Meditation can be the key to unlocking your fat-loss potential.
It’s often been said that where the mind goes, the body follows. So it’s no surprise that meditation has become an increasingly popular, if not essential, part of countless fitness and training programs.
Does it really help, though? Research seems to indicate that it does. In one landmark Cleveland Clinic study, when test subjects used visualization techniques — imagining themselves performing exercises — they experienced physical strength gains of up to 53 percent. And a review of 47 trials published in JAMA Internal Medicine confirmed that meditation can help alleviate anxiety, depression and physical pain. Meditation has been found to reduce levels of cortisol, allowing you to recover as quickly as possible, and thus to train more often and more effectively. Here’s how to reap the rewards of meditation in your training.
Get in Touch
One popular and widely studied meditation technique is “mindfulness,” in which your mind and body “hang out” together in the present and quiet down negative thoughts. To begin, spend 10 minutes a day sitting in a quiet, comfortable place without distractions, closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath (try counting each inhalation and exhalation, or notice the rise and fall of your chest) and how your body feels (try scanning from the top of your head to the tips of your toes). When your thoughts drift, gently redirect your attention back into the present moment, to your breath and any physical sensations, smells or sounds.
Consistency is key, so try to meditate in the same place and at the same time every day, and focus on quality over quantity. If obstacles pop up, don’t let that derail your practice. Simply get back to it again the next day.
Find That Focal Point
Once you’ve practiced meditating a few times, you’ll likely discover that you can bring greater focus to your exercise routine. If you’re present in the moment, you can concentrate on your workouts and avoid running on automatic pilot, resulting in better, safer training.
If you find your thoughts drifting elsewhere — to unpaid bills, holiday plans or a recent argument — simply guide your mind back into the moment, focusing your energy and effort on your workout. Take your time and pay attention to how your muscles are working and how your body feels. Visualize how much more sculpted your muscles are becoming and how much closer you are to your fat-loss goals.
The same sort of focus can dramatically improve your eating habits. Again, consider how often your mind is somewhere else while you’re scarfing down a meal, not even realizing what you’re eating. With a trained mind, you’ll eat more consciously. As you prepare and eat meals, pay attention to smells, tastes and the sustenance they offer your body. Chances are you’ll make better food choices and feel satisfied and healthier, too.
Knock Down Walls
When your mind is strong, you can break through barriers that block your goals. Mindfulness training teaches you that your excuses are just thoughts in your head that needn’t stop you. Essentially, while an untrained mind’s default is to put up barriers, meditation teaches the brain to recognize these thoughts as background noise and then refocus on what needs to be done.
So the next time your mind says, “I’m starving,” and you reach for the nearest comfort food, take a moment to think before you eat. Similarly, if you’re working out and begin to think, I can’t do it or I’m bored, consider whether these thoughts are simply self-defeating stories. Your meditation practice will likely strengthen your belief in yourself and your ability to continue. And it will help you listen to your body so you can clearly determine whether you need to stop or whether you really can do a few more reps or run a few more minutes.
Reap the Rewards
For your fat-loss plan to succeed, you need a real understanding of your goal. Although you probably have a general view of why you’re dieting and working out — whether it’s to change the way your body looks or feel more energized — the specifics may not be as clear as they could be. Meditation helps you zero in on those details.
Take a few moments to ask yourself what you think the results of exercising your body and mind will be, how much you value those results, how you feel about your exercises (confident, embarrassed, frightened, determined) or how much control you have over your ability to make it happen. Instead of thinking your way to the “right” answer, sit for a few moments and allow your mind to calm down and become uncluttered. You may very well find that’s enough to give you clarity.
The bottom line: When you know what you need to do in the moment, when you have confidence in your abilities and a clear understanding of where you’re going, success is practically guaranteed.
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Need a physical or mental boost? Grounding — aka earthing — could be the answer.
