Monday, May 26, 2008

Surgery for obesity? When is it appropriate?

It's a stunning statistic: According to recent federal guidelines, more than half of American adults are overweight or obese.

Surgery to reroute the digestive system or limit the amount of food that can be eaten at one sitting is not for everyone who's overweight. But it can be effective for those who are severely obese.

Not only can it promote significant weight loss, but it often results in a reversal of weight-related chronic health conditions.

Defining the problem

Weight-reduction surgery is not cosmetic surgery. Rather, it's intended for severely obese people who have weight-related chronic health conditions.

Essentially, individuals who are 100 percent or more over their ideal weight or at least 100 pounds overweight are considered severely obese. Weight-related health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and sleep apnea, are important indicators as well.

Such chronic health conditions associated with severe obesity increase chances for early death. As a result, these conditions may signal a need to consider a surgical route to weight reduction.

Surgery can be an important aspect in treatment. But success also depends on a person's determination to change his or her eating behavior and a commitment to lifelong follow-up. Surgery doesn't replace the importance of diet and exercise in weight management.

Vertical banded gastroplasty and the Roux-en-Y are two common types of weight-reduction surgery.

Types of surgery

The most common types of weight-reduction surgery promote weight loss by either:

Restricting food intake ? Restrictive procedures create a small pouch at the top of the stomach and narrow opening to the stomach so you can't eat as much or as quickly. The outlet is only about the diameter of a dime.
Unless very small amounts of food are eaten and chewed well, vomiting is a common side effect.

The most frequently used gastroplasty technique is called vertical banded gastroplasty (see illustration). The small pouch only holds about 1 ounce, eventually expanding to 2 to 3 ounces over time (compared to the usual stomach capacity of about 3 pints).

Bypassing the normal digestive process ? Gastric bypass procedures create an extremely small pouch for food entering the stomach and connect that pouch directly to the small intestine. The connection bypasses most of the stomach and the first portion of the intestinal tract.
These procedures not only restrict food intake but limit the absorption of nutrients. For that reason, some vitamin and mineral supplements may be required.

This type of surgery ? as compared to gastroplasty ? usually results in greater weight loss and more success in maintaining a satisfactory weight loss. However, gastric bypass may cause "dumping syndrome" ? nausea, cramping and diarrhea ? especially if high-calorie sweets are eaten.

The most common gastric bypass procedure is the Roux-en-Y (roo-en-why).

There are several other surgical procedures for weight reduction, but they're either used infrequently or are still being studied.

Measuring success

Weight-loss surgery isn't for everyone. But when appropriate, it can result in dramatic improvements in weight and health.

In the first 12 to 24 months, most people lose 50 to 60 percent of their excess weight. Generally, those who follow dietary and exercise recommendations keep most of that weight off long-term.

The effect on chronic health conditions related to severe obesity can also be significant. For example, people who are severely obese and have type II diabetes (adult-onset) nearly always see a major improvement after surgery.

In addition, high blood pressure disappears in about two-thirds of people who have weight-reduction surgery, and many with sleep apnea enjoy marked improvement.

Menopausal Weight Gain

Menopausal weight gain

Somewhere around age 40, you look in the mirror and ? yikes! When did you grow that paunchy middle? Maybe your weight is up a little, maybe it's up a lot. But usually extra pounds attach themselves to your hips and thighs, not your waist. What's going on?

Welcome to midlife expansion. Experts disagree on how much blame to place on aging and how much on approaching menopause, but one thing's clear: Between ages 35 and 55, your body changes. Either you gain weight or maintaining your weight becomes more difficult. And, yes, sadly, your middle expands.

How much this upsets you probably depends on how much you prize fitting into the jeans you wore in college. For peace of mind, it's time for a shift. (That's a mental shift, not a muumuu.) Forget the jeans, and learn to be the best and healthiest middle-age woman you can be.

Like a natural woman

For most women, the dreaded increases and shifts in weight begin during perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause. That's when you begin to produce less estrogen, which seems to trigger the changes in your weight and shape.

Try not to curse your fat cells, however. They produce some estrogen, which may help you get through menopause by reducing the incidence and severity of hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances and other signs that the end of your reproductive years is approaching. Think back to puberty and childbirth, the two other major hormonal shifts in your life. They both involved changes in body composition and weight. Why should menopause be different?

Unfortunately, expansion of your fat cells isn't the only change you're facing. Chances are, your metabolism is slowing down, and your lean mass is decreasing. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn.

No one's immune. A study published in 1991 in the Archives of Internal Medicine determined that women who were thin before menopause were likely to gain as many pounds as those who were heavier. The 541 women, ages 42 to 50, were premenopausal when the study began. Three years later, they'd all gained the same amount of weight, whether or not they'd gone through menopause.

What's a woman to do?

Besides making you feel old and unattractive, the extra pounds around your middle are associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension and breast cancer. So as soon as you see a few pounds creep up, you should drastically cut back on calories, right? Wrong.

First of all, gaining a few pounds doesn't automatically endanger your health. Are you really overweight or just not as thin as you used to be?

Second, if you thought you had a hard time dieting when you were younger, just try it now. As you know, fat cells are stubborn. Deprive yourself of too many calories, and you'll go into starvation mode. This lowers your metabolism even more and jump-starts your desire for fat and sugar. A sure prescription for weight gain.

What can you do? You guessed it: exercise. Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and helps you burn fat. If it's weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging and dancing, it will also strengthen your bones and counteract bone loss, which helps prevent osteoporosis.

You may also want to try strength training exercises to increase muscle mass, raise metabolism and strengthen bones. For additional instruction on strength training, see Strong Women Stay Young by Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., with Sarah Wernick, Ph.D. Exercise is the answer.

To add to the evidence for an active lifestyle, a study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine followed women throughout their midlife transition. The study found that the sedentary menopausal women carried 38 percent body fat, as opposed to 25 percent for fit menopausal women.

Eating for you

Although cutting way back on calories isn't a good idea, you do have to watch what you eat. Remember that strenuous dieting only serves to deplete bone and muscle and lower metabolism.

So forget dieting and eat sensibly. Eat a variety of foods in smaller portions. Because your metabolism slows as you age, you need about 200 to 400 fewer calories a day. This shouldn't be a problem if you eat only when hungry and only enough to satisfy your hunger.

As you age, your body becomes less able to handle the load when you stuff yourself and it's more likely to store the excess as fat. So eat small meals. Eat whenever you're hungry. Skipping meals may cause you to overeat at the next one. Consume most of your calories during the day, when your metabolism is higher. And try to keep fat intake in check to reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer. Pay attention to calories too. Some lower-fat foods are higher in calories.

If there was ever a time to accept yourself, menopause is it. Concentrate on being fit and healthy rather than squeezing into your old jeans. Exercise, eat right and go out and buy yourself a new pair of jeans. You deserve it.

HRT = Weight Gain?

Will hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help you control your weight during menopause? Maybe yes, maybe no. Studies are inconclusive. One study found that women on HRT gained more weight than those not on HRT, although the difference was not statistically significant. Another study found that HRT did appear to prevent the increase in abdominal fat. Yet another study showed that women on HRT gained less weight than other women. This was interpreted to mean that HRT doesn't cause weight gain, but also doesn't prevent it. There are many good reasons to consider HRT during menopause, such as protection against osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. If preventing pounds is your goal, the sure bet is healthy eating and adequate exercise.

Rejoice! Chocolate is Good For You!

OK,OK ... of course we know it's a high-fat product, but did you know that chocolate contains even more healthy treasured antioxidants than red wine or blueberries? What more reason do you need to head out straight away to the candy store?!

So how does it help?

The prescence of antioxidants protects the body against the initial phase of cardiovascular disease - injury to the inside layer of the cells of the blood vessels. Unfortunately, our bodies abound with reactive forms of oxygen that combine with fats and cholesterol to produce harmful oxides. We have an antioxidant natural defense system but illness, ageing and other factors like smoking, air pollution and exposure to ultraviolet radiation can weaken our natural defenses.

This is why dietary antioxidants like those found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate can be valuable aids in preventing cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that all the antioxidants in wine which the French consume may explain "the French paradox," the fact that in spite of a diet high in saturated fat, the French have a lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.

Dr Joe Vinson, a leading researcher in antioxidants at the American Chemical Society at Belmont Estates Conference Center in Baltimore, Maryland, explained that a 1.4-ounce milk chocolate bar contains more than 300 milligrams of polyphenols; dark chocolate has more than double that and cocoa powder has four times that.

To compare this to things that we think of as great sources of polyphenolic antioxidants, a dark chocolate bar contains about the same amount of polyphenols as a cup of black tea and more than in a glass of red wine. Not only is chocolate full of antioxidants, it contains especially beneficial antioxidants. Not all antioxidants are created equal and not all the polyphenols or flavonoids in cocoa and certain chocolates are equal.

Chocolate contains a range of polyphenolic (very good for you!) antioxidants known as flavonoids.

Come Back From Vacation Slimmer

You've spent weeks killing yourself in the gym and endured a painfully strict diet just so you can squeeze into this year's bikini.

By the time you arrive at your dream destination all you want to do is hit the sun lounger, eat and drink. However the danger, now you are firmly in relaxation mode, is that all of the weight you've worked so hard to shed will return.

Research shows that on average most of us will put on at least two pounds every holiday we take. This may not seem like a substantial amount. But nutritionists claim that many of us never lose this weight and we simply go on getting larger every year.

But just a few small changes to what you eat, drink and do while you are away can prevent you gaining this weight.

Here are a few tips to avoid the hidden calories while on vacation. We've also included an number of simple exercises that can be easily incorporated into your summer break with minimum hassle.

