Healthy Byte: The Side Effects of Exercise

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Originally Posted HERE

If ever there was a time to up your fitness game, the arrival of the new year and the new decade is it. But after the allure of the new gym membership wears off, our sedentary habits, more often than not, consume our promise of daily workouts. It doesn’t have to be this way, says health psychologist and author, Kelly McGonigal, PhD.

In her new book, The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage, the Stanford University lecturer offer new motivation to get moving that has less to do with how we look, or feeling duty-bound to exercise, and everything to do with how movement makes us feel. She shares with readers the often profound, yet lesser-known benefits of exercise that make it a worthy, life-long activity whether you’re young, old, fit or disabled.

Among its many life-altering rewards: the generation of hope, happiness, a sense of purpose, greater life satisfaction and rewarding connections with others.

“These benefits are seen throughout the lifespan,” she writes. “They apply to every socioeconomic strata and appear to be culturally universal.”

And they aren’t activity-specific and they don’t require you to be a super-athlete. Whether you run, swim, dance, bike, weight-lift, do yoga or team sports — it doesn’t matter, McGonigal says — moderate physical activity does far more than make us physically stronger and healthier.

Here are five of the ways movement can help you enjoy life.

1) Activate pleasure

During exercise, McGonigal explains, our brains release neurotransmitters — in particular dopamine and endocannabinoids — that can generate a natural high similar to that of cannabis, or marijuana.

“Many of the effects of cannabis are consistent with descriptions of exercise-induced highs, including the sudden disappearance of worries or stress, a reduction in pain, the slowing of time and a heightening of the senses,” she writes.

And while exercise activates the same channels of the brain’s reward system that addictive drugs do, she explains that it does so “in a way that has the complete opposite effect on your capacity to enjoy life.”

Exactly how it all works, isn’t fully understood.

“But the basic idea is that your brain will have a more robust response to everyday pleasures,” she says, “whether it’s your child smiling at you, or the taste of food or your enjoyment of looking at something beautiful — and that’s the exact opposite effect of addiction.”

2) Become a “more social version of yourself”

In a chapter on the collective joy of exercise, McGonigal explains how endorphins — another type of neurotransmitters released during sustained physical activity — help bond us to others. It’s a connection, she writes, that “can be experienced anytime and anywhere people gather to move in unison,” be it during the flow of yoga class, during the synchronicity of team rowing, while running with friends or while practicing tai chi with others.

Of course, humans can build bonds through sedentary activities as well, McGonigal says.

“But there’s something about getting your heart rate up a little bit and using your muscles that creates that brain state that makes you more willing to trust others — that enhances the pleasure you get from interacting with others that often makes you this more social version of yourself,” she says.

3) Heal depression

In a section on “green exercise,” McGonigal discusses the positive shifts in mood and outlook reported by those who exercise in nature.

“It actually alters what’s happening in your brain in a way that looks really similar to meditation,” she says. “People report feeling connected to all of life… and they feel more hopeful about life itself.”

Indeed, an Austrian study McGonigal cites found that among people who had previously attempted suicide, the addition of mountain hiking to their standard medical treatment reduced suicidal thinking and hopelessness. Similarly, a South Korean study showed that when forest walks were added to the treatment of middle-aged adults with depression, they moved into remission at a rate three times faster than those who did indoor therapy only.

4) Reveal hidden strength

Even for those who don’t struggle with mental or physical illness, adopting a regular exercise routine can provide powerful transformation. McGonigal shares stories of several women who overcame limiting beliefs through exercise to reveal a new, more powerful self.

“If there is a voice in your head saying, ‘You’re too old, too awkward, too big, too broken, too weak,’ physical sensations from movement can provide a compelling counterargument,” McGonigal writes. “Even deeply held belief about ourselves can be challenged by direct, physical experiences, as new sensations overtake old memories and stories.”

5) A boost for the brain

McGonigal offers insights drawn from research into ultra-endurance athletes and how they survive mentally and physically grueling events designed to last six or more hours.

When researchers at the Berlin-based Center for Space Medicine and Extreme Environments measured the blood of ultra-endurance athletes, they found high levels a family of proteins called myokines, known to help the body burn fat as fuel, to act as natural antidepressants and to provide a possible shield against cognitive decline.

