Female rock climber at Riverside Quarry, California

Female rock climber at Riverside Quarry, California

4:59… Tick, tock, tick, tock… BAM! 5:00. Elation. Freedom. Adventure. The moment you never thought would come finally arrives each Friday at 5:00 p.m. You’re released from your 40th hour of duty and ready to leave work behind and tackle the adventures that await. But, as a weekend warrior, your pursuits have an expiration. And the buzzer will sound in a mere two and half days on Monday by 9:00 a.m.


What’s a Weekend Warrior?

Weekend warriors are “everyday athletes.” They’re not quite professional athletes, but they train nearly as hard and do so in the short window of time when they’re not tied to a job. Pressed for time to pursue their athletic goals during the work week, these folks maximize their weekends. Scientifically speaking, weekend warriors pack most, if not all, of their recommended physical activity into one or two days out of the week. This often looks like adventure sports, endurance races, or other sports and playful activities—both solo and team-oriented.


Weekend warriors are the go-getters. They’re the people who work nine-to-five, Monday through Friday, (or any schedule, really) and are intent on making the most of their time off. But weekends might also feel bittersweet because they’re so short. So, how can you maximize those two days? Dive into some tips, tricks, and takeaways to milk each weekend for all it’s worth!

Weekend Warrior Training Tips

The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly encourages adults to engage in regular aerobic activity and strength training (twice) every week. If you prefer moderate aerobic physical activity, you should hit at least 150 minutes per week. If you prefer vigorous, intense aerobic physical activity, your goal at least 75 minutes. (Check out this article to see how to build a proper workout.)

As a weekend warrior, you likely pack those minutes of activity into a day or two instead of spreading them out over a seven-day span. This truncated type of schedule was not the original intent of the WHO guideline. So, does this consolidation exclude you from the benefits of exercise?

Not at all. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine puts those worries to rest. Researchers surveyed more than 60,000 people over a 20-year span. Based on their exercise habits, participants were considered active (three or more exercise sessions), weekend warriors (hitting the guidelines in one or two sessions per week), or insufficiently active (less than guidelines in one to two sessions per week).

The study concluded that active adults, including weekend warriors, had significantly better health outcomes. Specifically, being sufficiently active for at least one day (or more) per week lessened health risks by 30 percent. The takeaway is that it doesn’t matter how you get your activity done, so long as you get it done.

So, it’s OK if your busy work-week forces you to choose the weekend warrior life. But there are ways you can maximize your training efforts. This could mean warming up and cooling down sufficiently, adding in cross-training, and re-examining the structure of your workout. Here are some ideas (with more to come in the safety section):

Dynamic Stretching

Beautiful young woman practicing or exercising, doing sports in park

Stretching dynamically means your stretches coincide with movement rather than remaining static. Dynamic stretching allows your muscles to elongate while increasing your heart rate and blood flow. Try walking lunges with an added stretch. Once you step into a lunge, pause long enough to sink down into the bottom of it until you feel a gentle stretch and raise your opposite arm overhead. This will allow for movement in the shoulder joint while stretching out your hip flexor on the same side. Switch sides and repeat.

Build Your Efforts

Ramp up the intensity throughout your workout. This means you don’t start out hard. Instead, you gradually increase your efforts over time. For most athletic pursuits, you can measure this in a number of ways: time splits, weight carried, heart rate, power metrics, and more. Time may be the easiest to measure with the simplest equipment, so start there if you’re new to training.

As you continue warming up in the early stages of your activity session, use time as a measure of effort. For example, if you’re running you could measure the time it takes you to complete a lap or section of a route. As you progress through your workout, aim to decrease that split time. This means you run faster each time you repeat the lap or segment of your run.

If your activity of choice doesn’t lend itself to timing in the same way—say, weight training—you can employ a different strategy. Assign yourself a set time interval for a weighted movement. Start with light weights. With each new interval, increase the weight so your body has a chance to warm up slowly.

High-Intensity Interval Training

Consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when you’re especially pressed for time. Or add a HIIT session to your regular routine if you’re looking for something new. HIIT is a workout session made up of short, powerful rounds of cardio activity with minimal recovery periods in between. A great example of HIIT is Tabata training, named for Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist. Tabata workouts are typically eight rounds of 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. The idea is to work as hard as you can for 20 seconds before moving into the short recovery. Such interval workouts can support muscle mitochondrial function (basically how your muscles make energy), which is a marker of athletic prowess and good health.

Fast and Friendly Fuel On-The-Go

Sweaty young man eating energy bar at gym. Handsome mid guy enjoying chocolate after a heavy workout in fitness studio. Fit man biting a snack and resting on bench.

Weekend warriors don’t have time to waste. So, they’re constantly on the move during their precious weekend hours. When you’re scrambling to maximize your days off, it’s important to save time on food preparation. But you also don’t want to skimp on the fuel you need to get after your goals.

Since you’ll be on the move, your calories should come from foods that are easily eaten and digested while in motion. This means simple carbs that your body can easily use as fuel. Energy bars and chews are easy to pack and easy to eat. If you prefer something homemade, work in food prep time the night before your big day out to create your own quick snack.

Hydration is also a key component of proper fueling. Don’t show up to work hard without being properly hydrated or you’re starting at a disadvantage. So, add this easy trick into your routine: hydrate early, and continue to do so often.

And don’t forget your electrolytes or salts. You can turn to your favorite sports beverage mix that you can add to water or a ready-to-drink option. Look into which suits your activity and taste buds the best, and, of course, keeps you exercising at peak performance.

But make sure you get those electrolytes for longer bouts of exercise. You lose salts in your sweat, and it’s imperative they’re replaced. For instance, sodium determines how much water your cells can hold. And if its concentration is off balance, your body’s cells can’t maintain proper regulation.

Properly preparing with pre-workout food and drink is important, too. Luckily, there’s a whole story on that topic to help you out.

Stay Safe, Stay Strong

On the road to recovery for knee injury after fitness exercise, healthy lifestyle concept, indoors gym wooden floor brick wall background

Each weekend-warrior discipline (mountain biking, cycling, running, climbing, skiing, dominating the gym, and more) comes with unique safety considerations. Whether it’s injury prevention or safety gear, there are many ways to maintain your safety in pursuit of your athletic goals. You’ll see those tips and tricks below.

Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is a broad topic. So, let’s consider outdoor pursuits as an example. Below are several considerations for a handful of different weekend warrior outdoor activities.

Biking Running Rock Climbing
Clothing Chamois bike shorts;

jersey with pockets;

appropriate layers;

hat/sunglasses

Proper trail shoes;

appropriate layers;

hat/sunglasses

Climbing shoes;

appropriate layers;

hat/sunglasses

Safety Gear Helmet;

head and tail lights;

bike tube repair kit;

reflective item/layer

Headlamp;

reflective; item/layer

Helmet;

harness;

belay device;

carabiner;

rope

Planning Considerations Bike-friendly route;

traffic/trail conditions;

cell-phone-service range

Weather conditions;

wildlife potential;

cell-phone-service range

Weather conditions;

wildlife potential;

rock quality;

cell-phone-service range

Potential Dangers Car accident;

popped tires;

bike crash

Inclement weather;

loose trail and rock;

getting lost (in dark)

Inclement weather;

loose rocks;

equipment misuse/failure;

getting lost (in dark)

Should You Tell a Friend? Yes Yes Yes

From the clothes you wear to the accessories you carry, there are a lot of options that can help fend off injury.

Imagine getting started in the dark hours of an early fall morning. If you’re hopping on your bike, it’s imperative to wear warm clothing to protect you from the elements and make sure your apparel is reflective, too. This is especially true if you’re riding and might cross paths with, or bike alongside, traffic. Make sure others can see you so they can safely avoid you. Strap forward-facing and rear lights to your bike to serve the same purpose. The lights help alert other motorists of your presence.

Let’s continue with the cycling example. You’re wearing your protective, reflective gear, and you make it through the busy roads safely. But now that you’re further away from home, you pop a tire. This could spell disaster if you don’t have a repair kit (or you’re unsure of how to use one), especially if you don’t have cell-phone service.

Make sure you do the following: plan your route with cell coverage in mind, carry a well-equipped repair kit, and understand and practice how to use your repair kit. Without these precautions in place, you may be carrying your bike a long way home. And that journey comes with its own potential dangers.

