Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Break Out the Bikini: Six Steps to a Sexier You

I have a six pack. Well, at least I'm pretty confident that I do based on the fact that I can hang upside down on a vertical pole by my legs and pull myself up using only my abdominal muscles. (Think that sounds easy? I dare you to try.) Sit-ups, planks, Pilates-no problem for me.  I can even power through the P90X Ab Ripper DVD, while my boyfriend with his defined stomach has to stop to take a few breaks. Yes, my abs are powerful but so I don't intimate the boys, I keep them hidden under a little bit of flab, a pooch as many of us females like to call it.

Maybe one of these days I'll tear off the layer of softness that conceals my washboard abs. Perhaps I'll start passing on the dessert at dinner or pina coladas on vacation and reveal them to the world, but until then I still plan to flaunt what I do have. This summer you'll find me sporting a bikini with pride.

See, I've learned that you don't have to have a stomach that is flat as a board, comprised of several packs or maybe even concave to earn the right to feel great in your skin.  So you have some cellulite on the back of your thighs or there's a little jiggle in your arms. You can still feel as great as Gisele Bundchen when you strut around in your two-piece this summer. You just need to know the tricks to looking and feeling your best whether you 're on the beach, in the buff, breaking a sweat or just breaking hearts.

Amazingly, someone actually wrote a book to help women with this, proving that far too many of us females are beating ourselves up over our physical imperfections. Now I'm not a fan of books that promote fad diets. (I actually gained weight after reading some literature about Atkins) but the latest work by Women's Health Editor-in-Chief Michele Promaulayko does not fall into this category and therefore, has earned a permanent place on my book shelf. It's called Look Better Naked (Rodale) and it lays out a six-week program that touches upon every aspect of a women's body-nutrition, exercise, skin care, hair, make-up and most importantly, body image. The book offers sensible meals, great exercise routines, beauty tips and also offers great strategies for improving the way you see yourself in the mirror. Plus, the book reads and even feels more like a magazine, with glossy pages, photos and engaging writing so you won't feel like you're reading a boring diet book. I would recommend purchasing it, but to get you started on looking and feeling your best this summer (Hey, we still have over a month left!) and throughout the year, I've compiled some of the best tips for feeling great when you're wearing less or maybe nothing at all.

Get Moving: It's impossible to talk about improving your physical appearance and mental well-being without mentioning exercise. It's a no-brainer. Working out burns calories, develops muscle tone, increases circulation and improves your health. When you're healthy you not only look more beautiful on the outside but you also feel better. So enough with the excuses. You owe it to yourself (and the people that have to be around you when you don't feel so great about yourself.) to get your butt off the couch and break a sweat. Try yoga, which studies have shown improves your body image, or dance, which can make you feel liberated, sexy and more confident. The easiest way to find a class in your area is to Google "yoga" or "dance" along with your zip code or  your area code if you don't mind traveling outside your neighborhood. Serious about frying fat or shedding that cellulite? Interval training is key. Instead of walking or slowly jogging on the treadmill for 45 minutes, add several sprints and hills to your workout and you'll burn fat up to 50 percent more.

Eat Healthy: "Train yourself to stop thinking, 'I can't have chocolate cake.' Think 'I can have delicious blueberries' instead," says Keri Glassman, Women's Health nutrition advisor and the brainchild behind the Look Better Naked eating plan. She recommends nutrient-dense foods that provide atleast 3 grams of fiber per serving such as black beans, brown rice, and raspberries, and lean proteins that have no more than 5 grams of fat per serving, such as skinless white meat chicken, tofu, pork tenderloin and lean cuts of beef. The fats you consume should be mono- or polyunsaturated fats, limiting your intake of saturated fats and staying away from trans fats completely. Avocados, nuts, olive oil, flax seed and fish are good sources of healthy fats.

Beat Bloat: You'll look like you dropped several pounds if you stay away from salty foods that can inflate your belly like a balloon. Studies also show that calcium-rich foods can also deflate puffiness that arises when you consume salty snacks or when you're period is approaching. So stay away from the pretzels and french fries and reach for a cup of low-fat milk, 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt or a 2.5 ounce serving of low-fat cheese instead.




Drink Wisely: Don't let the beer ads with Lance Armstrong mislead you? A six-pack of Mich Ultras will not bring you closer to six-pack abs. It's quite the opposite. However, a good diet plan accounts for the fact that people need to indulge every now in then. Instead of ordering a margarita, which is loaded with sugar and will cost you over 700 calories for one 10-ounce serving, try the signature Look Better Naked Cocktail the next time you're at happy hour to avoid the complimentary side of guilt. Just tell the bartender to shake up 2 oz. of vodka, 1 oz St-Germain and 0.5 oz of fresh lime juice with ice. You could also add a splash of seltzer and garnish it with fresh mint leaves for some extra pizazz. Still, you'll want to limit yourself to two drinks per week to get the best results.