But as she reports, you don’t need to be a super-athlete to experience the benefits of myokines. McGonigal cites a 2018 study that identified 35 of these proteins released by the quadriceps muscles during just one hour of bike riding.

Emerging research, she says, suggests that when exercised, your muscles become “basically a pharmacy for your physical and mental health.”

“If you are willing to move,” she writes, “your muscles will give you hope. Your brain will orchestrate pleasure. And your entire physiology will adjust to help you find the energy, purpose and courage you need to keep going.”

Healthy Byte: 20 Vegetarian Recipes for Meatless Mondays

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ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE

The best part about vegetarian meal-prep recipes is…where do we even begin? Easy to whip up and inexpensive (like, sometimes $1.50 a serving), they’ll wait in the fridge for you all week long. Here, 20 options so tasty that even non-vegetarians will swoon.

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Meal-Prep Vegetarian Quinoa Burrito Bowls

You’ll have five days’ worth of food in less than 20 minutes.

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Make-Ahead Aloo Gobi

Tender and flavorful, it keeps in the fridge for up to four days.

Get the recipe

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Lo Mein Meal Prep

Kick takeout to the curb.

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Crispy Sesame Tofu with Zucchini Noodles

Low-carb, vegan and gluten-free.

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Tofu Burrito Bowl Meal Prep

It’s anything but bland.

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Cold Sesame Noodle Meal Prep Bowls

You’ll want to drizzle the spicy almond butter dressing on everything.

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Spring Vegetable Bowls and Meatless Meatball Bowls with Pesto

Everything we want in a lunch bowl.

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Quinoa and Kale Quesadillas

Tip: Layer the cheese first, and it’ll prevent the tortillas from getting soggy.

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Maple Miso Roasted Carrot Meal Prep

It’s pretty hard to beat $1.50 a serving.

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Kale and Greek Salad Meal Prep

Feta + creamy hummus = magical.

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Healthy Meal Prep Bowls

We give you permission to use canned chickpeas.

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Meal Prep Veggie Stir-Fry

Whip up rice, quinoa and farro so you don’t get bored.

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Vegan Quinoa Fajita Bowls

Charred pepperoncini amps up the flavor.

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Vegan Arugula Pesto Pasta Meal Prep

Bonus: It’s tasty chilled or heated.

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Summer Quinoa Salad Jars with Lemon Dill Dressing

Instead of tossing your salad, you can shake it up. Jars are fun like that.
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Red Pepper Cashew Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower

Dairy-free has never tasted so creamy.

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Mediterranean Chickpea and Egg Salad Jars

Sad lunch salad? No can do.

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Meal Prep Chickpeas and Grilled Veggies

Even meat lovers will dig this hearty combo.

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Vegan Mediterranean Meal Prep Bowls

The secret ingredient? Marinated artichoke hearts.

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Mix-and-Match Meal Prep

Totally foolproof.

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Healthy Byte: Sexy Back

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ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE

When you’re planning a back workout, you’re probably envisioning the various weights and machines you’ll need to get the job done. From lat pulldowns to dumbbell rows, many back staples will require you to move around some serious poundage—so it’s not a surprise if you’re thinking you have to hit a fully-stocked gym to get that elusive rear pump.

That doesn’t always have to be the case. You can also put your back to work without touching a single dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell—all you need is your bodyweight. Some equipment like suspension training straps and pullup bars are technically necessary for some of the moves, but the only resistance you’ll work against comes only from you.

Try these 10 bodyweight exercises to put your back to work, sans equipment.

Superman

Superman
  • Lie with your chest down on the floor, reaching your arms straight out in front of you (as if you were Superman mid-flight).
  • Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms, legs, and the top of your chest off the floor.
  • Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position. Don’t drop your arms or legs.

Y Superman

  • Lie with your chest down on the floor, reaching your arms out in front of you to form a ‘Y’ shape.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms and the top of your chest off the floor.
  • Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position. Don’t drop your arms or legs.

W Superman

  • Lie with your chest down on the floor. Put your palms on the ground on either side of your chest in line with your head.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms and the top of your chest off the floor. Be sure to squeeze your upper back so that your arms form what looks like a ‘W’ shape when you lift them.
  • Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position. Don’t drop your arms or legs.

