Your mind can improve your exercise results, says two recent studies. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that women who believed they had a high tolerance for muscle pain reported less discomfort during cycling tests than women who claimed a low threshold.
In a Harvard University study, when hotel maids were told their work met the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle, the women experienced decreases in blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index a month later. But the control group, who didn't receive the information, saw no such health improvements.
Did You Know?
Running may make you walk better, now and into old age. Researchers who analyzed the walking dynamics of older and younger adults found that runners and former-runners walked more efficiently, putting less stress on muscles and tendons, than non-runners.
Economize Your Exercise
Wonder why that gazelle in your running group seems to stride along effortlessly while you struggle to keep pace? Well, she may simply run more economically than you.
Running economy refers to how much oxygen relative to body weight you need to run--even if you're the same height and weight as your running partner, your oxygen needs may be different. Many factors may contribute to running economy, from body size and leg length to the ratio of fast-twitch muscle fibers (responsible for speed/power) to slow-twitch (endurance) fibers you have. This may help explain why the lightweight, long-legged, fast-twitch-gifted East Africans continue to rack up wins, says researcher Carl Foster of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.
There's nothing you can do about your genetics, but the way you train can make a difference. Foster says performing speed intervals once or twice a week (but no more) is one of the best ways to improve running economy. Strength training may also help because it builds better muscle control. Stronger muscles coupled with interval training can increase your stride power and foot turnover, thereby minimizing the amount of time you stay on the ground. The less contact time with the surface, the less energy wasted.
Sprint to Learn
A few tough track intervals may power your brain as well as your body. Researchers in Germany found that vocabulary learning was faster and retention better following a session of high-intensity sprints than after low-intensity jogging or rest.
Standing Hip Adductor and Knee Flexor Stretch
Stand near a bench or table that is close to your hip-height. Balance your weight on your left leg and raise the right leg out to the side so that your ankle and foot rests on the bench. Bend at the hip as far as you can, keeping your knees straight. As you bend, reach between your knees and place your hands behind your thighs. For a more difficult stretch, increase the height of the bench.