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

5 Simple Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

I have a great idea for you – a new way to make new years resolutions that you might actually keep. Imagine that! How about if right now, you find 30 minutes to sit down in a comfy place, play some good music, and give some good thought to what you’d really love this upcoming year. 

First, rather than just making a simple list that you fire off quickly, think deeply about what’s most important to you, and where you want to be this time next year as you look back. As you work on this list, those things that are most important to you will become clear and your resolutions will come from these. This is what gives you the clarity and vision you’ll need, behind your list of resolutions.

Second, keep your resolutions simple, clear, and measurable. If you can’t measure or see your movement on a resolution, then how will you know you’ve reached your goal? For example: “I want to be healthier in 2016” sounds great, but that can cover a wide variety of areas and the resolution itself is not measureable. “I commit to better cardio health by doing 30 minutes of cardio 3 times a week” is clear, simple, and measureable.

Third, keep it fun! Find a way to add even a smidgen of fun to mundane goals, such as committing to flossing every day to your favorite music. There are creative and silly ways to approach just about everything.

Fourth, stay focused. Making a long, varied list of resolutions that cover health, finances, relationships and education will look good on paper but long lists are nearly impossible to achieve. So instead, take on just one or two and maintain your focus on those two. As you find yourself experiencing success with those, then maybe in June you can add one or two more resolutions to your plan.

Fifth, practice daily. As you touch base on working toward success each day, your resolutions become a part of your wiring and daily routine. Daily practice makes ingrained habits and lifestyle changes. When that happens you can attain just about any reasonable goal you desire.

What are some ways that you have found success in your resolutions? We would love to hear what works for you.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

8 Great Healthy & Easy Winter Recipes

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Mmmmm. Winter is the perfect time to nourish yourself with healthy comfort food. I’ve pulled together a few easy recipes that you can make ahead, so you’ll always have something hearty and warm on hand. I suggest making big batches and then freezing the leftovers so you’re always prepared.

All of these recipes give you great nutrition before a workout, and some adapt really well to a wide mouth thermos, so you can bring them along to the slopes or on a winter hike. 

  • This Slow cooker Root Vegetable Stew is a wonderful way to take advantage of the winter veggies and do it all simply in the crockpot.
  • Need a mid-winter pick-me-up? This Lime Jalapeño Chicken will do that for you during those dark days of winter with its wonderful citrusy flavor.
  • Packed with protein and power greens, the Pork, White Bean and Kale Soup is easy to make and pour into a thermos for a day at the slopes.
  • Although this one is a side dish, the Honey Glazed roasted Root Vegetables are a winner if you have a crowd coming over for the game. You can prep the veggies ahead and toss in a gallon zip lock to season and then just pull out and roast as directed.
  • No winter recipe list would be complete without a chicken chili recipe. With just 8 ingredients, things couldn’t be simpler
  • This one is super hearty and satisfying – French Beef Burgundy Stew. Another winner made easy in the crockpot and would do well in a wide mouth thermos after your vigorous winter snowshoe adventure.
  • This won’t do well in a thermos, but the protein packed Quinoa Enchilada Casserole is too yummy and too easy to make, so I had to include it on this list. Using quinoa and black beans not only adds important protein but both are really great sources of fiber. This one is easy to freeze ahead before baking.
  • This crockpot recipe makes you look like a top chef. The French Basil Chicken recipe is easy to make for a crowd or just two of you. You can mix all ingredients in gallon zip locks, freeze uncooked, and pull out and toss into your crockpot in the morning.

Give some a try and let us know your favorites, or did you try some variations? We would love to hear.

Featured photo source: GimmeSomeOven.com

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

Simple Tricks for Staying Fit During the Busy Holidays

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

I feel your pain! It’s hard enough to stay motivated to keep exercising during normal times, but during the holiday season? Are you kidding me?

Impossible. 

But wait! It doesn’t have to be! Here’s how: simple tricks and planning ahead for staying fit during the busy holidays.

