What Can I Do For My Health Today?

We all know the reality is that achieving major health and fitness goals doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment and effort to see results in the long run. However, little changes we can implement today can make a big difference over time. We’ve compiled a list of simple (yet significant!) things you can do to improve your health and wellness today.

  1. Drink More Water – Being properly hydrated can have an immediate effect on health. According to care2.com, drinking enough water eliminates body aches and pains, headaches, and fatigue.
  2. Increase Your Soluble Fiber Intake – This type of fiber found in apples, oats, beets, chia seeds, and barley reduces cholesterol and improves heart health, as shared by onegreenplanet.org. More immediate effects of taking in more soluble fiber include regulated digestion and blood sugar levels.
  3. Hug Someone – Taking care of your health means all aspects of your health – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In that vein, you can experience an immediate boost of a feel-good hormone called oxytocin when you hug someone you care about. Bodyandsoul.com says a big bear hug “also reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies.”
  4. Wash Your Hands – Practicing good hygiene by washing your hands regularly is your best defense against the spread of germs, making sure you stay cold and flu free. Proper hand washing means lathering up with soap and water and rubbing for about 20 seconds.
  5. Be Mindful of Your Posture – By making sure you are sitting and standing up straight throughout the day, matador.com says you are making instant improvements in your respiratory and digestive functioning. Over time, good posture alleviates muscle tension as well.
  6. Have an Attitude of Gratitude – Practice by writing down one thing each day in a journal that you are grateful for. According to psychologytoday.com, gratitude is linked to improved well-being, mental health, and happiness.
  7. Bulk Up Your Breakfast with Protein – Start your day with eggs or a whey protein smoothie instead of your usual bagel or muffin. Naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner says on chatelaine.com that protein at breakfast increases your metabolism and energy, and reduces cravings for simple carbs later in the day.

Now you have a list of 7 ideas that you can implement to transform your health immediately! Try one every day this week and let us know how you feel!

How Vital Are Vitamins?

Do you take vitamin supplements to support your health? At Fitter Healthier Life we believe that natural foods  are the best sources to get the nutrients we need, but we recognize that sometimes we may need to supplement our diets. According to Health.com, ensuring that your body is getting the right vitamins and minerals may reduce risk of health problems such as cancer and heart disease. Since this is the case, this is definitely an important topic to spend some time on to live fitter and healthier. In this post we are looking at some of the most common vitamins and minerals, and  which ones are the most necessary in pill forms vs. in their natural forms (ie fruits and veggies). Disclaimer: this post is not intended as medical advice. Please follow your physician’s recommendations first and foremost and be sure to direct any questions about your own supplements to your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Vitamin C: This is one of the most popular vitamin on the market and is often touted for a multitude of benefits. While vitamin C is safe to take as a supplement, Steven Salzberg points out on Forbes.com that taking too much (over 2000 mg per day) can cause kidney stones and other complications.

What to eat to boost your vitamin C intake: citrus fruits, berries, green peppers, broccoli

  • Vitamin D: Also known as the sunshine vitamin, this helps with calcium absorption and supports bone, lung, and cardiovascular health. Many people can get enough vitamin D by having sun exposure on bare skin for about 10 minutes several times a week, as per medicalnewstoday.com. Older adults as well as people with darker skin or those who do not get enough sun exposure may need to add a supplement.

What to eat to boost your vitamin D intake: fatty fish, fortified dairy products

  • Vitamin E: While vitamin E has benefits for healthy skin and hair, research sited on greatist.com cautions against using supplements. Elevated vitamin E levels can seriously impact health as it may increase the risk of heart disease and prostate cancer. Most people get plenty of vitamin E in their daily diets and do not need to add more.

What to eat to boost your vitamin E intake: dark leafy greens, wheat germ, eggs, nuts and seeds

  • Betacarotene/Vitamin A: Betacarotene is an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A in the body. It supports healthy immune functioning, healthy vision, and good skin. Though more research is needed, recent studies documented on healthline.com suggest that too much vitamin A may be bad for bone health and may increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease in smokers. For this reason, try to get your betacarotene from foods rather than pills.

What to eat to boost your vitamin A intake: dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots. 

