Minor Changes that Improve Fitness

Minor Changes that Improve Fitness

You don’t have to drastically change your exercise routine to get results. Often small changes to your current routine are all you need to accomplish your goals. Whether you are just getting started or you feel like you are in a rut with your current program, try some of these minor changes that improve fitness.

Take time to stretch.

Flexibility has a big impact on normal daily activities. Bending, reaching, and walking become more difficult when your muscles are tight and your range of motion is limited. Flexibility training should be as much of a priority as your strength and cardio exercises. Take 5 minutes after each workout to stretch all your major muscle groups. Take a break from the computer during your work day and perform a few stretches at the office. Also consider incorporating activities that focus on flexibility like yoga, Pilates, dance, and martial arts.

Add higher intensity intervals.

It doesn't matter what type of cardiovascular exercise you choose, incorporating short bursts that pick up the pace or increase the resistance is an easy way to challenge your cardiovascular system and boost the number of calories burned. If you walk on a treadmill, increase the incline for 1 minute every 5 minutes throughout your workout. You can do the same thing on a stationary bike by increasing the resistance. If you exercise outside, pick up the pace and walk quickly or run faster during these intervals. The low-intensity intervals will help you recover between each high-intensity burst.

Pick up more weight.

Once an amount of weight becomes easy for you to lift, your muscles are no longer challenged. Without a challenge, the muscles can’t continue to gain strength. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), once you can lift a weight one to two more times beyond your repetition goal, it’s time to increase the weight by 2 to 10 percent. This small change is enough to get your muscles back on track with strength gains.

Never pass up an opportunity to move.

Even short bursts of activity, like climbing a flight of stairs, gets the heart pumping and burns calories. Taking time to move more throughout the day can also give you a break from your environment and help you return with a refreshed outlook for problem solving. When possible, turn these short bursts into slightly longer segments of at least 10 minutes. The ACSM continues to support the idea that multiple short sessions of at least 10 minutes count toward your daily goal of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.

How to Break Unhealthy Eating Habits

Break Unhealthy Eating Habits

Overcome your unhealthy eating habits once and for all. The key is to identify the small things about your daily routine and your environment that contribute to unhealthy food choices.

Change Your Routine

Grabbing an unhealthy snack or fast food for dinner results from a failure to plan ahead. You might be a night owl who wakes with barely enough time to get out the door for work. Maybe you engage in time-wasting activities you don’t realize, like browsing the Internet or checking social media accounts more often than necessary. These habits take away from the time you need to plan and prepare healthy meals, leaving you to fall back on your old unhealthy eating habits.

Take a few minutes at night to prep a healthy breakfast like no-cook apple oatmeal. Double the amount of healthy foods that you make, like soups and salads, so that you have leftovers for lunch. Take better control of your time and set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier so that you can eat a healthy breakfast or pack your lunch. Set limits for your screen time. Saving small blocks of time throughout the day will quickly add up so you can plan ahead for healthier eating.

Empty Your Wallet

Vending machines provide many unhealthy snack options that are convenient on a busy afternoon. If these snacks tempt you to ruin a good day of healthy eating, get creative with ways to make obtaining them more difficult. Get rid of the spare change in your wallet and desk drawers. If you carry cash, leave smaller bills at home. By making these snacks more difficult to access, you will be less likely to make an impulse purchase, while also giving yourself time to think twice about grabbing an unhealthy option.

Be Prepared When Hunger Hits

Part of creating a healthy relationship with food is to eat when you are truly hungry. If mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, don’t deny yourself if you need some fuel. Always have a healthy option available. Fruits and nuts are ideal shelf-stable options, but if you have a fridge, consider keeping hummus and veggie sticks, yogurt, and nut milks nearby. A balance of carbohydrates and protein will keep you full and restore your energy.

Turn Off the Screen

All types of screen time lead to mindless eating. When your attention is on something other than the food you are eating, you are more likely to overeat and make poor choices. Whether it’s the television or your smartphone, step away from the electronics while you are eating. By taking just a few minutes to give your meal your full attention, you can control your portion sizes and enjoy healthy foods more often.

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes

Oatmeal Banana Pancake Recipe

Make a sweet and filling breakfast without added sugar. Banana adds so much natural sweetness to these pancakes that you won’t need a drip of high-calorie syrup to enjoy them. Ground oats make them filling and full of heart-healthy fiber.

