How to Wake Up Feeling Rested

You know the feeling: You went to bed when you should have, but you still woke up feeling foggy. Here’s how to wake up feeling rested in spite of this annoying sluggishness.

Don’t Interrupt Your Sleep at Night

According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is enough for most adults. If your normal sleep schedule puts you within this range, check your sleep quality instead. Interrupting your body’s natural 90-minute sleep cycles is often a reason for not waking up refreshed.

Do you have pets in your bed, a sick child, an aching back, a new baby, a neighbor’s party, a snoring partner or frequent trips to the bathroom? Experiment with your longstanding situation by not allowing animals in the bed, talking to your partner about snoring remedies or reducing your evening fluid intake to see if your sleep improves.

Stick to a Schedule

Going to bed later than normal may make it harder to fall asleep and cause you to wake up feeling “off.” The same thing happens when you take a long daytime nap. Your personal body clock tells you when to go to sleep and when to wake up naturally. This consistency in daily bedtime and wake time is key to feeling rested.

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Don’t Eat Too Late

Your digestive system is not meant to work hard while you’re unconscious, so if you eat a heavy late-night meal, you may struggle to fall (and stay) asleep because you’ve thrown your stomach off of its normal schedule. The National Sleep Foundation advises eating your last meal a few hours before bedtime. In addition, drinking alcohol and using nicotine or caffeine in the evening creates a stimulant effect that can take hours to wear off.

Exercise at the Right Time

Depending on your personal body clock, when and where you work out can have a profound influence on your sleep quality. If you’re an early riser, for example, run outdoors in the morning. This offers early activity and sunlight exposure that helps you sleep more soundly at the end of the day. If you want to stay up later, exercise in the late afternoon to let its energizing effects keep you awake even after the sun goes down.

Check Your Medications

So many prescriptions and over-the-counter products can cause restlessness, so check your medications and the prescribing instructions to make sure they’re not disturbing your sleep. Supplements such as the B-complex vitamins stimulate energy and can disrupt a sleep session, so take these early in the day.

Keep a Sleep Diary (or an App)

To delve deeper into your lifestyle, sleep habits and how you feel during the day, keep a sleep diary for a week to uncover clues as to what might be sapping your energy. Further, the SleepyTime app can help you determine the best time to go to bed and wake up, allowing you to avoid waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, groggy and annoyed.

You may very well be getting that nightly seven to nine hours, but waking up tired after working through these options may warrant a visit to the doctor to determine whether you have a more difficult condition. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, mouth breathing, teeth-grinding, frequent nighttime urination (nocturia) and sleep-related acid reflux can all lead to fitful, interrupted sleep and waking less than rested.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

How to Start Yoga

Many people want to know how to start yoga when they are looking for a more relaxing, gentle form of exercise. But if practiced incorrectly, you can get hurt in your very first class.

Yoga improves strength, balance, flexibility and an increased sense of well-being. It can even improve certain bone and joint conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and arthritis, but only when practiced in moderation.

Anyone with severe osteoporosis, high or low blood pressure, inner ear problems, known degenerative problems or pregnancy is at a greater risk for injury if they don’t mind their personal limitations, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Here are three ways to ensure you get all of the gain with none of the pain:

Stretch Slowly

The most common yoga injuries are caused by over-stretching your neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. The AAOS warns that weak or sore spots are more prone to tears in muscles, tendons and ligaments if you practice yoga postures incorrectly or push them too far. Even if you are flexible, fit and participate in other sports, yoga poses and postures (called “asanas”) are new to your body.

So instead of bringing a stretch to its limit, start small until you know how your body reacts. In yoga, according to AZCentral, the motto is, “no pain, no pain.” Beginners should start slow and first practice the basics of yoga breathing (called “pranayama”) instead of trying to pose perfectly the moment they start.

