Get This: Exercise Can Help You De-Stress

Check out the list of links that should be on your radar today:

Feeling like a giant stress ball? New research provides even more evidence that working out can help. [NYT]

Every time you buy vitamins or supplements at Whole Foods this month, the company will donate 25 cents to Vitamin Angels, an organization that donates Vitamin A to women and children in developing countries. [The Gourmet Retailer]

The App Store turns five tomorrow. To celebrate, Apple is giving away some of its most popular apps for free. [USA Today]

Seventy-five percent of Americans—that’s three out of four people—suffer from severe dehydration, according to a new study. Five reasons to hydrate, stat[Medical Daily]

There’s some crappy news about what’s in your cat’s business. [NPR]

The Princeton alumnae who told undergrad women to find husbands is now publishing a self-help book called SMARTEN UP! Words of Wisdom from the Princeton Mom. Just what we needed! [Gawker]

Rumor has it that a fitness marketing company is suing former Biggest Loser contestant Tara Costa for gaining back some of the weight she lost on the show. At least no one will threaten a lawsuit if you put on a few pounds. [Medical Daily]

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Which Impacts Your Weight More: Diet or Exercise?

You know you should exercise and eat healthfully to keep your weight in check. The thing is, research suggests that when people devote time to one healthy habit, they spend less time on the other. So which is more important if you’re worried about your waistline: your workout or your diet?

Turns out, people who think that diet is the most important factor in weight control tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who believe that exercise is the key, according to six new studies published in the journal Psychological Science.

In the studies, researchers asked a total of more than 1,200 people in the U.S., Canada, China, France, and South Korea about the main factor that makes people overweight. They also took participants’ height and weight measurements to calculate their BMIs. Interestingly, those who said it’s most important to stay active to prevent obesity had higher BMIs than the people who said eating right is the key to weight control.

As you might expect, people’s weight-control theories impacted their food choices. In two studies, when researchers offered participants unlimited chocolate, the people who said they think staying active is key to maintaining a healthy weight ate more.

“Our beliefs guide our actions,” says study co-author Brent McFerran, PhD, an assistant professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Think about it: If you think exercise is the key to weight control, you might move more and focus less on what you eat. While exercise can definitely support weight loss—and make you feel awesome, among other benefits—people tend to overestimate the amount of calories they burn while working out and compensate for the extra activity by eating more, says McFerran.

On the flip side, if you believe that eating a healthy diet is the best way to maintain your weight, you might worry less about exercise—but closely watch what you eat. And that’s smart, especially because most people grossly underestimate the amount of calories they consume, says McFerran.

The problem: Many people think they can work off extra pounds—but there’s a ton of scientific evidence to support the fact that changing your diet is a more effective way to drop weight, says McFerran. “If we eat a 3000-calorie lunch, nearly no one has enough free time in the rest of the day to exercise it off,” he says.

Luckily, McFerran’s best advice for weight control doesn’t take much time: Steer clear of foods that are high in calories, and trade large plates and bowls for smaller ones to ensure you fill them with more restrained portions.

That said, you should probably hold onto your gym membership, too. Although it’s tough to slim down with exercise alone, staying active does help with weight control—and it’s absolutely crucial for your health, says Keri Glassman, RD, a Women’s Health weight loss expert. Not only does exercise produce endorphins that increase your metabolic rate and motivate you to eat better—it also supports heart health, strengthens your bones, helps you sleep, decreases stress, and boosts mental health. All awesome reasons to hit the gym when you can!

photo: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

More from WH:
How to Lose Weight Fast
Weight Loss Motivation: 13 Ways to Stay On Track
Running For Weight Loss

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Researchers Create Exercise Guidelines to Beat Depression

You already know (and love!) that endorphin-fueled happy feeling you get after a really great workout. Past research has even shown that exercise can be successful in treating major depressive disorder. And now a new report published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, which is geared toward clinicians, outlines the necessary exercise “dose” for patients to reap the antidepressant effects.

Researchers at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center came up with clinical guidelines based on what’s worked in past studies, says senior study author Madhukar Trivedi, MD, of the department of psychiatry. Their recommendations: Patients should do aerobic exercise or resistance training (though there’s more research evidence to support the former) for 45 to 60 minutes three to five times per week. Aerobic exercise—running, biking, walking—should be at about 50 to 85 percent of max heart rate. For resistance—something like weight-lifting—the workouts should target both upper- and lower-body muscles, and intensity should be three sets of eight repetitions at 80 percent max. The regimen should last for at least 10 to 12 weeks. “It boils down to about 150 minutes per week of exercise at moderate intensity,” says Trivedi.