Now let’s move further out of the city. Perhaps instead of the pavement, you’re hitting the trails. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long trail run, hike, or approach to a place to climb, the potential dangers are unique and require your attention. Be aware of the weather forecast. It becomes especially important if the terrain may be easily influenced by it (think: rockfall, washed out trails, slick footings, flash floods, etc.).

Additionally, depending on the trails in wilderness areas you enter, you may need to be familiar with the wildlife inhabiting those spaces. Do your homework and understand what kind of animals live there. Then study their habits and how to keep yourself safe should you have an encounter.

Quality Recovery for Weekend Warriors

You went out and crushed your weekend goal. Perhaps you biked that beast of a trail, climbed a daring route, or reached a summit by foot-power alone. Now that you are enjoying the afterglow and sense of accomplishment after finishing your workout, it’s time to talk about how to recover properly.

You’ll sense a theme here, because the tenets of recovery aren’t breaking news. There are some main to-dos that should be on your radar, things you should check off your list as each weekend winds down: muscle recovery, hydration, diet, and sleep.

Muscle Recovery

When you’re out there working hard for long bouts of time, your muscles take a beating. Intense exercise breaks down your muscles. It creates microtears in the muscle fibers, which actually allows them to build back up even stronger. But in the interim, the physical sensation manifests as soreness and tightness.

This is the time to slow down and be gentle with yourself. Consider which muscle groups need the most work to narrow down which stretches and movements will best support your recovery. Also invest in some recovery gear. Think: foam roller, massage ball, resistance band, or professional massages to aid in the process. Not sure what this gear looks like and what they do? Let’s find out.

  • Foam rolling. If you haven’t already heard of this muscle recovery strategy, take note. Foam rolling is a way to release tight, knotted muscles by utilizing focused pressure. The rollers take numerous forms—hollow or solid cylinders, small or larger spheres, and textured options of the same shapes. Let’s say you have a tight calf muscle. You can place a foam ball under your calf and utilize your bodyweight to apply pressure to the tight muscle. Then by rolling back and forth slowly, you can work to release the muscle tension. An added benefit of this type of movement is increased circulation for proper recovery. There are numerous guides available online for working out tricky spots in various muscle groups.
  • Stretching (with and without resistance bands). After exercising and foam rolling, your muscles are sufficiently warm for stretching. Earlier, you read about warming up your muscles with dynamic stretching. But after completing an activity and beginning the wind-down process with light foam rolling, your body doesn’t require dynamic stretching. Now you can focus on static or stationary stretching. Pick a stretch and hold it for at least 15 seconds to allow your muscle to release slowly. If your flexibility is limited, grab a resistance band to extend your reach. The Mayo Clinic has a simple guide to basic stretches.
  • Massage. When foam rolling and self-stretching doesn’t cut it, turn to a professional. This could be someone well versed in sports massage or a specialist in body work. Thai yoga massage is a good example. (This type of massage is a fully clothed session in which the practitioner utilizes their own body and weight to apply appropriate pressure and traction to release your tense muscles). Massage therapists understand anatomy and kinesiology (the science of body movement) on a deep level and can provide more insight, advice, and relief. There are also massage therapists that specialize in combinations of traditional massage and guided stretching.

Hydration

Portrait of young caucasian woman resting after training holding a sports bottle sitting on mat with legs crossed in gym with loft interior.

Be sure to replace the fluids and salts you’ve lost by hydrating well. This means drinking water and electrolytes. Now that you’re done with your activity, there’s no need to beef up your drink with extra calories (like the sweetened examples above). Just make sure you’re getting in the electrolytes and salts you need for optimal muscle recovery.

Diet

Immediately following your workout or adventure, you want to take advantage of your body increasing glycogen production to fuel your week and next workout. Within 30-60 minutes following your workout, make sure to get a healthy ratio of easily digestible carbohydrates and protein. Somewhere around 1:1 or 2:1 carbohydrate to protein should do. Also, try to avoid fiber and fat immediately during this time. These two macronutrients can slow the absorption of the carbohydrates and protein.

Following this period, and starting at your next meal, get back to your normal healthy diet. Fill up on antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies—blueberries, nuts, peppers, oranges, and leafy greens. Include healthy, lean proteins like chicken, fish, nuts, and beans. Reach for healthy, fiber-rich carbohydrates, generally referred to as “complex” carbohydrates. These include whole grains and vegetables. And lastly, don’t forget the healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Sleep

Sure, you always need sleep. But when your weekend-warrior body has taken a beating, the necessity is even stronger. Allow for ample rest after your athletic efforts. If possible, begin a wind down routine an hour earlier than normal. It may sound difficult, but once you hit the sheets, your body will thank you.

Sleep is the time our bodies do the majority of repair work. Getting an extra hour of rest will allow your body to begin the repair process. Sleep gives your body time to heal broken-down muscles and replenish energy supplies. It’s also a period in which your mind can relax and regroup. This is an essential period if you want to have enough energy to charge through to the next weekend.

Get Out There and Dominate the Weekend

couple of bikers having a break looking at the sea

As a weekend warrior, you have your own sports to enjoy, mountains to conquer, and objectives to achieve. But now you have more tools to do so safely and more efficiently. As you plan your next weekend adventure, consider the tips you’ve learned here. Your preparation, safety considerations, fuel plan, and recovery are the tools that will help achieve your goals with more ease and peace of mind.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

“6 Dynamic Stretches That Prep You for Any Workout.” Health.

“7 Best Recovery Foods.” Muscle & Fitness online.

“Chapter 4. Active Adults.” Physical Activity Guidelines, 2nd edition. CDC.

“Drink Up for Sports and Fitness.” WebMD.

Hamilton M. “How to Use a Foam Roller to Warm Up and Cool Down.” Runner’s World.

O’Donovan G, Lee I, Hamer M, Stamatakis E. Association of “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure Time Physical Activity Patterns With Risks for All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(3):335–342.

Shilton AC. “The New Rules of Hydration.” Outside Online.

“The Healing Power of Sleep.” WebMD.

Trewin A, et al. Acute HIIE elicits similar changes in human skeletal muscle mitochondrial H2O2 release, respiration, and cell signaling as endurance exercise even with less work. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2018; 315: R1003–R1016.

“What is Tabata Training?” Active.

It’s hard to imagine a life without joints. They spring into action the moment you roll out of bed. Joints facilitate little movements like brushing your teeth and tying your shoes. And they also allow you to clap, dance, and play.

Thank your joints for helping you find this article. Whether you’re at your desk or scrolling through your phone, joints make movement (like keystrokes and texting) possible.

Joints play an important part in everyday life. But it might not be easy to know if your joints are in good health. So, pause for a moment to learn about joints and easy ways to keep them in shape.

The Role of Joints

Joints are the skeletal hinges that make movement possible. Simply defined, a joint is the area where two bones connect, or make contact. They turn a rigid skeletal frame into a dynamic and flexible body.

Your joints are powered by muscle to move your body. And there are two main ways your joints move. When the bones in a joint move away from each other (like when you spread out your fingers and open your hand) it’s called extension. Flexion happens when your bones are brought closer together (making a fist).

Types of Joints

Not all the places your bones connect are the same. And there are three main types of joints. Grouped together by their range of movement and material composition, they are: fibrous (immovable), cartilaginous (slightly moveable), and synovial (freely moveable).

Fibrous

This joint may initially be hard to identify. They don’t look or function like you’d think a joint would. Fibrous joints (or fixed joints) are permanent connections between two bones. The easiest fibrous joints to identify are the sutures of the skull.

Your skull is made up of large, flat bones that fused together over time. But your skull was not always rock solid. A newborn’s is soft and moldable in order to safely exit the birth canal. Flexible bones slide over each other during delivery and return to their original position in the days following birth.

The flat bones of the skull then grow larger over time and become connected by thick, fibrous tissue. This joint is called a suture. Once settled in their permanent location, sutures ossify (turn to bone). These joints are completely immobile.

Teeth are another example of fibrous joints. Also called gomphoses, the joints between teeth and their sockets are welded together by periodontal tissue.

Cartilaginous

Like the name suggests, these joints are made up of cartilage links between bones. But not the squishy cartilage that makes up your ears and nose. This joint cartilage is incredibly strong and can withstand significant pressure.

A cartilaginous joint is only slightly moveable. One example is the pubic symphysis that connects the left and right pubic bones and stabilizes the pelvis. However, when a woman gives birth, this joint permits enough movement to widen her pelvis for delivery.

