Be Nice, It’s Good for Your Heart

woman smiling

It is rare for people to consciously try to be nasty, but it is also quite rare for people to go out of their way to be kind to others. While helping other people should be enough of a reason to be nice, research has shown that having this friendly attitude will also bring you a number of different health benefits, making it more worthwhile than ever to be nice to others.

Heart Health
There are now several studies that have shown that there is a link between acts of kindness and the different markers of heart health. A study carried out in 2006 was especially successful in showing that acts of kindness were able to lower blood pressure, as it releases a chemical called nitric oxide within the body, which then dilutes blood vessels. This is also the case for “bad” cholesterol, which is lowered to quite an extent after consistent levels of kindness have been practised.

Stress and Cortisol
Whenever your body experiences stress, it releases the hormone cortisol throughout your body. While this is absolutely fine on occasion, chronic stress, and therefore the continuous release of cortisol, has many negative health effects. However, being nice is something that can drastically lower the cortisol levels within your body, which then has an impact on everything from your state of mind to the rate at which your body ages.

Illness Prevention
Research has shown that people who spend more time helping others tend to have a much stronger ability to ward off infections and illnesses.

doctor and patient

This could be due to the fact that they have lower markers of inflammation, as inflammation is responsible for a whole array of different diseases, including diabetes and cancer.

Reduced Pain
In addition to being nice to others, you should also remember to be nice to yourself. This means that, if you suffer from chronic pain, you should try to be as accepting and understanding about your condition as possible, rather than berating yourself for not improving fast enough. By being kinder to yourself in this way, the amount of pain that you experience is likely to quickly drop, which will then help you to recover even faster.

Longer Life
It comes as no surprise that those who are experiencing all of the above health benefits would enjoy a longer life, and research has backed this up. The studies looked in particular at people who volunteered for two or more charitable organizations, and found that they experienced a 44% lowered risk of dying early, which is even more of an impact than regular exercise has.

Science has definitely proven that being nice really pays off in so many different ways. If you are looking to carry out more acts of kindness, there are a number of ways in which you can do this. From volunteering at a local charity to paying someone a genuine compliment to simply being a listening ear for someone who is having a tough time, make it your mission to go out of your way to be nice to others as much as possible.

The Lowdown on Protein Powders and Shakes

Woman drinking protein

While protein powders were once quite a niche product, they have now become much more mainstream, especially since the benefits of protein are being much more widely acknowledged. If you have been wanting to venture into the world of protein powders and shakes but do not know where to begin, here are a few basics that will help you to understand all that is out there.

Whey-Based Powders
Whey-based protein powders are the most commonly available, and are basically a milk product that has had all of its fat and carbohydrates removed. This means that it is quickly absorbed by the body, which is why many athletes turn to whey-based protein shakes for their post-workout recovery sessions.

Casein-Based Powders
Just like whey, casein is also a milk-based product, and is commonly used in the making of cheese. However, the difference lies in the way in which the body digests casein, as this process takes longer than it does with whey. While this means that they are not ideal post-workout, they are great for an afternoon or evening snack, as they will help your muscles to gradually recover overnight.

Protein powders

Combination Powders
If you feel as though you could benefit from both a casein and a whey powder, it may be worth looking into products that combine the two. This means that your body will be able to obtain an immediate effect from your shake, thanks to the whey, as well as long term energy for many hours afterwards, due to the casein.

Plant-Based Proteins
Even if you do not follow a vegan diet, plant-based proteins still have so many different benefits, making them well worth considering. These tend to contain antioxidant-rich superfoods, which will have the effect of boosting your immune system, enabling you to train for longer, and harder. They also tend to be kinder to the gut, and while many may feel as though they are not as effective as milk-based protein powders, recent studies have shown that plant-based proteins are just as capable of building muscle as milk-based proteins. Common examples of plant-based proteins include pea protein, which contains high levels of arginine, which is an amino acid required to build muscle, soya protein and hemp protein, which also contains many beneficial life enzymes and essential fatty acids.