Eating just 500 calories more than you usually do a day will leave you two pounds heavier after two weeks. So if you choose a few of the tips below each day to cancel out these 500 calories you should return home with a body as buff as when you left.



If you are soaking up the sun, you will need to drink more fluids than at home. But don't be tempted to opt for carbonated sugary drinks.

Just one can of fizzy drink such as lemonade and coke contains more than 150 calories. Try to drink water where possible - you'll need up to four liters a day. Drinking a lot of water also helps to flush toxins out of your system.


Most of us dramatically increase our alcohol intake during when on vacation - but we often forget about the hidden calories.

There is no reason why you shouldn't have a few drinks on vacation but be aware some choices are worse for your figure than others.

The worst offender calorie-wise are cocktails. "Many cocktails contain cream so are highly calorific," says Colette Kelly, a nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation.

Top Tip: Spirits with low calorie mixers and wine are lower in calories than many cocktails and beers, so are the best choice.



These addictive pre-dinner snacks go hand in hand with eating overseas, particularly in Europe. Crisps and nuts are very calorific. Just one handful of crisps contains eight grams of fat - and 110 calories. A handful of peanuts contains 13 grams of fat - 150 calories.

Top Tip: One easy way to cut hundreds of calories from your holiday diet is to replace crisps and nuts with olives.

Olives in brine contain just three calories each. So eating ten olives instead of a handful of peanuts immediately cuts 120 calories from your diet.


Faced with a vast array of different breakfast foods on holiday it's easy to eat hundreds of unnecessary calories each morning.

Top Tips: Breakfast hams and cheeses available in some countries may be tempting, but try to limit yourself to small portions. Cheese - particularly hard cheese - can be highly calorific.

Breakfast pastries such as croissants are also extremely fattening and not very filling - they are best avoided.

Other meals

It's tempting to try the local specialties on a foreign menu, but choosing carefully can make a huge difference to the amount of extra weight you bring home.

Top Tips: Don't hesitate to ask for sauces on the side with your dishes. Sauces made from cream can add several hundred calories to a dish and you often only need a small amount of sauce to enjoy the dish.

Ask for grilled fish or chicken rather than fried. Frying will add at least 100 calories.

Choose a salad instead of fies with your meal. This will save you at least 200 calories.

Desserts can be tempting while you are away. But rather than indulge every night, why not try some of the local fruit? You will save yourself at least 100 calories compared with most other desserts - and probably many more.

If you can't resist an ice-cream try having a sorbet instead. You will save almost 100 calories. If you fancy an ice cream during the day, go for a lollipop made with fruit juice. You'll save 100 calories.


If the only exercise you are considering doing while on vacation is the occasional dive into the pool or sea then you are not alone - the vast majority of us do absolutely nothing while on vacation.

In fact holidays are the ideal opportunity for exercising. You have more free time, often easy access to the sea or pool and most resorts will offer a range of activities to choose from.

Any exercise that you do will leave you feeling energized and invigorated.

Better still, if you do keep active while you're away you'll find it easier to return to your regular fitness regime when you arrive back home.

How to burn calories

Here is a guide to some of the exercises you can easily fit into your daily routine on holiday - and the number of calories you will burn in half an hour.

Swimming - 250 calories
Cycling - 150 calories
Diving - 100 calories
Horseriding - 120 calories
Sailing - 100 calories
Table tennis - 120 calories
Tennis - 250 calories
Walking - 100 calories

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Embracing What We Love About Our Bodies

I'm sure we all have at least one thing we'd like to change about ourselves. Be it our thighs, buns or belly, at least one of these probably isn't firmed to its peak. The question is, how far are we willing to go to get our menacing body parts into shape? What are we willing to go through or sacrifice to reach our goal of what we consider to be a perfect body?

Many people approach weight loss with the opinion that the only way to lose is to starve themselves. By not eating, they hope all the imperfections of their body will disappear. Not only does this weight-loss strategy fail, it is not healthy either. Not eating robs the body of vital nutrients, resulting in illness rather than physical fitness.

Eating right and exercising are the real answers to insuring that all of our body parts are in perfect shape. Exercise is not only good for us, but it can be fun, too. There are many different choices when it comes to exercise. From jogging to yoga, aerobics to Pilates, there is something out there for everyone.

The same goes for eating well. This does not have to be a chore, and can be a great reward. Experimenting in the kitchen making cookies sweetened with apple juice concentrate instead of sugar, or making lasagna with whole wheat noodles and vegetables can help you realize that eating healthy doesn't have to be boring or difficult. The choices for exercise and nutrition are limitless, as long as you are willing to open yourself up to new things.

We all need to focus on the parts of our bodies that we love, yet make a commitment to change the parts we don't like in a healthy way. Starvation is never an answer to achieving change, and could do more damage than good. Instead of passing on meals, pick up some healthful groceries and put on your running shoes. I'm headed to the gym myself, but I think I'll go buy a new lipstick first.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hydration: How I learned to love drinking 8 glasses a day

First, a confession: I've never much liked water. For as long as I can remember, whenever there's nothing else to drink, I've chosen nothing. Water is dull — it's plain, it's tasteless (except when it has a bad taste), and you can't chew it.

Even if I don't drink those sacred eight glasses a day, nothing bad seems to happen. So why, I've always thought, should I bother?

Then I tried it. Not because I was thirsty, but because I was curious. So for a month, I drank. I learned a lot about water — beginning with the fact that most of what I thought I knew was wrong.

Day 1

Operation Hydration begins with two big early-morning glasses of water. Getting eight of these babies down the hatch seems impossible, but one by one I knock them off.

My ability to glug down so much water comes as a surprise to me. "Just because you aren't thirsty doesn't mean your body doesn't need water," says E. Wayne Askew, Ph.D., director of the division of foods and nutrition at the University of Utah. "Our thirst mechanism just is not one of our better regulatory mechanisms — it tends to lag behind." He explains that by the time you're thirsty — that is, when your brain kicks in and says, "Hey, drink something" — your body fluids have already dipped.

System-wide distribution doesn't occur as soon as you drink a glass of water. In fact, water has no effect on your body until it has made its way down the esophagus, through the stomach, into the gastrointestinal tract and across the intestinal wall. That's when water begins moving, via the blood, throughout the body.

Along the way, blood fluid, or plasma (the liquid part of blood), is changing the proportion of essential salts dissolved in blood. It's the balance between your body fluids and these salt particles that tells the brain just how dry you are. In turn, the brain sends the body other signals, such as increased or decreased saliva flow, that tell us in ways we can interpret directly whether or not we're thirsty.

Day 5

I've got this down to a routine now. Two glasses in the morning, two more by noon, two before dinner, one with dinner, one before bed.

Operation Hydration wasn't such a drastic change in my water intake as I had thought. Although I flouted the eight-glasses-a-day rule, I was actually taking in lots of water from the fruits and vegetables I ate. Still, my kidneys were constantly busy with maneuvers to compensate for underhydration. For example, they put out what I now recognize as highly concentrated urine — dark yellow from the high percentage of urea or waste products. For another, they are part of a complex process that ultimately compensates for drops in blood volume and blood pressure. No wonder the kidneys are considered vital, and their development a critical event in the evolution of the species.

Day 11

Still drinking. I no longer feel bloated. For better or worse, I am eating nearly as much as I was eating two weeks ago.

As land animals, our biggest problem is not how to get rid of water but how to conserve it; we are always in a state of water loss. When we aren't sweating, we are losing water through skin evaporation. Likewise, every breath we take removes another drop or two of the moisture that coats the surface area of our lungs. More than any other element, water is what keeps us going. It is the body's transport system, the medium for the delivery of what we need — that is, oxygen and nutrients — and the elimination of what we don't need. It is one of the ways we regulate our internal temperature and avoid the meltdown that high outside temperatures, fevers or prolonged exertion might cause. And by acting as a cushion to our joints and filling both cells and intercellular space, it is what gives form to our bodies.

Continuous exposure to high concentrations of salts and minerals can contribute to urinary tract infections and the formation of kidney stones. Drinking a lot of water is one means of postponing and relieving kidney problems — a matter of growing importance, given recent increases in rates of kidney disease. "As people get older, their ability to sense low fluid balance decreases and they can become seriously dehydrated," says Dion Zappe, Ph.D., a physiologist at the drug company Astra Merck. Memory loss, dizziness, fatigue, poor cognitive function and headaches — so many of the symptoms we associate with the elderly — may stem from underhydration, not age, he says, and can often be alleviated by increased water intake.

Day 15

When I cut back my water intake for two days, I miss it. I like the spurt of energy I get from a mid-afternoon glass.

If you're losing a lot of water and are seriously dehydrated, most likely you'll be well aware of feeling thirsty. But in normal circumstances, says William Dantzler, M.D., Ph.D., head of the department of physiology at the University of Arizona, your thirst mechanism may not come into play. Often, says Todd Cameron, N.D., of the Portland Naturopathic Clinic, when people feel a little tired, on edge, slightly headachy or hungry they're actually experiencing mild dehydration. "They take a nap or maybe even snap at somebody," he says, "but what would probably make them feel a lot better is drinking a glass of water."

Even when your thirst mechanism is registering, it usually won't tell you to drink all you need. "Left to their own accord, people only replace about 50 to 75 percent of the water they've lost," says Scott Montain, Ph.D., a research physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts. To replace all that you've lost, he and other experts stress, it's necessary to keep drinking at least a few glasses past the feeling of thirst.

Day 22

I've been back on eight glasses a day for a week now. My urine is clear again, and I don't have that familiar uncomfortable feeling in my mouth that I've come to recognize as thirst.

