Monthly Archives: January 2015

How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

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I always get down this time of year. The shorter days are just too depressing for me. Maybe you have the same problem? Life doesn’t have to be hard once you are diagnosed with SAD or seasonal affective disorder. Once you recognize the symptoms, they should be manageable. SAD itself is a very manageable condition, and there are many ways to live with it.

Get more light.

The best way to keep the blues away during fall and winter, when daylight is shorter, is to expose yourself to light as much as possible. Go out in the morning and bask in the morning light. Open your windows during the day. Spend most of your time near the window where you can get lots of natural light coming in.

Have a vacation.

Most people take a vacation in summer. While you can enjoy summer getaways, you may want to try taking a break from work in winter. Go south, whether there’s more daylight. If the budget permits, escape the winter cold by booking to a tropical resort. If that’s not possible, then just consider taking a break to spend time with friends and family.

Reduce stress.

This is exactly the reason why you should take a vacation or take a break from work. All that work-related stress makes SAD worse. There are different ways to reduce stress. One is by removing the source. Second is by getting away from it. Third is to exercise, because it releases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. Most importantly, get enough sleep.

Eat right.

People with SAD have low serotonin levels. The body needs tryptophan to make serotonin. Thus, it makes sense to eat foods rich in tryptophan. Milk and eggs are rich in tryptophan. You should also eat more apricots, apples, grapes, and oranges because they enhance serotonin levels.

Cut back on alcohol and coffee.

Many SAD sufferers beat the winter slump by loading on caffeine, but the stimulant in coffee offers short-term relief. You have to drink coffee every day to get its mood-boosting benefits, and that comes with a price. You get addicted to it, and you suffer from anxiety and insomnia.

On the other hand, alcohol acts like a depressant, making your wintertime depression worse.

Exercise

Regular exercise coupled with sunlight exposure in the morning is beneficial to people with SAD. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which make you feel good. Try walking or jogging outdoors and enjoy the benefit of longer daylight exposure. Consider trying winter sports, like skiing or snowboarding.

Wake up at the same time every day.

Keep your body clock consistent by waking up at the same time each day. If you wake up at 6 on weekdays, wake up at the same time on weekends. This way, you get to take the advantage of the morning daylight, when you’re supposed to be out to get sunshine.

Take your prescriptions.

You should see your psychologist for management of your SAD. Management may involve medications, which you should take in the right dosage on the right schedule. Follow dosage instructions. Also, take necessary OTC medications or supplements. For instance, your doctor may recommend vitamin D.

Keep a journal of your symptoms.

Your psychologist or psychiatrist might have told you this. If not, it’s wise that you keep a journal of your symptoms just so you can track the progress of the condition. Is it getting worse or better? If you’re experiencing worsening signs of SAD, you may need another appointment with your psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation.

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which is Better for Fat Loss?

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treadmill vs ellipticalsTreadmills and ellipticals are two common cardio machines used by fitness enthusiasts. They train your cardiovascular endurance and in the process make you burn calories, fat included. However, it’s hard to pick one machine that’s better than the other because one is going to be better than the other under certain, but not all, circumstances. And after looking over some elliptical reviews on this site, I wanted to make sure this was the right machine for me since the two are so different. I think that it’s important that you know these differences.

Why treadmill?

The treadmill is the easiest machine to use. It’s a frill-free affair on a treadmill. The machine allows you to walk, jog, or run. It’s very easy to use and is thus user-friendly, great for beginners. Gym equipment makers have been coming up with various fitness, but nothing has been simpler than the treadmill. Unless your gripping the handles, you are basically using your body weight. You can also control your pace. So its potential for allowing you to burn more calories is there.

Why not the treadmill?

The biggest downside of a treadmill has to do with how you use it. Technically, it’s a jogging or running machine. You run on it, and running puts a lot of impact on the joints, particularly the ankles, knees, and hips. Thus, you have to warm up properly. Start slow. Build up. Take your time before you do high intensity cardio exercises.

Why elliptical?

The elliptical machine isn’t as hard on your joints as the treadmill is. You can do the same running motions on it. Many ellipticals have movable handles that allow you to move both your upper and lower body, giving more calorie burn. The reverse stride mechanism in most ellipticals recruits more muscles than what classic running recruits.

Why not the elliptical?

Unless you have arthritis or you are recovering from a sprain, then the elliptical may be good as a second option. It’s hard to move to advanced versions of the exercise because the machine doesn’t offer that opportunity. Also, the machine may be troublesome for beginners who haven’t developed coordination yet. Another important thing to mention is that the elliptical machine, with its suspended pedals, does little to strengthen your bones and muscles.

