Strengthen your Brain to Improve your Health

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Brain ImageBrain health is an often overlooked aspect of fitness but has a major impact on the overall well-being of the body. Many times brain health is only addressed once there are known issues. Fortunately, many of the healthy steps we recommend for the well-being of the body will also support healthy brain function.

The following tips will support brain health while improving overall wellness.

Never stop learning. Keep your brain sharp by challenging it on a daily basis. Simple things like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or trying a new activity that makes you think on your feet like a dance class, or simply reading a book on an unfamiliar topic are all great for keeping the brain active. These types of activities should make you think, learn, and use the brain while embracing the new challenges.

Exercise. We all know that consistent exercise is recommended to keep your body going strong, but these benefits will support brain health as well. High-intensity cardio and strength training will help produce a beneficial form of nitric oxide that promotes brain function and vascular health while reducing inflammation. Short bouts of extra high-intensity exercise have the greatest impact on these nitric oxide levels, so think interval style training rather than steady state.

Improve your sleep quality. Of course we’d all like to get more sleep, but if you haven’t been getting seven to eight hours a night, start focusing on the quality of your sleep. Maintaining a consistent blood sugar throughout the night will help you sleep straight through or for longer periods before waking unintentionally. You can help maintain nightly blood sugar levels by avoiding high carbohydrate foods later in the day or before bedtime. Consuming fibrous carbs instead and getting a quality fat and protein source will help keep levels steadier throughout the night.

Eat clean and nourish. Systemic inflammation from poor dietary choices and food intolerances can deplete brain health as well. The brain communicates directly with the digestive system through the vagus nerve. Poor brain function can impair this communication and lead to digestive issues which will in turn lead to continued brain impairment from lack of nutrient absorption. By limiting sugary foods and controlling insulin levels, you are improving your brain’s communication with the rest of the body.

Support brain oxygenation. If the brain is not getting an ample supply of oxygen, it may be struggling and performing poorly. Stress can cause shallow breathing and overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system and suppress the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that the “fight or flight” response is turned up and the “rest and digest” response is turned down. Learning how to calm the body with stress reduction and breathing techniques can go a long way in resetting this balance.

These are just a handful of simple things you can do to help improve the health of one of the most complex organs in the body.

Making Your Healthy Lifestyle Personal

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Trainers CasualCongratulations! You’ve finally joined the gym! You’re handed a list of classes with odd names, take one look at the complicated equipment and the hard bodies walking by and wonder why you’ve invested a nice chunk of change in something so intimidating.

It’s not you. It’s the facility. Which is why Push Fitness is worth a long, lean look.

Push Fitness is a private personal training studio that focuses on getting results for clients no matter what shape they’re in. Specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutritional counseling, Push’s programs are customized to fit your specific needs and goals. “Push has always been about keeping personal training “personal” and working with clients on an individual basis to ensure that lifestyle choices are continually improving and goals are being met,” explained Joshua Steckler, President and owner of Push Fitness.

Established in 2008, Push works with and for everyone from first-time exercisers to performance athletes and the many in between. And success is really what sets the Schaumburg business apart from other fitness facilities. “Our programs are based on the specific results the client is looking to achieve and are broken down into three, six and nine months at either two or three times per week,” Steckler said. “Our job is to educate, motivate, and hold them accountable with the exercise we prescribe as well as the nutritional program they are set up on.” The nutrition program, “Push Start your Metabolism,” can even encompass trips to the grocery store, special recipes and nutritional seminars led by local professionals.

Think you can down a bag of Doritos and do a couple more minutes on the elliptical to even it all out? That would be a negative according to the fitness expert. “Our nutrition program is based on eating real foods but customized to the individual based on their metabolic needs. Without a nutritional overhaul, many of our clients would be spinning their wheels in the gym only to end up doing more harm than good to their bodies.”