Find out about BlueCross member discounts on fitness, from Tai chi to yoga.*

Modify Your Pose

There is a lot of joint movement in yoga and much of it is weight-bearing; these can feel unfamiliar while learning the postures. Most yoga instructors have been practicing yoga for years, so don’t feel pressured to perform each pose the way they do. In fact, yoga instructors usually teach different ways to modify the poses or use props to protect major joints. Try these modifications first before moving ahead, in order to protect common weak spots in your neck, shoulders, back, hips, wrists and knees.

Pick the Perfect Class for You

If you are still wondering how to start yoga, take several beginner classes to see which type of yoga suits you best and which instructor matches your fitness needs. Choose a studio with a low student-to-teacher ratio so you can be sure the instructor can correct your posture and implement modifications as you learn the poses.

When choosing a teacher, ask how your teacher trained, what his or her certification is and whether they study it daily. Be aware there is no national certification program for teaching and each organization has its own standards, although most yoga certifications are sanctioned by the Yoga Alliance. From your very first class, you’ll notice practicing yoga is very “self”-centered. You’re concentrating on your own breathing patterns and performing your own postures, so don’t feel insecure about how you look. Instead, concentrate on how you feel.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Five Ways to Kick Up Your Workout Routine

Are you feeling bored with your workout program or have you hit a plateau where you’re not feeling stronger or you can’t break through a weight loss barrier? If so, it may be time to change up your workout routine.

Longstanding research from the University of Florida found that people who varied their workouts every two weeks over an eight-week period enjoyed their workouts more and stuck with them longer than those who performed the same workouts week after week. Many studies have also shown that your body’s physiological systems generally adapt to an exercise program within about six to eight weeks, which is why you hit plateaus.

If you want to keep increasing your overall fitness, here are five ways to kick your workout routines up a notch.

Boost the Intensity

Regardless of how you work out, you can always push yourself a little harder or faster. If you jog, vary your route to include more inclines and increase your speed. Try interval training by adding a short burst of a more intense activity followed by a short phase of that activity at a slower pace.

Instead of running at the same pace for your entire workout, alternate between sprinting and walking. This boosts your fitness faster because it challenges both your body’s aerobic system (for long bouts of exercise) and anaerobic system (for short, hard bursts of energy).

Cross-Train

Many people drop exercise programs as soon as they get bored or injured, but cross-training is a safe and easy way to avoid both. Add different activities to your workout routine – like swimming, tennis or biking – to work different large muscle groups. If you work out at a gym, use all the different cardio machines instead of the same one every time. If you always go to one specific workout class each week, switch it up and get out of your comfort zone by trying a new one.

Change Your Routine

By training your muscles in a different order or pattern, you force them to adapt and become stronger. There are many ways to do this. Change the order of your exercises, the number of repetitions per set, the number of sets, or the amount of resistance you use. You can even vary the amount of rest between exercise sets or workouts.

Switch Up Your Social Environment

If you normally work out alone, join a group or class. You’ll benefit from the camaraderie of the class and the feedback from the instructor, and you may make some new friends. If you normally only take exercise classes, try a solitary activity and challenge yourself to do something on your own.

Try Something Completely New

If there is a class or activity you’ve always wanted to try, switch up your workout to learn something new and use different muscle groups. Multifaceted exercise activities, such as tai chi, qigong and yoga focus on balance, coordination, agility, flexibility and body awareness as well as mind relaxation. Or, if you like intense workouts, try high-energy kickboxing or boot camps. Learn more about how more moms are incorporate martial arts into their workout routine.

Check out your gym’s class catalog or your local newspaper’s events and activities section to see what’s new in your area. Even a small change in your routine can lead to big results.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

How to Deal With Picky Eaters: Inspiring Your Child to Enjoy More Foods

If your child isn’t the most adventurous person at the dinner table, you’re not alone. Trying something new can be scary, and many of the healthy foods we want our children to eat aren’t as fun or sweet as their tried-and-true favorites. Fortunately, there are a lot of creative ways to handle picky eaters.

