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Strength training can help keep you healthy and strong for many years. Here’s how.

Stronger with age should be everyone’s motto. Focusing on staying strong into your golden years isn’t an issue of vanity. Fitness is necessary at every age to maintain the strength we need to stay healthy, active, and capable. There’s simply no expiration date on enjoying our bodies. Science supports this. In fact, researchers on aging have pinpointed resistance training as one of the most important factors for healthy aging.

How Aging Affects Our Bodies

Aging affects our bodies in various ways. Here are some common changes that you can expect as you age.

Loss of Balance

As we get older, we experience a loss of balance. Somewhere around the age of 40 to 50, our balance begins to decline. That is due to several factors, including changes in the inner ear, loss of coordination, and eyesight problems.

Loss of Muscle

We know that lean muscle mass naturally reduces with age. In fact, age-related loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. We begin to lose 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade after age 30. The average person can expect to lose roughly 30 percent of their muscle mass during their lifetime.

Decreased Range of Motion

The range of motion in our joints also decreases with age. Between the ages of 55 and 86, we lose approximately six degrees of flexibility per decade in the hips and shoulders. That is mainly due to changes in muscles and connective tissue.

Why Strength Training?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The conversation about strength training often focuses on all the ways that strength training can help you to stay looking fit and attractive as you age. This is certainly a big perk. However, it’s not the only motivation for challenging your muscles. Strength training also offers a myriad of whole-health benefits that can help you to prevent disease and dysfunction. Research suggests that strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of a number of chronic conditions that tend to progress with age. This includes back pain, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, and depression. Here’s a roundup of the life-enhancing benefits of strength training:

Builds Lean Muscle Mass

While losing muscle mass is considered a natural part of aging, it’s not necessarily an unavoidable part of aging. Strength training is one of many tools for preventing muscle loss with age. Nutrition can also play a role in staving off dreaded age-related muscle loss. People can preserve lean muscle while maintaining strength and energy levels using high-protein diets. Healthy, lean proteins from both animal and plant sources are incredible for fitting in the protein needed to maximize muscle protein synthesis.

Stronger Bones

According to a 2018 study on the effects of resistance exercise on bone health, resistance training may be one of the best ways to improve bone and muscle loss in both the middle-aged and older population. Multiple studies confirm that strength training can help to slow bone loss. There’s also evidence that strength training can help us to build bone. Another study on the effects of progressive resistance training on bone density found that this form of exercise offers the benefit of influencing multiple risk factors for osteoporosis.

Better Weight Management

As you get older, it gets harder to lose weight. Your body doesn’t respond to weight-control efforts in the same way. That is because age-related changes, like a slowing down of your metabolism, can make it harder to lose weight. Strength training can help you lose weight or more easily maintain a healthy weight by increasing muscle mass, which leads to more efficient calorie burning.

Enhanced Quality of Life

According to a 2019 study on the effect of resistance training on health-related quality of life in older adults, strength training can significantly increase quality of life scores. One of the biggest reasons strength training increases the quality of life is that it allows older adults to continue doing everyday activities.

Prevents Joint Injuries

Strength training’s positive influence on the musculoskeletal system can help you to prevent joint injuries. Strength exercises can also help to promote growth and vitality in connective tissue, ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage.

Reduces the Risk of Falls

Dangerous falls can occur due to loss of balance as we age. Strength exercises that contribute to better balance can cut your risk of being injured by a slip or fall. In addition, exercise helps your reflexes to stay sharper.

Cognitive Boost

“Strength training can help protect the brain from degeneration,” according to data released in 2020. A long-term study found that strength training led to overall benefits to cognitive performance among Alzheimer’s patients. What’s really interesting is that strength training is specifically credited with protecting specific regions within the hippocampus that are associated with both Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment from degeneration. This may mean that strength exercises can improve learning and memory.

Better Sleep

Better sleep is something anyone of any age can appreciate. Data shared with the American Heart Association by researchers at Iowa State University found that regular resistance training exercises helped with staying asleep longer and falling asleep faster. Plus participants who participated in strength training felt more rested and refreshed the next day compared to those who did not work out, as well as those who just did aerobic exercises. It turns out that counting reps may be more effective than counting sheep when it comes to improving sleep quality.

Is Strength Training or Cardio Better?

Both strength training and cardio are essential for fitness as we age. Cardio improves cardiac functioning, which is really important as heart disease is the number one cause of death for both women and men in the United States.

However, strength training is equally important as we age. Lifting weights can improve cognitive functioning, mobility, as well as our metabolic health. Plus, resistance also helps improve cardiovascular health, as well. One study found that lifting weights for just one hour each week reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke by as much as 70 percent.

Studies have also found that strength training helps boost confidence and motivation in older adults. This can make it much more likely that we even will show up at the gym.

What Age Should You Start With Strength Training?

Hint: It’s never too early or too late.

Saying that strength training is crucial as we age isn’t the same as saying that strength training should wait until the signs of aging creep in. There is no start date for strength training that’s better than today. That’s because all of the benefits of strength training that help older adults to enjoy strength and vitality can help you to start filling up your vitality piggy bank today if you’re still 20, 30, or 40.

It’s also never too late to start strength training to your fitness routine. Research has found that older individuals with no strength training experience are able to effectively build muscle. So, even if you have never tried strength training before, you can still get the benefits. It’s just important to make sure you are training safely.

Tips for Strength Training Safely for Older Adults

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when doing strength training exercises for seniors.

  • Talk to your doctor first. Your physician can help you identify the right strength training program for you. They can advise you on any modifications that you may need to make.
  • Start light. Start with the smallest amount of weight that you can. Increase your weight as you get stronger.
  • Aim for at least three days per week. Ideally, you should aim for at least three days of strength training per week. Alternate the days that you perform strength training with cardio.
  • Be gentle on your joints. Gradually ease into strength training. Never stress your joints to the point where it hurts.
  • Give your body plenty of time to recover. As you get older, it takes longer to recover. Give your body plenty of time to rest between strength training sessions.
  • Watch out for pain. It’s normal to expect a little muscle soreness after strength training but you should not feel pain. If the exercises are causing pain, stop and talk to your doctor.

A Note on Nutrition

Proper nutrition is essential when it comes to strength training. Make sure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients and minerals. Food prep can make it easy to make sure you are on track with the proper nutrients and lean protein sources needed to support your body through strength-training sessions.

Related article: How Good Nutrition Supports Athletic Performance

Final Thoughts

It’s impossible to ignore the unique benefits that strength training offers for both the mind and body as we age. Strength training is part of a “whole package” lifestyle that includes being aware of what your body needs with age, staying active, and staying prepared with healthy meals.

Okay, so you know that you should go to the gym. You’ve heard about the many benefits of exercise. New research even suggests that it can even ward off depression. There’s a whole laundry list of reasons to hit the gym. However, sometimes we find that the last thing that we want to do is work out. Despite the money spent on a gym membership thinking it would provide the motivation to hit the treadmill hard every day, we might find that we only set foot inside a couple of times. In fact, many of us can think of a million things we’d rather do, and none involve a treadmill.

Love It or Hate It

If those of us with an unused gym membership exist on one end of the spectrum, on the other end you’ll find those who can’t seem to live without the gym. They talk about how exercise gives them a “Runner’s High.” For them, exercise seems to be addictive. They don’t give being active a second thought. It’s just something they do every day without even thinking about it. You have read dozens of articles on how to develop workout motivation. You’ve tried all of the tips. Yet, nothing is working. So, how come exercise motivation comes so easily for some people and not others?

Most online articles that give advice on workout motivation contain good information. But, they miss the mark when it comes to workout motivation. As someone who has spent years studying motivation and has also been a certified fitness instructor, I truly understand why workout motivation comes easy for some people and not others.

Finding the motivation to work out consistently really comes from making it a part of your daily life. That is the key to getting and staying motivated when it comes to working out.

First, Choose Something You Love

This seems easy enough. But, how many times do you hear people talk about begrudgingly going to the gym like it’s some form of punishment? If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be motivated to do it. You don’t have to be happy doing it all the time, but it should be something that leaves you feeling good on most days.

There’s tons of advice on exploring new types of fun new activities. You might be told to try pilates or join a workout class. But what one person enjoys might be boring or torturous for the next. Our personalities and interests largely impact the kind of fitness activity that we will enjoy long term.

People who are extroverted may feel at home in a group fitness or dance class, while a person who is introverted may enjoy solitary early morning runs. Whatever it is, it has to be something that you enjoy. You may have to try many different types of movement. The thing is to keep trying until you find something you genuinely enjoy.

