The ultimate staircase workout for serious fitness gains

We’re not talking about StairMaster workouts, though they might have their place. We’re talking about a good old-fashioned set of steps, be they the zigzagging flights in your office building or the well-trod bleachers at a nearby stadium. A staircase workout is an incredibly effective way to improve fitness and overall health: One study found that simply walking up 200 steps twice a day, five days a week, for eight weeks, can cause a 17 percent increase in VO2 max, which is a common way of measuring someone’s aerobic fitness.

Running up stairs brings even more benefits. Because the body is constantly being lifted upward with each step, it engages more leg muscles than running and improves vertical jump. Plus, according to Greatist Expert and strength trainer Jordan Syatt, running up stairs is easier on the joints than regular sprints, and better improves an athlete’s range of motion.

But the best thing about staircase workouts? They can be done on any staircase and they don’t cost a thing. So find some steps and step on the gas, because Jordan Syatt has put together two incredible high-intensity interval training staircase workouts — one for beginners and one for the more advanced peeps. You shouldn’t need too many stairs for this, just enough that you can run continuously for 10 to 15 seconds (about two to three flights). Remember to keep your focus on the top of the steps ahead of you. You can do it!

What’s your favorite free workout? Let us know in the comments below.

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Nutrition Label 2.0: bigger, bolder, better

Ice cream lovers beware: The government knows you’re unlikely to stop after half a cup.

New nutrition labels proposed Thursday for many popular foods, including ice cream, aim to more accurately reflect what people actually eat. And the proposal would make calorie counts on labels more prominent, too, reflecting that nutritionists now focus more on calories than fat.

For the first time, labels also would be required to list any sugars that are added by manufacturers.

In one example of the change, the estimated serving size for ice cream would jump from a half cup to a cup, so the calorie listing on the label would double as well.

The idea behind the change, the first overhaul of the labels in two decades, isn’t that the government thinks people should be eating twice as much; it’s that they should understand how many calories are in what they already are eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that, by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not some ideal.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” said first lady Michelle Obama, who joined the FDA in announcing the proposed changes at the White House.

Mrs. Obama made the announcement as part of her Let’s Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is marking its fourth anniversary. On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of less-healthful foods in schools.

The new labels would be less cluttered. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called them “a more user-friendly version.”

But they are probably several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it’s final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply.

The agency projects food companies will have to pay around $2 billion to revise labels. Companies have resisted some of the changes in the past, including listing added sugars, but the industry is so far withholding criticism.

Pamela Bailey of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry group that represents the nation’s largest food companies, called the proposal a “thoughtful review.”

It is still not yet clear what the final labels will look like. The FDA offered two labels in its proposal — one that looks similar to the current version but is shorter and clearer and another that groups the nutrients into a “quick facts” category for things like fat, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.

There also would be an “avoid too much” category for saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar, and a “get enough” section with vitamin D, potassium, calcium, iron and fiber. Potassium and vitamin D are would be additions, based on current thinking that Americans aren’t getting enough of those nutrients. Vitamin C and vitamin A listings are no longer required.

Both versions list calories above all of those nutrients in large, bold type.

Serving sizes have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing themselves as multiple servings, so the calorie count appears lower.

Under the proposed rules, both 12-ounce and 20-ounce sodas would be considered one serving, and many foods that are often eaten in one sitting — a bag of chips, a can of soup or a frozen entree, for example — would either be newly listed as a single serving or would list nutrient information both by serving and by container.

The inclusion of added sugars to the label was one of the biggest revisions. Nutrition advocates have long asked for that line on the label because it’s impossible for consumers to know how much sugar in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and how much is added by the manufacturer. Think an apple vs. apple sauce, which comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties.

According to the Agriculture Department’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in U.S. diets. Though those naturally occurring sugars and the added sugars act the same in the body, the department says the added sugars are just empty calories while naturally occurring ones usually come along with other nutrients.

David Kessler, who was FDA commissioner when the first Nutrition Facts labels were unveiled in the early 1990s, said he thinks focusing on added sugars and calories will have a public health benefit. He said the added sweetness, like added salt, drives overeating. And companies will adjust their recipes to get those numbers down.

While some people ignore the panels, there’s evidence that more are reading them in recent years as there has been a heightened interest in nutrition. An Agriculture Department study released earlier this year said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, up from 34 percent two years earlier.
What do you think of the proposed changes – would they be helpful to you and your family?

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10 easy at-work workouts

Next time you can’t bring yourself to stop at the gym on your way home from the office, don’t sweat it. You don’t need to force exercise after work, when there’s desk-ercise at work.

Here are eight covert ways to work your body and increase your step count while you work your job, without your boss ever knowing the difference.

1 Business as Usual
While seated in your chair, perform leg extensions. Lift your feet off the floor until your knees are completely straight and their muscles contracted. With enough repetitions (and maybe with the added weight resistance of a heavy pair of leather boots), your quads will tone before the end of the quarter. Best part? What happens under your desk, stays under your desk.

