The Greatest Workout on Earth!

How about a class in the Circus Arts?

Groupon has a great deal through March 11, 2011 to get you started!

Desk Job Got You Down? Try a Desk-Defying Workout!

Article courtesy of Nicole Nichols from The Daily Spark.
As a young college student studying health and fitness, I never expected that I’d have a desk job. Certainly I’d be on my feet, active, exercising, training people all day long, right? Turns out, my job is the exact opposite. Working for SparkPeople allows me to share my passion for health and fitness with so many people, helping them get fit and reach their goals. I love what I do. But I don’t love sitting on my rear for more than 40 hours per week while I do it. Being handed a “desk sentence” at such a young age is not what I expected.

Although I exercise most days of the week and try to maintain as active of a lifestyle as possible, I’m suffering from too much sitting. Lately, my back aches most of the time, sometimes so badly that I can’t sit, stand or lie down comfortably for days. My shoulders round forward, which is doing a number on my posture. My head and neck are in a permanent “forward” position, and my hips are tight. Throughout the day, I notice my shoulders creeping up toward my ears with tension and have to remind myself to relax them down. Ten, 30, 60, even 90 minutes of exercise a day doesn’t seem to matter much when I’m spending all the rest of my time on my butt (or on my back, sleeping).

I’m know I’m not alone. Women’s Health magazine recently reported on a poll of 6,300 people conducted by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health. They discovered that on average, we spend 56 hours a week sitting behind a computer, at the wheel or in front of the TV. A sedentary lifestyle seems to be the most common side effect we suffer from life in a modern world. We drive (or ride public transit) to work, sit all day at our white collar jobs, make the long commute home (sitting again), and then feel so achy, tired or exhausted from our long days of (mentally) hard work that we plop down on the couch and stare at the TV or computer for a few more hours before we lie down and go to bed. We know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us. It definitely contributes to weight issues, heart disease, poor blood sugar control, and a host of other ailments.

For awhile, I felt hopeless. Destined for discomfort. Banished to a life of back pain. But lately, I’ve been tackling my issues head on by getting up from my desk throughout the day, targeting the muscles made weak or tight by sitting while I work out, and changing how I use my body while I use the computer. I’m happy to report that it’s been paying off. And since many of you struggle with sedentary jobs that create all sorts of muscular imbalances, which lead to pain and discomfort, I’m sharing a new workout plan with you.

The Desk Defying Workout
This workout involves three components: stretching, strengthening, and standing. Incorporate what you can during your workday, but these are suggestions for exercises to include in your fitness program–not necessarily at your desk. (Here’s a shortened version that’s printable and can be added to your SparkPeople Fitness Tracker with one click.

Stretch
When we spend a lot of time at a desk, using a computer, driving a car, or even preparing food in the kitchen, we tend to lean forward, round our backs (spinal flexion), hunch our shoulders, and push our heads forward. (Don’t believe me? Take note at how often your head actually touches your head rest while you drive.) Do that for hours each day for years and it affects your posture, which creates imbalances of tight and weak muscles throughout your body. Sitting, especially, does a number on the spine and tightens the hip flexors (which remain in a shortened position), chest and shoulders, which pull everything out of alignment. To counteract these effects, the following chest, hip, spine and shoulder stretches should be part of your routine EVERY DAY. These are going to help move your body in the opposite direction. Do them regularly throughout the day while you sit at your desk. Do them after each workout. Do them as often as you can. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds at a time. Many of these you can do at your desk throughout the day.

Chest stretch on ball: Lying on a ball (or a foam roller or aerobics step or similar) allows you to stretch through a greater range of motion.
Back bend (wheel) on ball: I do this move 2-3 times per day after I’ve been at my desk for awhile, but it might not be office appropriate for a lot of people; try it at the gym or at home.
Upward dog: This stretch extends the spine to help counter all the forward flexion from reaching, leaning or slouching at your desk all day. This cobra pose also works much the same way.
Camel stretch: Another spine-extending exercise that’s great if you can’t do the back bend stretch above.
Chest/shoulder stretch: Try this throughout the day to help pull your shoulders back and stretch a tight chest.
Neck stretch (extension): Focus on the neck extension (looking toward the ceiling) and don’t do the flexion (chin to chest) so much, since most of us sit with our necks already forward (flexed).
Quad stretch: Helps stretch the front of the thigh, but if you pull your knee/thigh slightly back behind the body, you’ll also stretch the hips, which become tight after prolonged sitting.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch: Another great one for hip flexors that are tight from being in a shortened (seated) position all day long.