Camouflage Flaws: Sometimes even diet and exercise can not win out against gravity, genetics and aging. And while there is nothing wrong with having dimples, wrinkles or body imperfections (They're what gives us character right?), if these so called "flaws" are distracting you from feeling beautiful, confident and sexy, it's okay to use some tricks to these trouble zones. Tanned skin tends to mask the appearance of dimples and ripples better than pale complexion, but since their is nothing sexy about skin cancer, it's best to slather on the SPF when you're outside and get your bronze body from a bottle. Newbie fake tanners should know that you should always exfoliate and moisturize, placing extra lotion to areas that tend to be dryer like feet, knees, elbows and hands, before you apply a self-tanner.
My favorite is the Bronze Glow by Roxanne Rizzo, which is often used on the shirt-less studs and string bikini supermodels you see gracing the cover of some of your favorite magazines. The spray bottle gives you a deep, natural-looking tan that dries within ten minutes, won't stain clothing and lasts about a week. You can use it on your face and body and the smell is much more pleasant than most other self-tanners. Tan Towels are also a great option. Your color will be more subtle but they're perfect if you want a less dramatic transformation and easier application. The self-tanner is contained in the individually packaged towelettes, so you just need to wipe them over your skin, toss them and give your skin a few minutes to dry. I like using these especially when traveling. I'm also a fan of Jergens Natural Glow for it's low cost (You can pick it up at any drug store for less than $10) and it's multi-tasking abilities. The cream performs the jobs of a self-tanner, moisturizer and body firming system since it contains collagen and elastin. The smell can be offensive though so you'll need to add a few extra spritzes of perform after you apply it, but it's ideal for people who want to gradually build up a tan over several days or even weeks, rather than instantly transforming from Nicole Kidman to Kim Kardashian.

Strut Your Stuff: You can reform your eating habits, run on the treadmill till your legs buckle and apply every beauty product on the market to your body, but until you start loving it, appreciating it and flaunting it with pride, all your work will have been for nothing. Ask anyone, male or female, what is the sexiest trait a person can have and I bet 9 out of 10 will say confidence. (Not to be confused with cockiness, which is a close relative of confidence but a total turn off!) You can't wait for the day (assuming it ever comes) you finally reach your goal weight, carve out a six-pack or achieve a Jessica Biel-like butt, to start walking with your shoulders back, your held high and a slight strut in your step. Life's too short and you're selling yourself even short if you don't even think you're worthy of loving the skin you're in and letting the rest of the world know it.

So keep feeding your body with healthy foods and exercise, but don't beat it up for not being perfect. Feed your mind with the knowledge to make yourself better, but don't lose it in the process. Keep working hard, but don't forget to take pride in what you have accomplished. Your body is strong, healthy and even if you're not ready to admit it, sexy, flaws and all.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Finding A Purpose

I've always liked Robert Frost, but to quote a puppet, yes, a puppet, from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q, "Purpose. It's that little flame that lights a fire under your ass. Purpose. It keeps you going strong like a car with a full tank of gas."


I believe we are all striving to find a purpose for our life. Whether it be through our career choices, our decisions to raise a family or the actions we take to help others. 


Whenever you meet someone new, one of the first questions that will be asked is "What do you do?" This is your chance to pretty much validate your existence on this Earth. I've been noticing this more because last week, I joined the over 14 million Americans who are unemployed. Only days after I was given my invitation to join the ranks of the jobless, I also found myself at a reunion with several of my college friends. I found myself saying, "Well, up until Tuesday, I did this..," every time this question was posed. But what now. It's time to move on. It's time to a find a new purpose and it's scary but also exciting. I've also found that even when it comes to exercising, most of us need a purpose to really get our butts off the couch.


Take the families on Jillian Michael's new show, "Losing It," for example. (By the way, if you aren't watching the show, you should be!) Before she puts any of them on a treadmill, she makes them meet with her doctor, where the parents learn that if they do not lose the excess weight they are carrying they will no longer be there for their children. Anytime throughout the exhausting workout sessions that they are close to quitting she reminds them of the purpose of what they are doing and they always recommit to the exercise they are doing and even take it up a notch.


I have decided to set a new goal for myself and by finding a purpose to keep me focused and motivated I hope to achieve it.


"I could run 26.2 miles," I told my friend, the soon to be famous actress Tristin Daley, last year when she said she had signed up for her first marathon. "I would just need about a week to do it and you'd need to let me break it up into several 5-mile daily workouts."

At that time I saw no point to subjecting your body to the torture of pounding the pavement for 26 consecutive miles and then some. It sounded insane and impossible to do unless you were an extreme athlete or from Kenya. Plus, growing up, I never understood the draw of track. Sure, I ran, but I did it while driving a soccer ball toward a net or rounding the bases on a softball field. There was a purpose to the running, and with my mind focused on the game, I didn't really have the chance to observe the fact that I was running, my legs were aching and my heart was pounding in my chest. Take away the ball, the objective, and the team, and to me, running seemed boring, pointless and miserable.


Unfortunately, after eighth grade, my basketball and softball career ended and soccer went on a very long hiatus after my junior year of high school. I learned pretty quickly that post-puberty, running becomes a necessary evil if you still want to fit into designer jeans, but I was mainly a 2 to 5 mile gal.