1. Plan around yourself by putting your workout dates on your calendar right now. Don’t wait or you know exactly what will happen – it won’t happen! So do me a favor and stop reading for just a second, and put regular dates on your calendar now. Make sure the times you choose are easy for you to do, and then you’ll be way more likely to keep it up. I’m patient. I’ll wait until you take a few minutes to do this right now.

2.  Remind yourself that if you keep fit during the holidays, you won’t feel like you’re starting behind on January 1st with  – egads – the horrible seasonal weight gain! Who needs that?

3. Learn to do mini-workouts: It is amazing how it’s possible to squeeze in mini workouts throughout the day and really keep your body going. What is a mini workout? Doing anything that causes your heart rate to spike up. The mini workouts I list below will burn a minimum of 100 calories in a relatively short period.

  • Do a 10 minute brisk walk before and after dinner on those nights when you get home too late.
  • Get down and do a series of pushups, crunches, and lunges for just 7 minutes.
  • Choose your favorite 4 yoga poses and do a series of those for 7 minutes.
  • Park at the farthest end of the parking lot and walk as fast as you can to your office or the store.
  • Alternate between the following for a total of 7 to 10 minutes total:
  • One minute of stair stepping up and down your office stairwell
  • One minute of chair dips
  • One minute of arm curls
  • One minute of abs
  • One minute of lunges or squats

Learn to sprinkle these throughout the day and guess what? You’ll be surprised at how much energy you’ll have. Plus, you’ll see how much these mini workouts help to maintain and even increase your fitness over the holidays. Merry fitness to you! 

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

Skip the Sugar! 5 Holiday Treat Recipes That Are Actually Good For You

The holidays are here! And so is the struggle to continue with your healthy nutritional choices. It doesn’t have to be a struggle and it is actually pretty simple to still enjoy some yummy holiday treats with a few changes and considering other alternatives.

For those of you with medical or dietary restrictions from sugar, consider substituting stevia for your sweetener. Stevia is a plant based non-caloric non-caloric sweetener made from an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant Make sure to find a stevia product with no additives, just pure stevia such as Reb A which is 200 times sweeter than sugar and does not raise blood sugar. You can learn more about Stevia in the Raw Granulated Sugar here.

  • These Orange-Pumpkin Tarts are so cute and pleasing to the eye as they are to the taste buds. The sugar-free oatmeal cookies used in the crust give it a wonderful texture.
  • Garnish the Red Grape Sorbet with mint sprigs and you have a new holiday tradition to deck your table. No other sweetener is needed and get your antioxidant benefits against cancer, heart –disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Compared to traditional decorated sugar cookie recipes, these Christmas Sugar Wafers are much lower in sugar. Substitute stevia and you really cut back.
  • These peanut Butter Kiss Cookies are a holiday favorite, except these ones are also gluten free! Sure to please everyone on your list.
  • Garnish the Red Grape Sorbet with mint sprigs and you have a new holiday tradition to deck your table. No other sweetener is needed and get your antioxidant benefits against cancer, heart –disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Add some elegance to your holiday table with this Incredible Apple Tart. It is amazingly low in sugar and high in flavor.
  • No holiday table feels complete without Pumpkin Pie. Make sure to use sugar free pumpkin puree and again substitute the sugar for stevia.

You have lots of options and can still have your cake and eat it too, so happy holidays! Please share with us your favorite low sugar holiday treat recipes and tips that work for you during this season of treats.

Featured photo source: MyRecipes.com, credit Lee Harrelson; styling: Mindi Shapiro

Simple Strategies to Safely Increase Workout Intensity

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Ready to push yourself a little? I’m hoping you’re not one of the people I periodically see on exercise bikes reading a book and hardly peddling!  

If you want to go past simply maintaining what you have, and stay as fit as you can, then try pushing your body to the next level. 

Guess what! You can push yourself safely by working smarter, and not necessarily longer. Increasing workout intensity is not complex, but with a simple understanding of how your body responds to workout challenges, you can see your fitness step up a noticeable notch and feel good about your efforts.