Strengthen
To counter all that sitting and the poor posture that results, we need to strengthen muscles on the back of the body, as well as the core. Focus on these exercises during twice-weekly strength training sessions, aiming for 2 sets of 8-15 reps. Be sure to check out SparkPeople’s Better-Posture exercises for more ideas.

Elbow plank: Strengthens the entire core. Hold plank in good form until your body begins to shake, then rest. Repeat 1-2 times.
Side plank: Another great move for core strengthening, but it should only be held in good form for as long as you can before your core/body begins to shake.
Rows: Any type of dumbbell, band or machine rows will help strengthen the mid and upper back as well as the back of the shoulders (posterior deltoids). These muscles can weaken over time when your posture is forward and your arms are in front of you while typing, using the computer, or driving.
Superman: Great lower back strengthener that also includes hip and spinal extension (remember, that’s the opposite movement than we use while sitting all day, so we want more of it).
Neck strengthener: While driving, practice pulling your chin in and pushing your head into the headrest behind you for a few seconds at a time, then releasing. If you have a high-back chair that you sit in at work, you can do this during your workday, too. This can help strengthen the back of the neck and the upper trapezius muscles to correct forward-head posture (common if you do a lot of desk work).

Stand
It may seem obvious, but the more you can stand during your workday and outside of work, the better off you’ll be. I was so tired of sitting all day at work and feeling uncomfortable that I made my own standing workstation for free. Instead of buying a fancy standing desk for several hundred dollars (yep, I looked into it), I set up my computer on a bar-height table we already had at the office. Perhaps you even have one at home! This is a much more economical solution that even your employer might be able to get behind. Here are some additional standing-related tips for your day.

  • Get up from your desk as often as you can. Walk to the restroom that’s further away. Walk to the water cooler. Stop by your co-worker’s desk to ask that question instead of emailing it. Stand up even if just to stretch for a minute every 30-60 minutes throughout the day.
  • When work is over, get on your feet. After sitting all day, the last thing I want to do is sit more at home, so I try to be physically active in addition to working out. The TV is rarely turned on in my house (we go days at a time without even plugging it in), and I’m able to get a lot done around the house each night: walking the dog, exercising, cooking dinner, a little yard work, cleaning the house, packing lunch for the next day, watering the garden and more. Sitting is the enemy when you have chronic back pain and poor posture. Get up and get moving!
  • Take a short walking break during the day, if you can. A few laps around the office or to your lunch destination can do wonders.
  • Plan some exercise before and after work. I try to squeeze in some activity before I go to work each day and again when I’m done. This way, I’m moving during the times I’m not confined to my desk.
  • Limit screen time. I mentioned TV earlier, but it warrants another mention. The more TV you watch, the more likely you are to be overweight and suffer other health problems that stem from a sedentary lifestyle. But TV isn’t the only screen we spend time in front of. Monitor and limit your computer time at home, too. If you must use the computer, place it on a higher surface and stand up. If you must watch TV, try to get moving and avoid sitting down.
  • Fidget. Move throughout the day, changing your body position and posture so you’re not always stuck in the same position for several hours.

There you have it: A simple plan of exercises, stretches and daily activity that can help you counteract the side effects of your desk job, helping decrease back pain, improve posture, and reduce your risk of health problems associated with prolonged sitting. Incorporate as many of these tips into your day as possible and, along with your consistent exercise program, you should notice better posture, less pain, and a stronger back.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been standing more, stretching my chest and hips, and working to strengthen those often-neglected muscles along the back of the body. And I’ve noticed a lot of improvements in my back pain. It comes on less often and goes away sooner. I can also stand longer and longer at my new upright workstation before taking a break in a chair, and I’ve noticed my spine feeling more mobile and flexible—something I haven’t felt in years, despite a steady practice of Pilates. Finally, I’m doing right by my body even though I have a sedentary job.

Our bodies were designed for motion, not sitting, so let this serve as a reminder to get up from your chair and get active as often as possible throughout the day.

Keep It Safe, NPM.

Stay injury free.  We need you!  Just sayin’.

Drs. Oz and Roizen Speak Out: Top 10 Benefits of Walking

Article courtesy of www.realage.com.

What’s not to love about the single best thing you can do for your health? The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other makes you healthier, gives you more energy, and makes you younger. Plus, doing it lets you talk with friends, think through problems, and see what’s new in the neighborhood. And if you happen to have some new walking gear, walking lets you show it off.

That’s just the beginning. Check out a few other great things walking does for you:

1. Fends off the #1 killer: Regular walkers have fewer heart attacks and strokes, have lower blood pressure, and have higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol than couch sitters do. In one study of women, a regular walking program did just as much in the heart-protection department as more vigorous exercise did.

2. Changes your RealAge — pronto: As little as 90 days after starting a regular walking program, its age-reducing effects can be measured. Find out your RealAge now.

