Day: February 22, 2016

Why Water is Wonderful: The Beautiful Benefits of Hydration

Wonderful Water Image 1 (2)

 

Fitness experts often talk about recovery drinks and the best beverages to help our bodies perform to the max. We discuss the potential healing properties our sugary sports drinks have to offer, and ponder which one is best. To electrolyte or not to electrolyte? That is the question.

But in a world full of protein shakes, coconut water, vitamin-infused rainbow-colored liquids and other thirst-quenching choices, we often neglect to include enough of the best form of hydration nature has to offer: good old-fashioned water.

You remember water, right? That liquid that makes up 50-60% of our bodies? Yes, we know we’re supposed to be drinking a minimum of 8 glasses per day, but many of us still substitute caffeinated beverages, forgetting they have a diuretic effect, or choose liquids loaded with sugar we don’t need.

To remember why it’s important to choose the clear, chemical-free stuff for the majority of our daily drinking, below is a list of the health benefits proper hydration with water has to offer:

 

1. Delightful Detoxification—

Consider skipping the latest juice cleanse, and instead make it a point to drink extra water every day if you’d like to detoxify your system. Call it a water cleanse, if you’d like.

Even juice and other natural foods must be run through the kidneys, and in order for the kidneys to be efficient body-cleansing machines, they need plenty of water to remove waste, toxins, excess nutrients, sodium and electrolytes. And the cleaner your system is, the fresher you’ll feel.

 

2. Better Joint and Bone Function—

Staying hydrated lessens the shock on bones and joints by lubricating and protecting them from unnecessary shock.

When you drink enough water, it can actually cushion your spinal cord, brain and eyes from damage during jarring or rough exercise, so don’t forget to put on your “water helmet” for safety before you start any activity. (Source: University of Nebraska.)

 

3. Muscle Maintenance—

According to the European Hydration Institute, approximately 70-75% of our muscles are made up of water, and if we want them to perform well, we need to give them lots of it.

Many of us remember the protein known for building muscle mass, but forget the most important part of all: the water that keeps muscles working smoothly.

Electrolyte-filled drinks are fine and do hydrate the body, but contain sugar, chemicals and food dyes that tax the kidneys. So unless you’re working out for extremely long periods of time, water is the best choice.

 

4. Improved Digestion—

Talk to any gastroenterologist and she or he will tell you that the number one cause of poor digestion and/or constipation is dehydration.

If you’re not digesting your food well by allowing water to break down the nutrients for absorption into the bloodstream, your body can’t process what it needs to stay healthy.

And if you’re constipated, you’re holding onto toxins for longer than the body would like, essentially poisoning your system.

Extra water will help move everything through the intestines as intended, making you feel better and look less bloated.

 

5. Body Temperature Regulation—

Your body has a set temperature it will try to maintain at all times, but it can’t do this without enough water.

When we get too hot during warm weather or a workout, the body maintains homeostasis (i.e. regulation) by making us sweat. The sweat then cools our skin by evaporating, lowering core temperature back to desired levels.

So what happens when we don’t have enough extra water inside to produce sweat? We overheat, of course, which can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous. So drink up to cool down if you’re going to get hot!

 

6. Water Makes You Smarter—

As with every other organ in the body, the brain requires enough water to function well. Consistently hydrated water drinkers are more alert because their brain cells are receiving the oxygen they need, thanks to the other bodily systems running at their full potential.

Without adequate water, we can experience brain fog, memory problems and processing impairment, making it important for everyone, exercising or not, to remember to drink water all day long.

 

7. A Super Strong System—

Water is mandatory for proper cardiac function, and dehydration can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Because the circulatory system delivers oxygen to the entire body, it is extremely important for heart health to drink enough water to stay hydrated.

Water also lubricates the lymphatic parts of the circulatory system, allowing the body to better fight off illness and contagious viruses, making the immune system of water drinkers stronger than the dehydrated weaklings among us.

In addition to all of the above health benefits, water can help us maintain or even lose weight in a more efficient manner, by moving broken down fat out of the body faster, and keeping all of the metabolism-regulating bodily functions running at top speed.

 

If you’ve fallen into the trap of drinking sports drinks, soda or other beverages that contain unneeded extra calories or additives, try adding more water to your diet to gradually eliminate the liquids. Your body will thank you by feeling, looking and performing better than ever.

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That’s Entertainment: How to Design a Spectacular Swimming Pool and Patio

Infinity Pool (2)

 

If you’re planning to create the backyard pool and patio of your dreams, there are many things to consider before you get started. A swimming pool is an investment in your future enjoyment as well as a valuable property value-increasing addition to your home, so you’ll want to make sure you design a perfect pool and patio area.

The first thing to consider is what you’d like from your future pool, because your main motivations and reasons for wanting a pool will guide you in the design process. Whether you’re seeking a great form of exercise, family bonding time, a place to entertain friends, or a soothing oasis for relaxation, there’s a pool for you; you just need to figure out which one it is.

Below are 5 considerations to help anyone designing a swimming pool decide exactly what they need.

 

1. Size Matters—

The first thing to figure out before you plan anything else is the size of pool you’re seeking.

Too big, and you might eat up space for landscaping, seating and other design elements needed to make your poolside area a favorite hangout.

Too small, and you might not have a pool large enough to suit your needs, wasting time and money.

