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Top Five Yoga Poses for People with Lower Back Pain

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At any one time, approximately 31 million Americans are suffering from lower back pain. Lower back pain is also the leading cause of disability for people all over the world.

If you’re currently struggling with lower back pain, you know how frustrating and debilitating it can be. But, it’s also important for you to know that there are a variety of treatment options available to help lessen your pain and improve your quality of life.

One of the best — yet often overlooked — treatment options for people with lower back pain is a consistent yoga practice. Yoga comes with a number of physical and mental health benefits that make it a great choice for people who want to relieve their pain.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of yoga for lower back pain, as well as five of the best pain-relieving poses that you can try today.

Benefits of Yoga for Lower Back Pain

Some of the most well-known benefits of yoga for people with lower back pain include:

  • Strengthens muscles in and around the lower back to improve posture and correct imbalances that contribute to pain
  • Stretches the muscles to relieve tension and improve range of motion
  • Promotes relaxation, which further reduces tension and pain
  • Improves body awareness and helps you understand your own body’s current limitations
  • Improves mindset, which can change your perception of and relationship to your pain

As you can see, there are lots of reasons to give yoga a try. Even if you’re skeptical about the practice’s ability to improve your back pain, at the very least, you’ll get to enjoy an hour of relaxation, which is something just about everyone can benefit from!

Best Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain Relief

If you think you can’t practice yoga because you don’t live close to or can’t afford to go to a yoga studio or gym, think again.

Thanks to the internet, there are tons of free resources available that will help you learn the basics and start reaping the benefits of yoga from the comfort of your own home.

Some simple yoga poses you can try today to relieve your lower back pain include:

1. Child’s Pose

This is one of the easiest, yet most beneficial yoga poses you can incorporate into your routine. It provides a nice stretch for the lower back and hips while also helping you relax and enjoy the moment.

To do this pose, start by kneeling on all fours. Bring your feet together so your big toes are touching and open your knees up so they’re a bit wider than hip-distance. Inhale, then exhale and sit your hips back as you stretch forward so that your torso rests in the space between the thighs. Extend your arms in front of you while resting your forehead on your mat.

If your forehead doesn’t touch the ground, you can prop it up on a yoga block, a pillow, a book, or even your stacked fists.

Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths, or longer if you’d like.

Must Read: 5 Practical Reasons To Practice Yoga During Pregnancy

2. Cat-Cow Pose

This is a great stretch that promotes healthy spinal mobility to relieve tension and strengthen the muscles in the back and abdominals.

Start by kneeling on all fours — make sure the wrists, shoulders, knees, and hips are all stacked and in line with one another. Inhale and arch your back, dropping your stomach down toward the ground and lifting your chin and tailbone up toward the ceiling (this is the “cow” part of the pose). Exhale and reverse the pose, pulling your abdominals in and arch your back up, tucking your chin and tailbone in (this is the “cat” part of the pose).

Repeat for at least five rounds (five “cats” and five “cows”), making sure the movement and breath are synced.

3. Downward Facing Dog

In addition to stretching the back, it’s also important to look elsewhere when you’re experiencing lower back pain. Often, people’s backs hurt because their leg muscles are tight — everything in the body is connected, and if one muscle group is tight, it’s probably pulling on other muscles and causing tension throughout the body.

To do this pose, start on all fours. Then, walk your feet back so that you’re in a plank pose with your shoulders right over your wrists. Inhale, then, as you exhale, lift your hips up toward the ceiling until your body forms an upside down “V” shape. Straighten your legs as much as you can and try to bring your heels down to touch the ground. Gaze between your legs or up at your belly button.

Hold for at least five breaths.

4. Standing Forward Fold

There are a number of standing yoga poses that are also great for countering lower back pain, including standing forward fold.

To do this pose, stand up straight at the top of your mat. Your feet can be hip-distance apart, or you can bring them closer so that your big toes are touching. Inhale and raise your arms up above your head, then exhale and hinge at your hips and stretch forward and down toward the ground, keeping your back as straight as possible.