Then, Make it Easy

The first piece of the puzzle when it comes to workout motivation is choosing something that you love. The second piece is finding a way to make it easy to do the type of workout you like. You have to incorporate daily movement into your life in a way that is seamless. It must become a part of your daily schedule or routine. This is called automaticity.

Automaticity refers to the idea of doing something automatically, without thinking. It’s like remembering to brush your teeth every day. It’s not hard because you are used to doing it every day.  A research study conducted by fitness giant Les Mills found that automaticity is the key to sticking to a workout routine. In the study, participants were divided into two groups of people. One group was comprised of people who are regular exercisers. They worked out on average 150 minutes per week over the last ten years. The second group consisted of people who rarely worked out. The critical difference between those who worked out regularly and those who didn’t was automaticity. All of the participants, 100 percent in the active group, said that exercise is part of their routine. Among the inactive participants, more than 92 percent said that fitness was NOT a regular part of their routine.

So, how can you make exercise automatic? A part of your daily routine? Here are some tips.

#1 Find A Time that Suits Your Internal Clock 

Some articles suggest working out first thing in the morning. They say that people who work out first thing in the morning are more likely to follow a fitness program — that’s it’s all about finding the willpower to just do it. If you are not a morning person, this simply won’t work for you.

For those who are NOT early birds, advice to wake up early to get in some gym time won’t work. Some people are just genetically programmed to not function at their best early in the morning. There are hundreds of genes that influence whether a person prefers mornings or evenings. Trying to go against your genetics will get you nowhere. You’ll just end up feeling like a failure when you’re unable to pull yourself out of bed for those 5 A.M. workouts. So, identify what times of the day are best for you, whether that’s mornings, lunchtime, or in the evening.

#2 Schedule It

How often have you made plans to go to the gym and canceled at the last minute when something else came up? Schedule your workouts just as you would any other appointment. I use apps like Mindbody and ClassPass, to schedule workouts ahead of time. I’ve found that this makes it much harder to blow off workouts, especially since there often is a cancellation fee associated with not going most of the time.

Putting your workouts into your calendar in this way can give you the motivation that you never knew you had.

#3 Make it Effortless

Contrarily, If you struggle with scheduling your workout sessions during the day and following through, try to do it first thing in the morning regardless of your routine. Make it as easy as possible to work out by removing any obstacles. For example, keep an exercise bike  in your bedroom room you can hop on as soon as you wake up.

​​​#4 Be Prepared

After you have your workouts scheduled, make sure you are prepared with the things that you need. If you are working out at home, pick up any equipment you need for your workouts. If you plan to do yoga after work, make sure you have a yoga mat, towels, and other essentials like an eye pillow in your bag. Cycling to and from work each day? Pack waterproof gear so that you will be ready no matter the weather. Also, pack some healthy snacks for your gym bag to replenish your energy after your workout.

Related article: How Good Nutrition Supports Athletic Performance

#5 Up the Stakes

Another way to ensure that you keep up with your workout routine is to put some money behind it. You can sign up for a subscription to a workout subscription app, like Pelaton or Apple Fitness Plus. This makes it more likely that you will make working out a part of your everyday life.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

You Are On a Roll, What Now?

Sticking to a workout routine is really about playing the long game. At first, you’ll be motivated and excited. However, it won’t always be this way. It will take months — maybe even years of hard work to make it a part of your life. There will be times when you feel ​​unmotivated, discouraged, or overwhelmed. Here’s how to deal with these feelings.

#1 Cut Yourself Some Slack

There will be days that you won’t be able to get your workout in, even with the best planning. That’s completely fine. Some days, you just won’t be feeling good. Even the most motivated people have days that they don’t want to work out. Avoid reading too much into it. Simply move past it, and get back to your workouts as soon as possible.

#2 Get Back on Track

Everyone falls off track sometimes when it comes to working out. This can happen for various reasons, from schedule conflicts to injuries. During COVID-19, many people who regularly worked out stopped. According to research, physical activity levels dropped significantly after the pandemic struck. Even people who exercised every single day stopped working out.

Keeping up with your daily workouts is a habit. Once you get out of the habit of working out, it’s easy to fall into a rut. The key is to get back into the habit of exercising again as soon as you realize that you have become off track. Don’t wait until the perfect time. Just start.

#3 Pay Attention

When you notice that you are working out more than usual, take a moment to pay attention and think about why. Try to figure out what’s behind your motivation. For instance, perhaps you get more workouts in when you sleep better. Or, perhaps you work out more often when you attend a specific fitness class. Search for your motivation and take actions that support it.

Final Thoughts

The motivation to work out comes from making fitness a daily part of your life. You can’t think of it as punishment. You have to decide to make movement an essential part of your routine. Do that and staying fit will be easy.

Better performance starts with better meals. The equation seems simple enough. It makes sense that nourishing our bodies with healthy, nutritious ingredients will provide the energy needed to fuel muscle activity and physical propulsion. However, life has a way of making us forget just how important the right stuff is. As a result, many people reach for what’s fast instead of what’s optimal. Unfortunately, this can backfire pretty quickly if you’re living an athletic lifestyle. Here’s how poor sports nutrition can affect athletes:

  • Poor performance
  • Longer recovery times
  • Immune suppression
  • Weight gain
  • Malnourishment
  • Hormonal imbalances caused by nutritional deficiencies

Being reminded of how good nutrition supports athletic performance becomes very important once you consider what’s at stake. A good diet isn’t just going to set you up for success on the track or field today. It will insulate your body against injury and disease for the rest of your life. Take a look at what science reveals about plating up for life on the fast track.

Performance Nutrition: Here’s What’s Essential When You’re Eating for Athletic Performance

Eating properly for sports nutrition really comes down to balance. What should your plate look like when you’re eating for power? Here’s a look at the essentials that athletes need to have in their diets based on a thorough analysis of sports nutrition for young athletes published in 2013:

  • Macronutrients: Athletes can enjoy strength and endurance using carbohydrates, protein, and fats that fuel physical activity. Yes, they’re all necessary when you’re going hard. Of course, eating the right proportions is everything.

Related Article: Beyond the Basics: Why Tracking Your Macros Matters

  • Carbohydrates: While some people malign carbohydrates because they assume any carbohydrate is a simple carbohydrate, the truth is that complex carbohydrates from whole, healthy sources are vital for performance. Some healthy sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fresh fruits, milk products, vegetables, and yogurt.
  • Protein: This is a big one. While everyone needs protein, athletes need it direly because protein helps to build and repair muscle. There’s also a “vanity” aspect to eating enough protein because protein helps to keep hair, skin, and nails healthy and glowing. Some excellent sources of tasty, nourishing protein for athletes include fish, eggs, poultry, nuts, beats, and dairy.
  • Fats: Fat is critical for helping athletes to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Consuming healthy fats is essential for organ function, insulation, and energy. Adding healthy fat sources to a meal also helps to prolong satiation. This is so important when you’re crafting a tailored diet because feeling full and satisfied for a longer period allows you to keep going without giving in to cravings caused by starvation cues from a lack of fat in your diet. Some ideal sources of fat for an athlete’s diet include lean red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and dairy products.

Deciding on portions is all about balance. When athletes attempt diets that are too restrictive, they rob their bodies of the essential nutrients and fuel needed to perform at their best levels. They also risk turning to foods that aren’t on the plan out of sheer desperation because they are depleted. Of course, the opposite is also true. There is actually such a thing as “too much of a good thing” when eating an athlete-friendly diet.

A good example of this is protein intake. While protein is pushed as the perfect fuel for athletes, the truth is that it’s very easy to eat too much protein. According to experts, most Americans are already eating twice as much protein as they need for proper muscle development. There isn’t as much of a concern about overloading on protein if you’re an active person. However, it’s still important to know about the dangers associated with extreme protein diets. Consuming more protein than you need can lead to:

  • Storing increased excess protein as increased body fat.
  • Greater risk for dehydration caused by fluid loss.
  • Calcium depletion.
  • Kidney issues stemming from burdened kidneys.

There’s also a risk that you’re trying to replace carbohydrates with protein. The truth is that carbohydrates are necessary for athletes. The simple solution is to strive for a healthy balance instead of leaning on one food group as a way to try to cut out another food group. What does balance look like when you’re trying to get enough protein while also peppering in some good carbohydrates? Something like a hearty burrito bowl with Spanish rice, cherry tomatoes, shredded cucumbers, carrots, hummus, and tzatziki sauce on the side checks all the boxes. The same goes for chicken fajitas with sautéed chicken thigh seasoned with a blend of spices, bell peppers, and red onions with steamed rice on the side.

