SparkPeople Guest Blogger

Optimize Your Performance with 9 Athlete-Inspired Moves

Athletes have careers that ride on every performance, game or competition. The majority of these athletes spend their entire lives training for their moment—sacrificing time with family and friends in order to make it to the top, skipping vacations for days in the gym, spending the off season training and perfecting skills in order to be better for when the next season comes around. The elite athlete mindset is focused on being the best. When the difference between gold and silver can be just a fraction of a second, a fierce dedication and attention to detail can give them the advantage.

No matter if you are an avid athlete or a weekend warrior, though, we have that desire to perform at our best in common. It is human nature to want to excel, and it is motivation, determination and the details that gets us to the finish line.

Posted 8/15/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 4 comments   21,039 views

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A 16-Minute Workout You'll Feel All Over Tomorrow Morning

Abdominals, glutes and thighs--we're going after every muscle group on this dynamic and heart-pumping workout. Designed to avoid joint strain and muscular imbalances, this one-mile indoor walk varies your step and pace using simple, low-impact moves to get you sweating. Your core and leg muscles are in for a treat.

Posted 7/27/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 10 comments   53,505 views

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7 Yoga Moves Guaranteed to Target That 6-Pack

The coveted six-pack is here to stay, but before you start doing a bunch of ineffective crunches, there's something you need to know. Aesthetics aside, having a strong core is essential for everything from balance and stability to preventing injury during other activities, according to Harvard Health Publications. Work on your core and you're also working towards better posture, comfort while you twist or lift items, a pain-free back and more.
There are four main abdominal muscle groups: The deepest muscle layer, the transversus abdominis, stabilizes your trunk. The internal and external oblique muscles work together to rotate the trunk. The final muscle in the group, the rectus abdominis, draws the ribs down toward the hips to create spinal flexion–and six-pack abs. If you're lean and do a ton of crunches you'll surely develop a six-pack, but crunches alone are not going to stabilize your core.
How can you stabilize your core and build killer abs? Three things: clean eating, cardio and smart strength training. With its challenging stabilization poses, yoga is a great place to start. Try these seven poses that target your middle and deliver in all the all the right ways. You'll be feeling these in a hurts-so-good kind of way tomorrow.

Posted 7/5/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 9 comments   52,241 views

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A Guide to Growing Your Own Living Salad Garden

A refreshing summer salad starts with turning a bit of dirt right in your own backyard. There’s nothing more satisfying than a hearty, healthy bowl of greens and veggies handpicked from your own garden or back porch planter box. Whether it's a backyard barbecue at the neighbors, picnic or a perfectly grilled steak in need of a side, summer presents many opportunities to enjoy a fresh salad.

Luckily, the steps to establish your own garden filled with salad ingredients are simple: Use a raised or elevated bed to hold your potting soil. Tuck in baby vegetable plants and make sure they get plenty of sunshine and water. Apply a layer of mulch to the bed to help it retain moisture. Keep the soil nutrient-rich with natural fertilizers and you’ll be on your way to growing bountiful salads in a small amount of space! Follow this helpful infographic to get started today.

Posted 6/6/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 8 comments   13,603 views

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A 30-Minute Barre Workout That Is Easy on the Knees

Barre is an amazing way to strengthen all the muscles in your body, but all those plies can be a killer on the knees. Not anymore. With this knee-friendly routine, you can enjoy the ballet-inspired exercise without the pain. Target your entire body with dynamic moves that will make your muscles shake as you get stronger and stronger.

Grab a set of three to five pound dumbbells, a sturdy chair and maybe even a furry friend for some encouragement, and get to work with this low-impact routine.

Posted 5/23/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 8 comments   60,508 views

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Cumin Health Benefits

Cumin is not just another kitchen spice. Cumin has been used extensively in traditional medicine in the treatment of a number of diseases. The spice is also an ingredient in curries and other dishes. Indian and Middle Eastern dishes and beverages use cumin to impart a unique flavor and add additional health benefits within a meal.

What Is Cumin?

