When Your Heartbeat Goes Haywire

October 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm , by

Everyone has memories of their first love—the moment you first made eye contact with your high-school sweetheart in the hall, or when he finally leaned in for that first kiss. Remember how it made your heart race, and it felt like you might burst from excitement?

Of course you do. But you probably haven’t given much thought to how your heartbeat actually works, or how important your heart’s powerful electrical system is to the rest of your health. After all, you don’t have to ask your heart to beat. It just does it.

Here’s how it works: Your pulse starts in a node in the right atrium of your heart, causing it to contract. Then, through a pathway of fibers that acts like a wire, the pulse spreads to the bottom chambers of your heart, which prompts the left ventricle to contract and send oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, explains cardiologist Hugh Calkins, M.D., president of the Heart Rhythm Society.

It’s normal for your heartbeat to change during exercise, as you sleep or in the presence of a special someone, of course. But there are times when a change in your heartbeat can mean something’s wrong. Last week we sat down with Dr. Calkins to get the scoop on some heart-rhythm problems you should know about.

Falling For It
If you’ve ever passed out before, you know how scary it can be. Fainting happens when your heartbeat slows down too much, making it hard for blood to reach your brain. It can be triggered by intense emotions or fear (that’s why seeing blood can make you pass out), but dehydration or getting too hot can also do it. Women are much more prone to fainting than men, and it tends to run in families. While most of the time passing out is harmless, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it because it can be a sign of other serious heart troubles, says Dr. Calkins. Plus, your doctor can give you strategies to recognize when an episode is coming on so you can try to prevent it.

All Revved Up
A super-fast heartbeat that comes on suddenly (when you’re not in a Zumba class or something) can be a heart-rhythm problem called paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT. There are different types of PSVT, but for most people it happens because they have an extra pathway for electricity to travel between the two nodes, which allows the pulse to circle back and make the heart beat faster than normal. “It’s basically a short-circuit,” says Dr. Calkins. Almost two-thirds of people with PSVT are women, and it’s often misdiagnosed as an anxiety attack at first. Sometimes exercise or bending over triggers it, but just as often your heart starts racing for no reason at all. Unless you have another heart condition, you may not need treatment, but you should see your doctor or a cardiologist for a full checkup.

Getting Mixed Signals
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart-rhythm disorder, and one of the most serious because it increases your risk for stroke. It’s caused by faulty signaling in the nodes in your heart, which leads to an irregular and rapid heartbeat. This makes the upper chambers of your heart quiver rapidly, which can make you feel light-headed or cause shortness of breath. Risk factors include a family history of A-fib, obesity and high blood pressure. While A-fib is more common in men, your risk increases as you age. Tell your doctor about any weird changes in your heartbeat. Symptoms can come and go, but A-fib is much easier to treat with medication if you catch it early.

Image copyright Roobcio, Shutterstock


Super-Fast Holiday Workouts

November 28, 2012 at 9:54 am , by

‘Tis the season when your “I’m too busy to exercise” excuse seems 110% legit. You’ve added parties, Christmas shopping, travel planning, holiday card-addressing and about 50 other things to your already packed schedule, so how are you supposed to find time to work out too? Don’t sweat it! We found plenty of quickie at-home workouts you can easily sneak into your day.

* Got 5 minutes?

No matter what your fitness level, Jim Parker of Muffins to Marathons (how great is that name?) has a cardio blast that’s perfect for you. The beginnerintermediate and advanced versions are all on YouTube.

* Got 7 minutes?

That’s just enough time to target every muscle in your butt. Bonus: The moves are pretty TV-friendly so you don’t even have to tear yourself away from Elf to work on your rear view.

Got 8 minutes?

A fast core workout that doesn’t involve crunches? It’s a Christmas miracle! All you need is a towel and a mat and you’re good to go.

Got 10 minutes?

The best things about trainer Andrea Orbeck’s full-body circuit workout: 1) It doesn’t require equipment, and 2) There’s no complicated footwork, so even hopelessly uncoordinated people like me won’t get lost.

Got 12 minutes?

If you need to avoid high-impact exercises, this quickie cardio routine from Andrea Metcalf will help burn off those gingerbread latte calories—no leaping and jumping required.

Got 15 minutes?