There are also cartilaginous joints between every vertebra in your spine. Individually, joints between vertebrae can move very little. But each slightly moveable cartilaginous joint across multiple vertebrae allows for dramatic movement—think about bending over to touch your toes.

This important type of joint also function to absorb impact. Cartilage discs cushion the spine and maintain its flexibility while you walk, jump, and dance.

Unlike their fibrous siblings, cartilaginous joints will never turn to bone. They remain mildly flexible and work together to provide strength and mobility throughout the body. 

Synovial

When you think of joints, you probably picture the synovial type. These are the connections between bones that make up your shoulder, hip, knee, and more. Synovial joints are free-moving and can extend and flex in several directions.

There are several different kinds of synovial joints. Most notable are the hinge, pivot, and ball-and-socket joints. These names describe how the joints work in your body:

  • Hinge joints are everywhere. Two significant examples are your knee and elbow. The long bones in your arms and legs are connected to each other via a hinge joint. It swings bones in and out in one direction.

You also have lots of hinge joints in your hands and feet. The bones in your fingers and toes are linked together through these types of joints. Think of making a fist or curling your toes. This movement is made possible by the collective effort of many hinge joints.

  • When you turn your head, you’re utilizing a pivot joint. That’s because the first two vertebrae in your spine are pivot joints that make side-to-side head movement possible.

This joint type works by connecting the round end of one bone to another bone with a ring of ligament tissue. Pivot joints don’t allow 360-degree rotation, but they help you move a lot.

Another pivot joint is found at your wrist. The two bones in your forearm (radius and ulna) rotate around each other with the help of a pivot joint. Try turning your hand over to look at your palm and then the back of your hand. You’re utilizing this kind of joint.

  • Ball-and-socket joints are the most mobile joints in your body. They have a large range of motion and can create movement in several directions.

These joints look exactly as described—like a ball in a socket. The spherical end of one bone fits into the cupped end of another. The two fit together very well and make it possible for the bone with the rounded end to move freely.

Your hips and shoulders are ball-and-socket joints. They help you swing your arms and legs in a front-to-back motion, and out to the side. You can also completely rotate the hip and shoulder.

Because these types of joints perform such dynamic movement they need protection from dislocation and injury. It is no surprise some of your strongest muscles surround ball-and-socket joints. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons power and stabilize the movement of these joints.

Joint Helpers: Ligaments and Tendons

Joints are powerful on their own, but they need help to stay in place. There are tissues in your body that secure bone to bone and bone to muscle. They’re called ligaments and tendons.

Tendons attach muscle to bone. They also protect the joints they surround. But the main role of tendons is to push and pull the bones they’re attached to.

Ligaments link bone to bone. Generally, the stronger the ligaments surrounding the joint, the more stable the joint is. That’s good. You want to maximize stability to ward off potential injury to your joints.

There are ligaments between the hinge joints in your fingers and knees. They strengthen the joints by preventing dangerous backward movement of the fingers. Ligaments also protect your knees from hyperextension (bending the wrong way).

Ligaments can decrease in strength and elasticity over time. So, it’s important to keep moving your joints that depend on the ligaments for stability. Maintaining your flexibility can support the long-term health of your joints.

Also, keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of joint injury. Unnecessary strain and overuse can leave even the strongest joints sore and swollen. Proper care for your joints includes regular use and rest. Give your joints a chance to recover from all the heavy lifting they do throughout the day.

Get Moving with 5 Joint Health Tips

Young or old, joint health should be high on your priority list. It’s never too early to start thinking about your joints. They work hard to move your body, so be good to them.

Joint discomfort is a pain, literally. But there are simple ways to keep your joints working and feeling their best.

You can stand up for your joint health by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying around extra pounds adds stress to your joints. For example, when running you can put up to five times the force on your knee joints. That would mean for every extra pound or kilo of body weight you are carrying around would equate to an extra five pounds or kilos of force put on those joints. Many people experience moderate relief from joint pain by staying at a healthy weight.
  • Exercising regularly. Moving the muscles that power your joints helps keep them from stiffening up. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and biking are great ways to maintain joint health without intense aching or soreness. Protect your joints with proper safety equipment (like helmets and kneepads) before your sweat session. You only get one set, so treat it well.
  • Improving your posture. Walking tall and sitting up straight don’t just boost your confidence. They protect your joints, too. Slouching and slumping put a lot of pressure on joints. Practicing good posture helps evenly spread the weight your joints carry.
  • Eating Right. Fuel your muscles and bones with healthy foods to support joint health. Focus on getting calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other joint-health nutrients to support your bones. Dairy, canned sardines in oil (with bones), fortified cereals and orange juice, Chinese cabbage, and cooked kale will do the trick. And eat lean proteins for maintaining mighty muscles.
  • Supplementing. Glucosamine and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are key nutrients that support healthy joints. Consider adding these supplements to your daily nutrition to help maintain your joint health. Both are believed to also play a role in keeping up optimum joint comfort.

Take good care of your joints and enjoy all the fun things they make possible. Jump, spin, clap, or crawl—joints make it all possible.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.


Fitting into an old pair of jeans again. Competing in that bucket-list race. Chasing around children and grandchildren. Or perhaps simply not panting after taking the stairs. Whatever your goal, there are many motivations to get your body moving.

And there’s also many different ways to put your body in motion. But how should you move and what is enough? There’s intensity, frequency, and type of movement (strength training vs cardio) to consider. That’s a lot. So, no wonder it can feel hard to find the “right” way for you.

And then there are the excuses. Before you dive deeper into how to move, let’s breakdown some barriers by taking a closer look at common concerns.

  • I don’t have time to exercise. Often the scheduling of exercise is what keeps people from being active. Even if your days are filled with family, errands, and meetings, it’s possible to find the time to move. Start by redefining what a workout looks like for you. This means discarding the idea that exercise must be done in a gym. Now that you’ve broadened your options for place, get creative. Use the 5-10 minutes between engagements to lunge (or any other movement) in your office. Or turn your conference calls into walking meetings and take the call on the go. Lastly, while a dedicated workout session will provide strength gains and potential weight loss, working microbursts of exercise throughout your day as a replacement comes with benefits. When you’re especially busy, these sporadic, focused efforts throughout the day are much better than remaining sedentary and can even be better than one longer session.
  • I don’t like running, so I can’t do cardio. Running is only one way to get cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercise. Consider other activities that still get your heart pumping but don’t require expensive shoes or the dreaded treadmill. If it gets you moving with your breath and heart rate quickening, it’s a good cardio option. Think brisk walking, dancing, swimming, or yoga. Read on for more ideas to come.
  • I’m new to exercise and weights feel very intimidating to me. How else can I build strength? While weights are a great way to build muscle and overall body strength, there are other routes to the same destination. Your bodyweight can be enough (think: power yoga) and if you want a little extra, consider resistance training with bands. This can be a great way to get strong without a lot of equipment.
  • I enjoy exercise, but I’m not really sure how much I should be getting. The American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control have come up with guidelines for adults. Make sure that on a weekly basis you’re clocking in either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (about five days of 30 minutes exercise sessions) or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio (spread over two-three days)—along with two days of strength training.

The aforementioned guidelines are the minimum for weight and general health maintenance. If your goals require weight loss or muscle gain, you’re likely looking for more specifics. So, let’s break down strength training vs cardio exercise separately to really understand how they each work. Then you can explore the benefits of a strength-and-cardio-combo routine.

Strength Training

An activity counts as strength training if it involves significant effort to work your body’s major muscle groups (legs, core, shoulders, arms). While cardio exercises are recommended for certain durations, strength training doesn’t come with a similar prescription. Rather, you should continue to work your muscles—using resistance, machines, or hand weights—until the activity becomes difficult to continue. This muscle discomfort is actually indicative of minute muscle tears. To build up your muscles, you must first break them down.

Young people often focus on getting big, defined muscles for physical attractiveness. But as you age, strength becomes less about appearance and more a function of safety and independence. Sarcopenia is muscle loss associated with advancing age. With every decade past 30 years of age, adults will lose, on average, four percent of their muscle mass.

Maintaining muscle mass through the years will help you avoid injury, sustain mobility, and enjoy freedom of movement without assistance. Indeed, risk for bone fractures and other injuries increases significantly once sarcopenia sets in.