  • HIIT: High Interval Intensity Training in a nutshell is exerting full out effort in short, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. As a result, your heart rate is repeatedly spiked up to the highest intensity and your body not only burns more calories in a shorter period of time, you increase your cardio strength much more quickly and efficiently. A bonus is that instead of spending 45-60 minutes in boring cardio, you can shorten your workout time. Exercise science studies has proven that HIIT proponents have increased metabolisms long after the workout is over. After warming up for 10 minutes, try alternating each of the following with 30 seconds of jogging recovery in between each exercise: 10 jumping lunges each leg, 20 push-ups, 10 burpees, 10 high knees, 10 tricep dips, 10 side lunges, 10 bear crawls. The great thing about HIIT training is that it is strength training, cardio and fat burning all in one workout with long term effects.
  • Negative emphasis: Many people forget that when lowering a weight in an exercise, you are doing the 2nd half of the exercise, so don’t waste it! Take the time to do this slowly, and instead of just returning to the starting position, you are doubling the challenge to the muscle set. Count slowly to six while lowering and the target muscles will have to work harder.
  • Add more weight: You should max out at between 15-20 reps and be at a challenging weight. If you are not stressing reps #17-20, your weights are too light. For arms and upper body, add 5-10 lbs. For legs, add 10-15 lbs.
  • Try super sets: Do two sets of different exercises (to opposite muscle groups) back to back, with no rest in between. This exhausts a single muscle group and promotes muscle growth due to fatiguing the muscles during the second set. For example: do 10-20 reps of chest presses, immediately followed by incline bench dumbbell presses. For legs, do a set of squats followed immediately by a set of quad extensions.

You get the idea. Step it up this way for three weeks and you will see more gains than you would in eight weeks following your previous method. Get back to us and let us know how it is going for you, we would love to hear!

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

Celebration

Simple Tricks to Help You Avoid Overeating This Thanksgiving

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

We’re there! It’s holiday time, party time and – er – over- eating time. So how do you have fun and relish the season, but not over-indulge? Try these simple strategies to help you enjoy the holidays and not feel deprived, yet stay on track with your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

  • Promise yourself to eat healthy most of the time: You can make the choices for fresh, wholesome food most of the time, and save the indulgences for parties or special holiday events.
  • It’s about portion control: Don’t sweat over “banned” foods, instead keep your portions smaller and balanced with the healthier choices for most of the meal and smaller portions for the special foods.
  • Watch out for empty liquid calories. Calories consumed by drinking leave us less satisfied. But the big one is something you already know – alcohol throws our inhibitions out the window and we’re more likely to over-indulge. Fill up on water or seltzer before your meal or party and you’ll have a greater likelihood of success.
  • Stock the fridge for a win: Keep plenty of pre-cut fruits and veggies in the fridge – and be sure to make them easy to grab.  
  • Planned Indulgences: If you are going to allow yourself a few indulgences (and why not!), then promise yourself not to waste those calories on junk that is tasty, yet not really important to you. Plan your day or weekend to allow for those treats that are truly special and worth the “cheat.”
  • Don’t cut back on your workouts: When you splurge a bit on the foods and treats, yet stay consistent with your workouts, you are more likely to get back on the  nutrition plan after the holidays and less likely to throw in the towel completely

It also really helps to understand what causes you to over- indulge, such as the big one – emotional eating. Here’s a huge tip. Take the time now to understand those triggers, especially around holidays, and you’ll be way ahead of yourself. Tell me about your success “cheats” during the holidays and strategies that work for you.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com

Simple and Super Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Imagine not feeling bloated, heavy and guilty after dinner this year!

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Take a deep breath and close your eyes for a minute. I want you to imagine something very cool. You are sitting around the Thanksgiving table this year eating sublimely delicious food that is – drumroll please – actually GOOD for you!

Imagine that! Imagine actually being healthier after your dinner because you’ve just indulged in whole, natural food that’s packed only with good things like vitamins, minerals and fiber, and has none or very little of the usual junk associated with Thanksgiving dinners.

Imagine NO GUILT! 

Imagine no high fat, high sodium. empty calorie, processed sugar, preservative filled excuse for food this Thanksgiving.

Imagine not feeling bloated, heavy and guilty after your big dinner.

