You don’t have to run marathons to get healthy, experts say.

If you don’t exercise because you think you don’t have the time or energy, here’s a news flash: Those excuses no longer work.

That’s because “any movement helps,” according to Gregory Florez, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and CEO of fitadvisor.com.

In fact, exercising at a moderate intensity, even in short bursts of 10 minutes several times a day, or doing daily activities such as running errands, can improve your health and probably lengthen your life, recent research suggests.

“Small bouts of activity, even 10 minutes at a time, will have the same impact as 30 minutes or so of continuous exercise,” Florez said, if those small bouts are repeated three times a day.

Two recent studies prove you don’t have to be a marathoner in training to reap the health benefits of exercise or even to get a little fitter.

In one study, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, relatively modest amounts of activity by older people, ages 70 to 82, paid off in longevity.

The research team, led by Todd Manini of the U.S. National Institute on Aging, followed 302 older adults for six years. The researchers found that death rates went down as daily energy output — sometimes doing things as simple as vacuuming or running errands — went up.

Those people in the highest one-third of daily energy output had a 69 percent lower risk of dying during the follow-up than those in the lowest third, the researchers found. Those in the highest third also burned about 600 more calories a day than those in the lowest third. Even short bursts of physical activity made a difference in the calorie-burning group — they were more likely to walk up two flights of stairs a day, for instance.

The extra reduction in 600 calories per day translates, the study authors said, to about two hours of activity. But it could be any activity — traditional exercise, washing dishes, vacuuming, running errands.

In a study published in the May 16, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that as little as 72 minutes of moderate exercise per week can improve aerobic fitness. The investigators looked at 464 sedentary, overweight women, on average 57 years old.

One group worked out on a stationary bike or treadmill at moderate intensity for an average of 72 minutes a week; another group did the workout for 136 minutes a week, on average, and a third group worked out for 192 minutes a week. A fourth group did no exercise and served as the control group.

A fitness test at the end of the six-month study found women who exercised for 72 minutes improved fitness by 4 percent. The 136-minute group improved fitness by 6 percent while the 192-minute group improved by 8 percent.

No one is saying you’ll get super-fit working out for 72 minutes a week or running errands nonstop. “But unless you have a lofty goal such as running a marathon, it’s OK to break up the exercise into small segments,” Florez said. It will pay dividends in longevity, overall health, including cardiovascular health, and bone density, he said.

“Any activity is good activity,” agreed Tyson Bain, an exercise physiologist and gerontologist at the Cooper Institute, Dallas.

He urges people to find an activity they enjoy doing. That way they’ll be more likely to stick with it.

When he helps people get into an activity program, especially older people, he starts with an assessment of how well they can move and perform, and asks which times of day they prefer to be active and what types of activity interest them. He also asks them to consider what activities or sports they are good at.

Depending on a person’s health, Bain recommends people aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days, even though the recent research suggests less can still yield benefits. “Split it up — 15, 15,” he advises those who balk. “You’ll get the same benefits.”

Fit your activity around your lifestyle, Florez tells people. “Strength train with resistance bands or dumbbells while you watch Desperate Housewives,” he said. “Take a walk with a friend.”

You will combine social interaction with activity, and both have been shown to lengthen your life, he said.

Written by Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay ReporterOriginally published by HealthDay NewsSOURCES: Tyson Bain, exercise physiologist and gerontologist, Cooper Institute, Dallas; Gregory Florez, spokesman, American Council on Exercise, San Diego; May 16, 2007, and July 12, 2006, Journal of the American Medical AssociationGO BACKfunction goBack(){window.history.back()}

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Five Tips to Help You Power Through the Day

Have diet sodas, energy drinks and endless cups of coffee become a regular part of your work day? Next time you go to reach for another caffeine-packed beverage for a quick pick-me-up, remember the five tips below from Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute Member and Sports Medicine Expert, Evan Ekman, to help increase your energy level and power through your day.