Hydration: The True Powerhouse of an Athlete’s Diet

Photo by Ivan Samkov

Healthy meals get results. However, even the most perfect meal plan in the world will go sideways if it’s not followed up by a great hydration strategy. Water is so crucial for athletes. In addition to keeping your body hydrated, water keeps the body at the right temperature. It’s very easy for athletes to lose water with just one workout. Just one grueling workout session can cause your body to lose several liters of sweat in just an hour!

How do you know if you’re fully hydrated? The simplest answer is that you’re producing clear urine. If you’re seeing anything else, it’s time to increase your water intake. Here are some tips for sticking to the all-important task of staying hydrated as an athletic person:

  • Drink fluids with every meal! While water is best, any fluid will provide you with some hydration.
  • The general hydration rule to have in your mind is that you want to drink two cups of water roughly two hours before a workout. Never work out without enough water in your body!
  • It’s OK to sip while you work out! Drink up to a cup every 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re going hard past an hour, consider switching from water to an energy drink to keep your electrolyte levels at a safe place.
  • Remember that drinking isn’t just an activity for when you’re thirsty. In fact, you’re probably already dipping into dehydration territory if you’re feeling the physical sensation of thirst.

Water is always the preferred option for hydration. However, it’s important to remember that enjoying hydrating treats can be a great way to introduce extra hydration into your life. Something like fresh-pressed juice is a tasty way to get hydrated. A healthy smoothie that provides refreshing hydration with the added benefit of plant-based protein and natural carbohydrates can fulfill some of your liquid requirements while also providing pure fuel.

Getting Smart About Meal Prep When You’re an Athlete

If you’re already busy, trying to squeeze in an athletic lifestyle can push you to the brink with managing your time. This is where many aspiring athletics types run into trouble. They get sick, hurt, or simply give up out of exhaustion because they don’t eat the right foods to fuel what they are trying to accomplish. Planning is everything.

When it comes to performance nutrition, timing is key. You need to have meals readily available during the strategic points during the day when you should be fueling up both as a form of repair and preparation. Generally, you should be eating about three hours before a big workout session or event to allow for good digestion. Rushing to eat whatever you can before a session sets you up for gastrointestinal distress during your activity.

While fat is vital for fueling up, it’s also important to know that high-fat meals should generally be avoided just before exercise because they can delay gastric emptying. That leads to you being slow, sluggish, and moody. Going on a long run in the morning? Breakfast is essential once you’re done. Having avocado toast or egg white frittata waiting for you after the finish line is the best way to ensure that you have the energy and stability to tackle the workday that comes after the workout.

Timing your meals is important. However, planning ahead to know exactly what you’ll be eating is even more important. It’s very hard to have reliable output when you don’t have reliable intake. That’s why serious athletes schedule a whole week of meals ahead of time. This lets you map out nutrient levels to ensure you’re getting the fuel you need based on your training days. Yes, meal prep is also essential for helping you steer clear of temptations that will make your workouts more challenging. We are all only human and thus susceptible to eating unhealthy foods when in a hurry or stressed. That’s why it’s crucial to have a good meal plan in place to ensure that indulging in goodies is a choice instead of a trap.

Have you noticed that as you get older, you can no longer eat the same way that you did when you were younger? Does it seem that you gain weight just by “looking at a muffin?” This is because your metabolism slows down with age. When your metabolism slows down, this makes it so much easier to gain weight and more difficult to lose weight. So, when does your metabolism slow down and why?

The truth is that there is so much the medical community is learning about human metabolism all the time. Scientists do know that metabolism and aging are closely related. Let’s take a deeper look at how metabolism changes with age.

What Is the Metabolism?

Everyone has a metabolism. Your metabolism is the process used by your body to convert what you eat and drink into energy. Your body is constantly converting the things that you eat and drink into usable energy with the help of oxygen. The energy that is created is used for every single process and system within your body. Energy from food and drinks is used for breathing, balancing hormone levels, circulating blood, repairing cells and tissue and growing new cells. Every person has a base metabolic rate that is needed to maintain essential bodily functions. We generally consider this to be your “metabolism.”

What Influences Metabolism?

We’re still learning a lot about what makes each person’s metabolism unique. In some cases, there may be no clear answer regarding why two people with similar genetic profiles may have wildly different metabolisms. However, there are some general factors that seem to contribute to metabolism. They include:

  • Body size and composition. People with larger builds seem to burn more calories both at rest and during activity. People who are more muscular also tend to burn more calories by default.
  • Gender. Generally, men tend to have less body fat when compared to women. They also tend to have more muscle than women. As a result, men generally burn more calories than women.
  • Age. Yes, metabolism appears to slow down with age. This is likely linked with a decrease in muscle mass that often occurs with age.

While a person’s default metabolic rate plays a big role in how many calories are burned daily, it’s not the sole determiner of how your body manages calories. Something called thermogenesis also plays a role in this. Thermogenesis refers to the process of how food is digested, absorbed, transported through the body and stored. Roughly 10% of all calories consumed from protein and carbohydrates are used by the body to digest and absorb nutrients.

Another significant factor in how the body manages calories is physical activity. The amount of physical activity completed daily dramatically impacts the number of calories burned by the body daily. While some bodily processes automatically burn calories, activities like running, walking, swimming and playing sports can burn hundreds of extra calories per hour above a person’s baseline rate for burning calories.

When Does Your Metabolism Slow Down?

Younger athlete and older athlete jogging together.

“Putting on weight” is a common complaint as people reach their 30s and 40s. Many people feel a “shift” in the way their bodies handle foods that they could eat without problems just a few years earlier. Yes, the evidence does show that metabolism may shift with age. Therefore, eating habits may require adjustment as we age.

According to a study published in August of 2021, metabolism peaks fairly early in life. We are then on a constant trajectory of keeping up with a shifting metabolism. The study also found that our metabolisms operate at “super speed” from the time we are born until the end of our teen years. However, we may not notice that our metabolisms are slowing down by about 3 percent annually until we reach age 20. At age 20, there is generally a significant “leveling off” that occurs as the metabolism reaches a new normal. The metabolism also slowly trickles down from middle age into a person’s “golden years.” A person in their 90s requires 26% fewer calories than a person in middle age.

Metabolism and Weight Gain

The most straightforward formula for gaining weight is taking in more calories than the body needs to function based on your activity levels. However, maintaining a stable weight can be complicated by a number of different factors, including your metabolism. It’s believed that the following mix of factors influences weight:

  • Genetic makeup.
  • Hormonal balance.
  • Diet composition.
  • Sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Underlying illnesses.
  • Environmental factors.
  • Decreased metabolism.

While the “surest” way to maintain a healthy weight is to eat the right amounts of calories and fat for your body type and lifestyle, choosing the right types of foods is also essential. The truth is that not all food is created equal. It’s important to eat whole, nutrient-filled foods that assist with things like promoting better sleep, keeping blood sugar stable, enabling the body to produce the right amounts of hormones and allowing you to stay full and satisfied for more extended periods. 

How Can You Prevent Your Metabolism From Slowing Down?

Focus on Muscle Mass

Dumbells

Muscle mass plays a very important role in metabolism as we age. Muscle simply burns more calories than fat when we are in a resting state. That is because muscle burns more calories than fat. So, even while you sleep, your body will burn more calories. This means that having a lifestyle consisting of muscle-building foods combined with muscle-building workouts is a “metabolism hack” at any age. Being a muscle-minded person becomes non-negotiable as we age if we want to enjoy strength, energy and a healthy weight.

Age-related loss of muscle mass is a well-documented fact. People begin to lose between 3% and 5% of muscle each decade after turning 30. Researchers call the natural decline in muscle mass that occurs with age sarcopenia.

Researchers aren’t completely clear on why muscle declines so aggressively with age. One strong theory is that the natural decline of testosterone contributes to muscle loss. That’s because testosterone is considered a “muscle builder” that stimulates protein synthesis for muscle formation.

Get the Right Amount of Protein to Support Muscle Growth

While eating a muscle-minded diet is essential at any age, it becomes increasingly important as we age. Getting adequate protein levels in our diets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce muscle loss. Resistance-training exercises are also very beneficial for helping to promote healthy muscle mass as we age. Of course, having adequate protein levels in your diet when doing strength training is essential for being able to give your body the fuel it needs to keep up with workouts without becoming depleted.