Cumin is native to Levant and Upper Egypt. Cumin is the seed of a small plant. The seeds are found paired or in separate carpels. The seeds are 3-6 mm long with a pattern of ridges and oil canals. Cumin seeds are available dried or ground and appear brownish-green when in powder form. Cumin oil has also been consumed.

History of Use

Cumin has a peppery flavor and in ancient times served as a popular alternative to black pepper. It was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks as a spice in meals and as part of medicinal preparations. It has been cultivated throughout the Middle East, India, China and Mediterranean for centuries. It does not have a tradition of use in Europe and, while used in Europe during the Middle Ages, quickly declined thereafter. Cumin is used in natural medicine.

Cumin Benefits

Alternative medical practitioners and current research shows support in the use of cumin for its unusual properties. Cumin appears to show properties such as:

  • The ability to reduce inflammation.
  • The potential to lower cholesterol.
  • The contribution in the fight against obesity and associated diseases.
  • The potential to reduce oxidative stress and its associated effects on cancer and degenerative conditions.

The interest in cumin has grown in Western medicine and studies continue to be done that support the use of this traditional spice in application to a range of conditions.

Study Findings Lend Support

Though additional research is useful for more corroboration, a range of studies begin to lend credence to the benefits seen in traditional medicinal usage.

Black cumin may have a positive correlation to reducing inflammation. Black cumin seed oil and thymoquinone are powerful anti-inflammatories as supported by the study, “Immunomodulatory and therapeutic properties of the Nigella sativa L. seed.” Positive results were seen on a number of experimental models of inflammation including encephalomyelitis, colitis, peritonitis, edema and arthritis. This finding is important to those experiencing common age-related symptoms or who consume a diet that promotes inflammation in the body.

Obesity is an alarming health concern nationally. According to the Journal of American Medicine, over one-third, or 34.9 percent, of U.S. adults are obese. Heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer are related to the condition. “A systematic review of anti-obesity medicinal plants--an update,” looks at 33 scientific articles related to obesity and traditional medicine and concluded that black cumin seeds, as well as green tea and black Chinese tea had anti-obesity effects.” Secondary diseases associated with obesity appear to have a reduced likelihood, as found in the “Mitigation of obesity-promoted diseases by Nigella sativa and thymoquinone.” In an additional study, eight weeks of aerobic training paired with Nigella sativa supplementation produced better results than with a placebo. Besides reductions in total cholesterol, overweight female participants had reductions in triglyceride levels, low-density lipoprotein and lowered BMI. The participants lost fat, gained muscle and improved VO2 max.

Black cumin, or Nigella sativa, appears to have positive effects on the cholesterol levels of rats. “Supplementation of Powdered Black Cumin (Nigella sativa) Seeds Reduces the Risk of Hypercholesterolemia” was published in Functional Foods in Health and Disease in 2011. Thirty rats were used and experimental diets were prepared using 1 percent and 2 percent preparations of powdered black cumin (PBC) against a placebo. The results were positive in the reduction of serum cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins. Variations were seen at the two percent level of preparation. While further studies would be necessary, there is hope that black cumin seeds would be useful as a functional food and assist those with a history of high cholesterol.

High antioxidant activity is found within bitter cumin. Bitter cumin, or Centratherum anthelminticum (L.) Kuntze, has been found to be a rich in phenolic antioxidants according to researchers at Mysore. Researchers of the study found that “In biological tests bitter cumin inhibited the oxidation of liposomes (used as a model for cell membrane oxidation) and offered complete protection against DNA damage.” This published study in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine offers support that cumin can help reduce oxidative stress on the human body. Oxidative stress has been known to contribute to conditions such as neural degenerative disorder, inflammation, cancer, atherosclerosis and aging.

With such a long-standing history of use, and studies that imply that this simple spice can have a potent impact on overall health, it may be worth rethinking your next meal and including a healthy dose of cumin.

Posted 5/11/2016  11:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 0 comments   1,168 views

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Hate Running on the Treadmill? Try These 8 Ways to Make It More Manageable

We get it: Running on the treadmill might not be the most enjoyable activity. However, treadmill workouts offer many benefits. They provide a more forgiving surface than pavement and thus, are better for your joints in the long term. Treadmill running gives you the ability to run in front of a mirror and check your form. The treadmill also makes it easier to see exactly how far you have run and at what incline.