Participating in strength activities is important not only for building muscle, but also for increasing bone strength. And as you continue to age, both are extremely important. Weakened bones are more susceptible to breaking. Often these breaks are seen in the hip, spine, or wrist. The good news is that exercise—and, specifically, strength-based exercise—can shore up your bones.

It might seem counterintuitive, though. Hauling weights around seems like a way to break a bone. Not the case! In fact, bearing weights (whether your body’s own weight or added resistance) slows bone loss and even builds bone. The stress put on bones while strength training essentially kickstarts the cells responsible for bone-building.

You have several reasons to start strength training. But where do you start? In theory, lifting weights sounds simple, but there are so many options. This can make it difficult to pick and stick to a routine. Peruse the following chart to gather ideas on how to build muscle throughout your body.

How Example Set Muscles Worked Extra Tip
Squat Place the bar across your shoulders. Keeping your chest high and feet hip-width apart, push your butt backwards and sit back as if reaching for a chair. Sit deeply with weight on your heels. Don’t let your knees pass your toes. Engage glutes as you stand up tall. 3 sets of 10 squats

Increase number of reps and/or sets as you gain strength.

Add weight slowly as you gain strength.

Gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings, quadriceps Play with the width of your stance to focus on different muscle groups.

Turning your toes out wide will help recruit inner thigh muscles when squatting.

Deadlift Place a barbell (additional weight optional) in front of your feet. Keeping your chest high and feet hip-width apart, begin bending your knees as you reach for the barbell. Arms should be outside of your legs for a wide grip. Keep your lower back flat and your shoulders pulled back as you grip the bar. As you rise, keep weight in your heels. Engage glute muscles as you stand up tall. 3 sets of 10

Increase number of reps and/or sets as you gain strength.

Add weight slowly as you gain strength.

Erector spinae (low back), gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings You can substitute a barbell for two hand weights or a kettlebell, depending on your preference.
Stationary forward lunge Step one foot far enough forward that, as you lower, both knees come to right angles. Your front foot should be fully planted on the floor; your back foot should be on its toes. Your front knee should not surpass your toes as it bends. As you rise, return the moving leg next to the standing leg and repeat alternating legs each time. 2 sets of 10 lunges per side

Increase number lunges per side as you gain strength and stability.

Add weight slowly as you gain strength.

Gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps This movement works the same muscles as a squat, but requires more range of motion and therefore allows for further muscle development. Shake things up by trying out backward lunges (stepping back instead of forward), or walking lunges (alternate which leg steps forward each time moving you forward across the surface).
Standing shoulder press Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, with elbows bent (imagine each weight is a food tray and you are a server). Knuckles face the ceiling; palms face one another. With feet hip-width apart and slightly bent knees, push weights above your head until your arms are fully extended. Bring weights back down to shoulder level, keeping a comfortable space between your sidebody and elbows. Keep shoulders relaxed (maintain space between your shoulder and ear). 3 sets of 10

Increase number of reps and/or sets as you gain strength.

Add weight slowly as you gain strength.

Deltoids (shoulders), trapezius (upper back), scapula (shoulder blade), triceps, biceps Do this while standing to recruit muscles from your legs and core. Seated shoulder press will focus solely on the upper body muscle groups.

 

Open your arms to the side, turning your wrists so that palms face forward (knuckles still to ceiling). The ends of dumbbells can touch over head as you press fully. This wide press will fire slightly different muscles.

Skull- crushers Lay down on a mat or bench with two dumbbells in hand. Bend your knees. Lift weights into the air so your arms are fully extended above your chest. Weights should be touching (palms face one another, knuckles to ceiling). Keeping your elbows stationary, lower the weights toward your forehead. Return weights to starting position and repeat. 3 sets of 8

Increase number of reps and/or sets as you gain strength.

Increase weight slowly as you gain strength.

Triceps

(with challenge: core and hip flexors)

If more comfortable, you can do the same movement with one weight in both hands. Hold the ends of one dumbbell in either hand.

If you’re up for a challenge, add on a core component by lifting your feet off the mat and bringing knees to a 90-degree angle. As you lower weights toward your head, extend your legs out. Return them to bent position as your arms rise again.

Cardio Training

While you may be familiar with the term “cardio training”—or even more simply put “cardio”—you might not have considered where it comes from. Cardio is short for “cardiovascular” because exercises of this type are aimed at strengthening your heart. They are also known as aerobic, because they require oxygen and increase the efficiency of oxygen distribution throughout the body by the heart.

With this knowledge in mind, it’s easier to see the connection between this type of exercise and heart health. With as little as 15 minutes per day, you can support a healthy heart. Plus, cardio or aerobic exercise plays a role in weight maintenance and weight loss. But before you dive into that, let’s get an idea for the different cardio exercise in which you can engage.

Aerobic exercises are any type of activity that get the body’s major muscle groups moving in a rhythmic way for a prolonged period of time. This type of movement gets your heart pumping, elevating your heart rate, and causing you to breathe harder than normal. The range of activities that meet these requirements are wide, so you’re likely to find one you enjoy. Pick from a range of solo activities or sports, group games, or recreational activities to get your heart pumping.

Solo Group Games Outdoor Recreation
Swimming Water polo Hiking or trail running
Dance class Tennis (doubles) Mountain or road biking
Heavy yardwork Soccer or flag football Skiing or snowboarding

Recall the heart-health guidelines for exercise from above. At a minimum, adults have two options. First, engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise throughout the week. The second option is 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise. No matter your choice, you should also include two days of strength-based training. This can simply involve your bodyweight or weights. Not sure what constitutes moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise? Check out the table below to spark some ideas.

Moderate Activities (150 min/week minimum) Vigorous Activities (75 min/week minimum)
Yard work or other involved house chores Tennis
Brisk walking (>/= 2.5 mph) Swimming laps
Water aerobics Running or hiking
Biking on flat ground (<10 mph) Biking (>10 mph)
Power yoga High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

From CDC’s Physical Activity Guidelines

Strength Training vs. Cardio, or Better together?

Over the years there have been many exercise crazes and popular routines. And some have pitted strength training vs cardio. Is this well-founded? Well no, not if you’re strictly interested in general health and weight maintenance. Both types of exercise are necessary to strengthen bones, fend off muscle loss, and keep your metabolic processes in balance. But if you’re focused on losing a lot of weight or building a lot of muscle, your routine might require some tweaks.

A few years ago, Duke University conducted a study comparing groups of people assigned to one of three groups. Group 1 utilized resistance (or strength-based) training. Group 2 was given an aerobic (or cardio) routine. Group 3 did a routine that consisted of both resistance and aerobic training.

Participants in the cardio-based exercise group lost more weight than those focused on strength-training. In fact, the strength group gained weight, though all of it was attributed to muscle gain, not fat. And those in group 3 experienced the healthiest changes in body composition. Combo exercisers both lost the most fat and gained muscle mass. Researchers noted that while these composition changes are the most favorable, it did come at a cost: time investment. Group 3 participants spent the most time in the gym.

There are some great takeaways from this study that can help you decide what’s best for your goals. Do you want to maintain your weight? Are you concerned with adding muscle? Are you pressed for time? These are all appropriate questions to consider as you build your personalized workout routine.

Building a Strong Workout for a Stronger You

  • Remember that health guidelines for exercise are only minimums (150 minutes/week or 75 minutes/week for moderate and vigorous exercise, respectively). These are great guidelines to follow if you’re simply maintaining your body weight.
  • Cardio burns the most calories, minute by minute. This means if you were to spend 15 minutes lifting weights versus 15 minutes running, the latter would expend more energy.
  • If your goal is to lose weight, combining both strength and cardio is your best bet. To really fine-tune your routine, start with strength training and finish off with cardio. Doing so will elevate your heart rate so your heart continues to work at that elevated level during your cardio session.
  • Consider your age as you build your own workout. As you pass 30 years of age and enter into each new decade, the need for muscle-building becomes more pressing.
  • Exercise is not the only answer. Weight maintenance and weight loss is hard to do if diet isn’t considered. Build your workout routine along with a balanced diet for success.

