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Top Smartphone Fitness Apps for 2016 Made Simple

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Are you overwhelmed by fitness wearables? Do these gadgets simplify or complicate your life? I decided to take a look at new tech trends, and found that the new trend is to track your fitness right on your smartphone without having to purchase an additional gadget.

The good thing about fitness apps on your phone is that most of us carry our phones with us anyway, and you are not limited to the fitness tracking options in just one wearable. There are more fitness apps available in 2016 to customize your tracking to those activities that are most important to you.

You can track miles, elevation gain, be entertained while exercising, and learn to sleep better or get a daily motivational message to keep you going. Here are some of the top rated apps available:

Android

  • Argus tracks and displays your calories, heart rate, sleep and more. A nifty ability to scan barcodes on food labels makes tracking your calories a breeze as well as keeping track of your nutritional intake, for example if you are trying to get more calcium in your diet. You can build in challenges to your workout plan to push yourself to the limit.
  • Strava monitors both runs and cycling routes, provides challenges and achievement recognition, and even makes games out of your cardo workout. All of this can integrate with the leading Android Wear devices.
  • Map My Run will give you a great workout summary that charts you pace, distance, counts calories burned, and even gives you elevation gain, which is great for people who hit the trail or stairs workouts. You can control your playlist an also incoming calls without leaving the app or losing your workout data.
  • Fitness Builder gives you anytime/anywhere access to a live personal trainer and a ton of workout building, instructional videos, physical therapy tools, and hand-crafted workouts. This one offers a free month then afterwards it is subscription-based per month.

IPhone

  • Fitocracy appeals to those who like to work through levels and real life goals in personal trainer style. You are encouraged with game achievements and can share with friends and others in the Fitocracy community.
  • NexTrack Exercise and Weight Loss Tracker is for those who gain motivation with activities and prizes and points that can be redeemed for fitness prizes and coupons. It tracks over 200 different activities regardless of what you are doing, you will be rewarded.
  • Charity Miles gets you in shape and supports your selected charity at 25 cents per mile on foot and 10 cents per mile on bike. A certain level of accountability occurs as you have to share your activity on Facebook so that the charities can receive the donations.
  • Carrot Fit would be more aptly named “Personal Trainer from Hell” as it threatens, ridicules, and bribes you to get your butt moving. Ok, you are inspired and rewarded also as you are given “7 minutes in Hell” workouts for just about every fitness level. Your 7th grade PE teacher must be in this…

There are countless more apps for many other activities – but we don’t have space to tell you about all of them here. If the app idea appeals to you, then just find one that motivates you and go for it. For that matter, try a new app every few weeks and let us know which ones you liked and why.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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A Couldn’t-be-Simpler Home Gym for Bad Weather Workouts

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Will you do it if it’s super, ridiculously simple and you don’t have to get in your car and drive anywhere?

I know what it’s like. You’ve worked all day and by the time you’re ready to go home, it’s dark and drizzly. You’re not going to go for a run outside, and on top of that, you’re tired and all you want to do is go home.

But then your little voice of guilt comes over your airwaves, whispering “go to the gym! Go to the gym!”

Don’t you hate it?

So how about if you DO go straight home and do a little workout there? Huh? How about it?

I’m coming to your rescue and simplifying things once again. 

Here’s my little secret for today: you don’t need a bunch of expensive, bulky home gym equipment to do your workout. You don’t even need a spare room. I’m talking really simple – and really effective.

Here you go! 

  • Exercise Mat: this is the place to start to build your home gym, as you will use this for warm up, workout, and cool down. Roll this out in front of a laptop and you have endless yoga, Pilates, and other workouts at your disposal. 
  • Kettle balls: Yes, they did seem like quite the rage not too long ago, but these amazingly versatile guys are going to be around for a long while and are well worth the investment. They can take you through a whole body workout. Remember, you don’t need a whole rack of different weights, just 2 or 3 pairs should do it for you. Check out this helpful buying guide to choose the right ones for you.
  • Foam Rollers: These are the best for self-myofascial release for triggering pressure points, kneading out knots, correcting muscle imbalance, and for injury prevention. You will see an increase in flexibility and blood flow as well. Learn more about the techniques here.
  • Tubing or bands: These allow for endless resistance training and take up waaaay less room than a full weight set and also easily tuck out of the way. You can make your own with basic supplies from the hardware store if you are a real DIY’er. These come in various thicknesses and sizes for your individual needs. You can work your whole body.
  • Battle Rope: This requires a hallway or long room, but you could attach it to the back of your garage and extend it out the door. We mention it here because battle ropes add variety to your workout and there are loads of exercises you can do with them. They work your whole body and get your heart rate up at the same time.
  • Suspension training System: You have heard of TRX and Jungle Gym systems and for good reason. Priced from $50-$150, you can challenge every major muscle group with a suspension training system, and you can easily make your own with basics from the hardware store. Check out these instructions for making and setting up a system.
  • Plyo-Box: These are essential for power and explosion training and cardio-blasters. Plyometric workouts are unbeatable for serious calorie burning, so don’t skip on this box. You can build your own or purchase for minimal investment.