While these recommendations are based on what was shown to work in past studies that have looked at the link between exercise and depressive symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean other regimens won’t work. These are just helpful guidelines if you want to reap the full mood-boosting benefits of exercise.

And of course, if you’re experiencing depressive symptoms and would like to try exercise as treatment, make sure you’re doing so under the guidance of a clinician, says Trivedi.

photo: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock 

More from Women’s Health:
All-Natural Depression Fixes
Meditation: Fight Depression and Stress
The 411 on Pregnancy and Depression

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Does Hula Hooping Count as Exercise?

If you’d prefer to hula hoop than hit the gym, you’re in luck: It might be just as effective. In fact, Kelly Osborne said hula hooping helped her whittle two inches from her waist, according to a recent interview. No doubt, she looks amazing. But can hula-hooping actually give you a good workout?

While hooping is just one part of Osbourne’s daily workout (she also says she runs intervals and does either weight training, yoga, or Pilates), hula hooping really can help you slim down: It burns about seven calories a minute, according to a 2010 study conducted at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. And while that might not sound like a lot, it’s about as much as you’d burn by walking briskly—and even more than you’d torch per minute in a power yoga, step aerobics, or Pilates class.

While hula hooping strengthens your core, and—depending on what you do with the hoop—can work the rest of your body, too, strength training still trumps hula hooping for sculpting lean muscle, says study author John Porcari, PhD, director of clinical exercise physiology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. That said, swinging a hoop around your hips can be a pretty effective aerobic workout, he says.

Can’t hula hoop to save your life? Your hoop is probably too light—or too small. Contrary to what you might think, a heavier hoop makes hula hooping easier because it generates momentum, says Mary Pulak, owner of Hooked on Hooping fitness classes in Green Bay, WI, and designer of the hula hooping workout used in the 2010 study. Because you need to keep your core tight to whip the weighted hoop around your waist, heavier hoops also work your abs more than their lightweight counterparts, she says. A two-pounder is ideal. “It creates enough force to give a fantastic workout, but it’s not heavy enough to bruise your body,” Pulak says.

In terms of size, the bigger the hoop, the easier it is to use because it gives you more time to react to the forward and backward hooping movements, says Pulak. The diameter of the right-sized hoop should be between the height of your waist and your breastbone.

Ready to starting hooping? Find a certified instructor in your ‘hood, or, buy your own hoop and try a hooping DVD. You could also build your own hooping workout: Just turn on your favorite playlist and hoop to the beat. For a more intense cardio workout, increase the speed, vary the hoop’s direction, and do alternating knee lifts to challenge your core. Add arm movements and squats to turn the routine into a total body workout.

photo: Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock

More from WH:
The Playground Workout
Fun (and Cheap!) New Workouts
21 Ways to Bust Out of Your Workout Rut

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One in Three Women Experience Breast Pain During Exercise

If your breasts could talk, they’d probably tell you that they’re not thrilled when they see you lacing up your running shoes. In fact, breast pain is an issue for almost one in three marathon runners, according to a new study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And the bigger your cup size, the more likely you are to be plagued with boob pain.

Researchers surveyed 1,285 female runners at the 2012 London Marathon Registration. The survey asked women about their exercise habits and workout intensity, as well as their medical history and how often they experienced breast pain. They found that 32 percent of women reported breast pain, but that number was strongly linked to the size of a woman’s bust. Pain was a problem for one in four women with A cups, but it was an issue for half of all women with a cup size of F or larger.

The big bummer: Working out is often to blame. Half of the women with breast pain said it was brought on by moderate exercise, and 64 percent said their girls hurt during vigorous exercise. Since nine out of 10 runners reported wearing sports bras while training, it’s not a total lack of support that’s the problem. According to experts, the real issue is that women aren’t getting the right support.

“Just because women are wearing sports bras doesn’t mean they’re wearing an appropriately fitting, supportive sports bra,” says lead study author Nicola Brown, PhD, lecturer in health and exercise at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham, London.

To keep your breasts happy and healthy, try these expert-approved tips:

Get proper support all day—not just at the gym
While you don’t need to don a sports bra to run errands, you should still make sure your everyday bras give you the appropriate amount of support. “A lot of women probably don’t realize how active they are during their normal daily routine,” says study coauthor Joanna Scurr, PhD, head of the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth in London. “All types of activity can cause considerable breast movement, and ultimately our research has shown it’s the movement of the breast that can lead to pain.” Head to a department store or lingerie shop and meet with a bra-fitting specialist to find the right style and size for your bust.