Imagine walking barefoot in the cool grass or submerging in a peaceful lake or digging your toes into the sand. How do you feel? Chances are this kind of intimate connection with the earth makes you smile and elevates your mood, and while you may chalk that up to memories of your last Maui vacation, those feels may actually be more complex.
Grounding — connecting with the earth through physical touch — has been found to induce chemical and electrical changes within your body that bring about a boost in mood. While this might sound like some hippie-dippy baloney, science is actually on board with this concept, and recent studies show that grounding not only can elevate your psyche but also can help relieve inflammation, increase circulation, reduce muscle pain and support heart health, according to research published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health.
“[Grounding] is an indispensable healing and recovery tool … for any treatment or recovery regimen as it relates to injury, surgery and maximum athletic performance,” says Jeff Spence, DC, and mindset coach in Los Angeles. “Amazingly, the planet appears to be the most powerful anti-inflammatory we have — the original painkiller!”
Here’s how it works.
Your body is capable of creating its own electricity. Case in point: Your central nervous system generates electrical impulses that instruct your body to breathe or swallow or sprint away from a mugger. Naturally, your body carries a neutral charge, but these days, the blue light from cellphones and computers as well as an abundance of pollution can alter that neutrality, and positive ions in the form of free radicals begin to invade and accumulate your tissues. Extensive research associates free radicals with premature aging, inflammation, dementia, arthritis, hair loss, cancer and even actual damage to your DNA, so it’s in your best interest to evict them as soon as possible.
The earth carries a mildly negative charge, and if you retained anything from high-school chemistry, you’ll remember that in order to eliminate a positive charge, you have to introduce a negative one. Therefore, it stands to reason that making direct contact with the negatively charged earth can return your positively charged body to a neutral state. “Nature provides electric ‘nutrition’ from the ground below to maintain natural order and healing within the bioelectrical circuitry of your body,” Spence says.
And science concurs: Studies have concluded that this influx of earthy electrons helps calm the nervous system, shifting it from the sympathetic fight-or-flight branch toward the parasympathetic rest-and-digest branch, thereby reducing inflammation and bringing peace to the body and mind.
Want to try grounding for yourself? The process is simple: Take off your shoes and stand or walk in the grass — or sand or dirt or mud. You also can sit and place your palms on the ground or submerge yourself in a natural body of water. In less than 30 minutes, you can reap all the benefits of “vitamin G.”
- Walk barefoot in the sand, grass or even the mud.
- Lie on the beach or in a field with as much skin exposed to the ground as possible.
- Wade into a lake or sea.
- Garden without gloves.
Tip: Rubber is an insulator and will block any electrical charges from passing through — great for lightning strikes but not so much for grounding. Remove your shoes or choose footwear with leather soles to properly connect with Mother Earth.
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Your skin isn’t the only thing that need some shade this summer.
By now, slathering on sunscreen before stepping out the door should be a year-round habit, but your epidermis is not the only thing being affected by el sol. Other parts of your body can be negatively affected by the sun, sounds and soaring heat of the summer months. Here’s how to protect five of them from harm.
Summer Hazard: Heat
When it’s hot, you’re at a greater risk for dehydration, which over time could lead to kidney stones. “Kidney stones form because of an imbalance of salt and water within the kidneys,” says Jonathan Harper, M.D., associate professor of urology at the University of Washington in Seattle, adding that a salty diet and inactivity also can be contributing factors. While kidney stones are most common in adults 30 to 50 years old, you’re at risk even if you’re in your 20s, and high-protein diets such as Atkins, Paleo and keto can cause other urinary issues that may increase kidney-stone risk, Harper says.
Safety check: Stay active, eat a lower-salt diet and stay well-hydrated, consuming anywhere from 80 to 100 ounces of water daily. Adding electrolytes to your water can help replenish water loss from sweating and help promote hydration, and eating a diet with a healthy balance of macronutrients with plenty of fresh produce can help deflect kidney stones.