A few things happened in my life during the past year. I watched my friend cross off a life goal on her list when she completed not one, but two full marathons. Thus, debunking my theory that the average woman was not capable of running a marathon with only a few months of training. At that point, I had finished several 5Ks, but that seemed like a cake walk in comparison to the challenge she had just tackled, so I pushed myself to try a 10K. Not only was I able to do it, but I was among the top finishers and that was with little preparation. So I signed up for a half marathon in the fall. (I must admit that the fact that it was called a Diva's Half Marathon and the runners would be given tiaras, boas and a blinged-out medal, persuaded me to sign up.) I decided that I needed some help to get ready to complete the 13.1-mile course without collapsing, so when a heard about Team in Training, a program that provides you with a running plan, coaches and a team to keep you motivated, while raising money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I thought this would be the missing component I needed. I'd be running, but I'd have a team to keep me distracted from the pain my body would be feeling and a purpose, to help find a cure for blood cancers, to motivate me to lace up my sneakers everyday.


Well, I was so impressed by the group that I thought why not set the bar a little higher, maybe twice as high, and shoot for a full marathon. Wish me luck. Oh and if you'd like to donate toward my cause of completing this challenge and raising money for a great charity, please go here: http://pages.teamintraining.org/li/nikesf10/tconry


Maybe I should wear one of these shirts during my runs too to help me on the job hunt as well.




Have a story you would like to share about how you were able to tackle a difficult challenge? Contact me at FitChickChitChat@gmail.com or post your comments here!



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trick and Train Your Brain

The girl in the green tank top seemed to appear again out of nowhere. I thought I had seen the last of her when I flew past her miles ago, somewhere in between TGI Friday's and the first water station, where a guy in a funny costume appeared to be doing a "rain dance." Yet, there she was about 20 strides in front of me and charging at a strong pace toward the finish line as we passed the 5-mile mark. I was tired, overheating and ready to just coast the final 1.2 miles remaining in my first attempt at a 10K, but I couldn't let my opponent get the best of me. No, not after holding the lead for the vast majority of this race, was I going to let her make me the hare while she crossed that finish line before me in her Tortoise-colored workout top. She was going down!

I don't know who the girl in the green shirt is, nor does she know me. There was no pre-existing rivalry heading into Sunday's Long Island Festival of Races, nor would any of the thousands of other runners who were participating in the event or the fans cheering along the sidelines know that I was in competition with this stranger. It was all in my head, but it did give me the extra motivation I needed to kick myself into the next gear and finish my first 10K strong, at a respectable 8:30 minutes per mile pace. I crossed the finish line around 53 minutes and 23 seconds, a few seconds before "green girl," but who's counting, right?

Call me crazy, but I've found that these mind games that we play with ourselves are the key to overcoming challenges, conquering new goals and pushing ourselves to become better in many aspects of our lives, especially fitness.

For example, I'm definitely not an obsessive compulsive person, but when I'm running on the treadmill, I will not let myself stop until the mileage is at a nice round number, even if I had originally planned to stop after 20 minutes. Then, once the miles counter hits say 3 miles, I usually notice that I'm just about 28 calories away from burning a solid 350, so I'll keep on going until I hit that goal and then...oh look now I'm only a few minutes away from making it to 30 minutes...and I'm sure you can see where this going. Eventually, my legs do become fatigued, as well as my brain from all the calculations and mind tricks I've subjected it too, but in the end, those silly head games result in me working out longer, running farther and torching more calories. 

When I'm taking my runs to the streets, I train my brain not to look too far ahead. Especially as I am getting tired, I will force myself to focus on a target only a few feet ahead of me-a street sign, a parked car, a fire hydrant-and tell myself I just need to run to that point. Just before I actually reach that marker though, I look a little further ahead and pick my next landmark and so on, until before I know it I'm at the top of that steep hill, across the finish line or back home. 

It's just like they saying, from one of my all-time favorite sports movies (Little Giants), sports are "80 percent mental and 40 percent physical."

I tend to use these mind tricks most when I'm running, only because I find it to be one of the most mentally challenging sports. There are little distractions-no equipment to wield, teammates to pass to or opponents to collide into (generally-speaking). It's just you and the road, and you're very much in your own head the whole time, urging yourself to press on or berating yourself that you can't do it, that you should be in better shape or at least have abstained from that heavy meal that's now bouncing in your gut. That being said, you can come up with strategies to train or perhaps trick your brain to get through any type of workout or overcome any obstacle for that matter. Remember to:

1. Live in the moment. Don't focus on how many more minutes are left in your spinning class or how many more pages you need to write to finish your term paper. Focus on the small task you are doing in the present, be it pressing down on those bike pedals or arguing your first point in that paper, and not only will you perform better but in no time those mini-goals will have led you to the finish line. 