Many experts recommend doing a “hose layout” to determine your future pool size by using gardening hoses to create an outline in your backyard of where you’re visualizing a pool, and the shape that might work best.

 

2. Privacy Matters—

Most people don’t want the neighbors staring into the backyard while they walk around in bathing suits, making privacy an important aspect of designing any pool.

The most common solution to this issue is fencing, which creates both a physical and visual barrier between pool users and outsiders. Also: If current fencing is too low, it can be made higher.

Landscaping such as evergreen trees and bushes in colder climates, or bamboo and other tall, dense flora in warmer climates can also be a great way to create a feeling of solitude with a softer feel.

Most importantly, leave room in your pool design for plantings or fence-building if privacy is a concern.

 

3. Swimming Pool Shape—

Most people try to choose a pool shape that complements the design of their house.

For example, a very rustic, Tuscan-style home wouldn’t mesh with an extremely simple, modern pool, and a contemporary house might look unusual with a highly-landscaped and busier pool design.

Function also plays a factor in this part of the planning process, as someone seeking exercise laps will need a larger pool. If lacking the space, an endless swimming pool is a good alternate option, as it is smaller yet still provides exercise via air jets to swim against.

 

4. Swimming Pool Type—

Natural/free form design has grown in popularity, offering homeowners a stunning pool that looks like a lagoon or pond while being completely swimmer-friendly and clean. This effect is achieved by surrounding an organically-shaped pool with landscaping like trees, bushes, flowers and rocks to hide the edges, creating a peaceful, pastoral oasis.

Modern design is another option, with infinity pools becoming a top trend for their strikingly simple style. With no wall around the edge, these pools appear limitless by allowing water to flow off the end (into drain systems), creating an “infinite” view reminiscent of floating in the ocean.

Other common pool shapes are geometric forms like simple squares, circles, ovals, or Roman-style rectangular pools with rounded edges, and L-shaped pools. Customization and choice of pool shape depends largely on the size and profile of your backyard.

 

5. Design Elements—

This is the part of pool planning that truly allows the designer to give the pool an original feel, offering different elements that set the mood and enhance the entire concept.

The area inside the pool can be made from fiberglass, concrete or vinyl material, but classic, mosaic, or glass tiles are a beautiful, eye-catching option that add personality.

The patio area around the pool is another design option, with stamped concrete becoming a popular choice, along with concrete pavers in different colors and textures to add visual interest.

Pool lighting, both inside and around the pool is another element to consider, with traditional, LED fiber optic and solar lighting available. There are even dimmers that can be installed to control intensity of lighting.

Water features that flow into the pool, such as waterfalls and fountains are also beautiful ways to personalize a swimming pool, and add a relaxing running water sound to the backyard.

 

Pool design has come a long way, and what was once a simple choice between limited options is now an opportunity to turn your backyard into a work of art that enhances your home and life. Use the helpful tips above to design a fabulous swimming pool and patio area you can enjoy for many years to come.

Super Storage for Small Spaces: 8 Unique Organization Ideas

Organized Closet (2)

 

Organizing a small space can encourage creativity, as it can be hard to function in a messy environment, forcing the crowded to figure out unique storage solutions. When your home is very small, you quickly realize everything has to have a place, and every square foot must be utilized to the maximum potential.

Recently, the tiny house trend has been making the news, as people tired of struggling to pay mortgages on full-sized homes decide to downsize in a big way. By building miniature homes with minimal supplies, homeowners pay as they build, ending construction with no monthly mortgage hanging over their heads.

Tiny House (2)

The trade-off for the financial freedom of the small house movement, of course, is loss of space, but by creatively using every storage option available, owners of tiny homes have proven that humans can live comfortably in a much smaller area than previously imagined. Studio apartment occupants have used storage tricks for small spaces for years, but mini-homes have taken it to the extreme, inspiring many to live simpler lives.

Whether you live in a studio apartment or a large, spacious home, organization is always important. Clutter is the enemy of productivity, and nobody wants to live in a chaotic setting where they can’t find the things they want when necessary.

To spark your organizational creativity, listed below are 8 of the most efficient and original ideas being used today for keeping small places feeling roomier and well-ordered.

 

1. Unclutter to Organize—

The first step to creating more space in any home is to eliminate anything not often used or needed.

This can be difficult, forcing people to make tough choices when it seems safe to keep things “just in case,” but will be worth it when the organization job is automatically easier. Because guess what? When you have less of everything to organize, organizing everything is less work.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small by clearing out the garage, or even only a closet at a time: You don’t have to take on the whole house at once.

If you haven’t used it in a year or don’t absolutely need it, consider donating your pointlessly stored goods to a local thrift store or charity. This will make you feel good inside, knowing your unused belongings may help another, and take away the feeling that you’re throwing your belongings away.

Garage Storage (2)

 

2. Find the Right Furniture—

If you have large, overstuffed furniture, or more than you need for your family, consider selling or donating what you don’t use to automatically open up your home.

Consider sleek, compact designs for chairs and couches, and don’t buy a large kitchen table if you don’t need it. Pay attention to arrangement and allow rooms to flow when placing furniture, rather than blocking walkways and sightlines.

When buying furniture, always find pieces that combine function with fashion, especially if this involves hidden storage.