Drinking lots of water can help you take better advantage of what you have in the way of health, appearance and mental functioning. The most direct impact of consuming adequate water is that it will help you feel somewhere between a little and a lot better. Chinese medicine and homeopathy place great emphasis on water's soothing effects on the body, whatever a patient's state of health.

Day 28

As Operation Hydration wears on, I notice a number of ways that my state of not-quite-enough water might have influenced how I felt. For instance, I have always found it easier to run in the winter than in summer. Of course this is partly because lower outside air temperatures keep my skin cooler, but I now wonder whether it is also because I was not exacerbating an already underhydrated state. Another example: Whenever I drank alcohol in the evening, the next morning I was likely to feel fatigued, dizzy and as if my head were exploding. These are classic symptoms of a hangover, but they are also classic symptoms of dehydration. Which is hardly surprising, considering what a powerful diuretic alcohol is. That's why many experts recommend a glass of water for every glass of wine.

I still find water on the dull side, but that doesn't really matter very much. After all, I don't take calcium for its taste; I take it for its efficacy. And when I think about water that way — drinking it not for its taste or aroma or texture but for what it does — I like it a lot.

Becoming a Vegetarian in 4 weeks: Week 4

There has never been a better time to take the plunge. Meatless products are more plentiful than ever. They come in a dazzling array of ready-to-eat and frozen forms. Cut flavored or prebaked tofu into cubes and add them to salad greens for a quick, nutritious lunch at the office or toss it into a stir-fry or stew at home for dinner. Veggie burgers come in frozen patties, boxed mixes, dry bulk form and in ready-to-cook "ground beef" logs in natural foods markets. Even conventional supermarkets carry a wide selection of vegetarian convenience foods these days.

GOAL: Switch completely to plant-based protein sources in your main dishes. By now, the words seitan and tempeh should be old hat. You should also have reduced or eliminated dairy products and eggs.

TIP: Pick up a vegetarian cookbook to help you become familiar with the variety of vegetarian foods. You don't have to cook anything right away. Just get comfortable with the different foods and cooking techniques. The cookbooks below can make eating like a vegetarian delicious and easy.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
SundayOmelette with oven-fried potatoes and vegetarian “sausage” pattiesLentil and greens soup with crusty bread and fresh fruit saladCurried chickpeas with rice and pea pilaf, yogurt sauce and chutney
MondayLowfat granola with calcium-fortified soy milk or lowfat milk, served with lowfat plain yogurt and fresh fruitNiçoise salad with boiled red potato, green beans, olives, baby beets and hard-boiled egg on mixed baby greens with vinaigretteSpicy Szechuan eggplant and tofu served over rice with steamed asparagus
TuesdayProtein smoothie made with soy protein powder, calcium- fortified soy milk and frozen berries with whole-grain toastVeggie burger with the works, baked potato chips and a pickle spearTortellini with sautéed vegetables in garlic sauce and dinner salad with lowfat dressing
WednesdayHot multi-grain cereal with calcium- fortified soy milk, fresh fruit and whole-grain toastGrilled vegetable and goat cheese sandwich on panini breadTamale pie skillet supper made with vegetarian "ground beef," baked corn chips, tomato and soy cheese
ThursdayLowfat bran muffin with lowfat plain yogurt and fresh fruitMixed greens salad with vegetables and lowfat dressing and whole-grain rollVietnamese sweet potato, greens, tofu and coconut milk stew
FridayProtein smoothie made with soy protein powder, calcium- fortified orange juice, frozen banana and tofu with whole-grain toastGreek salad with tomato, cucumber, olives, onion and feta cheese with vinaigrette and whole-grain pitaPotato, hard-boiled egg and green pea curry served over rice with fruit and veggie condiments and chutney
SaturdayBuckwheat pancakes with lowfat plain yogurt and applesauce miso dipping sauceMiso soup with cubed tofu and scallions, vegetable crudités, greens and orange slicesBrazilian black bean stew with seitan “chicken,” rice, cooked from mix

Becoming a Vegetarian in 4 weeks: Week 3

A common mistake new vegetarians make is simply replacing meat with eggs and dairy products such as milk and cheese as their protein source. From a health perspective, they might as well keep eating meat, because these foods are fiberless animal products containing saturated fat and cholesterol. While these foods are part of a healthful diet (when consumed in moderation or in low-fat forms) and an important source of calcium, anyone serious about vegetarianism should understand how to incorporate nonanimal forms of protein into a diet.

Replace some dairy products and eggs with soy milk, rice milk or soy cheese. Choose the fortified varieties when possible to make sure you're getting enough nutrients.

Many ethnic cuisines, such as Chinese or Japanese, are less meat-centric than American cuisine and offer a wide variety of food options that don't include meat or dairy products. Exotic grains, such as bulgur, quinoa and couscous, can take you out of the potato or bread rut. Research new ingredients, such as tempeh or tofu, or experiment with new spices, such as curry.

 BreakfastLunch Dinner
SundayTofu "scrambled with mushrooms, peppers and onions, vegetarian "sausage" patties and whole-grain toastMixed greens salad and whole-grain pita with hummus and fresh fruitCannellini beans, greens and orecchiette (little ears) pasta with garlic and red pepper flakes
MondayLowfat scone and lowfat plain yogurt served with fresh fruitMixed greens salad with lowfat dressing and grilled cheese sandwichVegetarian "sausage," potato, corn and onion chowder with silken fortified soy milk or lowfat milk base
TuesdayLowfat granola with calcium-fortified soy milk or lowfat milk, served with fresh fruit and whole-grain toastMiso soup with cubed tofu and sliced scallions and assorted vegetable sticksPizza with steamed broccoli, crumbled tempeh, soy cheese and tomato sauce
WednesdayProtein smoothie made with soy protein powder, calcium-fortified orange juice, frozen banana and tofu with lowfat bran muffinSpinach salad with hard-boiled egg, red onion, sliced mushrooms and warm vinaigrette with whole-grain rollBaked potato topped with Textured Vegetable Protein veggie chili, cheese and onion
ThursdayLowfat cottage cheese with fresh fruit salad and whole-grain toastTofu "egg" salad sandwich on whole-grain bread and coleslawThai noodle sesame-peanut salad with cubed tofu and peanut sauce with marinated cucumber slices
FridayOatmeal with calcium-fortified soy milk or lowfat milk with fresh fruit and whole-grain toastBroccoli quiche and small green salad with lowfat dressingAssorted grilled veggies and portobello mushroom with sliced, grilled polenta
SaturdaySoy protein fortified waffle with lowfat plain yogurt and fresh fruitWhole-grain pita with baked falafel balls, shredded carrot and zucchini with lowfat plain-yogurt dressingSpinach and mushroom lasagne and a small green salad with lowfat dressing

Becoming a Vegetarian in 4 weeks: Week 2

"People who go vegetarian overnight are often not prepared and may end up living on iceberg lettuce salads," says Suzanne Havala, R.D., author of Good Foods, Bad Foods: What's Left To Eat? As nutrition advisor for the Vegetarian Resource Group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Havala sees the results of drastic, uneducated moves to vegetarianism. "They know what they don't want to eat, but they don't know their options yet. They end up tired, hungry, grumpy and discouraged. They are also the ones most likely to go back to their old eating habits."

GOAL: Get out of the iceberg lettuce rut by replacing poultry and seafood with plant-based proteins, such as beans or soy products.

TIP: To incorporate more meatless meals, begin with foods that normally include little or no meat, such as minestrone soup or pasta with vegetables and marinara sauce. Progress to vegetarian lasagna, bean and rice burritos, meatless chili, veggie burgers and other soy products. Depending on your activity level, you may need more calories; pay attention to your body's cues as you make these changes.

SundayScrambled eggs with mushrooms, onions and peppers served with oven-fried potatoes and whole-grain toastVeggie burger with grilled onions and barbecue sauce on whole-grain bun with baby carrotsPizza with your favorite veggie toppings, tomato sauce and lowfat mozzarella cheese
MondayToasted plain bagel with lowfat cream cheese and fresh fruitMixed greens salad topped with cubed, seasoned, baked tofuTempeh Reuben sandwich on rye bread with sauerkraut, mustard and Swiss cheese
TuesdaySmoothie made with frozen fruit, lowfat yogurt and lowfat milk with whole-grain toastTofu “egg” salad sandwich on whole-grain bread with vegetable crudités and lowfat dipping sauceMeatless Cobb or chef salad with lowfat dressing
WednesdayLowfat bran muffin with lowfat cheese and fresh fruitMixed greens with vegetables and vinaigretteBean soup, cornbread and cooked greens
ThursdayLowfat granola with lowfat plain yogurt, lowfat milk, fresh fruit and whole-grain toastCheese and veggie submarine sandwich with baked chipsThai rice noodles stir-fried with cubed tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts, ginger chilies and scallions
FridayHot mixed-grain cereal with lowfat milk and applesauce and whole-grain toastVeggie burger with the works and vegetable crudités with lowfat dipping sauceMacaroni and cheese casserole with green salad and cooked greens
SaturdayBreakfast burritos with scrambled eggs and salsa and fresh fruit saladVegetable and bean minestrone soup with crispy garlic breadSeitan “chicken” and vegetable pot pie with mashed potato crust and carrot raisin salad

Becoming a Vegetarian in 4 weeks: Week 1

Don't go cold turkey. Becoming a vegetarian can be quick and painless

It's hard to ignore the latest nutrition news: A diet rich in soy may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, and a diet filled with fruits, vegetables and grains has disease-fighting potential. No wonder more Americans are trying to become vegetarians. However, few people know how to begin.

