Tag Archives: stretching

Go Red for Heart Health

Long View: You Can’t Beat a Healthy Heart or 6 More Weeks of Winter

Just when you think the holidays are over and the thrill of the new year has finally tapered down, here comes February — Groundhog Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Mardis Gras, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day. February is a multi-themed, food-filled month of celebration.

We anticipate the shadow reveal of Punxsutawney Phil, we break out the football-shaped cheese ball to root for our team, we plan our menu of anything and everything on Fat Tuesday, and if that isn’t enough, we love to eat chocolates on the day of love. Then when it’s all over (and after a slight weight gain), we hit the mall for some comfy stretch wear with Presidents Day sale bargains!

But wait, how about doing something this month to celebrate our health and focus on our heart? If we can take advice from a small woodchuck about the weather, we surely can take advice from the American Heart Association about our health!

February is American Heart Month, and part of that is National Wear Red Day. For those of you who know me, my wardrobe pretty much consists of drab colors and neutrals, but this year, I broke out my red floral scarf for a splash of color as a symbol of support!

The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute encourage all of us to take action against this killer disease. Studies show that 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be preventable with education and action.

Find time to talk to your family and get everyone on board with heart health. Encourage healthy eating habits by making healthier versions of your favorite food. Choose foods and recipes low in sodium and with no added sugar or trans fats. When you shop, buy colorful fruits and vegetables, which are all powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, and stay away from dairy and meat products that are high in fat.

Fiber is important in your diet, and you can find fiber not only in fruits and vegetables, but also in beans, nuts, and whole grain. Take the time to read the nutrition labels on items, and check out the sodium content. (A general rule is, if anything has more than 250 mg of sodium, you may want to search for something with less.)

Physical activity can also help you stay heart healthy. It’s not only what you put into your body, it’s also what you put out. Exercise helps to improve heart health, and it can even help reverse certain heart disease risk factors. Our heart becomes stronger from exercise, which helps it pump more blood through the body and work at maximum level without strain.

Aerobic activities at least 3 to 4 times a week are the best. Choose walking, swimming, or biking, and allow for a good 5 minutes of stretching beforehand to warm up your muscles and a cool down period after you’re through. And of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new physical routine.

So this February, maybe forego indulging in lavish holiday food choices (remember that New Year’s resolution?) and celebrate in a new way. Go out and buy something red to wear to celebrate heart health AND 6 more weeks of winter, or will it be an early spring? Better check with Punxsutawney Phil before you go!

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Fighting for Fitness with Exercise

My Healthy Journey: Time to Sweat

I’ve changed my diet, organized my life, and made healthier choices, so the last and biggest thing on the list is exercise.

I don’t like to exercise, as I think a lot of us don’t. I’m competitive, so I liked playing sports as a kid, but as an adult, exercising by myself is boring and hard work. If I had a gym membership and could read on a treadmill, it might be different. But as it is, it’s hard to make myself do it.

But if I can (for the most part) give up candy, completely abandon soda, and stop drinking coffee for a month, I can handle anything!

I started by doing a muscle-strengthening yoga routine every day, which was a great way to start for me. It wasn’t too intense, it was calming, and it really helped me regain some flexibility and balance I’d lost over the years.

Now, I’ve been doing P90X. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it used to have infomercials on TV, which automatically makes me suspicious. But I actually know a number of people who have done it, and my goal is less to get a killer six-pack and more to get in better shape, so I don’t really need it to live up to all its TV promises.

I borrowed the DVDs from a friend, so I didn’t spend all of the money they’re talking about. I’m also not following all of their meal plans or the exact exercise plan. Each day you’re supposed to do a different workout for a different part of your body, and they’re each about an hour and a half long with warmups and cool downs.

I usually can’t make it through the whole thing yet; they’re really difficult! I also do them more like every other day because I’m so sore the day after. They make you pour sweat, and they make you want to lie on the ground in your own sweat puddle to catch your breath.

But I can already see some improvements! And that’s really satisfying. Am I out running yet? No (it’s been so rainy!). But I am getting cardio and strengthening done, in my own bedroom no less.

