The Dos and Don'ts of Exercising Smart

We all know how important daily exercise is for our health and overall well-being. That doesn't mean you need to work out for hours and hours each day. But you do need to think about exercising smart.

Does your exercising enhance your life or cause you problems? The safest fitness plans begin slowly and build to a steady pace, so you can learn proper form, prevent injuries and gradually develop your endurance. As you gain strength and stamina, ramping up the intensity of your routines will come naturally.

Here are some important dos and don'ts for getting the most from your moves without hurting yourself:

  • DO include time for warming up and cooling down to improve your performance
  • DON’T stretch before exercising, save it for after you cool down to protect your muscles
  • DO use the proper gear, from shoes to clothes to equipment, to ensure comfort and safety
  • DON’T allow poor form – focus on aligning and moving your body properly to prevent injury
  • DO drink water before, during and after exercise to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion
  • DON’T exercise the same way every day – variety is more interesting and much more beneficial
  • DO keep your workout balanced between exercises that target the front and the back of your body
  • DON’T boost your speed or resistance too soon – increase your length of time first
  • DO give your muscles 48 hours to recover between any type of strength training sessions

Why Warming Up and Cooling Down is Vital to Your Daily Exercise Routine

Including time for warm-up and cool-down when you exercise can reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall performance. It’s well-worth adding the extra minutes to your routine for the sake of reducing stress on your heart and other muscles.

Be creative – for example, parking further away and walking to and from the gym can be your warm-up and cool-down time.

Warming up for 5-10 minutes gets your blood flowing so you muscles are well-supplied with oxygen. It increases your muscle temperature and makes you breathe a bit faster, which helps your body adjust to the demands of your exercise plan.

Do an activity that’s similar to your normal exercise (walking, running, swimming, etc.) but at a much slower pace - aim for a just little sweat without fatigue. Focus your warm-up on the larger muscle groups first, like in your legs, but save the stretching for after you exercise.

Cooling down for the last 5-10 minutes of your exercise means gradually decreasing your pace, which brings your breathing and heart rate back to normal. Stopping suddenly can make you light-headed as your heart rate and blood pressure are forced to drop too quickly. 

A few minutes of stretching after cool-down, while your muscles are still warm, can improve your joints’ range of motion and help you stay flexible. Stretch each muscle group slowly and gently, holding each stretch for up to 30 seconds without bouncing.

Warming up and cooling down helps you do better…faster…stronger!

Don’t just talk the talk...walk the walk!

Taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day will do you a world of good. Whether you’re hoofing it to work or around a park trail, walking is one of the easiest ways to exercise and it can help you live longer. You can even benefit from a few shorter 10-15 minute walks if carving a half-hour out of your busy day feels prohibitive.

In addition to burning calories, walking strengthens your muscles, bones and joints, improves your blood pressure, and helps manage chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, insomnia and arthritis - plus it can even boost your mood for a couple hours.

Good posture is key to getting the most from your walk. Walk with your head up, looking forward. As you move, relax your neck and shoulders, keep your back straight, and tighten your stomach muscles slightly. Let your arms swing freely with your elbows bent a little, or you can pump them a bit for a more aerobic walk. Roll your feet from heel to toe with each step.

Be sure to choose shoes with good arch support and flexible, shock-absorbent soles. Begin your walk with 5 minutes at a slower pace to warm up your muscles, then end your walk the same way to help your muscles cool down.

A few gentle stretches AFTER you’re done (not before you start) will decrease your risk of injury or cramps, as well as make your walks easier and more productive over time.

If you haven't been moving or exercising much, you should start your new commitment to daily brisk walks slowly with just 5-10 minutes per day, then increase your time each week by 5 minutes. Once you have a half-hour mastered – go ahead and work towards an hour, you can do it!

Juicing without a juicer

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on a fancy juicing machine that just takes up more counter space. With a regular kitchen blender, you can easily and quickly enjoy all the nutritional benefits of juicing your fresh fruits and vegetables. You can also use a fine-mesh strainer to remove any residual pulp after blending, but keeping that fiber in your drink is much more nutritious. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut for a healthier colon.