The only thing left is to get moving. Get started by recalling your motivation. Whether it’s to maintain, lose, build, or generally enjoy life, all are valid and achievable. Start by naming your motivation and goal to make them real. Find activities you enjoy and recruit friends or family to keep you company and hold you accountable. And before you know it, you just might be in those old jeans, crossing the finish line of your bucket-list race, or conquering those stairs with a smile.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

You change into your workout clothes, get your equipment ready, and start your workout. And within a few minutes you’re already feeling tired, worn out, and not ready for what you have planned. It feels like you’re wasting your time. You want to do better, but today you just don’t have the motivation—and fuel—to push through.

Everybody has had a bad workout before. It happens. But when it comes time to exercise, you want to minimize the obstacles that keep you from performing your very best. They can be caused by stress, mental or physical fatigue, poor nutrition, or a number of different things. Some of these factors can be outside of your power, but nutrition is one you can control.

All of your food choices during the day play an important role in making sure you have the nutrients you need. But your pre-workout foods can have the biggest influence on how you perform while exercising. See which nutrients and foods to choose before exercise.

Where to Look For Energy

Providing energy should be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about pre-workout foods. Exercising while fasting can play a role in weight loss, but is not going to lead to your best performance. What you read below is all about performing your best, and eating before your workout is essential to that.

To decide what your energy needs will be, you first need to know what type of workout you are going to have. A low-intensity, 20-minute workout has very different needs than a higher-intensity workout lasting over an hour.

Your goal should be to consume enough calories to match your planned workout. (If you will be exercising more than an hour, you will also need to refuel during your workout.) Your 20-minute, moderate-intensity workout will need 100 to 200 calories. A longer session will require up to 500 calories or more.

For Energy, Carbs Are King

Have you ever wondered why professional athletes always have a big cooler or bottles full of sugary drinks? Or why there are so many energy blocks, gels, and drinks for sale that contain nothing but sugar? That’s because when it comes to energy, carbohydrates—or carbs—are king.

Your body can also use fat and protein for fuel. But carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source. The reason for this preference is that simple carbs are the quickest and easiest to digest.

During exercise, your body will first burn the sugar (simple carbohydrates) in your blood, most commonly glucose. Then your body move on to long-term carb storage (glycogen). Only after those are gone will it make a serious attempt at using fat and protein for energy.

When you’re eating before or during exercise, the goal is to keep your sugar storage full. This prevents your body from having to use as much fat and protein for energy. Have you ever hit a wall about an hour into an endurance workout, where all of your energy seems to disappear? That’s your body running out of carbs.

You might be thinking, “but I want to burn some fat.” You can certainly do that through exercise, but it will limit your performance. A good balance would consist of a pre-workout meal to fuel your upcoming exercise. Then choose a diet for the rest of your day that will help you lose fat.

Unlike the healthy foods you should eat the rest of the day, pre-workout foods are not going to be as balanced and varied. You should limit the amount of fat, protein, and fiber that you eat pre-workout. This means you won’t be eating a lot of vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, meat, or dairy. High-glycemic carbs found in fruit, grains, and even some sweets will give your body access to easy energy, and help it focus on exercise, rather than digestion. (See below for some food ideas.)

Micronutrients and Water Are Important, Too

Your performance isn’t just about energy. Each of the essential micronutrients play a role in your health and in your workouts.

B vitamins are used for supporting energy metabolism. Calcium and magnesium help you keep strong bones. And vitamin C supports healthy tendons and muscles.

A deficiency in any essential vitamin or mineral may hold you back. So, a multi-vitamin/mineral product to complement your healthy diet is the easiest way to cover all the bases. This can be taken in the morning or evening, and doesn’t have to be taken right before a workout.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are also essential nutrients. They are needed in higher amounts than other micronutrients, and require some special considerations during exercise. Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that help your muscles contract. A shortage of either may lead cramping and hindered performance.

Try to get a little bit of sodium and potassium in your pre-workout meal. Extra can then be added during exercise.

Your need to supplement extra electrolytes depends on how much you sweat during your exercise. Salt (sodium chloride) is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat. Sweat typically has 0.5-2.3 g of salt per liter. That means really intense exercise could result in losing several grams of salt per hour.

Judge your workout intensity and your personal sweatiness to determine how much salt you need to eat before and during your workout. One of the easiest ways to add salt and other electrolytes is through a sports drink.

Hydration

Water is necessary for digestion of the food you eat during your pre-workout meal. Sufficient water is also needed for a healthy blood supply, which moves oxygen, sugar, and other nutrients through your body. It is essential for muscle contraction.

Dehydration limits the amount your body can sweat. And sweat is important to keep you cool and performing your best. Failure to stay hydrated can also lead to impaired concentration. This is key for technical sports like basketball, tennis, skiing, and more.

Proper hydration begins several hours before your workout. Make sure to drink plenty of water leading up to and during your workout. You can sweat 1-3 liters (about 1-3 quarts) per hour. Drink regularly during exercise to replace as much as you can.

One test to find out if you are doing a good job with hydration, is to weigh yourself immediately before and after your workouts. Your goal is to finish at about the same weight that you started. If you finish higher, then you may be starting out dehydrated or drinking too much during your workout. If you finish lower in weight, try to drink a little bit more while you exercise.

Don’t go overboard on water though. Too much can lead to stomach aches. You can replace any remaining water you need after you’re done with your workout.

Will Caffeine Help?

Other nutrients also offer fitness benefits, but can be harder to get from food. Caffeine is one of those. This stimulant reduces fatigue and drowsiness, and can improve your performance.

If you’ve ever looked at the label of energy drinks or pre-workout products, you know that nearly all of them contain caffeine. But caffeine may not be right for you. Depending one of your genes (CYP1A2 gene), it may offer no benefit, or actually be detrimental to your performance.

A genetic test is one way to know if caffeine will help or hurt you. But you might also be able to find this out through personal trial and error. Does caffeine help you concentrate and focus on the task at hand? Or does it just make you jittery and distracted? Listen to your body and mind, and don’t force something that isn’t working.

You will find some caffeine in chocolate, but the only natural sources with a higher dosage are tea and coffee. For the highest doses, look to energy drinks, pre-workout mixes, and supplements.

Pre-Workout Foods To Try

There are lots of great foods that you can use in your pre-workout meal. Here are a few ideas that incorporate the information above into helpful suggestions. You should try to eat pre-workout foods about 45 to 60 minutes before you exercise. Regardless of which foods you pick, you should experiment with a variety of options to find out which ones work best for you.

Oatmeal

Instant oatmeal is a good source of carbohydrates. A single serving has about 150 calories. If you need more calories, look for an already flavored oatmeal, or consider adding fruit. Oatmeal does have some fiber, so don’t overdo it or it can upset your stomach.

Bread

You can eat bread plain, toasted, or as part of a sandwich. Jams and jellies are a great way to add extra calories and simple sugar to your bread. White bread has less fiber and will be easier to digest than whole-wheat bread. Skip the peanut butter or regular butter because the fat will slow down your digestion.

Did you know that endurance athletes will eat jam and salt sandwiches during their races? It’s a convenient way for them to replenish calories and electrolytes lost during exercise.

Fruit

Dehydrated or fresh fruit are great ways to give you energy for a workout and add some micronutrients to your diet. Be careful about your choices, though. Some fruits are high in sugar alcohols, which can lead to bloating, gas, and act as a laxative. Which is the last thing you want while exercising.

Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, and citrus fruits are all lower in sugar alcohols and are safer choices. Watermelon, peaches, pears, blackberries, apples, cherries, and plums are higher in sugar alcohols, and too much could ruin your workout.

Coffee

If caffeine helps you through your workouts, coffee is a great natural source. Add some sugar to your coffee, or eat another pre-workout food on the side to get the calories you will also need.

Candy

Pre-workout is your chance to splurge. If you have a bunch of candy at home that is too good to resist, use it to your advantage. Rather than eating it before bed or another sedentary time, try using the candy to fuel your next fitness challenge.

Sweets that are higher in sugar and lower in fat are your best choices. Gummies and hard candies are options that are easy to eat before and during your workout.

Try even more pre-workout recipes and see what works for you.

What to Eat Post-Workout

You have the knowledge to test and figure out your best pre-workout foods. But fueling your fitness doesn’t stop there. It requires healthy eating throughout the day. Beginning right after you’re done exercising.

Post-workout, you want replenish any water you lost through sweat and haven’t yet refilled. Like water, your energy also needs to be replenished. Older research prescribed an exact ratio of carbs to protein (3:1) within 30 after exercise. Newer research has shown that any balanced meal within a couple hours of exercise will help replenish your energy storage and rebuild your muscle.