Let your body do its thing. A consistent exercise routine can have an extraordinary impact on your energy level. “When you are physically active, your blood flow increases to critical organs, such as the brain, helping them perform at their best,” says Ekman. “When you exercise, your body naturally releases catecholamine’s, which are safe “uppers” that improve alertness, energy, and concentration.”

Do what you want! When exercising to increase your energy level, develop an enjoyable routine of cardiovascular fitness.  If it’s an activity you enjoy, you are more likely to stay with it. Ekman suggests doing this routine for 30 minutes, three to five times per week.

Energy essentials. It is important to fuel your body with healthy foods and the appropriate nutrients to function properly. Ekman’s advice is to go back to the days of the food pyramid and make sure you are getting the appropriate servings of dairy, fruits and vegetables, protein, and whole grains. Furthermore, Ekman does not recommend consuming energy drinks when you are feeling tired because they will ultimately result in an energy crash.

Exercise equals Energy. Ekman recommends hitting the gym at the point in the day just prior to when your energy level is the lowest.  This will not be the same time for everyone, but your program should be tapered to fit your needs.  Try not to exercise just before bed as this can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.

Dream Away. Just as your body needs its nutrients, it also needs its rest.  “Exercise places physical stress on the body, which sparks the brain to increase the amount of time we spend in deep sleep, the phase in which our body repairs itself,” comments Ekman. Without enough sleep, your body will not be fully rested for the next day.  Ekman suggests trying to obtain around eight hours of sleep each night to give your body proper rest.

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When it comes to exercise, a little may go a long way.

A new study finds that even low amounts of weekly physical activity can reduce blood pressure and improve overall fitness in adults, a new study finds.

The 12-week study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, included 106 healthy, but sedentary, people ages 40 to 60.

Researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, had 44 of the participants do 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, while 42 others did 30 minutes of brisk walking three days a week. The rest of the participants maintained their normal lifestyle.

By the end of the study, there was a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and waist and hip girth in both groups of walkers, along with an increase in overall fitness. The non-walkers had no changes in any of these areas.

The authors noted that even slimming a few centimeters off hip and waist circumference and gaining a slight reduction in blood pressure is enough to reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Currently, it’s recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise at least five days a week. But many people find it difficult to meet that goal. This study shows that people can still gain health benefits even if they can only manage three sessions of moderate intensity exercise a week, the authors said.Originally published by HealthDay News.

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Daily walks, mental challengers, nutrition can help stave off Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases.

A fast spin on the dance floor or taking daily walks might help keep the brain in top shape as people age – and might reduce the risk of developing age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, experts now say.

Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are degenerative, incurable diseases of the brain. Both are more common in older people; together they afflict more than 5 million people in the United States. Alzheimer’s causes memory problems, and Parkinson’s leads to tremors and shakiness, but the diseases often overlap: Some people with Parkinson’s also have memory loss.

Growing evidence now suggests that lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and challenging activities, might help ward off or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, possibly by building connections between brain cells or even spurring the production of new brain cells. People who power up the brain in this way may have a better shot at reaching old age with a brain that still performs at top speed, says Elizabeth Edgerly, a brain expert at the Alzheimer’s Association.

To keep the brain healthy:

Stay fit. Physical activity boosts the blood supply to the brain, and that keeps brain cells well nourished.

Edgerly recommends taking a walk, swimming, yoga or anything that’s physically active three to five days a week. Spend about 30 minutes a day on such activities if you can, but a study suggested that even a 15-minute daily walk could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

“My guess is that we’re going to discover that we should be exercising most days of the week,” said Michael Zigmond, a Parkinson’s researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.

He and other experts say workouts that involve a mental challenge might be better for the brain than those that are routine. So learning a series of complex dance moves might be better than zoning out while riding a stationary bike; a 2005 study found that older men and women who learned to tango got measurable improvements in balance and memory, skills that might help compensate for early signs of a brain disease.