An Energy Boost
While a protein shake on its own is fantastic for maintaining your muscles, it is not going to provide you with much energy, which is where all of the extra supplements come in. However, since you are only beginning to experiment with protein shakes, it would be easiest to skip the supplements for now and working on adding your own energy-rich foods to the blend. An easy way to do this is by using a protein powder in a smoothie, mixing it with ingredients such as oats, almond butter and coconut milk.

The world of protein shakes and powders can often seem intimidating, but even if you are not a serious athlete, you are still likely to be able to derive a few benefits from one. However, it is important to keep in mind that protein powders are supplements, and cannot replace your body’s need for a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Easy Post-Workout Snacks

hummus

The food that you eat after a workout is extremely important, as it needs to be something that will help your body to repair muscle tissue while replenishing your glycogen stores, which end up depleted after periods of intense exercise. If you have been looking for some new post-workout snack ideas, these are not only deliciously healthy, but incredibly satisfying too.

Hummus with a Whole Wheat Pita
Hummus, which is a dip that is made from puréed chickpeas, is packed with protein, and a whole wheat pita is a great source of carbohydrates post-workout, making this a fantastic, and tasty, combination. To add some extra zing to this snack, try incorporating some new flavors into your hummus, whether this be red peppers, jalapeños or beets, all of which will provide your body with some extra antioxidants too.

Pistachios

Dry Roasted Pistachios
While all nuts contain protein and healthy fats, pistachios have the highest levels of potassium in comparison to all of the other nuts, and since potassium is an electrolyte that you lose through sweat, pistachios make a great post-workout snack. To add more texture and flavors to this snack, toss some pistachios into a bag with raisins, along with some other nuts and seeds, making your very own portable trail mix.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
A large number of athletes tend to depend on protein shakes for their post-workout snack, but the taste of these can often put many people off. For a healthy and tasty alternative, try whipping up a peanut butter and banana smoothie at home, adding a small touch of protein powder, along with some almond milk and a sprinkling of cinnamon. The protein in your smoothie will provide your body with long-lasting energy, while the cinnamon will help to control your blood sugar levels after your workout. If you want to make your smoothie even more nutritious, experiment with adding some other fruits, or leafy greens such as kale or spinach, to the mix.

Yogurt parfait

Greek Yoghurt Parfait
Greek yoghurt contains just the right amount of digestible protein to help your muscles recover from a workout, and turning it into a yoghurt parfait makes it even more nutrient-dense. While this may sound like a complicated snack, it will only take you a couple of minutes to put together. Simply pour the yoghurt into a portable container, before topping with granola and berries, making sure to remember to bring along a spoon!

Sweet Potatoes and Grilled Chicken
If you have been working out at home and have access to a kitchen immediately after, then this hot snack promises to hit the spot. Sweet potatoes are a hugely beneficial post-workout food, as they are packed with so many vitamins and nutrients, as well as just the right amount of carbohydrates. Eating this along with some grilled chicken will not only create a well-rounded snack, but will also ensure that your body is receiving all of the lean protein that it needs.

Eating after a workout is important, and you should aim to have a snack within 20 minutes of your training in order for your body to optimally function. While you may feel ravenous after a particularly gruelling session, be sure to keep your snack under 150 calories, so that you do not undo all of the hard work that you have just done.

Walk More to Keep Your Heart Healthy (and Happy!)

Strengthening your heart is so important, and while many may think that running and other more vigorous forms of exercise are the only way to properly do this, walking is an activity that is just as beneficial. Studies have shown that, when it comes to heart health, walking brings about many of the same advantages as other forms of exercise, and is an activity that just about everybody can easily partake in.

Woman walking on bridge

The Health Benefits of Walking
A brisk walk each and every day will bring your body so many different benefits. Not only does this lower high cholesterol, as well as high blood pressure, but it also cuts down your risk of diabetes. All three of these conditions are risk factors when it comes to heart disease and stroke, meaning that making an improvement in this area will significantly boost the health of your heart. In addition to this, regular walking is able to prevent depression, protect against dementia, and reduce the risk of so many other health issues, from colon cancer to erectile dysfunction to obesity.