First, figure out whether your child is reacting to a food’s taste, texture or appearance. This can make a difference in how you serve it. For example, if your son doesn’t like plain broccoli, try it with Parmesan cheese or lemon juice sprinkled on top. Butternut squash might taste better purreed and added to a homemade soup rather than cubed and off to the side.

One-Bite Rule

Liking new foods takes time. Start by offering your child just a bite or a small serving relative to their main course. Then repeat every few weeks, giving him or her time to adapt to the new taste.

Model Behavior

While you’re eating foods they won’t try, describe the taste and texture. When your child sees you eating it, he or she may be more willing to try it, especially if you explain what it’s like.

Give Your Child Some Control

With some guidance, let your child look over recipes and pick the menu for the night. Or establish a theme like make-your-own-taco night, letting the kids choose the toppings for their taco.

Cook Together

Not only is cooking with your child a great way to spend quality time as a family, you can expose him or her to new foods by trying new recipes. When kids cook their own food, they gain a sense of ownership in what they’re making and will be more likely to eat food they prepared themselves.

Change the Food Preparation

Prepare foods in a way that’s more palatable, like roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness. For example, if your child won’t eat raw vegetables, offer cooked vegetables instead. Maybe he or she likes bite-size foods and would rather have baby carrots instead of whole carrots.

Make Food Fun

A child who won’t eat cherry tomatoes plain might eat them dipped in hummus or low-fat ranch dressing. Or if your son won’t eat a banana suggest adding peanut butter. You can also make the foods look fun on the plate, turning broccoli into trees, and slicing carrots and cucumber rounds into shapes of flowers.

Spice Up the Name of the Food

Carrots are known to promote eye health. With that in mind, a Cornell University study found that changing the lowly carrot’s name to “X-ray vision carrots” got preschoolers to eat 62 percent more of them that day (and they continued eating more the next day). Make up some of your own food names at home!

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More Tips

Giving your child encouragement and praise for trying new things is important too. Even if he or she doesn’t like the food, offer a reward for trying it anyway. And telling stories about how you didn’t like a certain food when you were their age can plant the idea that preferences can change over time.

For more tips on helping kids eat a nutritious diet, check out these easy-to-make healthy snacks your family will love.

How to Fit Exercise into a Busy Schedule

You had plans to go the gym this week, but projects piled up at work, your child caught the flu, and the dog needed to go to the vet. Between work and family obligations, finding the time to exercise can be challenging for most people. Staying fit is not as difficult as you might think, however. Here are some tips for fitting exercise into your busy schedule.

Exercise Early in the Day

Studies have shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with a routine. That’s because finding motivation and energy to exercise after a long day at work can be daunting. It’s also easier to stay focused first thing in the morning before emails and texts distract you. Consider getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual to take a walk around your neighborhood or work out on a piece of home gym equipment.

Walk a Little More

Park in a spot that is a bit further from your office or store. If you use public transportation, get off one stop early and walk the rest of the way to your destination. Choose the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. A few extra steps may not seem like much, but they add up over the course of a week.

Incorporate Exercise Into Your Lunch Break

Use a portion of your lunch break to take a brisk walk or do exercises in your office. Body-weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups can be performed virtually anywhere. Consider keeping a resistance band or dumbbell at work for simple strength training exercises such as bicep curls.

Put It on Your Calendar

It’s easy to get bogged down at work, so mark time when you can exercise every day. Take a vigorous walk or do jumping jacks with a few friends during a morning or afternoon break. Or, schedule a “walking meeting” with colleagues so you can discuss work matters while you exercise.

Turn Chores Into Exercise

While cleaning your house, try increasing your pace to up your heart rate. Mow the lawn with a push mower. Make several trips to carry in groceries or put away laundry so you take more steps. Wash your vehicle by hand instead of taking it to the car wash. Ride a bicycle for short errands around town.