Challenge your mind. The mental decline that goes along with old age can be traced to altered connections between brain cells, Edgerly says. But stimulating leisure activities can help keep those connections strong. Activities such as playing chess or card games such as poker, going to the theater, reading a book or learning how to play a musical instrument might help keep older brain cells agile and less vulnerable to damage, she says.Eat a healthful diet, one loaded with colorful fruits and vegetables.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are tied to damage done by free radicals, highly reactive molecules that are byproducts of metabolism, says James Joseph, a researcher at Tufts University. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, powerful substances that combat free radical damage and might help protect the brain, he says.

His studies of diets rich in such foods show that older rats get a boost in the ability to remember and stay balanced. He says humans might get the same benefit and recommends adding blueberries, strawberries, spinach and other colorful fruits and vegetables to a whole-grain diet that includes low-fat dairy foods and very little junk or fast food fare.

Originally published in the IHRSA Wellness Report and Gannett News Service

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You’ve heard the term, but what exactly does the word “superset” mean? Traditionally, a superset is two or more exercises performed consecutively to work opposing muscle groups. “These days, the term has been used a lot more loosely,” says Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer Adam Friedman. “I tend to follow the traditional approach myself.” Supersets increase intensity level, heart rate and calories burned because you are doing two exercises consecutively. Plus, they amp up your mental toughness with more challenging gym time, and you have to push yourself to do continuous sets with less rest.

“I enjoy doing them because it’s more challenging from a conditioning standpoint, it’s time efficient, and it’s an excellent way to work opposing muscle groups to keep balance,” says Friedman. In a healthy body, the muscles that move and stabilize the bones have a natural reflex to relax when their opposite muscles are working. Doing supersets can help guarantee that you’re working all your muscle groups.

Here are five supersets you can use to supersize your routine. Beginners should start with three sets of 5 to 8 reps, while more experienced gymgoers can try three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Count to three on the way down, and go back up on two. “At the beginner level, the weight lifted during a superset should be a little lighter than what you would normally use during an exercise,” Friedman says. “This is just for safety reasons until you become better mentally and physically.” Intermediate to advanced should use the same weights you typically do with an exercise to maintain their strength levels, which may mean that they go down in repetition to start, but then increase as conditioning improves.

Dumbbell flat chest press
Begin by lying on a flat bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms extended upward at shoulder width with dumbbells in hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades against the bench and lower the dumbbells level to your chest.

Dumbbell back row
Stand in a split stance, bend over until your back is parallel with the ground. Keep back in a neutral alignment, arms fully extended with dumbbells in hand. Pull dumbbells up to waist.

Dumbbell incline chest press
Begin by lying on an inclined bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms extended upward at shoulder width with dumbbells in hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades against the bench and lower the dumbbells level to your chest.

Lat pull-down
Sit on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley, legs at 90 degrees. Grab the bar just outside shoulder width. Pull bar down to the top of your chest, bringing your shoulders down and back.

Shoulder press
Stand with feet hip distance apart, knees soft, dumbbells in hand. With elbows straight, extend arms above head. Lower dumbbells to earlobes.

Pull-ups
Mount the assisted pull-up machine. Grab bar, lower body down, extend your arms, and pull up, aiming your chest toward the sky.

Chest fly
Begin by lying on a flat bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms fully extended above shoulders with dumbbells in hand. Bring arms down to your side, with a slight bend in your elbow. Straighten elbows and squeeze your chest muscles on the way back up.

Reverse Fly
Begin by lying chest down on an incline bench, feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms fully extended with dumbbells in hand, thumbs facing down. Bring arms out to your shoulder.

Biceps Curl
Stand with knees soft, feet shoulder-width apart, with dumbbells in hand. Press your elbows into your sides. Bring the dumbbells ¾ of the way up to your shoulders.

Triceps Extension Machine
Stand with knees soft, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows stationary for the full move. Grab the bar and extend you arms downward to fully contract your triceps. Pause for one second at the bottom of the movement before bringing arms back up to the starting position.

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Download the NEW Gold’s Gym Newburgh phone app and stay connected to all your gym has to offer.