For example, buy a coffee table with multiple levels to add additional places for books or magazines, or substitute it with a trunk or ottoman that opens to offer storage inside.

Find an entertainment center with cabinets built in, rather than settling for a one-purpose television stand.

Consider side tables that combine light and shelving, benches with seats that lift to reveal storage, and rolling carts for extra kitchen counter space.

 

3. Sleep Sleekly—

Murphy beds are built into the wall to be pulled down for sleep and pushed back up during daytime, and have long been a staple of the bedroom size-impaired.

Bunk beds are commonly used to sleep multiple kids in one room, and a loft bed (i.e. bunk beds minus the bottom bed) can open up an extra play zone or a desk/computer area for anyone.

Also consider downsizing full, queen and king-sized beds to twin-sized for single sleepers whenever possible. A large bed is a luxury, but when space is an issue, sometimes a smaller bed can create extra room you’ll appreciate more.

 

4. Repurposed Spaces—

Sometimes when a home is built, there may be “dead” or closed-off areas not being utilized that can be opened up and given new life.

An example of this might be the area underneath a staircase, which can often be opened up or rebuilt to create a closet, mudroom with coat hangers, an office area, or even a place for a pet to hang out.

Closets can also be converted into secret work stations by removing the hanging bar and installing a shelf to serve as a laptop desk and office, allowing one to simply close the door to hide the paper clutter when desired. These converted closets also make great crafting or utility rooms.

Under Stair Storage (2)

 

5. Look Upward—

Installing wall-mounted shelving and cabinets in closets, bedrooms, above toilets, and onto garage walls are all examples of using the non-floor parts of a home to keep things neat.

Mounting a flat screen on a wall can completely eliminate a bulky entertainment center or television stand, and tall, narrow bookshelves can create vertical storage floor-to-ceiling without taking up too much valuable ground.

Pots and pans can be hung from walls or the ceiling in kitchens, rather than filling up limited cabinet capacity, microwaves can be mounted to save counter space, and door-hanging organizers can open up a crowded pantry.

In the garage, multi-levels of shelving can be pushed to the sides to create places for storage totes to sit neatly, and bikes can be hung for floor space.

 

6. Table Tricks—

One of the largest space-eaters in any kitchen is the table—if you have room for one. Because of this, many small home-dwellers will opt to extend a counter or build a slender shelf into the wall to pull bar stools up to for meals, rather than dine at a traditional table.

A table that folds up can be mounted to the wall to be lowered for use and raised back up to clear the way when not needed.

A small table with wheels can also be rolled out and then pushed to the side for extra counter space when not in use.

 

7. Below the Bed—

The area under most beds is a dusty, disorganized mess, which wastes what could be an excellent place to keep not-often-used items, such as out-of-season clothing, extra blankets, or exercise equipment stored close to the edges for easy reach.

Long, clear plastic storage totes with rollers underneath are available specifically for this purpose, and bags sold using vacuumed air removal to flatten them will store clothes beautifully in tight, flat spots such as this.

Buying a bed frame with pull-out drawers built in underneath the mattress is also an excellent way to make use of the square footage the bed was already going to take up.

 

8. Get Creative—

Just because something was made for a certain purpose doesn’t mean you can’t use it in a new way.

If you have a lot of make-up, hair products, jewelry or other bathroom or bedroom small item clutter, it’s okay to hang a shoe rack to contain it all. Feel free to buy one to use for shoe organization, while you’re at it.

Some have solved the small item clutter issue by installing a narrow shelf all the way around a room to give little knickknacks, candles and other decorative items a place to shine without eating up counter and table space.

The areas on top of kitchen and bathroom cabinets that often go unused can also be utilized with attractive baskets or bins filled with whatever you’d like.

You can also screw hooks underneath kitchen cabinets to create useful coffee mug hanging areas for more storage, and use robe or jacket hangers on walls and door backs whenever possible.

 

Remember, the sky’s the limit when it comes to figuring out how to make more room in your life and create order. Hopefully some of the interesting and innovative ideas listed above for increasing storage in small spaces has inspired you to find new ways to organize and clear the clutter from your home, no matter what the size of your living space.

Cheap Eats: 10 Top Tips to Make Marvelous Meals with Less Money

Potatoes (2)

 

Groceries are becoming more expensive every year, with no relief in sight, making it more important than ever to stretch every dollar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimated average cost to feed a family of 4 runs between $146 to $289 per week, so if you’d like to stick to the lower end of that average, you’ll have to learn to be a smart shopper and find ways to be frugal.

Below are 10 tips to make meals your family will love while spending less money at the grocery store:

 

1. Timing Matters—

Studies have shown that because stores start sales mid-week, this is the best time to grocery shop for items marked down because of impending expiration dates.

Food close to expiry that can be frozen will save your family big bucks if you have freezer space in which to store it.

 

2. Frozen is Frugal—

Frozen vegetables will often have more vitamins than fresh vegetables because they are fresh when frozen, and haven’t journeyed from their original destination to sit losing nutrition in a produce section.

Meat can also be bought in bulk, separated into smaller portions, and then frozen to save money.

 

3. Buy Dry—

There are many dry goods that offer nutritious meal options with endless seasoning possibilities that can make meals delicious as well as affordable.

Rice is a great high-fiber grain that fills people up for less, and is gluten-free for those who are intolerant.

