If you’re planning to start an exercise program and wondering where to begin, start with your core first, says physical therapist Brittany Smith, DPT. People often think of the core muscles as being the abdominal muscles, but the core includes the muscles in the abdomen, back and hips, all working together as a group.
“The core muscles provide stability for the entire body as it moves,” says Smith. “These muscles are activated when you stand up, turn, bend, reach, twist, stoop and move in most other ways. Everything starts with your core.”
Getting started with your core
To get your core muscles in shape, you need to exercise.
“Our bodies were made to move, so any physical activity is really important,” says Smith.
She recommends these specific core-strengthening exercises below.
The first one engages the deep muscles in the abdomen, called the transverse abdominis. “These muscles help hold us in a better position to stabilize our core, thereby stabilizing our arms and legs,” says Smith.
“The more you work on these muscles, the more it will become second nature to hold these muscles tight when you’re lifting grocery bags, doing yard work or any other kind of physical activity,” says Smith. This will help support your body.
Other muscles that tend to be weak are the gluteus maximus in the buttocks, and the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus on the side of the hip. The bridge and clamshell exercises can help strengthen these muscles.
Smith emphasizes that getting the proper position of these exercises correct is more important than the number of repetitions you do. “It’s better to take your time, maybe do fewer reps, but with better quality,” she says. For that reason, it can be helpful to have the guidance of a physical therapist to get started.
Move on from the core
Core exercises are the starting point of overall fitness because you need to hold those muscles engaged while you strengthen other muscles, such as the biceps in the arms or the quadriceps in the legs.
Smith suggests setting short-term goals (for about a month) and then more long-term goals. Once you have achieved short-term goals, such as getting around more easily, add other types of weight-training or resistance exercises to build muscle elsewhere.
With any exercise you do, always listen to your body, warns Smith. If you have pain other than muscle burn, take it easy. Reduce the number of repetitions, the weight or the duration of the exercises. Then build up gradually. “You don’t have to be in pain to make gains,” she says.
Beginner exercises for core strength
For each of the following, work up to one to two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions once a day.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles, and press the arch of your back down toward the floor, pulling your belly button toward your spine. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Make sure your lower back stays flat on the floor. Relax and repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with your arms at your sides. Squeeze your abdominal and buttocks muscles, push your heels into the floor and slowly lift your buttocks and hips off the floor. Keep your back straight. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
Lie on your side with knees bent in line with your hips and back, draw up the top knee while keeping contact of your feet together as shown. Don’t let your pelvis roll back during the lifting movement. Hold for 5 seconds.
A heart-healthy accompaniment that works for flounder and ocean trout, too
In this dish, we grill hearty, delicious halibut along with tender asparagus. The bright, zesty sauce combines fresh parsley and cilantro with shallot, lemon and red pepper. Though this dish is loaded with beneficial plant nutrients and nourishing fats and protein, the flavors are what your guests and family will love.
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 a shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
4 4-ounce pieces halibut, flounder or fluke fillet, about 3/4 inch thick
- In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, cilantro, oregano, shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1/8 teaspoon of the salt, the black pepper and the red pepper flakes.
- Heat the grill to medium-high.
- Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the oil over the asparagus, and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toss well.
- Rub the fish with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt.
- Grill the asparagus for about 3 minutes, or until tender and charred. Grill the fish for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until opaque throughout.
- Serve the fish with the asparagus, and spoon some herb sauce over the top.
Nutrition information (per serving):
Makes 4 servings
Total fat: 13 g
Saturated fat: 2 g
Protein: 27 g
Carbohydrate: 12 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Sugar: 3 g
Added sugar: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 170 mg
Recipe developed by Sara Quessenberry for Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
¼ cup steel cut oatmeal
¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon toasted walnuts, chopped
½ teaspoon honey
- In a medium-sized pot, add almond milk and oatmeal.
- Bring to simmer; stir until oatmeal is thick and creamy – about 20 minutes.
- Serve with your favorite fresh berries, sliced bananas, or toasted walnuts, and almond milk.
Nutritional information (Per serving)
Makes 1 serving
Total fat: 6 g
Saturated fat: .5 g
Protein: 7 g
Carbohydrate: 34 g
Dietary fiber: 5 g
Sugar: 4 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Source: Chef Michelle Bartoul-Mangan, Cleveland Clinic Wellness
You may not realize it, but we all start losing 1 percent of muscle mass each year after age 30. That’s why your diet in later years should not look the same as it did when you were younger, says endocrinologist Susan Williams, MD.
Skipping breakfast, eating fast food and being inactive in your 20s and early 30s might not hurt your health in the short term. However, poor nutrition and lifestyle habits take their toll over time.
People who embrace good habits early on really get ahead of the game, Dr. Williams says. But it’s never too late to start eating better and taking better care of your body.
Whether you’re 30 or 50, Dr. Williams offers three important tips to get started in eating right when you are thinking about your long-term health.
1. Keep your weight in check
A roller coaster of weight gain and loss can change your body composition and leave you with more fat mass and less lean muscle mass.
2. Eat three balanced meals a day
You also want to limit your snacks in between. The word “balanced” is especially important because eating a wide variety of foods will help you prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Dr. Williams suggests this simple shopping list:
- Lean proteins. Choose chicken, white fish, oily fish like salmon, eggs, tuna fish and red meat (less frequently than other protein).