Finding fun and manageable ways to get on the treadmill will increase your chances of reaping the benefits of these workouts. Fortunately, there are many ways to switch it up and get creative with the treadmill.

1. Set a Goal

Going in with a plan of what you want to accomplish can help you focus while you are on the treadmill. Having a plan such as running three miles or running for 45 minutes can keep you motivated enough to make time fly by.

2. Focus on Form

Thinking about running while on the treadmill makes everything go in slow-motion. So distract yourself by running through a mental checklist of your form.

You can check your neck and correct your posture by imagining it is being pulled up towards the ceiling. You can correct your shoulders by not slouching them or think about driving your knees towards the ceiling to help lengthen your stride. You can also try to streamline your stride so that your knees, hips, and ankles all are all centered.

3. Think about Breathing

Many people find that when they focus on their breathing they start to forget about the other things they are doing (i.e., running on a treadmill).

Synching your breath with your stride can help pass time faster and help with your overall performance at the gym. You can try breathing in for about three strides and breathing out for the following three; and as you do that, count your breaths for a surprisingly relaxing experience. Deep breathing is great technique that can lower your blood pressure and heart rate while helping you focus during your workout.

4. Change Your Pace

If you run at the same incline and pace for a while, chances are you will get bored and lose motivation. Try doing intervals instead where you alternate between running and jogging or walking. Interval training even has benefits of its own—short bursts of high intensity can help burn more fat as well as improve your overall fitness.

5. Pair the Treadmill with Other Cardio Machines

To keep things interesting when you are not particularly excited about your treadmill workout, break up your run by rotating between running and going on the elliptical, bike or stair climber. For example, if your goal is to run four miles on the treadmill, run two miles, use the Stairmaster for 15 minutes, and then hop back on the treadmill for your final two miles. Spitting up the run makes the full workout more manageable and helps it go by faster.

6. Up the Incline

The treadmill does not only have to be used for running—you can get an amazing workout by simply walking on an incline. After your warm up, you can alternate between one-minute intervals of slow walking at maximum inclination and jogging or running at a slightly lower setting. You can repeat the intervals as many times as you are willing to and achieve great results.

7. Watch a Show

Sometimes you are going to have to trick yourself: sure, you do not want to run, but if you only allow yourself to watch your favorite TV show while on the treadmill, you will motivate yourself to get on with that workout. So reserve your favorite shows for the gym, and you might even find yourself running even longer just to finish that episode. 

8. Turn Up the Music

A good pump-up song can turn even the most boring of workouts into a fun exercise. In fact, studies show that listening to music while working out can significantly improve workout performance. This is because when it comes to endurance training, such as running on a treadmill, your brain is the main driving force behind feeling fatigued. When your brain is motivated by a strong stimuli like your favorite song, it does not preoccupy itself as much with warning you of fatigue too far in advance, thus allowing you to have a better, more manageable run.

Use these ideas or come up with your own ways to get creative on the treadmill--your body will thank you.

Posted 5/10/2016  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 0 comments   4,582 views

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4 Healing Health Benefits of Mint

Mint has long been enjoyed in culinary dishes and for its medicinal benefits. Not only is the aromatic plant easy to grow in many varieties, it is also know to produce beneficial effects on the body.

What is Mint?

Mint is considered a herb. Known as menthe, mint is a group of approximately 15 to 20 plants. Peppermint and spearmint are the most commonly known mints within the group. Mint oil is used in everything from candy and gum to beauty products. Two tablespoons of mint contain small amounts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

Mint Benefits

Mint has been linked to a number of benefits for human use, including the ability to reduce inflammation and congestion. It has also been used to calm indigestion and upset stomach, in addition to being effective as a treatment for symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Mint is also used topically to calm and cool the skin and reduce reactions to bites or rashes.

Despite its many health benefits, keep in mind that there are some health risks associated with the consumption of mint. Peppermint oil in large doses is toxic as pure menthol is poisonous. Mint oil should not be applied to faces of infants or small children as it can produce spasms or impact breathing. Avoid mint if you are at risk of gallstones.