Beans bought dry, rather than canned, are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Beans also create a complete protein when combined with rice, allowing diners to skip expensive meat dishes.

 

4. You Say Potato, I Say Big Savings—

Potatoes are consistently one of the cheapest fresh foods offered, and the most versatile. A big bag of these vitamin C and potassium rich vegetables can be made into healthy baked potatoes and fries, or mashed with butter, garlic, sour cream and anything else you’d like to add.

Side dishes, casseroles, crock pot soups and stews can all benefit from these spuds, and fill up the hungriest growing children in a nutritious way. So skip the processed foods full of preservatives and get back to these basic staples.

 

5. Don’t Obey the List—

While making a shopping list can help us save money by eliminating gasoline-wasting trips to the store for 1 or 2 items, don’t be afraid to skip the non-necessities written down if the price isn’t right.

Try to find these foods cheaper later if a price is higher than you’re used to seeing. You tend to know the prices of items you regularly purchase, so if it seems expensive, your instinct is probably correct.

 

6. Price Match, Please—

Many stores now offer price matching, which means that if you have a flyer with a cheaper price on any item they carry, they will match that price to keep your business (money) in-store.

The bigger grocery chains are known for starting this program, but many other grocery stores are also offering price matching in order to stay competitive. It never hurts to ask, right?

 

7. Sale Stock Ups—

When foods you’re sure your family will eat with longer expiration dates go on sale, stock up on them to save money later.

If you have a decent-sized or extra freezer, this is a great way to save money on meat and other frozen goods when they go down in price as well.

 

8. Slow Cook the Savings—

The secret weapon of creative cooks on a budget is the slow cooker. Offering a high improvisation factor, a crock pot can be a great way to use up the vegetables or other leftovers in your refrigerator before they go bad to stretch food even further.

A bigger batch of stew or soup means ingredients can be bought in bulk, saving money, and there will be plenty of leftovers to cover lunches, too.

 

9. Online is Fine—

If you’re an impulsive shopper and tend to come home with multiple items that weren’t on the list, you might consider grocery shopping online.

This may sound strange, but actually many larger chains are exploring this option and offering free shipping after a certain amount.

Obviously, you will still have to go to the store to purchase perishables like produce and meat or frozen foods, but if you buy all the dry goods online, you’ll at least lessen the time spent near potentially tempting impulse items.

 

10. Minimize Monetary Contact—

The less you shop, the less you’ll spend in a week, so resolve to only shop on one day and stay away from the stores unless absolutely necessary.

Shopping solo is also highly recommended, because having more people to grab impulse items around is a quick way to fill up a shopping cart with things you don’t need.

Plus, if you’re alone you can concentrate better, and maybe you’ll actually remember those coupons you keep forgetting to use.

 

Shopping on a tight budget can be a challenge, but with a good grocery plan involving the useful tips above, you can save money and feed your family affordable meals that still taste expensively delicious.

Fitting in Fitness: 5 Top Tips to Take Time for Post-Baby Exercise

Jogging Woman (2)

 

Once you’ve adjusted to life with your new baby, if you’re like most women, your next goal will likely involve trying to reclaim your pre-pregnancy wardrobe. But you now have a little cutie in your life who makes it harder to find the time to work out. Long gone are the leisurely “I’ll get to it later” days, because with an infant to care for, things put off until later are less likely get done at all.

So how can a new mom find the time for exercise? Don’t worry; with some planning and dedication, it can be done. Below are 5 top tips from fitness experts to help new moms fit in regular workouts and get back into shape.

 

1. Assess the Schedule—

It’s time to take a long look at your weekly schedule, and try to find any blank spots into which you might fit a workout. Most of us feel busier than we actually are, with chunks of time during our days we forget about, so figure out where every hour is going.

If you can find 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, no matter where they may happen, grab them for your fitness time and don’t let go.

Also: Get a daily planner with an hourly breakdown, and write the workouts into their designated time slots. This will help you remember your exercise plans, as well as giving you a sense of satisfaction when you check them off as “Done!” afterward.

 

2. Solicit Support—

If you prefer running or gym workouts and need babysitting, sit down and have a talk about your fitness scheduling needs with your significant other, babysitter, family members such as grandparents, or even a friend who also has kids and might be willing to swap babysitting.

Don’t discount the accountability power of a workout buddy, either. Working toward your fitness goals together with a friend can help both of you stay better motivated.

By discussing your fitness goals with others and setting up concrete plans to fit in exercise, you will be more motivated to stick with it, which is how we get results.

 

3. Get Exercise When You Can—

There will be days when the universe seems to be conspiring against your goals, and the best laid plans will fall to pieces, like so many cellulite dimples. This is when you have to stand up to the universe, say, “You can’t stop me,” and take whatever you can get.

This may mean that when the babysitter you had scheduled for a reasonable hour is sick, you work out very early in the morning before your significant other goes to work, or you find another form of exercise to replace the planned trip to the gym, such as a long walk or workout DVD.

Whatever you do, don’t give up—at least find a way to work some movement into your day, even if it’s only 20 minutes.

 

4. Make Fitness a Priority—

Yes, it’s more fun sometimes to browse social media sites for hours, but if you want those pre-baby clothes back, consistent exercise is going to have to happen, and clicking a mouse doesn’t burn many calories.