Which is better for fat loss?

The truth is there is no significant difference. Jogging on treadmill makes you burn roughly around 700-850 calories an hour. One hour on the elliptical can make you burn an average of 770 calories an hour. The differences are not that much. It eventually boils down to how you use the machine and how advanced you are in your cardio training.

The secret to maximizing your fat loss on either machines is intensity. It doesn’t matter what machine you use, if you’re not working hard enough, you will not get results. Do high intensity sprints on a treadmill. You can also employ high intensity interval training. On the elliptical machine, utilize the upper body to recruit more muscles.

The most important thing you have to remember about fat loss is it’s largely a function of diet. You don’t lose weight via exercise alone.

Best Gym Machines for Weight Loss

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cardio machines for weight loss
When you enter a gym, you will find a wide selection of machines, some for weight lifters, others for fitness enthusiasts. If you want to lose weight, you would be spending most of your time on machines like treadmills or ellipticals. But what exactly are the best weight loss machines?

Treadmill

Treadmills are popular among people who want to lose weight. If you go to a gym, particularly a big one with a whole range of equipment, you’ll find many people sweating over a treadmill. It’s probably the most popular cardio machine for people who want to run or jog but couldn’t do so outdoors. How much you burn on a treadmill depends on your pace and how long your workout is. It’s not good for everyone though. People with arthritis and leg or ankle injuries may have to forgo the treadmill.

Stationary Bike

One of the best things about stationary or recumbent bikes is they are good for people with minor ankle injuries. Cycling isn’t as hard on the joints as running is (yeah, even running on a treadmill). The downside of cycling is it basically frees your arms, allowing you to check your smartphone or read a magazine. You slack off on your exercise and you won’t get optimum fat burn.

Elliptical

Running is a great fat burning exercise, but it’s not an option if you’re on recovering joints. The solution: elliptical trainers. The machine allows you to mimic running movements without giving as much impact on your joints. It’s great for people with arthritis as well as for anyone, especially non-runners who are starting a fitness regimen. Don’t let the calorie burn counter fool you. Start slow on your first few weeks. Then work out hard as you progress for maximum burns.

Stair Stepper

If you have no access to stairs, but stair climbing is one of your favorite fat burning pastimes, then something like a stair stepper machine is what you need. This machine is like a cardio and bodyweight machine combined. Beginners may find it difficult to use at first, and people with knee injuries may opt for another machine. For healthy individuals, it’s a great weight loss machine. Just like ellipticals and treadmills, stair steppers have handles that lure people into gripping them most of the time, making the exercise inefficient.

Rowing Machine

You probably haven’t heard of or seen a rowing machine. It’s not as popular as treadmills or ellipticals in gyms and fitness centers. But if you see one, try it. It’s possibly the most underrated fitness machine. One reason for that is people don’t know how to use it. Another is that people just find it intimidating. The rowing machine gives you full control of your workout. You’re in control of your tempo and intensity. Some people use it as a resistance machine for strength gains. Many people prefer it as a cardio machine though. Either way, it burns fat and trains you for cardiovascular fitness.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Rowing Machine

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You don’t have to buy a new rowing machine if you want to lose weight or build strength. A used machine may just be as good as a new one, but there are a few things to check before making that purchase. You’re probably on a budget. Nevertheless, to make sure you don’t spend much money having the equipment repaired, consider checking the following parts.

1. Seat

Check that the seat is comfortable. Does it stay in place? Is it worn? It should be able to support your butt and of course your whole upper body. It should stay in place during your whole exercise. Some used rowing machines can have worn seats that are uncomfortable to sit on. Such defects should be fixed because they will affect your workout performance.

2. Handle

The handle is another part that easily shows sign of deterioration. In used machines, this may have worn rubber grip, which causes discomfort. Any part of the machine that gives you discomfort can affect your performance. You can replace the worn part at a low cost though. However, aside from aesthetic defects, the handle can become faulty after a long time of repeated use. This is why you have to try the used machine before buying it to make sure the handle and the cord attached to it are working properly. A faulty handle may not provide optimum resistance, jeopardizing your workout.

3. Slide

Old rowing machines can also have jerky slides. That’s another thing to check. When you’re rowing, the slide allows your seat to move smoothly along the length of the machine. You wouldn’t be able to work out properly and get the full benefit of the machine if the slide isn’t working properly. If something gets snagged and the slide stops halfway before reaching the end, it’s workout fiasco.