Yield: 5 pancakes

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes


1 cup dry old-fashioned rolled oats

1 medium banana, mashed

1 large egg

¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp fine ground sea salt

2 tbsp whole wheat flour

5 tbsp non-fat milk

Chopped banana for serving (optional)


Place the oats in a small food processor and pulse until they are ground fine and resemble a coarse flour.

In a medium bowl, stir together the banana and egg about 1 minute, until blended.

Stir in the vanilla and cinnamon. Next add the baking powder and sea salt. Stir well.

In a small bowl, stir together the oats and whole wheat flour. Gradually add these dry ingredients, a little at a time, as you continue to stir. Finally fold in the milk to form a loose batter.

Preheat a medium-skillet or griddle sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup of the batter to the skillet for each pancake. Cook 1 ½ to 2 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown and the pancake bubbles. Flip and cook an additional 1 ½ to 2 minutes.

Serve warm with chopped bananas, if desired.

Nutrition information for 1 pancake: Calories 101; Total Fat 1.3 g; Saturated Fat 0.2 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 179 mg; Carbohydrate 19.2 g; Fiber 2.6 g; Sugar 4.1 g; Protein 3.9 g

Exercising When You Are Sick

Exercising When You Are Sick

It is tough when you finally make exercise a habit and see progress, only to have a cold or the flu knock you off track. With your strong desire to challenge yourself, you might be tempted to ignore your symptoms and push through your workouts. While this is okay under some circumstances, there are also times when exercise may only make things worse. Pay special attention to your symptoms before exercising when you are sick.

When to Exercise

Most health experts agree that when your discomfort and symptoms are in your head, like a stuffed up nose or minor sore throat, it’s okay to stick to your workouts. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise may briefly ease nasal congestion. If you decide to exercise, consider decreasing the intensity or time.

Even though you can exercise, it doesn’t always mean that you should. Keep in mind that these beginning symptoms might be the first signs of a more serious cold. Trust your instinct and take a break if you feel your body needs it. Rest can help you feel better, and one day isn’t going ruin your progress.

When to Rest

When your symptoms move below your neck and include chest tightness, coughing, upset stomach, aching muscles, or a fever, take a break until you start feeling better. Exercise increases your internal body temperature, so exercising when you have a fever can make you feel even worse. Pushing through workouts may set you back further than if you take a few days and allow your body to fight off the bug.

Allow Time to Recover

A bad cold and the flu can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and dehydration. Be patient with yourself. If you were regularly active before the sickness, your body will likely bounce back quickly, but don’t get frustrated if it takes some time. It often takes up to two weeks to feel like your energetic self again. Ease back into workouts with lower intensity exercise and shorter sessions until you feel confident that your body is ready to push harder.

Healthy Eating to Beat Winter Blues

Healthy Eating to Beat Winter Blues

A long, dreary winter can easily get you down, but paying special attention to your food intake may help combat this seasonal slump. Healthy eating has a positive influence on your mood and attitude while reducing stress, anxiety, and the symptoms of depression. Try incorporating healthy foods that are loaded with these nutrients to beat the winter blues.


Tryptophan is an essential amino acids that is not produced by the body, so it must be consumed from foods. It works with other vitamins and minerals to make serotonin, a neurostransmitter (a chemical messenger in the body). Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, and higher levels of serotonin may help improve mood.

Foods that contain tryptophan: Meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids found in fish and some plant foods. They are important for the health of the brain and the central nervous system. Mood swings and depression are some of the symptoms associated with omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout and sardines, algae, nuts and nut oils.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a part in the production of brain chemicals that influence mood. Other B vitamins, like B6 and folate, also play a role, but inadequate B12 can be of special concern for vegetarians. It’s possible to get the B12 you need, but this is a vitamin that requires special attention when cutting out animal products. Low levels of B vitamins have been linked to depression.

Foods that contain vitamin B12: Lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs.


Low magnesium has been found to reduce levels of serotonin. Getting adequate magnesium can be accomplished by eating magnesium-rich foods, but also stay aware of other foods and drinks that have been found to lower magnesium, such as excess coffee, soda, salt, and alcohol.

Foods that contain magnesium: Whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is most often associated with bone health, but levels may also be related to mood disorders. Studies show that low levels of vitamin D are linked to a greater risk for depression. While the easiest way to boost vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, it can also be consumed through food.

Foods that contain vitamin D: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, fortified dairy, and eggs.


Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Lower intakes of selenium have been linked to poor mood. One study in older adults suggests that adequate selenium intake may reduce the symptoms of depression.

Foods that contain selenium: Seeds, Brazil nuts, fish, shellfish, and whole grains.

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