2.Fake fun. If you're not enjoying your workout or an assignment you've been given for work, then it's time to play "make believe." Force a smile on your face and tell yourself you are having fun, even if you're not. After awhile you may trick yourself into actually enjoying what you are doing. Try to find at least one aspect of the task that you find enjoyable. Can't find one? Create a game for yourself, maybe even give yourself a character to play for the duration of the class or work day. I think adults could take a lesson from kids about the power of imagination to make even the most difficult tasks or dull days more bearable, or even entertaining.) So when you are dreading those push-ups at the gym, do your best G.I. Jane impression and see how many more you can do? Have to churn out a dozen of reports by the end of the workday? Turn it into a game or maybe even imagine that the fate of the company, maybe even the world (lol) rests upon you completing that paperwork by 5 p.m. today. It sounds silly I know, but as long as you are keeping the dialogue in your head, no one will know that the secret behind your productivity or enviable six-pack, is your wild imagination. Bottom line: Just do whatever works best for you to help you conquer that difficult task by making it fun.

3. Visualize success. There was a reason you started this endeavor- be it a fitness routine or a career. You probably aspire to be healthier, happier, have more energy or fit into certain clothes. Maybe you want to feel that sense of accomplishment from checking off a goal on your list or overcoming a challenge you had never thought you would be capable of. In the work place, you are most likely motivated by the desire to reach a certain position in your company, land a dream job or assignment you had always wanted or perhaps, it's merely a  salary figure that drives you. Whatever the incentive is, when you encounter some difficulties along your path to reach the finish line, you need to close your eyes and think about how you will feel once you have reached the goal and tell yourself that all your hard work is the only means to get you closer to your desired destination.

4.Prove someone wrong. Maybe there was a certain someone who told you that you'll never be able to lose the weight, run a marathon or make it in the field you are pursuing. (That person could even be yourself.) Make it your goal to make that person, even if it's your own inner voice, eat their words. You can accomplish anything if you set your goals, stay focused, work hard and keep believing in yourself.


Have you tried any of these mental tricks or have other strategies that have worked for you? Tell me about them by posting your comments here, on the Fit Chick Chit Chat fan page on Facebook or send an e-mail to fitchickchitchat@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Special Earth Day Edition of the Fit Chick Cheat Sheet

You know that high you get right after you completed a challenging workout? You're dripping with sweat, you can barely lift your arms and legs and all you want to do is drop down to the floor and lie there indefinitely, yet despite all of this, you feel amazing. Sure, science, in the form of feel-good hormones coursing through your body, takes some credit for this joy you're experiencing, as well as the relief in knowing the torture has stopped. But I think a bigger force at work here is the pride you have in knowing you just did something good for yourself. This week I'm giving you the chance to double up on that dose of self-satisfaction by giving you ways to simultaneously improve your body as well as the planet in celebration of Earth Day.
Challenge yourself to try one or all of these tips and please tell me about your experiences by either posting a comment or sending an e-mail to FitChickChitChat@gmail.com.

1. Green Your Fitness Routine and Get a Free Gift! Many eco-conscious retailers are hosting special sales and even giving away freebies in recognition of Earth Day. One of my favorite companies, Gaiam, which specializes in both fitness equipment and green products for every aspect of your life, is giving away this cute "I Heart Earth" tote when you spend $75 or more at their site from now until April 28th, while supplies last. (You'll need to type in the code FREEEARTHTOTE at checkout.) You'll find co-friendly fitness gear to green your exercise routine including reversible yoga mats, reusable water bottles, equipment made from recycling materials. Plus, they also have a wide selection of workout DVDs, green products for your home and gardening tools.

2. Become a Biker Babe (That includes the guys too.)  No, I'm not taking about Harleys and Ducatis, but Schwinns and Mongooses (or would that be Mongeese?). Channel your inner Lance Armstrong or Pee-Wee Herman by digging your bike out of the garage or if your last bike had pink streamers on the handlebars or pegs on the back (mine had both of these) then treat yourself to a new set of wheels. You can get a decent brand new bike for a few hundred dollars or you may get lucky and get a great deal on a used bike. Check newspaper ads, garage sales, bike shops and ofcouse, online. There are sites that specialize in selling used bikes such as RecycledCycles.net.  One of my coworkers recently found a great bike on Craig's List. Also, check out freecycle.org to see if someone in your area is giving away their unwanted wheels for free. Once you have your trustee stead ready to go try to use it for both exercise and getting around town instead of using your car.

3.Save a Tiger. Even though it may seem that the tiger most in need of help right now is the one desperately trying to repair his image after chasing after a whole pride of felines, there are other wild animals more deserving of your attention. You can contribute to the Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts to save big cats in the wild by participating in the Run for the Wild 5K held at the Bronx Zoo on April 24th. (Yes, that is this Saturday!) I ran this course last year to benefit the gorillas and had such a great time that I signed up again as soon as I heard about it in January and have recruited several of my friends and relatives. The theme this year is making "tracks for tigers." It's not too late to sign up to be a part of the race day activities, which is open to runners of all levels, walkers and even parents who want to push their kids in strollers. You also get free admission to the zoo for the day. If you can't make it to the event, but still want to contribute to the cause, you can make a monetary donation via this site.