  • Calcium: Calcium is crucial for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis as we age. Research shows that supplements are not the best way to get your calcium needs met though, so try to stay away from them unless you don’t eat any of the foods that contain it (or by your doc’s recommendation of course).

What to eat to boost your calcium intake: milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, kale

  • B Vitamins: B6 and B12 are important for a variety of healthy functions. Dr. Whitaker says of B-complex vitamins on his site, “clear toxins from the body, facilitate enzymatic reactions required for detoxification, and keep the liver and other organs in tip-top shape.” The NIH suggests that complications are possible from taking B supplements long-term, so people should aim to get this vitamin through food sources.

What to eat to boost your vitamin B intake: poultry, fish, eggs, milk, soy beans, lentils, oatmeal, rice, spinach, asparagus, eggs, avocado

Continue to eat vitamin-rich foods for a complete diet! Have a question or want to leave a comment – please feel free to do so below.

Top 5 Smoothie Recipes

We have scoured the web for our favorite smoothie recipes and made a list of our top picks for you to choose from. Smoothies make great meal replacements, snacks, or pre and post-workout energy boosters. There are tons of different ways to enjoy smoothies – with or without yogurt, vegan, raw, fruit, green, paleo – the list goes on and on. Smoothie recipes can be tweaked to meet any dietary requirements. We love to start the day with a nutritious breakfast smoothie, or have one mid-afternoon on a hot summer day to cool down with a quick metabolism-boosting snack. See below for some yummy ideas to add smoothies to your diet:

1. Banana Ginger Smoothie

We love this tasty and tummy-soothing recipe from Prevention.com. For an extra frosty treat, use a frozen banana!

1 banana, sliced
¾ c (6 oz) vanilla yogurt
1 Tbsp honey
½ tsp freshly grated ginger

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serves 2.

2. Superfruit Smoothie

This sweet treat from Delish.com packs a punch with delicious superfruits. Sub the frozen cherries for fresh if they are in season!

1 cup frozen cherries
1 kiwi, peeled and chopped (reserve 2 slices for garnish)
1 cup almond milk
1 Tbsp Chia seeds

Blend on high until smooth. Serves 2.

3. Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie

This nod to a favorite childhood snack from our friends at Eatingwell.com is a protein rich recipe for any adult on the go. It even helps you get a serving of vegetables in!

½ cup low-fat milk
⅓ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup baby spinach
1 cup frozen banana slices (about 1 medium banana)
½ cup frozen strawberries
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1-2 teaspoons pure maple syrup or honey (optional)

Add milk and yogurt to a blender, then add spinach, banana, strawberries, peanut butter and sweetener (if using); blend until smooth. Serves 1.

4. Pumpkin Pie Fall Smoothie 

You can enjoy the flavors of fall all year long with this delicious smoothie from RodalesOrganicLife.com. Bonus – pumpkin and apple both deliver healthy servings of fiber to your diet!

1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 apple, cored
Dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except cranberries in blender and blend until smooth. Top with cranberries. Serves 2.

5. Cookie Dough Protein Smoothie

Our list wouldn’t be complete without a dessert smoothie! This recipe from EdibleSoundBites.com has it all – protein, chocolate, delicious oats – and it’s vegan-friendly! It takes a bit more prep, but the end result is so worth it!

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1 medium frozen banana
1 tbsp cashew butter (or other nut butter)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 ice cubes
Chocolate shavings (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the oats and almond milk. Place in fridge and let it soak for at least 2 hours to soften and thicken. This prevents the oats from giving the smoothie a gritty texture. Place thickened oat mixture into your blender along with the rest of the ingredients (except for the chocolate shavings). Blend on high until smooth. Pour into a tall glass, top with chocolate shavings if desired. Makes 1 large or 2 small servings.

If you are not already blending away, these 5 smoothie recipes can get you started. Next time you visit the market, pick up some of the smoothie staples: your preferred milk (low-fat, almond, soy, coconut, etc), some plain low or non-fat greek yogurt, some bananas (peel and freeze), baby spinach, and some frozen or fresh berries or fruit of your choice. Any smoothie can be boosted with even more nutrition by adding a scoop of protein powder, and a Tbsp of either flax, chia, or hemp seeds. Try out these recipes and leave a comment to let us know how you enjoyed them. Happy blending!

Which Diet Is Right For Me?

