one cup of prunes contains more than 400 calories and 45 grams of sugar while one cup of fresh plum has just 76 calories and 16 sugar grams. Plus, when you eat fresh fruit you get the added water content that can help you feel full.

Sushi Rolls: Beware of Sodium
In theory, sushi rolls are almost perfect — protein in the form of seafood (often from healthy fatty acid sources such as salmon and tuna) combined with seaweed, veggies, and a small amount of rice. If you ate sushi in the traditional small quantities along with some miso soup, you’d actually be doing well for both nutrition and diet. But modern sushi rolls are a little more dangerous: Many varieties, such as tempura rolls, come fried or topped with mayo and cream cheese. Plus, soy sauce contains excess sodium, and all the white rice can cause blood sugar spikes in people with diabetes. When eating sushi, it’s best to stick to brown rice rolls, fresh veggies, and no sauce.

Caesar Salad Calorie-Bomb
Romaine lettuce, the foundation of Caesar salad, is richer in vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce, so that’s a good start. But look past the leaves, and you’ll see plenty of diet trips, such as high-fat dressing, calorie-rich cheese, and fatty croutons. Just because you ask for dressing on the side when you order your salad doesn’t mean you’re spared all the excess calories, says Villacorta, adding that a fully-loaded Caesar can top 800 calories. Instead, top your greens with grilled chicken strips and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

High-Calorie Fish Sandwiches
Fish is often touted as a low-calorie superfood (in fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week), but once you fry that fish, slather it in high-calorie tartar sauce, and slap it between two slabs of white bread or a buttered roll, you’ve more than negated any health benefit you might see. Opt for grilled fish or chicken on an open-face sandwich or a fish taco loaded with salsa and vegetables — hold the sour cream and cheese!

Margarine: Hidden Trans Fat
Margarine can be a better choice than butter, particularly for people who are concerned about their heart health. But not all margarines are created equal: Many stick forms contain hidden trans fat, which can be even worse for your heart than the saturated fat in butter. When choosing a stick, go for the brand with the lowest levels of fat and cholesterol. If you’re at risk for heart disease, choose a brand that has been fortified with plant stanols and sterols, which can help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

Sugary Fruit Juice
A drink that's 100 percent fruit juice sounds like a healthy way to check off your daily fruit needs. The problem is, even if you’re drinking unadulterated juice (not a juice drink, a diet trap with tons of added sugar and sometimes barely 10 percent real juice), you’re missing out on the fiber and the nutrients available only in the whole food, especially fruits with edible peels. In general, experts advise that only a third of the 2.5 cups of fruit you need each day should come from juice. And moderation matters for this health food. Serving sizes for store-bought juice in bottles and at juice bars and cafes are out of control, says Villacorta, and if you’re not careful, you can add hundreds of calories to your daily diet through juice. He suggests scaling down your fruit juice servings to one 4-ounce glass a day, or skip fruit juice entirely and just eat the real thing.

Fat-Filled Bran Muffins
Store-bought and cafĂ© muffins may seem like a healthy food choice, but too often their whole grains are lost in a sea of oversized portions, sugar, sodium, and fat — a resounding diet trap. To add insult to injury, some store-bought muffins skip out on the whole-grain ingredients and many don’t contain enough to counteract the sugar and fat in your diet anyway. You can keep your muffins from becoming a diet trap by making them yourself and boosting the fiber fill-up with oat bran and ground flaxseed — just refrain from using supersized muffin tins to maintain diet portions.

Needless Nutrition Waters
Although it seems intuitive to combine two components of healthy nutrition — water and vitamins — into one package, brand-name vitamin or nutrition waters might not be the best choice for your body or your budget. Dietitians generally recommend a varied diet as the best way to get good nutrition, in part because your body may not be able to absorb vitamins as effectively without other dietary elements such as small amounts of fat and the fiber. That’s why a big mixed salad with a touch of homemade dressing is the health food choice to get your vitamins and minerals — and just plain water from the tap will do for hydration. Know that some nutrition waters may not even contain all the vitamins you need for the day, and be doubly aware to avoid any that contain sugar (and calories) — a diet trap to steer clear of.

Diet-Busting Turkey Burgers
Turkey is generally thought of as a fit and trim alternative to red meat, but depending on the cut and preparation, a burger can easily have more fat than a lean cut of beef, not to mention the calories from the bun you save when you just eat a cut of meat. Look for the leanest ground turkey available at the store, or go completely meatless and try veggie burgers. Regardless of your patty preference, go light on the condiments, layering vegetables onto a whole-grain bun or lettuce wrap instead of cheese and mayo .

