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You Asked: As a Beginner, How Often (and How Far) Should I Walk?

Walking is an excellent way to start getting fit because it costs little to nothing and can be done almost anywhere and by just about anyone. (Learn more about the health and fitness benefits of walking.) So how do you begin with a walking program? Here are a few do's and don'ts to get you started.
Posted 5/1/2012  5:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 6 comments   126,627 views
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You Asked: Why Should I Warm Up before a Workout?

On those days when time is at a premium, it can be tempting to skip your warm-up and jump right into your workout.  Is that a smart use of your time, or is it asking for trouble?  Even though the warming up won't burn hundreds of calories or get you those six-pack abs you've always wanted, it still has a very important place in your workout routine.  Why warm up?  Here are 10 good reasons.
Posted 4/23/2012  5:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 1 comments   74,103 views
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How to Fit In Fitness and Still Have a Life

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog and subsequently led a special SparkPeople LIVE! meeting on the topic of designing your perfect workout plan.The information I shared (how intensely and frequently you should do cardio and strength training throughout the week) is important and was well received, but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

I've given you the basic rundown of how much exercise you need to reach your goals, but next comes the hard part: How the heck do you fit it all into your schedule? And maybe even more importantly, how can you do all that exercise and still have a life outside of the gym?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question. Like many things in weight loss and in life, most of us know what to do, but that doesn't mean that we really know how to put that knowledge into practice. Lack of time is the biggest hurdle we face when trying to fit in exercise. And now I'm telling you to do cardio 3-6 times a week for up to an hour, to strength train at least twice a week with every major muscle group and to fit in stretching each time you do either. How are you supposed to swing that without making a second home of your gym?

That's what this blog is all about. Today, I'll share with you some sample workout plans that "fit it all in" plus my time-saving tips to get you in, out—and thoroughly exercised—in less time. I'll also share my own workout plan so you can see how I structure exercise in my week. Are you ready?
Posted 3/2/2012  6:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 30 comments   41,597 views
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Confession: I Still Struggle with the First 10 Minutes

"Viewing exercise as a tool for living the life you want is far more motivating than thinking of it as a means to an end." ~ Coach Nicole

If you look at my SparkPage, it is filled with quotes--quotes that I find motivating and inspiring, especially when life can be a tad too overwhelming for me to find the inspiration within myself to get up and move. These wise words allow me to connect with where I am right now in my life and apply them to where I hope to be in the future.

Having just celebrated my 7th anniversary of reclaiming a life of health and fitness, I must confess that after all these years of working out consistently at least five days a week, I still struggle with motivating myself to get up and out the door, whether that is for a run or going to the gym.

Don't get me wrong there are those days I am eager to don my running attire to head outside or to go to the gym, but when my motivation begins to wane, breaking that barrier of resistance is TOUGH. I have to remind myself that this journey is one I will need to be on for the rest of my life. Just ten minutes is all it takes--10 minutes or 600 seconds--to keep me moving in the right direction.  

A few weeks ago when I was scheduled to go out for long run of 9 miles, I was doing everything in my power to find something to keep my mind occupied and away from running. I did not feel like running, but I knew if I did not get out that day, I was going to have to run the next day when I had a lot more on my plate. I really had no excuse. It was a nice sunny Saturday afternoon with unseasonably warm temps for January. There really was no excuse I could come up with not to go, but I first had to convince my brain otherwise.
Posted 2/14/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Nancy Howard : 40 comments   10,571 views
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How to Design Your Ideal Workout Plan

You know that exercise improves your health and helps with weight loss, but if you're an average Jane or Joe (aka not a certified fitness coach or trained exercise physiologist), your best intentions may not be enough. What exactly should you be doing anyway? How do you know what exercises to do? How long should you exercise? How often? What types of exercises are best? Before you even set foot in a gym, you are feeling like a fish out of water. For many people, not knowing what to do is a big barrier to doing anything at all.
You don't have to hire a trainer to think like one—or to get started with exercise or even create your own ideal workout plan. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Posted 1/21/2012  6:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 26 comments   132,285 views
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You Asked: What's the Best Diet/Fitness Program for Weight Loss?

There are thousands of diet plans available these days, and there are just as many different workout programs. The trendy diets and workout plans of the past couple of years (think Paleo, Dukan, the 17-Day Diet, hCG, PINK, P90X, Insanity and more) will rise, peak and fall just like the popular diet and workout plans of the past. There will always be a new, trendy diet or workout plan. As different as they all may be, they all have one thing in common: They promise to be "the program" to help you take off the weight. But can they all be telling the truth?
As a health and fitness professional, the question I get asked most often revolve around my opinion on other diet or fitness programs.