Tuck your chin toward your chest and let the crown of your head reach toward the floor. If you can’t touch the floor, hold onto your shins or ankles instead. You can also bend your knees a bit if this is too intense for your hamstrings.

Hold for at least five breaths.

5. Reclined Pigeon Pose

This is a very calming pose that is often done at the end of a yoga class. It’s great for cooling down the body and quieting the mind. It also provides a great stretch for the outer hip, which, if it’s tight, can contribute to lower back pain.

Start by lying flat on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground. Lift your left foot and cross it over your right thigh so it’s resting just above the knee. Reach through the space created by your right left leg and clasp your hands behind your right thigh. Gently pull your right leg in toward your chest, keeping the knee bent.

Hold for at least five breaths, then switch sides.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve never tried yoga as a way to relieve your back pain, consider testing out these five poses today. Your body — and your mind — will thank you!

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Fitness

Three Tips for Tight, Toned Legs

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Summer is upon us and shorts season is here! Does that statement make you feel more nervous than excited? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

Luckily, whether you’ve got a beach vacation coming up or are going to be doing some exploring in the mountains, if you want to feel strong and confident this season, these tips for toned legs will help you get there.

Read on to learn how you can shed body fat and strengthen the muscles in your lower body to get the legs you’ve always dreamed of.

1. Incorporate Strength Training

In order to have shapely, toned legs, you need to lift weights. Strength training builds muscle, which is what helps create the appearance of curves.

To see the best results, it’s important to make sure you’re lifting heavy weights and doing compound exercises (exercises that involve more than one muscle group).

Contrary to popular belief, heavy lifting and compound exercises won’t make you look big or “bulky.” Just as fitness icon Amanda Latona if you’re unsure.

Instead of doing a million donkey kicks with three-pound ankle weights, focus on functional movements that will strengthen multiple muscles in your legs at one time. Listed below are some good examples of compound exercises to include in your lower body routine:

  • Bulgarian split squats — this exercise targets the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as the glutes.
  • Goblet squats — these are great for the quadriceps and glutes.
  • Walking lunges — in addition to working the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, these also help strengthen the core as an added bonus.
  • Wall sits —  this static exercise is perfect for people with knee pain who want to strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings. The muscle engagement without movement strengthens the muscles without stressing the joints.
  • Deadlifts — this is one of the most functional exercises out there, as it targets all of the muscles in the lower body, as well as the lower back.
  • Single-leg deadlifts — these are great for working the lower body while also correcting muscle imbalances and improving core strength.

While you’ll see best results from lifting heavy weights, when you’re trying these exercises for the first time, it’s usually best to do them with just your own bodyweight. This will help you figure out the proper form so that you can avoid injuries.

Once you feel comfortable with your form, go ahead and add some weight to make it more challenging.  

It can be hard to figure out how much weight to use, but, generally speaking, the best approach is to choose a weight that makes the last 2-3 reps of the exercise difficult. You should still be able to perform the exercises with good form, of course, but it should still be challenging to complete the reps.

2. Add HIIT Training

While heavy lifting is essential for toned legs (and the rest of your body for that matter), it’s also important to incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your routine to help you lean out and see results faster.

While you could spend hours slogging away on the treadmill, there’s a better, more efficient way to go about getting your cardio in.

High-intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) is a type of workout that involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise (performed at 85-100 percent of your maximum heart rate) followed by longer periods of rest.

A typical HIIT workout might look something like this: Thirty seconds of sprinting followed by 60-90 seconds rest, repeated for 5-10 rounds (depending on your experience level).

This type of workout allows you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time, which is great for people who feel that their lives are too busy for long workouts.

HIIT also allows your body to burn more calories after your workout is over, and it promotes fat loss without sacrificing muscle, which can happen when you use steady-state cardio (such as treadmill walking or using the elliptical machine) as your primary form of cardio.