4. Swap Meat. I'm not asking you to give up your burgers and bacon completely, but studies do show that people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to live longer. Experts also say that one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce meat consumption. According to the Care2.com, "If Americans reduced their meat consumption by 20 percent it would be equivalent to switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid." You don't need to give up meat cold-turkey, but this week opt for the smaller fillet at dinner and fill out the rest of your plate with veggies. Swap out some of the ground beef in that hamburger patty and replace it with beans or mushrooms like this recipe calls for. (You probably won't notice the missing meat.)for incorporate atleast one vegetarian meal. Try some of these vegetarian recipes from Whole Foods.

5. Spend some time with Mom. While you should make a point of scheduling quality bonding time with the woman who gave you life and sacrificed much of hers to make sure you had everything you needed (FYI: Mother's Day around the corner..better start shopping.) I'm actually referring to your other muddah-Mother Nature. Numerous studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve your mood, reduce stress, increase your energy levels and boost your productivity. Plus, it also makes you value and respect the environment more.
According to Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy, one study conducted by Mind, a non-profit agency, discovered that over 90 percent of subjects who participated in activities outdoors, away from office buildings and traffic, reported experiencing mental health benefits, including a reduction in feelings of depression. They contributed this to the combination of exercise and being surrounded by nature. So, if weather permits, take your workout outdoors by going for a jog throughout your nearest park, bringing your yoga mat to the beach or even in your own backyard, or gather your friends for a softball game at your local field. It'll do wonders for you body and mind and you may be less likely to litter.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Cheating Can Be Good For You: Introducing the Fit Chick Cheat Sheet

I must apologize for the virtual cobwebs that have accumulated on this site in the past month due to my lack of new posts, but I promise I have a plethora (my favorite word) of great stuff coming your way in the following weeks. To begin resuscitating my poor blog I wanted to introduce you to a new column, one that I feel will be perfect for those of you who do not have time to read lengthy articles but want some quick tips to lead a healthier, happier life.

So for all of my overworked, time-strapped readers, I'd like you start cheating. No, not on your spouse, your exams or your taxes, but off of me using the Fit Chick Cheat Sheet. Every week, this column will give you a short and sweet round-up (Dare I say "The Reader's Digest Version of.." Guess it's rubbing off on me.)  of the latest tips I have acquired to help you improve your life. These will be based on the latest health news and research that I have looked into, as well as my own personal experience testing fitness products, trying healthy foods and subjecting myself to new workout programs. I want you to reap the benefits of my hard work, so go ahead take a peak at my answers (I won't tell.) for living a fit and happy life.

Here's this week's Cheat Sheet. See how many of these you can check off your to-do list. Also, I'd love to hear about your experiences following these tips, so feel free to leave a comment below, post on my Facebook fan page or send an e-mail to fitchickchitchat@gmail.com.


  1. Tired? Sore? Ready to skip your workout. Well, the very thing you want to exempt yourself from may be exactly what your body needs. Trust me. I've had those days when I've been in a fog, my calves feel tight and all I want to do is lie down and take a nap but I've been forced to hit the gym because I have to teach a class. I drag myself down there reluctantly and yet after my workout I feel better than ever-less tired, less sore, alert, energized and recharged! So the next time you're about to skip your workout because you feel achy or sleepy, do me a favor and just force yourself to lace up the sneakers and break a sweat, even if it's only for 20 minutes. (You can always stop if after testing the waters, you still feel "out of it," and please DO STOP if you experience pain or dizziness.) You just may find though that exercise is the best medicine for you on those days when you want nothing more than to take a nap at your desk.
  2. Puh-lease DO NOT point your car toward your nearest KFC and indulge in their latest fat-filled, fried creation: the Double Down. This bread-less wonder, uses two fried chicken breasts instead of a bun to contain two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel's Sauce. With 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium, no good can come from ingesting one of these and chowing down on these on a regularly basis would be a suicide mission.
3. Ditch the sugary sports drinks. Unless you're a professional athlete or training for a marathon, a low-calorie thirst quencher will be a better fit for you. I recommend the PureFitness packets by Crystal Light. They taste great and you just pour the powdering mix into a bottle of water, shake it and then drink up. You'll still get the hydration and the electrolytes your body needs, but only three grams of sugar and 15 calories and no artificial sweeteners, flavors or preservatives.

4. Treat yourself to a new workout DVD. Even if you prefer to workout at the gym or outdoors, you know there will be those days when you can't make it to your health club or Mother Nature prevents you from pounding the pavement, and having a motivating fitness video instructor waiting on the sidelines will be a great help. I'm not the type of person that can exercise several times a week using only fitness DVDs, mostly because my at-home studio (aka my bedroom) is a little cramped, but I do like tapping into my collection on occassion to add some variety to my routine or to squeeze in a workout when I'm pressed for time. I recently went on a small shopping spree at Target and added Dancing With The Stars Latin Cardio Dance (A fun, low-impact program that teaches you short routines like the cha-cha.) and JIllian Michaels' 30 Day Shred (The Biggest Loser star lives up to the name, "America's Toughest Trainer.")