The seed of the Daily Herald’s Fittest Loser Challenge was actually planted by Steckler and his team. “Our vision was to showcase the extraordinary results we were getting with our clients in a way that could bring awareness to the community,” he said. “It has grown into an incredible program that really shows what can be done when someone is surrounded by the right people.” Steckler says his trainers are the best in the biz: well-educated, experienced, energetic and with tons of passion for helping people lead healthier lifestyles. The fitness business reaches out to the community with health-centered events such as a 5K in the fall to raise awareness about childhood obesity.

“We are all very excited to be a part of this program that allows readers to experience the drastic changes that someone can go through if they are willing to put in the time,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a great feeling to be doing what you love while helping people improve their quality of life.”


Change up your workout to get better results

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Lateral_LungeChanging up your workout routine is great for progressing the body as well as keeping your head in the game. Boring workouts get boring results. We’ve taken three common exercises and modified them to make them more challenging and more interesting – the squat, the lunge, and the pushup.

The Overhead Squat. Begin with feet shoulder width apart while holding a barbell overhead. To stabilize the bar in the overhead position, you must extend the arms while engaging the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Once the bar is stabilized overhead, you can move into the squatting portion. Slowly squat down as you inhale, ensuring that your heels stay heavy, while pushing your hips back and maintaining the natural curve in your low back. Drop down to a comfortable and stable depth. Exhale as you stand back to the top, but don’t lock your knees all the way out. Repeat. With the bar overhead, it becomes a total-body exercise and requires much more balance, stability, and flexibility than a typical squat.

Common Mistakes: Never let your knees travel forward of your toes and don’t allow your elbows to bend.

Regression: If a weighted overhead squat is too challenging, grab a lightweight bar or stick and perform the same motion without a load.

The Lateral Lunge. Place feet wider than shoulder width and turn feet outward at a slight angle. With a dumbbell resting on each shoulder, shift your weight laterally and sit back on the heel of your bent leg while you allow your other leg to extend. At this point, your bent leg should have a 90 degree bend as your opposite leg should be fully extended. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other leg. This lateral movement adds a new dynamic that will stress muscles differently than a traditional lunge.

Common Mistakes: Never let either heel pop off the floor – you must push your hips back and keep your posture upright.

Regression: If your flexibility doesn’t allow you to drop into the lateral lunge, hold on to a stationary object so you can support yourself as you push your hips down and back until you can perform the lunge with the desired range of motion.

The Hand Release Pushup. Take a traditional pushup position with hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, feet together, and maintain a straight line from shoulder to ankle. Slowly drop down into the pushup until you feel your chest touch the floor. At this point, raise your hands off the floor so your weight is resting on your chest and toes. Push your hands hard into the floor as you return to the top of the pushup. Repeat. The hand release pushup requires much more stability and power than a traditional pushup.

Common Mistakes: Don’t let too much of your weight rest on your hips or thighs. If so, your hips may sag as you try to push back up to the top position.

Regression: If you can’t maintain proper form with the traditional hand release pushup, set up so your knees are resting on the floor rather than your toes. This position takes more weight off the upper body and also lessons the strain on the core. It should allow you to move through proper range of motion while maintaining safe and effective form.

So switch up a few common exercises and see how challenging they can be.

Nutrition to Get You Through Your Workouts

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Sports nutrition

Q: I often get nauseous while working out. I’ve tried eating a few different things before workouts, but what do your recommend I eat so I can get through my workouts without getting sick? -Jaime

A: Jamie, pre and post-workout nutrition is extremely important, not only to avoid feeling sick during workouts, but to allow you to perform at your best while maximizing recovery.

Eating the wrong foods or missing the timing of your meals could cause extra stress on the digestive system, a spike or drop in blood sugar, or just an overall sense of weakness.

Practice the following tips and take full advantage of your pre and post-workout meals.