To make the transition easier, PHYS has created a four-week program to ease you into the veggie lifestyle. Our plan is adapted from SELF's "Want to be a Vegetarian?" by Karen Cope Straus. Each week provides a goal to aim for, tips to help you accomplish that goal and a menu so you can plan delicious veggie meals. Even if you're certain you'll never give up meat entirely, following our program will help you cut back and reap the benefits of the amazing variety of foods available to vegetarians.

Week 1

As you get started, decide what kind of vegetarian you want to be. Many people today are "almost" vegetarians, eating meat occasionally, usually when dining out. They avoid red meat but will eat seafood, poultry, dairy products and eggs. Ovo-lacto vegetarians avoid red meat, poultry and seafood but eat dairy products and eggs. Vegans forgo all animal products — meat, dairy, eggs and honey — often out of concern for the ethical treatment of animals. Radical vegans — called raw or living fooders — believe food shouldn't be cooked prior to consumption. Whichever approach you choose, it's crucial to develop eating habits that will not only meet your nutritional needs but also satisfy you in the long run.

"No one should have a health problem going vegetarian," says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor and chairperson of the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University. For years, people mistakenly worried that a vegetarian diet could not possibly contain enough protein. The only nutrient, however, not available from plant sources — a concern primarily for vegans — is vitamin B12, which assists in cell and blood development. Vegans can get B12 from algal, yeast or bacterial supplements and fortified cereals.

GOAL: Start by losing the red meat (beef, pork and lamb). This is the first step to getting all the meat out of your diet.

TIP: Need more time to wean yourself off steak and hamburgers? Ease your way by cutting back on the number of times you eat red meat in a week. If you've been having it at every meal, then indulge only once a day; if you normally eat it once a day, space it out every other day. This may take a while, so move at a pace that feels comfortable. It's all right to substitute leaner meats, such as chicken, turkey or fish.

ANOTHER OPTION: Find out how large a serving you're currently eating and cut it in half. Continue halving your portions until you've removed meat completely. At the same time, increase the size of your side dishes, especially grains and vegetables.


Sunday Scrambled eggs with vegetarian “sausage” patties and whole-grain toastVeggie burger with the works, with oven-baked skin-on potato wedges and a pickle spearGrilled chicken breast with lemon-herb glaze, baby greens salad withraspberry vinaigrette and grilled asparagus
Monday Lowfat granola with lowfat plain yogurt, fresh fruit, lowfat milk and whole-grain toast Mixed greens salad and whole-grain pita with hummus and baby carrots Three-bean chili with salsa and guacamole, and corn tortillas
Tuesday Smoothie made with frozen fruit, lowfat plain yogurt and lowfat milk with whole-grain toast Tuna salad on whole-grain bread, vegetable crudités with lowfat dipping sauce and fresh fruit Seasonal vegetable stir-fry with cubed tofu served over rice
Wednesday Toasted bagel with lowfat cream cheese and fresh fruit Tofu “egg” salad sandwich on whole-grain bread and coleslaw Black-bean and rice burrito with lettuce, tomato, salsa, onion and cheese and corn and pepper salad
Thursday Oatmeal with lowfat milk, raisins, apples and cinnamon with whole-grain toast Cheese and veggie submarine sandwich with baked chips Corn, potato and onion chowder sprinkled with lowfat cheese and coleslaw
Friday Smoothie made with frozen fruit, lowfat plain yogurt and milk with whole-grain toast Caesar salad with dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheeseLinguine with clams, broth, garlic, shallots and parsley with steamed veggies
Saturday Muesli with oats, apples, lowfat milk, dried fruit and honey, and vegetarian “sausage” linksBlack bean soup served over rice, topped with tomatoes, onion and cilantro Fajitas with red, green and yellow peppers, red onion, zucchini and garlic wrapped in whole-grain tortillas

At-home Spas: Beauty and body treats for you

The thought of running off to a spa to be soaked, slathered and indulged in every way known to woman sounds downright dreamy — but who has the money and time? We asked the pros at the country's top getaways to translate their secrets into home-spa how-to's.

Go ahead — give yourself a great massage

Rub this way. For a tingling massage you'll feel all the way up your spine, try this trick from Travis Anderson, mind and body fitness manager at California's Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. Drop two golf balls (or other hard balls) into a thick cotton sock and tie the end in a knot. Place the sock on the floor and run your feet back and forth over it.

Use your "noodle." At Canyon Ranch in Tucson, instructors recommend Feldenkrais rollers to reduce tension. These four-foot-long, six-inch-wide foam cylinders resemble pool noodles. At the end of the day, nothing feels better than stretching out on one and letting it press against the length of your spine.

Know this drug-free headache cure. To relieve a tension headache, press gently but firmly on the inner corner of your eyelids near the brow with the tips of your thumb and index finger, suggests Lynn White, aesthetician and trainer for Miraval Resort & Spa in Catalina, Arizona. Then, using both hands, press along the brows, starting on the outer ends and going across and up the middle of the forehead, along the hairline to temples and down the underside of cheekbones.

Get hot stoned. "The idea seems weird at first," says Diane Trieste, director of treatment development at Canyon Ranch. "But a massage with hot stones just melts your muscles." Heat a smooth stone (one that fits comfortably in your hand) in the oven until warm, then coat it with a massage oil (vegetable oil will work in a pinch). Lightly push it up and down the arch of your foot.

Try these tricks for spa-softened skin

Take a "facial nap." At the Golden Door, in Escondido, California, pampered clients relax while de-puffing tired eyes. To try it at home, store a mild toner, such as Golden Door's Confidante Toner, or a bottle of highly diluted green tea in your fridge. Wet two cotton rounds and place them over your eyes before lying down for a half hour.

Steam-clean your skin. Throw a sprig of fresh rosemary (for oily skin) or a chamomile tea bag (for normal to dry skin) into a pot of boiling water, says Jo Abbey Briggs, executive director of Golden Door skin care. Remove pot from heat, place a towel over your head and shoulders and hold face 18 to 24 inches above the pot for three to five minutes; the steam opens pores and encourages skin to give up clogged dirt.

Try a facial smoothie. Blend three tablespoons of plain yogurt with four large strawberries (the fruit contains a light glycolic acid that exfoliates and rejuvenates skin), recommends Heather Sackman, instructor at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness, a day spa in Milwaukee. Smear on and let sit for 10 minutes, wiping it off with a wet cotton washcloth.

Hydrate the air to hydrate your skin. Walk into Golden Door and you'll notice beautiful water-filled bowls sitting at the foot of antique Japanese screens. "A couple of years ago the screens began to crack from the dry desert air, so we added the water bowls and the cracking went away," says Briggs. You can apply the same concept to your skin at home by keeping water bowls in each room or using a humidifier.

Make your own skin scrub. For a do-it-yourself exfoliant, try this trick picked up at Canyon Ranch, Tucson: Combine a cup of Epsom salts and a cup of rock salt with two tablespoons of grated orange peel. Use in the shower or bath. For a coarser rub add more rock salt; for a lighter one, more Epsom. (Store any leftover mixture in a jar in your bathroom.)

Wax yourself. (No, not your bikini line — your hands and feet.) White exfoliates spagoers' hands and feet, then applies warm paraffin and covers them with plastic bags and a warm towel for pillow-soft skin. You can do the same with Poetic Spa Paraffin Pack, available through Blissout.

Relaxed? Good. It's time to get fit!

Try interval training. At Golden Door, spagoers hike on flat terrain for 10 minutes; uphill for 20 minutes; then return to a flat path for 10 minutes and so on. It burns more calories than going slow, but isn't as hard on your body as training full-blast the whole time.

Make room for mini-workouts. Try pliés while drying your hair, wall sits while talking on the phone, suggests Ashley Lewis at the Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colorado. Or try one of these 10-minute workouts.

Practice these absolutely great moves. Barbara Morrow, executive director at Avanyu Spa at La Posada Resort & Spa in Albuquerque, tells clients to keep stomach muscles taut by imagining they're wearing a bikini (a sure incentive to suck it in). And when doing sit-ups, she reminds them to double the payoff by contracting muscles on the way up and down.

Home-cure your soreness... Relax with this mini-treatment from Trieste: Wrap 1/2 cup grated ginger in a piece of cheesecloth and steep in a gallon of hot water for several minutes. Next, place a hand towel in the water, wring it out, and wrap it around feet, arms or legs. Leave it on until it cools.

...Or work it out. When spagoers at Avanyu Spa are sore after exercise, executive director Barbara Morrow urges them to try doing some form of exercise other than what made them achy. (Runners, for example, are told to try swimming.) Keeping active brings blood to the area, says Morrow, which helps clear out soreness-prompting lactic acid.

Try our favorite yoga pose

Learn this now! If you do only one yoga exercise, make it the warrior pose — it tones nearly every muscle and improves flexibility and posture, says Vandita Marchesiello of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms straight overhead, fingers pointing to the ceiling, palms in. Lunge forward with your right leg (don't let your knee extend past your toes), keeping your left foot extended behind you. Hold for three slow, deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

Reward yourself with a hearty, healthy meal

Add flavor, not fat. Instead of marinating chicken, fish or red meat in oil-based sauces, let them soak in this easy red wine vinaigrette marinade used by Greg Smith, chef at the PGA Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Combine 2 oz red wine vinegar, 6 oz low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock, 1 T. chopped basil, 1 T. chopped parsley, 1 tsp. minced shallots, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 T. cornstarch, and salt and pepper to taste.

Get cubed. Chefs at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, in Farmington, Pennsylvania, use naturally low-fat vegetable stock or low-sodium chicken stock instead of oil when sautéing meat or veggies. Try this at home by filling an ice cube tray with the stock so you can pop out a cube when you need one.