Plus, I’ve found some new interests by doing them. For instance, there’s a kickboxing workout that I love, so maybe in the future, I might try kickboxing classes!

Do I think I’ll stick with this level of workout forever? Definitely no! Eventually, I’d like to mix things like this up with other activities, like yoga, runs, and more simple workouts. Once it’s a habit, it will really be more about doing something every day.

It’s all about finding the things that will keep you interested, engaged, and MOVING.

There are so many reasons (and studies on) why you should  exercise. Mayo Clinic breaks it down perfectly: Exercise controls weight, fights health conditions and diseases, improves your mood, boosts your energy, and helps you sleep.

And Rally, our wellness tool, knows how important it is, too. It has tons of great missions to get you moving, like exercise 30 minutes every day, work up a sweat 3x a week, swim 30 minutes, and work your core, as well as weightlifting and walking missions.

So to help you get on a great fitness track that will entertain you and doesn’t require an expensive package, I’ve rounded up some activities for you to try for some of these missions.

Exercise 30 Minutes Every Day

43 Workouts That Allow You to Watch An Ungodly Amount of Television
100 No-Equipment Workouts

Work Up a Sweat 3x a Week

PopSugar Workout Music
Top 100 Running Songs

Run 30 Minutes

7 Easy Ways to Become a Runner
Beginner’s Running Guide
3 Methods to Run Faster

Swim 30 Minutes

The Ultimate Pool Workout
6 Tips to Improve Your Swimming Right Now
Make A Splash Infographic

Swimming's Benefits Infographic
Image via MyMedicalForum

Work Your Core

10-Minute Core-Blasting Pilates Workout

Quick Workout for a Powerful Core
Image via Buzzfeed’s 9 Quick Total Body Workouts

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Perfect Flexible Poise

My Healthy Journey: Flexible Living

As I told you last week, I’ve been making some radical changes, trying to be more flexible in many areas of my life.

I’ve eliminated soda, coffee, alcohol, and pretty much all processed foods. (I don’t think the coffee is going to be a permanent change after this month. I’m warning you now.)

I’ve also changed my diet in pretty big ways.

But that’s not all! I’m not participating in any challenges from work, but I’m still working out every day. That’s right everyone! I haven’t been this active for 10 years! So the truth is, even if it’s been a decade, there are ways to start getting active.

That’s not to say I started running 5 miles every morning. I’ve actually started doing yoga in the comfort of my own home. The gradual build is important to me.

I know I’m not the only one in the world who doesn’t want to put her struggle on display, but there are ways to start without witnesses.

Choosing Flexible Workouts

Rally, our wellness tool, has missions that can help you ease into fitness for when you’re not ready for a gym full of people quite yet. And increasing your flexibility and endurance is a great way to do that.

Whether it’s meditating for 20 minutes every day, stretching every day, dancing anytime, or going to yoga class every week, there is a mission to help you build to your goals. I’ve been wanting to do yoga for years, so this build has been a no-brainer for me.

Now, I have to admit, I’m not ready to go to yoga class once a week. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a yoga class (even just in movies), but the teacher tends to walk around and correct everyone’s form.

And while I would love to have perfect form eventually, there was just NO WAY I could’ve done some of the things I’m already doing on that first day. Let alone hold them for 5 breaths.

So what I’ve done is pick out a simple 10-minute routine (although it takes me more than 20 to work both sides) designed for something that’s a priority for me, building muscle tone.

And I know there are some poses in it that I simply couldn’t do on the first day, like this craziness:

Garland Pose

Or this killer:

Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Images from Shape

But 2 weeks later, I’m doing them. (Although I’m sure my version of that top one still isn’t quite perfect yet.) And each day, they get a little bit easier, and I hold them for a little bit longer. And as soon as I lose the burn from this routine, I can upgrade to something new and different.

I’m still working on mixing more things into my daily routine (mostly ab workouts at this point and hope to move on to cardio soon), but I can already feel the difference in my arms, legs, and most noticeably, my flexibility.

Here are some resources to help you follow my lead and start your own build to yoga class.