How Much Walking to Do Each Day
The American Heart Association recommends that adults need around 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and brisk walking can definitely be a large part of this. If you find 30 minutes quite challenging to begin with, start off with smaller, achievable goals, and built this up slowly as your fitness levels increase. Alternatively, you could split your 30 minutes of exercise a day into two or three sessions, walking for just 10 or 15 minutes each time.

Woman walking along beach

Ways to Incorporate Walking Into Your Life
There are many different ways in which you can incorporate more walking in your life, and the more that you do so, the more enjoyment you will gain from it too. Taking the dog for a walk is a great way to exercise the both of you, as is taking your children to the park every afternoon. If shopping is a passion of yours, spend more time window shopping, making a conscious effort to cover the entire mall in a certain amount of time. When it comes to being at work, simply park your car further away from your workplace than you normally would, so that you have some walking to do to get there, and always take the stairs rather than the elevator. Rather than spending your entire lunch break sat at a table, take some time to walk around outside, as you will also gain so many benefits from the fresh air.

Walking Shoes
If you have decided to make the commitment to start walking more, then a reliable pair of shoes is a must. Many of the major athletic brands out there offer shoes designed specifically for walkers, with everything from a shock absorbent sole to a roomy toe box. Before purchasing a pair, make sure to try on your walking shoes while you are wearing athletic socks, so that you will really know how well they fit.

Physical activity is a must, but if you do not tend to enjoy the more traditional forms of exercise, walking could be perfect for you. Not only will this keep your heart strong, while boosting many other parts of your body, but it is also an activity that is easy to squeeze into your day, no matter how busy you may be.

Three Aspects of Healthy Living

While there are many different aspects to consider when it comes to healthy living, there are three that are absolutely key. From physical health to mental well-being to social relationships, make sure that you place a priority on each of these parts of your life.

Woman running

Physical Health
There are a number of factors that contribute to an individual’s physical health, but two that you can have full control over are diet and exercise. In today’s world, it is all-too-easy to get the diet part wrong, especially since supermarket shelves are lined with unhealthy, processed foods. Improving on a diet can often seem daunting, so take this one step at a time, making easy and gradual changes rather than dramatic, difficult ones. For example, incorporating a new vegetable into your meals each week could be a great first step, as could making your own healthy smoothies at home. Exercise also plays a huge role in physical health, with the majority of people out there not getting enough exercise at all. Again, this is something else that can seem challenging to initially get motivated about, so begin by picking a few forms of exercise that you genuinely enjoy, such as a certain sport or a dance. Once your fitness levels begin to improve, it will be much easier to branch out and see what else is out there.

Woman meditating

Mental Health
Mental health is an extremely broad topic, but one of the key causes of poor mental health in today’s world is stress. When you experience stress, this triggers an emergency response in your body, which sends the hormone cortisol coursing through you. Chronic stress, which means consistently elevated levels of cortisol, will increase your risk for so many mental health problems, from depression to other forms of mental illness. When it comes to keeping your stress levels under control, you may need to experiment with different tactics before finding one that works for you, whether this may be doing some form of exercise, spending an hour gardening, or spending time on a new hobby.

Friends having dinner

Social Bonds
Healthy relationships are a vital part of healthy living, and there is plenty of research out there that shows that strong social bonds are linked to a longer and happier life. Not only do healthy relationships mean that you are 50% less likely to die prematurely, but they can also boost your immune system and help you to deal with stress better, which, in turn, will be a boost to your mental health. If you are looking to expand your social circle but do not know where to begin, look into local groups or clubs where you can meet people that share similar interests to you, or ask your existing friends to introduce you to some new people.

When it comes to healthy living, there are always areas in which you can improve on. Whether this may be making improvements to your diet to support your physical health, or expanding your social circle to support both your physical and mental health, be sure to pay close attention to each of these three aspects of healthy living.