Out with the marshmallow topped casseroles (are you kidding me?), out with the fatty bad-for-you desserts and in with super healthy and super ridiculously delicious Thanksgiving food.

Who knew?

Ready? Here are some very yummy and healthy Thanksgiving side dishes you can try this year:

  • Butternut Squash Soup makes a great starter side dish for your Thanksgiving table. Butternut Squash is super high in vitamin A and a great source of dietary fiber.
  • Lentil and Red Pepper Bake is delicious and colorful, low in calories and high in protein.
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts with Walnuts is another high fiber dish, and the walnuts add a lovely depth of flavor. Only six ingredients and things couldn’t be simpler.
  • Sweet Potato Gratin is a fresh new twist on an old standby. High in dietary fiber, vitamin A, and easily prepared as a baked dish, this one gives you more time to spend with your loved ones, it’s so easy.
  • Green Beans & Pancetta with Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing is a much healthier, lower sodium option than a typical canned beans and canned soup recipe. Green beans are full of vitamin C and dietary fiber. The pancetta is a flavorful bacon alternative.

…and now for your ‘just desserts’!

  • Pumpkin Pie with Rum is hard to beat for your traditional Thanksgiving dessert. Dark molasses for the sweetener adds iron and nonfat evaporated milk replaces the heavy cream and really cuts calories but no loss on flavor.
  • Squash and Cheesecake Bars will give your typical pumpkin pie a run for the money in flavor, yet they have far fewer calories and lower sugar. The oats and low sugar graham crackers make a lovely, crunchy crust to the smooth squash.

We are willing to bet once you try some of these, they will easily replace your standard less healthy options and all you will “miss” this holiday season are the calories and the guilt. Let us know your favorites!

Featured photo source: POPSugar.com

Simple Exercises to Get Your Joints Moving and Relieve Pain

By Janet Luhrs, www.simpleliving.com

Just because we have hit the big five-oh (or 60 or 70 and above) there is no reason for us to “act our age” (whatever that means!) and slow down. In fact just the opposite is true.  As we get older and have a few more aches, pains, and stiffness, it is even more important for us to keep moving and not succumb to the age factor, so we can live life to its fullest and keep disease at bay.

Regular exercise is not just about slimming down and getting toned; it keeps your joints fluid and battles normal pain associated with more birthdays. 

Most typical joint pain issues can be minimized and even removed completely with exercise. But if your joint pain is more acute, then I urge you to see your doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying issue. For example, I was a Cross Fit fan until my knees started hurting and the hurt didn’t go away after resting for a few weeks. So I had my knees checked out and they were simply inflamed from doing too many squats and lunges without building up other parts of my body to keep my knees strong. I worked with a physical therapist for awhile who helped me see how so much in my body is connected – if one part is weak, the other parts shift to compensate. 

In most cases though, you don’t need to see a physical therapist to get moving. Keep it simple by making sure your exercise throughout the week includes the following three areas:

  • Resistance
  • Range of motion
  • Cardiovascular

Resistance exercises challenge, strengthen, and stretch your muscles by using resistance bands, free weights, or strength training machines.  Resistance can also be accomplished with your own body weight and no other equipment is needed. Check out some of these simple bodyweight exercises to get you started. Also consider getting a simple set of resistance bands and give your whole body a great workout with not much fuss.

Examples that you can do right at home are as follows:

  • Standing squats
  • Pushups
  • Abdominal crunches
  • Triceps chair dips
  • Chair climbs

Range of Motion exercises will improve your joints’ flexibility and movement. You will begin to see improvement most immediately after increasing range of motion exercises 3-4 times a week.

  • Overall body stretching
  • Yoga
  • Hip rotations (either in a chair or on a mat)
  • Tai Chi
  • Shoulder and arm rotations

Cardiovascular exercises strengthen your heart health, increase lung capacity, and stimulate circulation. All of the following examples will also build muscle in various ways.

  • Walking or hiking
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Cycling

So toss out your thoughts of slowing down and do your body (and mind) a favor and get moving. You’ll  see your aches and pains reduce greatly, if not disappear altogether.

Featured photo source: Pixabay.com