How Can Mint Help You?

Mint plants have a long history of use and recent studies offer support for the use of mint as a functional food to promote overall well-being and reduce symptoms of discomfort.

If you suffer from allergies know that you are not alone. About 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from nasal allergies. Peppermint plants contain rosmarinic acid, an antioxidant that has been researched for its ability to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. According to the study, “Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect of rosmarinic acid (RA); inhibition of seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (SAR) and its mechanism,” extracts inhibit histamine release that often trigger severe nasal symptoms. This benefit is a boon for those with mild to severe allergic symptoms. Extract of peppermint has shown to be of use for those with allergic rhinitis. Rosmarinic acid possesses an anti-inflammatory effect and shows real promise as a seasonal allergy treatment.

Peppermint also has calming and cooling properties on the digestive system. It has a long history of use in helping reduce the discomfort of an upset stomach or that of indigestion. Mint is believed to improve bile flow which can speed and ease digestion. Those with IBS have to live with the condition and avoid known triggers. The study, "The effect of enteric-coated, delayed-release peppermint oil on irritable bowel syndrome," supports the use of peppermint oil to relieve symptoms of indigestion and colonic muscle spasms, positive news for IBS sufferers that work around their condition and fear a flare-up of symptoms.

How to Use Mint

Mint beverage preparations are readily available on the market. Make use of the oil by pouring hot, but not boiling, water over fresh mint leaves. Cover the preparation while steeping to retain the active volatile oils within the tea. Consider an infused water recipe as a hydrating and healing beverage. The addition of fresh mint to water infused with grapefruit, ginger, orange or lemon makes for a delicious drink and has the combined benefits of the mint plus the fruit. Prepare it a day in advance and let it sit for a more pronounced flavor. Mint is also available as a supplement at health food stores and online.

For those that wish to expand their culinary skills, mint can be added to many dishes, including soups or even vegetable salads. Fresh mint can also be finely chopped and added to a fresh fruit salsa made with seasonal apples, pears, lime juice, honey and jalapeno for a burst of flavor.

Mint is easy to grow indoors and out and can help ease common complaints. What is not to love about this handy herb?

Posted 5/1/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 2 comments   1,055 views

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Discover All That Yoga Has to Offer

Whether its Bikram or Hatha, Vinyasa or Ashtanga, it's a well-known fact that yoga has calming power. The popular exercise is also praised for a range of psychological and physical benefits, many of which can help people be more productive and more mindful, no matter their age or ability. 

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice developed thousands of years ago in India. There are dozens of yoga schools, or unique practices, from around the world. A typical session involves meditation, breathing exercises and assuming different physical positions, or asanas, to activate the body’s various muscle groups. Natalie Nevins, D.O., a Kundalini Yoga instructor and Director of Clinical Education at Western University of Health Sciences, believes strongly in using yoga to support overall wellness.

"Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body," she says. "As an osteopathic physician, I focus a lot of my efforts on preventative medicine and practices, and in the body's ability to heal itself. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it is based on similar principles."

Yoga can be practiced in a class environment, at home and even at work. Benefits can be achieved from a full session or simply by using extracted components of the exercises, breathing practices and theory throughout the day.

Yoga Benefits

When incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, yoga has been shown to add value to overall well-being. Many individuals also use it as a pain management tool and to increase overall flexibility. Due to its tranquil atmosphere and meditative sequences, regularly practicing yoga could improve energy and reduce stress. Plus, the dynamic and difficult poses are great for increasing strength in muscles, while also guarding against injury. 

Other improvements in sleep, digestion, cardiovascular activity and more have been associated with the regular use of yoga. With Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga, Vinyasa yoga, and more available, you're sure to find a practice that can best suit your needs and personal preferences.

Widespread Support for Yoga

Yoga's impact on stress levels are significant. Prolonged periods of high stress can bring on strokes, heart attacks and hypertension, among other health risks. Yoga is a powerful tool to effectively reduce and manage stress levels and bring the body back into a state of balance.

"Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate," Dr. Nevins says. "Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life."