Jazz up brown rice. At Rancho La Puerta, bland foods such as brown rice are spiced up with toasted sesame seeds. To toast seeds, coat a frying pan with a fine spray of oil, then toss in the seeds and cook over medium heat until golden brown.

Build a better bagel. Golden Door executive chef Michel Stroot scoops out some of the bagel's bready middle and tops what remains with a mixture of nonfat cottage cheese, pineapple, currants and cinnamon.

Ditch the mayo. Spread plain yogurt mixed with Dijon mustard on your sandwich instead, recommends Kathie Swift, nutrition director at Canyon Ranch, Berkshires.

...but don't skip dessert! Peel and freeze fresh bananas, pitted mangoes, strawberries and oranges (sans seeds), then put them through a juicer for a scrumptious, all-natural sherbet, suggests Phyllis Pilgrim, fitness director at Rancho La Puerta.

Thigh & Butt Busters: Make the most of what nature gave you

Do you have problem thighs? Is your derriere the least favorite part of your anatomy? Following are the exercises that will help you tone these areas once and for all.


This exercise works the BUTTOCKS and LOWER BACK.

1. On your hands and knees, bring your right knee to your chest, then kick it straight back, leading with your heel. Be careful not to arch your back. Finish with your leg straight, lifting it out and up.

2. Bring knee back to chest.

3. Do 25 to 30 repetitions, then switch legs.

Knee Extension

This exercise primarily works the QUADRICEPS.

1. Sit on a chair with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Attach a resistance band to your right ankle and the rear leg of the chair. The band should be taut but not stretched.

2. Slowly lift your right foot, straightening your leg so that it's parallel with the floor. Hold for one second.

3. Slowly lower your foot back to the starting position.

4. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions, then switch legs and do a set with the left leg.

Variation: This exercise can also be performed with ankle weights.

Weight Room Equivalent: Leg extension

Leg Curl

This exercise primarily strengthens your HAMSTRINGS.

1. Stand near a wall or a table. Attach one end of a resistance band to your right ankle and step on the other end with your left foot. To maintain your balance, place your feet no more than shoulder-width apart.

2. Keeping your knee still, bend your right leg and pull your foot as close to your buttocks as you can. Use the wall or table for support if necessary. Hold for one second, then slowly lower your foot to the ground.

3. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions. Then switch feet and do a set with your left leg.

Variation: You can also perform this exercise with ankle weights.

Weight Room Equivalent: Seated or prone leg curl

Leg Lifts

This exercise works the adductor muscles in your INNER THIGHS.

1. Lie on your right side, propped up on your right elbow, legs extended. Cross your left leg in front of your right thigh so that your foot is flat on the floor.

2. Lift your right leg as high as you can, contracting the inner thigh, keeping your heel higher than your toes.

3. Do 25 to 30 repetitions, then switch sides.


This exercise works your gluteus muscles in the HIPS as well as your QUADRICEPS and HAMSTRINGS.

1. Stand with your feet together, your toes pointed straight ahead and your hands at your sides. Take an exaggerated step forward with your right leg.

2. Bend your right knee slowly, lowering your body close to the floor. Keep your right knee directly over the right foot and your back straight. Most of your weight will be over your front foot; you should feel the strain in your hip and thigh muscles, not your knees, ankles or back.

3. When your rear knee is about two inches above the floor, hold for one second. Then slowly return to the starting position.

4. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions. Then do a set with your left leg in front.

Variation: If you can do 12 repetitions with good form, make the exercise harder by holding weights in each hand.

Weight Room Equivalent: Leg press

Side Leg Raises

This exercise works the BUTTOCKS and outer thighs.

1. On your hands and knees, raise your right leg as far as possible to the side, leading with your knee, keeping your leg bent at 90 degrees.

2. Hold for a moment, then lower to starting position.

3. Do 25 to 30 repetitions, then switch legs.

Walking Lunge

This exercise works the QUADRICEPS, HAMSTRINGS and BUTTOCKS.

1. Stand, feet together, a dumbbell in each hand.

2. Take a giant step with your right foot, bending your knees so your right thigh is parallel to the floor and right knee is directly above your ankle.

3. Bring your left foot forward to meet your right, then take a giant step with your left foot.

4. Take 20 steps forward, then turn around and take 20 steps back to starting position. Beginners should do one set; others should do two.

Crunch Those Abs: Firm your tummy

Who doesn't want that rippled look? While cardiovascular exercise and a healthy diet are necessary to melt away a spare tire, these killer abdominal moves go a long way toward a rock-hard midriff.


Before you strength-train, do 5 to 10 minutes of any aerobic activity, such as jogging in place or riding a stationary bike. This increases the temperature of your muscles, making them more flexible and less susceptible to injury.

The Game Plan

Perform the exercises in this order for optimal results.


This exercise works the ABDOMINAL MUSCLES. Do 15 to 25 repetitions.

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands resting lightly on the back of your head.

2. Slowly curl your upper body until shoulder blades are above the floor, while exhaling through the mouth. Lower three quarters of the way down, while inhaling through the nose.

Weight Room Equivalent: Abdominal machine, or crunches on an inclined bench.

Oblique Crunch

This exercise works the ABDOMINAL MUSCLES, and targets the oblique muscles on the sides. Work your way up to 30 repetitions on each side.

1. Lie down with legs bent, feet flat on the floor and hands laced lightly behind your head and elbows out of sight. Cross one leg over the other knee, then lift both legs up halfway to your chest.

2. Using your oblique muscles, on the sides of your stomach, lift your upper body to the side. Your elbow should move toward the opposite knee.

Variation: Keep the supporting foot, or both feet, flat on the floor. Keep the arm on the side you're working extended on the floor for more back support. You may opt to keep your hands behind your head and do alternating crunches from side to side.


This exercise works the ABDOMINAL MUSCLES.

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest.

2. Contract your abdominal muscles and raise your shoulder blades off the floor. Keep your chin off your chest (keeping your eyes on a spot on the ceiling may help you maintain the right position.) As you lift yourself up, pull your navel in toward the spine, then lower yourself back down to one inch above the floor.

3. Do as many as you can while maintaining good form and going through the entire range of motion. Try to up the amount of repetitions each time you exercise.

Variation: You may opt to support your head lightly with the fingertips resting on your neck. To make the curl-ups more difficult, hold a light weight on your chest. If you work your stomach, also make sure to work your lower back in order to prevent muscular imbalance-related back problems.

Weight Room Equivalent: Abdominal machine, or curl-ups on an inclined bench.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Get Flexible: T'ai Chi

While t'ai chi chuan — more often referred to as t'ai chi — has been practiced for thousands of years, it has only recently begun to gain popularity in the United States. A discipline that grew out of Taoism and Buddhism, t'ai chi consists of a ritualized series of slow, controlled movements (known as forms) that are derived from martial arts. According to adherents, these movements help restore the normal flow of the body's energy, or qi. Whether or not you subscribe to Eastern philosophy, however, you're likely to find t'ai chi mentally calming and refreshing.

Starting Out

Before deciding on a class, check out a book or video on t'ai chi so you become familiar with the various types. Then visit schools to see if you like the atmosphere and make sure the teachers are experienced. (Proper training usually takes eight years.)

Keep in mind that t'ai chi requires time and practice. Expect to spend six months learning a form (a sequence of continuous movements that includes an average of 60 positions) and another six months perfecting it. You should also practice on your own, not just in class — repetition is key to mastering the skills. T'ai chi can be done anywhere — in class, at home or outside. Also, because it's low-impact and its difficulty level can be adjusted, people of any age and fitness level can participate.

The real appeal for many devotees is mental: The slow pace and intense concentration needed can calm the mind and relieve tension.

Target areas:
The carefully controlled motions of t'ai chi require plenty of muscle strength. The lower body typically gets a lot of work, thanks to the leg bending, leg lifts and lunges involved. The movements also improve balance, coordination, posture and flexibility. Since t'ai chi is low-impact, it's good for people with joint problems. Though the activity doesn't provide an intense workout, it does increase muscular endurance and work your cardiovascular system a bit.

The Warm-Up and Cool-Down

T'ai chi classes typically include a warm-up with stretching, so there's no need to warm up on your own.

Since the discipline is fairly gentle on the body, a t'ai chi session doesn't require the kind of cool-down that, say, an aerobics class does. To improve your flexibility, however, you can stretch your entire body after the workout, when your muscles are warm and pliable.

The Right Stuff

Having some basic gear and clothing will make all the difference in your enjoyment of an activity, not to mention your performance. Here's what you'll need for t'ai chi:

Clothing: Most classes don't require a uniform; just wear comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely.

Shoes: The right footwear depends upon the surface you'll be working on. For instance, if you'll be doing t'ai chi on a wooden gym floor, flat-soled shoes that offer some traction but aren't clunky will work best. If you'll be on carpeting, going barefoot or wearing socks will allow you to move more freely.

Pro Talk

To help you get the most from your workout, Bob Klein, owner of the Long Island School of T'ai Chi, offers these tips:

Keep your head in a neutral position. And make sure it's aligned with your body. People tend to turn their heads to look around the room or at their feet, explains Klein, but that takes the head out of alignment and throws off your posture and movement.

Don't just fall forward or to the side when you take a step. Instead, use the muscles of the non-stepping leg to do the work. This ensures that the movement will be slow and controlled.

Don't rush. T'ai chi movements are supposed to be performed slowly.