Protein is pure muscle food. When we consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids used by the body to put on muscle. However, a common phenomenon known as anabolic resistance can throw a wrench in your plans even if you are eating what would be considered a balanced diet. Anabolic resistance reduces the body’s ability to break down and synthesize the protein we consume. The solution is to eat more high-quality protein. Some tips for optimizing muscle protein synthesis:

  • Divide protein equally between meals throughout the day.
  • Use protein from animal sources as the easiest way to get proper ratios of amino acids.
  • Avoid processed meats and foods that are full of additives and saturated fats.

It’s also important to be consistent with protein levels daily. Relying on sugary snacks that are easy to grab often leaves us going hours without a good protein source during the day. A consistent meal plan ensures that you’re getting in the healthy, whole protein sources needed to optimize protein use without significant gaps during the week.

Athlete using a dumbbell for strength training.

Do Strength Training

Along with diet, strength training is one of the most important ways to maintain muscle mass as we age. In addition to helping you burn calories more efficiently, strength training can help keep your bones strong as you age. If you have not been active recently, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before beginning any strength training program for guidance on what activities you can do.

Minding Your Metabolism: Everyone Has the Power to Fuel Their Bodies the Right Way

It can feel like metabolism is simply all about the luck of the draw. However, nobody can escape the realities of the declining metabolisms and reduced muscle mass that come with age. The good news is that orienting our diets to work with the natural flow of the human metabolism is an easy way to control weight while nourishing the body to fight back against muscle loss.

At the bare minimum, make sure you’re getting at least .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, the recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Remember that quality, lean protein sources are best! It’s also wise to break up protein evenly throughout the day to ensure that your body isn’t “starved” for protein at any point. This could look like starting your day with a whole-egg scramble bowl before moving on to a lunch consisting of a smoked paprika chicken breast salad, a dinner consisting of chimichurri steak and a snack consisting of organic strawberry chia pudding.

Important Points

  • For years, researchers have known that exercise helps prevent or reduce the severity of chronic conditions like heart disease.
  • Now, recent research shows that it is also good for the brain. Exercise may help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • There are many theories as to why exercise is beneficial in this regard. However, one theory has to do with iron.
  • Iron accumulation in the brain is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Exercise helps the brain better metabolize iron, which may explain its beneficial role in preventing dementia.

Scientists have known for a long time that physical exercise offers a range of health benefits. It reduces the risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

In recent years, researchers are revealing that exercise is good for the brain, too. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of issues like depression and anxiety.

Now, there is strong evidence that people can reduce their risk of later developing dementia by making key lifestyle changes, including exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a disease that affects more than 55 million people worldwide. In most cases, it is progressive and leads to a deterioration in cognitive function. This deterioration goes beyond normal aging and affects memory, comprehension, and analytical skills.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is one of the most common causes of death among adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It currently ranks 6th as the leading cause of death among all adults. It is projected that the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease will continue to increase. According to the latest estimates, as many as 100 million more people will be diagnosed by 2050.

People tend to believe that Alzheimer’s Disease occurs later in life, but that is not necessarily true. Although the risk increases with age, symptoms can develop as early as when a person is in their 40s.

What We Know: Physical Activity Can Help Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Disease

Regularly exercising appears to be one of the best lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Just like our muscles can become more fit with exercise, so can our brain.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, regular exercise can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Over one-third of dementia cases are preventable through lifestyle changes, including physical exercise.

Why is that? Let’s take a look at what science says. 

What Does the Research Say?

A recent study found that exercise may prevent Alzheimer’s by helping the brain better metabolize iron. The study found that Alzheimer’s, and aging in general, are both associated with changes in the way the brain metabolizes iron. Researchers theorize that the accumulation of iron in the brain contributes to the formation of plaques found in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. These plaques contain a toxic protein called beta-amyloid, which is found in autopsies of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

How does exercise help the brain better metabolize iron? Researchers know that regular exercise improves iron metabolism and prevents iron buildup in the brain, but they are uncertain why this is the case.

Scientists don’t fully understand how physical activity lowers dementia and Alzheimer’s risk. There are probably a combination of factors that contribute. Experts suggest that aerobic exercise can help reduce the risk of dementia by improving vascular health. This likely lessens the damage of Alzheimer’s effect on the brain, encouraging neuron growth and survival.

Medical research demonstrates that dementia starts affecting the brain many years before symptoms show up. Experts suggest that making lifestyle changes and healthy choices in your 40s may make a big difference in your dementia risk down the road.

What Kind of Exercise Should I Do?

Cardio 

Aerobic exercise, in particular, may be especially beneficial for guarding against dementia. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease compared the cognitive function of two groups of sedentary adults aged 55 and older with dementia symptoms. The goal of the research was to find out if aerobic exercise would reduce brain atrophy and plaque buildup, which are both early markers of Alzheimer’s.

The control group performed aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at least four times a week, while the other group only did flexibility exercises. Although both groups experienced some cognitive benefits, the group that performed aerobic exercise lost less volume in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is a region that tends to deteriorate as dementia worsens.

What Kind Of Cardio Should I Do To Get Brain Benefits?

While you should always talk to your doctor about how much and what kind of cardio exercise is right for you, we recommend aiming for 30-minutes of aerobic exercise at least four days per week. Try:

  • Aerobic Dance or Zumba Dancing is especially great for the brain as it requires you to learn complex choreography, which keeps the brain working. Dancing is also a social activity, and studies have found that social connection has been linked with a lowered risk of developing dementia.
  • Swimming – Swimming incorporates both cardio and strength. This is a great way to get both types of exercise in at once. It’s perfect if you struggle to find the time in your schedule to commit to both cardio and strength training.
  • Gardening – When people think of exercise, they often forget about gardening. But, this activity is a great way to get your cardio in. It counts as moderate to high-intensity exercise. Not only can it help guard against dementia, but spending time outdoors gardening can be a great way to de-stress after a particularly stressful day at work.
  • Walking – Walking is great for anyone. It suits all fitness levels and abilities. You don’t need any special equipment, and it can be done anywhere. Walking outdoors also provides unique benefits, including improved mood. Walking outdoors has been shown to reduce the risk of depression compared to walking indoors. So, it can be an excellent exercise for protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and reducing symptoms of depression.

Strength Training

Many strength training exercises, like boxing, can benefit brain health. Scientists say that just six months of strength training can help protect brain areas vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease long term. They say that the beneficial results of regular strength training on the brain can last up to one year later.

What Kind Of Strength Training Should I Do to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • Weight lifting – Weight training is especially beneficial when it comes to dementia. Animal studies have found that weight training helps promote the creation of new neurons in the brain’s memory centers.
  • Boxing – This exercise is helpful because it incorporates both strength and cardiovascular exercise.
  • Dancing – Like boxing, dancing is great because it enhances strength, cardio fitness, and flexibility.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)-  The fitness giant CrossFit conducted a case study on the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) combined with memory training and a ketogenic diet in treating mild dementia. They found that HIIT, together with memory training and a keto diet, had a beneficial impact on cognitive function and overall metabolic health.

Like exercise, eating healthy also reduces the risk of dementia. Research has shown that nutrition and dementia are related. A diet high in vegetables, fruits, and seafood can reduce the risk of dementia. A healthy diet plus exercise is the path to better health. These things can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, two factors related to heart issues, which can cause dementia. Therefore, a lifestyle that incorporates a healthy diet plus exercise is best.

How Often Should I Exercise?

All that it takes is just one workout to make our brain’s memory more fit. Of course, to get the most benefit, you should exercise regularly. Studies have shown that the cumulative effects of exercise can lead to long-term improvements in how our brains work and remember information. Therefore, coming up with a long-term exercise routine is best to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Final Thoughts

Although exercise or a healthy diet alone will not prevent Alzheimer’s disease, there are lifestyle factors that you can make to reduce the risk. The research on exercise and dementia shows that physical activity lowers the risk of developing dementia. It also helps improve dementia symptoms in people who have mild cognitive impairment. It is likely a combination of factors, including a healthy diet and regular physical activity, that is the most beneficial for dementia prevention.

Stop Worrying About BMI

Like many, you’ve probably strolled into the doctor’s office for a simple checkup and had a few measurements taken. One of these measurements may have been your Body Mass Index or BMI. This is a measurement that records your height and weight, then categorizes your weight status as either underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese.