What do you think about the [insert name here] diet?
Does [insert workout program/DVD] really work?
What's the best diet (or workout program) for weight loss?
My answer to these common questions may surprise you.
Posted 1/5/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 44 comments   35,471 views
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I Tried It: 'Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition' Workout DVD

Editor's Note (Nicole Nichols): So many workout DVDs land on my desk, but since I only have so many hours in the day to work (and work out), I've started enlisting the help of my fellow SparkPeople employees to test them. I asked Teri, a new employee on SparkPeople's sales and marketing team, to try the first (and recently released) DVD by Chris Powell, trainer from the TV show "Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition." When I previewed the DVD, I liked what I saw: lots of encouragement, good modifications (plus tips to progress exercises), and workouts that seemed introductory and geared toward beginners and/or people who have a lot of weight to lose. I also loved seeing the real people doing the workouts along with Chris. The DVD includes three workouts (15 minutes, 25 minutes, and 30 minutes) that increase in intensity as you get fitter.
Teri is getting back into fitness since starting her job at SparkPeople two months ago, and her goal is to lose 25 pounds. Find out what she thought about this workout DVD!
Posted 11/4/2011  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 23 comments   36,607 views
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What Could You Accomplish in 4 Weeks?

Wanting to lose weight and get healthier this year, but not exactly sure where—or how—to start? SparkPeople's 4-week challenges can motivate you to reach new goals, develop healthy habits and have fun along the way!

When you join one of our challenges, you'll get a specific plan to follow, plus all the information you need to reach a new goal or make a new personal breakthrough. You can even earn a special SparkTrophy for each official challenge you complete!

These challenges are a great way to get support and motivation to reach new healthy goals this year, no matter where you are in your weight-loss journey. Choose from any one of these six health, fitness and nutrition challenges!
Posted 1/12/2011  7:37:09 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 27 comments   15,215 views
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VIDEO: 7 Secrets to Losing BIG in Your First 2 Weeks

Happy New Year! Millions of people are resolving to lose weight, tone up, and get healthy this year, and if you're reading this, you are probably one of them. In reality though, only some of us will succeed in reaching those goals. (Sorry, it's true!) But you can set yourself up for success starting today, and I'm going to tell you how.

Did you know that the first two weeks of your new, healthy lifestyle might just make or break your success? It's true. More than 50% of people report losing momentum within the first two weeks of starting a diet, and almost 20% lose willpower within 3 days according to one poll! But you CAN get results, increase your motivation, and meet your expectations during these first few weeks of January—if you do the right things. By following these tips, you'll be five times more likely to reach your goal!

Recently, I shared the seven secrets to a strong start with Cincinnati's local FOX affiliate, FOX 19. These are the actions that members followed during the first two weeks of their programs in order to lose twice as much weight as people who did not follow these steps. And now, I'm sharing that video with you!
Posted 1/7/2011  5:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 51 comments   21,336 views
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Putting some Resolve in my New Year's Resolutions

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, mainly because my history of sticking to them past the first week or two of January is pretty bleak. The times when I’ve actually been successful at changing my behavior (especially behavior related to eating and exercise) didn’t begin with a special date or a resolution for the new year. They began when I realized I was in trouble, and finally had to acknowledge that I really needed to start changing my behavior NOW—no more putting things off, even for a few days.

This year, I find myself in that kind of situation today, which also happens to be Jan. 1. So, I figure I might as well take a little time to write down exactly what it is that I think needs to change, and some ideas about how I’m going to make those changes happen.
Posted 1/1/2011  2:30:00 PM By: Dean Anderson : 132 comments   19,209 views
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10 Full Body Strength Training Exercises for the Beginner

Fitness experts recommend a triad of exercises we should incorporate into our lifestyle in order to achieve optimum fitness. These exercises include cardio-respiratory activities, flexibility exercises and resistance training. Cardio-respiratory activities such as walking, cycling, running, and swimming help with our overall health, while flexibility exercises, such as stretching, help with range of motion around the joint. Lastly, we should all participate in some form of resistance training regardless of our age or gender, whether with free weights, machines, resistance bands or even your own body weight.

If you feel you do not have time to incorporate all the various exercises into your busy schedule, according to the American Council on Exercise, "significant fitness and strength gains can be made in just two strength training sessions per week when you target all muscle groups."