Get Flexible: The Body Fluid

The alternative route to a lean, well-toned body

After years of high-impact hell, exercisers plagued by injury, boredom, and a frustrating lack of results are calling it quits and checking into little-known disciplines. The common link among these holistic systems? A less-is-more philosophy that features a mind/body emphasis and gentle, nonimpact movements that are easy on the joints, yet can lead to dramatic reshaping.

The Lotte Berk Method

Lydia Bach created this rigorous toning and strengthening regimen from the rehabilitative exercises of German dancer Lotte Berk.

WHAT IT IS: A hybrid based on the principles of yoga, ballet, modern dance, calisthenic exercise, and orthopedic stretching. The basic philosophy: First the muscles are shaped through slow, sustained movements; this is followed by serious stretching to avoid building bulk. Students use light weights to shape and tone the arms and shoulders, but all other work (on the floor and at a ballet barre) uses the body for resistance — that means no machines, no heavy lifting, and lots of good old-fashioned push-ups.

WHAT IT ISN'T: High-impact. No jumping, no pounding, no Ace-bandage-wrapped knees, no wildly beating heart. (The method does produce a mild, interval-training-type cardiovascular workout, especially as students become more advanced in their technique.) It also isn't easy: The deceptively simple-looking movements mask a deeply challenging workout.

THE BUZZ: Lotte Berk Method classes are by reservation only and fill up fast; even though LBM doesn't advertise, word-of-mouth is so enthusiastic that it seems as if every other taut, flat-abbed Manhattanite is a "Berker." In the summer, the studio's Long Island outpost (in an airy Bridgehampton barn) teems with New York's beautiful people and visiting celebrities from Los Angeles. One regular, author Tom Wolfe, credits Lotte Berk with banishing his crippling back pain.

THE BODY: "Everyone who does Lotte Berk gets firm thighs, a flat stomach, and a nicely defined, lifted seat," says instructor Elisabeth Halfpapp. Indeed, the method, while unisex, especially targets such universal female trouble spots as the upper arm, outer thigh, stomach, and rear end. The bottom line: This is seriously effective body shaping.

HOW OFTEN: Halfpapp recommends at least three sessions per week; once or twice is better than not at all, though.

WHAT TO EXPECT: First-timers always leave with severely quivering legs — an unsettling side effect for the less-than-determined.

Contact Yoga

Yoga, an ancient Hindu practice, has many different styles — Ashtanga, Kundalini, Tantra — but contact yoga is a recent invention that is one part workout, one part massage, and one part New Age therapy.

WHAT IT IS: Practiced with a partner, using each other's bodies for resistance. The teacher literally lifts, pushes, and pulls the student through flowing positions that alternately stretch, strengthen, and relax virtually every muscle in the body, despite your being dangled from the ankles or suspended in midair. Expect to finish feeling as if you've had a deep-tissue massage. The basic philosophy: Yoga means "union," and contact yoga offers an opportunity to both give and receive.

WHAT IT ISN'T: For the deeply shy. If you really can't stand the idea of having your body handled and manipulated in the name of fitness and inner serenity, do yourself a favor and stick with traditional yoga.

THE BUZZ: Yoga is white-hot at gyms and studios across the country, but contact yoga is virtually unknown — for the moment. This is partly because it requires an experienced teacher — and as yet there is only one, Nateshvar (Tesh), the yogi who created it. Tesh plans to train others. Meantime, his contact yoga is sweeping the Manhattan fashion world, thanks largely to Donna Karan and Hollywood celebrities, including Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore. But Tesh is far from being a guru to movie stars; he works with dozens of noncelebrity clients and says, "Yoga is for everyone — our society needs it."

THE BODY: Graceful, lean, with good posture and sense of balance. However, Tesh keenly believes that "our culture is too focused on the outside. My work is very demanding externally, but the whole point is to shine from within — a great body is only the by-product." Shedding excess weight, he stresses, comes from feeling peaceful inside. The bottom line: A session with Tesh is like visits to a chiropractor, shrink, and yogi all rolled into one.

HOW OFTEN: Ideally, a couple of sessions every week, but Tesh says, "Yoga is ultimately about living fully and consciously in every moment." His concession to the less than fully conscious among us: Do a little bit of yoga every day.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Every joint in your body, from the neck to the hips to the big toes, will probably creak, crack, and otherwise pop into place after just one session with Tesh. Don't be alarmed.


Pilates has recently become trendy, but it's been around for 70 years. The technique, developed in Germany by Joseph Pilates, has long been embraced by dancers (both George Balanchine and Martha Graham gave it the nod of approval).

WHAT IT IS: Graceful, almost balletic motions executed either on the Reformer — an odd piece of equipment that looks like a stretching rack outfitted with pulleys and cables — or on a floormat. (Mat work is ideal for people who don't want to be dependent on a machine, but the Reformer — which offers extra resistance — is the traditional way to practice Pilates. Sessions are generally one-on-one.) The basic philosophy: The abdomen is the power center of the body; if it's used as a strong anchor, the rest of the body can be safely stretched and strengthened.

WHAT IT ISN'T: Cardiovascular. Only the extremely advanced get an aerobic workout from Pilates.

THE BUZZ: Supposedly everybody in Los Angeles is doing Pilates, usually in conjunction with a fat-burning aerobic workout like Spinning. At the no-frills Ron Fletcher Company studio, professional dancers, actresses, and models come in droves. The gentle, non-jarring movements of Pilates are also perfectly suited to pregnant women, as well as to overweight people who are trying to get back into shape.

THE BODY: Limber and long, with narrow hips and very strong abdominals. Because the technique emphasizes fluid movements rather than short contractions, muscles become defined but not overdeveloped. It is said to so improve posture that devotees claim they've added a few inches to their height. The bottom line: This is the way to achieve your maximum flexibility and finally get a flat stomach.

HOW OFTEN: Diane Severino suggests at least two sessions a week but notes, "Three is better!"

WHAT TO EXPECT: If you absolutely insist on a sweat-drenched, exhausted body to feel satisfied with your workout, pass on Pilates; this is subtle, internal work.

Get Flexible: Yoga

Starting Out

Sign up for a yoga class so you'll learn the different positions and the proper form. Once you have mastered the basics, you can pretty much practice yoga anytime, anywhere.

Target areas:
There are many different types of yoga, ranging from the peaceful to the very physically challenging. But all forms promote flexibility and, to a lesser degree, muscle strength, which in turn gives you good posture and long, lean muscles. Many forms of yoga will make you sweat, but yoga generally does't confer aerobic benefits. Other pluses: Since yoga is a form of meditation, it helps relieve stress. It also improves your balance and concentration.

The Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Yoga incorporates both a warm-up and a cool-down into the discipline. Since yoga is comprised of stretches, you won't need to do any before getting started, unless you have muscles that are particularly tight. You may want to set aside a few minutes to clear your mind and prepare mentally for class.

Your instructor should take you through a cool-down, but if she doesn't offer one or if you're doing yoga at home, just shake your body out and walk around for a few minutes.

The Right Stuff

Having some basic gear and clothing will make all the difference in your enjoyment of a sport, not to mention your performance. Here's what you'll need:

Clothing: Wear clothes that allow freedom of movement. You don't need shoes or socks.

Mat: One should be provided in class. A towel is a decent substitute.

Pro Talk Mini-Glossary

Want to talk like a pro? The mini-glossary has the terms you need:

Ashtanga: The most intense form of yoga, in which you constantly change positions. This type requires a more thorough cool-down.

Yogi: A master or instructor.

Asanas: The many positions of yoga, which have names such as Sun Salutation, Lotus Posture and Shooting Bow Posture. Asana is a Sanskrit word that literally means "to sit down or sit in a position."

Get Flexible: Benefits

Exercise your right to be limber

Stretching doesn't usually come to mind when most people think about fitness. It should. Being flexible improves your performance, protects against injury and helps you to do everyday tasks with the greatest of ease. PHYS has a head-to-toe glossary of stretches that will maximize your flexibility, as well as a guide to activities that will keep you supple.

Flexible Benefits

How stretching can improve your health and flexibility

When I was 10, I understood the value of being flexible. I was a fan of the comic-book hero Elastic Man. Here was a guy who could stretch his arm out the living-room window, through the back door of the downstairs neighbors, across their kitchen, and into the freshly filled cookie jar. Flexibility served a useful and vital function. The rewards were clear.

Now that I'm an adult, and know that no amount of stretching will endow me with Elastic Man's capabilities, the rewards I could gain from stretching aren't so clear. My question is this: Is flexibility useful and vital enough that I should set aside time every day for stretching? I know that it feels good, and it is useful to have a generally wide range of motion. But how far does one need to go? How many times in the days ahead am I going to find myself thinking, Gee, if only I could put my forehead to the floor with my legs spread-eagled? And, in the end, does stretching have any positive effects on your health?

I posed this last question to Jim Wharton, who patented his Active-Isolated stretching program. Stretching, Wharton said, "flushes out the tensions of the day." It gets the blood circulating and "prepares your body for work." Yes, but couldn't the same be said for a swim or a spin on the Lifecycle?

I tracked down John Cianca, M.D., an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who has a practice in sports medicine. Cianca agreed to explain, in biomechanical terms, why it is good for muscles to be regularly stretched.

"Muscles act like springs," he said. "If the muscle is short and tight, then there's no place for it to go when you contract it. Without that spring, it can't generate as much power."

Stretching should also, Cianca maintains, help prevent injuries — not only to the muscles themselves, which are more likely to tear or pull if they're tight, but to joints. A tight muscle doesn't have much ability to absorb shock. The less shock a muscle can absorb, the more strain there is on the joints. In short, muscles that aren't sufficiently stretched can limit their owners' performance and put them at greater risk of injury.

