Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

Did you know, according to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel? Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

Understand how blood sugar works. The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop. When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel – in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Balance. Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia though is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, consult your doctor. Hypoglycemia can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, and it’s always a good idea to check-in before altering or starting any new diet or exercise program.

 

Sources
http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm
http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf
http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html

What to Eat Before a 5K Race

FA 5K race (3.1 miles) is a great distance for beginning racers, as well as for more experienced runners looking to warm-up for the season. To give yourself every pre-race advantage, it’s important to consider what you put into your body.

As you’ve heard countless times before, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What you eat before your race, and when you eat it, could have a big impact on your energy level and overall performance. Here are a few common practices used by endurance athletes and how they could affect your race–for better or worse.

Myths to Avoid

Traditional endurance wisdom encourages carbohydrate loading or “carbo-loading,” by eating large amounts of carbohydrates the day before and the day of your race. The logic behind this is that carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel, especially during exercise, when they account for 40 to 50 percent of energy production.

The problem with this theory becomes clear when you understand that the fuel used during exercise is stored in your muscles and liver. If you think of these stored carbohydrates as fuel in a car, then your muscles and liver can be compared to the gas tank. Like a car’s gas tank, there is a limit to how much fuel can be stored. Numerous studies have shown that not only does the carbo-loading myth offer no benefit to  runners – it could actually slow you down.

Another common practice is to eat simple carbohydrates, like honey or sugar, shortly before the race for a quick boost of energy. This, however, can lead to dehydration: your cells need excess water to absorb the sugar. The sugar spike will also lead to an insulin reaction, which will cause your blood sugar to drop sharply later on, leaving you tired and sluggish.

Planning a Proper Breakfast

Experts at the Colorado State University Extension recommend eating a light meal three to four hours before your race so your body has ample time to properly break down the necessary nutrients. This will also give your stomach time to settle. The meal should feature starches from complex carbohydrates, which break down more quickly and easily than proteins and fats. Avoid foods that are high in fat and simple sugars. Good examples of appropriate foods are whole wheat or multigrain bread, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Unlike the carbo-loading approach, these should be eaten in moderation, with the entire meal totaling only around 500 calories.

Small amounts of caffeine may help improve your athletic performance, according to several studies. Be careful, however, since coffee is a diuretic and can increase the risk of stomach cramps and dehydration during the race.

It’s also important to select foods that you enjoy, and that you know your digestive system tolerates well, because your mood and comfort will affect your performance. Don’t use the morning of the race as an opportunity to try something new for breakfast since it could backfire and cause discomfort or digestive troubles. Try a variety of foods throughout your training plan to find what works for you.

In addition to your meal, you should drink at least 64 ounces of water leading up to the event, but stop drinking at least 30 minutes before the race begins. Having excess water in your system will make you feel bloated, slow you down and possibly give you stomach cramps.

Because a 5K is a relatively short race, it’s not necessary to follow a particular diet in the days leading up to the event. Maintaining a generally healthy, balanced diet and eating an appropriate light breakfast will give you the nutrient stores you need to perform your best on race day.

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Ask an Expert: Healthy Roadtrip Snacks

Summer RoadtripI’m going to be traveling a lot with the family this summer. What are some healthy foods and snacks I can pack during our family road trips? – Jennifer

Whether it’s an afternoon at the beach or the All-American Road Trip, there’s nothing better than hitting the road for some summertime fun. While enjoying the local culinary offerings can be a big part of this experience, sometimes you’re just going to need a quick bite that doesn’t leave you and your family with a nutritional flat tire. Some of my favorite standbys that hold up to travel include cut veggies with hummus (Particularly peapods, carrot sticks and grape tomatoes), shelf stable milk and cereal, and dried fruit with nuts.

If you pack a cooler, pre-cut and washed fruit and yogurt topped with granola (pack the granola in a separate bag and mix when you’re ready to eat) or wraps using lettuce leaves or tortillas also travel really well. You can fill your wraps with your choice of meat, nut butter, or a high protein veggie salad. While they’re a little pricier and more processed, sometimes a grab-and-go protein bar or granola bar is your best option for portable nutrition that travels well.

Whatever you choose, pack plenty of water and top up your tank with a good mix of carbohydrates and protein so you and your family won’t crash and burn in the middle of your summer adventures.