By downloading the NEW Gold’s Gym Newburgh phone app you will have access to:
-Checking into the club via the digital club card on your phone
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We will constantly be adding features and making this a “must have” app for all of our members. To download the app, just go to your phone’s online app store [Apple or Droid] and search for “GOLD’S GYM NEWBURGH” . Once installed, you simply need to setup your account. You can then start checking in and using your Perx benefits with your phone!

Just for downloading the Gold’s Gym Newburgh phone app you will also be entered into our monthly member drawing. You can get a second chance to win by also LIKING us on Facebook at “Gold’s Gym Newburgh”. Stop by and see one of our Fitness Consultants to enter the drawing!

We are the ultimate health & fitness experience in Orange County. It’s as good as it gets. Stop by and experience the excellence! We are Gold’s Gym Newburgh!

With so much to choose from when it comes to fitness, we decided to zero in on five moves that cannot be missed. So we asked three Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainers to weigh in. Here are their picks.

For each move below, we suggest trying three sets of 10 reps.

Why: ”Your glutes are the most important part of your core,” Robert Reames, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member and author of Make Over Your Metabolism, explains. “And if your glutes are strong, that helps your lower back and knees.”
How: Lie on your back, with arms comfortably at your sides and knees bent. Press your heels into the floor and raise your hips, shifting pressure to the upper shoulder. No pressure should be felt in the neck or back. For advanced-level positions, try touching your fingertips to the back of your shoes or clasping your hands behind your back and drawing your shoulder blades together. For added difficulty, place a Pilates ring between your knees and squeeze your legs to hold it in place.
Helps: Zeroes in on your butt.

Why: ”This move really helps to establish that power needs to come from the glutes and abdominals,” says Adam Friedman, celebrity trainer and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member. “Engaging the midsection in the movement first will help you to be more stable, strong and powerful when and where it’s needed.”
How: Place a kettlebell between your feet. Bend down as if you were sitting and pick it up. Snap your hips and swing it up to chest level.
Helps: Strengthens your core muscles.

Why: ”We constantly ignore the muscles we don’t see in the mirror—a big mistake,” Tracey Mallet, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer and author of Super Fit Mama, explains. “It’s important to counteract what most of us do every day, which is sit in front of a computer at a desk.” To do that we need a strong back and core for better posture, and this move works all the extensors and the mid-upper back, glutes and hamstrings.
How: Lie on your front on the floor with your neck parallel to the ground. Lift your right hand and left leg off the floor simultaneously. Repeat with the left hand and right leg, then continue switching back and forth.
Helps: Makes sure you are working your back and butt muscles.

Why: ”Works your whole body in one move, especially your arms and core,” Mallet says “A strong core is really important—if your center is weak then the rest of the body will be weak.”
How: Lie facedown with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart and your feet together. Keeping your body straight, push up. For less effort, lower your knees onto the ground. For more difficulty, try it with a BOSU, an inflated rubber hemisphere attached to a rigid platform. (It resembles a stability ball cut in half.) Place the BOSU soft side down and hold on to the edges while you perform the push-up.
Helps: An all-over body exercise

Why: ”The most important thing is doing a correct squat,” Reames says. “Then I add in the upper body rotation with a medicine ball to emphasize everyday-life movement.”
How: Place your feet hip-width apart. Hold the medicine ball at chest level. Keep your chest high, draw in your abdominals and slowly squat down until your butt is parallel with the floor (and never further). Have a firm foot plant, and put emphasis on your heels. Make sure to keep your knees directly over your ankles, and never in front. As you stand up, hold the medicine ball out in front of you, shoulder-high, and slowly twist to the right, then back to center, then to the left.
Helps: Guarantees that you’re building your lower core muscles.

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Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute orthopedist Evan Ekman decodes common workout pains so you can tell the difference between “Ow!” and “Out for a month.”

We’ve all heard the saying “No pain, no gain,” but not all pain is created equal. Many motivated gym goers have been put out of commission because they couldn’t tell the difference between post-training soreness and a serious injury.