Summer Hazard: Loud Noises
Ah, the sounds of summer — fireworks, outdoor concerts, lawn mowers. Though you might associate these noises with happy, lazy days, if you’re not careful, they also could mean noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss generally occurs over time when noise is about 85 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, some hearing loss can be immediate at certain levels. “Hair cells [in the ears] can die, which will affect your hearing,” says Oliver Adunka, M.D., director of otology, neurology and cranial base surgery at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Safety check: Because noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative and irreversible, your best bet is to avoid loud noises, or at least damper their effects. When doing yard work, watching fireworks or going to concerts, wear ear plugs. As for your headphones, if you can’t hear other people talking or if people have to shout to be heard from only 3 feet away, your music is too loud, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication.
How Loud are the Sounds of Summer?
Summer Hazard: Heat and Humidity
Who doesn’t love wearing yoga pants all day or kicking it at the pool in your swimsuit? Trouble is, bacteria loves heat, and when you lounge around in warm, wet clothes, you’re creating the perfect foster home for millions of yeasty beasties. Bacteria trapped in your clothing close to your body means a greater likelihood of infection, and you might even notice higher amounts of vaginal discharge as a result of the heat, says Leah S. Millheiser, M.D., director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University. Vulvar irritation, especially if one labia is longer than the other, also can be more prevalent in summer.
Safety check: Change your clothes immediately after working out, and if you’re prone to infections, keep a dry bathing suit to swap out with the wet one between dips. To prevent or quell irritation from chafing, put Vaseline on your labia three to four times a day, especially before exercising.
Summer Hazard: Ultraviolet Rays
Just like your skin, your eyes need protection from the sun. However, 27 percent of Americans don’t wear sunglasses, according to The Vision Council. “Conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts and sunburn of the eyes can occur from excessive UV exposure,” says Jeffrey Anshel, O.D., optometrist in Encinitas, California, and author of Smart Medicine for Your Eyes (Square One, January 2011), adding that the effect of this exposure is cumulative.
Safety check: Always don sunglasses when you’re outside, even when it’s cloudy; UV rays still penetrate clouds like a knife through butter. Choose sunglasses with both UVA and UVB protection and polarized lenses, especially if you’re frequently around water. If you wear them, opt for UV-protective contact lenses for an added layer of protection. And don’t forget to wear a hat with a brim, which shades your face from direct UV rays, Anshel says.
Summer Hazard: Flip-Flops
Because they don’t offer any support, flip-flops may cause issues when worn for prolonged durations of walking and standing. “They could affect your gait and posture, which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the feet but also the rest of the body,” says Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City. Flip-flops alter the biomechanics and distribution of pressure and weight across your feet, which can cause overpronation, and because there’s little to no support, your toes have to grip the shoe with each step, causing strain and tendonitis. What’s more, if you have underlying issues like hammertoes, arch or heel pain, or shinsplints, flip-flops could worsen these conditions.
Safety check: Several companies now offer ergonomic, biomechanically correct flip-flop options with arch support, heel stabilization and extra cushioning. If you have traditional rubber shoes with no support, wear them only in short bursts, perhaps just to and from the pool or a quick step in and out of the house. Of course, if you don’t have any foot issues, you could technically go for longer periods, as long as you’re not feeling any pain.
Safe Summer Sandals
This shoe from Vionic carries the seal of approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association, and with good reason: Patented technology alleviates heel pain, built-in orthotics support your arches and secure your heel, and a flexible midsole absorbs shock and reduces joint stress.
Designed by a physiotherapist and podiatrist, these cute and comfy sandals feature heel control and arch support, reducing strain and impact while maintaining proper heel position.
With hand-painted details, a patented foot bed and impact-absorption technology, this sandal has you looking and feeling your best this summer. Bonus: Three percent of every sale is donated to breast cancer research.
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“It’s never too early to talk to your children about these tough topics. Expert-recommended tips for how to navigate this difficult subject with any age group.
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Use these mobility sequence to improve form, strength and performance.