For the full slideshow, video, and more, please visit

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Microwaves, Radiation, Cancer, and Such Things

 In a world where the things we've created to promote easier living seem to be the same things killing us, I don't blame folks for trying to be careful. Recently, there have been many rumors about microwaves and how the radiation generated from heating food can give you cancer.

Your question is 'Are they true?'. Should you stop heating up your food altogether? The answer is no.

In reality, to understand that microwaves are not as unsafe as we make them seem (Well, not our present-day microwaves at least), we need to understand a little about radiation. Machines produce different types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Microwaves produce non-ionizing radiation, which is much less powerful than ionizing radiation. Just to give you a little perspective, X-Ray machines produce ionizing radiation.

So does this non-ionizing radiation leak out of the door of the microwave, form an invisible organism, and take over the world? No, not really. In fact, microwave manufacturers are mandated to prove to the health authorities (the FDA in the USA) that their products meet certain standards, which include "leakage" standards. However, if you have had your microwave for a while, and think it might be faulty, contact the health department because these manufacturing standards do not cover faults that happened in your home.

Just so I don't scare you though, these cases are very few and far between. The majority of microwaves meet manufacturing regulations, and while it is true that they emit very little radiation, studies have shown that these radiation levels are not nearly enough to cause cancer. So you can rest easy.

If you are still concerned and would rather not take the small risk, one preventative measure would be to make sure you do not have physical contact with the microwave while it heats your food.

What have you heard about microwave ovens and cancer?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bosu Ball Pushups

Challenge yourself to build a better, stronger, and leaner upper body with pushups. Do them all the way, half way, or on your knees. Though the degree of difficulty may vary, you'd still be working your upper arms, chest, and back. 

The Bosu ball pushups work the same muscles that pushups do, but they also help work on your balance. Try doing some today.

  • Balance on the Bosu ball in the upper pushup position gripping the sides of the ball.
  • Do a complete pushup the way you would do one on the ground.

You can add your own twist and do it on your knees as well. Remember, it is not only important to challenge your body by pushing yourself with the exercises you are used to, it is even more important to make slight changes to your exercises to confuse your muscles a little bit.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Exercise Helping Cancer Patients

Today, we want to take a pretty serious break and talk about something dear to me: cancer patients and survivors. A guest writer, David Haas from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, has agreed to write a brief stint on how exercise can help people suffering from various types of cancer. We always talk about how exercise can help prevent disease, but there is also additional evidence that shows that exercise may be able to help you get through various types of diseases.

----Guest Writer: David Haas, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
 Dealing with cancer can be difficult enough without having to also deal with the side effects of treatments, disruptions of sleep, stress, and anxiety. Exercise is known to be a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer according to the latest research. Even a moderate exercise routine can help you deal better with cancer by boosting your mood, immune system, and energy levels.

A Journal of Sport & Exercise study showed that only 15 minutes of exercise boosts feelings such as pride, enthusiasm, excitement, and happiness. The most active participants experienced more positive, uplifting moods compared to the more sedentary participants. Also, the active participants felt most positive on the days that they had exercised.

The study did not address exactly what the mechanism was behind the mood boost seen among the active students. But speculation is that the effect is due the secretion of certain chemicals and hormones when we are active. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins may be responsible. Endorphins have a pain-dampening effect and dopamine is the body's pleasure-reward chemical. In effect, when you exercise your body rewards you by decreasing your pain and increasing your feelings of happiness and contentment.

What type of exercise is best? The answer depends upon the individual. Make an honest assessment of your current level of physical fitness and where you are in your cancer treatment. Find a form of exercise that is not too demanding and one that you will enjoy. It’s impossible to stick with an exercise that you hate.

Many cancer patients, whether they are diagnosed with breast cancer or mesothelioma, enjoy activities like walking, jogging, and running. Some older patients may find more low-impact exercise to be appealing since they may suffer from arthritic knees or joints. If you fall into this category, you might prefer swimming, since the water supports most of your weight. Biking is another great way to get in some quality exercise. If you prefer to stay at home, a home stationary bike is a great choice. Some have monitors that estimate your speed and measure how many calories you are burning.

Whatever form of exercise you choose, the point is to get active and make it a regular part of your life. Once you see the many positive effects, you will not have to force yourself to do it- it will be a part of your day that your cherish and look forward to.