Unlike pre-workout, there is no need to stick with high-carbohydrate foods. The rest of your day should include a good amount of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and mix of vegetables and fruits.

friends eating lunch

friends eating lunch

You’re so unique that it was a one in 400 trillion chance that you turned out the way you did. So, to say the odds that any two people are identical is astronomical. What are the chances, then, that you would need the exact same nutritional recommendations?

Not good, which explains why the one-size-fits-all days of nutritional guidelines are fading. More and more researchers at the cutting edge are pushing for more specificity. That’s why you now see life-stage-specific guidelines. And more personalized health recommendations—the ultimate goal being the right dose of the right nutrients for each individual—are the next giant leap.

That’s why a new study published in Nutrients is so exciting. The study’s research pushes the forefront of nutritional science—getting the world closer to more personalized nutrition. Researchers did this by identifying gender- and age-specific differences in the association between certain nutrients and healthy, normal blood lipid levels. And that’s a part of the puzzle for showing the necessity of personalized nutrition in maintaining your health.

The Basics: What the Study Says

Nutritional researchers dug into the data from a large, long-term, survey study about health and nutrition. Their novel analysis broke down the effects of nutrients on blood lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides, which play a big part of heart health) levels by gender and age.

Doing this provided evidence that food (and the nutrients in it) affects men and women of different ages in unique ways when it comes to blood lipid levels. Most research talked about these links for all adults. But this deeper dive helps push forward the understanding of one aspect of health—blood lipids and, ultimately, heart health.

This study’s approach and results make all the difference for the push for more personalized health recommendations. And what were the results about nutrient levels and blood lipids?

The researchers were able to show distinct groups had different interactions between vitamins, minerals, and levels of triglycerides and both types of cholesterol—LDL the “bad” cholesterol and HDL the “good” cholesterol. That means women of childbearing age from the study showed ties to healthy, normal lipid levels from different nutrients than, say, men 35-64.

In fact, the research is the first to show a gender-specific link between healthy, normal cholesterol and at least one essential nutrient.

What it Means to You

Healthy, normal blood lipid levels are key to maintaining heart health. You know how important your heart is. So, protecting its health, at every age, is a focus of dietary and health guidelines.

The more specific recommendations that could eventually grow out of this research could make more personalized nutritional suggestions for heart-health maintenance possible. And it’s better to know more about the nutrients you need to maintain already healthy, normal levels of blood lipids and support your heart health.

This research represents another step forward in the history of nutritional scientific innovation. One that gets us closer to personalized nutrition that can help each person get exact what they need.

The Scientific Method – Dive into the Specifics

The scientists analyzed dietary data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) 2001-2013. Included in the study were 6,127 adult males and 6,157 adult, non-pregnant females. First, they broke out nutrient and blood lipid interaction by gender. Then separated the data further by age.

That specificity helped researches uncover their novel results. It’s why this study provides evidence that men and women of varying ages may process food differently. And that results in varying responses to nutritional intake.

But this is just the start. More studies are needed to improve the understanding of how specific nutrients work differently in different subsets of the population. Knowledge generated from this kind of research could lead to more personalized and effective approaches to improving health outcomes.

See the full study here:

Jin H, Nicodemus-Johnson J. Gender and Age Stratified Analyses of Nutrient and Dietary Pattern Associations with Circulating Lipid Levels Identify Novel Gender and Age-Specific Correlations. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 14;10(11).

Take a deep breath and get ready to turn the page. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the start of a new year or just time for a change. Whatever the last period of your life represented, now is the time to plan ahead and shift your energy in a new, better direction. Forget what’s bogging you down and focus on simplifying so you get down to the important things in life. That starts with decluttering. Rid yourself of unnecessary worries mentally, while also decluttering your physical spaces.

Decluttering can go deeper than just cleaning or organizing, too. It’s a chance to focus on choosing what’s really needed and what’s not. Making these decisions is paramount. That’s because it’s never a bad time to hit the reset button. You just have to be willing to take the required steps to do so. Whether that’s throwing away clothes that have sat in your closet for too many years, or even taking a break from continuously scrolling social media. Everybody needs a little push when searching for ways to declutter physically and mentally.

If you’re overwhelmed with everyday life, or have a hard time taking a break for yourself, you’ve come to the right place. With a little help from the list below, you can find what’s most important and methodically trim everything else. And whittling your life down to the essentials can help you focus and feel less overwhelmed.

Follow this rundown to identify issues, digesting what’s wrong, and find different decluttering methods and set yourself up for future success.

Item 1. Identifying the Clutter in Your Life

Clutter is everywhere. In your house. In your head. On your phone.

It’s nearly impossible to escape from your busy life these days. And the more you take on, the more clutter creeps in. Disorder takes you away from everything else on your to-do list. It preoccupies you with routine tasks rather than focusing on truly experiencing your life and planning for a better future.

To tackle the clutter, first you need to identify what truly has sentimental value, what you cannot live without. So, you have to be honest with yourself. Sometimes brutally so. Look closely at that old gift on your desk. Forget about what it might’ve cost a friend five years ago and ask what it means to you now. Think about the decorations you’ve been keeping in the closet just in case. Will you ever use them?

List what’s really important in your life and make those your categories to label items. Identify what fits in each category. And as for everything else? If it doesn’t fit in a category, serves no proper function, or has no emotional importance, chuck it. If you have too many of the same sort of item, get rid of the extras. Decluttering your life can help you take control.

Item 2: Focus on Decluttering One Spot at a Time

It’s easier to target a certain spot in your house when starting a serious clutter detox. Otherwise, the task can feel too big to tackle. Remember, little bites will still get the task done. So, make a game plan—breaking the task into parts will help you—and follow it as closely as possible.

Start with an easy spot. Getting that first decluttering win will give you momentum. The desk in your home might be the easiest spot to target. That’s where work and life clutter seems to collide most often. But it’s also small, contained, and can count as impacting two aspects of life. First, find defined areas for work and home. One side of your desk could be business-specific: notes, files, projects, etc. The other can be where you store day-to-day items like headphones,  checkbooks, and more. (Don’t forget to weigh what’s important and what’s just clutter.)

Next, open the fridge and toss out anything that looks bad or smells worse. If you haven’t used something but need to, plan a meal around the foods or condiments in your fridge that are nearing their end. You’ll feel better than just dunking it in the trash. Same goes with the freezer. If you get a little angry with yourself every time you open it up, commit to making the best possible meal with what’s packing the freezer.

Now you have momentum and can start tackling the bigger areas of your house. Work your way up to what is likely the most arduous task—tackling your sleeping quarters head-on.

Your bedroom can be a sanctuary for self-care and a place to get good sleep. But it probably could use some decluttering.

Luckily, there’s a four-container method you can use. Make four piles: trash, give away/sell, storage, and put away. By containing the clutter in specific categories, you’re better able to distance yourself from what is an absolute must and what no longer qualifies. Anything you don’t need or want, toss it in the trash or give-away pile. If something is broken and doesn’t need fixing, toss it. For necessary, important items, place them in storage or just put them in their proper place.

And the four-container method isn’t just for the bedroom. It can be applied to any room in your house.

One more tip: If you’re having a hard time parting with some things, think of the decluttering like this: you’re making room for the things that matter.

Item 3. Decluttering Your Digital Spaces

If you can’t find that photo of an old vacation you want to share on social media, consider this: Compartmentalizing and decluttering your life digitally might be just as important as in real life.

Now that everyone is glued to screens nearly every day, your digital life should be as comfortable and clutter-free as your physical one. Start with your phone.

Better organize your apps. Putting them in folders or creating some kind of order helps a lot. That way, the next time you really need your travel app you can scroll right to it.

If you’re on your desktop or laptop, trash files that aren’t useful anymore. And organize those that remain. Accessing your own vital information should be easy—instead of a chore. Just like you can do on your phone, organize everything into folders on your desktop to avoid searching for documents with names you can’t exactly remember.

And if you’re really looking to trim down the digital clutter, consider the amount of devices you have. Do you really need a laptop, smartphone, and a tablet? You can also put respective time blocks on each, making sure that when your allotted time on each is reached, you put it down.

Item 4. Be Screen Savvy for Some Mental Decluttering

There is more clutter in life than too many clothes or cramped desk space. One of the most important of all detoxes could be one from the world you live through your smartphone. All the stimuli from social media and other screen-based time drains.