The health and mobility of your thoracic spine is integral to spinal and shoulder function, and ignoring this area could negatively affect performance, strength and posture, and could even add pressure to your lower back, resulting in pain and discomfort.
Using several stretching techniques in the same session is a great way to improve overall thoracic mobility. Start with some dynamic exercises to naturally warm your body and slowly and safely increase your range of motion. Follow those with some foam-rolling moves to further increase your range of motion, and wrap things up with a static stretch to lengthen your muscles. Though static stretching preworkout is not advisable in all instances, you can use it to help reinforce proper position without reducing power or strength if you’re training exercises like pull-ups, overhead presses, weighted squats or deadlifts. Yes, static stretching does lengthen your back muscles, but you use those muscles to stabilize rather than to create power so your lifts will not be compromised.
This mobility sequence uses all three stretching techniques to quickly and effectively improve flexion, extension and rotation in your thoracic spine. It only takes about 10 minutes and can be done preworkout or postworkout.
Dynamic Mobility | 2 sets of 6 on each side
Kneel on the floor with your toes touching and your knees spread slightly apart. Push your hips back over your heels as you reach both arms forward (Child’s Pose). Keep your left arm extended as you bend your right elbow, bringing your thumb to your right ear. Slowly draw your right elbow up as you rotate your chest open. Pause briefly, then return to the start.
Dynamic Mobility | 10 reps of each pose
Get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Draw your tailbone up, and pull your shoulder blades together as you drop your belly toward the floor, arch your back and lift your chin for the sky (Cow). Then draw your chin to your chest, tuck your tailbone under and press down firmly into your palms to widen your back and round your spine (Cat). Move smoothly and slowly between the poses.
Foam Roller | 15 reps
Lie faceup on top of the foam roller with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position the roller vertically and directly underneath your spine, neck and head. Extend your arms along your sides with your palms up, reaching your fingers for your feet. Slowly trace your fingers along the floor (or as close as you can get) as you raise your arms in a smooth arc until they come overhead, then slowly return to the start.
Foam Roller | 90 seconds each side
Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, and position the foam roller horizontally behind you. Lean back and then roll down along the roller until it is under your lower back. Place your right arm on the floor and turn slightly to the right, rolling slowly back and forth to massage the muscles.
Thread the Needle
Static Stretch | 30 to 60 seconds each side
Get on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Thread your left arm underneath your body, palm up, and bend your right elbow as you lower down onto your left shoulder. Keep your hips over your knees as you press into your right palm and slowly open your torso to the right side. Hold and breathe when you feel a deep stretch between your shoulder blades and along your back.
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Don’t sweat the small stuff. Relax your mind and body with these strategies.
Stay consistent with your workouts, even when traveling.
One way to do it? Research what equipment will be available at your hotel and create a program tailored to the facility, advises Julie Bonnett, Oxygen fitness model and physique consultant in Winnipeg, Canada. You can also plan several jogging routes before you arrive so you can exercise while exploring your surroundings.
Stretch during your warm-up.
“Sometimes it can be overwhelming to plan your workout beforehand, so stretching lightly first will help you establish what body parts are already sore and which are feeling fresh,” Bonnett says. “Then, create your workout to target the less-tired areas.” Listening to your body, rather than planning a full routine ahead of time, will save you time and make for a less stressful trip.
Begin your day by working out.
The sooner you get it done, the less likely other obligations will stand in the way of fitting it in.
Multitask during cardio.
Write out your to-do list while on the upright bike, or time your treadmill run to watch your favorite TV show at the gym. “I even start laundry and throw a tray of chicken in the oven before one of my at-home fat-burning spin sessions,” Bonnett adds. With less to do after your training session, you’re more likely to feel calm.
Keep a workout blog.
Journal your workouts, take a progress picture every day (or week), and tell your friends and family about your routine. When others know about your accomplishments, you will feel more accountable and be more motivated to make time for exercise.
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No one wants to talk about this, but we have to. Local yoga studios can’t survive on free content and R50 classes. Here’s what you can do…
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