The problem with BMI is that it’s very antiquated. This measurement has been used since the 1800’s and doesn’t take very much into account, yet it’s still used today. The amount and location of body fat isn’t even taken into consideration with BMI, which means that an individual with a higher weight, yet lower body fat, may still be categorized as overweight or obese. A BMI this high on an athletic individual is obviously misleading.

So, why is BMI still a thing? Despite there being other, more accurate options for measuring your weight status or health, why is it still used today? That’s exactly what you’re going to be learning more about in this post. You’ll also walk away with some other fantastic options that can be used for checking your health!

A Brief History of BMI

Before dropping into some of the ways that BMI misses the ball, let’s talk about its origins.

The BMI measurement was created in the 1830’s by a mathematician named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. What’s interesting about the creation of BMI is that it wasn’t even created by a physician, yet it’s used regularly in a physician’s protocol. The aim of the number was to determine whether a person is of a healthy weight by dividing their weight by their height squared. This number was then used as a statistic for a general population that would aid the government in allocating resources. What it didn’t do is pinpoint exact measures of health or weight status.

The scale of your BMI runs in ranges and places you into categories, which are still used today. You can see these below:

Below 18.5Underweight
18.5-14.9Healthy
25.0-29.9Overweight
30.0 and aboveObese

Why BMI Misses the Mark

Now, is BMI accurate? In reality, using BMI as a measurement of health or weight status can be misleading. When you have an individual with higher amounts of muscle mass, their BMI may be inaccurate. Due to extra muscle contributing to their overall weight, they may be classified as overweight, even though they’re in great shape with a low percentage of body fat. This is due to the fact that BMI doesn’t take actual body fat percentage (or muscle mass) into account. These numbers are huge variables when it comes to determining the health of someone and they’re totally left out in this form of measurement.

Athlete working out with dumbells

The point of BMI is to keep up with weight and the rate of obesity, but can this really be used as a true indicator if it’s mislabeling healthy individuals as obese? In turn, it becomes an indirect measurement of obesity, and this can be seen in a study measuring trained and untrained individuals. The trained group, even though in better shape, had more individuals categorized as overweight than the untrained group. Therefore, some categorizations of people having their BMI measured are in fact wrong.

Even for an individual who does contain a higher percentage of body fat, BMI can still be slightly misleading. BMI doesn’t take the location of body fat into consideration. It’s no secret that an abundance of fat tissue in the midsection is bad for your health, but what if you carry it evenly throughout the body? When body fat is distributed throughout in an even manner, it’s detriment to your health may be reduced (but not eliminated). If you’re looking at BMI as a marker for health, it could be misleading due to the information it isn’t considering.

BMI may categorize you as overweight, or even obese, in cases where you may actually be in great shape. While it may be an accurate measurement for some scenarios, it doesn’t take everything into account, which limits the credibility of it.

So, why is it still used today?

BMI is a fast way of coming up with a supposed range of health in regard to weight. The number can be found out quickly and it’s been used for so long that it’s just stuck. It’s also still used because there is a large proportion of the population that isn’t athletic. Due to this, the ranges given can have some indication of actual weight status.

This, however, doesn’t mean that it’s an accurate measurement and there are much more effective ways of measuring your body composition, weight loss, and overall health.

Other Ways to Measure Health

DEXA Scans

DEXA scans are imaging tests that measure your bone density. While these are used to look for things like osteoporosis, they also show your body composition. This means that you get to see your other tissues like body fat and muscle mass. Using this information, you can differentiate what your weight is actually comprised of. Whereas with BMI an athletic person could be classified as overweight, a DEXA scan might show quite the opposite.

The only downside to the DEXA scans is that they can be slightly pricey. However, if this isn’t a concern for you, it’s a fantastic way to get an accurate read on your body.

Calipers

Body fat calipers being used to measure a women's body fat.

Body fat calipers are tools used for physically measuring the amount of fat present on your body. The process can range from just a few measurements to a full-on exam. This process requires assistance to reach all the locations, and they measurements are often taken from places such as your arms, legs, and stomach. These measurements are put into an equation that eventually produce your body fat percentage. When compare this method to BMI, it may offer you a much better idea of proportion of your weight is actually fat versus lean tissue.

The more places you have tested, the more accurate this outcome can be. There is, however, the chance of a user error in this test so this should be taken into consideration as well!

How Your Clothes Fit

While not an actual test, it can be extremely helpful. As you’re trying to see if things are changing for your body, you can always keep tabs on how your clothes fit. Let’s say the scale hasn’t changed for you, but you’ve been hitting the gym and eating better. However, you have noticed that you had to go down a belt loop for your pants to stay up! This is a good sign and shows that you’ve lost inches. Losing inches is often attributed to a loss in body fat that may accompany a gain in muscle mass. These changes may not show up with a BMI measurement, when in reality a lot is changing.

While not numerical data to use, it’s a great way of self-measuring some changes to your body.

Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

If you really just want to keep up with your health markers, this is where you should be checking. While BMI may give you some inclination of your weight status, these are measurements that can truly make a difference for your actual health. In many cases, some individuals may have a high BMI but be in fair health when looking at blood pressure and cholesterol. This isn’t always the case, but it can be a reality.

You’ll more than likely have these checked at the same time as your BMI, but maybe keep an eye on these instead of worrying about the outdated BMI you just received.  

How You FEEL!

Happy woman after working out.

At the end of the day, no matter what that BMI says, how do you feel? Do you have energy? Can you do the things you enjoy doing? Are you happy? These are great measurements of health that often don’t get the recognition they deserve. We may look at an odd BMI measurement and completely forget that we were able to run a mile today. If you’re on a health journey, this is also a great place to focus your attention. Are you feeling better as you make these changes? While not a statistical date point, it carries a ton of value when actually tracking your wellness.

Conclusion

There are a ton of different ways in which you can measure your weight, body fat, muscle mass, and health. However, you still get the same old BMI score at the doctors office. It’s an outdated measurement that is still in play today, but don’t let it get you down. That number doesn’t carry as much value as you would assume it does. There is a lot that goes unrecognized in that measurement and this can make it inaccurate. BMI is outdated and isn’t something to fret over. You can always try something like a DEXA scan or body fat test that will provide you with an accurate measurement. In addition, you can try things that aren’t number based and truly go off how you feel!

Use what is relevant to you and your situations and keep moving forward!

Does life feel like a stress factory? It turns out that the way to slow down stress is to rev up your gears. While it may seem counterproductive, doing more is the best stress-management technique if that “more” involves your workout. Yes, regular exercise is the stress-busting secret that everyone needs to remember when they feel tense, anxious and overwhelmed. Do you need a stress escape plan? Take a look at the secret to managing stress with exercise.

Your Brain Supplies You With Your Own Stress-Management Coaches: Meet the Endorphins

Most of us know how good that post-workout glow feels. It can feel like we’ve discovered the secret switch for suddenly feeling more energized, confident and motivated. However, we can just as easily forget how good working out feels once our schedules fill up with work commitments, home-life commitments and distractions. Once you know the science behind why working out leaves you feeling like you’re on top of the world, it’s pretty hard to skip a workout.

It’s all thanks to endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. You’ve definitely already met endorphins if you’ve ever worked out hard, went for a run or simply danced around! Endorphins are natural analgesics that help to diminish pain. Your body releases them during workouts because it knows that you’re “feeling the burn.”

Because endorphins act on the brain’s opioid receptors, they create the feeling of a natural “high” that can reduce pain, increase pleasure and leave you with a general sense of increased well-being. Researchers have known about the link between exercise and the stress-reducing benefits of endorphin release for decades. However, the stressful pace of modern life has more and more researchers looking at the benefits of exercise for stress relief. If you really want to ramp up the feel-good, stress-busting hormones, you may need to ramp up your workouts. While any form of exercise can positively affect mood, people going hard against stress are going hard in the gym. Next, take a look at the emerging research on moderate versus heavy exercise for stress relief.

How Heavy Exercise Can Help With Stress Reduction

First, it’s helpful to know the baseline recommendation for using exercise and physical activity for wellness. The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that adults should strive to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity workouts, the recommended time drops down to 75 minutes weekly. Keep in mind that this is the recommendation simply for improving and maintaining physical health. People seeking to use workouts to improve mental health may want to tweak this suggestion a bit to create more of a “therapeutic” schedule. In fact, research supports this.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at opioid release after high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to gauge the positive effects of physical exercise on mood and stress levels. They found that HIIT leads to a strong endorphin release in the brain that likely alleviates both physical and emotional stress. Here’s a closer look at the data roundup:

  • HIIT substantially increased the release of endorphins and opioid peptides in areas of the brain that control pain and emotion.
  • HIIT’s ability to reduce “negative feelings” actually boosted endorphin release. Consider this confirmation that the no-pain-no-gain theory might be more valid than we thought!
  • Researchers were left to conclude that both negative and positive feelings created by physical exercise impact the opioid system.