This means showing television time and the Internet who’s the boss by turning them off and sticking to your workout schedule.

Social media can become quite addictive, so if this is an issue for you, try going cold turkey for a week of online hiatus, or consider only using the Internet on the weekends.

Some people may even need to have a trusted friend change the passwords to any social media accounts they can’t stay away from to completely take away the option and break the addiction.

 

5. Don’t Play the Guilt Game—

“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

This is a funny saying, but it’s also absolutely true. In order to take good care of everyone else, your family needs you to be feeling good inside and out, and exercise is definitely a way to achieve this.

Remember that by finding time for fitness, you aren’t being selfish; you’re making sure you’re healthy and able to function at maximum capacity in order to be the best mother you can be.

Every workout is an investment in your good health, and that’s an investment in your family’s future, so don’t feel guilty: feel proud of yourself.

 

If you’re having trouble finding the time to work out, don’t forget that taking a stroller walk with your baby or doing workout DVDs at home both count as exercise, and that many yoga classes will allow moms to incorporate their babies into workouts to keep them entertained. Many gyms also offer daycare, so explore that option if you’re having trouble finding childcare support at home.

No matter what, you can get back into a healthy regime post-baby that will allow you to stay fit and feel great!

Belly Bulge, Be Gone! 6 Top Exercise Tips to Tone Abdominal Muscles

Abdominal Muscles (2)

 

Belly bulge is a troubling problem for many people, making us self-conscious and uncomfortable in our clothing with form-fitting waistlines that can feel too-tight. Considering that abdominal fat can surround the internal organs, contributing to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and heart disease, flattening the stomach is more than a vanity issue: it’s a valid health concern.

Fortunately there are many tips from fitness experts and exercises recommended to help tone the midsection. Below are 6 top things everyone can do to reduce belly fat and strengthen the abdominal muscles.

 

1. Get Your Heart Going—

The number one step shown to reduce extra pounds around the middle is regular, consistent cardiovascular exercise. Doing 30 to 60 minutes of cardio per day has been shown to cause weight loss, and that includes the tummy area. (Source: Harvard Medical School.)

Brisk walking counts as cardio, so shrinking your waistline could be as simple as working a 30 minute walk into your lunch break, or watching a television show while you treadmill every day after work.

Consistency is the key, so find your favorite type of cardio and stick with it to see results.

 

2. Carve Out a Spot—

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercises involving “abdominal hollowing” movements are especially helpful for building core muscles and strengthening the deeper stomach muscles.

This exercise (often called Cat-Cow Pose in yoga) is performed on the hands and knees, by inhaling with a relaxed belly. Next, the abdominal muscles are pulled in on an exhale while lifting the navel up as close to the spine as possible.

When this exercise is performed a minimum of 10 times daily (especially when combined with daily cardio), it will eventually tighten the midsection from within, slimming and toning the stomach area.

 

3. Become a Biker—

While riding the stationary bicycle is a great way to get cardio for weight loss, this particular bike exercise known for tightening the core muscles is done on the back, with the legs in the air.

When lying on your back, keep the arms behind the head to support neck muscles, and try to touch the each elbow to the opposite knee as you air pedal to increase the cellulite burning and abdominal toning properties of this classic exercise.

  

4. Mix It Up—

Fitness trainers recommend doing a variety of abdominal exercises to work the assorted muscles because only working one section can actually cause that muscle group to bulge out, creating the opposite of the smoothing effect you’re seeking.

So if you’re only doing crunches, for example, consider adding other variations like knee raises, side twists, plank and abdominal machine reps, or using the exercise ball to force different core sections to join in on the fun.

 

5. Lift Weights to Lose Weight—

If you have a belly bulge, you have weight on your body to lose—you already know this. And one of the best ways to increase weight loss results is to build muscle, because resting muscle burns more calories than resting fat, speeding up metabolism.

Consider adding some form of strength training such as weight machines or weightlifting to your weekly workout a few days a week. This extra muscle mass might be just the thing your body needs to burn off that belly fat for good.

 

6. Flutter to Fitness—

A popular core-strengthening exercise is the scissor-style exercise mat move referred to as doing “flutter kicks.”

Flutter kicks are done by lying on the back with arms at the sides, with the heels raised 6 inches off the ground. Engage the abdominal muscles and hold them tight while moving the legs up and down in the air. Be careful to keep the back and neck muscles relaxed, and focus on only using the stomach.

When done consistently, flutter kicks are another excellent belly fat buster because they strengthen abdominal muscles from the inside out.

 

In addition to adding extra exercise, don’t forget about the fat-fighting friend we have in water. Water assists with digestion and reduces bloating and constipation, both of which can contribute to a bigger-looking belly. Water also clears the body of toxins, and the cleaner our system, the faster we lose weight, so be sure to drink at least 8-10 glasses a day.

By using the fitness trainer tried-and-tested tips above, anyone can eliminate annoying tummy fat and build a flatter, firmer stomach. Get started today, and kiss that belly bulge bye-bye!

Backsplash Brainstorm: Incredible, Inspiring Ideas for a Killer Kitchen

Mosaic Tile (2)

 

A lot of messy activities happen in the kitchen, making a backsplash a great idea for any cooking area. In addition to protecting walls where the culinary commotion occurs, a backsplash can also be a great way to add interest, charm and style to the room. No matter what you’re hoping to achieve, there are endless colors, textures and materials you can use to get the look you want.