Denise Austin’s fat-burning yoga sequence is intense enough to sculpt muscle yet soothing enough to calm your holiday-frenzied brain.

Image via Shutterstock.

The Fall TV Workout

September 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm , by

This week is heaven for TV lovers. Several new shows debut (Animal Practice, The Neighbors, Elementary, etc.) and a slew of favorites return (Modern Family, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, and so on…you can see the full schedule here.) What’s not so heavenly is how much time you’ll spend on your butt watching all this entertainment goodness. Studies show that the more hours you log in front of the tube, the more likely you are to develop serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

So what’s a health-conscious TV fan to do, other than be very picky about what you watch? Make your tube time less sedentary. It’s a great opportunity to fit in strength training—something most women skip. These six exercises allow you to keep your eyes on the screen while you tone your trouble spots.

Couch push-ups If doing push-ups on your knees feels too easy but you’re not quite ready to do them on your toes, incline push-ups like this one are the perfect happy medium.

Side plank This targets your obliques, aka the muscles under the love handles. (I hate using “love handles” but it’s slightly less loathsome than “muffin top.”)

Wide-leg wall sit with calf raises Proof that sitting isn’t always bad for you! This variation on the classic wall sit works your butt, thighs and calves.

Flamingo dip Think you’ve mastered triceps dips? Give this one-legged version a try—it tightens your triceps and your thighs.

Bridge kick You don’t even have to get off the couch to do this butt- and thigh-toner. Seriously. (See images 3 and 4.)

Hammer curl shoulder press Firm your biceps and shoulders while you ogle McDreamy. How’s that for a multitasking move?

Challenge Yourself to Shape Up

August 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm , by

The past two weeks we’ve watched in awe as thousands of athletes competed in everything from track & field to judo in London. But why just sit back and watch? The Olympics can be a great motivator to help you get in shape, too.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to push yourself to new heights of better health. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish. That’s what happened to Terri Gerrard, pictured above (yes, both of those are her). We met her while we were working on our August issue story on sensible weight-loss secrets from LHJ readers.

My jaw dropped when Terri sent us her before and after pictures. But what really impressed me was why she chose to compete (in a bikini, on stage) in a figure competition. It’s a lot like bodybuilding, she says, except the judges focus on muscle tone rather than muscle size. Read on for how she made changes and how you can get started.

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Stretches for Women Who Sit on Their Butts All Day

August 1, 2012 at 9:06 am , by

Let’s take a quick break from the sitting-will-kill-us-all stories* and deal with the fact that spending most of the day on your butt is just plain uncomfortable. It’s brutal on your lower back, which you’ve probably already learned the hard way. But that’s not the only body part that suffers when you’re sedentary. Here’s how to soothe some of the achiest areas.

Sore spot #1: Your hip flexors and hamstrings
Sitting creates tension in your hips and the back of your thighs (ouch), which can pull your back out of alignment (mega-ouch.)

The fixes
Hips: Kneeling hip flexor stretch
Hamstrings: Hamstring stretch series
Both: Happy Baby

Sore Spot #2: Your (entire) back
Unless you’re one of the rare people with flawless posture, you probably hunch over your desk while you work. The result: a weak, overstretched back that’s practically begging for an injury. To protect yourself, focus on strengthening your upper and lower back.

The fixes
Lower back: Superwoman
Upper back: Shoulder blade squeeze

Sore spot #3: Your chest
The other consequence of serial slouching? Tight pecs and rounded shoulders, which give you that not at all coveted “hunchback” look (technical term: kyphosis.)

The fixes
Standing chest opener
Cobra pose

* Why is too much sitting dangerous to your health? This piece sums it up.