T Superman

  • Lie with your chest down on the floor. Extend your arms out on the ground on either side of your chest to form a ‘T’ shape.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms and the top of your chest off the floor. Be sure to squeeze your upper back to lift your arms as well.
  • Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position. Don’t drop your arms or legs.

Pullup Superman

  • Put your palms on the ground on either side of your chest in line with your head.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms and the top of your chest off the floor. Your arms should form a ‘W’ shape.
  • Mimic a pullup motion by extending your arms straight out, then squeezing your back to pull them back to your chest. Extend your arms out again to count 1 rep.
  • After you perform the allotted reps, slowly return to the starting position. Don’t drop your arms or legs.

Dead Stop to Superman

  • Start in a pushup/plank position. Squeeze your glutes and core to keep your spine straight.
  • Bend your elbows to lower your chest down to the ground. This is the stop part of the exercise.
  • Lift your hands off the ground, then extend your arms straight out in front of you, squeezing your back at the top of the movement.
  • Retract your arms back to the starting position, then push yourself back up.

TRX Row

  • Hold both TRX handles in an overhand grip at chest height with your elbows bent.
  • Plant your feet and lean back, extending your arms straight out to hang by the handles.
  • Squeeze your upper back and biceps to pull yourself up to the straps. Pause for a beat at the top.
  • Straighten out your arms to return to the starting position.

Wide Grip Pushup

  • Start in a pushup/plank position, with your hands placed a few extra inches outside of your chest. Squeeze your glutes and core to keep your spine straight.
  • Bend your elbows to drop your chest down to the ground, squeezing your back at the bottom of the movement.
  • Squeeze your chest to push back up to the starting position.

T Pushup

  • Start in a pushup/plank position, with your hands placed a few extra inches outside of your chest. Squeeze your glutes and core to keep your spine straight.
  • Bend your elbows to drop your chest down to the ground, squeezing your back at the bottom of the movement.
  • Squeeze your chest to push yourself back up, and rotate one side of your body up, raising your arm straight up along with it.
  • Pause at the top of the movement, then return to the starting position. Repeat the move on the other side of the body.

Pullup

  • Grab the pullup bar with an overhand (pronated) grip. Make sure your arms are straight.
  • Squeeze your lats and arms to pull yourself straight up, until your chest is at the bar.
  • Straighten your arms to lower yourself down in a controlled motion. Don’t perform another rep until your elbows are straight.

Inverted Row

  • Place a barbell at about hip height on a power rack or Smith machine.
  • Lower yourself under the bar, then grab the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip with your hands at about shoulder width apart.
  • Straighten your arms to hang from the bar. Straighten out your legs for more of a challenge.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and upper back together to pull your chest up to the bar.
  • Pause at the top position, squeezing your core and glutes to keep your body straight if your legs are fully extended, then straighten your arms to return to the starting position.

Healthy Byte: Get to Know Your Fats

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ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE

Over the last few years we’ve changed our attitude on one major food group in particular: fat. Fat is no longer the main enemy to a healthy body and mind (that’s sugar, in case you hadn’t guessed!).

But not all fat is created equal. Eating good fats is great, having a healthy balance of body fat is too (especially for women) but there’s no getting around it – some fats are still bad for us, and putting on too much of the wrong type of body fat can play havoc with our health.

We asked itsu’s collaborating nutritionist, Alix Woods, what different types of fat our body has, which are healthy and which we could stand to lose.

THE FACTS

“We have four main types fat in our bodies,” explains Alix. “Each has its own molecular structure and health implication, so knowing which is which and what they do can help us manage our health better.”

Alix compares body fat to an organ, like the heart, lungs and skin. “It stores energy and manages hormones, especially metabolism, meaning that the types of body fat you already have affect how much more you store, and where.”

Alix goes on to lay out the main types: brown, beige, white subcutaneous and white visceral fat.

“In general, darker fats are the ‘good kind’, while light, or ‘white’ fats are what accumulate in the body when your diet and lifestyle aren’t right for you, and cause longer term health issues.”

1. Brown fat

This is the ‘good’ fat which provides cellular energy. It actually feeds on droplets from the white fat, so helps keep your weight down.

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), is responsible for our core temperature and is found in the back of the neck and chest areas.

As well as being a ‘fat burning’ fat, it may also help keep diabetes away.

The good news is that we can increase the healthy brown fat by eating healthily, taking the right supplements and making lifestyle changes. And other elements, such as being exposed to cold temperatures stimulates the transformation of white fat to brown fat.