4. Wheel

If you’re rowing as part of your strength training routine, pay attention to a rowing machine’s wheel. The wheel is part of the mechanism of the machine that provides resistance. Resistance is what you need to hit your muscles hard. This may not be much of a concern for cardio enthusiasts, as they can use the equipment basically as an endurance training tool. But if you want to build muscle, check the wheel if it’s working properly.

5. Footplate

Footplates should be sturdy in place to keep the feet stable. If you can move the footplates, you may need to have them repaired.

Additional Tips

Consider the size of the machine.

Rowing machines are big and bulky. They require huge storage space. If you have limited space at home, consider looking for versions that can be folded in half.

Consider the type of resistance.

Rowing machines have different types of resistance. Some employ hydraulic resistance. Others have water. Others utilize magnetism. Water resistance is very effective and mimics paddling motion in water, but this type of resistance creates considerable noise. On the other hand, magnetic resistance is adjustable and is just as effective as water resistance, minus the noise.

Consider trying the machine.

This is impossible if you’re buying online. If that’s the case, then just read the description. If you’re buying at a local gym equipment shop, try the machine. See if it works smoothly and doesn’t have defects, aesthetic or mechanical.

Can a Rowing Machine Improve Your Abs?

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good absA lot has been said about the rowing machine, the popular strength and cardio machine used by men and women alike. Folks say it’s better than treadmills or ellipticals. We can go on a debate, but one of the most interesting question is whether an indoor rowing machine can improve your abs.

There are two ways to improve your abs.

One is tone the core and ab muscles. This is a function of core and ab training.

Second is to reduce the amount of fat covering the abdominal region. This is a function of both diet and cardio workout.

Where does the rowing machine fit in?

Rowing is one of the best exercises out there. It trains your entire body. It may seem as though that you’re only moving your arms and upper body. But you’re actually engaging all your large muscle groups. That’s a good thing both from a strength training and fat loss point of view. If you want an exercise that hits both your muscles and fat, then rowing should be part of your routine.

You may be discouraged to think that the rowing machine directly hits your lats, biceps, quads, and calves. It hits the abs and obliques, too, though indirectly. Don’t fret. If you’re rowing in the proper form, you got nothing to worry about.

The right form hits the abdominals hard!

That’s right. Any exercise done with the wrong form will be inefficient. When you’re rowing in the right form and using your stabilizer muscles, you’re hitting every major muscle group, including the abdominal muscles. Your core and abs are working to stabilize you while you catch and drive. In other words, you’re not only building your back, arms, thighs, and legs. You’re also building your core!

The perfect cardiovascular tool

What does cardio have to do with your abs? Well, your abs won’t show no matter how toned it is until you shed off that layer of fat that’s covering it. How does the rowing machine help you with that?

The rowing machine is essentially a cardio machine (that has strength building benefits). By cardio means it trains your cardiovascular endurance. That also means it burns fat! Anyone who wants to lose weight has to include cardio in their regimen. Cardio burns fat all over the body, including that which is covering your abdominal muscles. Rowing can burn 800 calories in an hour.

Wrapping it up, yes, a rowing machine can improve your abs.

But remember…

Practice proper form starting in the low setting.

Engage your entire body, not just the arms.

Use your core to stabilize you.

Work hard!

How to Determine Your Body Fat Percentage

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how to measure body fatOne of the things fitness enthusiasts do is measure their body fat. They have a good reason for doing so. One of the factors that determine how fit you are is your body fat percentage. You may be lifting weights in the gym, but with a high body fat percentage, your muscle gains won’t show. This is why you hear guys in the gym talk about their body fat and you hear things like bulking and cutting. The latter means they want to get rid of some of their body fat. To be considered fit, men should have a body fat percentage of 14-17% and women, 21-24%.

So how do you measure your body fat percentage?

There are different ways.

Caliper

Calipers are precise ways to measure body fat. They are easy to use. The caliper is used to pinch the skin, including the subcutaneous fat layer. That’s the skin you can pinch above the muscle. You then take the reading in millimeters and then determine its equivalent body fat percentage on a chart. The thicker you can pinch on your skin, the more body fat you have. Some caliper tests only measure a single spot on the body. Others test different parts of the body and get the average reading. However, this is not practicable for obese individuals as the amount of fat becomes too thick for the caliper to measure.