How NOT To Lose Weight This Summer

June 27, 2012 at 8:00 am , by

You’d think that summer would be the easiest time to drop a few pounds. You’ll be more active! You’ll eat more fruits and vegetables! Your winter carb cravings are a thing of the past! You’ll probably slim down a little without even trying, right? Not necessarily. After all, summer comes with its own set of weight-loss saboteurs. Parties are a big one—eating a lot of hot dogs, hamburgers and mayo-heavy pasta and potato salads never made anybody’s shorts looser. The other waistline-wreckers aren’t quite so obvious. If you’re trying to de-flab this season, here are three things you definitely shouldn’t do:

1. Drink without thinking. We consume too many liquid calories all year long, but it’s particularly easy to go overboard on sugary beverages in the summer. For starters, you’re just plain thirstier than usual. Then there’s the variety factor. As the temperature rises, the selection of creamy iced coffee drinks, smoothies, slushes, ultra-sweet lemonades and iced teas gets wider (and they’re especially hard to resist when you’re parched.) And that’s just the non-alcoholic stuff! Don’t forget about those margaritas, daiquiris and pina coladas. It’s all basically dessert—and you need to start thinking of it that way. Consider the fact that a 12-oz frozen margarita has 675 calories. Starbucks’ venti java chip Frappuccino packs 580 calories. Even a bottle of Snapple lemonade has 190 calories—30 more than you’ll find in three Oreo cookies.

You don’t have to swear off sweet drinks completely. They do, however, have to be (very) occasional treats. When you need to cool off, your go-to picks should be water, unsweetened iced teas and coffees and other low- and no-calorie drinks. Hosting or attending a BBQ? Make lighter versions of your favorite alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

2. Tell yourself that more sweat = more calories burned. I really wish this one was true. If it was, I’d only need to exercise for about 5 minutes a day in the summertime. Unfortunately, you don’t melt any more fat when you work out in shirt-soaking heat than you would on a crisp fall day, so don’t assume you can get away with exercising less this season. Everyone perspires at their own rate—which is determined by age, sex, genes, weight and shape—so you can’t gauge the toughness of your workout by how drenching it is. A brisk 10-minute walk is enough to make some people perspire, while others are barely even dewy after a 40-minute run. Three things determine how many calories you burn during exercise: frequency, duration and intensity.

If it’s too hot and humid to get a sufficiently challenging workout outside, you can always fry plenty of calories indoors. Check out our do-anywhere “Get Slim Without The Gym” routine, which is just 25 minutes long. Or try a new workout DVD; our friends at Fitness rounded up the best picks of the year here.

3. Do a detoxifying juice cleanse. You might be a little tempted to try one now that we’re in swimsuit season, but seriously: you do not want to jump on this bandwagon. Would a cleanse help you drop a few pounds in time for next weekend’s pool party? Maybe, but it’s usually just water weight; you’ll gain it back once you start eating normally again. Will a cleanse make you cranky, tired, diarrhea-prone and really, really hungry? Probably. (So much for enjoying the pool party.) And you don’t need to “detox”—your organs already have that job covered.

That’s a whole lot of misery just to look a teeny bit smaller in your bathing suit. It’s a waste of money, too—those cleanses can be really pricey (one popular brand costs $65 a day!) If you want to look slimmer for an event, cutting out junk food and high-calorie drinks is a much healthier, cheaper and saner way to go.

The Secret To Great Abs: 15 Flattening Moves

May 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm , by

“What’s the secret to great abs?” When people find out I’m a personal trainer, this is always the first question they ask me. My answer? Variety. It’s not really a secret, and it’s definitely not the lone fix for a flabby midsection; obviously you need to do cardio and eat healthfully too. But when it comes to ab workouts, variety is often what’s missing. If you always do the same moves, your muscles get just as bored as you will—and you’ll stop seeing improvement.

To make it as easy as humanly possible for you to get out of your rut, I’ve rounded up 15 of my favorite ab exercises you can do anywhere—no gym or fancy equipment required. And these moves don’t just target the typically overtrained rectus abdominus (the most superficial of the ab muscles.) By working your core from all angles, you’ll get firm, flat and strong abs you’ve always wanted.

1. Side plank with bent knees
This move works your internal and external obliques, which run along the sides of your midsection. It also targets the often-neglected transverse abdominus (TVA), a deep layer of muscle that wraps around your torso like a corset. A strong TVA makes your abs look flatter, improves your posture and prevents lower back pain. If this move feels too easy, make it tougher by extending your knees straight and stacking one foot on top of the other.

2. Side plank with rotation
If you’re already a master of the side plank, add a twist.

3. Leg lift and lower
Another great exercise for your transverse abdominus. Don’t be fooled by how simple it looks!

4. Rocking plank
If your abs are bored with the classic plank, rock their world with this variation.

5. Cheek to cheek
Target your obliques by adding hip dips to your plank.

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