Get Moving with Cycling

Lately, I feel like I have been seeing bicycles everywhere and hearing about them much more often than I had in the past. For me, it started last summer when my husband suggested that he and I get bicycles as a way to stay active despite COVID-19 closures that meant we weren’t able to do some of our other favorite activities. We began looking for bicycles and quickly learned that we weren’t the only people looking to hop on the bike. New bicycles were in short supply and it took weeks of searching available used bicycles to find ones that would work for us. 

Almost a year later, bicycles are still in high demand! My hometown of Hagerstown, Md has been hosting bike races and the Olympics feature a variety of cycling events. So, I decided to spend a little time talking about bicycling. Why do people enjoy it so much? What do you need to consider if you want to get into cycling or biking? 

Let’s start with why cycling is so popular, especially right now. For some people who live close enough to their workplace, cycling is a quick and physically active way to commute to work. It can be a great way to build physical activity into a daily routine. But, for people who can’t bike to work, there are still reasons to start cycling! For me, it has been a fun way to explore my local area. Last fall, I got to spend an afternoon biking around Antietam National Battlefield and found out it was a great way to experience historical areas. 

Physically, cycling can also be a great way to be active without putting as much pressure on your joints as you might when jogging or running. For some people, that can mean that cycling is a great way to increase physical activity without joint pain. Otherwise, cycling has many of the same benefits that other forms of physical activity have (like improving your cardiovascular health). 

So what do you need to think about before jumping on the bike? Well, first, like with many other exercise programs, you’ll want to check with your doctor to make sure your health will allow you to start engaging in this type of physical activity. Then, you’ll want to check out the laws in your area. Some places have different rules about where you need to ride and what type of safety equipment you need to have (although even if your area doesn’t require a helmet, it is always a good idea to wear one anyway). You can even check out bicycle safety information from the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Finally, you’ll need to figure out where you want to ride! You can go online and search for bike trails in your area. In Maryland, you can check out this website to find information on available bike trails in your area. 

So, if you are thinking about getting into bicycling for the first time, it might be challenging to find a bike at the moment (although it might be a little easier to find a used bike rather than a new one). If you have a bike or manage to find one, then I encourage you to get out and hit the road or trail for a fun way to be active! 

Exercise for Charity

Being physically active is important, and yet, it can be hard to get into the routine of exercising regularly. People give all sorts of reasons for not exercising: not enough time, not enough energy, no workout buddy, and no motivation.  The good news is that people are constantly coming up with ways to get through these barriers. Charity exercise apps are one new solution trying to help people who can’t find the motivation to exercise. They include apps like Charity Miles, stick, Run4Good, Impact: Fitness & Charity, and others. 

Here’s the idea: 

  • charityapp1you download the app, 
  • select the charity you want to support, and 
  • earn money for that charity based on how much you move. 

These apps are based on the idea that people might be more motivated to exercise if that exercise brings in money for causes they find important. Imagine you are at home on the couch considering whether you want to go for a walk that evening. You might be more motivated to exercise if you know your walk is going to make sure that money goes to a cause near and dear to your heart. If you have been struggling with motivation, this might be a great way to get yourself going! However, it is good to have all the information before signing up. 

Here are a few things to know if you are considering a charity exercise app:

Whose money is the app going to use?

Some of the apps rely on donations from companies or other sponsors. Generally for these apps, your exercise helps determine which charities are supported by the donated money.  Others ask you to put your own money on the line. For these, the amount raised is based on how much money the people using the app donate. 

charityapp2What kind of data is the app collecting? 

In some cases, the app might be collecting information about you like your email, age, gender, where you exercise, and the types of activities you record when you exercise. The privacy policy and terms of use will let you know what kind of information the company is collecting. They may use the information they collect to improve the app, advertise products to you, or even sell to third parties. For some people, they are willing to share this data so they can use the app. For others, it is more important to protect their data and privacy. Either way, you want to have all the information so you can decide for yourself. 

What kinds of exercises will earn money? 

Some apps only allow users to track their miles. This means they are a better fit for walkers, runners, and bikers. Other apps allow users to record minutes spent doing different types of activity and then they convert those minutes into points, miles, or some other unit that decides how much money will be donated. 

So, if you are struggling to find the motivation to lace up those sneakers and get moving, maybe a charity exercise app could help you get going! Just make sure you have all the information before signing up. 

Staying Healthy Through Winter

Is it harder for you to get out of bed on winter mornings when the temperature is low and it’s darker outside? You’re not alone. 

