While watching your favorite teams compete in March Madness, take a time out during commercial breaks to stretch. Flexibility is an overlooked component of exercise that improves your range of motion, which increases your ability to engage in all different types of physical activity. You do not need to go to yoga to improve your flexibility. The most recent physical activity recommendations suggest stretching as an easy and effective means to increase flexibility.
Follow these simple stretching tips to minimize injury and maximize flexibility benefits:
- Relax by taking a few deep breaths during stretches.
- Make smooth/slow movements instead of jerky/quick motions.
- Stretch until feeling a gentle pull; if you feel any sharp pain or discomfort, you have stretched too far.
- Hold stretches for a total of 15–30 seconds.
To get started, try these simple stretches as you wait for the basketball games to resume:
- Forward Bend—When sitting/standing, reach your hands toward your toes. Hold for 15–30 seconds.
- Wall Push—Stand 12–18 inches away from a wall; lean forward, pushing against the wall with your hands and keeping heels flat on the floor. Hold for 15 seconds; repeat 1–2 times.
- Hip Flexor Stretch—With both knees on the floor, bring one leg forward placing your foot flat on the floor and your knee at a 90-degree angle. Push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your front thigh, near the groin. Keep your torso upright and front knee behind your toes. Hold for 20-30 seconds on each leg.
Sources: American Heart Association, Stretches for exercise and flexibility; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Active adults. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
With spring cleaning right around the corner, it’s important to prioritize what needs cleaning in our homes. According to the National Sanitation Foundation, the kitchen is the dirtiest place in the household. This place where meals and snacks are prepared and served daily tends to have the most germs. The “germiest” area in the kitchen as well as the second “germiest” item in the household is the sink. This spring, clean everything and the kitchen sink to reduce germs in your home. Wash and sanitize the sides and bottom of the sink once or twice a week with disinfecting cleaner or in a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon water. Clean kitchen drains and disposals every month by pouring a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart water down them.
Sources: Germiest items in the home. National Sanitation Foundation (www.nsf.org); Cleaning the germiest items in the home. National Sanitation Foundation (www.nsf.org)
Do you wash your coffee pot every morning, or rinse and reuse the next day? What about the inside of the machine? Do you occasionally run a pot of water or vinegar through? Whether you use a single-use coffee-maker or a traditional multicup machine, they can be difficult to clean, so the rinse-and-reuse method is common. Because coffee is acidic, it should prevent the growth of bacteria. Right?
Actually, there are bacteria that are not only resistant to the acidity of coffee, but they also use the caffeine as an energy source. Moreover, these bacteria are able to quickly repopulate the machine after rinsing alone, and bacteria continue to grow in number and diversity the longer the machine is in use. To avoid unwanted contamination of our beverages with harmful bacteria, be sure you clean your coffee machines, inside and out, frequently following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Source: Vilanova C, Iglesias A, Porcar M. The coffee-machine bacteriome: Biodiversity and colonization of the wasted coffee tray leach. Sci. Rep. 2015;5:1–7. DOI: 10.1038/srep17163.
One of the biggest buzzwords in current media refers to the smallest subject: the human gut microbiome. This microbiome is a collection of microorganisms living in the human intestinal tract; aka the “good gut bugs.” These good gut bugs help our gut produce compounds needed for digestion and absorption of other nutrients. They also provide protection against harmful “bugs” and support our immune system. These good gut bugs have also been shown to promote brain health.
There is communication between the human microbiome and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. This means the health of your gut microbiome may impact the health of your brain—a healthy gut leads to a healthy brain.
The best way to take care of your gut microbiome is to focus on your overall eating pattern.
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Choose fiber-rich foods because increasing fiber can promote abundance of gut bugs.
- Try fermented foods and foods with pre- and probiotics to improve the variety of your good gut bugs.
- Prebiotics are plant fibers that promote the growth of healthy bacteria. They are found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, including apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, flaxseed, garlic, jicama, leeks, oats, and onion.
- Probiotics contain specific strains of healthy bacteria. The most common probiotic food is yogurt; other sources include bacteria-fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Shreiner AB, Kao JY, Young VB. The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015;31(1):69–75. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000139.
- Foster JA, Lyte M, Meyer E, Cryan JF. Gut microbiota and brain function: An evolving field in neuroscience. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;19(5):1–7. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyv114.
- Jandhyala S, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(29):8787–8803.
• 1/2 orange
• 1/2 lemon
• 1/2 grapefruit
• 1 cup ice
• Cold water
- Add fruit to a two-quart pitcher.
- Gently press fruit with a spoon to release some of the juices.