Turn Screen Time Into Fitness Time

Try watching TV or browsing the Internet while using a treadmill, elliptical machine, stationary bike or other piece of gym equipment. Work out at home or at the gym, which may have televisions built into the equipment or have Wi-Fi capabilities.

Get Your Kids Involved

Exercise as a family in the evenings or on weekends. Take hikes together, go to the zoo, ride bikes, play catch or find another fun activity that gets everyone moving and active.

Finding the time to exercise can be difficult for busy adults, but a few simple changes to your schedule can help you incorporate the recommended amount of physical activity into your day.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Vegetable Container Garden Ideas: How to Get Started

Although getting into gardening does require time and energy, this investment is typically minimal and far outweighed by the relaxation and nutritional benefits it provides.

The size of your yard shouldn’t stop you from growing a garden this year. Here are some fun and fruitful vegetable container garden ideas.

Container Gardening

This type of gardening is exactly what its name suggests: growing a garden in containers like pots instead of in the ground. People often grow container gardens because they have limited outdoor space. But it isn’t just for those without a yard. These gardens are ideal for sunny patios, balconies and porches, according to OrganicLife magazine.

Because of Tennessee’s mild climate, you can produce healthy food for much of the year. Indoor containers can efficiently grow food like lettuce and herbs even as the temperature drops during the winter.

A Cornucopia of Benefits

When gardening, you reap a great harvest of health benefits:

  • The food you grow is typically fresher and higher in nutrients than store-bought produce.
  • You have easy access to healthy produce — simply visit your garden and pick the ripened food you’d like to prepare for your next meal. This way, you’re likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • You have control over what goes into the food you grow, so you can avoid toxic gardening chemicals.
  • While cultivating your container garden, you enjoy exercise, fresh air and stress reduction by working with your hands.
  • It’s less expensive to grow your own food than to buy it from a store. You also save money by eating healthier and minimizing the chances of developing illnesses.

What You Can Grow

Talk with your local gardening expert or research online to discover which plants would be best to grow in your area.

In much of Tennessee, good options for beginners include lettuce, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, dill, oregano, mint and rosemary are excellent starters as well, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and make great candidates for more diverse container garden plants.

Try using the foods you grow in your container garden for salads, smoothies and stir-fry dishes. Herbs like mint are perfect in therapeutic teas when you’re not feeling well.

Getting Started

It’s relatively simple to gather vegetable container garden ideas. You can buy a book or take a class at a local gardening shop. Or visit a store that sells gardening supplies and ask for tips and instructions.

The supplies you’ll need to get your container garden going will vary based on what and where you decide to grow.

In general, here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • pots in various sizes
  • soil
  • a hose or watering can
  • tools such as a small shovel
  • gardening gloves
  • seeds or starts (for baby plants)

With all types of food harvests, expect some trial and error. Certain items will grow better than others. As time goes on you’ll learn from both mistakes and successes. Meanwhile, you’ll have begun a rewarding hobby while adding healthy food to your plate. Dig in!

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Sleeping Tips for New Moms

Having a baby is one of life’s most joyful experiences, but adjusting to your baby’s schedule and taking care of a newborn can be stressful. Plus, most babies don’t sleep a full eight hours until three months of age. To get you through those tough nights, check out these sleeping tips for new moms.

Share Your Room With the Baby

This will make it easier to doze off when your baby goes to sleep, particularly as you quiet and darken the room. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean having baby sleep in bed with you, which can become counterproductive. For nighttime breast-feedings, sharing the room also eliminates walking around the house, waking you further.

Power Down Your Devices

Your smartphone, tablet and TV all have a stimulating effect on your brain, as flashing lights and sounds direct you to constantly check your devices when you should be winding down for the evening. The National Sleep Foundation finds most Americans have several electronics in their bedroom at any one time, and when these devices are left on, they can interrupt your sleep.

Make Sleep a Priority

Create and follow a nighttime routine. Turn off the TV at a set time every night, take a warm bath, and climb into bed. Power down your mind, too, by reading, journaling or practicing a similar activity that helps you relax.

Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

The National Sleep Foundation reports the effects of caffeine can last up to six hours in your body. Cut out the coffee, soda and other caffeinated drinks by early afternoon, and it will be easier winding down before bedtime.

According to a study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it’s not the amount of sleep time lost that affects new moms most, but rather how often they wake up. When your sleep is interrupted every night for months, you miss out on the typical rhythms that give you energy, causing you to feel irritable, forgetful and unable to concentrate. To keep your routine while raising an infant, try any of these five sleeping tips to get better sleep when you need it the most.

Naomi Mannino is a health and personal finance journalist who specializes in helping consumers get the most from their health and financial choices. She enjoys sharing her personal experiences and never writes about anything she has not tried herself. You can follow Naomi on Twitter @naomimannino.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor. 

Good Sore vs. Bad Sore: How to Tell the Difference

There is a lot of truth to the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” Feeling a little bit of soreness after exercising is normal and, believe it or not, usually a sign that your muscles are getting stronger. But not every post-workout ache is positive. Here’s how to compare good sore vs. bad sore, and how you can expect to recover from both.

What ‘Good Sore’ Feels Like

When you exercise, the physical stress placed on your body causes inflammation and tiny muscle tissue tears that lead to a type of soreness called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

This creates a blunt discomfort or burning sensation that affects both sides of your body equally, like both quadriceps after a hard run or both biceps after a session of arm curls. DOMS usually develops within a couple of days after being active and is completely normal. In fact, as the tiny tears heal, your muscles grow back even stronger.

DOMS affects new exercisers and seasoned athletes alike. And fortunately, there are steps you can take to soothe your discomfort. Cooling down at the end of your workout, for instance, can get rid of the soreness-causing lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during exercise. Applying ice to these areas can help minimize swelling, as well.

Lastly, consider working different muscle groups next time so you can give your tired muscles a rest. Although DOMS might leave you feeling sluggish, you should still be able to exercise comfortably the next day, even if you need to take it easy.

What ‘Bad Sore’ Feels Like

Overly strenuous workouts can stress your muscles too much, leading to more intense inflammation coupled with tenderness, sharp pain and even swelling that’s visible with the naked eye.

Whereas “good” soreness goes away in a day or two — and might feel better with mild exercise, like walking or swimming — the same physical activity often makes “bad” soreness feel worse. And unlike “good” soreness, which typically affects both the left and right muscle, “bad” soreness tends to be unilateral, meaning it only affects one side of the body. This can indicate a specific injury, according to Shape, like a sprained ankle or shoulder.

Cases of severe soreness can even be managed with rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. However, soreness that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time could be a sign of a more serious injury, like a torn ligament or a stress fracture. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests calling your doctor if:

  • Your pain doesn’t go away with rest.
  • Your pain is constant or gets worse instead of better.
  • Your pain starts affecting everyday activities like walking or climbing steps.
  • You need increasing amounts of medication to relieve your pain.
  • Your pain wakes you up at night.
  • You develop numbness, tingling or loss of motion.

Remember, even if your soreness is mild, you shouldn’t ignore it. By taking time to treat even minor aches and pains, you can identify good sore vs. bad sore right when you get out of bed, bounce back from exercise faster and tackle your next workout sooner.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

What Are the Best Dairy Substitutes Available Today?

Whether you’re cutting out milk-based products because of a health diet or due to lactose allergies, there are many dairy substitutes readily available to you on the shelf or over the counter. Here are the most common types you’ll find at your local market, and some differences to take into consideration when choosing the one that’s right for you.

Soy Milk

When people think of dairy substitutes, they usually think of soy — in the form of milk, cream cheese or even noodles. As a general rule, soy milk has a higher protein content than most other alternatives, as well as a mild, pleasant taste. Today’s Dietitian considers this liquid extract of soybeans to be the only plant-based option containing “complete protein,” making it one of the favorite dairy alternatives you’d find at the store. Soy milks naturally contain omega-3 fatty acids, and are a great source of manganese and magnesium. Most commercial soy milks are also fortified with vitamin D and similar nutrients.