A sleepy Caucasian man turning an alarm offCold weather and fewer daylight hours create challenges in getting motivated to eat healthy and be physically active. When healthy habits are ebbing, your immune system weakens, increasing your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu. About 20% of Americans get the cold or flu each year.

Despite the changes in weather, winter doesn’t have to be an unhealthy time for hibernation — you can use this time to take charge and refocus on your health. 

To get started, I’ll share some wellness tips I’m following to maintain good health and fitness this winter.

Curb the Carbs

Cold weather can increase carb and comfort food cravings (for me, it’s pre- and post-holiday cookies). After carb-filled foods are consumed, the brain hormone serotonin increases, causing cravings to continue throughout the day. Translation: The more carb-filled foods you consume, the more you crave. To break this cycle, eat protein-rich foods at breakfast (eggs, yogurt, hummus, low-fat cheese, etc.) for high energy throughout the day. To avoid afternoon carb cravings, I keep healthy snacks available like whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and trail mix with nuts.

Up Your Fiber   

Foods with soluble fiber decrease inflammation and boost your immune system. Fiber stimulates infection-fighting T-cells which help you recover from infections faster. Apples, oats, nuts, avocados, citrus fruits, berries, and flaxseed are good sources of soluble fiber. Try adding two tablespoons of flaxseed to oatmeal or soups, or tossing sliced oranges or strawberries into salads or plain Greek yogurt.

Spice It Up

spicesFood-flavoring garlic, onion, ginger and cilantro have immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, used in Indian foods, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. You can sprinkle turmeric on food, however when I’m feeling sluggish, I make a ‘turmeric tea’ (recipe below). Turmeric tea bags are also available at most stores.                                                           

Get Active: Outdoors or Indoors

Plenty of outdoor activities like ice skating, playing hockey, winter walks or runs in local parks are fun and can help you stay fit during the colder months. If you don’t want to be outdoors, check out your local library for online workout videos ranging from yoga, strength training, and aerobics you can do at home. Don’t like to work out alone?  Take a group fitness class at your local gym or community center where you can socialize and meet new people.  Bowling, swimming, and dancing are also great indoor activities.

Catch some sleep

Did you know, lack of sleep can make you sick? People who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after exposure to common cold viruses. Lack of sleep prevents your body from fighting infections and impacts how fast you recover. To boost your immune system get 7-8 hours of sleep for adults, 9-10 for teens and over 10 for school-aged children. Sleep routines are important too. Go to bed the same time each night, avoid caffeine 6 hours and smoking 2 hours before bedtime.

Turmeric TeaCloseup of tumeric powder spice on a spoon

  1. Boil 3 to 4 cups of water on the stove.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and stir.
  3. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Strain the tea into another container.
  5. Add in honey, fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, and milk to taste.

Holiday Mindfulness: Relieve stress through mindfulness techniques

image-from-rawpixel-id-1289-jpeg.jpgThe holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but according to the American Psychological Association, almost 40% of Americans also feel it’s one of the most stressful. Gift shopping, crowds, cooking and cleaning; the pressure to enjoy a perfect holiday can take its toll on even the most festive.

Described as an awareness and active attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be an effective way to reduce some of the stress in your holidays, and in your life everyday. In a University of Maryland Extension publication, FCS educator Dhruti Patel, provides simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into our everyday lives to reduce stress.

  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness is at the heart of meditation, encouraging you to focus on the present moment rather than ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
  • Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing patterns, especially when in an overwhelming or stressful situation, not only when meditating or exercising.
  • Physical activity: Incorporate stretching, walking or yoga into your daily routine.
  • Play: Interacting with a child or pet can help bring you into the moment, without focus on past or present.
  • Be creative: Mindfulness is associated with creative endeavors like art, coloring, Zentangle, and journaling.

Cultivating mindfulness can take some practice, but can be incorporated into any task, from brushing your teeth to reading a book. Mindfulness can not only provide you with a peace of mind (not just during the holidays!) but can even improve your physical health by boosting the immune system, managing pain and chronic diseases, implementing healthier habits and improving brain function.

Learn more about stress and your health at https://extension.umd.edu/learn/publications/stress-and-health.

 

How I Get Myself To The Gym When I’d Rather Binge Netflix

I post a lot about exercise because I love it. When I was younger and hitting the bars with friends, I would drink water and leave by 11:00, so that I could wake up early for a 3-hour bike ride. I get that’s not how everyone feels about exercise. And believe me—I have my days where I’m sitting in my workout clothes, binging on Netflix, and debating whether I really want to squeeze in a workout.

In those moments, I implement my internal review process. It’s not revolutionary, but it helps me to get moving or at least achieve my weekly goal. If you’re not feeling so motivated, I hope that these questions can help you get moving.