Stretch to Become Flexible Every Day

Office Stretches
Image via WalkingSpree

  • The 10-Minute De-stress and Stretch Workout:

The 10-Minute De-Stress and Stretch Workout
Image via Women’s Health Magazine

Dance Anytime

Yoga

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Choosing Missions Like Reading a Book

My Healthy Journey: New Missions

I have finished a mission people!

I finished the food tracking mission on Monday by completing 4 weeks of it!  Then it gave me the option to continue, and, while I still haven’t found a food tracking app I love yet, I decided keeping it up was probably a good idea.

My next goal with this is to start actually counting calories. As I suspected it would, food tracking shows what an inconsistent eater I am. Hopefully, if I can find a good way to start counting, I can actually see how bad my diet is for me.

Dancing on the other hand, is likely abandoned. Now we know, not my exercise. This, with the end of the 19-Day Arm Challenge means that I’m ready to pick some new missions! And this time, I’ve actually chosen a lot, but they will each help me focus on different things.

The first is diet related. Besides food tracking, I’m going to try to do two sugar-free days each week. Its description:

Sugar is dehydrating, a big source of empty calories – and all over the place. Check the labels and try to avoid added or processed sugars for a whole day (natural sugars in fruit and milk are fine). 

Then, for exercise, because I think yoga would be a really good activity to learn over the cold winter months, and good for my back problems, I will start forcing myself into a yoga routine by stretching every day and meditating for 20 minutes a day (which I’ve never tried before and sounds interesting.)

Can’t touch your toes? Try daily stretches to increase flexibility, prevent exercise-related injuries, and get blood flowing to your muscles. About 10 minutes should be plenty.

Find your bliss, whether it’s meditation, prayer, or art… that mental calm and focus can help your body too, reducing stress hormones and even lowering blood pressure.

Then, on the mental and stress health fronts, I’m going to try to read for 20 minutes every day, an activity I don’t do nearly enough, and have a bedtime ritual, which will also be great for my newly increased dental routine.

Recapture the lost art of winding down: read a book or magazine before you turn off the lights. (It also qualifies writing where you log activity, but I will have to contain myself on this front and not cheat by counting writing for work!)

If you have trouble falling asleep, your body may be too wired. Turn off the screens an hour before bed (they reduce sleep-inducing melatonin) and try a wind-down bath, book, or herbal tea ritual.

I’ve never been a deep sleeper, and I rarely get enough of it, so I’ve been thinking a more solid routine before bed might be exactly what I need to start getting a better night’s sleep. Plus, reading beforehand will be such a calming form of reward.

So I know I’ve chosen a lot of things this time, and I’m not promising they’re all going to work out well at the same time, but I think together they will give me a nice level of activity each day towards different goals for different categories of health.

If you’re following along with me, you too should think about winter activities. I’ve started all of this at a time that not a lot of outdoor workouts are doable for much longer (or not at all with the rain in Illinois!) Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can prepare myself this winter and avoid entering my standard hibernation mode. I think improving my diet and starting to work on my muscle strength and flexibility are likely my best options. What about you?

I will report back soon!

Sports Safety and Football

Sports Safety Tips

This week on social media, we gave you some important tips for sports safety and keeping your kids healthy and safe this year. Accidents do happen, but there are some ways to protect them!

First up, makes sure they get a sports physical, or PPE, that can rule out conditions that could put your young athlete at risk.

Make sure they and their coaches always have their emergency contact info and anything they need to treat a condition, like asthma inhalers.

Make sure that kids have time to warm up and stretch major muscle groups for at least 10 minutes before practices and games.

Always send your kids with a water bottle. It’s good to hydrate 30 minutes before and every 15-20 minutes during activity.

Learn the symptoms and signs of a concussion. Sideline the player and get help from a medical professional right away.

Rest should be a priority. They should have a day or two off from their activities each week. If they’re hurt, they shouldn’t play to give them plenty of time to heal.

Be supportive parents. Go to a sports safety clinic in your area to learn more and make sure that you support them if or when it hurts too much for them to play. And of course, be their biggest cheerleader!