Some experts maintain that when it comes to preventing injury, warming up is as critical as stretching. One of those people, oddly, is the president of Stretching Inc., Bob Anderson: "Probably the most important thing in injury prevention is a good eight-to-12-minute warm-up." In essence, warming up and stretching accomplish the same thing. Using muscles gets blood flowing through them; the blood makes them warmer. Muscles react to warmth in the manner of taffy or gum, stretching farther and more easily without tearing.

A common argument in favor of regular stretching is that it helps you maintain your full range of motion. "Over time your tissues tend to become a little less pliant," says Jenny Stone, an athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Division of Sports Medicine. "The idea of stretching to maintain your range of motion throughout your life makes a certain degree of sense. It takes much less effort to maintain anything than it does to regain it."

Why do muscles lose their range of motion? Cianca explains that muscles are encased in a thin, slick layer of tissue called the fascial covering. The fascia act as a lubricating layer, allowing muscles to slide back and forth. If you stop moving, either because of an injury or because, as Cianca puts it, "you got close with your couch," the fascia coverings start sticking and stiffen up. "Your body is a machine," Cianca says. "If you leave it out in the field, it'll rust."

Bob Anderson has a metaphor of his own. "I call it muscular rigor mortis. If you want to touch your toes when you're 70, the only way is if you spend a little time at that point every few days."

What if I don't want to touch my toes when I'm 70?

Stone could see my point. "There are an awful lot of people, athletes included, who at various joints in their body do not have what is considered a normal range of motion. A stretching program could help them regain it. But will it help their health and athletic performance? I don't know. I guess you need to talk to someone who's 70 who can still touch his toes."

Swami Krishna is 73. Not only can he touch his toes, I am told, he can bring them up to his chest and thread them through his armpits and around to the back of his head, where they serve as a sort of headrest. The swami is one of dozens of monks and yogis who live in the holy city of Rishikesh, India, a.k.a. Yoga Capital of the World (and, yes, the place where the Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). On a recent visit to India, I made a quick pilgrimage to Rishikesh.

I went to see Swami Krishna at the Sivananda Ashram, on the outskirts of town. I waited for him in a courtyard where a monk with a shaved head was chanting and offering marigolds to a deity with six arms, all outstretched and waving, as though demonstrating proper range of motion. I could read the ashram motto on the fountain — be good, do good — only someone had rubbed off the final ds, so it read, be goo, do goo.

The yogi stepped from his room — a wizened, wiry, stubble-chinned man in swaddling orange. He held a plate of porridge and bread and a three-foot stick, which he shook at the monkeys that would climb down from the trees and attempt to make off with his bread.

"Tell me," I began, "what is the benefit of lifetime flexibility?" The yogi disappeared into his room and returned bearing the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. He pointed to the book. "You can read."

I explained that I had come a long way to hear his wisdom. He ate some porridge. "Benefit. Mmm." He looked at me, raised his forefinger, and said, "Spinal column. Bone will become soft. And more wind. Bone can get more wind. We are throwing out the dirty wind."

I had no idea what he was talking about. "Anything else?"

"Yes. Make yoga, many years. You can become yogi. Yogi can do what he wants, isn't it? People bring gifts, money. Benefit. Mmmm." Wise guy.

At two o'clock, yoga students began arriving. Swami Krishna excused himself, stripped down to a pair of red Speedos, and proceeded to enact a potent testimony to the benefits of flexibility. Here was a 73-year-old man who could cross his legs while standing on his head and do back bends from a standing position. His limbs weren't soft, they were rubber. They were putty. And putty does as putty is. Be Goo, Do Goo. When my grandmother was 73, she couldn't get her arms through her coat sleeves without help. Frailty, thy name is woman who never stretched. Pardon me while I go touch my toes.

Exercise 101: Pushing Your Limits

The secret to making resolutions stick

The best way to reach your personal best is to set a goal. We challenged eight women to push their limits. May their successes (and one change of heart) inspire you.

Burn, Baby, Burn

During my first two pregnancies I didn't do much exercise because I was busy running my cosmetics company. Each time I gained nearly 30 pounds. This time (my third) I told myself I was going to be good. I speed-walked my way through the first and second trimesters and was still walking three miles a day into my eighth month.

What happened? By the time I was ready to give birth to Duke, I'd put on exactly the same amount of weight. Profound realization No. 1: During pregnancy, your body does whatever it wants to do.

My doctor told me I could start exercising again after just two weeks, so naturally I waited only one. I started by walking around the block really slowly, adding 10 minutes each week. By the time Duke was six weeks old, I was walking for an hour. It was time to get serious. Up went the intensity.

My body ached after weight training, so I took up Pilates. It's the perfect mom workout: Stretch and strengthen at home! Now I do Pilates twice a week; the rest of the time I walk, bringing Duke with me when I can (this makes for guilt-free workouts). Occasionally — like when I need a 20-pound weight — Duke becomes the exercise. He's pliable and amenable.

Still, my workouts rarely happen according to schedule. When all hell breaks loose (ear infections, temper tantrums), I call my sister. She has three-year-old twin boys, and she's lost all her weight. She'll tell me to relax — and then sends me a present, like a pair of tights.

Lose Post-Pregnancy Pounds

Unfortunately, you don't shed all your baby weight right after delivery — the average weight loss at birth is 12 to 17 pounds. Plus, it takes about six weeks for the uterus to shrink back to its original size, so don't expect to get your old abs back right away.

Before returning to exercise, make sure you get a doctor's clearance, advises Annette Lang, M.S., a personal trainer at New York's Equinox gym who leads a prenatal certification program for trainers. It usually takes four weeks to be cleared to exercise after a vaginal birth, six to eight weeks after a C-section. This is to enable the pelvic floor to regain some of its strength and for the internal bleeding to decrease.

Don't start out too hard your first time back — maintaining a moderate intensity level is important because you still need ample blood flow going to your core to help the uterus shrink back to pre-pregnancy size. Plus, your hormones are still causing a good amount of joint looseness, putting you at greater risk for injury.

Aerobic Exercise

Even those who exercised throughout their pregnancy are going to find aerobic recovery slowgoing. Your body is tired from childbirth and breastfeeding, and you've lost quite a bit of your cardiovascular capacity. Don't crank up the treadmill to 10 when starting out; work your way up in increments, adding short, high-intensity intervals to boost your threshold. Breastfeeding mothers should note that babies sometimes reject post-exercise milk because your body's lactic acid can alter its taste.

Strength Training

If you did some strength training during pregnancy, you can start pretty much where you left off (strength gains are lost more gradually than aerobic ones). Put special emphasis on the muscles in the lower back (bent-over dumbbell rows will help) and shoulders (pulldowns) to help you lift and carry your baby.


Rather than return to full crunches right away, start with mini-crunches, taking care to tighten the transverse abdominals, the deepest layer of ab muscles (you can feel them tighten just below your ribs when you exhale). Small pulses, rather than big movements, are key. For those who had a C-section, take it even slower — you need to reestablish the nerve connection between your brain and severed muscle fibers. Simply lying on your back and doing isometric contractions of the transverse abdominals may be enough.

It's been 12 weeks and I still have 10 pounds to lose. I have a closet full of size 4 clothes I haven't worn for over a year. But I'm not looking to be skinny. I figure it took nine months for my body to get this way; it may take nine months to get back to normal. By then, who knows? I may be thinking of baby number four.

The Flip Side

Some people link certain smells to childhood, but when I think back, I remember being upside down. My friends and I spent hours tumbling around the backyard pretending to be Olga Korbut. So when Jorge Alzerreca, a personal trainer I know, suggested using gymnastics to get back in shape after the birth of my third child last year, I was excited. I needed a more meaningful goal than fitting into my 501s. Maybe I was too excited. When I told Jorge that what I really wanted to do was a roundoff back handspring — a tumbling sequence where you run, do a cartwheel landing on two legs, throw yourself backward and spring off your hands — he balked: "Your mind may be ready," he said, "but your body's got a lot of catching up to do."

I became even more resolved. Of course, Jorge was right. After three decades of running, aerobics and weight training, I was a total stiff. I couldn't even straddle my legs in a cartwheel. Still, I could picture the trick so vividly! I did a lot of backbends to get limber and got stronger with pushups, situps and jumps. Then I got on a trampoline to practice the movement. It was scary but fun. Doing one on the ground was not fun. It hurt my back, even with Jorge spotting me. More times than I care to tell, I landed on my head and went home sore and shaking. Then one night after weeks of practice, Jorge said it was time to try it alone. I was terrified. I ran. I rounded off. I sprang backward. I did it! And for once, my body was ready and my mind had to catch up: I cried.

Basic Tumbling

Not everyone's going to be able to pull off a stunt like a round off back handspring, even with weeks of practice. But more basic gymnastic moves — from cartwheels and handstands to backbends and walkovers — are great ways to build power, become more flexible and develop a lean, strong body, according to Jorge Alzerreca, a New York personal trainer who incorporates gymnastics into his conditioning programs. Most gymnastics tricks work the upper and lower body at once, as well as the abdominals, which control your center of gravity. "And because you're learning skills that lead to other, more challenging skills," adds Alzerreca, "gymnastics is fun, not work."

Here are three tricks that novices can easily master:


Pushing up into a backbend or "bridge" is great for the back, gluteus muscles, shoulders and hamstrings. To begin, lie on your back with your knees and elbows bent and your hands just above your shoulders. Start by lifting your heels up off the ground and lowering them repeatedly to get used to the feeling of contracting your legs. Next step: Try to get your shoulders off the ground by pushing against the ground simultaneously with your arms and legs. Finally, try pushing all the way up into a bridge, making sure your head is off the ground and your back is arched.