While there’s nothing wrong with an elegant tile backsplash, there are other innovative options to consider as well. Below are some of the latest and greatest original backsplash ideas, and some cool classic styles to get your creative juices flowing.

 

1. Ceramic Subway Tiles—

Completely on-trend, these white tiles are most commonly combined with white grout for a clean, contemporary look.

With their modern-yet-vintage vibe, subway tiles are a great way to create a neutral or monochromatic feel, or brighten up a darker kitchen.

 

2. Glass Tiles—

Glass tiles have a watery flow and reflect light beautifully, working well with any style of décor to give the room an oceanic, soothing tranquility.

If you’d like to open up a kitchen, the clear luminescence of glass tiles (or one large, solid sheet of painted glass, if you prefer to skip the grout) can make a small room feel bigger, and look beautiful.

 

3. River Rocks or Pebbles—

If you’re a fan of rustic design and like to incorporate nature into your home, using small, smooth rocks as a backsplash can make your kitchen walls reminiscent of a relaxing retreat.

Garden stones in natural colors, brightly-colored rocks, or even seashells can be used, with grout gently smoothed between to make the surface waterproof as well as pretty.

 

4. Tin Tiles—

Formerly spotted adding character to ceilings, decorative tin has become a popular way to lend eccentric charm and vintage appeal to kitchen walls, with the benefit of a reflective surface to brighten shadowy under-cabinet areas.

Tin tiles come in sheets of embellished metal to be cut and placed in large pieces, or individual tiles if preferred, and silver, bronze or classic copper are popular color choices.

Be sure to treat tin backsplashes with a waterproofing coat of polyurethane to prevent rust.

 

5. Brick Wall Tiles—

The same thin tiles made from brick to cover other walls (often used to create an exposed-brick effect) can make great backsplash tiles in a kitchen when used with grout and sealant to eliminate the porous surface.

This backsplash looks exceptional with Tuscan design, adding an old-fashioned, classic feel, but can also complement a rustic modern design with its raw simplicity.

 

6. Chalkboard Backsplash—

Chalkboard paint is a popular option for anyone, but works especially well for those with kids, busy lifestyles, or a penchant for creative expression.

Chalkboard paint is already a waterproof sealant, so all it needs is a quick wipe-down when messy. And bonus: You can write down your recipe for dinner or grocery list without having to leave the kitchen.

 

7. Mosaic Magic—

If you are artistic, or have an artist in the family willing to help, broken pieces of tile, glass, ceramics, glass beads, and anything else you choose can be glued to the wall in a beautiful design or pattern.

Grout is used to fill in the areas between the works of art, with a sealant applied to protect the masterpiece at the end. Mosaic design is a great way to add character to a flat, boring room, but also works well will eclectic design.

 

8. Stainless Steel Tiles—

Especially if you have a very modern kitchen, stainless steel tiles are a smart and timeless option, with their metallic sheen that matches any wall paint color or countertop.

Like decorative tin, stainless steel tiles can make a room feel brighter and bigger by reflecting light—and be sure to get a polished version of this metal for easy cleaning.

 

9. Marvelously Magnetic—

By using white dry erase board, you can actually make the area behind your kitchen counters into a place to hold magnetic lists, picture frames and anything else magnetic you love.

Hardware stores often sell large dry erase boards, and will cut them into your required shape and size, so measure twice and bring your calculations with you to try this unique DIY backsplash idea.

 

As you can see, tile, metal and magnets are some fun ideas to get you started, but the sky is the limit when it comes to covering the backsplash area of your kitchen. Don’t forget that favorite artworks, photos, maps and wallpapers can also adorn walls to give you any vision you can dream up. Use the ideas above to get your imagination moving, and have fun with it.

A Better Brain, Body and Beyond: 6 Beautiful Benefits of Yoga

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It’s well known that yoga increases flexibility and strength in a gentle way accessible to those at any fitness level. But yoga fans will tell you it also offers mental and spiritual benefits that go beyond mere muscle tone and elasticity. Some even believe that yoga slows aging by keeping the body cleaner, running more smoothly, and reducing our physical deterioration on the cellular level.

If you’re considering starting a yoga practice, remember that even if you’re in great shape, it’s a completely different form of exercise than what you’re probably used to doing, so take it slow and listen to your body. If it hurts, stop, because yoga isn’t a “no pain, no gain” type of workout. You’re supposed to feel relaxed and limber at the end of class, not like limping home in defeat.

Below are 6 benefits to adding yoga to your regular workout regimen:

 

1. See Ya, Stress—

One of the first things people notice when they start a regular yoga routine is the sense of calm and tranquility it brings them, almost instantly. Something about stretching muscles and the slow, controlled movements brings a peace to the workout rarely found in other exercises.

One study showed that women who did yoga at least once a week for over 2 years released 41% less of a protein triggered by stress that makes people feel moody and tired. (Source: Psychosomatic Medicine.)

Because yoga forces us to focus intently on our body and position, it creates an automatic sense of mindfulness as we meditate and remain in the moment for the duration of each pose, naturally eliminating stress and tension.

 

2. Balance Bonus—

As we get older, balance can become compromised by medications or loss of muscle tone. Yoga can correct this issue by strengthening the balance muscles through repetitive practice, because we all know: practice makes better.