The most exciting part of this study comes next. The impact of HIIT on the brain’s opioid system was compared to regular aerobic exercise. Researchers concluded that a traditional one-hour session of aerobic exercise did not produce the same endorphin release as HIIT. Of course, that’s not to say that “normal” aerobic exercise isn’t helpful for stress relief. While traditional exercise did produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria associated with endorphin release, the intensity of the results could not touch what study participants who endured HIIT experienced.

Tweaking Exercise Intensity Levels for Stronger Stress Relief

Photo of athlete performing rope climbs in the gym.

Let’s back up to cover precisely what the correlation between high-intensity workouts and endorphin release means for people trying to learn how to use exercise for stress relief. First, the thought that some exercise is better than no exercise still applies. Someone who cannot participate in high-intensity aerobics for any reason should not assume that they should skip working out because it doesn’t offer any benefits. Any mildly intense physical activity should get you a decent-sized endorphin release that can take the edge off. If you’re looking for intense stress relief, the answer is intense physical activity.

Knowing that high-intensity workouts lead to better stress relief is half the battle. The irony of using intense workouts for stress relief is that the endorphin rush that you’re trying to invoke in your opioid receptors can only be created by creating unpleasant feelings. That’s because your body releases endorphins in response to pain and physical stress during workouts. To stay on track with using exercise for meaningful stress relief, you have to get in a mindset of getting rid of the bad feelings caused by stress by taking on even more bad feelings during a grueling workout before reaching the point where the pain turns to pleasure.

Getting the motivation for this can be challenging for anyone. Negative feelings associated with intense exercise discourage exercise in a considerable percentage of the general population. This is where consistency and planning become so important. You need to build a mindset that allows you to take on the physical and emotional demands of putting in a workout.

How To Stay Motivated

Here are some tips for staying motivated to get your workouts in — even if you know they might make you wince:

Set of workout clothes ready to go.
Keep your workout clothes ready to go!
  • Get your workout in early. If your schedule allows, make your workout the first thing you do every morning. Scheduling your workout for later in the day gives you most of the day to try to talk yourself out of doing it. What’s more, unexpected things can pop up during your day to rob you of the time you’ve set aside for your workout. Exercising first thing also gives you the confidence boost and optimism that come with accomplishing something very hard before more people have even rolled down the top sheet! If you’re having a hard time getting started in the morning, you can gradually adjust your workout time to be earlier and earlier every day until you can get there.
  • Make sure there’s a “treat” waiting. Don’t put yourself in the position to be desperate for anything you can get your hands on after you finish an intense workout. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a treat, giving yourself a snack or meal to look forward to when your workout is complete can be a big motivator. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the food or beverage you select will replenish and restore you without undoing any of your hard work. If you’re planning morning workouts, consider having something like healthy banana pancakes or a keto egg scramble waiting for you in the fridge!
  • Keep your workout clothes ready. The goal is to make sure you never have excuses. Following each workout, prepare your workout clothes and gear for the next workout! This will ensure that they are always waiting for you.
  • Discover exercises you enjoy. HIIT workouts come in many forms! You don’t have to commit to just one option. In fact, many HIIT workout programs out there combine traditional cardio with yoga, boxing, ballet and more!
  • Bring a friend along. If you’re desperate to relieve stress, there’s a good chance that the people you live or work with also need some stress-busting tools. Why not get a partner or group? Studies show that having a workout partner increases the amount of time spent working out!
  • Just remember that even a small amount of exercise helps. Exercise in almost any form or intensity level can be a stress reliever. So, if you are out of shape, start by gradually building up your fitness level. You’ll still get the stress relieving benefits of exercise while slowly becoming healthier.

The research is becoming more apparent on one thing. Pain may be the only way to gain peace of mind when it comes to your workout. If you’ve fallen into a sedentary way of being, the argument for getting out there to feel the burn has never been stronger. If you’re already exercising without getting the stress-relieving benefits that you want, the answer may be to ramp things up.

Let the Stress Reduction Begin!

If you’re feeling motivated to reduce stress using high-intensity workouts, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. It’s essential to get proper nutrition through complete, healthy meals when doing intense workouts because your body needs the right fuel to perform—as always, using a meal prep service is an excellent way for busy health-minded people to stay on top of things without feeling vulnerable to hunger, cravings and low energy.

Many of us have been there before— trying out another fad diet, feeling restricted and unsatisfied, and finally giving up and feeling guilty, only to start the cycle over again. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of health. We need to fuel our bodies to function our best, but dieting doesn’t always leave us feeling that way. Intuitive eating teaches us to let go of restrictions and rules and listen to what our bodies and minds need. It helps us build a healthy and positive relationship with food and our bodies. Gentle nutrition is the final step in intuitive eating. It focuses on taking care of our bodies and minds and feeling satisfied while eating a balanced diet that gives us all the nutrition we need.

Nutrition should be a lifelong commitment, not a fad. To build these lifestyle changes, they need to be not only healthy but also sustainable. The fact is food is meant to be enjoyed and is not just there for survival. We need a balance. So, how can we be sure we’re supplying our bodies  proper nutrients in adequate amounts without counting, measuring, or obsessing? Cue gentle nutrition. Here are some ways to better understand gentle nutrition and how to get started.

Understand Your Food

Before we can eat intuitively and make healthy dietary choices without needing to read labels, we need to have at least a basic understanding of our food choices. For example, whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, while white bread is a simple carbohydrate that is not as rich in fiber and micronutrients. Take note of some healthy sources of fats and good protein sources, understand antioxidants, and so on. Learn about fiber and probiotics. You don’t need to get into the details, but you should have a general idea of what different categories of foods have to offer. Once you understand that, it’s easier to eat a balanced diet without paying attention to the nutrition label. Try our Balanced Meal Plan to make meals easier for you. We do the macro calculations, and you sit back and enjoy your food!

Take Note of How Foods Make You Feel

Friends enjoying a run

With intuitive eating, we try to let go of the idea that there are good and bad foods. As soon as you set limits on yourself, labeling foods as “bad” or off-limits, you start to feel restricted and fall into the pattern of dieting. Take notes of how you feel after eating your meals. It helps to write it down— what did you eat, and how did you feel afterward? You can use a food diary. This makes it easy to identify whether certain foods make you feel bad or good afterward. Everybody is different, and that is why no one diet works for everyone. You might have some intolerances or allergies that make you bloated or sick. Some foods might make you feel sluggish and heavy, while others give you energy and make you feel good. Write it all down until you notice patterns. That way, you’re not eliminating or restricting foods because someone told you to, but because you know they don’t make you feel good, and you don’t want them. You may still choose to treat yourself, and that’s fine! The reasons behind your food choices should always be positive and come from a place of self-care. You can still avoid certain foods or choose to eat plant-based, keto, or sugar-free, but your “why” is what makes the difference between dieting and gentle nutrition.

Differentiate Between Being Full and Satisfied

A big part of intuitive eating is tuning into your hunger cues and honoring them. If you’re hungry, eat. However, sometimes we eat a full meal, and while we no longer feel the physical hunger, we still aren’t satisfied. Intuitive eating focuses on both feelings because we don’t eat to simply be full— we also eat for enjoyment.Honor your cravings and eat in a way that leaves you satisfied both physically and mentally. When we don’t honor cravings, feelings of restriction start to pour in, and we don’t want that. If you eat a bowl of veggies but feel unhappy and want some pasta, then go for it! Pay attention to your food, try not to multitask while eating, and truly enjoy the experience of mealtime. This will also tremendously help with understanding and listening to your body and what it needs.

Zoom Out

Stop stressing about each meal and trying to balance out every plate with enough carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Look at the bigger picture. You can reflect on your food choices at the end of the day— did I eat a balanced diet today? Put all the meals together. Maybe your breakfast was primarily carbohydrates, but your dinner had lots of protein and veggies. As long as you feel good, that’s what matters. You may even wish to assess weeks at a time so that it feels less intimidating. Nobody’s perfect and intuitive eating embraces that. The goal of gentle nutrition is to eat a balanced diet overall, which means you don’t need to stress over each thing you eat but rather look at the big picture.