Simple Exercises to Tighten the Skin Above Your Shoulders

Loose skin can be caused by a number of different factors, from weight loss to aging, and, once your skin has taken on this looser appearance, tightening it back up can seem like quite the challenge. While there is nothing that you can do at home to transform your skin overnight, here are some simple exercises that, when carried out regularly and consistently, will help to tighten up the skin on your shoulders.

woman doing push-up

Push-Ups
While many people perform push-ups to work the major muscles in the chest, this exercise is fantastic for toning the upper arms and shoulders over time as well. It is a common misconception that this is an exercise that needs to be carried out every day, but this actually does not give the muscles enough time to rest in between sessions. Between eight to ten reps is ideal, with two days of rest in between. Place your focus on improving your form rather than increasing reps, and, if you need an added challenge after a while, look into weighted push-ups and decline push-ups. There are many other push-up varieties out there, and not only will these target a different range of muscles, but they will also add some diversity to your workout routine and make it much more interesting.

Woman using dumbbells

Reverse Curls
Reverse curls are known for being able to really help with sagging skin, and are able to help to tone this back up. Hold a five to eight pound dumbbell in each hand, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing in before curling both hands and bringing them close to your shoulders. It is important to do this without bending the wrists, before ending it by lowering your hands back down to complete the repetition. This should be done in two sets of 20 in order to experience maximum benefits.

woman doing back extensions

Prone Shoulder Extension
The prone shoulder extension is another exercise that requires the use of dumbbells, and this is because weight training is the best way to fill out loose skin and tone the muscles around the shoulders. Lie face down and keep your arms by your side, with a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing upwards. Lift your arms towards the ceiling, before pausing at the top of your range of motion and then slowly lowering your arms back down, stopping right before they actually touch the floor.

The shoulder is quite a vulnerable joint, which means that it is at a higher risk of injury than other parts of the body. While these exercises will be able to help in toning the muscle and tightening the skin, it is important to ease into them slowly, giving your body enough time to adjust to the new routine, as this will help you to avoid injury or muscle pain. You should also try to do some back and chest exercises before working on your shoulders, as your shoulders will still be involved in these other exercises, and will prevent them from being fatigued too early on in your workout.

Lifestyle Changes for the “Skinny Fat”

Woman in mirror

The skinny-fat phenomena is one that affects up to a quarter of average-weighted people, and describes those who look fit and healthy from the outside, but actually have a number of health problems brewing beneath the surface. If you feel as though you may fall into this category, these are the lifestyle changes that you need to make in order to bring your health back up to scratch.

Healthy Oils
Many people who are skinny-fat try to stay away from oily foods, believing them to be unhealthy. While there is no denying that a greasy bag of fries will bring absolutely no benefits to your body, there are certain oils and fats that are necessary for good health. The most important of these are omega-3 fats, which can be found in highest concentrations in oily fish, such as salmons and sardines. Incorporating more of these into your diet will help to stabilize your cholesterol while reducing blood pressure.

Build Some Muscle
Building muscle mass is vital if you are skinny fat, and the best way to do this is through weight training. This encourages your body to store its lean muscle, rather than use it as fuel, and will help to add some more tone to your body. In order to support your increasing muscle mass, be sure to consume plenty of protein, whether in the form of eggs, meat, or seeds, as this will protect your newly acquired muscles.

Woman doing pushup

Support Your Natural Metabolism
While you may think that you have a naturally fast metabolism, there are many lifestyle habits that actually alter this, and it is likely that your true metabolism has been hidden for a while. Soft drinks, which contain artificial sweeteners, can interfere with the chemicals within your body, affecting your metabolism, as can sleep deprivation, which also increases sugar and carbohydrate cravings. In addition to watching your diet and ensuring you are getting sufficient sleep, you should also be incorporating regular cardio sessions into your routine, as this will boost your natural metabolism while helping with your fitness levels.