3. Dims your chances of diabetes: Thirty minutes of walking a day makes your muscles more sensitive to insulin. That allows glucose to do its duty inside your cells rather than pile up in your bloodstream (that’s what happens when you have diabetes) and cause other havoc.

4. Helps you kick the habit: Taking a daily 30-minute walk is one of the keys to the success of our YOU Can Quit plan. Even just a 5-minute walk cuts down on cigarette cravings — it engages your brain’s emotion centers, unleashing mood-enhancing hormones that decrease cravings and take your mind off that cigarette. And establishing a walking habit proves to you that you have the discipline to stick with your stop-smoking plan.

5. Slims you down: Burn more calories than you eat, and — voila! You’re wearing one-size-smaller clothes (find out just how many calories walking torches). Plus, walking can help squelch chocolate cravings and nix the stress and anxiety that often lead to overeating.

6. Keeps you sharp: Physical activity nourishes brain tissue and stimulates its production of neurons, synapses, and blood vessels. Some studies have found that walking can counter faltering memories in people over age 50.

7. Reduces stress: Anyone who has come back from a walk in a different frame of mind than they went out with can attest to this. Studies back up that walking benefits your mood — and may even ward off depression and anxiety.

8. Revs up your energy: Not only can a walk perk you up when you need it, but also it helps improve the quality of your sleep, so you’re more energetic all day long.

9. Boosts your immune system: Walking regularly can lower your risk of arthritis, macular degeneration, and even cancer by an astonishing 50% compared with people who don’t exercise.

10. Keeps you going: Walking has the highest compliance rate of any exercise. Make your routine bulletproof: Get a buddy.

No More Exercise Excuses!

Busting 5 Common Workout Excuses
— By Leanne Beattie, Health and Fitness Writer for www.sparkpeople.com

We begin a new fitness routine with the best of intentions—telling ourselves that we’ll hit the gym three times a week—but actually accomplishing what we set out to do can be harder than expected. Combining a busy work week with other obligations and a list of errands can be a recipe for fitness failure. Exercise has to be pushed to the bottom of the list since there are only so many hours in the day, right?

Wrong.

Everyone has the same 24 hours to work with every day. It’s how you decide to spend and prioritize your time that’s the real issue. It’s easy to make excuses and kid yourself about why you’re not reaching your fitness goals, but until you take responsibility for your actions (or lack thereof) you will remain in front of the television for one more evening, all the while moaning about how you can’t fit into your favorite clothes any longer.

“But I’m tired,” you tell yourself. “I’ve had a long day and I deserve to sit back and relax. I’ll just take it easy tonight and I promise to work out tomorrow.” Then tomorrow comes and you’ve got to work late and you’re out of milk so you have to go buy groceries and before you know it, another day has passed and still no exercise. Why is it that you can hold down a job, make it to class, run a household and put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, while you disappoint yourself every time you miss your own appointment with the treadmill?

Of course there are legitimate reasons to not exercise. But unless you’ve just given birth or had surgery, most of these reasons aren’t reasons at all—they’re excuses. If you’ve been allowing these excuses to keep you from the gym, it’s time to refocus.

Exercise Excuse # 1: I’m too tired.
It takes energy to produce energy, so while you may be tired now, even a short 10-minute walk will get your blood pumping and will boost your energy levels for up to two hours after. And regular exercise helps improve the quality of your sleep, meaning more energy throughout the day. Some research suggests working out can help regulate your sleep cycles, so you’ll fall asleep easier, sleep more soundly and wake up more rested. A morning workout—not a cup of coffee—could be just the ticket you need to feel more awake and energized all day long!

Exercise Excuse # 2: I don’t have time.
Eliminate 30 minutes of television viewing each night and exercise for half an hour instead. Unlike couch time, this method will strengthen muscles, burn fat, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Record your favorite shows and watch them while lifting weights or running on the treadmill to multitask. Get up an hour earlier in the morning and go for a walk before you start your day or bring along your sneakers and go for a walk during your lunch break. There are many little time stealers in your day, from surfing the Internet to watching reruns to accepting calls from people you don’t really want to talk to. Getting rid of these distractions can add hours of free time each day—time that can be spent improving your health.

Exercise Excuse # 3: I can’t afford a gym membership or equipment.
While going to the gym is a great way to get in shape, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a good workout. Either sign up for the bare bones membership package (are you really going to use all the perks the gym offers anyway?) or exercise at home for free with help from SparkPeople’s exercise demosworkoutsvideos and other fitness resources. Push-ups, lunges, crunches and aerobics can all be done in the privacy of your own home and cost no money at all. Don’t forget to borrow some fitness DVDs from your local library to ensure you don’t get bored with your routine. Exercising at home also eliminates another avoidance excuse—the weather. Your home treadmill is available rain or shine, 365 days a year.