Add your laptop and stream some workout DVDs. With this equipment, you have endless workout options so you’ll never get bored. As you can see, all of these take up very little room. You can store them in a pull out bin under your bed and viola! You have an instant gym. Even if you are not into DIY, purchasing all of the above is less than about $200, or check out Craigslist and get them for less.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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Outer Gear Shopping Tips for Snow Season

Snow season is just around the corner and with that comes great opportunities to hit the slopes, go snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or just have a good snowball fight. Regardless of your winter snow activities, take the time now to be sure you have the right gear for your sport. If you are warm and comfy, you will enjoy yourself longer and also keep yourself safe from hypothermia. Here are some outer gear shopping tips to keep you going long and strong in your winter outdoor activities.

  • Moisture-wicking base and middle layers: The trick with most active winter sports is temperature control as you heat up and begin to sweat and then start to cool down on the lift or at a resting point. A most critical feature of your inner-most layer and also your mid layer is wicking capability so that sweat is drawn away from your skin. If your clothing does not do this for you, you risk not just getting chilled, but hypothermia. It’s always a safe idea to bring extra base layers to change into and get the sweaty ones off your skin.
  • Multiple middle layers for less bulk: Make sure you can peel off layers as needed, rather than going for a single, bulkier middle layer. This allows for greater flexibility depending on the conditions and how much you begin to sweat.
  • Vents and zips for temperature control: These are critical features to have in your outer layer. Sometimes you start to really heat up, but taking off your waterproof and windproof outer layer is not necessarily wise. Look for jackets that have multiple vents at the critical spots such as arm pits and sides.
  • A lightweight, yet wind and waterproof shell: Manufacturers are coming out with amazingly light weight storm shells for tucking away in a pocket to have as an option for weather protection if needed.
  • Moisture-wicking head gear: Whether you prefer a hat, head band, baklava, or neck gaiter, go for moisture-wicking properties. Baklavas and neck gaiters offer some variety of ways to wear them and moderate your body temperature.
  • Gloves specific to your sport: Depending on your sport and personal preference, you need to decide if gloves or mittens are best for you. Dexterity and ease of use depend on if you need to access zippers or smaller pockets. Regardless, you want a glove or mitten that comes with liners for moisture absorption and the ability to wash so you don’t get “glove stink”. Other great features to look for such as wrist leashes to prevent lost gloves and touch screen sensor capabilities are nice for using your smartphone without having to take of your gloves.

Check out this in-depth glove and mitten review to help you consider the right options for your winter sport.

So don’t go for the bargain basement deals when it comes to your winter sports clothing. Find the right features for you and your sport and you will be comfy and active all winter long.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

 

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Playgrounds for Seniors are Fun, Improve Health & Balance

I recently came across a Huffington Post article about a fantastic new concept for elderly peoples’ fitness… playgrounds! Apparently communities in Europe and Asia have begun to open playgrounds specifically designed with seniors in mind – meaning low-impact exercise equipment – and the trend has come to the U.S.

Playgrounds for seniors and parks that are designed for multi-generational consumers provide a fun, playful way to exercise important areas such as coordination and range of motion.

The low-impact equipment at these playgrounds is engineered to promote balance and flexibility – two important things that seniors consistently struggle to maintain or improve. Additionally (as you might expect), there are significant mental and social benefits to the playgrounds for seniors, as the parks often become community-gathering spots.

In partnership with the Humana Foundation, a company called KaBOOM! has constructed more than 50 multi-generational playgrounds across the U.S., serving both the elderly and the young. “Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids,” said Sarah Pinsky, KaBOOM!’s Director of Client Services.

Some of the most common equipment found at playgrounds for seniors include static or recumbent bicycles, striders, leg press machines, dexterity games, elliptical machines, steps, body flexors and ramped walking paths. “The best installations help to improve balance and minimize the risk of falls, build muscle strength and tone, extend your range of motion, and improve your manual dexterity,” noted a Senior Planet article about playgrounds for seniors.