Don’t overlook the importance of water. If you’re dehydrated, your workout performance will suffer and you will feel exhausted. Dehydration increases your chances for headaches and head rushes, muscle cramps, nausea, and poor overall performance – not the recipe for a healthy workout. Chronic dehydration can’t be corrected by simply drinking more water during your workout, so stay properly hydrated consistently by drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water a day. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you need around 80 ounces of clean filtered water daily. You may need more or less depending on your activity levels.

Timing of calories and nutrients before and after each workout is key. A pre-workout snack should be consumed about 30-90 minutes prior to your workout depending on the complexity of the food consumed. A meal or snack will take more time to digest than a simple liquid shake. A post-workout snack should be consumed immediately after or up to 45 minutes after the workout is completed. Your cells are like a sponge during this time and have already begun the recovery process – so nutrient ingestion is a must.

The types of foods consumed will affect your results.  A great option for pre and post-workout nutrition is to bracket your workouts with a simple liquid shake. Add the following ingredients to a shaker bottle and shake well: 6 oz. orange juice, 6 oz. coconut milk, 6 oz. coconut water, and 1 scoop whey or egg protein. This will ensure simple carbs and medium chain fatty acids for energy, protein for muscle repair, and electrolytes to maximize hydration. Drink half the shake before your workout, and the other half after. Another option is 6oz. of Greek yogurt with a quarter cup of blueberries and a Tbsp. of flax oil mixed in. The goal is to get a balance of healthy macronutrients but not to consume so much that you feel bloated or weighed down.

Listen to your body. If you’re feeling weak or you find yourself shaking or you sometimes have a headache during your workouts, chances are your blood sugar is out of the ideal range. Try changing the timing and types of foods you’re eating before your workouts so you don’t get spikes and dips in blood sugar. If your stomach feels bloated during your workouts you may have to lighten your snack or allow more time for digestion. If you feel ravenous following your workouts, ensure that you’re getting enough sustenance in your post-workout snack and that you’re consuming it within 45 minutes of your workout.

So prepare yourself for a great workout and feel the difference it makes.

Strengthen Your Diet with Superfoods

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Kale SaladWouldn’t it be great if there was a food that was flavorful and could effectively improve your health?

Or a food that has an extremely high nutrient to caloric ratio, meaning it’s quite high in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals while still having a relatively low caloric value?

Luckily there is something available just like this in the form of “superfoods.” Superfoods are wholesome, real foods that happen to pack a big punch. Strengthen your diet by including these superfoods on a consistent basis.

Kale. Although kale sounds like a boring vegetable, it’s actually quite versatile. It can be eaten raw in salads, added to soups, blended into smoothies, or even baked into chips. This green powerhouse has plenty of anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer phytonutrients while only yielding around 35 calories per cup.

Green tea. We all need to drink more water, but many people struggle because they just get bored without other options. Green tea is a great way to add some flavor to your fluid intake while adding antioxidants and a metabolic boost. Drink it hot or iced, but stay away from adding artificial sweeteners or sugar. If plain tea is too bland, try teas with a hint of mint or natural flavors, or you can add a bit of stevia to sweeten.

Sweet potatoes. The sweet potato is packed with nutrients and flavor. It has a lower glycemic index than a white or red potato, so it doesn’t drastically disturb blood sugar levels but still provides great energy. They contain good amounts of beta carotene, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins B and C. Bake a sweet potato in the oven and season with rosemary for a great alternative to a regular baked potato.

Berries. Blueberries, cherries, acai, goji, and cranberries are loaded with antioxidants and add some fun color to your diet. Eating a variety of these berries will help fight inflammation, disease, and the signs of aging. Steer clear of sugary juices that contain these fruits and eat fresh organic as much as possible. Have a half cup of mixed berries with a hard-boiled egg as a snack or simply blend them into a nutritious smoothie.

Cauliflower. This is one “white” food that we actually recommend. Cauliflower contains nutrients that support detox while containing several anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer nutrients as well. It’s high in Vitamins C and K and phytonutrients that fight oxidative stress. Grate a head of cauliflower into a rice-like consistency and sauté in a pan with a bit of coconut oil. Season with sea salt and pepper and eat in place of white rice.