3. Clean Up Your Diet

While strength training is crucial for building muscle and getting the tight, toned legs you’re looking for, it’s also important to make sure your diet is on point. In addition to building muscle, you’ll also need to shed extra body fat in order to really allow those muscles to show through.

In order to reduce body fat, you’ll need to make sure you’re eating in a caloric deficit. This means that you’re consuming fewer calories than your body is burning. While you can create a calorie deficit by exercising more, that can also increase your hunger, which makes it harder for you to control cravings and may result in you overeating.

So, rather than trying to outrun (or outlift or out-HIIT) a bad diet, it’s generally better (and easier) to clean up your diet. This means getting rid of highly processed, carbohydrate- and calorie-laden treats (cookies, doughnuts, muffins, etc.). Instead, focus on eating more of the following foods:

  • High-quality protein (grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and pork, wild-caught fish, etc.)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats like avocado and extra-virgin olive oil

While eating in a calorie deficit is necessary for fat loss, it’s important to make sure you’re not cutting your calories by too much. It’s generally considered unhealthy to lose more than 0.5-1 percent of total body weight each week. This means that, for a 150-pound woman, a healthy rate of weight loss would be between 0.75 and 1.5 pounds per week.

When you cut your calories too low, you risk losing muscle mass. You also can slow down your metabolism, which makes it harder for you to maintain your weight loss without continuing to eat an extremely small amount of calories. Since maintaining your weight loss will be more difficult if you take this approach, you’re also more likely to gain back the weight that you initially lost.

Final Thoughts

It takes time for your legs to tone up, so patience is a must when it comes to putting these tips into practice. But, if you’re consistent, you’ll be sure to see the results you’re after.

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Fitness

Is the Ketogenic Diet Right for You?

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If you’ve spent any time perusing the internet in the last couple of years, you’ve probably come across people talking about the ketogenic diet.

If you based your interpretation of the diet solely off of what you see on Instagram and Facebook, you’d probably come to the conclusion that the key to the ketogenic diet is to simply stuff your face with endless amounts of bacon and butter.

That’s not quite the case, though. Before you head to the store for all your favorite fat-filled foods, take a moment to do some research.  

Read on to learn more about the ketogenic diet and figure out if it’s the right diet for you.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

First things first, let’s clarify what the ketogenic diet is. There’s a little more to it than just eating giant steaks at every meal and pouring a cup of coconut oil into your morning coffee.

In short, a ketogenic diet is a diet that is low in carbohydrates and very high in fat. A typical macronutrient breakdown for the ketogenic diet looks something like this:

  • 75 percent of calories come from fat
  • 20 percent of calories come from protein
  • 5 percent of calories come from carbohydrates

The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to alter the way that your body gets energy. Most people’s bodies run on glucose, which is the easiest molecule to convert and use for energy.

When you restrict carbohydrates and deprive your body of glucose, you’ll eventually enter a state of ketosis, meaning your body is running off of ketones which are produced by the breakdown of fat in the liver.

What are the Benefits?

At this point, you might be wondering why someone would want their body to run off of ketones. Isn’t glucose sufficient?

Glucose is sufficient, yes, but it’s not as efficient as ketones. Being in a state of ketosis comes with a variety of benefits, including the following:

  • Fast weight loss
  • Regulated blood sugar levels
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Cancer prevention and treatment
  • Increased feelings of satiety and decreased food cravings
  • Improved, more consistent energy levels
  • Better cognitive function and memory
  • Mood stabilization
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Increased endurance
  • Reduced inflammation

What About the Keto Flu?

If you’ve spent some time reading about the ketogenic diet, you’ve probably also heard about the “keto flu,” the name for a collection of symptoms that typically occur as your body switches from running off of carbs to running off of fat.

The keto flu typically includes the following symptoms:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Poor focus
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Muscle soreness
  • Insomnia

Symptoms of the keto flu typically only last for about one week.

Who Should Try a Ketogenic Diet?