Happy traveling!
Joli

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Related: Easy Workouts While Traveling

Exercising Safely in the Heat

Exercising in HeatThe summer season comes with longer days and more frequent outdoor exercise activity which means whether you’re riding your bike with the family or training for a half marathon, it is wise to understand how the heat and humidity affects your body. Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of heat illness and how to exercise safely this summer.

For most people, the perfect temperature for exercise is around 55-65 degrees. This is especially true when participating in consistently moderate to high intensity activity like running. I say most people because everyone is different and there are some people that can thrive in the warmer temperatures (but those are far and few between).

For instance, when my team ran in the Chicago Marathon in October, 2007 (the hot one), the temperatures rose to 90 degrees and the humidity was in the 90% range. All of the runners but one suffered from the heat (499 people to 1) and their times were on average 45 – 90 minutes off their normal marathon times. It’s also important to note that many medications can affect the cooling system in the body so it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medicinal protocol as it relates to the heat.

You can’t beat the heat, but you can learn to work with it.

When the temperatures are in this optimal exercise zone, your body neither has to keep itself warm in the colder temperatures or work hard to cool itself via sweating, blood redistribution and panting. It’s the Goldilocks “just right” temperature and allows the body to efficiently cool itself as you move.

However, as the temperature and humidity rise above this range, your body has to invest more energy into keeping you cool. And because the body cools itself via evaporation in your sweat, the higher the relative humidity, the harder it is for your body to cool itself. When the heat gain exceeds the level your body can deal with, your body core temperature rises and this is when you are at greater risk of developing heat-related illness.

Heat Cramps. These are the mildest form of heat-related illness and commonly occurs in the diaphragm, calves, hamstrings and even your extremities (hands, feet, etc.) You may have a mild fever (102 F) and your skin flushed. This is often related to the heat, and a higher level of sweat loss (fluid and electrolytes) your body is producing while exercising.

  • What to do for Heat Cramps: If this happens, it is important to cease exercise, move into a cool space (shade or indoors) to cool the body and hydrate with an electrolyte beverage (sports drink, tomato juice, salted pretzels), place cool clothes on body or take cool shower (or pool), and remove layers of clothing.

Heat Exhaustion. This is more serious than heat cramps and if left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke and more serious consequences. Symptoms can include: fever higher than 102F, nausea, headache, diarrhea, fatigue, heavy sweating, cramps, increased heart rate, goose bumps or cool skin, and feeling faint.

  • What to do for Heat Exhaustion: Stop activity, get out of the heat, and cool body with wet towels or cool water submersion to reduce body temperature, lie down and elevate feet, drink electrolyte drink, and if there are no signs of improvement, call 911 to get medical help.

Heatstroke. This is the most severe heat-related illness as it occurs when there is a complete failure of the body’s heat regulating system and can lead to coma, seizures and death. Symptoms include: ceased sweating, warm, dry skin, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, confusion, convulsions or seizures and rapid heart rate.

  • What to do for Heatstroke: Call 911 or your local medical service immediately! Get out of the sun and into a cool place, remove all clothing and put ice in the armpits and groin or immerse in cold water and drink cool electrolyte beverage if coherent.

Now that you know how the heat affects your exercise and resting performance, here are tips for exercising safely in the warmer temperatures.

  1. Acclimate and move by effort rather than speed. It takes about two weeks for your body to acclimate to exercising more efficiently in the warmer weather, and even then can still be a challenge. It’s important to recognize this at the change of seasons like springtime, and invest in easier effort activity until your body has time to adjust to the temperatures. It’s also important to run by your body rather than the speed on your watch or bike. If you normally run a moderate effort run on Wednesdays at a 9 minute per mile pace, run by your body instead and let the outcome be just that – the outcome. It will likely be slower than normal, but adjusting to the heat will allow your body to better recover down the road. When you exercise by what your body is experiencing on the given day, you’re better able to dial in the correct and optimal zone to accomplish your goal for the day and adapt much more efficiently workout to workout.
  2. Adjust your exercise time and location. Plan your exercise route on tree-covered, shaded streets, paths or trails and get in your workout in the early morning or at dusk when the temperatures are lower. Take your workouts indoors on Ozone or Heat Alert days as you’ll get in a higher quality workout with no risk of heat illness or the delayed recovery that often follows hot weather workouts.  This is especially important for athletes following a specific training program as a delayed recovery can have a domino effect in fatigue and greatly reduce their performance.
  3. Accessorize and hydrate. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting wicking apparel that will deflect the sun’s rays and allow for better body cooling.  Visors are effective for keeping the sun off your face while still allowing heat to leave your body via your head.  Top it off with a good sweat proof sunscreen and sunglasses and you’re set for the workout.  It’s better to hydrate consistently through the day than to power load your body with a lot of fluids before, during and after.  Everyone has their own unique hydration needs and they vary on your fitness, health, age, medications and more. Dr. Tim Noakes, exercise physiologist and author of Waterlogged, recommends hydrating to your thirst during exercise to avoid over drinking and the complications that come with it.  Water is the perfect beverage for workouts under an hour, where a sports drink with electrolytes will benefit you more for longer sessions.