You can get the hang of a handstand by standing with your back to a wall, bending forward and placing your hands on the floor in front of you, and walking your feet up the wall. Keep your abs as tight as beef jerky or you'll flop over onto your back, warns Alzerreca. To kick into a handstand, lunge forward and use the momentum of your kicking leg to get your body over your hands. Get someone to catch your feet so you can learn to balance. If you start to tip over, tuck your head, bend your arms and do a somersault out of it.


A cartwheel is basically a sideways handstand. To get a feel for it, stand with your back to a wall, lift your arms above your head, step to one side, bend over (keeping your back against the wall) and kick into a handstand. Be sure you kick hard enough to get your body up over your arms. Once upside down, allow your body to move in an arc above your head until you've lowered your legs again in a full rotation. Keep your abdominals tight and step out of the handstand one leg at a time.

Exercise 101: Work Out Right

How to fine-tune your workout for better results

Ready to shape up your workout? Fine-tune any fitness faux pas that may be robbing you of the best results? Here, three exercise pros set the record straight for you, answering some of your most sweat-inducing fitness questions below.

1. Should I stretch before or after a workout?

Either time is fine, as long as you first do a preworkout warm-up (three to five minutes of whole-body movement, like marching in place); it's easier and safer to stretch a warm muscle than a cold one. "If you're doing an activity that's new to you or a workout that's exceptionally strenuous, warm up, stretch, then work out," says exercise physiologist Douglas Brooks of Moves International in Mammoth Lakes, California. "If you're doing your typical routine, warm up and then stretch either before or after your workout — whatever makes you feel best."

2. Should I take baby or giant steps on the stair climber?

Take steps that use your legs' entire range of motion, advises Jana Angelakis, owner of Pex Personalized Exercise in New York City. "Use your normal stride. Giant steps could harm your hips and lower-back muscles. Baby steps are inefficient and often indicate that the level you've set for yourself is too high." And you'll get better results if you never get into the habit of supporting yourself on the handlebars.

3. Should I lift weights slowly or quickly?

Slower is better for building and toning muscle, says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., strength trainer at the YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. "As you increase speed, you decrease tension and force in the muscle. You end up using more momentum than muscle." Pace yourself: During a typical repetition, the contraction (when the muscle works) should last about two seconds and the elongation (when it relaxes) should last about four seconds.

4. Should I do crunches every day or three times a week?

The overwhelming consensus: Do them every day. Angelakis encourages at least 25 sit-ups a day. Sound too easy? Try it her way: Take two counts to raise and two to lower your torso instead of one.

5. Should I use free weights or weight machines?

Muscles can't tell the difference between free weights or machines and they respond to both, according to Westcott. Your best bet: Use both — weight machines may better target a certain muscle or muscle group, while free weights bring other assisting, or balancing, muscles into play.

6. Should I weight train daily or three times a week?

Using weights every day may be overtraining, says Westcott. "Depending on the intensity of your workout, muscles need 48 to 72 hours to recover and repair." You'll get better results faster if you skip a day between strength-training sessions.

7. On the treadmill, should I vary the speed or keep it steady?

Whether you run or walk, alternating between higher and lower speeds is a highly effective way to exercise, especially if your time is limited (and whose isn't?). "Whether highly fit or not, anyone can manage to go a bit faster for 30 to 60 seconds and then do a minute or two at a slower recovery pace. Spiking workouts in this way is best for getting fitter, burning more calories and preventing injuries," says Brooks.

8. Should I lift heavier weights with fewer repetitions or lighter weights with more reps?

If you want to increase muscle as you tone, increase the weight, not the reps, says Angelakis. If you are interested in toning and definition, use low to moderate weight and aim for 12 to 15 reps. You'll know you're ready to add weight (in 5 percent increments) when 15 reps are only moderately difficult to complete.

9. Should I do the treadmill flat or on an incline?

The state of your back and your knees determine what's best for you. If you have any back problems, you should not walk or run on an inclined treadmill. The tilt can affect your back. On the other hand, if you have chronic knee problems that sideline you from running, increasing the incline as you walk on a treadmill can increase the intensity of your workout. For those with no knee or back woes, walking or running on an incline is a good way to target and tone the backs of your legs. Whenever you exercise on a slant, don't hold on — it defeats the purpose of the incline. If you can't keep up, decrease your speed.

10. Which is better, the bike or the treadmill, if I have only 30 minutes to exercise?

There's no one best machine. To optimize a workout of any length, pick a machine you love: "All cardiovascular machines are created equal. It's what you bring to the workout that makes it best for you," says Brooks. "You simply won't work out as intensely if the machine bores you." If you don't have a favorite, do 10-minute bouts on three different machines.

Exercise 101: Strength Training

No workout program would be complete without strength training. Although you need to do aerobics to keep your heart and lungs in good working order, you need to do resistance training to maintain your muscular strength and endurance, boost your metabolism and strengthen your bones. What's best about strength training is that it's easy and convenient — you'll find weights in every gym, or you can buy free weights to use at home.

Starting Out

If you've never lifted weights, make an appointment with a personal trainer. You need to learn proper form to prevent injury and to ensure that you're getting the most benefit out of the exercise. A trainer can also help you determine how much and how often to lift.

In general, if you can't maintain good form for at least eight repetitions while lifting a weight, it's too heavy; if you can perform more than 12, it's too light. Schedule two to three strength training sessions a week, allowing a rest day in between sessions to give your muscles time to repair and recover; if you want to lift weights every day, work out your upper body (arms, shoulders and upper back) one day and your lower body (calves, gluteus muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps) the next.

Target areas:
Weight training increases your muscular strength and endurance and muscle mass. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, regular sessions in the weight room can boost your metabolism. And because muscle takes up less space than fat, you'll look trimmer even if your weight stays the same. Other pluses: Lifting weights can lift your spirits. A recent study found that strength training improved mood in people suffering from depression. It also seemed to help them sleep better.

Other studies show that people tend to become more physically active once they start weight training, perhaps because their increased strength makes other activities easier to do and more enjoyable.

Pre-Activity Shape-Up

When you can't get to the weight room, try resistance bands, isometric exercises (such as tightening and relaxing your buttock muscles) and floor exercises (such as push-ups and leg lifts) to help keep your muscles in shape. To complement your strength-training regimen, add a stretching program. It's also important to do some sort of aerobic activity to keep fat off and maintain cardiovascular health.

The Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Before you strength-train, do five minutes of any activity that uses the muscles you'll be exercising, such as riding a stationary bike to warm up your legs or rowing for an all-body workout. Another alternative is to do a few repetitions with light weights of the exercises you've planned for later. Five to 10 minutes should be enough to increase the temperature of your muscles, making them more flexible and less susceptible to injury.

If your heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute after you work out with weights and you plan to do some floor exercises, such as sit-ups and leg lifts, you need a cool-down to keep from getting dizzy or faint. Walk around or pedal slowly on a stationary bike until your heart rate slows down. Otherwise, you don't need a cool-down; just go ahead and stretch your muscles.

Stretching is particularly important to maintain your flexibility. Be sure to stretch any muscles you'll be exercising after you warm up to prevent injury and again after you finish to boost flexibility and diminish soreness.

The Right Stuff

Having some basic gear and clothing will make all the difference in your enjoyment of a sport, not to mention your performance. Here's what you'll need:

Weights: Your gym will have weight machines and free weights. You can also purchase free weights for home use. Weight machines are probably better for beginners because they guide your movements and are safer; it's easier to make mistakes with free weights, says Liz Neporent, M.A., an exercise physiologist in New York City and coauthor of Weight Training for Dummies.

Clothing: Wear a shirt that's fitted; an oversized T-shirt can get in your way (or worse, get caught in a machine). Also, consider wearing bike shorts or leggings instead of loose shorts when you're working on machines that could put you in revealing positions.

Gloves: Mainly used for lifting heavy weights, weight-lifting gloves have padded palms that can prevent calluses and help you maintain your grip when your hands get sweaty.

Weight belts: These thick waist belts are meant to support your lower back when lifting, although the jury is still out on whether these belts actually help performance.

Pro Talk Mini-Glossary

Want to talk like a pro? The PHYS mini-glossary has the terms you'll need:

Free weights: Metal weights that aren't attached to pulleys or chains, such as dumbbells (one-piece weights) and barbells (poles with removable disks on each end).

Lactic acid: The source of the "burn" you feel after a tough strength-training or weight-lifting session. Your muscles produce lactic acid if they don't have enough oxygen to completely convert sugar to energy. To relieve the burn, move around or participate in some low-intensity, rhythmic activity afterward, such as swimming.

Rep: A single repetition of an exercise. For example, one bicep curl is one rep. You should perform each rep slowly and steadily, pausing between lifting and lowering the weight and taking about six seconds total for each rep. Don't cheat by going fast — you won't reap as much benefit and are more likely to injure yourself.

Resistance training: Any form of exercise that involves working your muscles against some external force or resistance. Strength training, or weight lifting, is one kind of resistance training, using weights as the resistance. Push-ups and exercises with resistance bands are other forms of resistance training. All types of resistance training tone and strengthen muscles.

Set: A series of reps — usually eight to 12 — make up one set. You should usually perform one to three sets of each exercise, with a 30- to 90-second pause in between.

Working in: Rotating on a machine with another gym-goer. While one of you rests between sets, the other one uses the equipment; then you swap places. Or you can use two different machines and switch stations between sets.

Working to failure: Lifting a weight until you can't lift it any more. That's the sign that you're exercising enough to see an improvement in strength. If you aren't working to failure, you may not be getting the maximum benefit from your strength training so you may want to do more repetitions or increase the weight.