After reading about all of those benefits, are you ready to switch up your diet and give keto a try? Not so fast. The ketogenic diet is great for lots of people, but it isn’t for everyone.

The following people are most likely to derive benefits from a ketogenic diet:

  • People who are frequently tired after meals or struggle with afternoon “slumps”
  • People who have a tendency to binge on carbohydrates and sugar
  • People who struggle with food addictions or constant food cravings
  • People who have to drop their calories very low to lose weight or maintain their current weight
  • People who struggle with mood swings when they go too long without eat (people who frequently feel “hangry”)
  • People who constantly feel hungry
  • People with lots of food allergies or intolerances
  • People who struggle with bloating or digestive issues after meals
  • People who struggle with chronic candida overgrowth

Who Shouldn’t Try a Ketogenic Diet?

As you can see, lots of people can benefit from trying a ketogenic diet. But, the following people should exercise caution before taking on this new way of eating.

  • People with blood sugar issues or type 1 diabetes (some people with type 2 diabetes can benefit from the ketogenic diet if they try it under a doctor’s supervision)
  • People with pre-existing liver, kidney, or pancreatic issues
  • People who are pregnant, nursing, or have gestational diabetes
  • People who are suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder

Tips for Getting into (and Staying in) Ketosis

If you think a ketogenic diet is right for you, these tips can help you get into a state of ketosis and stay there:

Increase Your Healthy Fat Consumption

This is crucial. If you’re not eating enough healthy fats, you’re not really following a ketogenic diet. You’ll derive some benefits from lowering your carbohydrate intake, but you won’t see the full effects of ketosis without increasing your fats.

Confused about healthy fats? A good way to simplify things is to ask yourself this question before picking up a fat source: Did nature make this, or did man make this?

Nature-made fats — also known as healthy fats — are foods that are either minimally processed or not processed at all. Examples include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and lard.

Use a Keto Supplement

There are a number of supplements known as exogenous ketones that can help you get into ketosis faster and stay there more easily.

These supplements, assuming they’re made by a reputable manufacturer and are of a high quality, can be very beneficial. But, it’s important to remember that they’re not really a shortcut.

This means that you can’t eat a doughnut, then consume some exogenous ketones, and get into a state of ketosis. You still need to be sticking to a ketogenic diet in order to derive the benefits of these supplements.

Replenish Your Electrolytes

When you cut your carbohydrates, your kidneys respond by eliminating excess water. In addition to getting rid of water, this also decreases your levels of potassium and sodium. This, in turn, can lead to headaches, fatigue, and constipation, all symptoms that comprise the “keto flu.”

Don’t reach for a Gatorade to replenish your electrolytes, though. Instead, add mineral-rich salt to your food and eat plenty of sodium-rich foods like red meat, eggs, and bone broth.

Try Fasting

A short fast (24 hours, max) can also help you use up stored glucose and get into a state of ketosis more quickly.

You can also try what’s called a “fat fast.” This approach mimics the effects of fasting, without totally depriving your body or nutrients. It involves eating about 1,000 calories per day, with 85-90 percent of those calories coming from fat.

Final Thoughts

Do you think the ketogenic diet is right for you? If you’re ready to give it a try (and you don’t fall into any of the groups of people for whom the diet is not recommended), then go for it! Keep these tips in mind and you’ll increase your chances of being successful and reaping the diet’s benefits.

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Are You Overtraining? Ten Signs That You Need to Scale Back Your Workouts

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It’s common these days to hear frequent warnings about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. For most of the population, these warnings are needed, as we are, as a whole, moving less than ever before.

However, on the flip side, there is another portion of the population that is taking these warnings too seriously.

While there are plenty of people who aren’t exercising at all, there is also a significant number of people who are exercising too much.

In the same way that insufficient exercise can set you up for a number of health problems, overtraining comes with its own negative side effects, including irregular heart rhythms, chronic inflammation, weakened bones, and an increased risk of developing intestinal hyperpermeability (also known as leaky gut).

