Archive for November, 2013

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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Some days making time to exercise isn’t that simple. Whether you are trying to fit in your cardio workout during a short lunch break, or just want to get your heart rate up before the sun goes down, celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza has some ideas for you. Make sure to do a quick warm-up like a one or two minute power walk or jog before you get started.

If you have five minutes, hit the treadmill for some interval sprinting. Make sure to choose a machine that has side shoulders wide enough to rest your feet.

Begin by standing on the treadmill shoulders. Set the treadmill speed 1.5 levels above the setting at which you normally run. So if you normally set the treadmill at 7.5 for a good run, kick it up to 9 for your sprints. Hop onto the treadmill and sprint for 10 seconds. Hop off, placing your feet on either side of the tread, for 20 seconds and completely rest.

10 sets

If you have a bit more time, add a three-minute warm up (one minute walk, plus a two-minute jog) before the sprint/rest sets and finish up with a four-minute jog.

There is a big difference between running and sprinting–a difference you can feel. “The work time should be hard enough that you need the recovery,” says Braganza. If you aren’t ready to rest after each sprint, increase the speed on the treadmill.

If you want to kick your sprinting up a notch, increase the incline of the treadmill after each sprint.

If you are bored of the treadmill, then try Braganza’s four-part, 10-minute “kick-butt kickbox.”

Jump rope or jumping jacks:
1 minute Heavy bag, alternating between hitting the bag with jab crosses and kicks:
1 minute Squats: 1 minuteCrunches: 1 minute

Cycle through the moves until your time runs out.

If you want to really focus on strengthening your lower-body, this sweat-inducing combo of lunges and jump squats will do it.

Squat jumps (when squatting, make sure not to let your knees go in front of your toes): 10 repsStep side to side touching opposite foot in front of the other while you raise and lower your arms: 30 seconds

Cycle through these moves until your time runs out.

Don’t read on the treadmill. That magazine could be lulling you into a less-strenuous workout.If there is a choice between a sitting move and a standing move, choose the upright one; instead of a recumbent bike, choose an upright bike or, even better, the elliptical or treadmill. When weightlifting, instead of performing seated shoulder press or lateral raises, try them standing.Keep tabs on your heart rate. This will help you gauge if your training is too easy, too hard or just right. An easy way to determine your heart rate while doing your cardio is to get a heart rate monitor. Don’t forget: To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. To find out what your heart rate range should be, multiply your maximum heart rate by .85 to get your high-intensity target number and .60 for your low-intensity target number.Swap out a gym day for a romp outside. Not only do your feet have to work harder to keep you balanced with all of the terrain changes when exercising in the natural world, but working out outside is a great cure for boredom. “You have to pay attention when you run outside,” says Braganza. Look for stairs and inclines like hills to tackle on your next hike.

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How do Hollywood’s hottest celebs keep their envy-inducing figures?

“The key is consistency and intensity,” says celebrity trainer and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member Ramona Braganza, who helped Anne Hathaway tone up for the 2008 Oscars and Jessica Alba drop her post-baby weight.

“When celebs have to get in shape, they are really on top of it,” agrees Adam Friedman, a certified personal trainer at the Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute whose clients include model and Olympic volleyball star Gabrielle Reece and NBA forward Austin Croshere. “They view working out as not just for health, but as a responsibility to their profession.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own Hollywood-inspired workout at home. Braganza thinks taking fitness cues from your favorite celebs is a great way to put a fresh spin on your gym routine. For example, to help today’s leading ladies perfect their figures for upcoming roles, Braganza alternates 10-minute intervals of cardio with three sets of circuit strength-training and core exercises. She notes: “You have to keep the heart rate up throughout the routine for maximum calorie burn.”

Ramona Braganza

Today’s starlets don’t want to bulk up, so cardio is king, Friedman says. Cycling, running on the beach (and from paparazzi!) and climbing the trendy Santa Monica Stairs, a taxing set of 154 steep wood stairs, are popular ways to burn calories. The Los Angeles-based trainer also relies on functional body-weight exercises — moves like push-ups and squats, which challenge your muscle groups to work together at once — to get his famous clients in their best shape ever. “The idea is to recruit the highest amount of muscle fibers at a time, because the more you’re getting your nervous system involved, the more calories you’re going to burn, the more fat you’re going to burn, the more challenging the exercise is going to be,” he says.

