Give your abdominal muscles the attention they deserve. Follow these tips to get a strong core and flat abs.
Types of exercises
Ab exercises have evolved from those that target one area (crunches) to those that engage multiple muscle groups (plank). Despite which type is currently trendy, both will strengthen your abs. Research sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that the bicycle maneuver, captain’s chair, and crunch on exercise ball are the top three most effective ab exercises. That being said, abdominals rarely work alone and training them with the muscles of the lower back and lower body helps to create a strong core. Incorporate more full body ab exercises, such as high knee lifts, planks with leg lifts, and burpees.
Frequency of workouts
You should train your abdominals no differently than you train other muscles. Do ab exercises 2-3 times per week allowing 1 to 2 rest days in between workouts. Fitness professionals recommend anywhere from 10 to 20 repetitions and 2 to 3 sets of each exercise. Switch up your routine and incorporate new exercises every 4 to 6 weeks to keep your muscles challenged.
Beyond strength training
Abdominal exercises are important for a strong core, but they are just one part of a bigger picture. Cardiovascular exercise, food and drinks, and posture also play a role in your fitness and appearance. Cardio exercise helps to burn the calories required to reduce fat around your stomach and expose muscle. High sodium foods and carbonated beverages can cause water retention and bloating making the stomach appear larger. Poor posture can also cause your stomach to bulge. Pull your shoulders back and contract your abs when you feel yourself beginning to slouch.
Bone mass peaks in your 20s, and you begin to lose about 0.5 percent per year after the age of 40. If steps are not taken to combat this loss, decreased bone mineral density (osteopenia) can result. When osteopenia is extreme, it becomes osteoporosis, a disease that puts you at high risk for bone fracture and physical disability.
Exercise can reduce bone loss.
Osteoblasts build bone and improve bone density, while osteoclasts break down bone and decrease bone density. During midlife, osteoblast activity is in balance with osteoclast activity. After a woman reaches menopause, osteoclast activity increases causing a loss in bone mineral density. Research shows that exercise stimulates the activity of osteoblasts (build up) while it also appears to suppress osteoclast (break down) activity helping you to maintain bone density and decrease age-related bone loss.
The influence of exercise on bone mineral density is dependent on many factors including age, hormone status, nutritional status, and the type of exercise. The benefit of exercise also goes away once regular activity stops. Making physical activity a long-term, regular part of your lifestyle is essential for improving bone health.
Choose weight-bearing exercises.
Bones must be overloaded to stimulate new growth. This occurs during higher impact, weight-bearing exercises that involve pounding or quick movement such as running, moderate intensity weight training, jump training, stair climbing, gymnastics, tennis, and soccer. Activities such as cycling and swimming are beneficial to heart health, but are not weight-bearing and do little to improve bone density.
Research shows that walking may not provide enough impact to preserve bone mineral density. However, it’s possible that a long-term walking program (more than 1 year) may provide some benefit. But if you rely on walking for your weight-bearing exercise, consider adding stair climbing or short jogging intervals to your regular walks.
It’s not too late to protect your bones.
Building a strong bone foundation in the teens and 20s is important, but it’s not too late if you have passed that stage of your life. The goal in midlife is to maintain the bone mass you have built in earlier years.
Research shows that if you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lower your cholesterol levels. If you are using MyFoodDiary to reach or maintain your healthy weight, you've already taken the first step. Here are more ways you can lower your cholesterol through diet and exercise:
Limit saturated fats to less than 7 percent of total calories. Saturated fats are most often found in animal products, such as red meat and butter.
Eliminate trans fatty acids from your diet. Trans fats are found in processed foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Even foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled trans fat-free so check ingredient lists and avoid foods with “hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list.
Limit daily cholesterol intake to 300 mg or less. Those who have been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes should limit cholesterol intake to 200 mg per day.
Eat more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, including fish (such as wild salmon and lake trout), flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and kale. Research shows that the biggest cholesterol lowering benefit comes with eating fish.
Eat more dietary fiber, especially in the form of dried beans, oat bran, barley, eggplant, apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus. These foods contain soluble fiber, which has been found to lower LDL cholesterol. Adults should eat 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
Engage in 30 - 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week, preferably every day. This amount of exercise has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Make sure you discuss your plan with your doctor. If you are at high risk for heart disease, your doctor may recommend an approach such as combining lifestyle changes with medication to improve your cholesterol more quickly.
Research shows that yoga decreases stress, tension, and blood pressure while increasing balance, strength, and flexibility. This beginners guide will help you understand the types of yoga, how it can influence your weight loss, and provide tips for getting started.