On random low energy days, I usually ask myself:

  • Do I have to wash my hair today? Maybe that’s TMI. But it works. If the answer is “Yes,” I usually trudge towards my shoes.
  • If I don’t workout today, then what? I exercise three times a week and those are my only hours to myself (#momlife). If I can’t swap that day of exercise for another day, I won’t let myself lose that hour. When you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s important to remember why you’re working out and what you get out of it.
  • What sounds fun today? If nothing sounds fun, what’s manageable? This is where it’s important to have a variety of activities that you enjoy doing. Depending on how you feel, you may want to try the following:
    • Group class: First, you don’t have to think about anything—just follow the instructions. Second, everyone else’s energy can help push your limits.
    • Get outside: Nature improves your workout experience and mood.
    • Get a friend: Exercising with friends switches the focus from exercise to catching up.
    • Find an app: I use the Jillian Michaels app and really appreciate how I can tweak it to my energy levels and interests at the moment.
    • Do your usual workout at a manageable level: Part of making exercise a habit is just staying consistent. I have plenty of days when I take it down a notch. Not every day is a personal record day—sometimes you’re more proud about sticking with the workout than setting a record.

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Staying consistent is important for creating habits. If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, force yourself to put on sneakers and go outside to get a boost from nature. Start by walking around your yard and see how far you can get. Aim for at least 20 minutes. (Photo by Arek Adeoye)

If I’m finding that my motivation remains low over a period of weeks or months, I ask myself:

  • Why aren’t I having fun?
  • Am I still seeing results?

Basically, what do I need to change? Depending on the answers, I either adjust the balance of my cardio and weights, switch to entirely different activities, or buy a packet of sessions with a trainer to reset my workout. Fun and results should factor heavily into your workout plan. Without both of those elements, you won’t be able to sustain your activities. If you can afford a few sessions with a trainer, I have found them to be the quickest and easiest way to adjust my workout and attitude.

 

Editor’s Note: Starting next week, we will only be posting on Tuesdays. 

Work In Some Protein After Your Workout

Are you ready to take your workouts outdoors? For those of you who are lacing up your running shoes or taking your bikes out for a challenging ride, fueling your body for these activities requires consuming a combination of nutrient-rich foods and fluids. You may have heard that “carbing up” before, during, and after a workout with breads, pasta, and fruits can help maintain blood glucose levels, maximize performance, and improve recovery time. But protein—a key nutrient for growth and development—is also linked to exercise and athletic performance.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids: your body creates 11 them, and you consume the other 9 “essential” ones through your diet. Muscles are mainly made of protein so when muscles get damaged after a hard workout, consuming foods or beverages with protein can repair them. Protein can also provide a small amount of fuel for exercise if needed; about 10%.

What type of protein is the best for exercise?
Muscles require all the essential amino acids, however consuming branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can increase muscle growth, and reduce both muscle soreness after a workout and exercise-induced fatigue. Protein-rich foods that are high in BCAAs include meats, eggs, dairy products, and protein powders. Healthline provides a helpful chart that lists the amount of BCAAs in one serving of various protein options. If you consume enough protein in your diet, whey protein and BCAA supplements will not provide any additional benefits. Occasionally, I enjoy the Trader Joe’s chocolate and vanilla flavored whey protein supplements, which are great for adding to smoothies.

Active Woman_Pexels 2091651 Luis Quintero
Protein is an important nutrient for building muscles and recovering from workouts. Along with lean meats, you can explore a host of non-meat protein sources to add some variety into your diet. (Photo by Luis Quintero)

How much protein do you need per day?
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for an average “non-athlete” person is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or .36 grams per pound. A person weighing 150 pounds, would require a minimum of 54 grams of protein each day. Gender, age, intensity, and amount of physical activity performed affects the amount of protein needed. You can use this Protein Calculator to determine the amount you need.

How much protein should you consume after a workout?
To help recovery, you should consume 20-30 grams of protein, along with carbs, after your workout. If you want a quick and delicious source of protein and carbs, try low-fat chocolate milk. A 16-ounce serving contains about 22 grams of protein—and twice as much carbohydrates as white milk, which helps tired muscles. And it tastes good!

You can also try one of these three post-workout combinations:

  1. A smoothie made with low-fat milk and your favorite fruit (bananas, peaches, berries)
  2. Turkey in a whole-grain wrap with veggies
  3. Greek yogurt with berries

The Benefits of Exercise… Even When The Scale Won’t Budge

At a recent check-up, my doctor mentioned that I gained some weight since my last visit. She suggested I work on losing some weight to get healthier. I left that appointment wanting “get in shape”, but wondering what that actually means.