Tree pose, where each leg is individually held up at the knee for a count (without lowering the other leg for support or wobbling) and yoga poses that build core strength can really help those with inner ear or dizziness issues.

 

3. Stretching to Sleep—

Studies have shown that people with sleep issues who do yoga regularly before bed sleep better, longer, and fall asleep faster than those who don’t. (Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital.)

This improved sleep is attributed to the more relaxed mental state generally found in those who do regular yoga.

Other research has shown that as little as 3 sessions per week can help people sleep better overall—so if insomnia is an issue for you, consider spending some quality time on your yoga mat to hopefully get more quality time in your bed.

 

4. Better Breathing—

Yoga can help those with asthma, allergies and other respiratory issues, thanks to the sinus-clearing deep breathing exercises that tend to accompany the poses.

Reducing anxiety plays a role in breathing problems, and the calming effects of yoga seem to help patients with asthma control tension and relax so they can breathe more easily without medication.

Deep breathing also oxygenates the body which is great for brain function, and helps every other part of the body perform better as well.

 

5. Brain Booster—

By relaxing the mind, yoga increases mental clarity and concentration, and psychologically improves emotional well-being and attitude.

Breathing through one nostril at a time is a common yoga meditation practice that has been shown in studies to increase electrical activity in the brain, boosting cognitive abilities and intellectual performance.

 

6. Terrific Toning—

Even more than strength training and free weights, yoga can target muscle groups by using the body’s own weight to balance, firm and tone. Poses requiring the exerciser to hold them for long periods of time are especially strengthening.

The back is one of the areas most helped by yoga, as the backbone supports everything, and yoga promotes good alignment by decompressing the spine and building up surrounding muscles. This can be very helpful for those who sit for a living and have back pain issues.

 

Remember that yoga is not a competitive sport: everyone is at their own level, with strengths and weaknesses, just like yourself. The goal is to achieve progress at a comfortable rate so you will be more likely to stick with it and see results. If you push too hard too soon, you might put yourself off this excellent form of exercise for good, losing all of the benefits listed above.

So hang in there and be consistent, because the more you practice, the more you’ll learn to love yoga, and all of the wonderful things it has to offer your body and soul.

Back for the Future: Tips to Prevent a Life of Lumbar Pain

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The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has reported that nearly 80% of all people will experience some form of severe back pain in their lives, and is the most common place people get hurt at work.

Back injury is commonly caused by improper lifting technique, repetitive straining, or sudden force, but even poor posture or ergonomically incorrect seating can lead to pain.

Because the lower part of the body bears the weight of the torso and must manage more motion, the lower back—or lumbar spine region—is the most commonly injured. Herniated discs, pulled muscles and strained tendons can all cause lower back pain for many people, whether they work physically demanding jobs or sit at a desk all day.

Fortunately, there are many things everyone can do to prevent a life of lumbar pain. Below are some of the top recommended tips to prevent back injury.

 

1. Let the Legs Lift—

Lifting heavy items the wrong way is a common way to hurt the back because we often don’t think about picking something up; we impulsively lean over to grab it and… ouch! There goes the back.

To prevent this painful scenario, train yourself to squat rather than lean over when you grab anything beyond lower reach. If you’ve learned to do a squat exercise the proper way, you know exactly how to lift correctly—with the legs.

Proper lifting form involves pushing the rear end out and bending at the knees like you’re sitting in a chair. Your goal is to engage the thigh muscles, and not the back. Grab the item you’re lifting as closely to yourself on the way back up, and use your leg power to rise without twisting in the middle. Also, remember to reverse this process to put anything down.

If you can master proper lift technique to the point that you automatically assume this position, you will drastically reduce your chances for future back pain.

 

2. Building the Back—

Prevention is the best plan to avoid back injury, and one great way to avoid hurting muscles is to strengthen them.

The abdominal core muscles support back muscles, and by making sure you have abs of steel, you’ll be bracing your back as well. Pay special attention to reinforcing the oblique muscles that run along the sides of the body, as these help to steady the back during lifting.

Sitting on an exercise ball, leg lifts, crunches, back leg swings, lunges and squats are all great examples of core-strengthening moves that boost the back. If you can use workouts to lose excess belly fat, this will also help your spine stay aligned and strong.

 

3. Posture Perfect—

The role of maintaining good posture can’t be stressed enough when it comes to avoiding or alleviating back pain. Because bad posture can become a habit, it has the power to put the spine completely out of alignment, wreaking havoc on back muscles.

When standing, the head should be lined up with the backbone, shoulders back, with abdominal muscles engaged and straight.

Sitting posture should be exactly the same, with both feet flat on the floor. Avoid slumping or crossing the legs to keep muscles and ligaments properly lined up.

Don’t forget that the car counts, too. Especially if you have a long daily commute, your car may be the cause of your back pain, so adjust your seat and posture accordingly.

 

4. Sleep Tight… and Right—

If you’re experiencing chronic back pain without obvious reasons like those mentioned above, you might consider your sleeping situation. Many people don’t even realize their bed is causing the problem.

An extremely soft bed is recommended against because it doesn’t offer enough support, stretching muscles, ligaments and bones beyond comfort zones.