Types of Yoga
Most yoga classes at your local studio or gym are Hatha yoga. This means that they focus more on poses and breathing versus the forms of yoga that focus on meditation. There are a variety of styles under Hatha yoga so don’t throw in the towel if you dislike the first class you try.
Iyengar - This type focuses on correct posture and provides introduction to the use of props for form and balance. Even if you decide not to stick with Iyengar, it is a great class for beginners because it will help you with proper form and alignment before you move on to other types.
Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga - Some of the most physically challenging forms of yoga, these classes focus on flow as you move through a sequence of poses. The American Council on Exercise states that Ashtanga (Power Yoga) has been found to increase muscular endurance and flexibility.
Gentle or Restorative - If you need to relax or you are healing from an injury, this type of yoga is ideal. Restorative yoga involves only a few poses and focuses on relaxation and breathing. If you do have an injury, be sure to tell the instructor so that he or she may help you adjust each movement to your needs.
Yoga and Weight Loss
While small improvements in cardiovascular fitness are possible with more challenging classes (Ashtanga and Vinyasa), most versions of yoga do not increase heart rate enough to benefit aerobic fitness. As a result, a typical yoga session burns fewer calories than most cardio sessions. Some research suggests that yoga can actually lower metabolism.
Despite a lower calorie burn, regular yoga practice can influence your health behaviors and promote weight loss in other ways. The discipline and focus required in yoga can be transferred to other areas, such as healthy eating. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that those who practiced yoga ate more mindfully and had a lower body mass index. Mindful eating means you are more aware of what you eat thus making you more likely to eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Mindful eating is linked to better weight control.
Tips to Get Started
Yoga at home is the ideal solution for a tight schedule or strict budget, but consider a few free community classes or a week pass to a studio when starting. Proper alignment in yoga is important for safety and taking at least a few classes with an instructor will give you a strong foundation in your practice. If you can’t make it to a studio, be sure to invest in a video that provides beginner instruction.
Here are a few more tips to help you get started whether you do yoga at a studio or in your living room:
You will need a mat, water bottle, and a towel. Some studios provide mats for newcomers, but plan to buy your own if you stick with it.
Wear the most form fitting clothing that you feel comfortable in. This type of clothing helps you move easily and allows you and the instructor to assess your form.
Ask questions and try different instructors or videos. It may take you some time to find the type of instruction style you prefer.
Benefits are seen with one session per week, but if you want to build on improvements and make progress, plan to do at least two sessions per week.
Remember that you aren’t being judged. If the instructor is watching you, he or she is trying to help you practice safely.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. While yoga is a quiet, focused form of activity, smiles, giggles, and even applause are welcome in most classes.
Poses can be either energizing or relaxing. Keep this in mind when you are choosing yoga to do first thing in the morning or in the evening before bedtime.
Aging affects our mental and physical health, but it’s important to know that many of these changes are due to inactivity and being overweight. You have the power to slow the aging process through regular exercise and eating right.
According to the Harvard Medical School, a man’s maximum heart rate begins to decrease by 1 beat per minute per year beginning in his late 20s. In addition, there is a decrease in the amount of blood the heart can pump, which leads to a decrease in aerobic fitness. Regular exercise can slow the decrease in maximum heart rate, increase the heart’s ability to pump blood, and reduce blood pressure.
Research shows that adults lose 8% or more of their muscle mass each decade after they reach 40. Strength training helps to slow this loss. The National Institute of Aging recommends that adults do two 30-minute strength training sessions each week. Try weight lifting, weight machines, muscle conditioning classes, or exercise bands.
Limited range of motion is a major factor in reduced mobility for older adults. The more you exercise, the better your flexibility, and in turn, the easier it is for you to be active. Cardio exercise, strength training, and stretching exercises work hand-in-hand to improve your range of motion.
Aging causes the brain to shrink, which is linked to poor memory and depression. Recent research shows that regular exercise may reduce brain shrinkage. A study of adults over age 70 found that those who participated in moderate intensity physical activity (such as walking) several times a week had less brain shrinkage than those who did little activity.
Retirement, loss of loved ones, and loneliness put older adults at risk for sadness and anxiety that could lead to chronic depression. Exercise not only improves mood, but it presents opportunities for social engagement. Regardless of your age, social exercise helps you build relationships with like-minded people. These relationships can improve self-esteem and keep you feeling connected as you age, reducing feelings of loneliness. Find exercise classes at the gym, walking clubs, or recreational sports teams, and start exercising with others.