So, how do you figure out if you’re exercising too much? Read on to learn about ten common signs of overtraining.

1. You Lack Motivation

From time to time, everyone has days when they’d rather not go to the gym. But, if you feel like you’re dragging yourself through your workouts every single day, this could be a sign that you need to take a break and let your body rest.

2. You’re Always Thirsty

Another lesser-known sign of overtraining is being chronically thirsty, no matter how much water you’re drinking.

When you over exercise, your body often ends up in a chronically catabolic state. This means it’s beginning to consume its own muscle in order to get sufficient protein. This leeches water from your muscles and leaves you dehydrated.

3. Your Muscles Feel Sore All the Time

It’s normal to feel a little sore for one or two days after a difficult workout. But, if you’re still feeling sore on Thursday from Monday’s workout, you could be overdoing it.

Extended soreness is a sign that your muscles are not recovering properly, which means that you’re not going to see positive results from your strength and muscle-building efforts.

4. You Can’t Sleep

While regular, moderate exercise can help improve sleep quality, over-exercising can have the opposite effect. This is especially true if you’re exercising in the evenings. A tough workout shortly before bed can leave you feeling wired and unable to fall asleep.

5. You’re Depressed

Moderate exercise is good for mental health, but overtraining can negatively affect your mood in the same way that it can negatively affect your sleep. Overtraining often stems from poor body image and a need to “fix” certain aspects of one’s physique.

It’s easy to become obsessed with what you see in the mirror and feel a compulsive need to train. And, when you don’t see the results you’re looking for right away, you might feel frustrated or depressed.  

6. You’re Always Hungry

If you’re overtraining and not giving your body sufficient fuel, you’re likely to feel chronically hungry throughout the day. It’s important to take a step back and make sure you’re eating enough to give yourself the energy you need to get through your workouts.

7. You Get Sick a Lot

Are you always coming down with colds?

Feeling chronically ill is a sign that you’re overtraining and are no longer living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. When you’re in a continuous catabolic state, your immunity decreases and your chances of getting sick increase.

8. You Can’t Focus

Are you struggling to keep up with assignments at work or in school? Do you regularly experience “brain fog” throughout the day? This could be a sign that you’re doing too much in the gym (especially if you’re not eating enough calories on top of overtraining).

If you’re not fueling your body sufficiently and you’re placing significant demands on it in the gym, you’re not going to have enough energy left over for all the other tasks you need to accomplish.

9. You Keep Getting Hurt

Are you getting hurt more often? Are you constantly taping or bracing your ankle? Or, do you have an old injury that’s acting up?

Frequent injuries are a sign that your body is in a weakened state and is not recovering properly from your workouts.

10. You’re Gaining Weight (or Your Weight Loss has Plateaued)

Most people workout to lose weight or maintain their current physique. If the opposite is happening for you and you’re either gaining weight or have stopped seeing the number of the scale decrease, it’s important to take a look at the amount of exercise you’re doing.

While, in some cases, a plateau or weight loss regression is a sign that you need to increase the intensity of your workouts, it can also indicate the opposite. Overtraining often leads to chronic inflammation and water retention, which will make you look and feel “puffy” or bloated and will lead to a higher number on the scale.

Overtraining can also disrupt your hormones and cause chronically elevated cortisol levels. When your cortisol is too high for too long, your body may start to store fat and become resistant to your weight loss efforts.

How Often Should You be Working Out?

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, there’s a very good chance that you could be overtraining. But, what can you do about it? How often should you actually be working out?

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to training frequency. But, as a general rule, most people can see results from limiting themselves to 2-3 strength training sessions per week paired with moderate cardiovascular activity (walking, jogging, swimming, etc.).

If you enjoy going to workout classes like spin or kickboxing, try to only go once or twice a week. These intense classes are fun, and it’s great if they get you moving, but it’s easy to overdo them.

Keep these basic guidelines in mind as you start to give yourself a little more rest. Pair them with better sleep and possibly an increase in calories and you’ll be feeling better before you know it!

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