Rice Milk

For those allergic to soy milk or complete protein, rice milk is one of your best options. Because it’s made from boiled rice, brown rice starch and brown rice syrup, it tends to be naturally sweeter than other milk substitutes. This may also be a key reason Go Dairy Free recommends rice milk as kids’ favorite alternative. It can be used in recipes, like other non-dairy options, but can be a little thinner and more watery in consistency. Still, rice milk is lighter in fat content — perfect when looking to trim it from your diet.

Coconut Milk

For rich substitutes to whole milk, coconut milk will likely be the most satisfying. Keep in mind this is the coconut milk beverage, rather than the canned product you’ll find in the international food section. Although even light versions of canned coconut milk have twice the fat of cows’ milk, be careful with the beverage version, as it contains approximately five grams of fat per cup. If you choose this dairy alternative, you’ll also get a bigger dose of iron and fiber in each serving compared to traditional milk and dairy substitutes. Coconut milk makes a great ingredient when baking as well, with its natural sweetness and moderate fat content.

Almond Milk

Almond milk also has a naturally sweet taste that is great for baking. Among all the different dairy substitutes you may find, however, this item has the least amount of protein, vitamins and trace minerals. Today’s Dietitian recommends it as the best alternative to formula for children. Almond milk is made of ground almonds, water and usually a little bit of sweetener, but like most dairy alternatives, unsweetened versions are just as widely available.

Other Options

Oat and hemp milks are lesser-known dairy alternatives, but you can still find them locally or for purchase online. Hemp milk is gluten-free, whereas oat milk can make a great alternative to skim milk. One of the newest milk substitutes to go to market is potato milk, which is high in carbohydrates, low in protein and also gluten-free.

If you want to dump the dairy, you have many options at your disposal and new milk substitutes hitting the shelves all the time. You’re bound to find one that fits your diet and lifestyle.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

The Local Food Movement: Finding Resources in Your Area

The local food movement has grown in recent years, with the rise of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) now found throughout Tennessee. “Local food” simply refers to items grown or raised within a short distance from where you live. For food to be considered “local,” many people consider it has to be produced within 100 miles or in the same state.

How It Helps the Farmer

Choosing locally grown and raised food offers benefits to both you and farmers. For the farmer, selling locally yields a higher return. Without having to ship food hundreds of miles away, farmers can enjoy a bigger portion of the profits. On a personal level, selling directly to locals is also a rewarding experience because the farmer gets to know who purchases the foods he or she grows.

How It Helps You

You diet can also benefit from fresh foods purchased locally. You can choose from newly picked fruits and vegetables instead of old or otherwise poor-quality produce handled by multiple people. If you’re concerned about the safety of the food your purchase, you can rest assured that local goods will be fresher and more nutritious. You also build a strong mutual trust with farmers when you buy locally grown foods.

How to Choose Local Foods

Finding local foods in Tennessee is fairly easy. To start, look for farmers markets. These may be seasonal or open year-round, but they all stock fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products made locally.

To get more involved in the local food movement, look for CSA programs in your area. These allow you to purchase a share in your local farm, affording you a weekly or monthly supply of its locally grown foods. Since monthly CSA boxes can provide ample produce, consider splitting the cost with a friend, family member or neighbor.

Even if you don’t have the time to get involved with the local food movement, you can still choose local foods as a general practice. Many grocery stores sell local produce, and often have these choices marked. You can also look for farm-to-table restaurants, which grow the same foods they use in their dishes. Enjoy the local flavors of the region by making these simple choices.

Joining the local food movement has many benefits, with one of the biggest advantages being that you know exactly where your food comes from. As author and activist Michael Pollan said, “At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”