- Whole grains. This includes multigrain breads, and long-cooking rice or oats.
- Veggies. Go for fresh or fresh frozen. Choose what’s in season and enjoy a variety to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
- Fruit. Fresh fruit is best, followed by frozen. Canned fruit can be OK, but choose options in light syrup or water. Check the label and avoid added sugar.
- Dairy. Choose milk, yogurts, cheeses and cottage cheese that are low-fat or fat-free.
Steer clear of cookies, cakes, pies, ice creams, juices and rich desserts. If that sounds like no fun, Dr. Williams advises treating these foods as treats. Save them for dining out or special occasions, but don’t make them part of your daily diet.
3. Use your muscles
Eating protein and being physically active are equal partners in the quest for maximum health, Dr. Williams says. Muscles are made of protein, but simply eating protein is not enough to save them.
“Muscles in your body are a use-or-lose proposition,” she says. “You need to use them to keep them strong.”
Can’t carve out time for the gym? Try this daily routine:
- In the morning, stretch for 10 minutes.
- At lunch, eat and then walk for 10 minutes.
- After dinner, spend 10 minutes with stretch bands or light weights.
Even a half hour of physical activity can make a world of difference, especially if you make it a habit in your 30s. “Don’t let your weight creep up while your muscle mass creeps down over your 30s and 40s,” Dr. Williams says. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get started — and the more muscle you will have already lost.
Most people understand the basic health benefits of yoga: flexibility, stress relief and muscle strength, just to name a few. But why is it different when you turn up the heat? Is the increase in degrees a gimmick or is it actually beneficial to your health?
What is hot yoga, anyway?
Hot yoga is exactly what it sounds like — yoga practiced in a hot environment. Most hot yoga classes have an increased room temperature set anywhere between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s quite a difference compared to normal room temperature (68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Why so hot? The heat helps lubricate tendons and ligaments, making it easier to fold into certain stretches and poses. “The heat allows participants to get a deeper stretch because their body is warmer and they can move into the poses a little deeper,” says yoga instructor Jennifer Sauer.
The potential pros of hot yoga are:
- Increased flexibility.
- Reduced stress.
- Weight loss.
- Reduced pain.
On the flip side, it can also be easy to overdo it in a hot yoga class. Because of the high temperature in the room, you might not realize how hard you’re working and you could end up taking stretches too far before your body is ready.
The potential cons of hot yoga are:
- Higher risk of injury.
- Trouble breathing.
Hot yoga should be something that you ease into. So taking some regular yoga classes first and getting an idea of your current flexibility level is recommended. Beginner yoga classes also help build on your knowledge of the poses and sequences.
“While people have reported pain relief, detoxification and weight loss from hot yoga, scientific research is limited,” Sauer says. “It’s safe to say that hot yoga is more vigorous than traditional practices,” she notes, “but the jury is still out on overall calorie burn and weight loss.”
When you combine hotter temperatures with extra exertion, your body is working harder and therefore increasing your heart rate. So, ultimately, you are burning a good amount of calories during your hot yoga session — the data just doesn’t exist yet for hot yoga specifically.
Who should avoid hot yoga?
Like other types of exercise, hot yoga isn’t for everyone. Hot yoga is not suggested for those who are pregnant or have a heart condition. The heat can also aggravate asthma.
Sauer recommends looking out for side effects such as dizziness, lightheadedness and not being able to take a deep breath in. “If that happens, return to a stable position or leave the studio until you feel better,” she says. “It’s important to stay hydrated and listen to your body.”
Think you’re ready to give it a shot?
When it comes to hot yoga — try attending a few basic or beginner yoga classes first. Then when you feel comfortable, try incorporating a heated class.
“There are different styles of yoga, so if you try a class that doesn’t appeal to you, try another type of yoga or a different instructor,” Sauer says. “The heat isn’t for everyone — and that’s perfectly OK!”
Peru has been cultivating potatoes for more than 6,000 years in the high Andean slopes near Lake Titicaca.
A stroll through the public markets reveals a startling number of sizes, shapes and colors — including the famous Peruvian blue potatoes with their purplish-blue skin and flesh.
It’s fun to use these blue potatoes, but if your market doesn’t carry them or if you prefer other potatoes, you can always use small red or white potatoes.
1 1/4 pounds small Peruvian blue potatoes
1/4 cup minced red onions
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeño, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar substitute
2 hard-boiled egg whites, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
2 tablespoons sliced black olives, optional
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Simmer the potatoes until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size. Drain and cool. Quarter or slice into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl.
- Combine the potatoes and the onion, bell peppers, tomato, jalepeño, vinegar, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt (if using), sugar substitute, egg whites, oregano and cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with olives, if using.
Nutritional information (per serving)
Makes 8 servings
Calories: 200 calories (31% from fat)
Total fat: 7 g
Saturated fat: 1.5 g
Protein: 7 g
Carbohydrate: 31 g
Dietary fiber: 2 g
Cholesterol: 5 mg
Sodium: 95 mg
Potassium: 109 mg
Source: Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook (© 2007 Broadway Books).