Ultimately, it is most important to tune in and listen to your body and be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related issues.  When you do, you’re able to make small changes in your exercise routine to assure a safe, effective workout.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Ask an Expert: Workout Nutrition

Workout NutritionIt never fails, halfway through my workout I end up lacking energy. I know I should have protein immediately following my workouts, but do you have any advice on what I should be doing and eating before my workouts to sustain my energy?  –Alec

Your awareness during your workouts is a great first step in making changes to resolve the situation. There are a variety of variables that can have that effect on your workout energy including not getting enough quality sleep, pushing too hard in a workout and not having enough recovery in your workout routine.That said, nutrition plays a vital role in maintain energy during and after your workouts.  A good first step is to keep track of what you eat for a week to gain a sense of the overall quantity and quality of foods you’re eating.

You can eat plenty of calories, but if your menu consists of too much processed, synthetic foods, it can leave you feeling drained and lacking energy. The more ingredients that are hard to pronounce on the food, the harder the body has to work to digest it and the more it lacks the vital nutrients it needs to live an energetic life.

Keeping a fuel log, whether online or on paper will help you get a better understanding of what you’re putting in your body. Focus on making small changes by switching out a few things at a time rather than revamping your diet all at once. For example, if you eat chips with your sandwich at lunch, add cut veggies like carrots or celery instead. Or add a piece of fruit to your breakfast and veggies to your dinner. The more you lean into a clean diet, the better you’ll feel. Simply put, garbage in = garbage out.

Total caloric consumption is also important as many fall prey to eating too few calories, which results in energy drain. A prolonged low caloric diet also puts the body in survival mode and shifts the metabolism thinking it needs to conserve fat.  Rather than focusing on counting calories, it’s better to invest in eating whole, clean foods throughout the day. For instance, eggs, blueberries and toast for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch and fish, veggies and brown rice for dinner. It’s a little like putting clean gas in your car. Your body will run better, feel better and move better.

Finally, we are all an experiment of one. Some perform best on a meal two hours before the workout. Some do better on a light meal an hour before the workout. And others still perform best with no meal before, or a glass of fresh juice. It’s best to experiment and log what works best for you.

If you are going to eat a meal, give yourself 1.5-2 hours to digest it before you workout and focus on consuming high quality carbohydrates, and lower in fat and protein. This allows the food to digest more readily and avoid having stomach issues due to having undigested food in your stomach. (Example: oatmeal with berries and nuts.)

If you’re going to eat a light meal, allow an hour before your workout and go for foods that have a higher concentration of water and carbohydrates. (Example: banana and teaspoon of almond butter.)

Also try working out on an empty stomach if your workout is in the morning. You may find that you have the most energy with nothing in your stomach first thing in the morning. Again, everyone is different and the best way to find out what works best for you is to experiment with timing, size of meal and the variety of foods.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

A Crash Course on Cholesterol

Whether you have a family history of heart disease or are simply looking to take care of yourself for a lifetime, it’s smart to get a handle on your cholesterol status. The American Heart Association recommends regular screening of cholesterol blood levels for all adults over the age of 20, so if you don’t remember your most recent numbers, it’s probably time to give your doctor a call.

Although cholesterol is manufactured by the body and carries a strong hereditary component, the final numbers are also impacted by your choices in diet and lifestyle. If you’re working to get your numbers back into the healthy range, the biggest change comes from a combination of medication and exercise, meaning your home workouts can make a big difference for your heart health.

What do the numbers mean?

The American Heart Association recommends a fasting lipoprotein profile every five years for adults over 20. This quick blood test is going to provide a breakdown of your total cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides.

