When and How to Exercise for Optimal Brain Health

Human Brain

Does it ever feel like your brain and your body are hopelessly disconnected? How about when your body wants to indulge on sweets but your brain tells you that you shouldn’t? Or when you know you need to sleep but your brain insists on keeping you awake at night? I’m intimately familiar with both of those scenarios!

Brain

But despite their differences, your brain and body are actually more connected than you probably realize. In fact, your brain health is very much dependent on regular physical activity. If you are a sedentary person, chances are that your brain will eventually be negatively affected by your lifestyle.

Research shows that regular exercise can boost blood flow to the brain and improve memory. But too much exercise can actually contribute to chronic inflammation, which can harm the brain. That’s why a good balance is important. So, how can you know if you’re doing it right? Here are some of my favorite tips for when and how to exercise for optimal brain health.

When To Exercise

If you like to hop into your Yoga pants and work up a sweat at midnight, I have some bad news for you. It’s possible that you could be negatively affecting your brain’s natural cycle that’s referred to as its circadian rhythm. Though it sounds super mysterious, your circadian rhythm is just your internal clock. It regulates your sleep-wake cycle and is controlled by your brain. If you consistently rev up your body at midnight, your brain will start thinking that midnight is the time to be awake instead of to sleep. How confusing is that?

Going for a Walk

To obtain optimal brain health and ensure that your circadian rhythm functions properly, most health gurus, sleep experts and regular Joes will tell you that morning is the best time to hit the trail or the gym. When you work out in the morning, your pumping blood and increased physical movements signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up and greet the day! Here are some of the top benefits a morning workout can provide:

  • Fewer distractions
  • Better focus
  • Increased alertness
  • More energy throughout the day
  • Better mood
  • Easier weight maintenance
  • Improved sleep

Of course, morning workouts may not be possible for everyone. If you are unable to exercise soon after you wake up, don’t worry too much. No matter what time of day you exercise, your brain will still benefit from the increased blood flow and release of feel-good hormones that exercise provides. Just try not to work out at or right before bedtime, since doing so can make it difficult to sleep.

Early Morning Exercise

How To Exercise

Now that you know when to exercise for optimal brain health, let’s talk about how to exercise. Aerobic activity is especially good for brain health, but it doesn’t have to be super strenuous. When some people think of aerobics, they envision painful, high-intensity workouts that leave you dripping in sweat. But the word “aerobic” simply means “with oxygen”. It refers to any type of activity that provides cardiovascular conditioning.

An aerobic workout can be as simple as a brisk 20-minute walk or as complicated as a fun and energetic gym class. The key is to find an intensity that works for you and that provides you with the greatest benefit both physically and mentally.

Aerobics class

When you first begin an aerobic exercise, start slow and steady. Trust me, if you don’t, you’ll probably end up with very sore muscles and achy joints. If you want to join a marathon one day, you can work up to that over time. Take care of your body, and your body will do its best to take care of you!

5 Hacks To Get Rid of Belly Bloat Quickly

I HATE trying to slip on that amazing pair of jeans I bought for girls’ nights out (the ones that make my butt look AWESOME) and not be able to close the zipper because of bloat. I know those jeans fit, but my tummy won’t cooperate! Sound familiar? If so, try these 5 secrets to getting rid of a bloated belly quickly.

1. Shake Your Booty

I know that going for a jog doesn’t sound very appetizing when your stomach feels bloated, but physical activity is one of the best ways to help get things moving inside. Even light exercise is fine, such as talking a walk, stretching or dancing for 5–10 minutes.

2. Massage Your Tummy

A fun way to calm a bloated belly and encourage your bowels to do their thing is with a gentle abdominal massage. It’s really easy.

Start by placing one of your hands on the right side of your belly, near your hip bone. Slowly move upwards, rubbing softly using a circular motion. Once you reach the top of your tummy, follow this movement straight across to the other side. Then move your hand down the left side of your stomach.

In other words, you’re massaging your tummy in a square pattern while making little circles with your hands. Repeat this several times. You don’t need to press hard for it to work.

3. Enjoy a Warm Bubble Bath

Believe it or not, bloating is often caused by stress. Anxiety can mess with your hormones and cause digestive problems that lead to a bloated tummy. My favorite solution? Pampering myself with a warm bath and some scented oils (or Epsom salt).

This is great for relieving bloating for several reasons. The warm water soothes sore muscles and helps with abdominal pain. It’s also incredibly relaxing, especially with aromatic oils or candles. If bloating is a regular occurrence, try to schedule some private bubble bath “you” time once a week.