Avocados. Although avocados are higher in calories in relation to the other foods on this list, they are loaded with healthy fats and phytonutrients and definitely worth their caloric content. They also contain Vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K as well as potassium. The healthy fat content in avocados improves your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and adds wonderful flavor to your dishes. Add a slice of avocado to a burger or make a guacamole topping for a taco salad.

See what effect superfoods have on your energy and health by eating them often.

Exercise Selection Key to Getting Results

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Mod_Side_PlankHopefully by now, you’re settling into your new workout routine and noticing some positive changes.

How do you choose the exercises that make up your workouts? When it comes to weight loss and improving body composition, exercise selection is key to getting results. To help you maximize results, we’ve narrowed down a handful of movements that should be an integral part of your workout routine, pending physical limitations.

Planks or any variation originating from the plank position. The plank is a foundational exercise that builds core strength and stability. A strong core allows you to handle more weight and more reps. A strong core helps you maintain proper form and protects your spine from injury. A strong core improves natural biomechanics and posture. Should I keep going? If you’ve mastered the basic plank, try this variation: Lay on your side with your bottom arm bent 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearm and feet. Reach your top arm towards the ceiling and hold this position. If this is too easy, raise your top leg or hold a dumbbell with your free arm.

The Deadlift. There aren’t many exercises that elicit as much muscle recruitment as the deadlift. A proper deadlifts uses the legs, hips, core, back, shoulders, and arms as well as many stabilizing muscles in-between. If you practice the deadlift frequently you know that a proper deadlift allows you to move large amounts of weight in relation to other exercises. But the deadlift’s benefits go far beyond maximal muscle recruitment. By deadlifting challenging loads, you are supporting the hormonal response that leads to a leaner and tighter body. To perform a deadlift, step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip to shoulder width apart. Squat down toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural curve through your back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

The Kettlebell Swing. Like the deadlift, the kettlebell swing recruits numerous muscles but also adds the challenge of controlling the power you create. It’s a ballistic movement that improves aerobic and anaerobic capacity, power, stability, and even posture by working the posterior muscle chain. The kettlebell swing is a tough exercise, so start light and work your way up. To perform, take a shoulder width foot position over the top of a kettlebell. Squat down while inhaling and maintain your natural posture. Grab the kettlebell with both hands, tighten your core, and make sure your heels are firmly planted. As you stand up, exhale and force your hips forward while straightening your legs and allow that force to move up through your arms to swing the kettlebell upward to an overhead position. Keep control as the kettlebell swings back down between your legs and repeat.

The Push-up. When done correctly, the push-up is an incredibly versatile exercise. It requires upper body strength and core stability as well muscular and cardiovascular endurance. It can be done anywhere because you always have the resistance in your own body weight with no special tools required. Assume a traditional push-up position with hands shoulder width apart. Bend your elbows and drop towards the floor as you keep your body rigid. Shoulders should be forward of your hands at all times. Push back to the top and repeat. To increase the intensity, push up with force so your hands leave the floor between reps.

Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups. Pulling your body weight upwards against gravity is one of the toughest exercises but also elicits some of the greatest results. Grasp an overhead bar with a wide overhand grip for the pull-up or a narrow underhand grip for the chin-up. Pull your body upward until your chin clears the bar. Lower yourself back down until your arms are almost fully extended. Repeat for as many times as possible. If you can’t perform a traditional pull-up you still have some options. Simply use an assisted pull-up machine or set a bar low enough that allows your feet to remain on the floor at all times. Perform the pull-up as described, but push with your legs as you pull with your arms. Any way you try it, the pull-up/chin-up will have numerous benefits.

So for maximal results, choose exercises that have the greatest impact on making your body change. You will soon see and feel the difference.

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