Measuring Tape

This is another easy way to measure the percentage of your body fat. You can do this at home with a companion. You will take measurements of your neck and waist circumference. Critics have qualms about the accuracy of this method.

Pinch Test

This is like the caliper test (minus the caliper itself). Instead, you will use your index finger and thumb to pinch the back of your arm, specifically halfway between the elbow and the shoulder. Pinch the skin above the triceps muscle. Then measure the thickness in millimeters using the ruler. The reading in millimeters have an equivalent body fat percentage you can check on the chart. For instance, if you’re a man and you can pinch about 13 millimeters of skin, then roughly 9-13% of your mass is fat.

BIA

Bioelectric impedance analysis is a sophisticated way to measure your body fat. The device works on the principle of electrical conductivity. Muscle has high water and electrolyte content and is therefore more conductive than fat, which has low water content. The device measures how much your body impedes electric current. Higher readings mean more body fat. There’s one catch though. The accuracy of the measurements depends on how well hydrated you are. This is an option for people who are too overweight for caliper measurements.

Underwater Measurement

Have you heard of hydrostatic weighing? Apparently, it’s the most accurate way to measure your body fat percentage. You will have your weight taken underwater, and how much fat you have affects how much you weigh in the water. Bone and muscle are denser than water. Fat is less dense than water.

Supposing you and the other guy have the same weight. Hydrostatic weighing reveals which of you has higher fat percentage. Basically, the guy who weighs less in the water has higher fat percentage.

This is the most expensive way to measure body fat though.

How to Bust Through Your Running Plateau

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Plateaus are part of life. They’re part of learning and growth. There comes a point when you just couldn’t seem to go further despite hard work. Gym buffs know this. Runners do too. What do you do when you hit that dreaded plateau?

Know it’s temporary.

Plateaus are temporary unless they are caused by an underlying medical condition. If you’re stalling on your running performance and you haven’t been seeing endurance gains for weeks, you should be looking into your training, nutrition, lifestyle, or stress levels. Eventually, you will have to snap out of that situation. Figure out what’s causing the plateau. Take it from there.

Take your time off.

Runners sometimes focus too much on their training that they barely have time for anything else. This may tire the nervous system, particularly the brain. Maybe the plateau is your brain trying to tell you it needs a break. Get out of the track and do other things for at least a week. Spend more time with family and friends. Talk about other things. Take your mind off running.

Quit overthinking.

Maybe you have unrealistic goals. Maybe you’re comparing yourself too much with other athletes. If you’re an ambitious runner, chances are you’re taking everything seriously and you get upset when you don’t meet your goals. Obsessing with your performance goals can kill your motivation eventually. It’s good to be determined, but it’s equally important to set realistic goals. Every athlete is different. Every runner will experience performance gains in their own pace. Just because you are not as fast as the other person with whom you started training doesn’t mean you should be pushing yourself harder. You’ll get to that pace eventually.

Check other aspects of your life.

Plateaus in sports or strength training may be caused by certain factors you didn’t suspect at first. One example is work-related stress or fatigue. Work is a notorious strength and endurance killer. When work takes most of your mental and physical energy, you will have little left for workouts and training. You will notice work-related or even family-related stress affects your athletic performance. Stress eats so much of your energy reserves that little is left for other activities. The same thing happens when you’re sleep-deprived. Staying up too late at night to finish reports stresses your mind and body out too. The result is you couldn’t run as fast and as long as when you’re not stressed out and when you had great sleep.

Eat like a true runner.

Good diet should complement good training. Every athlete has to train and EAT properly. Running burns A LOT of calories. You should be eating more calories than the average guy unless you’re trying to lose weight. Two-thirds of your diet should consist of carbs–your major energy source. About a fifth of what you eat should be protein, which you need for muscle repair. Remember you tear your muscle fibers when you run. Don’t forget the good fats and your micronutrients.

Benefits of Total Body Workouts

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You’ve heard of different workout schedules and programs. You’ve heard people isolating certain muscle groups, working them out on certain days and working out other muscle groups on other days. If that works for you, then by all means go on. If you can’t go to the gym every day or if you’re a complete beginner, total body workouts are what’s favorable for you.

Less Time for Workout

Many gym rats spend 2 hours in the gym working out different muscle groups when they can actually do compound exercises that hit all major muscle groups in 30-45 minutes. Many people just don’t have time for 12 exercises for different muscles. That takes forever. Working folks don’t have the luxury of time. In that case, doing full body workout two or three times a week is much more manageable.

