Before anyone’s crowned Cap’n Crunch, remember form is key. Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With hands behind the head, place the chin down slightly and peel the head and shoulders off the mat while engaging the core. Continue curling up until the upper back is off the mat. Hold briefly, then lower the torso back toward the mat slowly.
This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.
From Atkins to Paleo to eating gluten-free despite not being one of the rare few people afflicted with celiac disease, fad diets are everywhere. It drives me crazy because I believe these diets do more harm than good. Your body is made up of a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and losing weight healthily isn’t possible when you fill your body with unnecessary synthetic plastics, sugars, and powders. There’s no easy button in life.
Emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, How low can you go?” says Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. He wanted to test how effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared to the typical 50-minute bout. The micro-workout he devised consists of three exhausting 20-second intervals of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he pitted the short workout against the standard one to see which was better. To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Gibala says. (For more on the 1-minute workout read this.)
Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Basak C, Szabo A, Chaddock L, Kim JS, Heo S, Alves H, White SM, Wojcicki TR, Mailey E, Vieira VJ, Martin SA, Pence BD, Woods JA, McAuley E, Kramer AF. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsgurgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2011 February 15;108(7):3017-22.. For this reason, research has linked children’s brain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn’t just for kids. Even if it’s not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults High impact running improves learning. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Voelker K, Fobker M, Lechtermann A, Krueger K, Fromme A, Korsukewitz C, Floel A, Knecht S. Department of Neurology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007 May;87(4):597-609..
HOW TO DO IT: Assume a staggered squat position with your right leg forward (heel flat) and your left leg staggered behind on its toes, so that the front of your foot is aligned with your right heel. Push your hips back and down as far as you can while staying upright throughout the movement. Walk forwards taking short, choppy steps for 30 to 60 seconds.
You'll also build muscle to fill out your arms and firm them up. “Generally, when people are complaining about underarm jiggle, they’re usually referring to the area that is governed by the tricep,” says Williams. “If the jiggle or looseness in that part of your arm is due to a lack of muscle, then strengthening and building muscle in your tricep will also create some change in the aesthetic of that area.” She recommends performing triceps push-ups, extensions, and dips to hone in on that area and add some muscular definition to your arms.
Do 75-150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. A slow metabolism and lack of cardiovascular exercise can lead to weight gain, and this gets worse as you age. Fight unwanted flab by doing at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week to rev up your body and burn calories. Activities like bike riding, walking, swimming, skiing, jogging, and rollerblading are all good options.
First, let's talk about the nutrition aspect. The number one thing you have to do is get yourself in a calorie deficit. What that means is that you are burning more calories than you are consuming on a daily basis. You also want to consume a healthy diet and limit alcohol to stay on track to your body fat and weight loss goals. Avoid eating too much fast food and focus on lean proteins that will help you build lean muscle.
We've got some happy news that will rev up your workout routine: The moment you head out on your run, launch into your Spinning class, or start your Pilates session, the benefits of exercise kick in. "We see changes in the body within seconds," says FITNESS advisory board member Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. Your heart rate increases, and blood is delivered to your muscles. You start burning calories for fuel. And you get an almost immediate mood boost.
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery Aerobic exercise for alcohol recovery: rationale, program description, and preliminary findings. Brown RA, Abrantes AM, Read JP, Marcus BH, Jakicic J, Strong DR, Oakley JR, Ramsey SE, Kahler CW, Stuart GG, Dubreuil ME, Gordon AA. Behavior Modification. 2009 March;33(2):20-249.. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term) The acute effects of exercise on cigarette cravings, withdrawal symptoms, affect and smoking behaviour: a systematic review. Taylor AH, Ussher MH, Faulkner G. Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK. Addiction. 2007 April;102(4):534-43. Acute effect of a brief bout of exercise on alcohol urges. Ussher M, Sampuran AK, Doshi R, West R, Drummond DC. Department of Community Health Services (Psychology), St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, UK. Addiction. 2004 December;99(12):1542-7.. Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.
For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.
Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is a crucial component of fat loss and muscle building, which happens most effectively when your energy consumption is lowered. Aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night by establishing a sleep routine to follow, including a 60-90 minute period to wind down before bed. During this time, shut off your phone and do something relaxing, like reading or meditation.
A new study from her lab shows that a 20-minute moderate workout has measurable effects on the immune system: Participants were asked to walk or jog on a treadmill, depending on their fitness level. They measured levels of TNF, an inflammatory marker, before and after the exercise, and found that there was a 5% reduction in the number of immune cells that produced the marker.