5.Upgrade your cereal. Sure, those Cocoa Puffs or Fruit Loops may bring back warm-and-fuzzy memories of your childhood, but you have a better chance of looking and feeling younger by starting your morning off with a cereal that dozens contain loads of sugar. This sugar wreaks havoc to your diet and will cause your stomach to start grumbling an hour later. Pick a cereal that's low in sugar and high in fiber. It is possible to find one that doesn't taste like cardboard. I like Fiber One's Honey Clusters cereal, which contains 13 grams of fiber per serving (more than 50 percent of your daily value), and in my opinion, tastes great. I'm also a fan of the Barbara's Bakery Cinnamon Puffins. They contain 24 percent of your daily fiber needs and only six grams of sugar. These can be harder to find in stores, but I love the cinnamon taste and for those of you missing your Toucan Sam, there's a cute little puffin bird on these boxes.


6. Embrace yoga. I'm a competitive person. I love my contact sports and I enjoy racing, even if it's just against myself to see if I can beat my previous time or distance. I was raised to always fight to win and be aggressive-B-E agrressive, so I will probably never be a true devoted yogi. I do, however, recognize the benefits of incorporating yoga into your fitness regimen. This week I took a bikram hot yoga class for the first time in two years. For those of you not familiar with this style of yoga, it requires you to perform a series of 26 moves and two breathing exercises over a 90-minute class in a room that feels more like a sauna. (The heat allows you to stretch deeper and sweat out all the toxins in your body.)

The class was definitely challenging, but I left there feeling amazing. Sure, I may have looked disgusting since I was drenched in perspiration, but I felt like any stress or tension I may have been carrying around just melted from me. I was in a great mood all day and my muscles, which had been tight from my 5-mile run the day before, felt much better. I may have to make this a weekly ritual and suggest you find ways to add a little "namaste" to your life, whether it be by taking a yoga class or just practicing a few of these poses on your own.


7.Enjoy running outdoors. Flowers are blooming, temperatures are getting warmer...if you've never considered yourself a runner, let the beautiful outdoors and the nice weather inspire you to become one. I'll admit that the frigid, wet New York winters usually send my inner road warrior into hibernation, but I was happy to hit the pavement again for the first time when the thermometer hit 80 degrees. Ever since, then I've tried to get in a few runs each week, especially when it's gorgeous outside. I've also been using the Loops section of Livestrong.com to create and track my running routes in the neighborhood. It's also a great way to share (via the site or social networks like Twitter) and discover new loops in your area that other users have plotted out. I also stumbled upon the "I Just Ran" application on Facebook, which also lets you log the miles you've completed and then brag about it to your friends, which can be great for your motivation and confidence.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The New Health Care Law: How It Will Affect You

If you've picked up a newspaper, turned on the T.V. or even just signed into Facebook, you'll know that the buzz right now is around the new health care legislation that President Obama signed into law this week. Maybe you've been following the political debates around health care reform since the president first declared it his top priority or maybe you're on the complete other end of the spectrum and if it wasn't for your friends' status updates or a few skits on Saturday Night Live you wouldn't even know it was an issue of concern. Whereever you stand, here is a quick guide to understanding how the new law will affect you.


IF YOU....



...Have Insurance Through Your Employer. 

  • You can choose to keep your doctor and your health plan, but you'll also see improvements in your plan and protection from insurance company abuses
  • According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it's likely that your premiums will go down by up to 3 percent, as administrative costs decline, competition between insurance companies increases and the number of insured Americans grow.
  • If you're happy with your coverage, the new law will not force you to change it, including what doctors you see. It does introduce new rules that should make your plan easier to understand and prevent insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits on the amount of care they pay for. 
  • In some cases, insurance companes with excessive overhead costs will be required to give you a rebate.
  • Are your grown children still living at home? Well, you'll be able to keep your kids on your policy until age 26.
  •  You'll have to deal with less confusing paperwork. The new law requires company use standardized forms and clear and plain language to describe your benefits and coverage.
 ...Enjoy Fast Food.
  • Expect to see the menus at your McDonald's, Burger King or Starbucks to undergo a makeover. The new law requires big restaurant chains like these throughout the country to put calorie information on their menus and drive-thru signs. This could occur as soon as 2011.
  • Vending machines will also be mandated to add labels that disclose the calories in their items upfront, so customers can make informed purchases.
...Buy Your Own Insurance.
  • You will most likely pay less for coverage. Premiums are expected to drop as much as 20 percent for those who pay for their own coverage.
  • You may qualify for tax credits that could reduce your premiums by an average of nearly 60 percent.
  • You should expect your coverage to improve.
  • The amount you pay out of pocket for co-pays and deductibles should decline. Limits on these expenses will be imposed and no one will be required to pay more than a set percentage of their income on health care coverage.
  • If you're content with the coverage you do have today, you can keep it.
  • You"ll receive preventative services at no cost, part of a package of essential benefits that will be required of all plans.
  • You will still be able to see specialists.
  • You will have access to the same insurance marketplace where members of Congress buy their insurance and you'll be able to choose from a variety of options that have different levels of cost-sharing to find a plan that best suits your needs and financial circumstances.
  • You'll be able to understand your plan better since companies will be required to use simple language that clearly describes your benefits and what doctors are covered. Standardized forms will also cut down on paperwork.
  • Your insurance company could be required to give you a rebate if it spends too mcuh of your premium dollars on overhead, such as big salaries, administrative costs and marketing.
  • You'll be protected from rate hikes. Until the insurance exchange marketplace is in place, there will be a process for annual reviews of all requested increases in premiums and insurance companies who raise rates arbitrarily will not be allowed to hawk their policies in the new insurance marketplace. The review process will continue even after the exchange is up and running.