Adam Friedman

His tried-and-true favorite? The dreaded lunge.

“Lunges are the No. 1 most hated exercise among all my clients,” Friedman says with a smile. “They’re hard and they hurt! But there are so many benefits and so many variations that hit all the areas you want to target.” Case in point: Braganza’s client Jessica Alba reportedly owes her refined behind to a strict diet of lunges.

For an extra challenge, pair the moves with a weight known as a kettlebell, as Friedman makes his pro athletes do, to really work your core and develop explosiveness. “But you should already have a strong foundation in your core, so it’s not something to go to right away,” he warns.

According to Braganza, making those basic changes to your routine will help to keep exercise fresh and exciting.

“Variety is very important,” she says. “For my clients, I try to find what they enjoy and then include it somehow every few workouts, whether it’s boxing drills, hiking or dance classes.”

One activity in particular is especially popular with today’s leading ladies: yoga.

“Celebrities love yoga!” Friedman says. “It works for them on a mental level, and they love stretching and the feeling they get.” Not to mention long, lean muscles and improved balance and posture. And good posture can mean the difference between a great red-carpet photo and a nod on the worst-dressed list.

“Carrying your head and shoulders forward with bad posture doesn’t look good in pictures or in the mirror,” Friedman explains. “But if you improve your posture and strengthen your back, you’ll look dramatically different and your energy will be different.”

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Did you know that having a workout partner not only makes you healthier, it can help you find a job, get more motivated and create stronger family bonds? Below, you can read up on new studies that show the benefits of partnering up, and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer Nikki Kimbrough shares a few true-life tales from her boot camp classes.

Perk: As Kimbrough explains, a fitness class is the perfect place to network, because you’re not trying to schmooze.

True story: “People just start talking about work and one thing leads to another,” she says. “Take Vickie, a public relations manager, and Ben, a marketing exec. Vickie’s company needed an outside vendor to do some market research and she mentioned it during a water break. Ben explained how his company had handled a similar situation and she asked if he’d send over a proposal. Boom! New business.”

Perk: Having a fitness partner who is in better shape than yourself can inspire you to boost your own performance.

Study: Researchers at Union College conducted a series of experiments that included younger and older participants riding reality-enhanced “cybercycles” alongside virtual and real partners who were quicker and had more endurance. The conclusions were consistent: Whether it was a virtual partner or a real one, most participants stepped up their game and pushed a bit harder to keep up.

Perk: Larger workout groups can be even better for morale. Find your healthy circle in a fitness class or a personal training group.

Study: In a recent study at Michigan State University, 58 physically active women were divided into three groups. In the first group, each woman worked out alone. In the second, each had a virtual exercise partner. The third group worked out as a team along with a virtual partner. The group that worked out as a team exercised 11 minutes longer than the group that exercised alone, and two minutes longer than the group that exercised only with a virtual partner.

Perk: Longtime couples and new lovers can keep each other on track and in shape.

Study: Couples who start a fitness program together are more likely to stick with it, according to a study out of Indiana University Bloomington. The study’s final results showed that only 8% of the participants who worked out with their spouses quit, compared with half of those who exercised independently.

Perk: Exercising with a family member gives you a healthy way to spend time together—versus just shopping, eating or getting drinks.

Study: “One of my clients, Melissa, had really started losing weight and her mom noticed—and joined the class,” Kimbrough recalls. “I know she and her mom had had problems in the past, but boot camp gave them something healthy to bond over. And now you can just see how close they are.”

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Leave the chocolate shaped hearts on the shelf and spend quality time working out with your loved one this Valentine’s Day.  Dr. Belisa Vranich, sports psychologist and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member, provides you with five tips on how to strengthen your relationship, while increasing your natural libido, through exercising together.