Overall, you’re looking for a total cholesterol level of less than 200. HDL (think “H” for Healthy) is the protective cholesterol. A number over 60 is good and under 40 is bad. LDL cholesterol (think “L” for low) is the bad cholesterol. Higher levels of this cholesterol are associated with higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Ideally you’d like this number to be under 100, though most people are glad to get under 130.

Triglycerides are the third component of your lipoprotein profile. High triglycerides (numbers over 160) are generally impacted by lifestyle factors, such as exercise, smoking, high levels of alcohol consumption and diet. Additionally, numbers over 150 seem to be associated with a greater risk for Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-cursor to diabetes and a risk factor for heart disease. For a more detailed discussion of what your cholesterol profile means, the American Heart Association offers a great resource.

Dietary Recommendations

Making a few smart dietary choices can lead to improvements in your cardiovascular health profile. Painless, but informed choices, include choosing Monounsaturated fats, also known as MUFAS, (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, or peanut oil) over Saturated Fats or Trans-fats (think animal fats, including those in dairy, or other vegetable fats that are solid at room temperature). Choosing MUFAs also seems to have a beneficial impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, which makes sense for all of us, whether we’re warding off our 3 p.m. slump or our family history of diabetes.

In addition to choosing our fats wisely, there are many other foods (check out this list from the Mayo Clinic) that can help improve cholesterol numbers, including: oatmeal, fish that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts and other nuts, and, possibly stanol/sterol fortified foods such as orange juice and cereal. If you want to try to use diet to improve your cholesterol numbers think about making a few smart substitutions by choosing oatmeal over your usual breakfast cereal, enjoying an ounce of nuts as a snack each day, and adding omega three loaded fish into your diet a few times each week.

Get Moving!

In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption, exercise is the biggest controllable factor impacting your cholesterol level. Although it’s important to work with your doctor in managing medication recommendations, adding in regular exercise reduces your overall cholesterol numbers and raises your HDL profile. Using your home fitness equipment regularly for 30 minutes on most days of the week, or completing more intense sessions for shorter periods of time is one thing you can do to bring your numbers into the healthy range (or keep them there). Recent research shows that exercise combined with statin medications lead to the greatest reduction in risk from a cardiovascular event (70 percent compared to 35 percent from medication alone!)

Medications

Although starting a medication for your cholesterol can be a little humbling, research and best practice are showing that treatment sooner rather than later is associated with a longer life for patients. If your total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides are higher than average, especially if lifestyle choices haven’t done the trick for you, your doctor will probably talk to you about medications.

If you’re researching your options, the FDA provides an overview of medications available to treat high cholesterol. Not every medication will work for every person, so make sure to keep the conversation open with your doctor. Also remember that your medication will be even more effective if you’re making heart healthy choices related to diet and exercise.

Weigh In: How important is your heart health in choosing your home workouts and day to day diet?

Are Your Home Fitness Habits Keeping Your Heart Healthy?

In recognition of American Heart Month, February is a great time to take a look at your health habits and give them a nudge in the heart healthy direction. According to the Center for Disease Control, Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one in every three deaths occurring due to heart disease or stroke. The good news is heart disease is largely considered to be a lifestyle disease, which means that prevention efforts can make a big difference. The Million Hearts Initiative, launched in September of 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, is directed at preventing one million heart attacks and strokes over a five-year period through prevention efforts. Looking to help your lifestyle stack up? Here are a few resources and recommendations.

Learn the ABCS of Heart Health
If you have or are at risk for heart disease, the ABCS recommended by the CDC address the major risk factors for heart disease and help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The ABCS include:

  • Aspirin for people at risk: Talk to your doctor about whether taking an Aspirin daily is right for you.
  • Blood Pressure Control: Get screened for high blood pressure and, if needed, begin effective treatment through lifestyle and/or medication.
  • Cholesterol Management: Include cholesterol screening in your yearly physical. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol numbers, what they mean and whether cholesterol medication is right for you.
  • Smoking Cessation: If you need another reason for quitting, smoking puts your cardiovascular health at serious risk. If you smoke, talk to your doctor or seek support in quitting.