...Do Not Have Insurance.
  • You will have access to new insurance choices in the same marketplace where all members of Congress buy their insurance.
  • Depending on your income, you could receive tax credits to help you afford coverage.
  • Insurance companies will no longer be able to say "No." They will be required to offer coverage regardless of health status and they can not jack up rates or drop you when you get sick.
  • Have a pre-existing condition? Starting in six months, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny children coverage for this reason. Adults adults suffering from a pre-existing condition will have to wait till 2014 for this protection. For the time being, they will have access to a high-risk pool. Once the insurance exchange marketplace is up and running though, no one can be denied coverage based on their health status.
  • You will not be forced into a government plan. You will be able to shop among private insurance plans that will be sold in the exchange marketplace, giving you more affordable choices. 
  • You'll have help in deciding what plan is best for you via a new consumer-friendly website that will make it easier to understand the different choices and consumer assistance offices with trained experts that can answer your questions and help you enroll in a plan.
  • Not happy with the plans in your state? If you live in a place that is part of an inter-state compact, you can purchase coverage in a neighboring state.
  • Treatment decisions will still be made by you and your doctor, not the govenment.
  • There will be limits on how much anyone will have to pay to receive health care coverage.
...Still Use Tanning Beds.
  •  You will pay more to soak up those rays at your favorite tanning salon since the new law imposes a 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning that could start as early as this summer.

 ...Have a Health Savings Account (HSA).
  • The penalty for withdrawing funds for non-qualified medical expenses will double in 2011, going from 10 percent of 20 percent.

  ...Have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
  • Starting in 2013, you may see a $2,500 cap on contributions to these accounts but you would receive annual cost-of-living adjustments. 



 ...Own a Small Business.

  • You will not be required to provide health insurance to your employees, but if you choose to, you'll get tax credits to help make it more affordable.
  • You'll have greater buying power and access to a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where you can shop for insurance-making it simpler and cheaper. Small businesses will be able to pool together their employees with millions of others. This will reduce your exposure, risk and administrative fees, which will bring down your overall costs.
  • You, too, will have less burdensome and confusing insurance forms to deal with.
  • You will be protected from sudden, arbitrary rate hikes because a worker gets sicks because insurance companies will no longer be allowed to base the cost of coverage on health status.
  • If you can not afford to insure your employees, your workers will be eligible for tax credits to use toward purchasing their own coverage.
  • Your business taxes will not go up to pay for the cost of coveriing the uninsured.
 ...Deduct Medical Expenses From Income Taxes.
  • Starting in 2013, medical expenses will need to account for 10 percent of your gross adjusted income to qualify for a deduction, up from 7.5 percent. Senior citizens are the only exception. If you're 65 or over you can still use the 7.5 percent rule until 2016.

...Have An Income That Exceeds $200K.
  • Be prepared to pay more taxes as the Medicare payroll tax will rise nearly 1 percentage point in about two years to 2.35 percent on wages of invididuals making more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $250,000. Plus, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax will be levied on investment income.

...Have Medicare.
  • Your guaranteed Medicare benefits will not be cut.
  • You will receive additional benefits such as preventative services like cancer screenings at no cost.
  • You will receive a reduction in prescription drug prices if you happen to fall into the coverage gap known as the "donut hole." Overtime, however, this gap will be closed completely.
  • The Medicare Trust Fund will be extended for more than 9 years to ensure that the program will be there for seniors now and in the future.
  • You will still be able to see your current doctor and you should have more access to primary care physicians.
  • The quality of your care should improve since the law provides incentives for health providers who focus on collaboration, using teams of primary care doctors, specialists and nurses who work effectively together to treat the patient, prevent complications and reduce costs. Hospitals also have new incentives to treat the patient right the first time to avoid unneccesary readmissions, medical errors and infections that can harm the patient and raise costs.
ALL PLANS ...will also be required to have a process for resolving disputes around your benefits and coverage and you'll be able to appeal any plan decisions that you disagree with to an independent appeals process.

Sources: whitehouse.gov, nytimes.com,wsj.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010

No Gym Membership? No Problem.


Has this recession forced you to give your gym membership the pink slip or does your hectic schedule make it impossible to log regular sweat sessions at your health club? Don't let your budget belt-tightening cause your waist line to expand or your packed schedule prevent you from carving out a six-pack. The Fat-Burning Boot Camp workout kit by Gaiam ($39.98 at gaiam.com) allows you to bring the gym to you-whenever you can, wherever you are-for less than what a health club will charge you for only one month.

I tested out the kit which comes with a "weighted" water ball,  a resistance chord with handles, an inflatable stability disc, an air pump and a workout DVD.

