Escape Your Energy Vampires

Who hasn’t hit a slump in the middle of the afternoon? Or kept slamming the snooze button when the alarm went off for work?

“Most people have at least a few bad habits that make them feel tired and run-down,” says Robert Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food and Exercise. “The problem is they usually don’t recognize what they’re doing wrong.”

Here, Thayer and other experts identify the five most common energy vampires -- and how to escape them before they suck the life out of you.

Energy Vampire: Checking Email Obsessively
Admit it: What is email really but an endless stream of interruptions? If you’re constantly stopping your work to respond to messages, you’ll feel worn out without accomplishing much at all, says Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential … in Business and in Life. Worse still, you might have to stay late at the office to finish the projects you didn’t get done because you were on email all day.

Bite Back:
Set two or three times each day when you’re going to empty out your inbox -- and then be done, suggests Babauta. “Don’t even have your email program on your screen for the rest of the day so you won’t be tempted,” he says. Let your boss know about your change (say you want to be more productive) and ask him to just call you if he needs anything stat. Remember that old relic, the telephone?

Energy Vampire: Sugary Treats

Doughnuts, cupcakes, candy bars -- yep, they’ll give you a sugar rush. But about 45 minutes later, you’ll crash big-time, says Thayer.

Bite Back:
If that midafternoon energy drain is all too familiar, Thayer suggests taking a 5- to 10-minute walk. In one of his studies, he analyzed how eating a candy bar affects mood in comparison to taking a brisk 10-minute walk. Two hours later, participants who took a walk were still more energetic. The candy bar eaters, however, felt worse than they did before they had the snack.

If you’re hungry, opt for snacks -- like a handful of nuts, cheese and whole-grain crackers, or whole-grain tortilla chips and salsa -- that release glucose slowly into your bloodstream, giving you steady energy, suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Bonus: They’re better for your teeth too.

Energy Vampire: Staying up Late

Sure, it’s hard to squeeze in eight hours of sleep. By the time the kids are in bed and dinner is cleaned up, you want a little time for yourself before you the hit the sack. And even if you’re ready to catch some z’s, your body may have other plans. About three-quarters of Americans have trouble falling asleep at least a few days a week, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Still, getting less than seven to eight hours of shut-eye is a surefire way to run yourself down. “Your brain retains more information from the previous day if you’ve had a good night’s sleep,” says Thayer. Sleep also improves your concentration so you can get your tasks done faster.

Bite Back:
If you’re staying up late to watch the news, you’ve just got to shut it off and get some rest. But if you’re there in bed counting sheep, try putting on some relaxing music. In one study, in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, participants improved their sleep quality by 35 percent by listening to soothing music at bedtime. And once you get into a routine, stick with it. It helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake schedule, so you’ll doze off faster.

Energy Vampire: Negative People

You know those people who are constantly complaining or who never have a nice word to say? “They can drain the energy out of you without you knowing it,” says Babauta. Sure, you’re sweet to listen to their rants once in a while. But daily, even weekly, is way too much.

Bite Back:
You might not be able to rid your life of these people entirely -- maybe they’re relatives. But you can cut way back on your interactions with them, says Babauta. For instance, if your sister starts on another one of her tirades about how rotten her life is, tell her you understand, you sympathize, but you simply don’t have time to talk right now. Suggest a phone call next week or the week after. Maybe in the meantime, she’ll find someone else to unload her problems on.

Energy Vampire: Drinking Coffee 24-7

Don’t worry: Experts say it’s OK to have a cup or two of coffee in the morning. “In fact, the caffeine boosts your energy and helps you get going,” says Blatner. But grabbing another cup in the afternoon will definitely interfere with sleep. In fact, half of the caffeine from a 3 p.m. brew is still in your body at 9 p.m.