Prepare and Plan

Grocery Shopping

Although intuitive eating focuses on listening to your body, sometimes the easiest way to start with any lifestyle change is to plan and prepare. Have a rough idea of what meals you’d like to eat throughout the week or month, or at least what ingredients you want to have in your kitchen. Not only will this help you stay organized and save you time, but it will also help you plan balanced meals. When you go to the grocery store, try to cover all your bases— fruits, veggies, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. That way, you have everything you need to make your nutritious meals. If you don’t have enough ingredients, eating intuitively while balancing meals can be tricky and intimidating.

Try New Things

The easiest way to eat a balanced diet and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need is to diversify your grocery list. Every week, or however often you go grocery shopping, pick out a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t had in a while (or maybe ever). Not only will this allow you to get creative in the kitchen, but eating a variety of produce helps you get all the different vitamins and minerals that you need. Try to pick a variety of colors when you choose fruits and veggies, as the colors often correlate with different antioxidants and micronutrients. Eating the rainbow will brighten up your plate and is a fun way to ensure you’re getting a broad list of micronutrients. Aim for at least three colors on your plate. Try to incorporate different sources of protein, as well. Instead of having chicken every night, get creative and make a plant-based dinner with tofu or chickpeas. Our Plant-Based Meals can inspire you to try some new foods you may not have had before.

Cook At Home More

Cooking at home

While we don’t want to restrict anything, it’s a known fact that homemade meals are generally healthier than eating out constantly. You shouldn’t be afraid to eat at a restaurant with friends, but you should get to know your kitchen well. When time and your schedule allows, cooking can help build a healthy relationship with food because you can put love, time, and creativity into everything you eat. The why of intuitive eating and gentle nutrition is the most important part— if you’re doing something to care for your body and mental health versus having the mentality of restricting and guilt, then you’re on the right track.

Add to Your Favorite Meals

Instead of restricting, switch your mindset to adding. What can I add to this meal to make it even more nutritious while still tasting delicious? If you don’t like the taste of your new dish, feel free to stick to the original. Remember, it’s all about balance. One chocolate ice cream dessert won’t change anything, but if you can make it with bananas or avocado instead of heavy cream and still love the taste— why not? Get adventurous and find your love for cooking and improvising in the kitchen. Add some green peas to your mac and cheese, blend some spinach into your morning smoothies, or add some nuts and seeds to your muffins for some added omega-3 fats and protein.

Be Easy on Yourself

Enjoying ice cream

Remember that eating intuitively should make you feel good and improve your relationship with food. The principle itself is called “gentle” nutrition. You shouldn’t feel guilty for eating that piece of chocolate cake, eating white bread instead of whole wheat, or not having any protein in your dinner. The point of gentle nutrition is to guide you to a balanced diet and to help you let go of any negative feelings towards food. This is the final step in intuitive eating for a reason— if you’re stuck in a “diet” mentality and haven’t fully fixed any negative relationship with food you may have, focusing on nutrition can be a step backward.


Sources:
https://colleenchristensennutrition.com/getting-started-with-gentle-nutrition/
https://karalydon.com/intuitive-eating/practice-gentle-nutrition-intuitive-eating/
https://nourishrx.com/6-strategies-for-embracing-gentle-nutrition/
https://www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com/blog/how-to-practice-gentle-nutrition-in-intuitive-eating

How do you eat like a champion? From watching the Olympics in Tokyo, many people are feeling inspired by the endurance displayed by the world’s top athletes to begin fueling their own bodies a bit differently. For top-tier athletes, diet is closely tied with peak performance. The truth is that the “average person” doesn’t necessarily need the same caloric intake as athletes who spend hours training each day. For instance, the 12,000 calories that Michael Phelps consumed during training leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing would do more harm than good for nearly everyone else. It’s not uncommon for Olympic athletes to consume double or triple the number of calories recommended for “ordinary” people during peak training periods.

While it’s easy to get caught up on the number of calories top-level athletes take in, the lesson is really found in the types of calories these athletes consume. There are plenty of eating tips that everyday people can borrow from Olympians for peak life performance. Let’s explore what we can learn from how Olympians eat.

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize Starts on the Plate: Modeling Your Diet After Olympians

You may know Laurie Hernandez as an Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. gymnastics teams. Laurie is also a big advocate of sharing tips for healthy eating. After competing in the Olympics for the first time at age 16, Laurie became committed to ensuring that she was fueling her body properly. This commitment to staying fueled both on and off the mat helped the gymnast become the youngest celebrity ever to win a top place on “Dancing with the Stars.” She recently shared a sample menu of her eating habits on a typical day with USADA. Here’s a look:

Keto Egg Scramble
  • Breakfast: Breakfast for Laurie typically includes a protein-rich mix of scrambled eggs, turkey and cheese. Something like a keto egg scramble fits in nicely with this type of plan. If she’s in a rush, she’ll choose some fruit or yogurt on the go. She’s also a fan of sitting down with a warm bowl of oatmeal on slower mornings. The one thing that Laurie has every morning is almond milk. In fact, the athlete swears by using almond milk in her coffee and cereal in place of regular milk.
  • Lunch: The middle meal of the day is usually a sandwich with grilled chicken or turkey. On days when she’s eating lighter because she’s headed to the gym, she’ll opt for a salad that contains fruit, meat and nuts to create a light, quick way to get a balanced meal without feeling overly full.
  • Dinner: For dinner, Laurie peppers in a mix of carbs, protein and vegetables. Her favorite dinnertime proteins are grilled chicken and salmon. Her carbs of choice are quinoa and brown rice.
  • Snacks: Yes, this Olympian does snack! However, don’t picture this top-level athlete shoving her hand into a bag of chips each night just yet. Laurie uses snacks to fill in any gaps her meals may have left to get various nutrient requirements in her diet. That means that her snacks are always intentional and meaningful. A typical snack for Laurie might include nuts, berries and bananas. Interestingly, she prefers fresh, whole foods over things like protein bars because she doesn’t like the uncertainty of the ingredients in prepackaged, mass-produced snacks. Laurie is a fan of homemade granolas that might include honey or chocolate chips for some wholesome sweetness.

The one meal tip that is true every single day for Laurie is that she never skips meals. The athlete recognizes the need to give the body complete, balanced nutrition that rests on her ability to plan ahead for each meal period of the day. While Laurie doesn’t track calories, she is consistent with having appropriate portions of nutrient-rich foods every day.

What Do You Need in Your Diet When Training Like an Athlete?

Let’s start with protein. Olympic athletes live for protein. However, anyone who works out or trains regularly should also prioritize a protein-rich diet. Just how much protein do you need when training? The answer can vary based on how you’re training. According to the USADA, this is how much protein is needed for various types of training:

  • Endurance: 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Strength (Muscle Gain): 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Strength (Muscle Maintenance): 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Weight Restricted: 1.8 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Next, it’s time to focus on fat. It’s recommended that athletes consume 20 percent to 35 percent of their calories from fat. Some sources of healthy fat that are recommended in the official USADA guidelines include dairy products, cooked meats, fish, nuts and avocados.

It’s also recommended that athletes use their diets to promote gut health. To achieve proper gut balance for optimal health and performance, athletes can consume foods rich in probiotics. Getting the right balance of healthy bacteria in the gut via probiotics helps prevent illness and boost the body’s natural immune system. The easiest way to get probiotics in your diet is simply by eating yogurt. However, probiotics are also found abundantly in fermented foods like miso or keifer.

Hydration is also a big part of the Olympic diet. As you may know, 60 percent of body weight is water! When we train vigorously, we lose fluid at a rapid pace through our sweat and breath. It’s essential to replenish the water that is lost throughout a training session to ensure that we don’t decrease blood circulation in a way that leads to poor performance, tiredness and injury. Here’s a look at the hydration protocol outlined by the USADA:

  • Athletes should drink 7 ounces to 12 ounces of cold water before working out.
  • Drinking should not be restricted during workouts. Drinking 4 ounces to 8 ounces of a cold fluid is recommended every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Athletes should not wait to drink until they feel thirsty because dehydration begins before thirst forms.
  • Beverages with caffeine, alcohol and excessive carbs should be avoided.

What If You Want to Eat Like an Olympian Without Training?