Posted 8/25/2010  4:00:38 PM By: Nancy Howard : 29 comments   73,577 views
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Your Chance to Be an 'Expert,' Help a New Member

One morning, Saunya woke up, readied herself and her young daughter, and headed off to work. She was tired, and she was frustrated.

She was overweight and tired of being tired and unhappy. She searched for diet and workout ideas for busy people and found SparkPeople. She immediately joined.

So far, she has been a member for less than two months, and she's already making changes. She's walking during her lunch breaks and trying to say no to food when she's not hungry.

Still, she says she needs help. She saw a call for tips and ideas on the dailySpark, and while she didn't have one to share, she was desperately in need of one. She wrote:

"I honestly really don’t have a tip or idea. I need some help.
Posted 4/1/2010  2:41:31 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 250 comments   20,267 views
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Should You Be Planning a Victory Garden?

Victory Gardens were a popular thing back in the early 1940s. Some referred to them as 'war gardens' while others called them 'food gardens for defense'. In 1943 due to the rationing of canned goods for families, these gardens produced up to 41 percent of all the vegetable produce consumed across the nation.

Several years ago, churches in my area started victory-type gardens to provide fresh produce to food pantries. Not only did this provide a healthier option for folks that were in need of food compared to high sodium canned vegetables, it also renewed an interest in backyard gardening in our suburban area.

Today victory-type gardens are becoming popular once again but with a different goal. Today, self-reliance has become a motivating factor behind home gardening. When you grow your own food you increase the ability to control how it is grown, what you pay and how much will be available. With the hint of spring in the air, now is the time to begin garden planning, planting designs and preparation. Here are some simple ideas to help you plan a victory-type garden for your family.

Posted 3/1/2010  1:32:37 PM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 171 comments   18,189 views
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We Tried It: The 'Squeeze It In' Workout DVD

Like many of you, I'm a busy mom who tries hard to balance work, family life and my own priorities. One of my personal goals is to stay healthy and fit. That's not easy, especially on those days when I barely have enough time to brush my teeth, much less find time for a long workout. That's why I was excited to check out the DVD our friends at sent us to try. It sells for $14.99 and can be purchased on their website. is a website full of exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere. The exercises don't require equipment and often use everyday movements to create a workout. For example, countertop push-ups can be done while making dinner, and hot squats can be done while blow drying your hair. The program suggests dividing your workout into three 10-minute segments throughout the day. The DVD contains many of the exercises that are found on the site, as well as a longer workout and more tips for how to fit exercise into a busy day.

Posted 2/26/2010  6:09:40 AM By: Jen Mueller : 61 comments   17,826 views
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4 Workouts for People with Limited Mobility

By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

Being disabled or having chronic pain or illness makes exercise difficult if not impossible. Some days I wake up and just want to stay under the covers in bed, where the pain is at its best level of control. That's no kind of life and led me to weighing 460 pounds.

After joining SparkPeople, I learned that short bouts of fitness add up. I started my fitness journey by going to my doctor/nurse practitioner, and they set me up with in-home physical therapy. There are plenty of physical therapy options depending on your insurance coverage. I've done pool exercise, mild gym exercise, total gym exercise, and table exercise. You should see your doctor or health-care professional before considering which option might be best for your disability. Together, you can decide whether you might be able to do some of the exercises at home.

If cost is a concern, it would definitely be cheaper to get a gym membership with a pool than to pay physical therapy bills. A few sessions might give you the basics and you could go from there. Some gyms have very well-trained water aerobics instructors, so do some research before signing any papers. Another way to save money is on the mild gym and table exercise area. A few sessions of therapy can give you the basics, and you can continue to exercise at home. Generally, physical therapists use equipment like exercise bands, stability balls, and very light weights. These sessions also use various standing poses and the table exercises use laying poses to help stretch the muscles. Physical therapy helps you gain strength, flexibility and endurance to go to the next level.

There are indeed other ways to get moving without therapy. The little gadget in the photo above (called an arm cycle or arm ergometer) can be used for arms or legs while sitting. When I had physical therapy, it was one of the machines they had me use to reap the benefits of cardio using only my arms. There are machines of various grades out there, so read the reviews. Some are cheaply made pedal machines, while others are made to give very intense aerobic workouts for people who are undergoing rehabilitation. It's a great way to get aerobic exercise without having to stand. also has DVDs of bed and chair exercise including aerobics, yoga, tai-chi, and other things to keep workouts interesting and off your feet.

At 460 pounds, these are the workouts I created to get stronger and ready to walk again:
Posted 2/17/2010  12:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 198 comments   135,359 views
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