Exercise Excuse # 4: I’m embarrassed by my appearance.
It’s tough to the gym if you don’t feel good about your appearance. A well-fitting pair of yoga pants and a new T-shirt go a long way towards making you feel better about your body. Baggy, oversized shirts and track pants may be comfortable, but they make you look bigger, so find some fitness clothes shaped to play up your best assets. If you are afraid of being the biggest person in the exercise class, sign up for a class specifically designed for overweight individuals or a beginner’s class where there will be others just starting out, too. And remember: Everyone at the gym has the same goal in mind and everyone had to start somewhere. You may feel self-conscious, but chances are that no one is really paying attention to you and if they are, they’re probably silently cheering you on for working toward your goals!

Exercise Excuse # 5: I’m too depressed.
A Harvard University study found that after 12 weeks of weight training, nearly 90% of seriously depressed seniors no longer met the criteria for clinical depression. And just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise boosts the levels of your brain’s feel-good chemicals, making you happier and more invigorated. So exercising will actually improve your mood, even if you feel like biting someone’s head off before you begin. Many bad moods are the result of stress and exercise is a proven way to relax and lower the amount of cortisol (which is produced in response to stress) in your system. High cortisol levels have been linked to the accumulation of harmful abdominal fat.

We are all busy and have lives outside of the gym, but we all need regular exercise to help us stay healthy, lose weight and cope with the stresses of everyday life. By making excuses to avoid exercise, all we’re really doing is telling ourselves that our physical and mental health is not important and doing the dishes, driving the kids to their activities or watching mindless television is a more worthy endeavor. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Breakfast: Are You A Champion?

Article courtesy of http://www.lifespan.com.

If your mother told you that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, study after study affirms that she wasn’t wrong about that, either.

Top 10 reasons to eat breakfast:

  1. Breakfast restores sugar levels after up to 12 hours of not eating.
  2. It is extremely difficult to get all of your necessary daily nutrients without breakfast.
  3. Adults who skip breakfast are less mentally and physically efficient for longer periods during the day.
  4. People who eat breakfast are more successful at losing weight and sticking to a diet.
  5. Athletes who skip breakfast train less effectively.
  6. Eating breakfast can raise metabolism by as much as 10 percent.
  7. People who eat breakfast regularly are more likely to rate their health as “excellent” or “good.”
  8. Missing breakfast increases your chance of heavy machinery and factory accidents.
  9. Eating breakfast has been shown to increase concentration.
  10. Eating a bigger meal in the morning and a smaller meal at night optimizes your daily energy levels.

Building a balanced breakfast

Breakfast should provide at least one quarter of the calories you need for the entire day. Most nutritionists agree that a good breakfast contains the following ingredients:

  • At least one serving of  fiber
  • At least one fruit and/or vegetable
  • Milk or another source of calcium
  • Protein, i.e., from meat, cheese or eggs

If this sounds like a tall order, it’s not. A bowl of cereal with fruit, a cereal bar with a glass of milk or a pita pocket with ham and cheese all fill the bill, as do bigger, traditional breakfasts, like eggs, ham and juice or blueberry pancakes with bacon. And, yes, cold pizza (with a glass of milk) qualifies as a healthy breakfast alternative.

Never eat breakfast?

If your usual breakfast is a cup of coffee, start small by incorporating a glass of juice or milk into your morning routine for a week or so, and then gradually build up to a balanced meal. If you think you don’t have time in the morning, consider making breakfast the night before or buying ready-made alternatives, such as cereal bars and juice boxes.

Meri Stonaker raves about this egg white and turkey scramble.   This recipe packs a whopping 24 grams of satisfying protein for only 114 calories!

Web MD is a great resource for healthy breakfast ideas and recipes.  We know you have some ideas, too.  Care to share?

NPMI Leading the Challenge at Week 2! Freshens Running a Close 2nd!

Here’s where we stand at the end of week 2:

As you can see, Freshens has gained on us this week.  It looks like they are our main competition at this point.  The good news is, we are headed into a holiday weekend, which means there are a lot of opportunities to be active!  Here are some examples of activities you may be taking part in that may be logged for points:

  • Walking around campus at a football game
  • Water skiing on the lake
  • Swimming
  • Yard Work (pruning, weeding, raking, etc.)
  • House Work (vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, etc.)
  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Dragon*Con Parade (count those steps, Chewbaca!)

Every day activities like the ones mentioned above all count towards our fitness total, so LOG THEM IN!  If you do the work, then get the credit.  Go NPMI!