- Add ice to the pitcher, then fill with cold water; stir.
- Serve immediately or chill, covered, in the refrigerator.
Get creative or try these seasonal combinations:
Apple + Cinnamon Stick
Cranberry + Orange
Recipe used with permission from West Virginia University Extension Service.
The holiday season is a busy time of year, which may make it hard to get in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Even when these recommendations are met, there is an increased risk for chronic disease when you are sitting for a prolonged period of time. There are plenty of ways to get moving, though. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the hallways at work on breaks, stand while you’re on the phone, or stretch a couple minutes for every hour of prolonged sitting. At home, complete floor exercises during commercial breaks or march in place while you’re cooking in the kitchen. These are small steps to reduce sedentary time and increase activity.
You can even enjoy the winter weather while getting in some exercise. Activities like ice skating, snowball fights, sledding, and making snow angels count toward your daily physical activity minutes.
Food portions can be a challenge, but choosing sensible amounts of all food is important for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to make small, long-term changes in what you eat and drink, along with getting daily physical activity.
Follow the MyPlate healthy eating food plan:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables—think variety and make it colorful.
- Make half your grains whole grains.
- Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
- Vary your protein—poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, nuts, and beans.
Other helpful tips:
- Avoid portion distortion—read labels, measure, and place servings into containers or baggies.
- Record the amount of food you eat with a three- to five-day food journal—you might be surprised!
- Use smaller bowls and plates at mealtime.
- Choose foods with less saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar.
- Cook more often at home to control the ingredients in your food.
- When dining out, look at nutritional information before ordering.
- Drink water or low-calorie beverages with meals.
- Get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Set realistic and achievable goals for your health. Remember, if you slip up one day don’t dwell on it, just press on with your health goals in mind. Download Key Nutrients from the Extension Store for additional information.
Do you sit at a desk for prolonged periods during the day? If so, try deskercising to reduce the harmful effects of sitting for long periods of time. Deskercise includes 20 short bouts of cardiovascular, strength, and stretching exercises that can be performed at your desk throughout the day. To download a free poster—Deskercise! 20 Ways to Get Moving While You Work—from The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD).
Other ways to get moving at work include the following:
- Take a quick walk around the office every time you need a refill of coffee or water.
- Instead of emailing your coworker a few offices down, get up and go converse in person.
- Pace while on long conference calls.
- Have a walking/pushing meeting.
- Take the long route to the restroom.
- Swap your office chair for a stability ball.
Source: Desker-what?, NCHPAD
During the holiday season, don’t forget to make time for family meals. Children who often eat dinner with their families are more likely to do well in school, have positive peer relationships, and resist the harmful effects of substance abuse. In addition, regular family mealtime improves communication and nutrition, builds stronger family bonds, and is an opportunity for parents to teach important skills to their children. Furthermore, meals prepared at home are often less expensive and more nutrient rich.
Here are ways to enjoy family mealtime during busy holiday schedules:
- Make family mealtime a priority. Set aside specific times of the week when family members will eat together.
- Be creative and flexible about when and where you eat. Make the most of opportunities instead of worrying about following a strict timetable.
- Make mealtime pleasant. Children learn social skills from listening and watching their parents. Parents can set a positive tone for family meals and set a good example by listening and sharing.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off the electronic devices (cell phones, television, etc.). Commit to device-free meals on or during the week of December 3, 2018, by participating in the initiative “Dining In” for Healthy Families, from the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
- Keep meals simple and easy. Use a slow cooker to prepare a meal that can be ready to eat when the family is ready to eat.
- Use family mealtime Conversation Cards.
Source: Adapted from PM 1842, Say “Yes” to Family Meals, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, March 2015
Not a big fan of warm or hot yoga? Don’t sweat it! A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Physiology showed that participants who worked up a sweat in hot yoga got the same heart health benefits as those who did yoga at room temperature.
Bikram (hot) yoga has been increasing in popularity. It consists of 26 yoga poses done in a room heated to 105oF. Researchers compared adults who took three 90-minute yoga classes a week (either hot or at room temperature) over 12 weeks. These adults were also compared with a control group of people who did no yoga at all. The hot-yoga group did decrease their body fat more than the room-temperature yoga or control groups. However, people in both yoga groups showed improved heart health. So, if health and vitality are your goals, you can choose either form of yoga.
Source: Hunter SD, Laosiripisan J, Elmenshawy A, Tanaka H. Effects of yoga interventions practiced in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilation: The Bikram yoga heart study. Experimental Physiology. 2018;103:391–396.