Make sure your bra meets these expert standards
Pay attention to these five crucial bra-fitting points from the Research Group in Breast Health. They apply to both your sports bras and your everyday options:
• Band: It should be snug enough so it doesn’t slide around when you move but not so tight that it digs in or feels uncomfortable.
• Cup: If it has individual cups, your breasts should be contained in them, not spilling out in any direction. If the cups are puckering, you may need to go down a cup size.
• Underwire: If it has underwire, it should follow the natural crease of the breast rather than resting on it or digging in. If the underwire is resting farther down on your ribcage (where you’re a little narrower) the band might be too small.
• Front: The lower edge of your bra between the cups should lay flat against the body and not gape away from your chest. If the front is not laying flat, you may need to go up a cup size.
• Straps: They should provide support without digging into the skin. Your main support should come from a snug band, not super-tight straps.

Take your bra for a test drive
Once you’ve found a sports bra that seems to keep everything in place, make sure to test the support before you buy it. You could run laps around the store—or you could try this much subtler trick from Scurr: Do a few star jumps in the dressing room. Start with your feet together and your body squatted down with your hands on the floor. Then jump up while spreading you arms and legs out, like a star. This causes the same breast movement that occurs during running, says Scurr, so it’s an accurate way to gauge the fit. Another tip: Stretch your arms above your head and from side to side. “Your band should stay where it is when you put your arms up,” says Scurr.

Watch what you eat and drink
Some research has shown that a high-fat diet or excessive caffeine intake may contribute to breast pain in some people, says Dixie Mills, MD, breast surgeon at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. So if you’re feeling particularly sore, try cutting back on these to see if it makes a difference. Some experts also advise an anti-inflammatory diet—think tons of fresh fruits and veggies and limiting processed foods—to minimize pain from inflammation, says Mills. The bottom line: A healthier diet may help buffer against the breast tenderness, so eat clean if you’re experiencing soreness. And if you know you’re prone to pain around your period, take an over-the-counter pain reliever before a big workout, says Mills.

Keep exercising
It may sound counterintuitive since workouts can be the cause of discomfort, but staying fit can protect against breast pain in the long run. The study authors are currently working on two new studies that show an association between higher activity levels and lower levels of breast pain. So amp up your fitness routine to reap the benefits—just make sure you’re wearing a super-supportive bra first.

Need a few options? Check out our top picks for your girls from the Women’s Health 2013 Fitness Awards:

Moving Comfort Juno Bra, $ 56,

This super-supportive pick goes up to size 40DD and is great for high impact exercise. Plus, there’s a hook-and-clasp closure in the back to ensure a perfect fit.

CW-X VersatX Supprot Bra, $ 65,
This sports bra packs a hidden punch with interior webbing within each cup to cut down on bounce. And with no underwire or compression, it’s a comfy yet supportive fit.

Champion Seamless Dazzle Sports Bra, $ 36,
The contoured cups in this no-fuss pick give the perfect amount of support for lower-impact exercise—like jogging.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
8 Rules of Sports Bra Shopping
The Best Sports Bra For Your Body
How to Choose a Painkiller

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Is There an Optimal Time to Exercise?

circadian rhythm: best time to work outExercise can help us sleep better and reduce our risk for chronic disease—but does it matter when you do it?

New research on mice from the University of California, Los Angeles’s Brain Research Institute suggests that exercising during the daytime can improve your sleep and reduce your risk for health problems that are associated with a disrupted internal clock, like fatigue during the day, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and dysfunction of the cardiovascular and immune systems. What they did not find, as some media outlets reported, is that the afternoon is the best time to exercise in order to reap these benefits.

Researchers observed several groups of mice running in their wheels. Some were otherwise healthy and some were bred to have a malfunctioning internal clock, or circadian timing system. Some mice could run whenever they wanted, while others only had access to the wheel at the mouse equivalents of morning and afternoon (they’re nocturnal). Exercise improved the functioning of the internal clock in all of the mice, but in the mice with “broken” clocks, the effect was more pronounced in the afternoon.

Lead author Christopher Colwell, Ph.D., who has studied circadian rhythms for 30 years, says that our brain’s internal clock governs most aspects of our behavior and physiology by telling our cells what time it is and what they should be doing, like maintaining organ function (daytime) or going into repair mode (nighttime). Aging, nervous system diseases, and exposure to artificial light at night can all disrupt our circadian rhythm and, he says, “disruption of the clock has profound influence throughout the whole body.”