2 Regular Raises
Waiting in line at the copy machine? Don’t just stand there — climb onto those tippy-toes. If nobody is looking, lower and lift in sets of 30 repetitions. If you’re being watched, hold yourself up in the air. Shapely calves stabilize and empower — not to mention look sleek and sexy in a pair of heels.

3 Credit Crunch
The upright crunch is one of the most effective conditioning drills you have up your cardigan sleeve. While typing a report, keep your back straight, lift your knees above the chair, and hold them there until your contracted abdominal muscles can’t take any more.

4 Turn-Around Time
This exercise requires a swivel chair, and is only suitable in an empty office. Begin with the Credit Crunch, but kick it up a notch. After you elevate your legs, go for a spin. Jerk your knees for momentum and rotate. See how many revolutions you can make before exhausting your core. This one makes getting fit fun.

5 The Floor Trader
Instead of walking down the hall to the nearest restroom, extend your bathroom break by choosing a lavatory on a different floor. And don’t use the elevator! The extra stair ascending and descending each day will add up, and result in the positive kind of company loss.

6 Market Pull
Place your hands in your lap with one downturned palm resting on top of the upturned palm. Your arms should form a straight line from elbow to elbow. Start sliding your hands apart, curl your fingers, and lock them together. Now pull as hard as you can without breaking your grip. Rest and repeat. This isometric exercise works your traps, delts, triceps and biceps without you ever leaving your cubicle.

7 Push Production
Place your hands in your lap with palms kissing one another as if in prayer. Now push your hands together. Rest and repeat. This works your pecs, biceps and triceps. Gym membership? Who needs it? You’ll be sure to see a return on this investment.

8 Desk Assignment
To reap further benefits of isometric exercise, place your palms under the base of your desktop and push up against its resistance. Alternatively, lay your palms flat on the top of your desk and push down. If you’ve recently received a nasty memo, slip it under your press for additional motivation.

9 Binding Contract
While perched in your desk chair, tighten your gluteus muscles. Alternate between quick releases and longer holds. Either way, squeeze with all your might. Although, if you have a particularly observant coworker sitting behind you, you might want to opt for the longer, more discreet, holds.

10 Active Portfolio
Have a lunch hour? Instead of spending it reading 50 Shades of Grey in the break room, take the first 40 minutes and walk around the neighborhood, or in bad weather, the building. Then circle back to the office fridge, pick up your lunch and enjoy it for the remaining 20 minutes. You’ve earned it!

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The best and worst foods to eat when you’re sick

Even when you’ve done your best to fight off the winter blues and miserable flus, it’s almost inevitable you’ll get at least a mild sniffle at some point during cold and flu season. And even though being stuck at home with a fever does warm up our bodies — which may sound nice when the temperature outside is below zero — it’s not exactly as enjoyable as warming up in the sun on a gorgeous beach somewhere. With flu season peaking in February, it’s time to stock up on food and drinks that’ll get you back to tip-top shape in no time.

The Need-To-Know
When we’re sick, the body needs more calories to function normally. The body must work harder than normal when we are sick in order to fight infection, especially with fevers (when it’s battling higher body temperatures, too). To do this effectively, it needs to maintain higher energy levels (which can be tough when it’s already working so hard). This is why properly fueling a sick body is an essential part of getting better.

It’s important to stick to regular eating schedules when sick because consuming fewer calories than normal can restrict the body’s ability to heal. In fact, studies suggest reducing calorie intake when sick not only increases susceptibility to the flu, but also worsens symptoms and lengthens the duration of illness.

While a nasty cold or bad case of the flu might ruin your appetite, it’s important to stay well nourished and hydrated. Eating smaller portions of food more frequently (and listening to your body to determine when you’re actually hungry) makes it easier to steadily fuel ourselves through the recovery process. The best foods to eat will keep us hydrated and give our bodies extra energy and nutrients to stay strong (without aggravating upset tummies or clogged-up respiratory systems).

Your Action Plan

The best way to kick a cold is to drink plenty of fluids and eat immunity-boosting foods. Here are some of the best items out there:

Broth-Based Soup
It’s not just an old wives’ tale — chicken noodle soup can actually help soothe a cold: The chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine, which helps thin mucus in the lungs, and the hot broth helps to keep nasal passages moist, prevent dehydration and fight inflammation in the throat. Plus, the other ingredients may help the body kick a cold by stopping congestion and inflammation in their tracks.

Hot Tea
Warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and alleviate congestion, so drinks like freshly-brewed green tea — which is rich in infection-fighting antioxidants and supports the immune system — or hot water with lemon are ideal for staying hydrated while helping out that stuffy nose.