A 2004 study of these playgrounds for seniors found that after three months of regular use (90 minutes per week) seniors aged 65 to 81 experienced improved balance, coordination and speed. They also were felt confident and empowered when faced with physical obstacles.

Would you exercise and play at a senior playground or multi-generational park in your neighborhood?

Featured photo source: SeniorPlanet.org.

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How to Choose the Right Footwear for Hiking

Let’s face it, getting out on the trail and enjoying the back country, fresh air, and challenging yourself is so much more enjoyable when your feet are happy and comfortable. While it is not necessary to spend top dollar on the most expensive name brand footwear out there, it is equally important not to scrimp and go for the cheapest. You’ll want to choose the right footwear for hiking – whatever the kind you are planning to do.

One of your first considerations is what kind of hiking that you intend to do. Trail running, short, local day hikes, or longer (8 + miles) multi-day backpacking trips over rocky and mountainous terrain? The variety and features to choose from allow you to find just the right shoe or boot for your style of hiking, yet it also can be a bit baffling wading through the information and not getting overwhelmed by all the options. Let us help you narrow things down and if you keep some of these tips in mind and you will get yourself in just the right pair of footwear for you.

Trail runners can be all you need for local day hikes and carrying light loads. They are low cut, usually light weight, and have a flexible midsole. A very experienced backpacker friend of mine is all about ultra-light and even uses his light weight trail runners for long backpacking trips.

Hiking shoes will offer more support than trail runners, will have a bit less flexibility, but

Offer a bit more rugged sole for short to medium hikes than do trail runners. If you are not carrying a huge, heavy pack, a well made hiking shoe can be all you need to get you where you need to go.

Hiking boots can be mid to high cut and comfortable enough for day hikes, yet offer support and protection over longer trips with sturdiness to take you over the most rugged of trails. Hiking boots tend to weigh more than hiking shoes and also a down side to hiking boots can be the need to break them in, depending on the pair.

Backpacking boots are for long, multi-day trips carrying a heavy load. The outsole will be more rugged, able to handle rocky terrain and they will have a higher cut and less flexibility than hiking boots. Of course, insulation and water proofing are some of their features as well as the ability to accommodate crampons for ice and snow.

In addition to the above styles and purposes, you need to consider if you plan to hike in damp or cold weather and may need waterproof shoes. I love my low cut, light weight hiking shoes, but wanted the option to also snowshoe with them, so gaiters and waterproofing were a part of the consideration.

Footwear durability and protection for your feet are determined by the materials. Look for full-grain leather for the greatest support and durability as well as weather resistance. Full grain leather also is less breathable and can be a plus or minus, depending on your needs.

Nylon and split rain leather or suede will provide more light weight features and breathability, especially with mesh panels. This is wonderful in the summer and dry months, but not so great if you plan to hike in wet or cold conditions, so consider this.

When you try on your shoes or boots, make sure to also be wearing a thick sock as you would also wear for hiking so that the fit is accurate. The shoe should not allow your foot to slide forward, yet there does need to be a bit of movement so that you have plenty of circulation. Pay attention that your heel doesn’t slip as you walk.

Most well reputed outdoor gear stores have well educated staff in the footwear section, so take advantage of their knowledge. Try on multiple pairs and styles, taking time to squat, lunge, jump to see if there are areas where the shoe may rub or chafe. Also ask about the return policy in the event that once you are out on the trail it becomes quite clear the fit or model is not for you.

You are investing in your feet and comfort, make the decision wisely and enjoy those trails!

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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To Avoid Injury While Training, Follow This Advice

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

As you and I both know, there are endless forms of weight training exercise these days. I’ve written about some of the options in the past, but for now, let’s focus on your form – regardless of the type of program you use. The single most important advice I can give you – especially when you’re over 50 – is to spend the money on a personal trainer before you ever lift a weight. I suggest hiring the trainer to meet with you at least three or four times, so she or he can help to make sure your form is correct. I cannot emphasize enough that this early training is well worth the money because in weight training – form is everything. If your form is not correct, you can really injure yourself. In general, here are a few tips about form:

  • Warm up: All successful weight training programs will include a good warm up to get your muscles warm and ready for the challenge. Spend a minimum of five minutes in aerobic activity. Make sure to include warm ups for your arms and shoulders since just five minutes on a treadmill will not likely warm up these muscles. Both ellipticals and Nordic Tracks are good options for this.
  • Speed is your enemy: Most people execute their exercises too quickly as they pop the weight back into the starting position. Slow down and focus on keeping your elbows in, your shoulders stable, and your spine in good position. When you combine bad form and speed, you are asking for torn ligaments or even popped vertebrae.
  • Let your muscles generate your momentum: This means not arching your back or rocking your body to lift the weight. But when you’re just starting your weight training program, it’s not easy to tell whether your back is arched while you’re lifting weights. Again – this is a very important reason why you should hire a personal trainer for the first few times, so you’ll get to know how your body feels when your alignment is right. If you do feel the need to arch your back when lifting weights, that’s an indicator that your weights are too heavy. We have all seen the big guy in the gym grunting and throwing huge weights around with a lot of noise and bravado. Don’t worry about him and focus on your correct form. If you stick with weight training, and stick with keeping your form correct, you’ll slowly be able to lift more weight. When it comes to weight training, slow and steady wins the race! 
  • Ignore everyone else: Too many people see their private weight training session as an opportunity to compete with other athletes in the gym. Remember, your goals are gaining strength, achieving definition, and staying healthy.  Trying to compete with the person next to you is a sure-fire way to get injured. 
  • Focus on that muscle at that moment: Here’s what I mean. For example, it sounds obvious, but if you are doing a bicep curl, your bicep should be the focus of your mind and you should feel the contraction primarily in that muscle. Each time you lift a weight, focus on the muscle that’s doing the lifting – not on the person next to you and not on your whole body. Maintaining this focus plays a role in injury prevention and getting the maximum benefit for your muscles from the exercise. 

Keep these points in mind so you can maximize your time spent weight training and minimize injuries and frustrations.  Happy Lifting!

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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How to Know When it is Time to Replace Your Running Shoes

You have that oh-so-perfectly-comfy pair of running shoes and something is telling you perhaps it is time to trade ‘em in and get another pair. But you luuuuv these old favorites and the thought of all that looking and trying on and perhaps not finding a replacement that even compares to your current love…

You may just need to face the music and consider that this relationship is likely over and it is time to put these smelly pups out to the garden shed. Your feet and really your whole body need a solid pair of runners that can withstand the shock of those miles and give your feet, legs and joints the support they need.

Here are some ways to see the signs it’s time to replace your running shoes:

  • Your legs and joints are starting to suffer from overuse injuries and you are feeling the impact after every run in ways you have not done so before.
  • You do a lot of running on rough roads or trails and wear off the soles as well as wear out the cushion in the shoe.
  • The sole under the heel looks broken down and crushed, or the midsole material begins to poke through.
  • The midsole of your shoes is no longer providing the stability and stress cushioning it used to and is breaking down before the rest of the shoes do
  • You have already put on 300-400 miles on those shoes and it shows. Bigger runners probably need to replace their shoes closer to the 300 mark, smaller and more efficient runners can go to around 400 miles.
  • You are starting to suffer from shin splints, a painful, sharp sensation down the lower leg along the shin in the soft tissue behind the shin bone.

Keep in mind any of the above symptoms mean you are already past that point of needing new shoes. This time, buy your new pair before any of the above happens so that you are not tempted to continue to put on miles when you really need to be making mileage to the running shoe store.

Take care of those dogs, they work hard for you!

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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AARP Wants Better Fitness Trackers for Seniors

For several years, fitness trackers such as the Jawbone and Fitbit have helped people monitor their activity and its effect on their body. They are used to track movement, heart rate, sleep patterns, and nutrition (if that data is inputted), and use this information to set goals. Fitness trackers, for seniors in particular, offer an excellent frame of reference for how healthy (or not) we are.

Recently, a new study revealed that seniors think fitness trackers are useful, but insufficient in features and functionality. The study, called Project Catalyst, was a result of collaboration between the AARP, Georgia Tech, Pfizer, MedStar Health and UnitedHealthcare. It observed nearly 100 seniors over age 50 with fitness trackers from a variety of the most popular brands.

“Subjects said the trackers were difficult to calibrate, frequently lost data, and were not packaged with seniors in mind,” according to a report on the study from The Longevity Network. The subjects wanted “to easily measure biometric data such as blood sugar and heart rate, and sport bands that were more comfortable. Many said that, due to the way aging skin changes, fitness tracker bands were uncomfortable to wear.”

While 67 percent of participants in the study felt that the fitness trackers were beneficial, there are certainly improvements that can be made to tailor the devices for an older consumer market. The AARP recommended the following improvements to fitness trackers for seniors:

  • Tailor health goals to older consumers
  • Simplify set-up of the devices
  • Less obtrusive design
  • Streamline maintenance
  • Add timely alerts
  • Instant access to information

I look forward to seeing what this study stimulates in the way of new wearable technology for those of us over the age of 50. Fitness trackers for seniors are an important development and support in our efforts to get fit and stay healthy as we age.

