5 Reasons to Make Time for Exercise

I’m very interested in health, especially as it relates to nutrition, but I often find myself struggling to fit exercise into my life. I find it much easier to choose a salad over a piece of chocolate than to get up off my butt and work out. I constantly need to convince myself that exercise is really worth it. Sounds crazy, right? Well, today I’m creating a list that will help me get over my next fitness slump and remember why I should be exercising every day.

  1. Research shows that our bodies are designed to exercise. It’s what our ancestors have done up until about 50-100 years ago when we stopped exercising and started getting chronic disease at alarming rates.
  2. Exercise strengthens your bones. Well, not all exercise, but most. Any “load bearing” exercise, such as walking, running, pilates, etc., actually puts pressure on your bones and causes them to build up and become more dense.
  3. Exercise can actually make you smarter. Here’s how it works: When your muscles contract, your body releases a protein called IGF-1, which travels to your brain and causes other chemicals to be released, including Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates your brain cells to branch out and make new connections (which is the basis of learning).
  4. Exercise makes you feel good. When you exercise, your brain and spinal cord release endorphins, which make you feel great. They diminish feelings of pain, relieve stress, and help improve sleep.
  5. Exercise makes you look good. This one is no secret. When you work out, your muscles get toned and your body takes on a more attractive shape. You’re also healthier overall, which results in increased outward beauty. You can exercise to gain muscle mass or to increase flexibility – the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll shape your body and start looking better.

The only reason I can think of not to exercise is laziness. But, that’s more of a problem than a valid reason. I know people also say they’re too busy, but about 99.9% of the time, that’s also just an excuse. We make time for the things that are important. I have a friend who uses this excuse all the time. He’s a software developer and works about 50 hours a week. Then, he volunteers another 5 hours. He’s a busy guy, but somehow he finds a whole lot of time to play video games. It’s important to take time for things we enjoy, but I think we all (myself included) should remind ourselves that exercise is as important to our wellbeing as eating or brushing our teeth. It’s time for us to put down the video game (or whatever your vice is) for a little while and make time for some exercise.

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What Happens to Your Body When You Skip Meals?

I’ve always thought that skipping meals was a bad thing, but it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I guess I’m just not as hungry as most people, or maybe I just get too wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, but I would always find myself skipping about four meals a week. I wanted to find out how bad this really was, so I did some research.

At a glance, one study suggests that skipping a few meals a week might actually help you become healthier, if you reduce your calorie consumption. This one baffled me a little bit, but then it made more sense when I found out that the participants in this study were obese. I think it’s safe to say that the participants eating habits probably aren’t the healthiest and they may be consuming too many calories to begin with. In cutting back on their overall calorie consumption, they very likely could have been cutting out things that aren’t healthy (e.g. cheese and ice cream). The calorie cut resulted in an 8 percent weight loss and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Although this study makes it seem healthy to skip meals, I don’t see how it could be for anyone who isn’t already consuming too many calories per day. For me, I usually struggle to get anywhere above 1,200 calories. I know that sounds crazy, but I follow a vegan diet and I try to limit oil and bread – and I almost never eat sweets. You have to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to reach 1,200 calories. So, if and when I decide to skip a meal, I’m probably not getting enough nutrition for the day. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself.

I’ve always had this meal skipping problem, even before I was vegan. But during that period, I would skip a meal and then eat more at the next meal to make up for it. I was interning as a paralegal in a busy office and I just wouldn’t stop ever stop for lunch; but then, I’d eat the equivalent of two meals for dinner. Now, I’ve found out that might actually be worse than not eating enough. Well, for one, I knew it wasn’t good because I was about 15 pounds overweight. But, one study actually found that following these exact eating habits can lead to elevated fasting glucose and delayed insulin response – two precursors to diabetes. I’m certainly glad that I stopped that habit, but I do still have to work on eating more often during the day. All this research made me curious about whether I was alone in my struggle.

Do you ever skip meals? If so, do you just end up eating less calories – or do you just make up for the loss later on?

Motivation: A Few Tips for Getting Off Your Butt

Even the best of us fall out of our groove from time to time. I’m in that mode right now. I’ve been really busy with work these days, and that means I’m sitting on my butt all day. When I’m done with work, I have a ton of things to do around the house and errands to run. But wait, are those just excuses? Oh yeah, they sure are. Somehow I find time to watch television and research my next tattoo design (by the way, feel free to share any ideas). But, how could I possibly find time to exercise with such a busy schedule? It’s true that my routine has changed in the past few months, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make fitness a priority. I know this to be true, but yet I still have trouble getting out of the slump I put myself into.

Even though I know I’ve allowed myself to be lazy, I also know it’s not time to beat myself up over it. That never gets anyone anywhere. It’s simply time to find a little motivation.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to motivate yourself when you’re haven’t been bit with the fitness bug.

  • Set a very specific goal. All you need is one. It could be to lose 15 pounds in three months, or it could be to fit into your skinny jeans by the end of the month. Just make sure it’s something you can evaluate and check off your list when you’ve completed it. So, for example, “I want to lose some weight” isn’t a good goal.
  • Mark it on your calendar. Once you have it in writing, you’re more likely to feel the pressure to get it done.
  • Tell someone else about your goal. By telling another human being about your goal, you are setting expectations. Now, if you fail, you’re disappointing yourself as well as that person. Wouldn’t you rather have them be proud of your accomplishment than disappointed in your lack of commitment?
  • Remind yourself of your goal every night before you go to bed. Say it out loud. “I’m going to lose 15 pounds in three months” or “I’m going to do pilates every day until I leave for Florida.”

Did that last one sound oddly specific? That’s because it’s actually my goal. And, yes, I’m going to report back to you from Florida to tell you whether I failed or succeeded. The pressure is on!

Why You Should Always Stretch Before a Workout

It’s no secret that exercise is important. It strengthens your muscles, improves cardiovascular health and helps you form healthy bones. When you exercise consistently, you see results. But, there is one thing about exercise that people often overlook. That is, the importance of stretching before your workout. The young and fit are actually the biggest offenders here.

People think that because they can work out without stretching and not have immediate problems that it’s a step they can skip. They think that stretching before and after a workout eats up valuable time that could be spent running or lifting weights; but actually, stretching enhances the time that you spend doing those things.

Before you workout, your muscles are cold and stiff. If you jump from there to overexertion, you’re causing more stress on your body than need be. That stress can later present itself as a sprain or “pulled muscle.” All you need is five to 10 minutes of stretching your muscles to get the blood flowing and you will see the positive effects. Think about it: Whether you sit behind a desk all day at your job as an administrative assistant, journalist or web developer, your muscles are at rest more than they are at work. Stretching is an essential part of being fit. But unfortunately, the effect of stretching before your workout is often the absence of a problem. Since most people won’t experience a problem every single time they workout without stretching, it’s hard for some to make that connection and understand the importance of stretching.

Stretching before a workout can increase flexibility. If you’re a fighter or a dancer, you might already be aware of this, but people who rely less on flexibility during their workouts often think they can avoid stretching. Many avid hikers, for example, won’t bother stretching, but later in life will develop tendonitis as a result.

After your workout, stretching is just as important. While you workout, lactic acid is building up in your muscles. This is what actually causes the soreness or stiffness right after a workout. It comes from the muscles tearing during the workout. It’s a natural part of exercise, but you can limit the pain (and get your butt back to the gym the next day) by doing a five minute cool down session. Another reason we feel sore after a workout is from excessive muscle tearing, which can be limited by the same stretching session.