Colwell says this study raises the possibility that there may be a difference in how exercise in the morning versus the afternoon affects the clock in humans, but he’s not aware of any literature on that premise.

“I’ve been getting some emails from people who exercise in the morning and they feel great and they’re saying ‘Well, should I change that?’ Absolutely not,” he says.

“Right now, we feel comfortable saying that exercise during a human’s daytime would be beneficial, while the same exercise during the normal sleep time would be disruptive to these rhythms.”

This study, which appears in the Journal of Physiology, did not examine the effects of late-night exercise, but unpublished results from Colwell’s lab show that working out at the equivalent of 11pm disrupts the clock.

Colwell says that sweating in the morning and late afternoon and maybe even the early evening are perfectly fine, but he says, “I would caution, as I have observed anecdotally, that if your only option is exercising at midnight, you might want to skip it that day.” It can affect your sleep and throw off the clock: We get sleepy when our internal body temperature starts to decline and vigorous exercise causes a spike in core temperature, which delays the process.

“But, of course, we still want people to exercise.”

photo: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

More from WH:
The Best Reflective Gear for Evening Workouts
15 Tricks to Help You Sleep Better
Tips for Working Out in the Morning

Look Better Naked: Buy the book to learn how to look (and feel!) your very best.

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The Exercise You Can Do Until You’re 71 (Hint: It’s Not Walking)

Want to be fit enough to have reason to use our best sex position finder well into your 70s? Then there’s one kind of workout you should be practicing today, tomorrow, and fifty years from now: Yoga.

Just ask Martha Stewart (yes, that Martha Stewart), who practiced her poses amid many fans in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall in New York City this morning to kick off her American Made celebration honoring new business owners and artisans who’ve followed in her footsteps to make careers out of their passions. Stewart, who is 71 years old, says she hits the yoga mat as often as possible. After all, she says her stay-young secret is, “Exercise, exercise, exercise. And diet, diet, diet.”

Martha Stewart says "Om" with her long-time yoga instructor James Murphy of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York

As it happens, Stewart may be onto something with her yoga practice (which, for the record, is pretty damn near perfect). She typically gravitates toward Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes precision and alignment, as opposed to higher-intensity Vinyasa or power yoga, which could do wonders for women in their 30s and 40s, but may lead to injury once existing conditions such as weak muscles, brittle bones, or wrist, shoulder, or lower back issues set in as we age, says Kathryn Budig, Women’s Health yoga expert.

While your practice may—and should—evolve as you age, one thing’s for sure: the benefits of yoga are life-long. Here, three reasons to “om” your way to better health, starting now.

You’ll smile more
It’s no secret that doing any kind of exercise can elevate your mood, but a 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that those who did three 60-minute yoga sessions a week for 12-weeks saw greater improvements in their mood and anxiety, compared to subjects who participated in a metabolically-matched walking program. The next time a rainy day or bad mood leaves you lacking motivation to tackle the great outdoors by foot, stay in. Pop in a yoga DVD and you might find that you feel better.

You’ll eat more healthy foods
In a 2009 Australian study published in the journal Qualitative Health Research, obese women who participated in a 12-week yoga program reported consuming less food, eating at a slower pace, and making all-around better food choices throughout the study. Because yoga emphasizes the mind-body connection, performing pose sequences can result in you consciously treating your body better even off the mat, perhaps helping you eat more mindfully. And that’s a good thing, considering that the average middle-aged women gains a little more than a pound a year, according to the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health survey of over 8,000 women between the ages of 45 and 55, published in Obesity in 2005. Jump on the yoga bandwagon to help keep the scale numbers stable over time. (Need a quick fix? Try one of these six one-day diet solutions.)

You’ll kick chronic pain to the curb
If schlepping your mat, calming your mind, and stretching your bod sound to you like a pain in the ass, listen up: A 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yoga can actually help to alleviate chronic pain—at least in the lower back. Compared to chronic lower back pain suffers who participated in a week-long physical exercise regimen, those who participated in a seven-day yoga-based lifestyle program (including poses, breathing exercises, meditation, some schooling on the philosophies of yoga—the whole shebang) more effectively reduced pain-related disabilities and improved spinal flexibility. Now, about those sex positions…

photo: Janie Airey/Lifesize/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Fit Celebrities’ Workouts
The Best Yoga Exercises for Women
Yoga for Athletes
Look Better Naked Workout

Look Better Naked: Buy the book to learn how to look (and feel!) your very best.


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