Ongoing yoga practice develops body awareness in the practitioner. Those who use yoga find that it is a way to improve health and become sensitive to the needs and changes within their own bodies. This alerts them to unusual signs that may require medical attention.

The slow strengthening of muscle groups and alignment of the body through asanas helps to create a stronger foundation for more active exercises or activities. The skeletal system and its ropes and pulleys of muscles are also in the proper place for optimal functioning following regular yoga activity.

The Mayo Clinic supports the practice of yoga but does mention a few precautions. Healthy people under the supervision of a trained instructor can safely practice yoga. Yoga can pose a risk for those with a herniated disk, uncontrolled blood pressure, severe osteoporosis, significant balance problems or with those at risk of blood clots. Those who are pregnant or with eye conditions such as glaucoma may also need to adapt their yoga practice or avoid particular positions. If you are new to yoga, or have such a condition, work with an experienced instructor to guide your practice.

Yoga Anywhere

To get started on the path towards a happier, more centered you, start with some basic poses that you can incorporate into your daily routine at home or at the office. The simple yoga poses and movements help to refocus your energies and reduce tension in oft overused muscles while sitting at the desk. They also help to reinvigorate your body during the usual afternoon slump. Instead of another cup of coffee, incorporate the natural lift experienced from a pose or two. After getting comfortable, consider adding a weekly class to your training routine. 

The health benefits of yoga for mind and body are numerous and the practice is convenient to implement within any lifestyle. Start slow and you'll quickly see how addictive feeling good can become. 

Why do you love practicing yoga?

Posted 4/2/2016  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 0 comments   255 views

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One-Mile Express Workout for Your Abs

Who says you need to get on the hard floor for an effective abdominals workout? In just 10 minutes, this high-energy, express-style indoor power walk works your whole core without ever having to get down on the ground. The standing routine targets all the muscles lining your waistline as you walk to get an extra mile's worth of steps for the day. This walking-based, core-centric routine can easily be done in a small space at home or on the road, making it easy to meet your daily step count goals, rain or shine.

Posted 3/17/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 11 comments   65,004 views

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Walk Yourself to Fit in Just 10 Minutes

Arm yourself against the old "I just don't have the space to workout" excuse with a compact and engaging exercise routine.

Posted 2/23/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 17 comments   105,880 views

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Four Healthy Changes That Start in Your Kitchen Cabinets

Keeping that promise you made to yourself to kick off your healthiest year yet becomes possible when you're armed with more than just good intentions. If you're one of the many people who committed to a healthier lifestyle, both for yourself and for your family, the key to success may just lie in feng shui-ing your kitchen. Making the right changes to your kitchen cabinets could be the extra push you need to eat healthier in the coming year. 

Posted 2/2/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 8 comments   36,985 views

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The Amazing Avocado: Health Benefits You Need to Know

It's no secret that delicious avocados can be the shining star in guacamole, salads, sandwiches and as the creamy center of your California roll. But did you know that avocados are packed with nutritients and make a great diet food, even with their high fat content?

Hass avocados are the most popular variety in the United States, but you can choose from dozens of types. Whatever variety you select, avocados should earn a spot on your plate for both their unparalleled taste and their various health benefits.

Posted 1/20/2016  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 17 comments   24,117 views

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How Often Should I Replace my Running Shoes?

Running shoes cushion feet during jogging and other high-impact exercises, keeping them comfortable while also preventing injury. Fail to replace shoes when they get too old, and you expose yourself to unnecessary risk. Thankfully, there are a variety of methods you can use to determine whether it's time to hit up the local sporting goods store.

Posted 1/8/2016  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 2 comments   16,302 views

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4 Ways to Avoid Late-Night Snacking

Though it can be a source of comfort at the end of a long day, late-night snacking adds unnecessary calories to your diet and can lead to weight gain. Eating late at night means you're consuming calories at a time when your body is unlikely to burn them off before sleeping, which can lead to those calories being directed to your body's fat stores. To avoid this problem, it is important to think about what you are eating after the sun sets and rexamine why it is that you choose that time of night to munch. 

Posted 12/29/2015  12:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 3 comments   28,772 views

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