4. Drink Some Tea

Several herbal teas are wonderful for alleviating gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Here are a few of my favorite teas for times when you have a bloating emergency:

  • Star anise

  • Peppermint

  • Ginger

  • Lemon balm

  • Chamomile

  • Fennel

Peppermint tea may even help people who have irritable bowel syndrome to feel better. Studies show that peppermint oil helps to relax the gut in IBS patients.

5. Get More Fiber

“Fiber?! But I’m too young!” you say. Actually, all of need to get plenty of fiber in our diets. Bloating can happen to 18-year-old women with perfect curves as well as working moms with two kids and … slightly less perfect curves.

Most people don’t need fiber capsules; you can get what you need from a healthy diet. Add these fiber superstars to your meals or enjoy them as healthy snacks:

  • Whole grains: Oatmeal, quinoa and popcorn

  • Fresh fruits: Pears, strawberries, apples, raspberries and bananas

  • Veggies: Carrots, spinach, beets, kale and artichokes

  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans

  • Nuts and seeds: Chia seeds, almonds

Your body depends on plant fiber to keep its digestive system working properly. Smooth, regular trips to the bathroom are one of the best ways to enjoy a flat tummy and prevent bloating. Great nutrition is, not surprisingly, the key to fitting into those jeans every time.

5 of the Best Dance Classes for Weight Loss

Dance class

For me, what makes dancing amazing for exercise is the way it keeps you motivated. A great beat keeps you energized and helps you push through the burn for even better results. Here are five of my favorite dance classes:

1. Hip-Hop

Do you love to bounce and sway when your favorite songs come on the radio? I do. If you're like me, a hip-hop dance class is perfect for you. It involves a range of motion for your entire body, including arm punches, shoulder moves, high steps, hip slides, spins and jumps. These classes are a blast, and they’re amazing for slimming your waistline. You can easily reach 400–500 calories burned per hour or more.

Dance class

2. Freestyle

Freestyle classes are a great choice for people who love to dance but don’t like having to remember steps. Whether you’re into hip-hop rhythms, Latin music, electronic vibes or even classical music, freestyle lets you do your own thing. The important thing is to stay active the whole time, but you can move your feet, arms, hips and tummy however you feel like.

3. Belly Dancing and Bollywood

If your goal is to specifically target stubborn tummy fat, then belly dancing is hard to beat. This exotic dance comes from places such as Morocco and Egypt. It involves precise movements of the hips, belly and buttocks, from slow gyrations and twists to sexy slides and vibrations. All of these movements are heaven for your midsection, burning fat while toning abdominal muscles and glutes like no tomorrow.

Bollywood dances use some of these motions while including whole-body moves and unique hand and arm flairs. Think hip-hop with a touch of gracefulness. These are some of the best feel-good dance activities out there. Trust me, you will have a huge smile afterwards.

Tango

4. Tango

Ballroom dances such as tango may burn less calories than intense aerobic activities, but they’re also gentler on your body. It takes some practice to learn the steps, but showing off your tango prowess is kind of the point. Other options include foxtrot and waltzes.

5. Salsa or Merengue

Latin dance rhythms can help you burn TONS of calories. You only need to learn six simple steps and the rest is up to your mood! Salsa is a high-energy, fast-tempo dance that gets your feet moving. It’s excellent for cardio and moves your lower body and hips a lot.

Merengue has a slower tempo than salsa and is lower impact for people with tender joints, but it still gives you a great workout. Salsa and merengue exercise your legs, glutes, hips and abdomen. Add in some arm movements and you’ve got a great whole-body workout that keeps you pumped.

Dancer

All the Benefits of Dancing

One hour of dancing can help you burn 400 calories or more, which is what you get from riding a bicycle, jogging or swimming. That makes it great for weight loss. In addition, you get tons of other benefits:

  • Better flexibility
  • Stronger bones
  • Higher energy levels
  • Happier mood
  • Less stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Lower risk of memory problems

Want some extra fun? You can do most dances with a partner for excitement (or some romance). Burning calories as a team is a great idea. No matter what dance class you’re interested in, my advice is just try it! You won’t believe how awesome you feel and how many calories you sweat.