Choose a Diet that Supports Heart Health
Although the ABCS recommended by the CDC are an important part of preventing heart attacks and strokes for those who have or are at risk of heart disease, lifestyle is a vital part of preventing the onset of heart disease in the first place. A heart-healthy diet includes high amounts of fruits and vegetables and is low in trans-fat and sodium. If you’re looking for guidance, check out the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a lifelong approach to healthy eating that emphasizes the reduction of dietary sodium and increases in nutrients that support heart health. The DASH diet was developed to help in lowering blood pressure and has also been shown to support weight loss, reduce insulin resistance and improve cardiovascular health.

Do Your Workouts Add Up?
You know that getting enough exercise is important to keeping your heart healthy, but two out of every three Americans aren’t getting enough. The benefits of exercise on your heart are both immediate and long term. A cardiovascular workout will lower your blood pressure as quickly as one hour post-workout. Benefits of regular exercise also include lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles and a reduction in risk of Type II Diabetes. Do you find yourself wondering whether you’re doing the right workouts when you use your treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike? A heart healthy workout can include both strength training and the type of cardio training you do on your home fitness equipment. In fact, strength training is now recommended by the American Heart Association for its cardiovascular benefits.

Moderate exercise (a heart rate of about 60 percent of your maximum) supports heart health if you’re getting 30 minutes on most days of the week. More intense exercise (working at 70-90 percent of your maximum) accomplishes these results in less time. If intensity is your game, three 20-minute sessions per week will do it. To lose weight through your workouts, current recommendations are to try for 60-90 minutes of working out most days, though some activity is better than nothing and intense workouts are more likely to be effective in a shorter period of time. If you’re looking for help in planning your workouts, Sparkpeople offers a range of heart healthy workouts for beginners through athletes.

Weigh In: How important is your long term health when you plan your workouts at home

 

Defeat Holiday Nutrition Pitfalls

After using your Horizon Fitness equipment all year, you’ll want to avoid undoing your hard work during the holidays. Unfortunately, research shows that most people gain about a pound over the holidays and fail to lose it in the following year. The good news is that people who are physically active experience less holiday weight gain, so continuing your home fitness efforts will help to keep you on the right track. The bad news is the holidays come complete with every diet destroying effort known to mankind and without conscious effort on your part, you’re likely to find yourself weighing in on the heavy side this New Year’s day. Try these tips to keep your biggest holiday challenges in check.

Holiday Challenge #1: The Holiday Party. High calorie hors d’oeuvres, a festive atmosphere, lots of libations and late nights spell disaster for your waistline. To beat this challenge, wear a party outfit a little on the snug side and choose wisely when it comes to liquid calories. Start with sparkling water and alternate any alcoholic beverages with sparkling water or diet soda throughout the night. Find a place to socialize away from the snacks and choose only the foods you really want. If the event is later in the day and you’re likely to be famished, have a small snack high in protein before you arrive to take the edge off your appetite and leave you with room for better choices.

Holiday Challenge #2: The Office Break Room. From Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, the break room and reception area brim with calorie-dense temptations. Although the indulgences are small, their sheer volume and constant presence make them one of the biggest holiday health threats. Your best option? Avoid these areas whenever possible and bring your own healthy snacks to work. Fill up on nutrient-dense, high-volume food, such as fresh veggies and fruit, whole grain crackers and air-popped popcorn. Keeping your tummy filled with the good stuff makes you less likely to snack out of desperation throughout the day. This is another good reason to avoid skipping meals and make sure you’re adequately hydrated.

Holiday Challenge #3: Family Festivities. There may only be one Christmas day, but most of us will be heading for multiple celebrations with close family, extended family, in-laws and dear friends. Those get-togethers usually involve long afternoons or evenings, frequent beverage pouring and lots of opportunities for “just one more” cookie or appetizer. Bring a healthy dish (or snack) to share, stay away from seconds and use your calories wisely on special foods, rather than those you can have anytime of the year. When hosting, be careful about grazing while you cook and cut back on the fat and sugar in your meals. To lighten up your holiday favorites, check out this article and these suggestions.

Holiday Challenge #4: Seasonal Goodies. Knowing that our Christmas favorites will only be here for a short time makes it easier to rationalize overindulgence. How do you combat the urge? Don’t deprive yourself. It’s likely to lead to feelings of guilt or regret when you cave. Instead, eat slowly and enjoy the occasional festive treat. Use a plate for your snack to eat less and enjoy it more. If you’re sharing with a crowd, don’t purchase or prepare your contributions too far in advance. Having them around just invites temptation. Finally, if you can take it or leave it, you’re better of leaving it. Food gifts can be donated to a local food pantry (or inflicted on your co-workers through the office break room) rather than kept in your home.