“Many people don’t pay attention to their body, and as a result the pain can last the rest of their life,” says Evan Ekman, a South Carolina-based orthopedic surgeon and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member. He believes much of the problem stems from not being in tune to the location of the discomfort. “Part of an effective workout is making yourself sore, but that soreness should be in the muscle belly — the big bulky part of the muscle,” he says, whereas pain in the joints or tendons might be an indication of a problem.

Here we look at six examples of gym pain gone too far and what to do about them. As always, consult your physician before starting an exercise regimen.

Your legs can easily tire after a hard workout, but how do you know when you’ve pushed your hamstrings too far? According to Ekman, you may be dealing with a more serious injury if you experience pain when pressure is put on the ischium bone in the pelvis, often felt when you sit down or if you have difficulty running.

What to do: First, control inflammation by applying ice to the area and wrapping the leg. Then gently perform a hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor, with legs spread. Keep your left knee straight as you reach toward the toes and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the right side. If you recognize the pain early, a hamstring injury might keep you out of the gym for a few weeks or less.

Some body creaks we all seem to have (like the back cracks your eccentric uncle shows off at parties). Others may be your body’s way of sounding an alarm. Ekman says there are two ways to tell if it’s something to get worried about: if you experience pain when it makes that noise, or if your body didn’t make that noise before you worked out and now it does.

What to do: Because the noise could be anything, get to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

It’s normal for the biceps to engorge with blood and, as a result, appear bigger during and immediately after a workout, but if the swelling lasts more than a few hours, you may have suffered a bicep strain or rupture of the tendon biceps. Another telltale sign of injury is discoloration or bruising. If you can’t tell for sure, don’t do another rep until you get checked out.

What to do: A rupture may require surgery — get to a doctor ASAP. If it’s just a strain, you’ll need some time off from the gym to rest the muscle, taking anti-inflammatories in the meantime. The next step is light exercises that develop your range of motion. Begin with gentle stretching at the elbow, work your way up to bicep curls with band resistance, then finally light dumbbells.

Bench press is a popular lift at the gym, but using too much weight or trying for a maximum one-rep lift before being properly warmed up can lead to pectoral tears. “Most of the time it’s easy to tell when you have a pec tear because the pain is intense,” Ekman says. But you can also tell by a deformity — often a divot on the side of the pec near the armpit — or extreme tenderness that doesn’t go away between workouts.

What to do: Immediately see an orthopedic doctor — this could mean a long haul to recovery.

If you’re having trouble reaching during your workout, it may not be time to work through the pain; it may be a rotator cuff injury. Other signs are tenderness during a military press or when lifting weight away from your body.

What to do: Avoid lifts that involve raising your hands above your head and shoulders, and work to strengthen the four muscles of the rotator cuff — the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, teres minor and the subscapularis. Often this is done through external and internal rotation exercise. For the first, let your arm hang at your side with your elbow bent 90 degrees, then bring the hand across your body, as if you were shutting a door. For the latter, bring the hand in the opposite direction, away from the middle of your body.

Though it’s great to feel the burn on the squat machine, persistent aches — such as shooting pain, a slight burn or anything that limits daily movement or makes it painful to walk — may be a sign of a stress fracture to the femur, a rupture or even a contusion in the quads. Another warning sign of injury: deformity, or any change in shape and texture to the muscle so that one leg is noticeably different from the other.

What to do: If it’s a strain, you may be out for four to six weeks while taking anti-inflammatories, icing and performing basic stretching and strengthening exercises. If it’s a rupture, surgery is likely to be needed.

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Now, two new studies uncover the wisdom in that tried-and-true advice. And they find that success may come quicker than most people realize.

In one study, Christian Roberts and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that lifestyle changes helped reverse serious heart disease risk factors in less than one month among 31 obese men they studied. That study was published online Jan. 10 in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

A second report — this time by Stephanie Chiuve and colleagues at Harvard University — found that men who followed five healthy habits had an 87 percent lower risk of getting heart disease than men who ignore these behaviors. The health habits included eating a prudent diet, exercising regularly, controlling weight, not smoking and drinking in moderation.