If you have ever tried to change your eating habits as part of your health and fitness goals, then you know there are endless diet options available. So which should you choose? First off, it may help to redefine the word “diet.” Many people think of a diet as a tool for weight loss. We suggest that you think of a diet simply as a way of eating. While the way you eat may help you achieve weight loss or other health goals, many people find it helpful to let go of the mindset in which a diet is a means to an end – a temporary lifestyle change that can be discarded once a goal is met. Most people who choose a diet based on their food and cooking preferences, as well as the ability to live with that particular way of eating in the long-term, are able to maintain healthy eating habits more easily. In this post we define several ways of eating – perhaps one of them may fit for you and your long-term health and fitness goals.

  1. Low-carb: Low-carb diets are getting a lot of attention in the media these days. There are many benefits to a low-carb diet such as normalized blood sugar, reduced cravings for sugary foods, less heartburn, and other improved health markers. This diet involves reducing the amount of carbohydrates (such as pasta and bread) you intake each day and eating a higher proportionate amount of protein and healthy fats. This is a great diet for anyone who is okay with removing certain foods from your meal plan entirely, who does not like counting calories, and who wants their diet to include plenty or real (vs processed) foods. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt has put together a comprehensive guide to low-carb eating on dietdoctor.com. 
  2. Paleo Diet: The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman’s diet, attempts to return people to simpler ways of eating. Basically, you eat like the hunters and gatherers of old, which means the only things on the table are foods they would have hunted or found – meats, fish, eggs, nuts, leafy greens, fruits and veggies, and seeds. Like the low-carb diet, you remove anything processed, as well as dairy, and foods that can not be eaten in their natural states (such as potatoes). It can be a bit restrictive for some, but we like it for its efforts to keep things simple. Paul VanDyken has created a simple Dos and Don’ts guide to paleo eating on Paleodiet.com to help you get started.
  3. Vegetarian or Vegan: Strict vegetarians do not eat any meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans eliminate these as well as dairy products and eggs, and typically avoid wearing or using anything derived from an animal (such as honey, leather, wool, cosmetics, etc). There are many benefits to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Most people following these ways of eating consume lots of fiber and other nutrients from natural sources. Most vegetarians also consume less saturated fat, which results in lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of hypertension and heart disease. The Vegetarian Resource Group has a great site loaded with information on vegetarianism and veganism, including nutrition, meal plans, and recipes.
  4. Raw Food: This diet has been around for centuries, but has recently become popular again. Eating raw means eating foods that have never been heated over 104–118°F (40–48°C). Raw foods should not have been refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides or processed in any way. People who eat a raw diet prepare their foods by juicing, soaking, blending, and dehydrating, rather than cooking. Benefits of this way of eating include weight loss, increased energy, and reduced impact on the environment. It takes a lot of commitment, but if removing processed foods from your diet completely is important to you, this may be the way to go. You can get more information on the raw food diet by reading an article by Taylor Jones on Authoritynutrition.com.

Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners

In order to live a fitter and healthier life, we must address all aspects of wellness – nutrition, physical fitness, and mental health. Engaging in mindfulness meditation is one way to take care of our minds and reduce overall stress. Simply put, being mindful is the practice of being aware and present in the here-and-now. Mindfulness meditation allows us to turn our focus inward and notice what is happening with our thoughts and in our bodies, taking time to separate ourselves from external distractions and stressors as much as is possible. Here are a few basic tips to get you started with this practice:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Silence your phone and other devices and try to minimize possible distractions. Begin to pay attention to your breathing. Take a look at Barry Boyce’s techniques for preparing your body for mindfulness meditation at Mindful.org. 
  2. Scan your body. Take a mental inventory of what’s happening in your body. Notice (without judgement) where you might have tension or pain, where you feel loose and relaxed, and how your breath feels in your body. If you would like to use a guided meditation to get you started, the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA has some free offerings of different durations here. 
  3. Let go of thoughts. In our everyday lives we often become consumed by thoughts. In mindfulness meditation we try to let them go for a while, giving us a mental respite. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche of LionsRoar.com suggests, “No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, ‘That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.’ It gets down to how honest we are, how true we can be to ourselves, during each session.” Some people find it helpful to use imagery as they let go of their thoughts. For example, try picturing your thoughts as puffy white clouds that float by on the breeze, or leaves being carried away on a running brook.