When I first opened up the box and held the small deflated medicine ball and balance disc, I was skeptical about whether these small tools could actually deliver an effective workout. My doubts intensified as I struggled to fill the ball with water using my tiny faucet. (I would suggest filling your ball in the kitchen sink, especially if the one in your bathroom isn't very roomy.)   After a few minutes, about 30 percent of the ball consisted of water and using the small straw included in the kit, I I forced some of my own hot air into the ball to fill the rest of it out.



I secured the cap on the ball and shook it around to make sure there were no leaks. It made a slushing sound as the water moved around inside, but nothing dripped out. I held it out in one hand. It definitely didn't feel like it weighed four to six pounds, as the box says, but I chalked that up to my own failure to adequately syphon the water into the ball and decided to move on to the workout anyway. After all, I had done some beach workouts with my trainer in the past where the only weight we had came from the water filled inside my large Poland Spring bottle and I remember that little H20, after enough reps, did cause me to feel the burn in my muscles.

I popped in the DVD, and was prompted to select one of two options: Shuffle Exercises or Custom Workout. Always one to like surprises, I chose Shuffle, which allowed the program to select a workout at random for me. I was instructed to have my weighted ball on hand and then followed the svelte instructor, Swedish fitness star, Tanja Djelevic through a series of low-impact warm-up moves, before gradually transitioning to the main workout. Djelevic, who has trained celebrities such as Jennifer Garner and Uma Thurman, does a great job of keeping you motivated and guiding you through her exercises. 

This mini-workout mainly consisted of lunges, squats, twists, and arm extensions all using the weighted ball. Shortly into the program, I had broken a sweat and my that water-filled ball began to feel heavier with each rep I completed. After a brief, but effective cool down and stretch, I completed the program and moved onto the Customize Your Workout features. I thought this part of the DVD was great. It allows you to choose a program based on how much time you have to workout or by which parts of the body you would like to target. There are over 25 choices! 

This would be perfect for the busy gal who doesn't always have time for one long continuous workout but would like to squeeze in 10-minute session in the morning and then a 20-minute one after work or maybe for that mom who wants to just train her abs while her kids are taking a nap one day and then perform a total body workout while they're at soccer practice. Each routine includes an adequate warm-up and cool down with a stretch as well so they can stand on their own or you can build your own workout by selecting up to five exercise programs to combine together and ordering them similar to creating an iTunes playlist. 

I tried the Lower Body Sculpting routine and was impressed at how challenging even some of the easy exercise moves, such as squats and leg raises, became when performed on the small disc. I've always been a fan of the Bosu, a fitness tool that looks like a a big inflatable ball that had been sliced in half and mounted on a platform. This piece of equipment is very versatile and can tone muscles while also improving a person's balance, but most cost atleast $100. I jokingly referred to the disc in this kit as the "poor man's Bosu" but I found that it was a great low-cost alternative and it is what made this routine so effective.


I was even more pleased with the Upper Body Sculpting program, which combined the disc with the resistance chord. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the resistance chords. They were thick and sturdy, but also very pliable. They made the moves very challenging and they were very durable. I have tried some chords that delivered very little resistance and others that have made challenged my muscles to work hard but ended up snapping in half.  That was not a problem there though. I even had my boyfriend test this one out. He said he was worried it would break as he stretched it out, extending the handles up over his head into a shoulder press, but it stayed intact. The program itself was also great because it used the chord to target my upper body, while the disc simultaneously toned my lower half. I love these combo moves because they are great time savers and I've noticed you achieve better overall results, because your body is being worked twice as hard than if you performed these movements separately. 

I capped off my test with the Abdominal Conditioning program which used the weighted ball to add resistance to a series of standing and floor exercises that I felt adequately engaged my whole core. Djelevic appears to be a big fan of twisting movements that hit those important obliques. I once again enjoyed a nice stretch at the end of the routine, wiped the sweat from my face and reached for a cool drink of water. (No, not from my ball, although the thought did cross my mind.)

I could see myself using this program again, especially on those days when I do not have time to go to the gym. I'd also recommend this product to anyone who does not have access to a health club or who would like to have the added benefits of a mini-home gym to supplement their gym sessions. Since the kit is small and the ball is deflatable, this would also be a great thing to toss into your suitcase to workout in your hotel room when traveling. More advanced exercisers will want to make sure they fill the ball so that it weighs it's maximum of six pounds or may even want to splurge for a real medicine ball when working out at home to make the exercises even more challenging. (You'll notice that this is what Djelevic uses.)

Working out for 30-minutes with any of the routines in this kit can burn 300 calories on average, but for best results, this program should also be combined with a healthy diet and regular bouts of aerobic activity as well. That is, any activity that raises your heart rate and sustains it at that level for atleast 20 minutes. This would include jogging, cycling or inline skating to name a few. Plus, the more variety you can add to your exercise regimen, the more fun you'll have and the less likely you'll be to skip your workouts, all of which lead to better results.

Have a fitness product you want me to review? Tell me about it by sending an e-mail to FitChickChitChat@gmail.com.

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