That study, which tracked more than 51,000 men for over 16 years, was published in the July 3 online edition of the journal Circulation

While both studies were done in men, the findings are expected to apply to women, said Chiuve. She noted that a separate study of women, published about five years ago, found that healthy behavior quickly reduced their risk of heart disease.

Following all five healthy habits is best, she says, but even if you change one or two habits, that’s good, Chiuve said. The most important one to change: smoking.

“Not smoking was associated with the lowest risk for heart disease,” Chiuve said. Next up was maintaining a healthy body weight — that means sticking to a body mass index (BMI) below 25. For reference, a person 5 feet 5 inches tall who weighs 145 pounds has a BMI of 24, for instance. Statistical overweight begins at a BMI over 25.

“The other three [factors] — exercise, eating a healthy diet, drinking in moderation were all equal,” Chiuve said, in terms of reducing heart disease risks.

Some changes can reduce risks particularly quickly, she said. “Within two weeks, eating a healthy diet can reduce blood pressure.”

Roberts’ group found relatively speedy results from healthy changes, too. In his study, he followed men who had recently entered a residential program for improving their health. They ate a high-fiber, low-fat diet, taking in more than 40 grams a day and less than 15 percent of total calories from fat. They also walked for about 60 minutes a day.

After just three weeks of this behavior, about half the men reversed their tendency to type 2 diabetes or a cluster of other heart risk factors — such as elevated blood pressure, insulin levels or high cholesterol — that together are called the metabolic syndrome.

“We measured 15 or 20 different things,” he said. “The lipids [such as cholesterol] tend to change very quickly,” he said.

“Body weight [reduction] has a much longer course,” he said. While many people focus on body weight reduction, thinking it’s the prime factor driving health-related changes, that’s not always so, Roberts said.

“Some people think the body weight [change] causes the cholesterol to drop. It’s not the body weight per se, but many other mechanisms. The cholesterol can drop independent of body weight,” he said.

Simply adding more fiber to the diet and taking out saturated fat, he said, could be beneficial for your lipid profile, as can regular exercise.

“An editorial written in concert with this paper suggests the concept that you have to change for several months is erroneous,” he said.

What is needed, he said, is to consider the changes a new life plan, not a temporary fix.

More information:
For more on heart-healthy lifestyles, visit the American Heart Association.

Stephanie Chiuve, Sc.D., research fellow, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Christian Roberts, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor, physiological science, University of California, Los Angeles; July 3, 2006, online edition, Circulation; Jan. 10, 2006, online edition, Journal of AppliedOriginally published on Healthday.com

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Gold’s Gym interviewed four certified yoga instructors to show you how to get started at this tried and true practice that benefits your body and mind. The best part? Every class ends with a nap.

When yoga mats first rolled out on U.S. floors, many thought the practice was reserved for pony-tailed hippies and New Age commune dwellers. Now this ancient practice has svelte celebrities flocking to ashrams and medical researchers studying the positive effects of meditation. The votes are in: Yoga is a yes.

So if you think “down dog” is merely a puppy-training command or feel mystified by the term “chaturanga”—it might be time to look into yoga. To help you out, we did reconnaissance and spoke to four certified yoga teachers to dispel a few of the most common newbie fears and give you solid tips for how to get started as a beginner. Plus, you can check out an illustrated guide to one of the most common yoga series: Sun Salutations.

Now breathe deep and repeat after us: “Ommmm.”

To start, let’s dispel a couple of the most common fears of beginning yoga students.

You do not need to be a contortionist. “Sure, flexibility is a plus, but it isn’t necessary,” explains Elsie Escobar, creator of the highly rated free podcast Elsie’s Yoga Class, whose students include 60-year-olds with arthritis. If you can’t touch your toes, there are tools to assist you. Sitting on a block can help you keep your back straight during seated poses, and using a strap or towel when you stretch your arms or reach for your toes can ease you in to deeper stretches.