1.  Learn to be a good partner.  “Be flexible about what your partner likes to do, it’s simply a matter of taste,” advises Vranich.  If you push your partner to do an exercise they don’t enjoy, chances are they won’t feel inclined to hit the gym with you again!

2. Communication is key! Try to focus on doing exercises that require spotting. Spotting each other requires you to build excellent communication and trust, two vital things for a strong relationship.  “Couples who workout together, and especially those that spot each other, have better communication because they know how the other thinks and are more astute to body language,” comments Vranich.

3.  Don’t be afraid to get close. Doing exercises side by side makes couples feel like they are doing something physically productive together.  Exercises such as squats require you to pay very close attention to your partner while keeping minimal distance from one another.

4.  Encouragement is essential.  Praise your partner for going to the gym every single time.  “Always applaud them for a body part that looks good, and remember that it is better when criticism comes from within than without,” adds Vranich.

5. Let nature do its thing. Attraction is affected by arousal, plus endorphins from working out improves your mood and enhances the connection between you and your partner. “Sweat produces pheromones and has its highest performance level right after working out,” comments Vranich. The fact that you are sweating together will naturally increase your libido.

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For millions of overweight, couch-bound Americans, the word “exercise” conjures up visions of hectic aerobics classes, marathon running or hours-long workouts at the gym.

It’s all a bit daunting.

But new research is beginning to change that view. Study after study is showing that small amounts of physical activity — even walking the dog — can boost health in unexpected ways.

“For some people, it’s as simple as parking their car on the far side of the parking lot and walking, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. But the more you do, the better,” said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

More and more, fitness experts and physicians are discovering that exercise, like medicine, works on a dose-response basis — even a little is good, moderate amounts are better, and vigorous exercise provides even more rewards.

Some evidence from the recent literature:

A Duke University study of 133 overweight people found that a moderate fitness regimen involving a brisk one- to two-mile walk, four or five days a week, offered big improvements in cardiovascular health;A similar study, this time from the University of Florida, Gainesville, found that walking just a half-hour a day for five or more days a week greatly boosted the heart health of middle-aged “couch potatoes”;In a Seattle study, an hour per week spent gardening cut cardiac arrest risk by 66 percent; an hour per week spent walking slashed that risk by 73 percent;People suffering from the painful condition peripheral arterial disease (PAD) also reaped real benefits from walking just three times a week, a Northwestern University study found;And a University of Missouri-Columbia study found that even our four-legged friends can help: Researchers found that overweight individuals who walked their dogs each day dropped an average of 14 pounds over the course of a year — beating the results of most weight-loss plans.

Fletcher said it’s important to get into a good exercise routine, preferably engaging in physical activity at the same time of day, each day. “Also, if you try and exercise two or three times a week, but then take a few days off, that’s not as good as doing something most days,” he said.

If walking a mile or two seems tough to visualize, he recommends driving it first in your car — watching the odometer to see just how far a distance it is from your home. “Then, walk to that point each day,” he said. Often, a little bit of exercise feels so good it gradually turns into a little bit more, he said.

“You can get more vigorous as you go,” Fletcher added. “We consider (walking) a 20-minute mile ‘moderate’ exercise. Walking or running that mile in 15 minutes gets into the area of ‘vigorous exercise.’”

Besides helping to shed pounds and bring a healthy elasticity to your step (and arteries), exercise can help clear the mind, too.

“What the studies are showing is that exercise, at least when performed in a group setting, seems to be at least as effective as standard antidepressants in reducing symptoms in patients with major depression,” researcher James Blumenthal, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University in Durham, N.C., toldHealthDay.

Right now, just sitting on the sofa for long stretches is probably giving millions of Americans the blues, Fletcher pointed out. “Only about 25 percent of us exercise properly, and about 20 percent do absolutely nothing. The rest are in the middle — sometimes they do it, sometimes they don’t.”

Before beginning any exercise routine, it’s important to check with your doctor, particularly if you have a history of health problems. Then, once you get clearance, get moving.

The key, Fletcher said, is to start your physical-activity routine with small steps — literally.

“Walk a little, bike,” he said. “Remember, anything you do is better than nothing at all.”Originally published on HealthDay

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