Keep Stress Levels to a Minimum
Stress is actually one of the main factors behind the skinny-fat phenomena, and while stress can often be unavoidable, there are still many ways in which you can take control over this and bring your stress levels back down. Different methods work for different people, so you will need to try out a few and see what helps when you are really stressed. Whether it may be ten minutes of meditation, taking some time to work out, or spending a couple of hours on a hobby that you are truly passionate about, keeping stress levels to a minimum will help your body to thrive.

Research has shown that being skinny-fat puts the body under incredible amounts of stress, and can actually be even worse for you than obesity. If you think that you are skinny-fat, then now is the time to implement these lifestyle changes, so that you can soon get back to your healthiest self.

Five Reasons to Try Vegetarian

While the popularity of vegetarianism is rapidly on the rise, there are some who still feel as though giving up meat would be too big of a sacrifice to make. However, there are so many benefits that come with a vegetarian diet, so here are five reasons to persuade you to give vegetarianism a try.

Vegetarian

Slow Down the Aging Process
A study recently published in the British Medical Journal discovered that vegetarians outlive meat eaters by up to six years, which is hardly surprising considering all of the nutrients that come with a plant-based diet. Not only are these rich in fiber, but they are alo high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, all of which play individual roles in slowing down the aging process. In addition to this, a plant-based diet can also prevent, as well as reverse, certain chronic diseases, giving vegetarians a longer, and healthier, life.

Prevent the Three Biggest Killers
Heart disease is the number one killer out there, with cancer and strokes being the second and third, but a healthy, well-balanced vegetarian diet is able to protect the body from all three of these. In fact, doctors have even had success in unclogging arteries and reversing heart disease purely by prescribing a vegan diet.

Woman with ferret

Support the Environment
Countless studies have shown, and the United Nations has also confirmed, that eating meat is the reason behind some of the most serious environmental problems that we face today. For example, the meat industry is responsible for 40% more greenhouse gases than all of the cars, trucks and planes in the world combined, and are also linked to everything from land degradation to water pollution to climate change to loss of biodiversity.

Animal Welfare
While you may like to think that your meat has been raised on lush green pastures and happy farmyard homes, the reality is far from this, and if the general public really knew what happened in factory farms today, there would be many more vegetarians in the world. Animals that are commonly eaten, such as chickens and pigs, are actually known to be smarter than animals that are usually kept as pets, such as dogs and cats, so rather than supporting the abhorrent conditions that these creatures are kept in, give vegetarianism a try. It is believed that an individual who gives up meat is able to save around 100 animal lives each year, which is a good enough reason in itself for any true animal lover.

Woman standing on weighing scale

Weight Loss
More than two thirds of the general public are obese, but vegetarians on average tend to have a lower BMI, which is the measure of body fat, than meat eaters. Vegetarians are much less likely to be obese, and are significantly lighter than meat eaters, making vegetarianism the healthiest of weight loss diets.

As you can see, a vegetarian diet brings with it so many incredible benefits. Not only would you be making huge improvements to your own health, but you would also be supporting the world around you, so make 2017 the year in which you give vegetarianism a try.

Understanding Healthy Sleep Patterns

While it was once believed that the body was in quite a passive state during sleep, studies have now shown that the brain actually experiences specific patterns of activity during different periods of sleep, and is often more active at this time than it is while the body is awake. This all shows exactly how important sleep is when it comes to maintaining good health, and if you want to improve this area of your life, then it is vital that you first understand the basics behind healthy sleep patterns.

5 Stages of Sleep
The Five Stages of Sleep
There are usually five specific stages to sleep, with the first being a light sleep from which you can drift in and out of easily. The second stage is when eye movements stop, with muscle contractions often occurring, before the slow brain waves of stage three start. Once stage four is reached, there is no more eye movement or muscle activity, and it is usually much more difficult to wake a person that is in this stage of sleep. The final sleep stage is the REM stage, which is when breathing becomes irregular, the eyes jerk around, and heart rate increases. It usually takes between 90-120 minutes for an entire sleep cycle to be completed, at which stage it all just begins again.