2. Beige fat

This is a combination of white and brown fat and is found along the spine and collarbone.

With exercise, the hormone, irisin is released, which converts white fat to beige fat. Certain foods, in particular grapes, can also help with this ‘browning’ process.

3. White subcutaneous fat

This stores calories and produces adiponectin, another hormone, which helps the liver and muscles to manage insulin. (Insulin is the glucose or sugar-controlling hormone that’s super important for our energy levels.) It keeps blood sugar stable and keeps white fat stores in check.

A problem arises when there is so much of this white fat (and subsequently adiponectin secretion) that the metabolism slows down. When this happens, we start to gain excess weight – especially around the hip, thigh and tummy area – which is often the most difficult to lose.

4. Subcutaneous fat (SF)

This is just under the skin, and is the fat that’s measured to determine body fat percentage. It’s found all over the body, but particularly on the back of arms, thighs and bums.

You want to avoid excess SF around the belly to prevent long term health risks like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

This fat also produces oestrogen hormones in both sexes, and if there is excess oestrogen it becomes the dominant hormone, causing toxic weight gain that increases the risk of obesity, CVD disease, diabetes and cancer.

5. Visceral fat

This is the more ‘dangerous’ deep fat found around abdominal organs. It may feature as a ‘big belly’, or more seriously as an enlarged liver – caused by the blood draining from the visceral fat around the organs, getting dumped there.

This causes an increase in overall blood cholesterol, along with inflammatory chemicals that may lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

This is why abdominal fat – fat around your middle – is a worrying sight of excess visceral fat in your body. However, in healthy proportions, it’s an essential fat for overall health, to cushion and protect our organs and help keep our core temperature stable.

SO HOW DO WE LOSE THE BAD FAT?

“The life threatening, unhealthy ‘deep’ organ or visceral fat (such as belly fat) is lost first when you go on a diet that reduces your calories to below your daily requirement and your body starts to make energy from the fat it has stored,” Alix explains.

“SF is more challenging to lose, and in excess it may be seen as unattractive. The body keeps it in reserve in case of any emergencies, like starvation or for recovery. It’s an ancient, evolutionary tactic, but of course in our modern lives this rarely, if ever, happens.

“Good bouts of exercise and staying on a diet will eventually lead to fat loss in all areas of the body,” the nutritionist advises. “This is because the body senses the reduction in calories and moves the fat around for energy, which encourages overall weight loss.”

Alix also notes that “a general rule with weight loss is the less weight you have around your tummy, the sooner the more stubborn subcutaneous fat stores will ‘melt’ away. So seeing a reduction in that area is the first step.”

ALPHA AND BETA

“As well as types of fat storage, the body also has two fat receptors – Alpha and Beta,” the nutritionist explains. “They work in opposition to each other as Alpha receptors decrease fat burning and blood flow while Beta receptors increase the body’s ability to burn fat and increases blood flow through fat cells. The ratio of these in your body will determine how easy or hard it is for you to lose weight – meaning it’s a totally different process for everyone.

“The more Alpha receptors, the more challenging it is to burn fat and the reverse for Beta receptors,” Alix adds.

The bad news is the amount of receptors is determined at birth and research has found that people with Alpha fat receptors find it difficult to lose weight. “The only solution to this is to maintain healthy diet and exercise regularly,” the expert notes.

HOW TO EAT TO SHIFT YOUR BAD FAT

“Regardless of the location of fat, there are a few good habits to get into to keep your Beta weight-busting receptors ‘on’ and lose the bad fat your body doesn’t need,” says Alix. These are:

1. Eating whole grains and lean proteins, especially lower Glycemic Index fruits and vegetables. I may at times avoid fruit altogether to keep all sugars as low as possible (but make sure you’re getting plenty of veggies for your vitamin and mineral needs.)

2. Removing all white refined carbohydrates and replace with complex whole ‘browner’ grains.

3. Doing a 30-45 minute work out, three time per week.

4. Eating little and often. Have smaller protein-packed snacks, totalling 5-6 little, regular meals a day.

5. Doing two sessions of resistance (weight) training on your off workout days.

6. And an extreme option, when not exercising intensely is doing a detox. On these days drink lots of water and herbal teas and feast on steamed vegetables.