Bite Back:
Make sure your meals have staying power, and you’ll be less inclined to reach for caffeine-induced energy, says Blatner. Imagine dividing your lunch and dinner plates into four equal parts. Create your power meal by filling one part of the plate with whole grains (like brown rice or whole-wheat bread), one part with lean protein (chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, or turkey), and the other two with fruits and veggies. Then, it’s off the races for the rest of the day!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/track5

Do Infomercial Fitness Products Really Work?

When you’re on a late-night TV bender, sitting on your couch and eating potato chips, a product that promises to whip you into shape fast can seem like a godsend. But how do you know whether you’d be making a wise investment or throwing your money away by placing an order?

“Anything that inspires people to move their bodies is a good thing,” says Nicole Burley, M.Ed., a certified life coach and health coach. “That said, I suggest a healthy skepticism of many of these products. Beware of contraptions and things that do sound way too good to be true, and do your research.”

So we reviewed findings from The American Council on Exercise (ACE) on some of the most popular infomercial exercise products. Here’s how each stacks up against its lofty claims.

P90X
Starting at $119 plus S&H (BeachBody.com)
These high-intensity workouts incorporate a good variety of exercises and movements. Keep in mind, though, that the program requires equipment such as dumbbells and pull-up bars -- which means you’ll have to shell out extra money if you don’t already own the devices. Fitness rookies, be warned: Since the program requires working out for 20 to 50 minutes six or seven days a week, it might be difficult to maintain if you currently follow a minimal exercise routine (or no exercise routine at all).
Our verdict: Worth the price, if you are a serious exerciser and already own the necessary equipment.

The Shake Weight
Starting at $19.95 (
ShakeWeight.com)
This infomercial star does activate muscles more than comparable dumbbell exercises do -- sometimes as much as 88 percent more. Still, that number is nowhere near the commercial’s claims “to increase your upper-body muscle activity by up to 300 percent compared to some traditional weights.” It’s also worth noting that the Shake Weight isn’t great at targeting particular muscles; using it almost always activates the triceps, even during movements designed to work the biceps. So while novice weight trainers will likely see some results from using the Shake Weight, you’re probably better off using different equipment if you have experience with resistance training.
Our verdict: Skip it!

Wii Fit
$99.99 (
Amazon.com)
Even the most rigorous activities on this game won’t give you a legitimate workout: A study conducted by research experts at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Exercise and Health Program found that the routines aren’t strenuous enough to help you maintain or improve cardiovascular health. The Free Run and Island Run activities, which expended the most calories, still burned only 165 calories in a 30-minute workout -- and some games burned as little as 99 calories during 30 minutes of play. The Wii Sports game will actually get you moving more than Wii Fit will -- although neither is enough to constitute your entire exercise program.
Our verdict: Get it for fun, but be sure to do other exercise too.

The Perfect Pushup
Starting at $19.95 (PerfectFitness.com)
Elevated pushups help reduce stress on the wrist joint. ACE exercise physiologists say the Perfect Pushup achieves this -- but so would an ordinary set of dumbbells. What’s more, the device’s pivoting handles make it harder to maintain proper technique, which can lead to injury, particularly if you’re doing the accompanying two-minute Navy SEAL workout. The upside: The Perfect Pushup doesn’t take up much space, and compared to many of the other fitness-related infomercial products on the market, its price tag is a bargain. But since the device has limited uses, your money may be better spent elsewhere.
Our verdict: Skip it!

The Ab Roller
$29.99 at
AbRoller.com
Research conducted by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University shows that the Ab Roller is only marginally more effective at activating abdominal muscles than traditional crunches. A similar device, the AB Rocker, was actually 80 percent less effective than regular old crunches. That doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a flabby midsection, though. Crunches performed on an exercise ball were found to be highly effective, and one of the best abdominal strengtheners doesn’t require any equipment at all: the bicycle maneuver. To do it, lie on the floor in crunch position and put your hands beside your head. Then bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly move your legs as if you were pedaling a bicycle. As you move, alternate touching your left elbow to your right knee and your right elbow to your left knee.
Our verdict: Skip it!