By introducing mindfulness to your health and wellness routine, you may find yourself better attuned to your body, more able to focus on the present moment, and better equipped to center yourself during stressful situations. Try these basic practices and leave a comment to let us know how it went!

How Do I Measure Up?

If you’re trying to improve your health and fitness, you are probably using some standard by which you can measure your progress. In this post we will review several different ways to track health goals. We must start with a disclaimer – though we believe that these tools have some merit, we feel that the best measure of progress is how you feel. What’s your energy level like? How are you sleeping? How are your clothes fitting? How is your skin and hair health? Sometimes these subjective measurements can be more telling than the numbers on the scale or the calculator. We suggest using a number of different methods and tools to get an overall picture of your progress.

  1. Weight – traditional weight charts often do not take body type and muscle tone into account. For this reason, measuring your progress by weight alone may sometimes be deceiving. Still, it is one consideration when looking at your overall goals. A good weight calculator can be found on healthstatus.com.  You may also want to talk with your physician about your healthy weight based on your body type.
  2. Body Mass Index (BMI) – This measurement gives you number that compares your weight to your height. It may be an indicator of high body fat, though it has some shortcomings – it does not account for fat-free body mass, such as muscle and bone. Use this measurement together with others for a more accurate picture. Calculate your BMI at smartbmicalculator.com.
  3. Waist Measurements – Research has shown that waist circumference is linked to risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. According to Heartfoundation.org, a waist circumference of over 31.5 inches for women and 37 inches for men may mean an individual is at a higher risk for health concerns. We recommend measuring your waist, hips, biceps, thighs, and neck periodically during your health and fitness routine to track progress that way.
  4. Blood Pressure – Get a reading at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy and check it periodically as part of tracking your progress. Seeing your blood pressure normalize is just one of the many benefits of improving your health. Check out this article on the American Heart Association site to understand blood pressure numbers.

Use your good judgment when tracking your progress. Consider numerical and non-numerical successes as achievements along the way. While we can not offer medical advice, hopefully some of these tools can help you take snapshots of your overall health. Please talk to your physician about any questions or concerns you may have.

Metabolism-Boosting Foods

No matter what meal plan you are following to meet your health and fitness goals, introducing some elements to give your metabolism a boost can be helpful. A faster metabolism helps you burn fat even while your body is at rest, aids in digestion, and is even linked with better moods and increase immune system responses. Check out this list of metabolism foods and incorporate as many of them as possible into your meal plan:

  1. Avocado: According to Prevention.com, consuming enough protein helps you to protect your metabolism. Avocados offer not only protein, but also amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids for heart health.
  2. Almonds: These also contain healthy fatty acids, but OrganicAuthority.com suggests that you don’t overdo it, as they are also high in calories. Try 6-10 almonds with an apple for a good snack.
  3. Hot Peppers: These thermogenic foods including cayenne, jalapeno, habanero, scotch bonnet and others literally heat things up. As shared on globalhealingcenter.com, hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin that causes the metabolism to spike. These spikes can last up to 3 hours!
  4. Blueberries: These smoothie-friendly or eat alone fruits are full of antioxidants. Jaime Filer writes on bodybuilding.com, ” Antioxidants help prevent this oxidation from taking place, and thus prevents the build up of free radicals.” This is crucial for overall health and wellness, and free radicals can inhibit fat loss, muscle growth, and increase risk of disease.
  5. Spices: Luckily, healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland eating. Spices such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin contain metabolism-boosting compounds and have antioxidant properties. So season away! If you want to know more about the ins and outs of why spices boost metabolism, check out this guide on muscleandfitness.com.

These are a few ideas to get you started with boosting your metabolism. Add these to your meal plan this week and let us know what results you get!