You will not look silly. Remember that your classmates were once young yogis too. “Every single person in the room, including the teacher, had to overcome their fear and step on a mat,” says Stacy Shepherd, a Gold’s Gym yoga instructor. Plus, there isn’t a peanut gallery there to judge you. “In yoga, we help hold each other up with our practice; there is no competition.”

Next, here are a few tips for those just dipping their toes into asanas:

Start at the beginner. Even if you can run a marathon and rock a Zumba class, a yoga newbie should try out a beginner class first. “People who are very physically fit will go to intermediate and advanced classes because they think yoga looks easy,” says Jennifer Rodrigue, senior associate editor at Yoga Journal. “But that is a surefire way to open yourself up to potential injury.” Beginner classes also help you learn technique, because basic points like where to place your feet, point your hips and hold your arms will be stressed more than they will in intermediate or advanced sessions.Teacher, teacher. “If you have questions, ask!” Escobar says. You might feel strange interrupting class, but most teachers don’t mind. “If we can’t help right then, we’ll let you know and we can figure it out together later.” (Shy beginners can always approach the teacher after class.) And just as with any fitness class, look for a teacher you like and respect. “Make sure it’s a person you don’t mind listening to for 90 minutes and someone who is experienced and you can trust,” Rodrigue advises. If you have any injuries or medical conditions, be sure to approach the instructor before class and fill him or her in on your health concerns.Know the safety pose. If you’re ever experiencing pain or need a break, take child’s pose. “It’s the time-out pose,” Escobar explains. Place your knees on the mat, then lower your chest on top of your legs and drop your head. You can then stretch your hands out in front of you or drop your arms to your sides.Find your style. “It’s a good idea to take several different styles of yoga to see what you like best,” says Samantha Martin, a Dallas-based yoga instructor. “Then try a few different teachers before making a judgment.” To get a full experience, try attending two classes per week for a month. “When you go to a new grocery store, it’s hard to find anything, even milk, but as you go more often, you remember where the dairy aisle is and you can get to it faster. Then you begin to relax and discover other parts of the store—that’s what yoga feels like at first,” Escobar says. “You’re moving in new ways and using parts of your body that you haven’t before, so the more often you go, the better you can navigate.” But don’t be afraid to say that yoga is not for you—as Rodrigue explains, “it’s important that you enjoy the process. Yoga is just one method. If you try it and don’t feel it’s for you, don’t force yourself to keep practicing.”

Last, but not least, here are the great reasons to add yoga to your fitness routine:

It clears the mental chatter. In this Internet and smartphone era, our brains are constantly multitasking and overthinking. “When you practice yoga, you put yourself in positions that make you be actively conscious and force you to slow down,” Escobar says. “You have to focus on breathing, think about where your hands need to go, where your knees should be.” Once you’ve learned how to be present, you can translate that into other parts of your life. As Shepherd explains: “You learn to focus on your breath coming in and out, so next time you’re in a meeting or listening to a friend, you can keep focused.”It’s like giving yourself a break. Above all the other benefits that our practitioners hear about and see, the raves about how relaxed their students feel after class have made the biggest impression. “They often leave saying that they feel like they just went to a spa,” Martin says. “Students are so focused on what they’re doing that all of the outside distractions can finally float away.”Nap time! If you’ve never heard of savasana—then your life just got better. This is the Sanskrit title for the typically five-minute rest that happens at the end of each class. The lights are lowered and you lie on your back with your palms up and eyes closed to let your body absorb the class. “Yoga is the one form of exercise where each class includes time to lie down and rest at the end,” Martin says. “I once heard someone say that nothing in class matters as long as you have a great savasana.”Oh yeah—a better body and mind. We’ll let Shepherd handle this one on her own. “People are typically attracted because of the physical aspects—like they heard it would help their core—and I see people achieve great results: sculpted muscles, a reduction of body fat, increased stamina and, of course, more flexibility. But the people that become regular lifetime practitioners stay committed because of the results they didn’t expect: increased self-confidence, a more authentic way of being, reduced heart rate, a reduction of stress in their lives and healthier eating habits.”

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