Olympic Workout Secrets Everyone Can Use

Sure, you’re not working out to win a gold medal, but you still can pick up a couple of performance-boosting tricks from Olympic athletes. Sprinter Allyson Felix and fellow American taekwondo guru Steve Lopez -- who are both going for gold in the London 2012 Olympics -- share their strategies to stay motivated, confident and in top shape.

Find a Workout Buddy
“Running is a lot more fun with friends,” says Felix. Plus, it’s a great way to excuse-proof your exercise routine. When you make a plan to work out with your friend, you’re less likely to change it because you know the other person is counting on you. New research at Michigan State University even found that working out with a virtual exercise buddy doubled the amount of time study participants spent cycling.

Make A Doable Plan
Even Olympic athletes don’t want to get up at 4 a.m. every day to hit the gym, says Felix. So making that your goal is just setting yourself up for failure. “Know when you’re realistically going to be able to get in your exercise and stick to that schedule,” says Felix. And if you still feel like blowing off your workout that day? “There are days when I don’t feel like being up and working out, and I just try to smile” says Lopez. “Smiling makes you a happier person and gives you confidence.”

Don’t Get Down on Yourself
Ever have those days when you didn’t finish your run in the time that you wanted, or you couldn’t do as many strength-training exercises as you planned? Don’t beat yourself up. “If you give your workout 100 percent effort, you never lose,” says Felix. “I’ve been in competitions where I didn’t win a medal but gave it my all and have still been proud of myself.” Adds Lopez: “I want to have that perfect day, that perfect performance, and I still haven’t had that. I may never have the perfect performance, but I want to aspire to reach for it.”

Relax, Already!
“If your arms are tight and tense, the tension will move into your neck and back and make your workout more difficult than it has to be,” says Felix. To prevent this, stretch your triceps before your workout: Extend one arm over your head, bend it at the elbow and gently push that arm behind your head with your other hand.

Change up Your Routine
Five days a week of doing the exact same workout is boring. “I love exercises, like Hula-Hooping, that aren’t sports-driven,” says Felix. Another idea: “Go to a local track and sprint the straightaways and walk the curves. It’s a great cardio workout that can accomplish the same thing as longer jogs.”

Also read: “4 New Workout Routines for All Fitness Levels”

Spring-clean Your Fitness Routine

Just like your wardrobe, your workout routine can get a little stale. Always doing the same cardio routine, fudging your exercise time and avoiding the weights can compromise results, says trainer-to-the-stars Gunnar Peterson, who has worked with everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Penelope Cruz and Kim Kardashian. Take advantage of the season’s new light and energy to sweep out the cobwebs from your routine -- and get better results now.

1. Treat your routine like a job interview.

You tell yourself “I’m going to the gym in the morning.” Yet when the alarm goes off, you’ve hit snooze so much that you’ve whittled down the actual exercising time in half. Sound familiar?

“Treat your routine like a job interview or first date,” says Peterson. “Set a time, put it on your calendar and stick with it -- period.” Have your clothes and gear ready to go and plan out the basics of your workout so you’re ready when you arrive. To get the most out of your gym time, aim to arrive at off-hours to beat the crowds -- and bring your headphones. “They signify that you are engaged in your workout and not in socializing,” says Peterson.

2. Switch it up.

Having a plan doesn’t mean doing the same exact moves in the same exact order every single time. Being too predictable in your routine can not only bore you but also lead to overuse injuries and muscle imbalances.

Instead, try a different approach to cardio once a week. If you can’t tear yourself away from the elliptical, try changing the program. So for example, instead of always doing the fat-burning routine, opt for intervals one day. Switch up the number of pounds you lift, as well as the reps. For best results, do this every two weeks.

3. Focus on one thing at a time.

Forget doing cardio before weight training, says Peterson, who likens the habit to cleaning before the cleaning lady arrives. “You don’t really accomplish anything.”

Instead, he suggests doing either cardio or weights during each session and focusing solely on the activity at hand.