Citrus Fruits
It’s a myth that vitamin C can cure the common cold, and there isn’t actually much scientific evidence behind the theory that it’ll reduce the length or severity of colds, either. However, while citrus fruits might not be a cure-all, the soft white layer of skin found on oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes does contain flavonoids, which can help boost the immune system and are great for speeding recovery.

Ice Pops
Staying properly hydrated while sick with a chest cold can keep mucus thin and help lessen congestion. While it’s generally better to eat fruit rather than drink it, ice pops are great as a different way to hydrate and are especially easy on the throat. Bonus points if they’re 100 percent fruit juice, or made from whole fruit!

Spicy Foods
Spicy foods can make our noses run and our eyes water, but they’re also effective natural decongestants. Eating chili peppers, wasabi or horseradish can help relieve the symptoms of congestion.

When it comes to stomach issues (which can accompany the flu), eating bland foods that are easy to digest and staying hydrated are the best defenses for a quick recovery. Here are a few of your best bets:

Crackers and Toast
Plain, unsalted or lightly-salted crackers and toast are simple, bland foods that are easy on the stomach. These high-starch foods won’t aggravate the stomach and can help stabilize digestion (which is especially helpful after vomiting).

Bananas are rich in potassium, which is often depleted during bouts of sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. They’re easier to digest (A+ for bland foods!), may help lower body temperature and can help replenish lost electrolytes.

Research has shown that ginger is incredibly effective at preventing and soothing nausea and other gastric ailments (such as constipation, bloating and vomiting). Drinking ginger tea or flat ginger ale (to avoid disrupting the stomach with carbonation) can help keep you hydrated while also soothing tummy troubles.

Foods to Avoid
Since the body’s more vulnerable during illness, it’s best to avoid any foods that put the body under excess stress. Certain foods can make the unpleasant experience of being sick even worse. Here are a few to steer clear of:

Spicy And Acidic Foods
While spicy foods might be good for nasal congestion, they can also be rough on the stomach and cause more pain and discomfort. Steer clear of them if you’re experiencing stomach upset.

Anything High In Sugar And Fat
High sugar intake can suppress the immune system and cause inflammation. Foods high in fat, on the other hand, can be more difficult to digest compared to carbs and protein, and can trigger stomach pains as a result.

Dairy (Maybe)
The jury’s still out on this one, but many people believe that consuming dairy can promote mucus production, which could worsen congestion when sick. However, current research indicates that this may actually be due to a placebo effect. But regardless of whether or not milk changes how much mucus we actually produce, drinking it can create the feeling of thicker mucus, so if that bothers you, it can’t hurt to avoid milk while sick.

Next time you’re feeling a little under the weather, be sure to get plenty of rest and lots of fluids and consider incorporating some of these awesome foods into your diet to experience a quicker — or at least more comfortable — recovery.

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What happens to your body after just one workout

To reap the full range of life-extending, heart-protecting, sleep-promoting, obesity-thwarting benefits of exercise, you’re going to have to get some regular activity. In fact, about two and a half hours a week of it.

Those hours should be moderate-intensity aerobic activity (think: brisk walking), according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. (More vigorous exercisers can cut back on time as they up the intensity, but everyone should also aim for a couple of strength-training sessions a week, according to the Guidelines.)

But exercise also happens to be one of those cases where something is most certainly better than nothing. While we can only encourage you to stick with it, you should be proud of yourself even just for a single sweat sessions, thanks in part to these pretty powerful perks of just one workout.

Your DNA can change.

In a 2012 study, Swedish researchers found that among healthy but inactive adults, mere minutes of exercise altered genetic material in muscle cells. Of course, we inherit our DNA from our parents, but lifestyle factors like exercise can play a part in expressing or “turning on” certain genes. In the instance of exercise, it appears to affect gene expression for strength and metabolism.

You’ll be in better spirits.

As you kick off your workout, your brain will start to release a number of different feel-good neurotransmitters, including endorphins, which are the most commonly cited explanation for the so-called “runner’s high” and serotonin, which is well known for its role in mood and depression.

You may be protected from diabetes.

Like with the subtle changes to DNA, small changes to how fat is metabolized in muscle also occur after just one sweat session. In a 2007 study, University of Michigan researchers found that a single cardio workout increased storage of fat in muscle, which actually improved insulin sensitivity. Low insulin sensitivity, often called insulin resistance, can lead to diabetes.

You’ll become more focused.

The surge of blood to the brain when you start huffing and puffing kicks brain cells into high gear, leaving you feeling more alert during your workout and more focused immediately after. In a 2012 review of the research on the mental effects of exercise, researchers noted improvement in focus and concentration from bouts of activity as short as just 10 minutes, the Boston Globe reported.

Stress will fade.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that about 14 percent of people turn to exercise to mitigate stress. And even though pounding the pavement is, by definition, a stress response (cortisol increases, heart rate quickens), it really can ease some of the negativity — even when exercise itself stresses you out. It’s likely a combination of factors, including the influx of extra blood to the brain and the rush of mood-boosting endorphins out of it.

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