If you have any questions or concerns, consult with your doctor or oncologist. Your hospital may also have physical therapy staff that can help you design an exercise routine specific for your needs. They can take into account your current level of physical fitness and your condition to tailor-make an exercise routine just for you.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hiking the New Jersey Palisades

 This weekend, five girlfriends and me decided we were going to go on a hike. Ha! So much for those who say black girls don't hike! And yes, we are all African. 

The first task was finding a good location that we hadn't tried before that worked well for all of us, with at least a moderately difficult terrain, and with a breathtaking view. We do live in the New York area, and so all three requirements are not easy to satisfy. But after much research, we discovered the New Jersey Palisades.

If you are looking for a great hiking spot, and you live in or new New York city, you have to try the Palisades. It stretches beyond New Jersey up into upstate New York so it is massive. However, the New Jersey portion goes for about 12 miles (i.e. 24 miles to and fro) so there is definitely enough space to go just a couple of hours or a whole day.

So on Saturday morning, we got ready - food, water, sunscreen and all - and drove up to the George Washington Bridge on 178th Street and Cabrini Boulevard on the western side of Manhattan. Our aim was to park out there, walk the bridge to Fort Lee, New Jersey, and start the hike. You know, make the bridge part of the hike since the trail literally began right across the bridge. I must say, this was a fantastic idea (*pats myself on the back*) as we had the best time walking. I have walked the Brooklyn Bridge and I didn't realize that the GWB was just as breathtaking!

We walked across the bridge in a single file with the cyclists speeding by us yelling "I'm on your left!". And of course, we took incredible pictures. We got onto the trail after looking at the map and trying to figure out where we were for a few minutes. I mean, who closes the entrance to the trail right next to the bridge with no alternate directions and no explanation? But we found our way and did some daring things on top of cliffs. Maybe I will show you those pictures someday when I'm sure there will be no legal ramifications involved. It was awesome!

The trail itself was mostly unpredictable with a few areas of flatness. My favorite part of course was running up the steps to the top with my backpack. And when I say up the steps, I mean a height of somewhere between 300 and 500 feet. Yes, my buns feel that this morning.

After about 4 hours of our little hike, we decided to stop at a park and do some jump lunges, fly squats, and suicides. Only in my world would you end a hike with power exercises. My friends are good sports though so they jumped right in with me.

So what's the moral of today's story? Black girls hike too! Oh, and hiking is a great workout. In a four hour hike, we probably covered about 8 miles, and burned about 800 calories (depending on individual weight) so it was a great exercise day. And all that climbing definitely worked on some booties and legs. It is something you should try out if you've ever considered it. If you have no one to hike with, and you live in my area, give me a shout. I just might :)

Cheers Eights & Weights!


Friday, June 1, 2012

Freestyle 20 Minute Cardio

We regularly think of cardio exercises as running, spinning, walking, and basically anything that can be simulated on one of the machines at the gym. Well, if you have to time to head to the gym, you're on the road, or the machines at the gym are full for some reason, there is another approach.

I have this theory that the best way to get yourself moving is to create a circuit of exercises you want to do, and do each exercise for one minute. Say you had four cardio exercises. If you created a circuit of these four exercises, did each for a minute with a 15 second rest between each, you would have five minutes. Rotate these five minutes four times and you have a 20 minute cardio session.

So your next question probably is "What cardio exercises can I include in my freestyle cardio session?". Here are a few suggestions of high power cardio:

Jumping Jacks: This is a very popular exercise, and is also referred to as star jumps sometimes. If you haven't heard of jumping jacks, here is a basic description. Stand with your arms at your sides and your legs closed. Jump up. As you jump, move your arms over your head and land with your legs open wide. Repeat the jump and land with your arms back at your side and your legs closed. Continue the jumps with the open and close movement.

Jump rope: Skipping is an amazing way to burn calories. The trick is just that you have to be consistent for the full minute. Just like swimming, people forget that it's not just the act of holding the rope that burns calories, but the consistency and effort you put into it. Don't have a rope? Buy one! They are really cheap! But seriously, if you don't have one, you can simulate the motion without actually using a rope.

Mountain climbers: You can either simulate the motion of climbing or jump back and forth (I like to call it donkey jumps) while on your hands in the upper pushup position. Luckily, I have a video! See how to do this exercise below.

Jump lunges: Lower into a lunge position with your right foot in front, and then jump back into the lunge with your left foot in front. So rather than step into it, you jump into it. Here is a great video showing how to do a perfect jump lunge.

There you have it! You can try these four in-home cardio exercises and make up your own 20 minute cardio circuit.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Photo credit:

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