You may be simply looking for some diet tips from Olympians even though you don’t necessarily need the hundreds or thousands of extra calories per day that are required when you’re in the midst of intense training. Many of the tips offered by top-level athletes still stand. The big point to walk away with for “ordinary people” looking for Olympic-level nutrition is that balance and consistency are the keys. The one thing that all Olympic athletes have in common is that they are never “surprised” by mealtimes. They know that being caught hungry at the last minute can lead to cravings that throw their eating plans off balance. If you’re wondering how to create a balanced meal plan, the goal is to keep a constant rotation of interesting and tasty vegetables, fruits, healthy grains and lean proteins on hand.

One thing that’s notable about Olympians is that they don’t shy away from snacking! While snacking has a bad reputation in popular culture, athletes view snacks as essential tools for making up for any nutritional gaps in their meals while also providing fuel between meals. When you plan to eat healthy, appetizing snacks, these foods can become “fuel boosters” that contribute to a healthy diet instead of sources of temptation that leave you feeling lethargic due to wonky blood sugar.

The final thing to remember is that it’s not necessary to always eat like you’re in training mode if you’re not an Olympian. Many nutritionists recommend using something called the 80/20 rule when planning your diet:

Following the 80/20 rule, you can “freestyle” your food plans 20 percent of the time as long as you’re sticking to a balanced, disciplined food plan 80 percent of the time.

An easy way to stick to the 80/20 rules is to have all of your meals planned out for Monday through Friday using a meal prep service before allowing yourself to enjoy time out with friends on the weekends. Planning ahead will help you avoid decision fatigue, which can sabotage your Olympic eating goals.

Just remember: Olympians don’t become Olympians without a plan. The easiest way to gear up for better mental and physical performance is to make a solid, no-fuss plan for healthy meals and snacks that allows you to be a champion of life!

Think peak fitness is yours to keep forever? Think again! It’s common for fitness levels to plummet after just a few short weeks of inactivity. No, it’s not your imagination if you swear that you feel and look different after taking a week off from the gym. Your body may have reverted significantly during that brief window. Why is it so easy to become unfit? Blame entropy.

Our bodies need to be in constant motion to maintain fitness levels.  If we “slack off” for any amount of time, our bodies are quick to become “deconditioned.” Even people who have been training for years can see significant decreases in fitness  if they take just a few weeks off. That doesn’t mean that you should never take a day off from training. However, you should be aware of the role that consistency plays in helping you to enjoy prolonged fitness without the need to start from scratch every time life gets busy. The good news is that knowing why our bodies want to get back to a very unfit base can help us build routines that promote sustained fitness. Take a look at everything you ever wanted to know about why it’s so easy to get unfit!

First, Here’s How We Get Fit

Everything that we put our bodies through helps us to adapt, toughen up and become more tolerant. That’s why an exercise that seems complicated one week may be downright breezy the next. Our bodies are working towards higher and higher fitness levels while we’re consistent with exercise. If we’re adding in healthy meals full of complete nutrition for feeding our muscles with lean proteins, leafy greens and healthy grains, we often see even better results because we have the energy to get through our workouts without battling cravings.

How Does Fitness Fall Apart?

Even fitness that feels like it’s peaking at higher levels can go bust. Pursuing a fit life doesn’t leave any room for resting on your laurels because your body needs to stay in motion to keep that fitness momentum. Just ask science.

A person who builds up strength and fitness over a long period of time can experience reduced fitness in just a few weeks of no training. One study examined the effects of de-conditioning on a female master athlete after an injury. In that study, it took just four weeks of de-training for the participant to experience a significant decrease in fitness, as evidenced by a reduction of VO2max scores of 25.7 percent. VO2 max scores represent the maximum volume of oxygen that your body can use during exercise. This score is frequently used to measure cardiovascular fitness in athletes. 

The simple reason is that the body doesn’t have a need to stay fit once the stress of training is lifted. The average person can expect to see their cardiorespiratory fitness return to pre-training levels in just eight weeks. Yes, that means that months or years of hard work will put you right back where you started in terms of the amount of oxygen your body uses during physical activity. We also know that blood, and plasma volumes can dip by as much as 12 percent within four weeks of a person ending their training routine. Those declines are simply due to the reduction in stress being placed on the heart and muscles. When researchers looked at 21 runners who participated in the 2016 Boston Marathon, they found that four weeks of using reduced routines caused cardio fitness levels to drop significantly. However, researchers noted that maintaining a decreased routine helped the runners avoid even larger drops in fitness. Let that be a lesson that something is better than nothing if you’re trying to maintain some level of cardio fitness during a period where things like time restraints or life obstacles are making it difficult to work out at full capacity.

What About Muscle Strength?

According to researchers, athletes will begin to lose muscle strength in just three weeks if they aren’t working out! That means that just a month away from your fitness routine can create a very noticeable difference in muscle strength and appearance. The big deal about losing muscle strength is that muscles are very important for overall health and leanness. Muscles burn more calories than fat, even outside the gym. That’s true even when you’re simply sitting on the couch watching television. As a result, a person with higher muscle mass will typically burn more calories than a person with lower muscle mass throughout the course of an average day. When muscles are allowed to atrophy, this opens the door for sudden weight gain. 

Why Don’t Our Bodies Just Stay Fit?

The human body is smart. It’s not in the business of maintaining all kinds of “expensive” muscle just so that you can look good. In truth, our bodies will default to the easiest baseline when we don’t put them through the wringer in training. If it’s just about preserving calories for survival, the body doesn’t “care” about putting energy into cardiovascular performance or lean muscle. The default is to build fat that doesn’t burn off as many calories as lean muscle. This is why keeping muscle on takes so much work. Of course, the catch to this is that it becomes much easier to stay inactive once we are inactive. When we decrease in fitness, we have less energy. All it takes is an excuse like being too busy, not wanting to drive to the gym or saying that we’ll go tomorrow to get even deeper into the cycle of reverse fitness.

How to Maintain Fitness

The best way to stay fit is to never fall off the fitness wagon. Once you understand how easily your body will revert back to your pre-training performance level and appearance, it’s hard to ever want to let yourself slide backward. Here are some tips for how to preserve fitness:

#1 Customize a meal plan that fuels your body based on the workouts you’re doing. You’re more likely to give up on a fitness routine if you feel hungry, deprived or weak. You may also sabotage all of the hard work you’ve done by grabbing for comfort foods at the end of a long day. The best way to combat this is by using meal prep to ensure that a balanced, proportioned and satisfying meal is always waiting at every mealtime of the day.

# 2 Remember that doing something is better than nothing. As researchers point out, athletes were able to avoid considerable dips in fitness by keeping up with some level of training. This created much better outcomes than if they had stopped running “cold turkey.”

#3 Adjust your diet based on your fitness levels. If you’re eating more calories when you’re training hard, don’t forget to adjust your diet for the times when you’re not as active. It’s not necessary to eat like you’re training when you’re not training. When your muscles aren’t burning those extra calories, you may be more likely to put on fat instead. Focus on healthy meals that are the right size based on your daily intake needs.

#4 Create fitness plans that actually work for your life. If you find yourself constantly committing to rigorous workout plans that you abandon after a few weeks, this may be a sign that you’re taking on too much all at once. A better approach may be to design a fitness plan that’s more sustainable for your lifestyle. You may find that doing workouts that you enjoy helps you to avoid the need to constantly “start from scratch” after your fitness levels reset with every lapse.

The bottom line is that it’s not a matter of you against your body. Yes, your body wants to get back to baseline. However, consistency that’s powered with a positive mindset can help you to enjoy long-term fitness.

Don’t Forget to Get Support

One of the reasons why so many people fail to maintain fitness after achieving it is that they don’t have support! It’s very easy to fall into a four-week funk that sets our fitness level back to zero when we don’t have support. To boost your chances of staying consistent, things like a trainer, fitness class or workout buddy should all be considered. If you’re constantly getting off track with eating properly for fitness, consider signing up for a meal prep service that delivers balanced, tasty meals that you select right to your door. In fact, researchers are very clear about the fact that nutrition has the most significant impact on fitness.

For people focused on getting fit, it’s essential to know about the benefits of improving diet and exercise at the same time. In one study designed to measure methods for improving health, researchers found that only participants in the group that received simultaneous nutrition and exercise counseling reached their goals when compared to participants in the nutrition-only and exercise-only groups.

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Fitness Entropy

The only real guard against reverse fitness is consistency! Making it as straightforward as possible to fit the right diet and exercise into your life is as close to a “hack” as anyone can get. Of course, the freedom to look and feel your best is the best inspiration for staying on track!