For many people, getting in shape means getting physically fit and losing weight. It can be tempting to think that exercise alone will help you get fit AND lose weight. But it is important to remember that to lose weight, you need to be active and eat a healthy diet.

Research shows that:

  • Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise has all kinds of health benefits!
  • Exercise programs can help people lose a small amount of weight, but they can also result in no weight loss.
  • Using exercise alone for significant weight loss requires a ton of exercise (around double the recommended 150 minutes) and is not something most people can keep up long term.
  • People are most successful in weight loss (and in keeping weight off) when they change their diet AND exercise!

If you’ve set a weight loss goal that focuses only on physical activity, you likely have not created the best path to success. This emphasis can also create the mentality that physical activity is only useful if it results in weight loss. If you want to see more weight loss results, you should create SMART goals for increasing your physical activity and adjusting your diet, such as walking 15 minutes per day, participating in yoga twice a week, and replacing unhealthy calories with lean meat, fruits, and vegetables.

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Physical activity has many benefits. It’s not only useful for weight loss but can also improve your mental health and promote better sleep. If you exercise with a friend, it’s also an opportunity to catch up.

It’s important to remember that physical activity provides many benefits, not just reducing the numbers on the scale. If you don’t see the scale change, does that mean you aren’t improving? Absolutely not! If the numbers on your scale aren’t budging, try using these other numbers to gauge your physical fitness improvement:

  • Measure your resting heart rate. As our cardiovascular systems improve, our resting heart rates go down. You can use an activity tracker that measures your heart rate and watch for improvements. You can also manually measure your resting heart rate and track it as it decreases.
  • Perform a step test, which involves stepping up and down on a step for a specific number of minutes. Afterwards, you measure your heart rate and compare it to a table that gives ranges for different fitness levels.
  • Pay attention to improvements in daily exertions, like how far you can walk without getting tired or how out of breath you are when you get to the top of the stairs.

Repeat the same tests over time. The results of these simple tests can help you see the improvements in your system. You want to remember that physical fitness can help you lose weight, but being physically active is beneficial for your health, even if the scale won’t budge! Finding a benchmark for seeing your improvement can help you stay motivated to keep becoming more active and healthier!

 

Elevate Your Spirits With A Hike & Good Company

One of my favorite ways to get out and get moving is to go for a hike! In my blog posts, I usually provide tips on adopting healthy habits and the research that backs it up. Today, I’m taking a different approach. I want to tell you a bit about why I, personally, love to go for short hikes. I hope that some of my enthusiasm will rub off and you might want to give it a try!

If you enjoy the scientific information I usually share, check out my article about the benefits of exercising outside. In that post, I mention how outdoor exercise improves your mood. For me, hiking kills two birds with one stone: I get a workout and feel extra good after I finish. But there are so many more reasons I love to hike!

I can bring my dog along with me and she loves it! I enjoy getting out in the fresh air and seeing the beautiful scenery, like an overlook, waterfall, or other natural wonder. All of which makes it feel less like exercise and more like a trip or exploration. Hiking is also something that my family does together! We meet at a favorite trail and go for 30-60 minutes. We love being able to just walk and talk.

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You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to go hiking. If you appreciate beautiful scenery, nature, and saving money, there’s a great chance you might like hiking!

People tend to think of hiking as being straight up a mountain, and those hikes definitely exist, but it doesn’t have to be like that! There are many hikes that offer rolling hills or even a paved trail. To find a hike that fits your needs, check the websites for nearby state and national parks, as well as local parks and nature centers. Many websites offer information about how hard the hike is, the elevation change, and the distance to some point of interest or lookout. You can also start exploring sections of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia and offers some beautiful views.

Although spring is around the corner, we are definitely still feeling the winter chill. But don’t let a little cold weather stop you! Prepare for cold-weather hikes by:

  • Dressing in breathable layers. Wear a thermal base layer, an insulating layer, and coat on top. For your bottom, wear a thermal layer under your pants and wool socks. Add or remove more layers as needed. Wool and synthetic fibers work best, since cotton will stay wet with sweat, making for a colder hike.
  • Bringing gloves and a hat. You can always take them off if you get too warm.
  • Wearing sturdy shoes—waterproof is best! You don’t want to end up with a wet, cold sock!
  • Packing a hiking bag with an extra pair of socks, a first aid kit, water, and a trail map. Don’t overpack, as a heavy backpack is hard to carry for long, but bringing a few essentials is worth the effort.

Start with a few short hikes. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!