But a very hard bed can force the body into overly rigid, uncomfortable positions that make muscles ache as well, so what you’re seeking is firm support with enough give to provide comfort.

Special beds with adjustable settings are also available that can help you find the perfect foundation for your body’s needs.

 

5. Stress Less—

Everybody holds tension in different areas, but for many, the back is a common place to experience stress-related muscle tightness.

This is especially prevalent in the upper back, so if you notice your shoulders rising as anxiety builds, get into the habit of consciously lowering the shoulders every hour, along with deep breaths to promote relaxation.

 

It is estimated that treatment for lower back pain costs around $50 billion every year, and is the number one cause for job-related disability. (Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)

Back pain can drastically lessen the quality of life for those who suffer from it, so if you manage a business, be sure to educate employees about how to avoid back injuries. If you are experiencing lumbar pain or want to avoid injury in the future, be sure to use the tips above to keep your back muscles strong and protected for life.

A Complete Kitchen: Top 10 Tools No Cook Should Be Without

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Fortunately for foodies and cooking enthusiasts everywhere, the recent “Paleo diet” trend only requires that participants eat like cavemen, and not prepare food like them. Because let’s face it: tools are good. Tools help humans prepare food and cook faster, making it easier to create delicious meals.

But those who don’t have a lot of money for kitchen gadgets and cookware often wonder which kitchen essentials top chefs would choose if on a limited budget. In short: What are the basic, must-have items every cook should own?

Below is a list of the top 10 tools recommended by professionals to make every kitchen complete:  

 

1. A Good Knife Set—

Invest a decent amount of money here if you’re prioritizing, because knives are the most often used kitchen tool for food prep, and those vegetables aren’t going to cut themselves.

By purchasing a high-quality set of knives, you’ll save yourself time and money, because knives that stay sharper longer work better and don’t need to be replaced as soon.

Try to buy a set that includes a knife sharpener if possible, and treat them right—no running knives through the dishwasher, unless you want them to dull, rust and fall apart.

 

2. A Solid Cutting Board—

Plastic cleans well, but most chefs prefer a big wooden cutting board that will stay in place during cutting.

If you have the counter space, a larger board will conveniently allow for prep of all the meal’s ingredients, rather than one at a time.

If you can find a non-slip pad to keep underneath your cutting board, this is a great addition that will prevent knife slippage and accidents.

 

3. A Slow Cooker or Crock Pot—

Whether you’re using it to make the meal, or simply to cook one of the components, a slow cooker can be a wonderful way to save yourself time in the kitchen.

By reducing the work to prep-only, a slow cooker essentially makes the meal for you, and the option to use low heat ensures food will be tender and delicious without being burned.

 

4. A Cool Colander—

Whatever material you prefer is fine—ceramic, plastic or metal—just be sure to get a colander with small enough holes (or mesh) so that liquids can drain while foods like angel hair pasta and diced vegetables stay in.

There are also nesting colander sets for those with minimal storage space that give different sizes from which to choose, depending on the task at hand.

 

5. A Sharp Peeler—

Cutting the skin off fruits and vegetables with a knife can not only be time-consuming and inaccurate, it can be dangerous, depending on the blade skills of the cook.

Vegetable peelers are generally affordable, so replace old, rusty, dull ones with sharp, shiny, new ones. You’ll save yourself major time preparing the next mashed potato side dish, and avoid the frustration of trying to peel thin veggie skins with knives.

 

6. Measuring Devices—

Especially if you do a lot of baking, a measuring cup set for dry goods is a necessity, as we all know that baking is the math of the cooking world. One faulty measurement and the whole recipe is ruined.

A good glass measuring cup for liquids is required in every kitchen and will be used constantly, not only for gauging amounts, but for heating up liquids in the microwave and whisking eggs.

Also be sure to have a real measuring spoon set on hand at all times, because silverware is not accurate.

 

7. Magnificent Mixing Bowls—

At least two bowls are needed for a properly stocked kitchen, with one medium and one large mixing bowl generally recommended.

You’ll find yourself pulling these out often, so if you have the room, consider getting a nesting set of them for mixing bowls in every size.

 

8. A Wonderful Whisk—

While many believe that liquids can be mixed with forks and spoons, real pros know that a whisk is the right tool for the job and can’t be replicated with mere silverware.

Whisks properly fluff food by blending in air, and can mix substances that don’t generally blend well, such as oil and vinegar, making a huge difference in texture and flavor.

 

9. Cast Iron Skillets—

Do you want to be taken seriously as a culinary competitor? Show them you mean business by going old school with cast iron skillets and pans.

Chefs love cast iron cookware because foods cook more evenly in them, and cast iron lasts forever.

Health advocates appreciate that they aren’t coated with chemicals that can come off in foods. (Ceramic non-stick pans are another great no-chemical option, however, if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge into cast iron.)

 

10. Rubber Spatulas—

An assortment of these in different sizes is a handy thing to have, as they work for anything you’re cooking and don’t stick to food or surfaces.

Whether you’re making eggs, a stir-fry, keeping a pan of gravy from burning, or mixing food in a bowl, these incredibly versatile tools will become your go-to grab items for all stirring needs.

 

With the basic tools above, your kitchen should be stocked up with everything you need for culinary success. You’ve got the right gear… now all you need is ingredients and inspiration. Happy cooking!