Here’s a recipe for a great-tasting green juice that packs a delicious dose of iron, magnesium and potassium, as well as vitamins A, B6, C, D and K.

  • 1 handful each spinach and kale (stems and all!)
  • 2-3 stalks celery 
  • 2 small peeled and chopped carrots
  • 1/2 unpeeled, cored and chopped apple 
  • Several thin slices of ginger
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 cup water
Add the water to the blender, then add your fresh, organic vegetables and fruits in any order. Pulse and blend with each addition until liquified. Pour into a glass, pulp and all, and enjoy immediately to get the most nutrition. If you prefer, you can pour it through a fine mesh strainer first, but don’t pass up the important health benefits of all that great fiber! Your juice will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Juicing can give you a whole day’s worth of fruit and vegetable servings in just one 12-ounce glass. You’re also more likely to enjoy a wider variety of fresh produce that you might not otherwise have in your diet. The variety is important for ensuring you get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to repair damaged cells, prevent disease…plus it helps you look and feel younger!

Drinking juice gives you plenty of energy, too – with its abundance of live enzymes, vitamins and minerals, juice is like a natural (and much healthier) version of Red Bull.

Has fat gotten a bad rap?

For the past 30 years, the fats in our foods have been demonized as a leading cause of high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity.

Our fear of fats started with Ancel Keys, PhD. in the 1950s. Keys chose to report only certain data which he felt supported his own theory that fat consumption led to cardiovascular disease, and the media ran with his story in 1961. This resulted in the launch of the low/no-fat diet and the American Heart Association issued its first anti-fat guidelines.

Now we have new scientific research which has uncovered flaws in Keys’ early data – as it turns out, most of the fats in your diet are actually beneficial.

There are three types of fats:
  • Unsaturated fats are found in healthy foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, flaxseeds, soybeans, eggs, fish and chicken (white meat).
  • Saturated fats become solid at room temperature and include butter, coconut oil, palm oil, cheese and dark chocolate. These fats are better for cooking at high heat.
  • Trans fats are mostly artificially produced through partial hydrogenation (part of the process for converting liquid oil to solid) and are used to increase the shelf life of processed foods.

One study of more than 357,000 people found that eating saturated fats raises the good HDL levels in your blood and has no relationship to heart disease. Another study of Pacific Islanders, whose diet is derived largely from coconut oil, found remarkably few incidents of heart disease.

In his book, Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter compares our ancestors’ diet (75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs) with our diet today (60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat). Dr. Perlmutter explains that conditions like Alzheimer's, ADHD, depression and anxiety are linked to inflammation in the brain and body, which is triggered by eating too many carbohydrates – not fats.

Other studies conclude that our obesity epidemic, which has doubled in the last 50 years, is not due to eating too much fat, but is a result of our over-consumption of sugar and carbohydrates.

Turns out Julia Child had it right from the beginning - “Enjoy eating fats - they are good for you!"

The amazing benefits of eating fats

Fats occur naturally in food and they’re used to store energy in the body, insulate body tissues, cushion internal organs, and transport fat-soluble vitamins in the blood. Fats play in an important role in our food preparation by enhancing flavor and texture and conducting heat during cooking.

Trans fats have been shown to increase the risk factors for for coronary heart disease, but both saturated and unsaturated fats actually have many health benefits:

Fats help the brain by insulating the sheath that surrounds each nerve fiber. Our brains are made up of 60% fat, so a diet that’s too low in fat can actually deplete your brain of essential fatty acids. 

Eat a greater portion of your calories from fat and you can achieve a more optimal body composition by supporting your hormonal balance of androgens, such as testosterone and estrogen, especially during exercise. 

Eating fewer carbohydrates and more healthy fats can support and even improve your metabolism. Fatty acids (the building blocks of fat) like Omega-3 turn on the genes that burn fat and they support the thyroid function which helps body fat regulation.

Immune system
Fats help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, which can boost your immune system. Eating fewer carbohydrates and more good fats can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. Saturated fats like butter and coconut oil play a large role in your white blood cells, which help fight viruses and bacteria, which in turn boost your immune system.