New operating systems now update you weekly about how much screen time you’re averaging a day. If you need another reminder that your life is dominated by screens, take a look. The reports might help shape your behaviors. Depending on what you see, you might want to declutter your mental state by cutting out some screen time.

Studies show social media detoxes might be worth it because they can help improve your overall mood. It might also help you feel less competitive with strangers that always seem to be living their best life. You can also conquer your FOMO (fear of missing out). This type of detox (even if it’s brief) can slow the digital stimuli to help you live more in the present and realize that life before social media was just as rewarding.

Cutting yourself off from social media altogether might not work for you. There are plenty of good things about social media (like the Ask the Scientists Facebook page!). But placing limits can help you declutter your mind and your life. And the free time and mental energy you obtain can be put to good use in different ways that you might’ve forgotten about since the apps have taken over.

Item No. 5 Decluttering Your Schedule

Finding room for yourself in the midst of your to-do list is another key decluttering task. The good thing is, you have some control to prioritize your schedule the way you want.

But sometimes that means skipping events—especially those you know will be disappointing or underwhelming. Saying no isn’t bad. So, rid yourself of that stigma.

And remember, it’s OK to put yourself first, too. There’s nothing wrong with rolling with an urge to see a movie, take a walk, or sit in a coffee shop reading a book. You don’t always have to be making others happy. Declutter your schedule so you have time to enjoy yourself.

Item No. 6 Exhausted? Remember Why You’re Decluttering

Mental clutter so often generates stress, which has ties to several negative effects on your mind and body. But physical clutter can also be stressful.

Researchers discovered a direct correlation between clutter and stress. They explored the relationship between 32 families and objects in their homes. Turns out, clutter has a serious effect on mood and overall self-esteem. So, more stuff, more dishes, and more clutter equals rising anxiety.

Physical clutter has damaging potential, too. It can be a serious fire and tripping hazard in your home. Physical clutter might also be a resting place for dust, mold, and animal dander. All of these can be harmful to those who suffer from allergies and asthma.

There’s No Better Time Than Now to Declutter

You have so many different ways to declutter. Embrace the diverse options for ridding yourself of things you don’t need or harmful habits. There is nothing like a fresh start. So, instead of putting things off, instead of ignoring it all over again, get to work.

Do your best to simplify and rid yourself of the trinkets you don’t use. Give away the clothes you don’t wear. Cut down your digital stimuli by limiting screen time.

The clutter doesn’t have to stress you out. So, take a breather. Get to work and see just how much you can accomplish when you take a step back and realize how freeing decluttering your life can be.

Everything is fast. Now life needs to be 5G, supercharged, and express. But your meals shouldn’t be a sprint. In fact, slower eating might actually crank up your weight-management efforts.

Try to think about the last time it took you 20 minutes or more to eat a meal. If it wasn’t recently, you may be scarfing your food down too fast. That’s because the 20 minute mark is important.

Science shows that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message you’re full. Eating slower can help you feel full sooner. This eliminates the unintended, extra calories consumed after you’re actually full—but don’t know it.

So, instead of spending a lot of time thinking about the right mix of macronutrients or counting calories, just take more time to eat. This simple approach is just one of your options, obviously. Dieters use hundreds of different methods to try and reduce food intake. But eating slower might be worth trying on its own, or in combination with the diet of your choice.

Wondering if eating slower can really help you manage your weight? You aren’t alone. Researchers around the world have taken quite an interest in the topic of slower eating. Let’s see what they’ve found.

And the Slower Eating Study Says …

A lot of promising results have come out of all the research on eating slower and weight management. Some research has shown eating slower can help reduce food intake, which is great for weight-management.

You don’t have to seek out all the research yourself. A meta-analysis (a study of studies) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014 did it for you. The study analyzed differences in eating rate and its influence on energy intake and hunger.

Researchers analyzed and combined the evidence from 22 studies. They calculated the average differences in food intake between slow and fast eating, and the possible differences in hunger.

The combined evidence showed that eating slower is associated with less calorie consumption than a faster eating rate. This was true regardless of the type of manipulation used to alter the eating rate. But how fast eating was done did not have an impact on hunger.

This review supports the idea that the rate of eating does affect energy intake. Eating slower will help reduce food intake and limit excess consumption, regardless of the method used to slow down eating rate. You’ll see some of those methods a little bit later.

How Does Eating Slower Make You Lose Weight?

Research on pace of eating has found correlations between lower body mass indexes and slower eating. That’s exciting. But why does it happen?

The lower calorie consumption for slower eaters is obviously a key part. Eating fewer calories is probably the most well-established weight-management advice. And you’ve already seen how eating slower ties to decreased caloric intake.

You eat slower, you tend to eat less. That’s mostly because you feel full before you overeat. Go back to the fun fact from earlier in the story. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to figure out if you’re full or how full you really are. So, if you eat a meal’s worth of food in 10 minutes and keep going for another five minutes, then you took in a lot of extra calories.

But research suggests the links between eating slower and weight go deeper than the simple math of calories.

The habit of inhaling food at a fast pace has established ties to metabolic issues. This revolves around how fast eaters’ bodies react to food—including glucose tolerance issues and insulin resistance. These connections aren’t surprising. Maintaining your metabolic health and staying at a healthy weight go hand in hand.

And eating slower could help you keep your metabolism and fat burning churning normally, as well as help you eat fewer overall calories. That’s a good combination for weight management. As a bonus, a study in Japan found that eating slower helps you better digest your food.

The Right Pace to Feed Your Face

There’s been far more studies on the reasons to eat slower than on the pace that’s right for weight management. It’s not easy to figure out how to categorize your eating—too fast, too slow, just right.

One study from the University of Rhode Island introduced numbers into the conversation about pace of eating:

  • Fast eating: about 3.1 ounces of food per minute
  • Medium eating: about 2.5 ounces per minute
  • Slow eating: about 2 ounces per minute

The numbers are helpful. But you don’t have to weigh everything you eat and break it down into two-ounce segments. There are easier ways to figure out the right pace to slow the flow of food into your stomach.

The simplest solution—use chewing as your pacing mechanism.

The more you chew, the slower you’ll eat. Counting the number of chews per bite, and aiming for 15-20, will help you hit the sweet spot for eating slower.

You can also time your chewing. One study found that 30 seconds of chewing helped study participants eat half as much candy as they would have when chewing normally.

No matter how you find the right pace for you, remember the 20-minute magic number. Eat at a leisurely pace to stretch the meal out enough for your brain to catch up to your mouth.

How to Eat Slower

Pacing yourself is good advice. But it’s kind of vague, right? There has to be a few practical pointers to achieve the right pace.

Actually, there is. You’re about to read six tips for eating slower. They can help you use slower eating to manage your weight. But they might even help your digestion and bring more enjoyment to your meals.

  1. Chew with purpose. You read about chewing in the pacing section above. But it’s worth repeating: chewing each bite more, and doing it slowly, helps properly adjust your pace. Try chewing each bite at least 20 times. You’ll slow yourself down and prepare your food better for digestion. If you’d rather time your chewing than count each chomp, go for 15 seconds or more.
  2. Take smaller bites. Chewing slow is great. But if you eat your meal in seven or eight huge chunks, your pace will still be too fast. Reducing the size of your bites, combined with purposeful chewing, helps you eat slower.
  3. Engage your senses. Taste is the sense most associated with food. But taking time to really enjoy how your food looks, and paying attention to texture (feeling) can also help slow eating. The most important might be smelling, though. Taste and smell are companions. Getting a good whiff, and enjoying the aromas will enhance your eating experience and throttle back your speedy eating.
  4. Break between bites. Intentionally pausing after each bite slows the speed of your meals. Do this by putting down your fork or spoon between bites—or setting down the food if it’s handheld.
  5. Listen to your body. Hunger is physical. You can feel it. There are signs when you need food, and different ones when you’ve had enough. Take time to check in with what your body is saying. And don’t disregard the signs because there’s more on your plate.
  6. Change your food mindset. Food is many things. At its most basic, it’s fuel. But food is also emotion and family and pleasure and intellectual stimulation and much more. So, don’t just treat food like the gas you dump in your car quickly so you can race down the road. Focus on each bite. Savor it. Discuss it. And really embrace and enjoy the full experience of eating.