Featured photo source: Flickr user alper

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Necessary Gear to Get You Started with Cycling

Beginning any new sport or activity requires some consideration of gear and the costs to get started. Cycling is no different, but as with most sports, you can keep it very simple and affordable or spend top dollar and go for high end, professional gear and bike. Let’s just start with the basics and once you take a few rides and can tell this is for you, you can always add more gear as you discover what your needs are.

  • Bike: Well this is obvious, but as your most expensive investment, your bike is critical to your comfort and the success of your venture into the world of cycling. Talk to plenty of cyclists and not only ask their advice, but ask them to share what has worked and not worked for them in regards to a good quality, affordable bike. Someone is always upgrading to the latest, greatest high tech machine out there and needs to off-load their older but quality model. REI has some great detailed tips here to help you learn what to look for when shopping around.
  • Helmet: Most states and cities require helmets by law, no longer leaving this optional. Consider your helmet an insurance policy of sorts. Make sure to not only try it on for fit and comfort, but adjust the straps to see exactly how much adjustment is possible. There are different styles for road biking, racing, mountain biking, commuting, and recreational. Options such as additional padding for custom fit, removable liners for all season riding, and removable visors are considerations depending on your cycling focus. If you think you will be doing some distance riding, weight and construction material. This post by REI gives detailed points to consider before your purchase.
  • Eye Protection: Sunglasses or clear lenses are a must to protect your eyes against the damaging UV rays as well as the wind, dust, and insects you are sure to encounter. Proper eye gear is a safety and comfort consideration, so choose wisely. Wrap around frames protect from wind and debris and keep your glasses snugly in place. Choose lenses with 100% UV protection and made of tough polycarbonate plastic.
  • Moisture wicking clothing: Although padded bike shorts sure make things comfortable on longer rides, the moisture wicking properties of shorts and shirts is of higher consideration. You will likely be working up a sweat and wicking that away from your body keeps you more comfortable longer.
  • Water bottle or hydration pack to keep you hydrated on your rides.

In addition to this gear mentioned, you may want to consider padded gloves, a jacket or vest if you expect to cycle in cooler or wet weather, tights or leg warmers, and cycling shoes with clip/pedals.

Don’t get intimidated by the pros out there with the high tech options, start with the basics and get on the road/trail and enjoy yourself!

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

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Communities and Fitness Resources for Seniors

It’s hard to make any kind of big change in one’s life without support. Community is integral to the process, whether that is loved ones encouraging us to go after our dreams and meet our goals, or a supportive person (or group) joining us to do it together.

As a growing community itself, Fit After Fifty is designed to inspire and motivate individuals over the age of 50 (or getting close to it) to make fitness a focus in their lives. We’re here to help with tips, advice and information to support you in your journey.

But sometimes we need more than just inspiration and education to support a big change like exercise and nutrition. We have come across a couple of fitness resources for seniors, to help expand your community…

 

SilverSneakers®

Did you know that fitness after age 65 is considered important enough to qualify you for a Medicare benefit? SilverSneakers is a membership that connects seniors with fitness locations around the U.S. (more than 13,000) that have special classes for aging adults, as well as connecting them with fitness advisors, group activities and more. It’s a health benefit for Medicare plan members! Gyms around the U.S. are beginning to offer classes targeted to our demographic, and some, like 24-Hour Fitness, are incorporating the SilverSneakers program. Check with your local fitness facility to see if they have any classes specialized for the after-50 crowd.

 

SeniorFitnessSite.com

Fit After Fifty provides lots of articles with fitness and nutrition tips and ideas, but we’re not the only ones! SeniorFitnessSite.com also has great ideas for specific exercise regimens that are senior-friendly, tips for staying healthy as you age, and more. Another resource is ElderGym.com (It doesn’t look like it’s regularly updated anymore, there are still lots of helpful articles).

 

Live 2 B Healthy

If you currently live in a retirement community, find out if the community has or is open to incorporating on-site fitness training for its residents. Live 2 B Healthy is a national company that brings fitness classes directly to retirement facilities to support a healthier lifestyle for their residents.

 

American Senior Fitness Association

Beyond physical fitness, it is vital to keep your mental fitness strong as you age. The American Senior Fitness Association has a variety of programs and courses for fitness professionals who are working with aging adults, but you don’t have to be a personal trainer to take advantage of them. Engage your mind with your exercise regimen, and use their “Brain Fitness for Older Adults” course to do so effectively!

 

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com