Factors that Suppress REM Sleep
The REM stage of sleep is extremely important to the body, but there are many lifestyle factors that can suppress this, therefore preventing the body from following normal sleep patterns the next night. Antidepressants usually do this, as does smoking, which causes the smoker to wake up every three to four hours due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol does the same, because while it may help you to initially fall asleep, it robs the body of all of the more restorative stages of sleep.

Woman sleeping
How Much Sleep is Healthy?
While there is plenty of debate surrounding the topic of exactly how much sleep is needed by the body, general consensus points to around seven to eight hours of sleep each night. However, sleep patterns can still vary greatly depending on everything from age to environmental conditions, so you need to take this into account too.

Healthy Sleep Habits
The best way to ensure that your body is receiving the amount and quality of sleep that it needs is to set yourself a few healthy sleep habits to follow. To begin with, you need to keep a consistent sleep schedule, meaning that you sleep at the same time on the weekends as you do on weekdays. Specific bedtime rituals will help with this, but, if you do not fall asleep within the first 20 minutes, you should get out of bed and not return until you are actually sleepy. Avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine before bedtime will help your body to adjust to healthy sleep patterns, as will regular exercise and a balanced diet throughout the day.

There are many ways in which you can encourage your body to settle back in to healthy sleep patterns, but it does take some dedication on your part in order to do this properly. Sleep plays such an important role in the way in which the body functions, so be sure to take this part of your life seriously, and do what needs to be done in order to give your body the sleep that it needs.

Advice From Exercise Icons

There is so much fitness advice floating around out there, but, if you want to make some real progress, you need to pick the right people to take this advice from. These exercise icons, from Jane Fonda to Richard Simmons, all have a great track record behind them when it comes to fitness, so take a look at some of their most useful words of wisdom.

Woman working out
Jane Fonda
With 22 different workout videos produced, all of which have sold over 17 million copies, Jane Fonda is, without a doubt, legendary when it comes to exercising. In terms of fitness advice, Fonda has plenty to offer, with one of her top tips being that one needs to work out at least three times a week, on alternative days, for at least 30 minutes at a time, at least if you want your exercise to be effective. Your workout should also contain three different types of exercises, including stretching, resistance and aerobic exercises, the latter of which is the only type of activity that is able to remove the marbled fat that lies deep within muscles.

Richard Simmons
Richard Simmons rose to fame in the 80’s, and while many expected him to fall into obscurity as the years progressed, Simmons is still making frequent appearances on television, and is an extremely successful fitness instructor. When it comes to his top piece of advice, Simmons stresses the huge importance that he places on setting rules for every part of his life, from eating to exercising. Simmons believes that not only is it important to workout every single day, but you must also always follow clean eating habits, and ensure that these rules are sacred to you.

Woman taking exercise class
Denise Austin
Dubbed as “America’s Favorite Fitness Expert”, Denise Austin is full of advice when it comes to exercising and keeping healthy. Austin believes that it is extremely important to keep your workouts fun and enjoyable, which is why you should frequently mix them up, seeking out new classes, techniques and routines whenever you can. Austin also places huge importance on strength and weight training, believing that the best way to keep your body looking and feeling youthful is to build muscle tone. Austin herself works out every day for at least 30 minutes, and usually does this first thing in the mornings. On the weekends, workouts take a more unstructured form, and can include everything from tennis with her husband to walking with friends.

Kathy Smith
Not only has Kathy Smith sold millions of fitness DVDs, but she has also written several successful books, and her top piece of advice when it comes to exercising is to view this as something that is non-negotiable in your life. Rather than giving in to excuses that you may make to yourself, from having no time to being too tired, find a way to work around these and make exercise a priority in your life.

Physical activity is such an important part of staying healthy, but many people simply do not get enough regular exercise. If you have been feeling unmotivated, follow the advice from these fitness icons and make 2017 the year in which you get back into shape.