Two-days’ worth of dirty dishes sitting in the sink. That stack of mail that’s been “on its way” to the post office for a month. And a nail-biting habit you thought you’d kicked is rearing its ugly head. Sound familiar?

You’re not the only one with a to-do list and no idea about where to find the motivation to start. But deep within you is the power to set goals and accomplish them. And you can unlock it with the science of self-motivation.

This intro course will provide you with the tools you need to get motivated to complete tasks and learn new things. Tapping into self-motivation is a talent in constant need of refining. So, get in the zone and learn how to get motivated—and stay that way.

What is Motivation?

Simply put, motivation is desire that focuses your behavior on a goal. It has roots in needs and wants, so it compels you to provide for your family and drives you towards personal improvement. And there are two main forces of motivation—external and intrinsic.

External motivation arises from factors outside of yourself. Money is a prime example of an external motivator because it’s necessary to buy food and have a place to live. External motivators can be thought of as rewards, too. A trophy, medal, or ribbon for competing in an athletic event. A performance bonus at work. Praise from your family members after you prepare a delicious meal. Each of these rewards are considered external motivators.

No surprise, intrinsic motivation comes from within. Curiosity, an interest in a particular topic, and desire to improve a talent or skill are intrinsic motivations. These types of self-motivation help you learn and become more capable.

Examples of intrinsic motivators vary from person to person. They are fostered by individuals and manifest themselves in many ways. Mastery of a piece of music. Reading for pleasure. Playing a game because you think it’s fun. Intrinsic motivation provides you with the power to do things you enjoy, simply because you enjoy them. And accomplish tasks you don’t enjoy because it will ultimately be good for you.

Biological Factors for Motivation

Whether it’s external or intrinsic, motivation originates in the amygdala—a grape-sized portion of the brain located in each hemisphere. So, like most things, the science of self-motivation starts in your brain. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, which controls your emotions and directs memory storage.

Your amygdala works with a hormone called dopamine. This neurotransmitter (a brain chemical messenger) is usually associated with pleasure. But dopamine has recently been linked to motivation, too. It’s still not clear exactly what the connection is, but researchers are continually investigating its role in the brain.

Here’s what is known: Brain-mapping techniques show that highly motivated people have lots of dopamine available in the right parts of their brains. When compared to less motivated people, go-getters don’t necessarily produce more dopamine. Rather, the hormone is concentrated in different areas of the brain; specifically, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VPC) in the brains.

The striatum is located at the center of the brain. It performs essential functions related to decision making, planning, and motivation. The striatum works in conjunction with the VPC. Located toward the front of the brain, the VPC also plays important roles in decision making and self-control. Both are critical to successful goal-getting.

Dopamine can also concentrate in the anterior insula, a section of the brain associated with emotion and risk. For individuals who struggle with self-motivation, it may be the case that a concentration in the anterior insula exists.

There is also growing evidence that you may be able to train your brain to become more motivated. That means directing dopamine towards the key areas of the brain mentioned above. This branch of science is still young, so you won’t find any tips right now. But as the understanding of dopamine and motivation grows, more valid methods for directing dopamine could also pop up.

Opposing Forces in Self-Motivation: Willpower and Procrastination

Two kinds of behavior meet motivation head on—willpower and procrastination. The former provides you with mental strength and fortitude. The latter distracts from the important tasks at hand. Both are extremely effective and can lead to dramatically different results.

Willpower is the ability to resist short-term gratification while chasing long-term goals. Think of ignoring the urge to indulge in high-calorie foods when you’re trying to lose weight. Whatever the end-goal, willpower is a tool to help you get there.

Armed with willpower, you may enjoy several positive life outcomes in addition to meeting goals. People with lots of willpower are shown to have:

  • Better grades in school
  • Increased financial security
  • Higher self-esteem
  • A greater overall sense of well-being

Motivation and willpower are teammates in the game of personal improvement. Willpower fuels the self-motivation you need to set goals and achieve them. By setting aside behaviors or habits that can derail your progress, willpower can make you a champion of personal betterment.

Procrastination is willpower’s nemesis. It’s the act of avoiding or delaying work that must get done. While willpower strengthens your drive to tackle your to-do list, procrastination is the ultimate challenger to that endeavor.

You may have a hard time recognizing procrastination. It has several forms. At the most basic level, procrastination is putting off a task to be completed until the last possible moment. You fail to start a work assignment until a day or two before it’s due. Or you ignore the low fuel indicator and wait until your tank is on empty to fill up on gas.

It’s possible that your brain uses procrastination to temporarily relieve emotional stress. There is some evidence to suggest that procrastinating important projects provides short-term mood improvement. But when the stress-reducing effects wear off, you’re left with a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

Procrastination in any form eats away at your motivation to meet your goals. So, do yourself a favor and shut it down early, before it snowballs out of control. Instead, ramp up your willpower next time you feel motivated to get something done.

How to Get Motivated with Temptation Bundling and Habit Stacking

There are lots of tips and tricks to improve your self-motivation and dedication to your goals. Two great ones are temptation bundling and habit stacking. Each method helps reinforce your motivation for a particular goal, habit, or behavior. Try each out and see what works best for you.

Temptation Bundling

It’s hard not to procrastinate when your favorite activities distract you from crucial work. Whether it’s exercise or household chores, these needs take a backseat to fun temptations. But what if you can actually mix work and pleasure?

Suppose you want to get caught up on your favorite TV show. Binge-watching TV is one of the least productive ways to spend your time. It’s relaxing, but spending hours in front of a screen dwindles your time to complete other tasks (and is terrible for your weight).

But if you pair your nightly TV time with something productive—like exercise or folding the laundry—you’ll fulfill your desire to watch the show and get things done at the same time. This partnering of activities you want to do with those you need to do is called temptation bundling.

It works like this: temptations (television) are only indulged at the same time as behaviors or tasks that need to be done (exercising or folding laundry). Associating necessary activities with a more pleasurable one helps essentials like household chores and physical fitness become more enticing.

This package deal is called a temptation bundle. And it can help you stop procrastination in its tracks.

Habit Stacking

This idea (also called habit chaining) relies on using old habits to support new ones. Daily actions that don’t require much effort (like established habits) can trigger the motivation to form new habits.

This concept relies on a phenomenon in the brain called synaptic pruning. Here’s how it works. Messages in your brain are carried across neurons via synapses. There are synaptic pathways all throughout your brain, but they are not all put to use. Some pathways are “pruned” or cut back, while others are used over and over.

Habits and routines are believed to mark the pathways you use frequently. That’s why it’s difficult to break old habits and create new synaptic pathways all at once. But this principle also allows new habits to “piggyback” on older, well-established ones.

Making small adjustments and adding new activities to your existing habit chain helps you take advantage of the previously developed synaptic pathways. Small incremental shifts in your daily routine allow for more manageable additions to stack on your brain’s well-established paths.

Soon, the struggle to begin a new routine is a thing of the past. Your brain is using its trusted synaptic pathways to support your growth and development.

Now imagine what habit stacking might look like in your daily life. Take drinking more water, for example.

Let’s say you have the habit of taking a 10-minute break each hour from your desk at work. You stand up, stretch, and use the restroom. If you want to work on staying hydrated, consider drinking a glass of water each time you head back to your desk. Adding a drink of water to your routine completes a new link to your chain of habits.

Pretty soon, drinking water regularly becomes second nature, just like your hourly leg stretch and walk around the office. Stacking new goals on top of existing habits supports their development and makes them easier to remember.

Here are some other examples of habit chaining:

  • Making a lunch for tomorrow as you put away leftovers from dinner tonight.
  • Adding flossing to your bedtime ritual after you brush your teeth and before you wash your face.
  • Hanging up your coat as soon as you walk in the house, then taking your shoes off and placing them in the closet, too.

Habit chains can be as long or as short as you need. After several weeks of practice, you may find your original chain has shaped a new routine of productivity. Put this motivational method to the test to achieve your goals.

Reinforce Your Motivation and GET. THINGS. DONE.

If there are goals you’re trying to meet or new habits you want to practice, know you have the tools to make it happen. You just need to put the science of self-motivation to work for you. Pull energy from whatever force motivates you (internal or external) and focus it on your goal. Draw on your willpower and put procrastination back in its place.

And if you need a little extra boost to see your motivation through to the end, implement temptation bundling or habit stacking. Make use of your powerful brain and the resources within you. They will support you and your dedication to achieving your goals.

It’s time to get motivated to do something great.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

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