Spring is officially here, and just like your house gets a spring-cleaning overhaul, so should your fitness and your health. Oxygen rounded up 10 take-charge rules that’ll put you back in charge of your eating, your energy and your equilibrium. Spring forward!
1. Lunch is the most important meal of the day.
Move over breakfast, hello lunch! New research shows that breakfast may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom found that breakfast eaters consumed an extra 500 calories a day compared to skippers. “Lunch provides a continued boost to the metabolism and keeps us from a calorie free-for-all come dinner,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale, 2008), who suggests a combo of vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Try a bed of greens topped with chicken breast and quinoa or black-bean chili with half a sweet potato.
2. Be careful with “fit” foods.
We all know that a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or container of Pringles can be impossible to put down, but overeating “fit” foods also can put on the pounds. One study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that participants given fit-branded trail mix downed more than those given generic trail mix and later burned less calories on a stationary bike. The take-away: Eating “fit” foods doesn’t mean you can forget the importance of portion control or use it as an excuse to work out at a lower intensity.
3. Stop texting and treadmilling!
Using exercise time as a chance to catch up on your TV shows is a bad idea. “If you’re not totally focused on what you’re doing, you’re not going to get the full benefit of the workout,” says Devora Zack, author of Singletasking (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015). One study found that performing mental and physical tasks at the same time can tax your prefrontal cortex and drain your energy. Other studies have found that multitasking is less productive than sticking to a single task. Exercising to music gets a pass because it doesn’t take conscious effort. Channel-surfing on the treadmill? Skip it.
4. Forget the juice cleanse (hello, sugar rush!).
Here’s the standard sales pitch: You go on a fasting juice cleanse and come out a new and improved you. Not so fast. Just sipping juice for days on end could starve your body of muscle-building protein, mood-boosting amino acids and belly-filling fiber, yet you’ll be chugging back way more sugar than you need — like, six Snickers bars’ worth in just one day. And despite the purified promises, juicing won’t magically free your body of toxins: “A well-functioning body does a good job of detoxing all on its own,” says Michelle Babb, MS, RD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating Made Easy (Sasquatch Books, 2014). The verdict: Real food equals real results.
5. Drink your vegetables.
Researchers from the University College London found that getting seven or more portions of produce a day can cut your risk of cancer by 25 percent and your risk of heart disease by 31 percent, with veggies four times healthier than fruits. For a simpler way to cram in more kale, spin it into your smoothie. “Adding vegetables to smoothies boosts micronutrients like magnesium, calcium and even iron, as well as immune-boosting phytonutrients,” Babb says. Our fave combos: jalapeno + watermelon, avocado + banana, carrot + mango and beet + strawberry.
6. Play, play, play!
Good news: Goofing off is good for you! Studies have found that adult play can boost mental and emotional health, relieve stress, boost happiness and improve relationships — it can even boost creativity and empathy. “Open yourself to play and play will come,” says Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D., vice president for play studies at The Strong National Museum of Play and editor of the American Journal of Play. Put some Motown on the stereo and dance while you’re making dinner. Sing out loud during your commute. Take a cue from kids and hit up the playground or play tag — you’re it!
7. Make meditation a must-do.
The scientific research is in and meditation has some mind-blowing benefits. It can reduce stress and anxiety, boost immunity, curb cravings, and even improve concentration, memory and gamma waves associated with heightened awareness. Meditation can take many forms, from mantra meditation (silently repeating a sound or phrase) to taking a yoga class or, increasingly popular among millennials, a group meditation class. “The underlying purpose is to train your awareness,” says Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic. And all you have to do to reap the rewards is start practicing. Get started: Download Russell Simmons’ free “Meditation Made Simple” app.
8. Super powders are the new superfoods.
Want an easier way to sneak in more vitamins and minerals? Enter superfood powders, finely milled yet mighty ingredients that add nutritional oomph to smoothies, homemade energy bars and raw desserts. Add acai powder for extra health-promoting antioxidants, spirulina for muscle-building protein and cocoa powder for mind-calming magnesium. As an added plus, these powdered powerhouses have a much longer shelf life than, say, a pint of blueberries.
9. Count your colors, not your calories.
Eating the rainbow doesn’t mean chowing down on Lucky Charms. “Real colors in fruits and vegetables can function as preventative medicine in our body,” says David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., author of What Color Is Your Diet? (William Morrow, 2002). Each plant pigment is like a color code to how it helps. Red-hued foods (tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit) are loaded with lycopene, which may decrease the risk of certain cancers. Purple produce (red grapes, blueberries, red cabbage) is packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants that can improve brain function. Orange-yellow eats (pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, cantaloupe) contain carotenoids, which may be good for your heart. Just opt for bold, bright and not out of a box.
10. Stop crunching for a flat belly.
“Crunches and sit-ups are 100 percent overrated!” says Kim Lyons, former trainer on The Biggest Loser and author of Your Body, Your Life (Sterling, 2008). “They promote bad posture and tight hip flexors, which most people already suffer from.” The ab-mighty alternative: multi-muscle exercises that challenge the entire core, like side planks, stability-ball sit-ups, hanging leg lifts, medicine-ball rollouts and rotation lunges. Not only will your abs be popping, but you’ll also burn mega calories, reduce injury and build more strength.