Aim to keep your exercise time consistent (at least 30 minutes), and try to get some cardio into your schedule every day that you’re not doing strength training. (Yes, a walk outside counts.) But don’t be tempted to skip your weight workout! Muscle blasts more calories than fat, and the only way to build muscle is through strength training, so be sure to incorporate at least one day of it into your routine each week. Choose weights that are heavy enough to only complete eight to 10 reps per set.

4. Take it outdoors.

Running, walking, cycling and swimming on naturally varying terrain challenges your body in various ways and keeps you focused on the activity. Since you aren’t likely to get lost in the latest gossip on “Entertainment Tonight” when you’re jogging on an outdoor trail, you can concentrate on your time, pace and -- most important -- breathing.

Health bonus: Bringing it outside can increase your exposure to much-needed vitamin D as well as fresher air. And the best part: It’s free!

5. Don’t skip your cooldown.

Working too hard is just as ineffective as working too lightly. Your muscles (and mind) need time to recuperate in order to properly strengthen. Take time after each exercise session to cool down. Set the treadmill to a lighter speed and incline for five minutes and concentrate on your breathing. Or stretch it out -- use a foam roller to target tired muscles. Once a week, take a low-intensity yoga class to feel more limber and focused.

What’s your favorite fitness routine? Talk about it below or connect with us @Completely_You

Strengthen Your Back

More than 31 million Americans suffer from back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association, and spend billions each year trying to find relief. But “in the same way that you brush your teeth to prevent getting a cavity, you can take measures to protect your back before you get hurt,” says Delia Roberts, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and professor of biology at Selkirk College in British Columbia. Here, her suggestions for keeping your back healthy and pain-free.

1. Check your posture.
A healthy spine has two curves -- an outward curve in the upper back and an inward curve in the lower back. To check your posture, stand sideways and look into a mirror. “Imagine there’s a string tied to the top of your head and someone is pulling up on that string to elongate you as much as they can while still maintaining those curves,” says Roberts. Also, check the alignment of your hip bone and pubic bone. “Women typically tip the pubic bone backward, and men typically tip it forward,” says Roberts. “The ideal is no tipping at all.” Practice this healthy alignment -- known as spinal neutral -- both sitting and standing, and check it periodically throughout the day to make sure you maintain it as much as possible.

2. Strengthen your core.
Engaging your core (your abdominals and back muscles) helps you keep your spine in a healthy position. “There’s a point midway between your belly button and your pubic bone,” says Roberts. “Imagine that you’re grabbing your muscle there and lifting it up into your belly button until it tightens.” Just make sure not to brace too tightly: “If you brace, you’re locking down the muscle, and movement can no longer occur,” says Roberts.

Try to do this whenever you can throughout the day. Eventually, it will become automatic. In addition to engaging your core, activating your pelvic muscles (aka Kegel exercises) can also help you maintain spinal neutral. You can practice Kegels throughout the day too -- just be sure not to overdo them. (Here, the Mayo Clinic gives tips on doing Kegel exercises.)

3. Watch your back.
It’s a great idea to do exercises to strengthen your core. But many people use incorrect form when doing floor or mat work: “I often see people totally flatten their backs while doing crunches or other moves designed to strengthen abdominal muscles,” she says. “That’s taking you out of spinal neutral.” Whether you’re lying down or standing upright, make sure you maintain normal, healthy spinal curvature.

4. Don’t exercise first thing in the morning.
Many people get out of bed and do stretches or yoga poses first thing in the morning. “That’s not a good idea,” says Roberts. “For the first 30 minutes after you wake up, you’re at a higher risk for back injury than at any other time. Since you’ve been lying down all night, the discs in your spine are filled with more fluid than normal.” Save stretching -- or any other activity that could stress your back -- for later in the day, when much of that fluid will have drained from your spinal discs.

 

How do you strengthen your back? Comment below or connect with us @Completely_You

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/martin-dm