Holiday Challenge #5: Crazy Schedules. December’s last minute gift shopping and long hours before vacation leave most of us starving in a nutritional wasteland at some point. Plan ahead. Avoid getting too hungry, which leads to poor nutritional choices. Know the menu of a few favorite fast food restaurants. Most have healthy options to get you through. You can also defeat this holiday demon by packing healthy snacks containing enough protein to sustain you through your errands. Peanut butter and jelly, cheese and whole grain crackers, and vegetables and hummus are all great grab-and-go options. Pack a bottle of water to avoid packing on empty liquid calories.

Enjoy your holidays! Rather than emphasizing deprivation, planning ahead lets you choose when to indulge guiltlessly. Including time for a few quality workouts on your Horizon Fitness equipment will help keep the calorie laden comforts of the season from hitting you hard in the New Year.

Weigh In: How are you keeping up with your fitness efforts this holiday season?

USDA’s MyPlate Provides Dietary Tools To Complement Your Home Fitness Workouts

Ever find yourself wondering just how big your servings of fruit should be? Or how many protein servings you need in a day? In June of 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced MyPyramid with MyPlate to offer the public a better visual tool to use in determining our nutritional needs.

You can find a summary of Dietary Guidelines for Americans at www.choosemyplate.com. Whether your goal is to lose weight or keep your family eating healthy on a tight budget, you’ll find recommendations and tips based on current research and nutritional practices throughout the website. Another great thing about the website is the interactive features that provide more information on current nutritional recommendations and findings for each food group. You can even develop customized recommendations based on your age, BMI and activity level. Click here for a closer look.

Weigh In: What do you think of the new Dietary Guidelines? Have you tried using them to develop a menu for you and your family?

Home Fitness Equipment Tips for Baby Boomers

Perhaps more than any previous generation, baby boomers are committed to staying active as they age. Although we know that exercise is essential for a long life and physical health, recent research is beginning to demonstrate its importance for maintaining memory and mental health over the long term. Unfortunately, only about half of the baby boomer generation is exercising as much as they need to. If you’re looking to stay healthy and strong as you age, try some of these tips for developing a fitness routine at home.

Keep it Consistent. Consistency is the most important part of ensuring the success of your fitness routine. Brisk walking on your treadmill, cycling on your recumbent bike, and using your elliptical in the comfort of your home are all great ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness that will benefit your body and your brain. A good program will have you exercising for at least half an hour most days of the week to maintain your fitness. If you’re looking to lose weight through exercise, you need to gradually increase that time to 60-90 minutes most days. If you can’t fit it in all at once, try scheduling exercise breaks of at least ten minutes throughout your day.

Balance Your Workouts. Cardio is important, but a good routine will also include strength and flexibility training to decrease injury and promote skeletal and muscular health. You don’t need to schedule separate workouts to get the benefit of these types of training. Try including some body weight exercises (such as push-ups and squats) after you’ve warmed up with a bit of cardio exercise. This will help you maintain better form and burn more calories during your workouts. If you’re looking to add some weight to your workouts, resistance bands are widely available and easy to use at home or on the road. Flexibility training can be added to the end of your workouts to avoid injury and balance any tight areas of your body. Click here for more tips on creating a balanced fitness routine.

Enjoyment. Sticking with your fitness routine is much easier if you’re having fun. Find activities you like and ways to make your routine enjoyable. Many models of Horizon Fitness Equipment come equipped with docking stations that allow you to include music in your workouts and personal fans to make your workouts more comfortable. Teaming up with a friend or partner for weekend activities or joining in on an athletic fundraising event, such as a heart walk or cancer prevention fundraiser, can be a great way to keep your motivation high and add social connections to your workouts.

Avoiding Injury. It’s more possible to have fun with your fitness routine when you avoid injury. Although a consistent, balanced routine will go a long way, you should also check with your doctor for advice on how to begin the right program for you. Start your workouts slowly with a warm-up of your planned activity and include gentle slow stretching after your workout to reduce soreness the next day. If you’re noticing sharp pains or inflammation associated with your workout, it’s time to get a doctor’s opinion. And finally, remember to schedule some rest between workouts. Strength training should not be done more frequently than every other day and hard workouts should be limited to two or three times per week. Click here for more ways to avoid injury.

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