Small Ways To Get In Exercise Every Day (I do this one while brushing my teeth)

exercise time

Multiple studies have shown that, although humans need to exercise for a moderate amount of time every day, there's no need to do it in one big chunk. The benefits are the same whether you hit the gym or pavement every morning, or incorporate short bursts of activity throughout the day. This is good news for most people, because who has time for a long, formal workout every single day? If you're ready to start exercising in short periods that fit into your day, here's your beginner's guide.

walking

1. 10-Minute Walk Break

Who doesn't have 10 minutes at some point on an average day? Chances are, you have several potential 10-minute walk breaks, just waiting to be discovered in your busy schedule. Take a 10-minute stroll before or after lunch and dinner, when you first wake up in the morning, or when you need a mental break from whatever you're working on. If you have a dog, they will love you even more for starting this new habit. The best part about breaking down walking into 10-minute increments is that you can do this inside your house if you need to.

2 Minute Ritual

2. Calf Raises on a Step

Stand on a step with just the balls of your feet, holding onto a railing or wall for support. Let your heels hang down below the step, and you'll feel a stretch. Next, raise yourself up on the balls of your feet, and feel a stretch in the opposite direction. Repeat 10 times, rest, and do two more sets of 10. This is a fantastic exercise for strengthening not only your calf muscles but also your ankles. It may improve your balance somewhat and also help prevent injuries. The best part about it is that you can do it on your front porch or anywhere you have a step.

squat

3. Squats or Wall Sits

Squats sometimes feel like torture, but they are so good for your lower body and can even help improve your posture. If you're not quite ready to do a set of squats, try wall sits. All you do is pretend like you're sitting in a chair, but the wall is the back of your imaginary chair. You get the same benefit for your quads that you would get doing squats, but you have the wall there for support. This is a perfect exercise to do twice a day while brushing your teeth. For only two minutes of work, twice a day, you get significant benefits.

exercise

When deciding which exercises to add to your day, start where you're comfortable. Don't jump into some complicated position you've never tried before. The secret to sticking to an exercise regimen is creating healthy habits and linking new workouts with existing routines. So don't worry about working every muscle at first; just get into the habit of moving your body every day and mixing in a little bit of cardio and a little bit of weight-bearing work. Before you know it, exercising throughout the day will be second nature, and you'll be feeling more energized every day.

Ways To Use Household Items for Workouts

Have you ever looked at a nice home gym set and thought “I’d need to cash out my life insurance policy to afford that”? It may be your dream to one day have a professional-looking workout area in your home, but you probably shouldn’t go into debt to make it happen. Fortunately, you don’t have to! There are plenty of items in your house that you can use for your workouts, without spending an extra dime on unnecessary equipment.

Sure, you might look and feel silly while using these items, but who cares? No one is there to see you. Besides, by the time you see your newly toned body in the mirror, you won’t care that you achieved your look with the help of a jar of pickles. So, without further ado, here are some easy ways to use household items for your workouts.

Broom-Lift Superman

If you’ve done the Superman exercise before, you know how good it is for strengthening your back muscles. Now, you can up the ante by adding weight to this already challenging workout. Here’s how.

  1. Get a broom and a pair of shoes.

  2. Tie the shoes at the laces, leaving a gap beneath the knots.

  3. Slide the tied shoelaces onto the broom handle and position them so that one shoe is hanging from one end of the broom and the other shoes is hanging from the other end.

  4. Place the broom down on the floor and lie down, face-down with the broom a few inches from your head.

  5. Grab onto the broom with both hands and straighten your arms out in front of you. Go for a wide grip with your arms out further than shoulder-width apart.

  6. Take a deep breath, tighten your core, and lift your arms off the floor as high as you comfortably can.

  7. Hold the position for five seconds.

  8. Return to your starting point while exhaling.

  9. Repeat the process 10-12 times.

You can make this exercise more challenging by lifting your legs as you lift your arms.

Water Jug Squats

A simple water jug can feel like a ton of bricks if you lift it long enough. To get a killer workout that will tone and shape your glutes and quads, do the following workout:

  1. Hold a water jug in front of your chest.

  2. Stand with your feet in a wide-squat stance with the toes turning slightly outward.

  3. While tightening your core, lower yourself into a squat.

  4. Hold your squat for five seconds.

  5. Come back to a standing position.

  6. Repeat this process for up to 30 reps.

To challenge yourself even further, hold the water jug further away from your body as you squat. This will work your chest, shoulders and arms. Just make sure you hold your core in tight so you don’t compromise your form while doing this challenging exercise.

Wall Push-Ups

Are you trying to work your way up to a standard push-up? I’m right there with you. To strengthen your push-up muscles in an easy way, all you need is a blank wall. Here’s how to do quick and easy wall push-ups.

  1. Stand about 2 feet from a wall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Place your arms straight out in front of you against the wall.
  3. Bend your elbows and slowly lower your body towards the wall while leaning forward on your feet.
  4. When your nose almost touches the wall, return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this process 10-15 times.