More Free Time

Life isn’t about work and workouts. Do you leave your office at 5:30 and spend an hour or two in the gym and then get home tired? No more time for your kids? If you spend all your evenings after work in the gym, how much time do you have left for your family or for recreation? Getting fit doesn’t have to wreak havoc to your personal life. A well-balanced time is what you need, and total body workouts can give you that.

Faster CNS Recovery

All right, gym buffs talk about CNS recovery. You see, when you put stress on your muscles, say for instance, while lifting weights, the neural network between your brain and muscles are firing signals for a limited time. It does so at its expense though. After an intense workout, it’s not just the muscles that get tired. Your central nervous system gets tired too and needs to recover. This is how daily isolation exercises jeopardize CNS recovery. By working out every day, you exhaust your CNS even though you’re working out different muscles. To fix this, schedule rest days in between workouts whether you’re doing isolation or total body workouts. That would mean longer waiting times for certain muscle groups if you split upper body and lower body workouts. Hence, some people just prefer full body workouts.

Simpler Routines

One of the frequent complaints of gym goers and fitness enthusiasts, especially beginners, is the intimidating number of exercises they have to remember. So you have to remember you have to do 3 or 4 sets of cable crossovers and decline press for your chest, dumbbell raise and cable raise for your shoulders, and dumbbell rows and lat pull downs for your back. Then you have to do bicep curls and cable extensions. That’s just for your upper body!

Why do all that stuff when you can do compound exercises that hit the major muscle groups. Unless you have specific goals, compound exercises (bench press, dips, rows, pull-ups, deadlifts, and squats) are all you need to get stronger.

Less Risk of Overtraining

Total body workouts wear you out sooner than isolation exercises chiefly because you’re working out more muscle groups. Split workouts and isolation exercises trick you into doing more exercises for similar muscle groups with the risk of overtraining and straining them. That’s one thing you have to watch out for when you’re doing these muscle specific exercises.

Reasons Why Most Diets Fail

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Most diets fail because they are not sustainable. They have false promises. They are severe. They are built around false science. All that low-carb, all-veggies, or juice dieting crap are bound to failure and frustration. Then people on these diets think it’s all about them. That they can’t do it. That’s not true! If you can’t stick to a diet regimen, maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe that form of dieting is wrong.

Mistake 1: Severe Calorie Restriction

Crash diets make people consume less than 1200 calories a day. If someone tells you to eat just a piece of pear and have some banana smoothie, then you’re on a path to self-destruction. The human body just wouldn’t be able to sustain and survive through that kind of severe calorie and nutritional restriction. You’ll go weak, hypoglycemic, and you will end up in the ER.

Mistake 2: All About Willpower

No, weight loss isn’t willpower alone. It involves a well-structured dietary plan. The problem with the willpower plan is that it puts all the blame on the person. If the diet doesn’t work, it’s his or her fault. But who, for instance, can withstand a boring diet of nuts and salads and fruit shakes?

Your body has its own way of compensating for your willpower. You eat too little? Your body will attempt to conserve energy and curb your metabolism. You grow weak. You store fat. You burn muscle. After a few months of sticking to that kind of diet out of willpower, you will look like a lifeless straw.

For some people, the hunger pangs override the so-called willpower. They get back to binging and they regain the fat they lost.

Mistake 3: Calorie Obsession

Calorie counters online may have lured you into consuming 1300-1500 calories a day to lose weight. But there’s some problem with this. One, we now know that not all calories are created equal. 400 calories from fish is different from 400 calories from bagel. Some calories come from good sources. Some come from bad sources. Calorie counting is good, because it keeps you on track. After all, you can’t wind up ingesting 3000 calories if you’re losing weight. But watch what you eat.

Mistake 4: Carbs and Fat Too Low

Low-carb or low-fat diets don’t work. If you want to lose fat, you can’t just cut back on carbs or fat and expect your body to shed off the pounds. Apparently, your body is much more complex than you think. Cutting the carbs would deplete your body of its major energy source. The result: your body tends to burn muscle for energy.

Speaking of fat, diets too low in fat are also bad for your health. Your body needs fat for a lot of things, like making hormones. You may think your body will tend to burn fat by not eating fat, but the exact opposite happens. Your body tends to hold on to the fat when it thinks it’s being deprived of it.

What do you do? Get a good dose of carb and fat. Go for complex carbs (e.g. whole grains) and good fat (e.g. fat from fish, nuts, eggs, and plant sources).

It’s simple. Control calorie intake and choose your food wisely.