5 Awesome Apps

Technology has come a long way in the health and fitness world, and we can take advantage of the advances to help us reach our goals. Using apps can help us maintain accountability, get answers to health and fitness questions, tracking progress, and being part of a community of like-minded people. In this post we take a look at 5 apps with awesome features to keep us moving:

  1. MyFitnessPal – this is not a new app, but still ranks high on our list of favorites. According to Active.com, its food database has over 5 million items as well as a barcode scanner, making it quick and convenient to enter our daily food plans. We love that this app is very user friendly and the free version comes with everything you need keep a food diary and track your nutrition and progress.
  2. Charity Miles – As if becoming fitter and healthier didn’t make you feel good enough, with this free app for iOS and Android, you can also make a difference for the charity of your choice. PCmag.com says in their review that you can choose your charity and use the app to log mile – sponsors donate for every completed mile. What a motivator for you to go that extra mile!
  3. Aaptiv – Want personal training but have a tight budget? Try this app – for either $9.99/month or $75/year, you get access to personal training anywhere you go. Use it while running a trail, take it to the gym, try a yoga session at home. As reviewed by Jennifer Cohen on Forbes.com, the trainers motivate you “to get up and get going, while perfectly matched music keeps you energized and sees you through.”
  4. All Day – Does your competitive streak help keep you motivated? Then this may be the app for you! This is a new free app from Adidas, shared on Self.com. All Day looks at your movement, mindset, nutrition, and rest to suggest tips and plans for your health. You can sign up for challenges to keep you motivated and reaching new limits. We like this app for its all-around approach to health.
  5. Fitnet – If your time for workouts is limited, try this app, featured on greatist.com. It provides 5-7 minute workouts that you can do at home. You also have the option to use your phone’s camera to make sure you are doing the movements correctly, helping you to learn better technique while you exercise.

These are a few to get you started and we recommend looking at other options on the links we provided. Your smartphone can be a helpful tool for meeting health and fitness goals. Let us know what your favorites are!

The Power Of Planks

Why plank? Fitness experts tend to agree that planks are awesome core-strengthening exercises. For those not in the know, a plank is a move in which you hold the trunk portion of your body off the ground in a straight line. fitness.mercola.com suggests that the ability to hold a plan for at least two minutes is a sign of adequate core strength and physical fitness. In this post we will look at some of the benefits as well as types of planks you can do.

Benefits

  • Toned Belly – This may seem obvious, but the advantage of planks when trying to improve your core strength is that it works multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
  • Improved Balance – Doing planks regularly helps you to find your center of gravity, as per theheartysoul.com. This in turn can help you improve your performance in athletic activities and dance.
  • Increased Flexibility – Planks do more than just help you with your core strength. As Szabo Laszlo reports on LifeHack.org, this exercise “expands and stretches all your posterior muscle groups – shouldersshoulder blades, and collarbone – while also stretching your hamstrings, arches of your feet, and toes.”
  • Reduced Back Pain – According to Andrea Cespedes on LiveStrong.com, stronger ab muscles help support your back muscles, improving your posture and reducing pain from slouching.

Types of Planks

We love these moves we found on Shape.com. Check out the link for detailed descriptions and photos, as well as some additional moves.

  • Basic Plank – From a push-up position, bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Be sure your body forms a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
  • Plank with leg lift – Start with the basic plank, then hold one flexed foot a few inches off the floor. Repeat each leg about 10 times.
  • Side Plank – Lie on your side, knees straight and feet stacked, then prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm. Hold 30 seconds on each side.
  • Side Plank with leg lift – From side plan position, lift your top leg as high as you can, foot flexed. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Get started with these moves and make planking part of your exercise routine. Let us know how it goes!

Exercise at Home!

No Gym Membership? No Problem! In this post we will take you through a workout that you can do right from the comfort of your home. If you can invest in some basic exercise equipment for home workouts such as a mat, some weights or resistance bands, and a stability ball that’s great. If not, you can still have a great work out at home by following these tips.

This comprehensive 30 minute workout from Health.com includes cardio, strength training, and ab work. Check out the link for instructions with pictures.

2 minutes of jumping jacks

24 reps of side lunges on each leg

24 dancing squats on each leg

2 minutes of line hops

Bridge and Lift – 24 reps on each side

Bicep circles – 16 reps on each arm

2 minutes of fast feet

24 reps of triceps with a twist on each side

16 reps of roll over sit ups in each direction

2 minutes of cross crawl

If you do not have weights, try putting some heavy cans or a brick in a shopping bag with a handle. If you’re a beginner, you may want to do this workout without the weights to start, until you build up your endurance a bit. This is a great way to get moving – do this routine several times a week for improved circulation and heart health, stronger muscles, and boosted metabolism! Let us know in the comments how it goes!