An obvious sign of fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. Fat enhances healthy skin - the subcutaneous layer of fat just below our skin acts as our body’s own insulation and helps to regulate body temperature.

So - fear not! Enjoy the good fats in moderation and enjoy life in abundance.

How do you know if you're dehydrated?

are you dehydrated

Your body is 70% water – which means you can quickly become dehydrated from a lack of fluids on any given day. Whenever you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Dr. Christopher Vasey, a Swiss naturopath, says that most people regularly suffer from low-grade dehydration because of poor eating and drinking habits. Chronic dehydration can cause digestive dysfunction, as your body needs water to produce fluids which aid in the digestive process.

Symptoms of dehydration include:
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor digestion or constipation
Another way you can tell if you are dehydrated is the “pinch test” for skin elasticity and turgor (hydration). Pinch the skin of your forearm to see how quickly it bounces back. If you are dehydrated, your skin stays pinched and takes longer to return back to normal.

There are three types of dehydration:
  • Hypotonic - the loss of electrolytes (sodium in particular)
  • Hypertonic - the loss of water with an increased concentration of sodium
  • Isotonic – the loss of both electrolytes and water (most common), which affects the body's pH balance. pH balance is important so your blood will carry oxygen and it helps with the metabolic function of our cells.
Everyone is prone to dehydration, but extremely active people can be at higher risk, including hikers, cyclists, athletes and construction workers. Elderly or sick people, as well as those who live in a hot climate or a high altitude are also quicker to become dehydrated.

children at risk of dehydration

Children are also at greater risk. A recent CDC study found that more than half of U.S. kids and teens, especially boys, are dehydrated. "Dehydration accounts for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year, due to illnesses that can lead to depletion of fluids and electrolytes from the body,” says Dr. Daniel Rauch, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Experiment with drinking more water throughout the day and you’ll probably notice an immediate difference in how you feel. If you’re not drinking enough water, you’re accelerating the aging process and putting extra strain on your body. Good hydration will do many things for your cellular health - there is nothing more important to our health then water, so drink up!

The importance of staying hydrated

importance of staying hydrated

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. Clinical nutrition experts say the human body's health and well-being depends on the level of hydration. Next to oxygen, water is the most important nutrient our bodies need.

There are so many benefits to drinking water and staying hydrated:
  • Combat fatigue – water is an important source of energy
  • Help digestive problems - water works to complete enzymatic activities in your cells
  • Reduce high blood pressure – water helps keep blood flowing through veins and arteries
  • Flush unwanted toxins – water helps vital organs like the kidneys and bladder do their job
  • Keep joints in working order – water helps with joint repair
  • Maintain good skin – water keeps your skin moist and elastic
Feeling thirsty is a good indicator that you need water, but drinking it only when you are thirsty may not be optimal. As water levels decrease in your body, your blood becomes thicker. When the solids in your blood rise to 2%, that triggers the thirst mechanism. Serious symptoms of dehydration arise when blood solids rise to 5% - which is long after you first feel thirsty.

how to tell if you are hydrated
How much water do you need? Harvard Health Letter challenged what we’ve always heard about needing 8 cups of water per day, which they say was not based on science. Their experts tell us that 4-6 cups of water per day is enough because we generally get water from other daily sources, including vegetables and juices. 

Susan Kleiner Phd, RD suggests we drink 8-12 cups of fluids a day, 5 of which should be pure water.

Drink enough water to keep your urine light yellow. The color of your urine is a measure of how many solid particles (sodium, chloride, nitrogen, potassium) are being excreted. Keep in mind though, there are some vitamins, like the B group, that can turn your urine bright yellow.

When it comes to hydrating, all beverages are not created equal. Avoid drinking tap water - it contains fluoride, heavy metals and disinfectant by-products, which can adversely affect your health. 

Filtered water is best – install a filter on your kitchen faucet to strain out harmful contaminants. Coffee, black tea, juices, sports drinks and sodas don’t count! They act as diuretics and travel too quickly through the body to effectively hydrate you. 

Remember – water is your best friend for life!